A couple of Sundays ago I was wandering around SoHo with my sister and Niece Two. While looking for a place for a quick bite we found ourselves on the corner of Wooster and Prince and I realized that just one week before the block had been surrounded by news vans and police tape. The investigation into the disappearance of Etan Patz had made headlines again when the police had information that brought them back to the street from which the then six-year old vanished 33 years ago. I mentioned it to my sister and we both got the chills.
A lot of people bemoan the loss of the gritty days of New York City in the 70’s. They feel it seemed “real-er” before gentrification/mall-ification buffed the edges off of almost every neighborhood in Manhattan. I hate high rises and mega Best Buy’s as much as the next person, but I don’t miss the fear that accompanied the grit, especially post-Etan. It’s funny (strange, not hah-hah) that when the city was more dangerous parents were less restrictive. I’ve talked about my teenage late-night bus rides home from dicey neighborhoods but even when I was younger I had freedoms that children don’t have today, when the city is safer than ever. At nine years old I took the cross-town bus home from school alone and at 10 I was babysitting for a child who was five. Ok, it was during the daytime and yes, I was always a responsible kid, but still, I was ten!
But the thing is, my childhood was essentially incident free. Meanwhile when my brother was eight he was shoved off his first curly handled bike and watched the robber speed away into the park. Then he got to ride around in the squad car looking for the perp. And my friend Nick, who was walking those same Upper West Side streets during those same years, was mugged at least 5 times (although he used to inflate that number by two-fold just to make his badge of honor even puffier), once out-running the thug who threatened to steal the new size 7 Puma Clydes off his feet. Those sneakers came in handy. Believe me, it’s not that I wanted to get roughed up or have my allowance stolen, but I wouldn’t have minded just a little drama, a reason to run breathlessly into the house with a, “you’re not going to believe what happened!”
Actually I sort of did have one moment which, when I think about it now, makes me laugh. There was a period when the petty crime du jour involved snatching the gold chain off of someone’s neck with a quick yank and a sprint. One afternoon when I was around 14, I was sent to the Sloan’s supermarket two blocks from our apartment to pick up some groceries for my mother. As I was paying I noticed a guy hanging out at the end of the check out area. At first I thought he was a bagger but then he followed me outside. As I headed north on Lexington Avenue he came along side of me and looked like he had something to say. I should add that it was summer and it was also the late 70’s so the fact that I was wearing both a lavender polo shirt and a thin gold necklace made sense at the time.
“Hey you!” he said. I walked a little faster, my arms wrapped tightly around the paper grocery bag.
“Hey you, Bitch!” he said in a loud whisper. My heart started to beat quickly. I kept walking and he was right next to me, as if we were friends taking a stroll in Carnegie Hill. I knew the moment of truth was coming. This was it. I was going to be mugged.
“Take off the chain.” He said through gritted teeth. “Nice. And. Slow.”
I tried to hold the bag with one arm (he wasn’t the most effective mugger—why didn’t he just push my groceries to the ground, pull the chain and run?) and with the other pretended to be looking for the clasp. As we walked and I fumbled around my neck the clerk at the news store stepped out to sweep the sidewalk in front of his shop. I gave him a panicked, wide-eyed look and mouthed a silent, “HELP! HELP!” with a subtle tilt of the head towards my new “friend.”
|the news store!|
At which point my would-be attacker fled to the corner, made a quick right, and disappeared towards the scarier streets of Third Avenue leaving me, my groceries and my chain intact. I almost kissed the clerk but instead bought a Milky Way to calm myself down.
By the time I got home I had the breathlessness down, and the sufficient, “Oh my God, you’re not going to believe…” etc etc. Maybe because the crisis had been averted my tale didn’t garner much of a response. It was my brother who seemed to care the most, wanting to know every detail, which I shared with as much embellishment as possible without going so far as to say the guy held a knife to my throat. However there was one crucial piece of information I withheld until relatively recently. The “guy” was actually a “kid.” If I was 14 he was probably 12 and if I was 5’4” he was about 5’2.” Even in my scrawny teenage state I probably could have taken him. But then I wouldn’t have had the excitement of running up 93rd Street and bursting into our apartment armed with an amazing dramatic tale! How pathetic is that?!
By telling this story I have probably jinxed my safety record but I had been thinking about it and that period of time a lot since finding myself on that SoHo corner. During those darker years I used to watch soap operas at a nearby friend’s house whose mother often had treats from the Well-Bred Loaf, a bakery that introduced our neighborhood to amazingly rich and enormous blondies, brownies, cookies and oatmeal chewies. I have never found their recipes anywhere, so as part of my time traveling I tried to recreate the oatmeal squares doing my own research and tweaking. I baked three different formulas and none were as decadent, moist and chewy as theirs. After offering a square from the first attempt to my mother in an impromptu taste test she said, “Tastes like health.” (A negative review in her book.) But I realized the situation was as it should be. Revisiting the past, and 1970’s New York, isn’t really a good thing for a variety of reasons. And even though my city is safer, I still think twice every time I fasten a necklace.
Almost Mugged Oatmeal Raisin Squares
adapted from Quaker Oats
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2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup raisins
Heat oven to 350°F
In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.
Press dough onto bottom of ungreased 13 x9-inch baking pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until light golden brown.
Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered