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.