Fear itself

I work in a library where everyone’s scared of what could lurk on books, DVDs, sheets of papers in need of copying or faxing. Phones are suspect. Door handles. Those seen walking alone without a mask.

I hear a growing number of towns have citizen pandemic patrols. Some jeer at such fears, but wallow within their own worries about the potential of a return to an Obama-like past. Or even the bad old scary days of the Clinton presidency.

I keep trying to hear FDR’s voice in the din. All that’s there is fear itself.


I remember the duck-and-cover fears of nuclear annihilation from the Cold War. Then Vietnam took over my teenage imagination, and all I wanted was to be a few years older and running from the pigs and their tear gas. I picked up issues of the Black Panther magazine and a pile of revolutionary pamphlets. Some students got hit by bullets in Ohio, and fear found a place in my politics.

With the possibility of being drafted gone, the only fears I recall for a few decades were generic. I saw some early horror films — Halloween, When A Stranger Calls, Day of the Dead. I didn’t really like how they made me feel. I stopped watching, drove a taxi through New York City nights for a year, and knew friends and family who ran into urban and rural nightmare situations. None of it was life-changing.

If anything frightened me, it was debt. I could suddenly make stupid mistakes. I learned to meet such challenges.

After 9/11, I did a story at the local community college interviewing would-be cops. All had fear in their eyes, especially when I asked them about the destruction. I joined an effort to reverse Greene County’s decision to place its long-planned new administrative building amidst a moat of concrete Jersey barriers. Fear changed traffic patterns across the nation. Fear closed access to New York City’s reservoirs in our area.

Fear settled in for half the nation. The recent pandemic, combined with the rallying calls about “Chinese Flu,” urban crime waves, and the radical dreams of the Democrats, hasn’t helped.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.