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2002-08-05 | 12:59 p.m.

I don't have a one-inch picture frame, but I could draw one.

Because I am so often startled by random pieces of self-evident information, I am drawn to write about ordinary things, like the importance of washing your hands, or the way to tell a crocodile from an alligator--things that most intelligent people have already committed to memory. Who this writing might be for is not entirely clear. Myself, I suppose. To ward off memory loss.

I had the idea that I could write an essay that starts off with the story I've heard about the assassination of President McKinley. I read that his death might have been prevented if the various doctors checking his wounds had bothered to wash their hands first. But I haven't yet been able to confirm that. I read something online that seemed to partially contradict the story. I need to do real research. I was surprised by how few books about McKinley were available from the public library. Will have to dig deep if necessary. Could find out who is the reigning McKinley scholar and ask him or her directly.

I also wanted to include the results of a study I read years ago, which looked at the numbers of people who wash their hands in public restrooms when they are alone versus when there are other people present. It was a shocking finding, as I recall, something like 85 percent washed when others were present, versus 11 percent when alone. But I can't find that study online, either. Just a more recent one that only looked at the incidence of hand-washing in various cities among people who were not alone. Which, if the earlier study is to be credited, is sort of meaningless data. Right?

About three years ago, mortified at learning the probable cause of a nasty strep throat, my personal hand-washing rate went from around 40 percent to maybe 97 or 98 percent of the time. I'm not yet Jack Nicholson with 40-odd bars of single-use Neutrogena soap in the medicine cabinet, but I have become mildly obsessive about it. When my girls attended public kindergarten and first grade, one of the most troubling aspects of their public school experience, to me, was that every single time I visited the girls' bathroom, there was no soap. There was never soap. I complained about it to the principal, and she just gave me a heaping helping of lip service. Why, I couldn't fathom, since hand-washing keeps kids well and kids who don't get sick bring in more money for the school. Not to mention the educational opportunities.

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