New Blog

Haven't been on here in a good long while, but in case any of my old readers pokes around, I have recently opened a new blog entitled

By Book or By Crook

It's a guide to buying and selling used books on the internet.

I hope you enjoy!


Strange to Me

I headed out to the meeting in Albion early. The day features icy early March with patches of sun and promise of snow, though slow to materialize. The superhighway toward, around and away from Rochester is a sort of slingshot, though it gives you miles of suburban landscape sameness.

The meeting itself, after an hours drive, is nothing special, more of the same and before I know it, I’m back in the car.

On the way back the State roads seem like a better idea, so I drive straight south on 98, over waves of ancient shorelines where this or that glacier or glacial lake had thrown a beach. From the dusting of snow overnight, the fields are muted white, gray, tan or white. Crossing the mucklands north of Elba, wisps of steam rising from the flat black fields suggest the surface of a lake.

I hope to find Bill Kauffman at home in Elba. I find his house a block off 98 on Chapel Street and its deep, vibrant yellow seems to hold out the possibility that I’d find him at home, but not so. I walk to his door and tap, then tap again and turn back to my car.

I’d wanted to ask Bill to give me more precise directions to the bookstore in Batavia. In Batavia, I cruise the State highways 98, 5, 33, and 63 in all directions to the edge of town. On my way north on 63 near downtown I see the Pok-A-Dot is open for lunch business. The Pok-A-Dot is a 40s lunch counter, a tent of a building erected for temporary shelter but surviving into a new century. It must be nice in the summer because you can order your food, then sit under shelter off to the side of traffic to eat it up. In the winter, it seems to be made mostly of glass, and everybody crouches over the heat sources at the stove top, grill, and deep fryer. Almost all the patrons are men, and most have their coats and hats still on. All the cooks and servers are women.

In the Pok-A-Dot, there are six or eight tables and a counter seating twelve or fifteen that bends around the grill. I sit at the counter, nearer the heat. The waitress never offers me a menu. She just comes up and says, “What will you have?”

I see someone has an order of onion rings, so I ask for them too. Out, they were out.

I order the health food plate: hotdog, French fries and Pepsi. First, she delivers the Pepsi in a frosted mug that defrosts all over the counter. The hotdog and fries come later, each in a folded paper boat. The fries come with a sharpened stick. I eat my lunch. A guy comes in later and sits beside me. Maybe it’s his usual seat. The waitress doesn’t even ask; she brings him a cup of coffee, then a hotdog garnished with fried onions.

When I pay and am ready to leave, I ask, “Is there bookstore in town?”

The waitress starts to answer, then turns to a customer who’s been reading a book the whole time over a cup of coffee at the counter. I saw him; of course I should have asked him. She asks him for me, “Do we have a bookstore?”

He looks at me; I look at him. He’s about my age, maybe a little heavier and a shade redder in the face. “What kind of books do you want?” he asks.

I say, “Batavia books,” thinking of the novelist John Gardner, who was born here and set Sunlight Dialogues in Batavia, but I couldn’t remember his name. I thought about saying, the guy who wrote about painting L-O-V-E across the Thruway entrance north of town.

But while I was thinking, he asks, “You mean, like Bill, what’s his-name?”

I say, “Yeah, Kauffman. Bill Kauffman.”

He says, “You want Present Tense Books on the corner of Washington and State,” and tells me precisely how to get there. He also suggests the Holland Land Office Museum gift shop as a second choice for historical books about Batavia.

I follow his directions through the corners and lights and drive easily to Present Tense Books but, it being Monday and all, it’s closed.

-by Stephan Lewandowski


Stamford, The Queen of the Catskills

A few weeks ago, we received an email from Matt from Albany who told us about Stamford, NY (wikipedia). For those who are not from the area, Stamford is a small village in Delaware County east of Oneonta and northwest of the Catskill Park (map). Matt writes:
Prior to the Borscht Belt hotel craze of later years, a "Hotel Era" took place in Stamford between 1883 and 1942. It was where "white" city folks spent their summers

My father grew up there. My aunt is the village historian. That's why I have over 300 scans of postcards from that time & stuck some of them to Google Earth.

Historical Survey: this is just an informal survey & map of the village hotels.

Matt is the webmaster for the Forgotten Faces and Places blog, a neat blog that tries to identify historical postcards and photos. He came to hear about us while researching a photo from the 1910s, apparently the clue that helped him identify the building as the Broome County Courthouse was our post from 2005. I really liked his post of the "Happiest Wedding Party Ever!!", who are probably all depressed-he surmises-because they live in the "Age of Crappy Hats."

We're glad to have been a help and are thrilled to hear back from Matt.



Book Review: Possessions, the History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley by Judith Richardson

Richardson's book, Possessions: the History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley, (2003) from Harvard University Press was suggested to me by a professor who is aware of my interest in the Upstate region and in the uses and interpretation of our history. Rarely do I read a book that is both profound and easy to read, despite weighing in at a hefty 209 pages, Richardson's continual weaving of haunted stories throughout the narrative helped to keep my focus.

The book is more than a collection of ghost tales, it is a reflection on the state of hauntedness itself. Richardson asks, why is the Hudson Valley considered to be haunted? To what purpose are the discussions of ghosts in the social lives of the people of the Hudson Valley, insiders and outsiders?

She does this through a series of chapters. One details the life and influence of Washington Irving and his headless Hessians, ghostly Dutchmen and poor Rip Van Winkle.

A further chapter relfects upon the three hundred year-old haunting of the ghost of Anna Dorothea Swarts, an 18th century servant/slave (there is vagueness here) who was murdered by her master. Utilizing an impressive command of local historical archives, Richardson puts together how Swarts' story has been reconstructed over the past three centuries and how she continues to bring forth repressed memories. Her's is the hidden history of slavery and repression in a land of mansions and patroons

Swart's ghost signifies things hidden in a collective unconscious; she is the martyr and memory of a secret history, recalling, for instance, exploitative and violent systems f servitude that existed in the North, in New York, as well as elsewhere. She represents whole categories of people who have been tucked away from view... (119-120)

While the ghost of Anna Dorothea Swarts may represent a fearsome reassertion of things repressed or unresolved, she also embodies the exact opposite of agency: a servant, female, tied and drawn entirely against her will by a motive force that is not her own. (122)

She moves on to discuss different genres of ghosts-ancestral ghosts of Indians and the Dutch, Revolutionary War Ghosts and phantasms of industrial workers-and how different populations of the Valley have engaged these ghosts, seen something of their own engagement (or lack thereof) witht he history of the land in them.

She finishes with a discussion of High Tor, a mountain that is currently at the heart of High Tor State Park. She shows how a 1930s play of the same name, (a Pulitzer prize-winning script by Maxwell Anderson), was used to spark interest in the history and conservation of the peak. Anderson utilizes numerous ghosts, especially native peoples and the Dutch, torture the agents of a mining company seeking to buy up the rock from its last owner. "These realizations of hauntings-the actual work done by haunting in the material world-constitute a politics of possession." (193)

I am always concerned with the silencing of local voices through the use of environmental and conservation rhetorics, a situation that is most exacerbated in the Hudson Valley and within the Adirondack Park. To her great credit, Richardson recognizes this problem and discusses the flooding of Catskill villages to create reservoirs and the annhilation of towns to build state parks. She cautions that

...the casting of people as 'folk,' even as it seems to place value on them as the source of tradition, also tends to mute their contemporary social and political voice by suggesting that their significance lies int he past rather than in the present. (197-198)

Through all of these examples, Richardson shows a nuanced understanding of the place of ghosts and this distinctive, haunted landscape. The book is an excellent addition to any Yorkstaters' reading list. Near the end, she sums up the continued haunting as an expression of our dislocation from history and landscape. The Hudson Valley has

...a legacy of haunting based in a series of contentions over territory and culture-a legacy that continues to reflect on an original sin of colonial dispossession but that gains material and emphasis from whole series of subsequent events. It echoes the enduring problems of rights and possession. The question 'who gives you the right?' is posed more than once to a settler on the unlucky ground, without satisfactory response. (207-208)



Upstate Music: Scissor Proof Records

Opening up our email account, I found the following amusing email:

I feel the need to let you in on a little secret of York State musical lore. There is a rap group, Otzi's Axe, that perform music inspired soley by their rustic upstate surroundings in the 315 area code. All three bearded madmen of the group are proud lifelong residents of the coastal plain between Lake Ontario and the Tug Hill Plateau. Their subject manner includes: drinking homebrew, chopping wood, and pure upstate living. Check out their bio on the site below. Also, they are part of the Scissor Proof collective which is a loose group of other musicians who representing upstate (although Otzi is the only rap group)

Otzi's Axe: www.scissorproofrecords.com

I am so glad that your site exists. I just found it tonight. Keep up the great work.


As a fan of drinking homebrew, chopping wood and references to obscure archaeological relics (Otzi the Iceman, and his axe, were found in a glacier in the Alps in 1991, click here for cool pictures), I'm passing this info on to you, our good readers. Their website claims that Scissor Proof records is the only "solar powered record label" in New York, a claim which might be true. They've got a few mp3s on their site, you can check them out for yourself to hear what three bearded, woodchopping Tug Hillians might sound like if they made rap music.

If you have some element of Upstate living you'd like to share or a post you'd like us to put up, we welcome all submissions to our email address: york.staters[at]gmail[dot]com. You might want to check out our simple submissions guidelines and our mission statement. Basically, we put most everything having to do with Upstate New York (so, please no more emails on the Manhatten clubbing scene or art openings in the Bronx). Also, don't be afraid to comment, send us quotes for our quote board or your favorite books for our book list.

We look forward to hearing from you.
Co Editor


Journey to Onondaga

This morning, I pulled off the exit from Route 81 for “Nedrow/Onondaga Nation Territory” in a gray haze and light rain. At the same time as I left the highway, I also left the sovereign state of New York and entered the sovereign territory of the Onondaga people. With me were four of my friends all of whom were from overseas (Colombia, India and Vietnam) and had an interest in getting outside of Syracuse for a bit.

I crossed the street at the bottom of the ramp and pulled into the parking lot for the Firekeepers Diner. The large restaurant was visible from the highway and I had always meant to make a stop but never found myself there until today. On a clear day, you can see the infamous, Route 81 billboard with one side that reads “We the Indigenous Peoples Own the Western Hemisphere” and the other, now painted over, had an anti-Albany diatribe on it.

The existence of these crudely painted billboards reminded me that this little patch of land is fundamentally different than the rest of New York. I, a white citizen of the United States am able to walk this state and more or less feel that I belong. But on Onondaga, I always have a nagging reminder that this land belongs to another people, another culture. Moreover, I remember that the rest of the state, where I tread with such comfort and ease, was once the same before it was stolen through violence and betrayal. It’s a thought that’s sat in the pit of my stomach all day.

Firekeepers is decent as far as diners go. The portions were absurdly large and cheap, though not of incredibly high quality; I reflected a bit on the ongoing battle with obesity and diabetes on the Reservation as I vainly attempted to eat three pancakes bigger than my head and thicker than my thumb. The atmosphere is homey and warm inside, though the aspect that struck me the most was one I don’t often think about: the smoking section.

New York, of course, banned indoor smoking several years ago, but the Onondaga (like all sovereign indigenous nations) are governed by their own set of laws. I don’t often leave Central New York and was taken back a bit as I walked through the large smoking section to the non-smoking room in the back.

Driving north along Route 11 from the Firekeepers we came to three buildings clustered at the edge of Onondaga Territory. One, with a large Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Flag on the roof was unlabeled, but I believe it is the factory that produces many of the cigarettes sold on the Nation. This factory is a product of an ongoing battle between the state of New York, the Haudenosaunee and the convenience store lobby in Albany.

Past the factory is a huge indoor lacrosse and hockey arena and beyond that the Smoke Shop. We pulled up to the Smoke Shop, a bustling place which included a drive-thru line. Inside, the walls were stacked to the ceiling with cheap cigarettes, loose tobacco and cigars (including Cubans… I wonder what the story behind them is). The draw is that New York cigarette taxes do not apply here. This is not a case of New York giving a “tax-exempt” status to the Onondaga out of charity, but because the laws of New York do not apply here.

The constant gripe amongst the anti-Indian community is that “Indians don’t pay taxes” or “Indians get special privileges” doesn’t understand that Indian nations have their own governments. They don’t pay New York taxes (provided they live and work on the Reservation) just as I don’t pay Onondaga or Canadian taxes. Indian “special privileges” (such as non-taxed cigarettes) are actually the rights of sovereign nations: the government of New York has decided to tax cigarettes and the government of Onondaga has decided not to.

The Smoke Shop sits at the center of the Onondaga economy, it funds health care, infrastructure, economic development, environmental activism and the basic governmental apparatus. For a people who on ethical and religious grounds forbid gambling and alcohol and who reject handouts from the Federal Government, the sale of tobacco is a deeply troubling, absolutely necessary lifeline.

This is a hot controversy, especially with Gov. Patterson seeking to cut budgets and find money anywhere possible. The State of New York has been seeking to stop smoke shops for years, recently arresting a woman returning home with a car full of cigarettes for not paying taxes.

Are there easy answers here? Should New York have the right to tax its own citizens buying products on another state’s territory? Should the Onondaga economy be based off of selling poison to their fellow Central New Yorkers? What responsibility do those of us who walk with ease upon the lands surrounding Onondaga have to right the wrongs of the past? Does anyone have the right to extinguish the economic foundation of a community, any community?

As I drove out of Onondaga, into Nedrow and back to Syracuse, I was unable to answer but I did know one thing. The citizens of Upstate New York and the Haudenosaunee League are neighbors and we share this beautiful land.

-by Jesse


NY Progressives have more options than just the Democrats

Folks concerned with the Conservativism of the Bush years have much to be excited about today with the impending election of Democrat Barack Obama. Sitting in the Democratic stronghold of urban Syracuse, one cannot help but feel the excitement and energy.

But, I want to ask: is it the case that, as the Democratic partisans say, voting for Barack Obama on the Democratic line is the only option and that doing anything else would be tantamount to voting for John McCain? I would like to point out two distinct New York options that may allow us to make a stronger point with our votes that won’t affect the chances of Mr. Obama’s success.

It does not hurt to point out that we work in a winner-take-all Electoral College system. I am firmly opposed to this form of elections, but, since that’s the way the system works at this particular moment, we have to work with what we’ve got.

Here in Upstate New York, we are attached at the hip to the great City of New York. As such, we have gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1984 when Walter Mondale only won Minnesota. In the infamous 2000 election, Ralph Nader received 3.58% of the vote in New York (compared to his national average of 2.7%) and Al Gore still carried New York with 60.21% of the vote (compared to 35.23% for Bush!). That comes out to a little less than 2 million more votes. Even here in Onondaga County, where Bush garnered 41.1% of the vote and Nader 3.8%, Gore still won an absolute majority of 54.0%!! Source

This election promises to be even more heavily dominated locally by the Democratic Party. Simply put, this frees us liberally-minded folk to follow our dreams not our fears.

Why vote Nader-Gonzalez? I have chosen to cast my vote with them over Barack Obama for a few reasons.

(1) A key cornerstone of this campaign has been election reform. More than just new voting machines, we’re talking about reformulating our antiquated system of winner-take-all elections to utilize the more democratic forms of elections. Americans are deeply disenchanted with the two party system (just look at the number of independents) and its time we open the door to other options like they do in every European country, our Canadian neighbors and in much of the rest of the world.
(2)The Nader-Gonzalez Campaign, unlike that of Obama (who supports unilateral attacks on Pakistan, for instance) is against Neo-imperial policies of the United States, both economically and militarily. Where are the criticisms of the brutality of the World Bank, IMF and similar agencies in the mainstream debate?
(3)Their campaign, further, has approached our economic crisis by saying that we need to aid the American people, not Wall Street bankers. Moreover, they know that a strong labor movement is the only way to protect working people

I favor the Nader-Gonzalez campaign over that of the similar policies of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente because of the wider public acknowledgement of Nader and what he stands for. It appears that Nader will garner his largest electoral support yet and this will give a strong message to those in power that these issues will not go away, no matter how many inspiring speeches one gives about ‘hope’.

That is the real power of a Nader-Gonzalez vote. It states that Leftist politics are here to stay and that there are fundamental problems with the two party system itself that cannot be solved by any candidate from within them.

For those who have problems with Nader-Gonzalez, McKinney-Clemente, who want to vote Obama-Biden but want to send a direct message, we are fortunate here in New York to benefit from fusion voting. In a fusion system, a candidate can be endorsed by numerous parties and when the votes are tallied, votes from different party lines are added together to come to the total for the candidate.

This means that little parties, such as the Liberals, Right-to-Life and Working Families can make a difference by courting voters around a specific set of issues. By voting for Barack Obama (for example) on the Working Families line (“Working Families Party Endorses Barack Obama"), your vote still “counts” but you are sending a message that the issues of the WF party are those that you share—you are not some mythical “centralist” “swing” voter who can be courted by moving the Democratic position to the Right.

The Working Families Party—who will be getting my vote on a number of local candidates—support many progressive issues glossed over by the Democrats including:

(1)Public Transportation
(2)Single Payer, Universal Health Care and Paid Family Leave
(3)Clean Elections through Public Financing

In previous years, I have made a point of not voting and making my reasons for doing so known on this blog (Here’s the 2006 statement I made). While I do not regret those decisions in previous years, I do plan on voting come Tuesday. However, I hope that I’ve shown that there are numerous options to make a more pointed statement with your vote, to say more through your ballot.

-by Jesse