Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher

Name: Lee Schramm
Occupation: Retired, English as Second Language Teacher
Location: 10th Street and Avenue A
Time: 12:45 on Saturday, Jan. 5

I’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1974. I teach English as a second language. It has been my profession all my life but I’m retired now. I taught at a private language school called Cambridge School. I got into English because I was in the Peace Corps in Turkey and that’s what I did there. I liked it so it became my career.

I met a boy, a man, whatever he is, and we moved in together into the neighborhood in ‘74. He didn’t have a job at the time because he was living in San Francisco and I had my teaching job, which didn’t pay a lot. So we moved here because it was cheap. We lived on Avenue A and, at that time, we would never go left toward Avenue B. There was nothing on Broadway and nothing on Lafayette. You would never believe it by looking at Broadway now, but there was really nothing. It was dead! The only thing you could do was go to the West Village, which was active, but you could only walk down 8th Street because that was the only street that had shops and people.

It wasn’t a very good neighborhood at the time. There were a lot of burnt-out buildings. It looked similar to what you’ve heard about the South Bronx with a lot of drugs and a lot of burnt-out, empty buildings. Because I never was into drugs, I think that I was relatively safe and I never had any problems. But also, I didn’t roam. I walked fast and I went to a certain place and I looked determined and I think that may have had something to do with it.

In those days you would not go into Tompkins Square Park with all the homeless people living there. I wouldn’t even consider going in there. Now I spend a lot of time in the Park. I used to go to Washington Square Park, even though they had a lot of drugs over there at the time. But it was safe.

Only one time did I ever have a problem. It was after a huge snowstorm. We had like two feet of piled-up snow and there was nobody on the streets. I got robbed by a man with a gun. Whether he had a real gun or whether it was loaded or not I didn’t know. I didn’t care. I only had six dollars on me and so I gave him the six dollars! I actually wasn't scared until it was over. I’m lucky for all my times in New York City to only have that one little incident.

When I first came here, really the only things you had were the Odessas and the Polish restaurants. There were not many places to eat. Now, of course, the restaurants are fabulous in the East Village.

I spend all my life here because there’s so much to do. There are galleries coming back and there are fabulous restaurants ... and in close walking distance I have Cinema Village on 12th Street, the Quad on 13th Street, the Angelica, and the Film Forum too. I like the indie movies much more than the blockbusters.

My favorite restaurant in the neighborhood is Prune. A new one that’s very nice and quite good is Toucan & the Lion on East 6th Street near 1st Avenue. And on Avenue C and 5th street is Casa Adela — the best chicken in New York City, I think. You could never go down to C before and now there are so many nice places there.

Just don’t ask me my rent. You wouldn’t like me.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

Great subject and great interview as usual!

Anonymous said...

I always like hearing people talk about how they like living here now more than ever. Too often we focus on what is closing or the negative as opposed to what's still here and at our disposal, like the movie theaters he mentions. (And I'd add Anthology Film Archives.)

Anonymous said...

these profiles are fantastic! thank you so much!

glamma said...

I like you James and I hope you have the best d@mn rent in town.
; )

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing he pays under $200 a month in rent.

Anonymous said...

The last block from First to A was daunting before 1990, especially after dark. First Ave. was pretty deserted too. Our block was actually better (for the un-drug involved neighbors) during the heroine period than speed or crack. More burglaries during the crack epidemic. I was never mugged, but I was quite nervous when alone that last, deserted block.

Marty Wombacher said...

Always love these! Lee if you're reading, can you at least give us a little hint about your rent in a comment here?

Goggla said...

Another enjoyable interview!

And good for him for having affordable rent - that's what keeps interesting people here.

James Maher said...

I can imagine how lucky the building owner felt to have Lee as a resident back when the neighborhood was more dangerous and most people didn't want to live here.

Anonymous said...

He survived the rough years. Glad that he is enjoying the neighborhood and his low rent

Anonymous said...

Seems like a nice guy, I wish I could feel as optimistic as he does, I walk down rivington street on the weekend on my way home and am sure I have stepped into the seventh circle of hell, don't really like any of the new things too much. It always irks me when people say oh there was nothing there,past avenue c, hows that supposed to make us feel that grew up there as kids?

Anonymous said...

Because folks from plattsburgh who moved here in the 80s and 90s think they're Columbus discovering the new world. It's laughable, really. I used to get taunted for being from the Bronx, now it's like some macabre badge of honor. And that anyone including this guy receives any amount of adulation for the simple act of living here for 20 years is quite bizarre.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Another nice profile - I love reading these!
I remember in the early 80s how even Second Avenue seemed empty below 6th or so by evening, but my husband (also ESL teacher then!)scoffs & brings out his 70s stories of dark, completely deserted EV, Soho streets and also(in contrast) the bustling openair drug trade on his block (between Second & First) & countless others. His building was in sad shape then - he made a new friend in the neighbor above when the guy's leg burst through his studio ceiling!

BagelGuy said...

FORTY YEARS not twenty . And, anyone who stuck it out during the 70's and early 80's is a real New Yorker and deserves to be revered. Those were tough times.

Anonymous said...

I wish everyone would pay attention to the fact that this long-time resident is HAPPY about the gentrification. He actually lived through the times that you all romanticize and he knows there was nothing romantic about them. I agree that the bars and weekend night whoo hoos are tiresome, but please don't wish for the '70's and 80's, it is boarder-line offensive.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful little talk, sounding so civilized, natural and optimistic.