My decades-long food colleague and friend Daniel Young, who lives in London and does many things, including posting on substack about past and present hungers, asked me if I knew of an old egg store on East 7th Street between Second and First avenues in the East Village, Manhattan, the same block where another Daniel and I live in a tenement built in 1893.
The egg store is in a 1984 film by Paul Mazursky, Moscow on the Hudson, London Daniel emailed. Russian-circus saxophonist Robin Williams, who defected while his troupe negotiated a final, surveilled splurge at Bloomingdale’s, occupied an apartment above it. Was the shop real, or did filmmakers slap together a storefront set, and what was its name, Dan asked?
When we streamed Moscow, I saw that wry costar Elya Baskin resembled our Dan, had the same open-hearted smile. Did someone tell him to watch this because of that? Immediately, I worried about my memory, because part of me went yes! to his egg-store question, but I had erased the sidewalk details. Where exactly was it?
Trying to solve a pregnant problem, I found a part of my youth online, in the form of the stark photo by Ann Sanfedele at the top of the screen. She has lived right across the street since 1968, I learned in an interview with her on Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.
Perhaps her place sits over Big Bar, where the Dizzy Ventilators, an avant-garde percussion duo, performs Sundays at 10 p.m. This red-lit, cash-only dive is a fav.
The phantom egg store had been a few buildings east, on my side, open only on Thursdays to sell white and brown from Shady Hollow Farm in Whitehouse, N.J., unmarked, undated. That wasn’t strictly legal then, as it wouldn’t be now. Neighbors lined up early to gossip, and 500 dozen (eggs) were gone by early afternoon. Some said they were still warm from the nest, a proper urban fantasy.
I do recall that I rarely got eggs there, because I worked on Thursdays. I love eggs; eggs were cheap, I was poor.
I moved to East 7th Street from San Diego, back to my hometown, in early 1977. When I look at the chilly chickens in Sanfedele’s picture, pale, goose-bump versions of fat, tan Chinatown ducks, I assume that I must have bought one and made soup. But the kosher poultry butcher closed soon after I arrived.
Maybe chicken, maybe eggs; maybe not.
The egg store relocated to East 9th Street, renamed itself “No More Eggs” and peddled muffins and scones, but fewer eggs, probably because of the Great Cholesterol Scare. It closed too.
I never connected the local chickens to the local eggs, perhaps because neither had to cross a road.
In 1979, I got a job at the nearby Village Voice. Sweet VV dance critic and editor Burt Supree also lived on East 7th Street, two buildings east. He smiled and nodded and sometimes said a hushed hello to me when we passed. I’m told he collected wooden duck decoys and displayed them on shelves in his apartment. In the ’60s, he performed, and later wrote children’s books and a column about kids and dance. When, in 1992, he collapsed suddenly on the subway and died, we knew a special gay spirit had left our place.
I’ve never been sure of my place, in spite of my rent-stabilized luck. Our apartment is almost the same as the former top floor of the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, although surrounding restorations make the plastered past even more wrinkled.
I found Sanfedele’s photo and others that she took and collected in an I-remember calendar. She had been urged to group the images, she emailed me, by an owner of our block’s premier coffeehouse, Abraço, which opened in the creepy, vacant Thursday store in 2007 and moved to larger digs across the street. The aforementioned Dan Young, as it happens, was one of the first to write about Abraço and its beckoning caffè macchiato.
I just reread his piece, filled with his voice, and nudged by age, fell asleep.
Wandering on a brilliant day, I knew I was on Second Avenue. Where was East 7th? My same body was light, unencumbered.
Nothing was right, though, because I was foreign, looking for home, alone. Sun hurt me, and after blocks with no signs (I hate this city, I said aloud), I saw my street, where it should be.
The whole vista, all the to way the river, housed a gleaming, cinematic power-plant, a million stories high, growling with electric malevolence. Ancient devils Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne built it together, so obvious, earning dead money on this visible future.
(Mayne actually said, after erecting his Babylonian Cooper Union satellite a bit west on East 7th, that he couldn’t care less about the tenements next door. I was there.)
We were out. I looked and walked, hoping for another home, as we do in dreams, and was taken in by teenage fellow travelers. But crusted razor blades and busted crimson syringes were strewn in piles under their filthy cots, where they put me to rest, imprisoned.
I woke on East 7th Street to barking outside, drenched.
No, no eggs. Not now.
Meredith Brody says
Such a lovely piece, dear Jeff Weinstein.
Such a great picture.
I’m overwhelmed by memories.
Hope that you and your across-the street neighbor get together in 2023 — maybe at Abraco.
And I hope that I see you in 2023. Fingers crossed.
Jeff Weinstein says
Hope I see you too. Thanks!
Carol Felsenthal says
There’s something to be said for staying awhile; for watching the evolution of a neighborhood, from the same building, same block, same apartment; from egg store to coffee house, and, for your reader, feeling in your evocative prose some nostalgia for the former. Beautiful piece, Jeff, and Ann Sanfedele’s photo is a gem. My eye keeps going to the woman in her galoshes, Queen Elizabeth handbag, and incongruously perky umbrella.
Elizabeth Zimmer says
I love the tone of this. My grandmother was a farmer in the Catskills. She’ sold eggs, and would mail us, maybe once a month, a big metal box with three dozen eggs in it would arrive at our apartment in East Elmhurst . You have more friends on the other side of East seventh St., and so do I. Happy new year, Jeff.
Jeff Weinstein says
And a happy one to you, Elizabeth. Funny that those Catskill eggs didn’t smash.