The victims, ranging in age from 19 to 42, were traveling on a northbound D train when the culprit sat cross-legged in a crowded car. He raised his foot to a height of approximately 26 inches and repeatedly bounced it, causing a tattered blue flip-flop to slap against his heal, attracting the attention of passengers, states the police report.
Samantha Burand, who suffered minor eye burns in the attack, says that she had let her guard down, believing that city-dwelling men had stopped wearing open-toe sandals after fashion bloggers launched a campaign against the footwear earlier this year.
“I managed to turn away the moment I glimpsed those nasty yellow toenails, but it was too late,” Burand said from her bed at Lenox Hill Hospital. “A lot of women were screaming. Everyone was pushing each other to get away.”
Apparently unaware of the harm he was inflicting, the man used a key to absentmindedly remove dirt from under his toenails, a move that authorities say ultimately caused the four women who were unable to look away to be blinded.
“When we are forced to look at something so unsightly, the body can react with a self-defense mechanism in which eye muscles actually sever the optic nerve,” said Dr. Madeline Abramson, a specialist in eye trauma at NYU.
Abramson advises women to be proactive in defending themselves.
“The best thing we can do is wear dark, protective glasses, and make sure to avert our gazes upwards whenever we hear that familiar flipping and flopping,” she said. “If you do accidentally look, immediately wash your eyes out with expensive mineral water, and it’s important to say ‘ew, ew, ew’ at least 10 times.”
Lt. Tom Lutchman of the NYPD fashion crimes division says that a 2013 city ordinance requires men to cover their toes while using public transport.
“Our feet are downright awful to look at, all knobby and calloused, with hairy toes and discolored, broken nails that would make the Gruffalo envious,” he said. “If an officer does catch you men wearing flip-flops, known as ‘thongs’ to Midwestern tourists, you will get ticketed. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing fancy Teva hiking sandals with a strap in the back, or if you’re a Vietnamese peasant straight from the rice paddies. The law is the law.”