Give Us This Day Our Daily Dirt


The doctor writes down what I might have: an occult bacterial infection.

I’ve presented with vague symptoms–not fever, not chills, not headache; not blurred vision or runny nose or scratchy throat or ear ache or rash or suddenly flat feet.  Just a kind of malaise that, if I’m unlucky, might transition to one of the above symptoms. I’m going out of town. If that transition happens a few days from now, I’ll be in a world of hurt.

I get pills to take, two a day, fourteen days.

“What’s occult?” I ask, feeling a slight shiver of excitement.

She gives me a head waggle, maybe a sly smile. Tells me: “Be sure to take all the pills.”

Error, I know. One of the common wrong turns in modern life, gulping down antibiotics unless you’re dead certain; making the bugs and germs out there all the more protean, brazen, and dangerous.


“It’s an occult infection,” I tell my wife when I get home.

She chopping something at the sink. The kitchen smells of hot onions.  “Occult,” she says.  “What’s that mean?”

I tell her I don’t know. Maybe I’ll grow fangs.

On the counter, a paper bag. Now I remember: shittakes or maitakes, from Vince the mushroom man at the market. My wife always does the mushrooms. She walked in on me once washing the maitakes, running water over them. I learned immediately that you never wash mushrooms. Brush them off, wipe them off. Dryclean them. Do not wash. One expert says, “If they smell like fish, don’t buy them.” That is also good to know. Another expert: “People think it’s dirt that’s on them, but it’s peat moss, and it’s all pasteurized. You’re not eating dirt if it happens to show up in your pan.” Sometimes a leap of faith is required.


And, really, what’s wrong with a little dirt?

One prescription for better living today: fewer antibiotics, more dirt. Jane Brody writes in The New York Times: “The millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with ‘dirt’ spur the development of a healthy immune system.” Our bodies are virus central, little more than germ sanctuaries, bacteria enclaves. Our immune systems need to be challenged, smacked around by the bugs. The more the better. Let there be dirt.

My wife’s uncle would hand you a glass of wine and say, “Bevi. Il vino massa microbi.” Drink wine, it kills germs.

Today germicides are big business. So many to choose from: Purell, Greensong Botanical, Dynarex Sani-Hands, Blum Naturals, Babyganics, Cleanwell, All Terrain Hand Sanz, Young Living Thieves Purifier, Germ-X, Pharmaca Organic Defense, Simply Soothing, Jurlique, Forever Living…


We’ve got it all wrong. Or mostly wrong.

Germs. They do a body good.

A few years back we spent the night at a hotel in Santa Barbara. We’d been up in the Santa Ynez wine country for a few days, killing microbes. After dark you could look out over the Pacific, a dark and brooding presence; big nature, awesome and mysterious. From our room we could almost hear the ocean. We might have been able to if it hadn’t been for giant nesting in the tops of the palms. They were black-crowned night-herons.  They squawked and screeched all night.

The next morning, when we left the hotel for breakfast, I looked out and saw a young couple with a toddler in the grove. On regular intervals the baby reached down and picked something up, raised it to his mouth.

“What shall we have for breakfast this morning,” I asked my wife.

She said she didn’t care. As long as it was healthy.


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