Marolt: Looking for a hand to shake the flu

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

During the deadly flu pandemic of 1918 people suspended the custom of shaking hands when they greeted each other. For that matter, they pretty much suspended the custom of greeting each other all together. Down in Gunnison, they went so far as to close the town so nobody could enter or leave. It was a reasonable thing to do. Historical statisticians are pretty sure that the deadly virus killed 100 million people on the planet that year. Some believe it was maybe twice that many.

As I sniffle and snort and read about this year’s potent flu strain, I wonder what fool brought back the handshake after that real life example of why it is so demonstrably ridiculous. If I could go back in time and identify that person, I believe a good swift kick in the butt might be an example of a more suitable alternative greeting.

They tell us to wash our hands often during flu season. Sadly, it’s not like we can guarantee our own health with this practice, like eating leafy greens to lower cholesterol or carrots for our eyesight. The truth is that we wash our hands to protect ourselves from people who don’t. The problem with this is that a lot of people don’t wash their hands nearly often enough or ever.

If everybody washed their hands, nobody would get sick. The fact that we’re all sick is nasty proof that too many of us are really gross.

It is hard to imagine that anyone would use the restroom and leave without washing their hands after taking care of their business. Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine it. We all see it all the time in public restrooms.

What do you say when you are standing over a sink washing your hands when you hear the flush from a stall behind you, hear the click of the latch on the door, look in the mirror and see someone exit the stall and head straight out the door into an unsuspecting world without so much as glancing at the faucet on the way out, much less the soap dispenser? None of us know. I have witnessed this countless times and it always leave me speechless.

The more you think about this, the more sane Howard Hughes appeared. The guy was as smart as they come, right? But he probably saw this kind of filthy habit prevalent in society and it drove him to a life of isolated madness. Nobody wants to shake hands with someone who wipes and doesn’t wash, but we can never be sure who that is. It’s enough to drive a guy to collect a wardrobe of surgical masks, rubber gloves and Kleenex boxes to use as disposable shoes.

We can’t go that route. We have to push this common, disgusting lack of hygiene out of our minds, or that is exactly where we will go.

We don’t have to continue shaking hands for no good reason. It has been said that the custom began when adversaries needed to prove peaceful intentions toward each other by offering hands outstretched without weapons in them.

Fair enough in the Dark Ages when “stabbing a friend in the back” meant actually “stabbing a friend in the back.” It was mutual self-defense in those times. Ironically, today it is a barbaric custom.

Times have changed. We know better. Now, we are very much aware that an open palm might carry pathogens that have killed millions more people than daggers around the globe throughout the course of history and, at best, only made every other member of living humanity miserably sick for weeks at a time at least once a year their entire life.

Global warming is a threat. So, is the annual flu virus, along with many other dangerous pathogens. Just as is burning fossil fuels without concern, shaking hands is a slap in the face of science. How is keeping up this pointless cultural greeting without concern for the miserable illness-inducing result that is known and provable not the same thing as denying the existence of mankind’s contributions to climate change?

If we are not going to wash our hands — and I mean all of us — which we are obviously not after continual warnings, then we have to do something different to prevent an outcome which we know will occur, as it does every year, billions of times.

If the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting a different outcome, then the proof of our craziness is the handshake. Agreed? Let’s not shake on it.

Don’t worry, Roger Marolt will be fine as soon as his nose stops running. Email at