I’ve been trying to stay away from the news, but it’s like trying to ignore The Blitz. You never know when his tweets are going to land, or what they’re going to do—just insult some private citizen who slighted him, or set off World War 3. But it’s not just him. All my inner space has been invaded by unsavory drama-kings. Uber-villains pulling crying children from their parents and tossing them into human freezers; twinkling pop-stars luring 8-year-olds to their mansions and tricking them into having sex; stone-faced federal agents dragging anyone who tries to give water to dying refugees off to jail. I feel like I’ve fallen into a comic book. And every issue the writers have to up the ante. The arch-enemy this week is Jeffrey Epstein.
In May of 1962, in a twelve cent issue of The Fantastic Four, the Sub-Mariner was discovered in a Bowery flophouse, destitute, filthy, with no memory of the hero he'd been. If it hadn't been for the Human Torch, down on his luck and deciding to bunk at the same flophouse, he would have lived out his days there. In obscurity, exiled from the superhero life in the 1940s when the world lost interest.
My medic friend and mentor John just sent me a link to an article that traces the history of Epstein’s 77-million-dollar mansion on the Upper East Side, the one that he apparently purchased from some sleazy “friend” for ten dollars. Everything about the place was too much. It was built entirely from imported French limestone, and had forty rooms filled with priceless antiques and tapestries shipped from over from Europe.The biggest, gaudiest private residence in all of New York. The perfect lair for a fiendish billionaire.
But, in a peculiar twist of fate, from 1945-1961, that self-same mansion was a part of St. Clare’s. The Straus family had donated it to the Archdiocese of New York who transformed the building into the St. Clare’s Eye Ear Nose & Throat Division. And in 1959,three years before the Sub-Mariner's miraculous resurrection, there was an article of note in the New York Times:
City welfare workers had discovered a blind old man living in a Bowery flophouse. Laurence Stroetz was 81 years old, and had been on the Bowery since he fell on hard times during the Depression thirty years earlier. Authorities brought him to the eye division of St. Clare's to be treated for his blindness. Stroetz was so used to sitting on the floor of the flophouse he kept sitting on the floor of his room, as if he didn't understand that the comfortable chair there was meant for him. He'd been in the wilderness too long.
The Sisters bathed and shaved Mr. Stroetz, fed him home-cooked meals, and slowly a strange tale unfolded. He claimed to be a violinist who had played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and performed at the Savoy and the Lyceum. After he started to lose his sight, he played in temples and hotels, making a bit of change, until he pawned his violin and that was the end of that. One of the nuns remembered an old violin given to the convent by Cardinal Spellman, who'd found it in Rome. She dusted it off, and brought it to the old man. He tuned it, and haltingly played "Sidewalks of New York." Then, smoothly, "Ave Maria." The Sisters were stunned.
A few weeks later, his vision restored by a double cataract operation, Laurence Stroetz was profiled in the Times. He had played under Victor Herbert and Arturo Toscanini, and been totally blind for 20 years before being treated at St. Clare's. Lighthouse for the Blind donated a quality violin for him to keep as his own, and he performed for the Sisters and nurses before he met the press. Clad in blue and white pajamas and a red bathrobe, he played, "The Irish Washer Woman," as a welfare worker did a jig. The Sisters smiled and clapped. After the press arrived, he played Ave Maria for Cardinal Spellman, who had found the old violin that uncovered his lost life.