Xenophobia and Other Preoccupations Rooted in Observations Refracted through the Prism of American Civilization [A Short Story]

“I want to know what he said he said,” she said to me.

I said, He said he said, “Do I have to apologize up front to any Arab Muslim or Pakistani person I know who might be offended by what I am going to say? What am I going to say that might or might not offend someone? Do we really have to say anything for others to be offended? Am I trying to say that we have become temperamental? But conditions in my neighborhood have become too impossible for me to remain quiet. Why anyone would remain silent just because he knew some persons from the groups herein stated is beyond me. I am not saying that what I am going to say I have to say because the people concerned are Pakistani or Arab Muslim, but I am saying that there are a significant number of people who happen to be Arab Muslim and Pakistani in my neighborhood who, not because of some conditioning through endemic poverty or because of a serious lack of education and social disenfranchisement, are among the worst litterers and street polluters I have ever seen anywhere, most specifically in the building complex where I live; even to a greater extent than the Chinese here in the west end of Brooklyn, an observation I clearly made when Bensonhurst Brooklyn on 18th Avenue shifted in demographics from predominantly Italian to predominantly Chinese, and the litter increased correlative to this shift, and that mostly because street litter is horrendous in Chinese cities, and ask them, as I have, what is it about New York they like is the air. The air in Chinese cities is so horribly polluted that litter is incidental and insignificant, although horribly bad if you take what the UN says about polluted cities seriously”

Yes, he said that he had heard him say . . .

“I have seen not one, not two, not three or five but many more than five, six, seven of each, either Pakistani or Arab Muslim, in my building, or in my building complex and the surrounding neighborhood, leave litter and trash virtually everywhere because anywhere seems acceptable for their contribution to the neighborhood’s increasing pollution. In my building alone I have found, or I have seen being left about, half full coffee cup containers on the front steps of the building, or in the vestibule, or in the hall or on the floor or on the stairs where they sit and smoke and leave their ashes and cigarette butts. I see too many put their cigarettes out on the hallway floors or in the elevator as they get on with the cigarette lit.” He said he said, “I find them dropping litter in the elevator or the hallways–but not in front of the apartments where they live, as I have the occasion never to see them littering in front of their apartment in my building.”

More. You want more?

She did.

He said he said, “I have seen Pakistani women, more than once, putting their babies’s disposable diapers full of shit in a neighbor’s garden or in the city trash receptacle, even when overflowing with litter. I have seen Pakistani or Arab take their empty french fry or other styrofoam container and throw it in the front garden or into the lawns surrounding the building as if it were as natural to do as breathing. I almost cannot restrain myself from saying something, but the arrogance with which I am met often leaves me speechless because I know the horrible truth–they would only understand a stick over the head, which is the horror of their former enculturation, a people less designed to live at liberty than under the yoke of a more brutal or at least british authority–authoritarian is the only authority they seem willing to accept. Anything less as we have here they mock.”

I do not know what I have seen. I think I have seen what he has said his friend had seen but I cannot be sure of this and that it is not just wanting this to be true for reasons other than actually having seen perhaps aggrandizing and using incidentals and indications.

“Bath Beach, like Bay Ridge before it, is fast becoming a shit hole of trash and litter and all because we are afraid to tell people what to do and how to do it in America–people seemingly a lot less than yearning to be free have only the litter and trash riddled cities they come from to compare how to act or what to be. But then Americans in the poorest sections of our cities and suburbs live in much filthier conditions than I would put up with; but this is just the point–we are not talking about the poorest of the poor, or the least educated of the respective groups. We are talking the norm for where they come from.

“How anyone should act, we seem mystified in trying to answer for ourselves. Telling someone that doing as you would in Islamabad or Cairo is not acceptable in New York is beyond us; we do not–we have not for too long coming–engaged with other natives in this way, being unable to think we should or could say something to someone when we see something. Is it all just six of one and a half dozen of another. Is that really what the long term residents of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn are saying? I am sure there are residents of Bushwick who agree with how psychopathically polite we have become–or we assume we have become because not saying something when someone does something we should not be seeing is the norm–we do say nothing too often.

[It’s getting late. I should get ready and go to work, she does not want to hear.]

“Freedom, he said he said, I told her, “is not acting irresponsibly, everyone literate and intelligent knows that. But it seems that some people, from some systems of government, cannot conceive of liberty any other way than by insisting that they have a right to do as they do when they litter or drop trash or human feces in the street or other person’s gardens. I am amazed–I have to say–whenever I get on a bus not far from where it travelled through one or another destitute areas, and the amount of debris and food trash left on the floor and the seats. There are many Americans who cannot conceive of freedom any other way than by acting irresponsibly, but these are persons mostly found on the margins of society, as undereducated or semi-literate as you can get. I just do not want to see a my once nice and clean neighborhood turn into a Middle Eastern or Central Asian city–God forbid. And I insist that this is not racist or even xenophobic. But then I know a family from Beijing who cannot deal with the too many people from Guong Dong here, or as they have said, too many.

Having to tell her what she thinks she wants to know about what he said about what his friend had said, having heard something from someone about it . . .

“Now,” I told her he said his friend had said,  “is it everyone who does what I say herein I have seen? Of course, it is not. Is littering, though, pervasive? Absolutely. Do many throw more than litter in the streets–yes they do. I see it. I have seen everything I have mentioned herein. I do say something, and they look at me as if I were out of my mind. Maybe I am out of my mind to expect otherwise? But I do see people from the groups herein stated not acting in this reckless and irresponsible way–but I do know how some of the more conservative or reactionary Americans feel when they object to their neighborhoods being turned into sewers just because other people’s experiences in their cities are horrendous. How much pollution and litter and trash the Chinese put up with in China, for instance, goes a long way in explaining how Bensonhurst Brooklyn has increased significantly in its visible street trash and litter since the population has swung from predominantly Italian to predominantly Chinese. It is a matter of world record how litter strewn Chinese cities are, how much pollution in Chinese cities the Chinese endure. Any survey or interview with Sanitation workers, as I have conducted can confirm the shifts I have seen in Bay Ridge. Check the conditions of Bay Ridge over the last 20 years.”

How could anyone do that? Is it possible? But then, is it impossible?

“The people I speak to about dumping trash in the street or the halls of the building just do not get it, whether young or old; men, women or children–even when their English is good. I almost got hit the other day by a Pakistani girl throwing out a baby bottle from her mother’s car window after the mother raised her voice to the daughter in indignation, perhaps that the daughter had the effrontery to object when the daughter was most likely told to throw the bottle out of the window, perhaps because it was malfunctioning, and the baby, who was in the front, not the back seat, could not drink from it. Yes, the street is the place. Am I to assume the the general attitudes and intelligence of some peoples is less than what I understand to be civilized–yes it is,” he said he said, I told her. She said nothing. She listened. She gestured for me to go on about what he said he said.

“What then must we do?” She asked.

“Seeing what I see,” he said he said, “it is no wonder that so many cities around the world are virtual garbage dumps, opened sewers, real shit holes that you would pause to send rats to, that is, until you realize that it just might be paradise for rats and other vermin. Getting the non-Russian Russian speakers on my floor to understand that you have to wash your recycling before putting it in the the recycling bin is an overtime full time job; leaving dairy containers with funky rotting dairy over the weekend in the summer seems to be a hobby of Ashkenazi, Uzbek, and other Central Asians, Armenians or Azerbaijani. I do have a completely different experience with Russian Russians. And there is an ethnic distinction that most Americans lose themselves in trying to figure out. Samarkand is not Moscow; but I imagine that there are places in Moscow a lot worse than more affluent areas of Samarkand. Why do we endure the economic inequalities and the socio-political symptoms of this inequality? Because some poor people often prefer more affluent people in their every day attitudes about how to behave in one’s neighborhood than they do other poor people who can do nothing else but mess shit up further.”

The horror! She said.

“There is no condition,” she interjected.  I paused to listen. “Yes, there is no condition, Samuel Beckett reminded us–yes, Becket reminded us that there is no condition human beings cannot get used to, get used to most easily and quickly by adding to the degradation at hand, and degrading themselves firstly and lastly in perpetuation of simian brother see, simian brother do, this is the homo-sapiens, pure and simple—the human, especially when human is only when humane does, is lost on us.”

She paused. I paused.




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