Etan Patz trial begins 35 years after he disappeared in SoHo

Paul BrowneYesterday in New York City, the trial began for Pedro Hernandez, the man arrested for murdering Etan Patz. I wrote the following post in June, 2012, when he was first arrested. Etan’s disappearance had a major impact on my husband and me, influencing us to move upstate, away from the city we loved. It’s painful to revisit this tragedy, and I can’t begin to imagine how his parents, Stan and Julie Patz, have lived with it these past 35 years.

According to the Washington Post, “Despite its grim denouement, experts say that the Patz case helped revolutionize the way law enforcement responds to potential child abductions. “Of course, technology has changed so dramatically and that’s had a major impact, but we have so many more resources as a result of the Patz case,” said Robert Lowery Jr. of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Here’s what I wrote in 2012:

At long last, after 33 years, they’ve arrested the alleged murderer of Etan Patz, the six-year-old boy who went missing on his first walk to the bus stop near his home. I knew Etan and his family, and to this day, I have a vivid memory of the moment I learned he had disappeared. Like the Kennedy assassinations, the murder of John Lennon, the Challenger shuttle disaster and the fall of the towers on September 11th, the event burned permanently into my brain, and I can conjure up exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.

Etan’s family and mine lived in the same coop loft building on Prince Street in SoHo. Our daughter Stacey played with

Stan and Julie Patz, 1980

Stan and Julie Patz, 1980

Etan, and she spent many days in the preschool his mother Julie ran in their third-floor loft. But by May 25, 1979, the day Etan went missing, we were living in a raised ranch 90 miles upstate in Poughkeepsie. We’d rented the house four months before, after I landed a job as an art therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center.

We were ambivalent about leaving Manhattan, but we were becoming disenchanted with SoHo. I’d lived there for 12 years, long enough to see the grungy artists’ lofts being swallowed up by gentrification. Real estate prices were rising, and glitzy boutiques were beginning to drive out galleries. Upscale ladies from the Upper East Side and the suburbs were prowling the streets to check out the newly trendy scene, and teens camped out on the steps of the cast iron manufacturing buildings that were home to hundreds of artists.

We were no longer sure we wanted to raise our daughter in the city. In any case, I’d already confronted a harsh reality: I was a good artist, but I’d never be great, and I’d never scale the heady heights of the art world. After my daughter’s birth, I began researching professional careers that offered the promise of a steady paycheck. Art therapy won out over journalism, and by late 1978 I’d acquired an M.A. in Art Therapy from New York University.

We didn’t want to cut our ties to the city, so we unfolded a New York State map on my drafting table. Then, with a compass, we inscribed a circle centered on Times Square, with a ninety-mile radius delineating the outer boundaries of my job search. So it came to pass that in the wintry depths of February, 1979, I immersed myself forty hours a week in the alien wards of a psychiatric hospital for severely and persistently mentally ill adults.

Oh, the stories I could tell. In fact I did: working at Hudson River Psychiatric Center proved so overwhelming that later that year I began writing fiction as a way of processing my feelings. But first came disco – and specifically the double albums of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album featuring the BeeGees.

Before Poughkeepsie, absorbed in my art therapy studies, I hadn’t had the time or inclination to immerse myself in music, much less disco, but commuting to and from my work on the wards, the joyfully insistent beat blaring from the radio made me a convert. Stacey was three and a half, and we cavorted endlessly around the living room to the strains of “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Night Fever.” Those songs might have remained my most indelible memory of the raised ranch on Robert Road – until we heard about Etan Patz on May 25th.

It was early evening, and I was sipping a screwdriver at the end of a long day’s work on the wards, watching the local news from New York City, when all at once Etan’s face filled the screen. He was missing, the newscasters said – walking along Prince Street to catch the bus for first grade, he’d never made it to school. The police had mounted an intensive search, but as the world came to know, they turned up nothing.

Tri-Prince Coop facade

Tri-Prince Coop facade

My husband and I followed the news for weeks, and as hope for Etan faded, we gradually reached a decision: we would make a decisive break with the city, sell our coop loft on Prince Street, and use the proceeds to buy a house with a few acres of land in upstate New York. And so we did – by October we were settled in a new home surrounded by 16 acres of woods and wetlands a couple of miles from the Shawangunk ridge west of New Paltz.

I can’t claim we’ve never looked back. We still visit New York City a few times a year, but we no longer feel we belong there – these days we could never afford it. We’re just tourists, like those ladies I once looked down on. Occasionally I’ve walked along Prince Street past Tri-Prince, Inc., our old cast iron coop of three connecting buildings. The Patz family name is still on the buzzer outside, but I’ve never had the courage to ring the bell, nor to phone or write. We were neighbors, not close friends, and what could I possibly say to them?

Lately the press has been full of stories about the crime. Pedro Hernandez, then a stock boy at the corner store where we bought our milk and orange juice, has confessed to killing Etan, but the physical evidence has long since disappeared. How will they ever know for sure? Stan and Julie Patz refuse to talk to reporters, and who can blame them? After long, illustrious lives, Robin Gibb and Donna Summer leave musical legacies we can enjoy forever. We can say they’ve found closure, but for Etan Patz and his family, there will never be peace.

 

 

Hope Dawns Eternal nearing the Finish Line

Chicago under ice by Shawn ReynoldsHow do you know when you’ve finally finished your novel? Especially when it’s the first in a series?

I thought I’d completed Hope Dawns Eternal, my vampire soap opera thriller, a couple of months ago, but when my husband read it, he thought I needed a more dramatic ending that wrapped up more of the unfinished business. I took his advice, and I’m delighted with the results. Now I’ve finished the final edit, and I’m compiling the 36 chapters into a single document to send off to the man who’s going to format it for me. Yes, I know I could probably do it myself, but I don’t want my technophobia to get in the way of launching it into cyberspace ASAP.

Now I need to confront my biggest bugaboo: marketing. To that end, I’ve just created a new Facebook group called HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL. I just need to figure out how to get people to join it. I printed out a six-page sheet of suggestions from Facebook with helpful hints about involving people in your group, but that’s assuming you already have members. Oh well, I’ll figure it out before I launch my book.

Speaking of marketing, my GoFundMe campaign has been pretty much in limbo since before the holidays, but I’m Goddess Selenereviving it once again in hopes of raising enough money to hire a professional designer and illustrator for my new novel as well as my earlier ones, Eldercide and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, which I’ll be reissuing soon. My goal is a modest $3,333. I’ve found an illustrator I love, but his book covers begin at $1,500, so I’ll have to scale down my aspirations in that department. I did the cover illustrations for my previous novels, and I still love them, but I think I can find someone better.

Please visit the site at www.gofundme.com/gep8ts and consider making a donation, however modest. You’ll have the satisfaction of supporting a worthy cause, and if you act soon, you could be listed in the acknowledgements in Hope Dawns Eternal, and maybe even have a character named for you in the sequel, Sunlight and Shadow.

I’m signing off for now. I’m not good at multitasking, and I’m dying to get back to assembling that humongous document. I’m tweaking here and there as I go, making only minimal changes. For example, on a recent visit to Manhattan, I walked the High Line, the marvelous linear park created atop elevated railroad tracks that used to carry livestock to the slaughterhouses in the meat packing district. Surveying the Chelsea neighborhood from above, I realized I should move the location of the QMA studio from Tenth Avenue around the corner to a side street. And I’m dropping in a few clues foreshadowing the surprise twist at the end.

I’ve left a few loose ends that cry out for resolution, but that’s the great thing about writing a  series instead of a stand-alone – they’ll make a good starting point for the next book. The ideas are already whirling around in my brain, and I’ve already written a few scenes, but I need to keep my priorities straight and launch Hope Dawns Eternal into the big wide world. When exactly will that happen? Subscribe to this blog, and you’ll be the first to know!

Is Sloth Still a Deadly Sin?

 

Sloth three-toedThis New Year’s morning, I awoke full of good intentions. Rather than committing to the usual litany of resolutions I’ll never keep, I decided to focus on just one goal: I vow to write at least 500 words per day, which comes out to 3,500 words per week. If I don’t reach 500 words one day, I’ll make it up the next day, or the one after that. I’ll cut myself some slack and make the weekly total 3,333. That’s the same goal I set for my GoFundMe* campaign, where I’m hoping to raise $3,333.

At that rate, I’ll reach 173,316 words by next New Year’s Day. That’s the equivalent of two good-sized novels, maybe the next two books in my vampire soap opera series. But I won’t limit myself to fiction. This blog post will count toward today’s total. So will journaling or writing poetry – anything that keeps my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Using the mouse won’t count. No more frittering away the hours with Facebook or FreeCell. (That’s worth a resolution in its own right, but it’s one I know I won’t be able to keep, so I’m not making it.)

Can I actually do this? Sounds reasonable, right? I can easily turn out 500 words in an hour or two, so what’s stopping

Sloth (detail) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Sloth (detail) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

me? In a word, SLOTH. Not the cute three-toed kind shown above, but the Deadly Sin variety. Of all the Seven Deadly Sins, sloth is by far my biggest challenge. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins in Christian moral tradition, particularly within Catholicism, referring to laziness. Sloth is defined as spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive. It can also be either an outright refusal or merely a carelessness in the performance of one’s obligations, especially spiritual, moral or legal obligations. Sloth can also indicate a wasting due to lack of use, concerning a person, place, thing, skill, or intangible ideal that would require maintenance, refinement, or support to continue to exist.

Back in the day, those guilty of sloth were sentenced to Hell, and in particular to a pit full of snakes. But these days, those of us who don’t fear hellfire and damnation have a hard time taking sloth all that seriously. Googling the subject, I found a brilliant essay Thomas Pynchon wrote for the New York Times in 1993. Here’s a sample:

Writers of course are considered the mavens of Sloth. . . . there is all the glamorous folklore surrounding writer’s block, an affliction known sometimes to resolve itself dramatically and without warning, much like constipation, and (hence?) finding wide sympathy among readers.

Sloth by Hieronymous Bosch

Sloth by Hieronymous Bosch

Reading Pynchon’s essay, I find I’m guilty of another of the Deadly Sins: Envy. He’s so creative, so hilarious, that I could never come remotely close to his level. This in turn engenders pessimism and an almost irresistible urge to play FreeCell or check my email. Or it could give rise to Gluttony, another of the Deadlies, but I’m still feeling bloated from overeating at Dan Wilcox’s  New Year’s Day open house, so the thought of more food is distasteful.

In case your memory needs jogging, the other four Deadly Sins are Wrath, Greed, Pride and Lust. It’s curious that drunkenness doesn’t make the cut – probably Thomas Aquinas and the other theologians were too fond of their alcoholic libations. But the fear of spending an eternity in hell for committing one of the shameful seven no doubt helped keep good Christians in line so that the social order didn’t descend into total mayhem and anarchy. Later, as Pynchon points out, the fear was harnessed in the interests of motivating the labor force that drove industrial productivity.

Today, thanks to our vastly extended life spans, most people in our country have the luxury of enjoying at least a decade or two of retirement, with the leisure time to pursue our own interests  – or to kick back and do absolutely nothing. In these bonus decades, can sloth still be considered a sin? Haven’t we earned the right to be lazy? Maybe, but if so, why do I suffer such pangs of guilt and self-loathing when I spend an afternoon immersed in reading a novel or an evening lounging in bed watching multiple episodes of the latest series on Netflix?

I could ramble on in this vein, but it’s almost midnight and I’ve exceeded my 500 words, so I’ll cease and desist. How about you? Is sloth a problem in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

*My GoFundMe campaign was on hold during the holidays, but I’m relaunching it as of today, hoping to raise money to pay for help with cover design and illustration for Hope Dawns Eternal and my other novels. To learn more, visit www.hopedawnseternal.net.

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