By James Maher
Name: Boris Ryback
Occupation: Retired plumber
Location: First Avenue and Fifth Street
Time: 3 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26
I’ve been here since the 1950s. I grew up here. These [Village View buildings] were all brownstones. This building came up in the 1960s. There was only one park, Tompkins Square Park and that was it.
I lived between Avenue B and C on 7th Street originally, and then we moved to 5th between Avenue A and B. When I grew up on Avenue C, everything was pushcarts. The only thing that did not come off a pushcart was the milk, which was sold in the store. Eggs and everything else came from a farm. There was a farmer who would come around and you would buy the eggs from him ... about once a week.
You stayed within your own neighborhood. You did not go out of your neighborhood. You had to belong in a group in your neighborhood – same ethnicity. Then you made alliances with other groups in order to move around. You had to stay within your own group or you’d get rearranged. I went to St. George’s. A lot of my friends went to St. Stan’s, and more went to St. Brigid’s. The only place we went to every once in awhile was over to 7th Street to McSorley’s. That’s about it. Nothing’s changed. It only got filthier.
I enjoyed it. There were no problems. You had more freedoms when you were a kid then you have now. There are more rules now. Then the yuppies moved in. When they moved in, the price of rent went up. My parents were living on 7th Street between Avenue B and C. They were paying for a cold-water flat, $35 a month rent. The toilet was out in the hallway. The bathtub was in the kitchen. The building had no heat. You had to generate your own heat. When you went to the bathroom, you went quickly.
It stayed the same [in the 1970s and 1980s]. The ones that were gonna die, died, and the ones that were not gonna die were not gonna die, no matter what you did. Most of my friends became cops. A lot of them became sanitation men. A lot of us became plumbers. You looked for a job that made the most money, other than having to shoot somebody. I was a plumber in New York for a long period of time, then I moved to New Jersey, and I stayed. [He was visiting family who lives in Village View.] I just retired out of Rutgers University after being there for 23 years as a plumber.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.