ShopRite is watching me. Last week it became clear the chain uses its PricePlus discount card to collect more data than the NSA: It’s no coincidence the in-store soundtrack matches the tastes and shopping schedules of the varied client demographic groups. Playing Duran Duran to remind me of youthful carefree-ness is supposed to make me buy more bathroom cleanser, or non-fat soy milk, or anything to recapture that lost freedom and aspiration.

But I’m watching too. This week, I sat with my father in the ShopRite “food court.” It wasfilled with workers and shoppers taking a midday break. We settled into a table; at the other end were three ShopRite bakery employees, still wearing their work smocks, hair bonnets, and caps. I watched as they slurped soup, sipped colas and coffees, and dragged their sleeves along the public tabletop. By the end of their lunch break, their “protective” gear had been exposed to as much germs as anyone’s street clothes.

I saw very clearly: I am under constant threat. Not just at ShopRite. Everywhere. “Protective” gear. What a joke. Carriers of contagion is more accurate. I see it every day. People who commute in their scrubs to medical facilities. They walk along Kennedy Boulevard, outfitted in blue, green, and maroon boxy-cut tunics and drawstring pants. The poly-cotton blend shields them from the car and bus exhaust, and the dust kicked up by the brooms of the Ready.Willing.Able. workers. The healthcare workers walk to Journal Square and catch a PATH train or community bus at Journal Square, and their scrubs catch coffee drips and doughnut crumbs. The workers and germs arrive to homes, medical facilities, and doctors’ offices.

I wondered if I should cancel my upcoming doctor’s appointment. A paper gown seemed sorry protection against a scrub-wearer who would hand me an unsanitized pen to complete my medical forms, and hold my thin arm while reading my blood pressure. What if the worker commuted along the section of Kennedy Boulevard and Newark Avenue where Jersey City’s antiquated sewage system was being repaired? Unearthed centuries-old germs, microbes, and contaminants would cling to the scrubs of the person who would hand me a paper gown and instruct me to undress. Was there ever an outbreak of plague in Jersey City? Could my cotton blend underwear be enough of a barrier to protect my bare ass and my Susie?

I shivered at the food court table as if I was already exposed at my doctor’s office. I watched the ShopRite workers bus their trays and disappear through the bakery double-door. None made use of the hand sanitizer dispenser by the entry. A chill tingled my spine. I made it a point to douse my hands with a double dose before my father and I left the store. And I decided to keep my doctor’s appointment. There would be a dispenser in the exam room, likely as full as the one at ShopRite. A paper gown might not be a match for urban germs, but microbes would have no chance against a Purell-covered Puerto Rican.

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