On Bake Sales, Lining up and Casting Away

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I thought I would be writing about the adventures of Miss Pat and the joys of juvenile fiction, however today turns out to be a brief segue. For obvious reasons, over the past week I have had a lot of time to reflect on my particular, long-standing affection for voting. Please know I write this post in the most non-partisan sense and ruminating on the concept, act and how it takes place in our Yorkville community here. Spoiler alert – this is mostly a hometown post, a stroll through our town, New York City.

When I consider voting, there is the metaphorical aspect of it – participating in the process and fulfilling the mandate of being a citizen in a democracy. Women voting is a recent enough development – in the big picture – that I personally cannot imagine taking it for granted.

And I am enough of a nerd about all of this to have reveled, to some degree anyway, in the nitty gritty examination and descriptions of vote classifications recently, as the news media while searching for new speaking points over a long haul of many days of vote counting, dug into the strata of what votes are counted when and how, rules that vary by state. I am deeply satisfied at the extraordinary voter turnout in the recent election. Voter apathy always greatly saddens and troubles me. You don’t have to agree with how I vote, but quite simply in my opinion you should exercise the right to vote.

However, I also actually like the very act of voting. I deeply miss the voting machines New York clung to for a very long time. These antique metal boxes, with their pull-string privacy curtains, had lovely little colored levers you would push, ticka-ticka-ticka, you would pull the big metal handle into place your vote was counted. It was somehow very tactile and satisfying – you really knew you had done something when you pulled that lever.

Not an actual New York City machine, but these were the style we used for many years here.

Having been away at college for my initial voting years, my first in-person voting location, back when I lived on 85th Street here, was a small German Church a few blocks away on 84th, between First and Second Avenues – some services still delivered in German for the elderly residents of Yorkville, or at least this was the case, I have not checked in recent years and that population may have dwindled away. Voting took place as it does, in a sort of multi-purpose room as shown below, with the small stage at the front where I always somehow imagine Christmas pageants taking place.

Kim and I have frequently wandered into jumble sales held there over many years of living here. Often there is one associated with a small block street fair to celebrate Oktoberfest or the Steuben Day parade, oompah band playing outside while beer, bratwurst and hot dogs are happily consumed. In the before days – no block parties or street gatherings during the course of our pandemic fall.

Interior of Zion St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Yorkville

After moving to our current home on 86th Street, Kim and I voted in a school nearby on 88th Street for many years. There was usually a PTA bake sale going on (ignoring some arcane law which may prohibit such things) and I always loved the feel of it. You would see neighbors, out of their usual context of your halls and elevators, sans their usual dog on a leash, looking for the same line as you to wait in. It was set up in a high school gym so you had that sense memory too.

While I enjoyed the sight of the bake sales I usually eschewed them in favor of stopping by a great bakery that used to be on First Avenue, Glaser’s. They were in the same spot on First Avenue and 88th Street since 1904 and given the photos they displayed, it looked exactly the same. Three women, one younger and two elderly, all sporting degrees of Irish accents, waited on customers, tying white cardboard boxes of pastry with the red and white string I remembered from my childhood baked goods, as produced by my non-baking paternal grandmother on Sundays. They only transacted with cash and were pleased if you produced exact change which was deposited in an enormous old metal register like the ones you see on American Pickers, after they dutifully added your purchase up on a separate machine or by hand. You were issued a yellow handwritten carbon copy of a receipt from a pad.

Interior of Glaser’s Bakery

Glaser’s was a bakery that still produced mocha layer cakes – my sister’s unusual favorite choice of birthday cake since childhood and a dying breed of cake – an excellent black and white cookie, and a really superior apple turnover. I met my neighbors down the hall there for the first time, waiting in a long line for Thanksgiving pie pick-up. Judy had her dog Pica and I offered to keep an eye on the sedate canine while Judy had her turn inside. A few days later we realized we both lived on the 16th floor of our building.

Election Day however was more likely inveigh me to invest calories in one of their trademark homemade sugar doughnut – these always seemed perfectly right for an early November morning. I used to buy boxes of these cake-y treats for my staff at the Met after long nights working events at the Museum. No matter how late we had been there the night before the expectation was expected that you would be your desk at 9:00 the next morning – homemade doughnuts made that seem a bit less awful and was a thank you for their hard work.

I went to Glaser’s often enough to be known there, but not so often that I was a regular. Their Christmas cookies melted buttery in your mouth and I would order boxes in advance to bring to holiday gatherings and to drop off as a holiday thank you to various people. Sadly Glaser’s closed a few years ago now, lines circled the block in the last days to have one more go at their treats.

When I worked for the Met Museum Election Day was a holiday (it was made so at JALC for the first time this year) and I would usually vote in the late morning after the before work rush and before the lunchtime one. As someone who enjoys the whole process I vote in every election – even those with no major issues or candidates. I vote in all primaries and was among the few who showed up for them this year – pandemic and Biden’s candidacy meant folks did not bother.

I remember that I had in fact voted in a special election the morning of 9/11, among a small smattering of people, which meant I got to work extra early that morning, those result ultimately canceled as a result of the attacks.

Our voting place was moved to a church a block away a couple of years ago. It has a lovely yard with a garden I have always admired and I suspect that the actual church is one of the most beautiful in the area, although I have only glimpsed the interior. I used to make daguerreotypes in the garden, hauling my tripod from my darkroom on Second Avenue. No bake sales associated with voting there sadly. I admit that I like it a bit less, but still find it charming in its own way.

Holy Trinity Church on East 88th Street

Kim generally accompanies me to vote in the more substantial elections – Mayor and President. He and I voted early this year – a well publicized first for New York. (Initially I got the date wrong and we made what turned out to be a trial trip to 75th Street.) It held little if any of the charm of my usual voting experience, but a four hour wait on a chilly November morning, slowly moving around a block (and around again) had its own frisson of interest and was certainly memorable. Kim read one of my Judy Bolton novels and I listened to a historic novel about Britain the 1920’s on my iPhone. In the chill I began to fantasize about making a seafood pot pie which I made the next Sunday. (Instagram followers will recognize these photos as I tracked it all in real time posting.)

Within the first hour of our wait, when we thought it was moving quickly! I took this photo over Kim’s shoulder as he reads The Half Cat Mystery.
Initial and somewhat messy attempt at seafood pot pie made the next weekend.

As it turns out it was unnecessary, so many people voting in advance that we could easily have voted on Election Day. A conversation with a Jazz at Lincoln Center Board member who lives in my neighborhood confirmed that there was virtually no line – he still votes at the school on 88th Street. When I told him I missed voting there he bought me chocolate chip cookies from the bake sale and left them with my doorman.

Due to the pandemic the folks working at the voting location were younger than usual and that was sort of nice to see. We were hand sanitized and six feet apart – separated to the point of my almost losing track of Kim at one point, but his cowboy hat enabled me to locate him. Ballots are now fed into scanners, no ticking of metal switches, alas.

Seeing the entrance at last after almost four hours.

Partisanship notwithstanding, to see New York, and in fact the country, so actively invested in an election that there was literally dancing in the streets here when results were announced; the extraordinary election turn out despite the pandemic; and watching the process unfold in a determinedly ordinary way, despite sudden national examination and spotlight, deeply pleased and moved me.

I have long imagined that should I eventually make my way to an active retirement period of life that I will work at my voting place, becoming one of the no nonsense, bespectacled, cardigan wearing elderly women who authoritatively tells you where your line is or how to fill out your ballot, some chocolate chip cookies dotted with M&M’s, tucked in my purse for later.

Cornered

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Setting up for Christmas, 86th Street and First Ave, NYC

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: If you are going to live in a city like New York you should have a pretty thick skin about change. After all, cities are constantly evolving, building new on top of old and on a relatively small island like Manhattan the land grab means constantly shifting vistas. Having said that, change is somewhat anathema to my nature – I have a catlike love of continuity and routine. Therefore, in some ways, I live in a state of discomfort here. And, until recently, Yorkville the tiny post-German enclave hanging over the edge of the Upper Eastside was somewhat beneath notice. However, it has started to catch up with us.

With some dismay I have been watching and waiting for the dissolution of the southwest corner of 86th and First Avenue in favor of ridiculously expensive condos. (York Avenue is undergoing a similar demolition at 86th, curling around a building housing a diner and a newsagent, 86 on one side, York on the other.) For the handful of you how follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you have seen some of these photos as I started to record it.

When I first moved to the ‘hood, back in about ’88, the diner shown here on the corner was my diner and in many ways it stayed my neighborhood diner. (To be clear, I also have a diner near work and perhaps some day I will outline this complex relationship which is very special. Kim once visited and remarked that it was like I was Mayor of a small town there.) In those early years when I was cooking for a living and this diner was a daily stop for a (large) pre-dawn breakfast before a day of cooking in midtown. In Manhattan (and perhaps elsewhere, but I have never really lived elsewhere as an adult) your diner is the place where they know you on sight and generally know how you like your coffee and your eggs. As a recent grad new to the city this seemed like a miracle of friendliness. The owner once asked me on a date in those early years which took me quite by surprise – I was more easily surprised at that age. I said no thank you. I believe I was already dating the crazed fellow chef as mentioned recently in my post of Catskill remembrance, The Wigwam.

This diner actually moved to Second Avenue as the dissolving of the corner began, taking over an existing lesser diner’s spot and it’s name, and where they are enjoying the long anticipated Second Avenue subway boom. Although I have not needed a local diner for a long time I have fallen into the habit of meeting a friend there on weekends and, low and behold, the waiter remembered our orders this weekend. Nothing short of a miracle. Seems I have a diner in the neighborhood again.

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Diner in its new incarnation on Second Avenue and 86th Street

 

The corner in question has been where Christmas trees have been sold in recent years. (When I first moved here they were sold on an empty lot on First – can you imagine an empty lot! Highrise there now.) I especially enjoy when the Christmas tree folks set up camp for a few weeks. They come right before or immediately after Thanksgiving. Their fragrant pines create a temporary forest. Part of me objects to the idea of growing these trees just to cut them down and serve them up for a short-term sentence of decoration in someone’s home – but the smell is glorious and our out-of-town guests a nice change of pace.

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Tree seller settled in with his cell phone

 

Beyond that, heading across 86, was what had been our grocery store for years, a Gristedes. I cannot really mourn the loss, it was poorly run, grimy and you always had to watch the register and your change for mistakes. However, there was (and I am so very sorry not to have a photo of it now) a VERY large green pear (we’re talking human-sized) attached to the front of the store which christened it as the Pear Store in the Pam/Kim vernacular of daily life, as in “Yeah, I’ll pick it up from the Pear Store on the way home.” Replaced in our house largely first by Fresh Direct, then Fairway and then the addition of a Whole Foods, we also cling to a Gristedes on York for general grocery needs. However, this store is a wondrous single story – yep, nothing above it, a row of brownstone walk-ups peering over it. We knew we were on borrowed time as Manhattan hates nothing so much as the opportunity to build upward, and I understand the air rights went for a mint. In general, the loss of this corner will mean a loss of light on the ground for us daily denizens of the neighborhood, as what is likely to come will be hulking and light obscuring for sure.

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First and 86th Streets NYC

 

Inching further down the block I will add that there once was a splendid hole-in-the wall Russian restaurant on the far side of the grocery store. It must have housed about eight tables. They made heavenly blini for a bargain price. If you weren’t careful however, they gave you large servings of kasha with your entree and the middle-aged Russian proprietress would yell at you if you didn’t finish it. I didn’t realize that kasha was a smell from my childhood – Russian Jewish grandparents on my father’s side, Sunday lunches – and I hate it. Probably hated it as a child too. No kasha for me. (I had my last date with my ex-boyfriend Kevin there. We ate there frequently and had gone there after returning from a trip to a wedding in Maine where he broke the news that he was calling it quits after seven years.) The storefront has since become a high-end drugstore and I believe is not being torn down.

Zipping back around to the First Avenue side of the block, there was briefly a rather interesting store that sold nothing but pickles and olives. They relocated to Lexington Avenue where frankly they seem to do a better business. Then there was a sort of pop-up dollar store where Kim purchased some dubious readers (eyeglasses I mean, you can still see the sign for it), a fairly traditional barbershop, a bar, and most recently a sort of city-run residential halfway house of some kind. While I do not especially bemoan much along that stretch, I will mention that the apartments above the diner on the corner were long coveted by me. Corner views are always especially nice and look at that top floor – that must have been lovely – there are skylights and a glassed in room at the top. Sigh. Can’t really envy it now because if I lived there I would be looking for a new perch here in Yorkville – and unlikely to afford it!