Saturday, August 11, 2012 piece on Anxiety!

article from the Opinionator blog....

AUGUST 6, 2012, 7:00 AM

My Son, Lost and Found


My son, who is 12, loves living in Manhattan. He thinks our neighborhood is great. One day last year he told me he never wanted to leave Chelsea. He could live here the rest of his life, he said. I told him he was very lucky to feel this way, but he was going to have to get his own apartment.

Despite what my wife may tell you, I am not cruel and inhumane. I am not trying to prematurely push my son out the door. I do, however, see it as at least part of my job as a parent to create an independent, self-sufficient young man by the time this is over. Believe me, I am sad that the hand-holding days will soon end, but I'm sure he is going to have much more fun when he is out there on his own.

Lately, I have been encouraging him to try to get out of the house alone. He goes to a school that picks him up in a bus, and so he rarely takes to the streets without a chaperone. He is not quite up for all that independence yet and I respect that. One of his after-school activities is fencing, and even the prospect of walking down Seventh Avenue carrying his sword doesn't give him the confidence he needs to be a solo act on the streets of New York.

When I was very young my family moved out of the city and up to New Rochelle, N.Y. Both my parents worked in Manhattan and although we had a housekeeper, I rarely remember going anywhere with anyone to watch me. I am not trying to sound like a latch-key kid, but I don't recall doing much more than yelling an approximate destination out loud to no one in particular as I was leaving my house. We kids were all on our own on the streets starting in kindergarten. That didn't seem abnormal at all back then.


All this got me thinking about the day I lost my son at Coney Island. He was 4. At the time it was the most traumatic moment of my life.

We'd had some friends in town from Hawaii and wanted to show them what a real beach looked like. So we all trekked out there - me, my wife and son, along with our friends and their two pre-teen boys - on a stifling hot day. It was the day of the Mermaid Parade, so the place was swarming with every kind of person in every kind of costume imaginable. The kids were having fun on the rides. At some point, my son told me he had to go to the bathroom, so we left the others behind and walked toward the rest station on the boardwalk. The bathrooms were packed and we waited in line. My son went to the urinal first and I stood behind him. When he finished I told him to step back and wait right there while I took my turn.

I remember when I was a boy my grandfather would take me and my sisters to Coney Island. He had cousins living across the street from the band shell off Neptune Avenue and whenever we went with him to visit the bright lights of the amusement park drew us over there. My grandfather hated the place - it was full of "Shvartzes," he said. But we would beg him to take us and eventually he'd give in. On one of those trips I had an "emergency" and he took me into the bathroom, which was very crowded, gross and wet. There were no doors on the stalls so my grandfather stood in the doorway to block anyone else's view. But for some reason he did this facing me. So I just sat there for a while. It was not until he turned around that I was finally able to go.

Anyway, there I was now, in maybe that very same bathroom, and when I finished and turned around my son was gone.

The bathroom was chaotic. Turnover rate was high. People rushed in and out, milled around the lines and changed clothes. I could not find my son anywhere. Whatever fears I was having about all of these half naked men and boys and closed doors and every bad thing imaginable happening was only being trumped at that moment by the fear of calling my wife to tell her what I had done.

I ran around to the other set of toilets around the corner, and then outside, which was even more crowded than the actual bathrooms, with people waiting on their friends. He wasn't out there either. He was gone!

I ran back into the bathroom and saw a big guy sitting on a bucket near the door in a Parks Department T-shirt and asked if he saw a little kid. "I saw you come in with him," he said. I knew this guy wasn't capable of much further help so I ran circles around the bathroom and out into the crowd, my mind racing - What the hell am I going to do?

Then, just as I ran out the door, like magic, the crowd seemed to part slightly and there was my son, standing there, oblivious to the fact that he'd been lost. I dropped to my knees and hugged him. This would have been the perfect ending scene to a Hollywood movie, if not for the disgusting puddle of water that I was then kneeling in.

I gave my son a stern lecture, but as I said, he had no idea what he'd done. When we got back to our group at the amusement park, I spilled the beans to my wife, who I can tell you by her reaction to the news that he was "safe," would have killed me if he had actually disappeared.


I am an artist and work in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I have a studio. Sometimes, when my son is off from school I'll take him out there to work with me. He loves that neighborhood, too, and he is somehow more confident there than he is in Manhattan and will venture out on his own. There is a doughnut shop nearby that he is nuts about. Sometimes I let him walk over there from my studio alone. He knows the way.

On the day of my son's 12th birthday, he was with me all day. I had a busy day planned for myself workwise. I was installing a show at The Boiler, a project space near my studio. In the afternoon I had a meeting back at the Pierogi gallery (which owns The Boiler), a few blocks away. And in between the installation and the meeting, we had to run back to Manhattan to organize a trip out of town the next morning. Not the best birthday for a 12-year-old, but the next day we would be off for the whole weekend.

My son - who does have a name, but has forbidden me to use it here - was totally bored with idea of the return trip to Brooklyn, but on the way there I promised him a doughnut for his cooperation. Once we got back to Brooklyn, we agreed, he would walk to the shop on his own.

When we got off the train he told me he'd forgotten his wallet and phone. I told him that without his phone he'd have to wait for me to get his doughnut - but he was having none of that. As a newly minted 12 year-old, he can be very insistent. As most parents know, there is often no way to argue with a kid who thinks he knows everything.

On top of that I was getting stressed and losing patience. I was late for my meeting and now I had this 12-year-old telling me what to do. "Go," I told him.

There is always a lot of pressure when you are installing a show in a gallery. For this one I had made a piece that was unusual for me - a small-scale version of Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house, complete with a pump and a waterfall of actual running water. Just that morning my son and I had introduced live goldfish into the pond. This piece was for me a tribute to the summer house that I never have the time or the money to buy or even rent for my family.

So this was the plan: He would walk to get his doughnut, taking a specific route. If my meeting finished quickly, I'd go to the doughnut place and find him, taking the same route. If he finished first, he would walk back to the gallery the same way. If we left at the same time, we'd cross paths. We said something about the L train station and the gallery, but who cared? He was mad and I was late.

I was O.K. with this. To me Williamsburg and Greenpoint have been very safe places. I've been working or living there since the 1980's. You could get lost and there were always drunks walking around, but I liked the fact that you could almost always see the Manhattan skyline across the water, like an enormous nightlight to guide you.

My meeting went quickly so when I was done I started out after him. As I was walking past McCarren Park it occurred to me that he had to be on his way back by now. It can't take that long to eat a doughnut. I was starting to see holes in our plan. We never discussed what side of the street to walk on, and with the cars and people it was hard to see both sides of the street at the same time. There were lots of hipsters and drunks in the park - did he know not to talk to them? I kept assuring myself he was too smart for any of that, but with every step I took my panic was rising. I was sure I would see him when I turned the last corner, but I didn't. I began to walk faster now hoping he'd be in the doughnut shop. I walked in, gave the place the once-over and turned white.

My mind was racing now. My heart began to pound the same way it did Coney Island years ago. Where could he be? What I would have to tell the police? What would I tell my wife? I was kicking myself for letting him go without his phone, but I kept trying to stay calm: Everything is going to turn out all right. I'll find him.

Just then my phone rang. It was someone from The Boiler. I was hoping that somehow my son had found his way there, but no - my piece had sprung a leak and there was water dripping all over the floor. Now I was really a mess. Not only was my son a missing person, but my art career was going down the tubes with him.

I ran to the gallery and asked if anyone had seen my son. No. I turned and took off for the L train two blocks away. He wasn't there either, so I turned and ran back toward the gallery when my cell phone rang again. This time it was the gallery. When I answered I heard my son's voice. He was there.

When I got to the door he was already standing outside. This time he was really scared. He gotten totally lost and never found his doughnut. We hugged. He told me that he had gotten so lost he cried. He told me how he tried to retrace his steps. I don't know how we missed each other or why but I was so relieved to see him I didn't care.

He told me that on his second pass by the gallery he had asked someone to call me. I told him I was proud of his decision making even though he had been so impatient at the beginning. I explained to him how difficult it was to give him directions before he left when he kept insisting he knew what he was doing. And I told him that I wouldn't want to keep all of this from his mother, but that I would leave it up to him to tell her.

Back at The Boiler, I emptied out the fish and the water and devised a plan to fix the piece later that night. My son never said a word and waited patiently for me to finish.

When I was done I asked him if he still wanted that doughnut. He said no. Maybe the getting lost thing took the good doughnut vibes away from him. But I insisted. We went to the shop and he had his doughnut while I had an iced tea and we relaxed for a few minutes. It was so nice to sit together at the counter while he ate.

That evening, when my wife came home, the first thing my son did was tell her about his getting lost. I left them and went back to fix my piece. Riding the train there I remember thinking that when we were kids we had no cell phones and got lost all the time. And I was thinking about my son and how glad I was he was safe at home with my wife, and that maybe somehow getting lost and then found was the best thing that ever could have happened. As much as I want my son to get out the door and feel good on his own, I am not in such a big rush for that to happen after all.

David Kramer, a New York-based artist, was awarded the 2012 EESI Prize at Cite Gallery in Angoulême, France. His work is included in two current group exhibitions: "13" at Mulherin and Pollard and "Double Dirty Dozen" at Freight and Volume Gallery, both in New York City.

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