Tag Archive | SoHo

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.

 

 

Remembering 1979: Year of the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Etan Patz

Julie Patz with Etan’s Missing Poster

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 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.

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.

 

Memorial for Donna Summer, San Francisco, 2012

 

Travel bragging: Self-indulgence or artist’s date?

Wassily Kandinsky

People who regale others with tales of their travels are one of my pet peeves. In part, sheer jealousy’s to blame. My budget doesn’t allow for gallivanting around the globe, and folks who brag about their various excursions strike me as insensitive to those of us in their captive audiences who may have less discretionary income.

Besides, too much travel bores me. As an author and artist, I’m much happier creating new work of my own than engaging in passive appreciation of others’ creations at museums and galleries, and lounging around in bars or on beaches just doesn’t do it for me. And is taking a break from daily routine truly restorative? For me, it wreaks havoc with my natural rhythm, and I often need a day of recuperation before getting back into my normal groove. On the other hand, “artist’s dates,” as Julia Cameron calls them, can help replenish our creative wells.

Nonetheless, this past week I went AWOL from my blog and treated myself to a few days of self-indulgence right here in New York and New England. In part because of looming deadlines, I took four trips in four days – skiing on Monday and Wednesday, New York City on Tuesday and Thursday. I had coupons for free lift tickets I’d picked up at the Warren Miller extreme skiing movie before Christmas, and the one for Windham expired on January 15th, so I drove southwest into the Catskills on Monday, blasting my recently acquired reissues of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver all the way down and back.

Tuesday I caught the 7am double-decker Megabus to New York City and spent five hours at the Guggenheim, taking in the Kandinsky retrospective the day before it closed. Trudging repeatedly up and down Frank Lloyd Wright’s ramp, I found I’d come through Monday’s exertions on the mountain in surprisingly good shape. Wednesday meant another 7am bus, this one to Stratton Mountain in southern Vermont with the Out of Control Ski Club to take advantage of another freebie. The view from the mountain top was magnificent, and I shared a memorable gondola ride with six men, whom I regaled with my ideas for a short story or perhaps a scene in my next novel featuring a gondola murder. They came up with some pretty good plot twists of their own. Then there was the aging ski instructor in the bar . . . but that’s fodder for another post.

Thursday’s jaunt was triggered by the need to visit my 80-year-old brother in the Bronx, plus my husband’s decision to attend a college reunion party in SoHo, our old Lower Manhattan neighborhood. Since we fled the city in 1979, the area has turned into an overpriced luxury mall with endless designer boutiques and trendy restaurants. But the Broome Street Bar where we had our second and more significant “cute meet” remains essentially unchanged since 1973. Oops, I sense another post coming on . . .

So there, I’ve indulged in exactly what I said I hated – travel bragging. I admit there’s a certain smug satisfaction in writing about my relatively privileged life. No, I can’t afford those cruises that cost thousands, but I’m fortunate to have the wherewithal to indulge myself on occasion. And these excursions – especially the solo trips where I’m accountable to no one – definitely restore my soul and spirit. They’re what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way describes as “artist’s dates.” We artists and writers deserve them – they help replenish our wells of creativity, and they need not cost a fortune.

What about you? Have you treated yourself to an “artist’s date” lately? If so, what was it? And if not, why not? I’d love to read your comments here.