Sand in my Shoes: New Yorkers plagued by xenophobia

Hate In The Time Of Coronavirus




You gotta love all the hate.

Nothing like a new plague to bring out the worst in the most hateful species on the planet.

Every workday morning, I walk to the LIRR to board a train to Penn Station, from where I then take a downtown subway, and ride a crosstown city bus to get to my fulltime job on the west side of Manhattan. It has been a master class in xenophobia, fear, and hysteria.

Many people are wearing face masks — which are illegal in New York City — so expect to read headlines soon about a coronavirus bank robbery crew wearing face masks, goggles, and plastic gloves. Although nothing can top the guy dressed in a woman’s burqa who robbed over $1 million in gems a few weeks ago from a jewelry store at Hudson Yards. And come to think of it, expect burqas or designer hazmat suits to be the new fashion crazes for ordinary citizens amid the coronavirus hysteria.

Last week I jumped on a downtown C train at 34th Street on which, during rush hour, it is as difficult to find a seat as it is “to kill a mockingbird.” But here was a long row of empty subway bench that could have fit five hefty butts. I knew something was wrong. Then I heard the guy at the end snoring, coughing, and wheezing. He looked homeless and was a snoozing Typhoid Mary that cleared half a subway car.

If you think medical workers are fearful of contracting coronavirus, I can guarantee you that transit workers won’t go near a coughing, wheezing homeless person with a 10-foot third rail.

I remember during the first years of the AIDS epidemic when misinformation, ignorance, bigotry, and fear caused some restaurateurs to make openly gay people eat with plastic plates, cups, forks, and knives. Many cops stopped arresting junkies in fear that a stop and frisk might lead to a needle prick. Firefighters and paramedics were fearful of performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitations.

I knew one police lieutenant who told me he was on a major drug sweep where his undercover team spotted a low-level woman pusher selling heroin. As the plainclothes cops approached, she sprinted like an Olympian.

“She ran down the street and turned a corner and when we got around there, she was nowhere to be seen,” the lieutenant said. “So we started searching between and under cars. And there she was, crouched down between two cars. When my guys went to collar her they backed off, holding their noses. They refused to cuff her or to put her in their detective cars because she’d dropped a load in her drawers. They looked at me to cuff and transport her. I looked at her. Her arms had more tracks than the Long Island Rail Road. She had sores on her skin, she was trembling, skinny, and I thought sick with HIV. I felt sorry for her. I told her, ‘Honey, you just crapped yourself a get out of jail free card.’”

These days on the LIRR I have noticed people board, looking for seats, and they often will avoid sitting beside a person of Asian descent, preferring to stand on the long commute. I have not personally heard any racist comments on mass transit. But I read a report on the NBC website about an NYPD report of a subway passenger on the N train who not only refused to sit next to an Asian, but even sprayed them with Febreze.

Curtis Sliwa recently dispatched the Guardian Angels to add security for Asian people wearing face masks who were being attacked by xenophobes. In England, racism against Asians in the coronavirus outbreak has also escalated to verbal and physical assault.

I don’t know exactly how these xenophobes hope to avoid people who might have recently been to Italy, England, Iran, Brazil, or scores of other countries around the world where there have now been over 100,000 cases of coronavirus reported. Here in New York, there are (at press time) 142 cases statewide and one confirmed case in Suffolk County.

“So far, the East End is safe,” one resident told me last week. I told him not to spread it around as word will spread like a, well, virus and soon there will be a stampede of terrified people thinking the Hamptons is a safe zone.

For years, I have promised myself that I would never go on a cruise. I love looking at the sea, but I fear it. I have read too many stories about Legionnaire’s Disease, sudden storms, food poisoning, passengers going overboard into shark infested seas. Now there are two cruise ships in quarantine for the coronavirus, including the Grand Princess with 3500 people onboard off the coast of California. People are going to stop taking cruises. The airline industry is also so depleted that they are offering special deals and the industry — which price gouges us at every turn in good times — is talking about a government bailout.

Schools are closing. Movie theaters are empty. Asian restaurants are suffering. People I work with who usually take mass transit are driving to work. The stock market is on a roller coaster ride of trepidation as the coronavirus calamity worsens by the day.

Meanwhile, preparedness from our elected leaders is a disaster as finger-pointing over lack of testing, especially among our medical worker community, is an international embarrassment. And so, expect coronavirus to spread and worsen.

In direct proportion to the hate.

denishamill@gmail.com