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Reflecting on the Year Westchester Wishes Never Was

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Writer Phil Reisman takes a thoughtful look back on all the unusual ways the coronavirus impacted Westchester County in 2020.

Hindsight is 20/20. But 2020 was a blurry slog.

Start with these six words: “We are all in this together.” The instant that platitudinous assertion soaked into the public consciousness, I knew, I just knew, that something would happen to thoroughly discredit the sentiment. Sure enough, I was proven right when it was revealed on a soggy Saturday shopping expedition that every roll of toilet paper had been stripped from the shelves at the Acme Supermarket in Bronxville. A fiend, or perhaps a syndicate of fiends, had cornered the market on Charmin.

The frozen-meat section had been raided, too. Nothing left but cow tongue.

COVID-19 Fun Fact: Alcohol consumption spiked during the lockdown, but a March survey showed that 38% of beer drinkers would not drink Corona beer, under the belief that the beverage was linked to the coronavirus. However, in a separate survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 4% of Americans said they drank or gargled diluted bleach to ward off the virus.

Speaking of toxic liquids, my original intention was to leave politics — both local and national — out of this 2020 review. But attention should be paid to a slick move engineered by the elected cabal of Westchester County government. Right after the 2019 election, the 17-member County Board of Legislators turned around and rewarded itself a 52% pay increase.

Depending on your point of view, these raises, which took effect in 2020, were either well deserved or the ill-gotten gains of a minor swindle. In any case, the recipients were blessed with impeccable timing. They got their windfall secured before the pandemic hit, before the economy collapsed, before millions of Americans lost their jobs, and before tax revenues tanked and left state and local governments with yawning budget gaps.

You might say this was an achievement — albeit a dubious one.

COVID-19 Fun Fact: By July, it was obvious that Westchester was in big financial trouble thanks to the COVID-19 shutdown. Estimates were that losses amounted to $250 million for the fiscal year. County Executive George Latimer announced a voluntary early-retirement program for county employees, offering them $1,000 for every year of service.

Let’s see. In 2020, we said goodbye to the necktie and hello to work sweatpants. We learned to elbow bump. We learned to never again shake hands and greet people we hardly know with hugs unless we are fully sheathed in an impermeable, laboratory-tested, prophylactic bodysuit. We Zoomed. We streamed Contagion. We were stage-managed on checkout lines by strips of tape set six feet apart. Commuters stayed at home in 2020. And at night, fully illuminated ghost trains eerily pulled into stations with no one aboard.

“Start with these six words: ‘We are all in this together.’ The instant that platitudinous assertion soaked into the public consciousness, I knew, I just knew, that something would happen to thoroughly discredit the sentiment.”

COVID-19 Fun Fact: At the start of summer, it was reported that Metro-North ridership was down 90%.

A lot of new words came into common usage in 2020, like “Karen,” an unflattering term for a woman of a certain age who yells at store managers and is easily threatened by innocent Black people who are just minding their own business. Another lamentable word we learned was “Cuomosexual,” loosely defined as someone suffering from a bizarre quarantine-induced belief that a 62-year-old governor with a habit of gassing on and on in stilted, albeit complete, sentences is actually a 28-year-old version of Brad Pitt. (YouTube Jane Pauley’s gushfest with Cuomo if you missed it in June on CBS Sunday Morning.)

COVID-19 Fun Fact: Karen was the third-most-popular baby name in 1965. Now it barely registers at all and seems destined for oblivion, along with Petunia, Gertrude, Jemima, and many others. A Los Angeles-based artist designed a scary Karen Halloween mask and put it on sale for $180.

It’s an old truism that Americans like to blow things up, especially on the Fourth of July. Well, there were no county-sponsored fireworks this year — and again, COVID-19 saw to that. That didn’t stop people from buying truckloads of fireworks on their own, assisted perhaps by the windfall of government stimulus checks.

Enough ordnance was ignited to rival the Battle of Antietam. But the local fireworks siege actually began several weeks before the Fourth, a condition that greatly reduced the already long odds that private property, let alone fingers, would escape unharmed. So it was hardly surprising that one night some errant fireworks caused a fire that destroyed a three-story apartment building in Yonkers.

Peace was finally restored when the fireworks dealers ran out of supply.

So, here’s a toast to 2020, the year that — with or without toilet paper and cherry bombs — united us in a bond of misery. Frankly, I could do with a little less “togetherness” next year.

Final COVID-19 Fun Fact: Dr. Anthony Fauci grew up in Larchmont, proving that, like politics, all pandemics are local.


The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think at edit@westchestermagazine.com.