The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

good clean fun

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of June (which you’ll recall as a brutally hot and humid week), your humble narrator found himself in the wilds of Brooklyn, and observed that some New York traditions haven’t gone out of style.

Opining about the seemingly forgotten Bearclaw danish (the absence of which from New York City menus seems to indicate a glitch in the Matrix), the loss of the impact prefix “‘effin” at the beginning of every statement, and the Krishna lunch at Tompkins Square are a few of my regular rants- but until this hot day- I didn’t realize that kids just don’t play in the fire hydrant stream very much these days- a common sight during the first half of my life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the 70’s- if a city kid wanted to swim, you went to the beach or a rich relative’s house on Long Island. When you wanted to cool off, you opened a hydrant. The cops and FDNY would always show up and close it with some special wrench, but eventually, sprinkler caps came in and were encouraged for use by the municipality in order to avoid a precipitous system wide drop in pressure across the neighborhood during heat waves- a deadly event in case of a house or building fire. Trusted members of the community would be entrusted with these caps, and the special wrench. Don’t forget, this is before air conditioning became ubiquitous.

On my block, I believe it was a Sheepshead Bay fishing ship’s captain- Joe Manarino (the dad, not Joseph the son or Joey the grandson)– who had the special wrench and sprinkler cap in his garage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In Brooklyn’s less… ahem… savory… neighborhoods, the hydrants would just be thrown open with pure urban muscle to shoot high pressure water all over the kids. My dad always referred to this as “an ‘effin free car wash” and make it a point of driving around on hot days to score a free high pressure wash for the family Plymouth. He’d make a U-turn and get both sides done, much to the chagrin of the local nestlings forced to wait for the encrusted bird poop to loosen from the side windows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The technique involved in shaping the flow of water shooting out of the hydrant nozzle involved using a tomato or coffee can with both the top and bottom cut off, which was placed flush against the nozzle. By torquing and angling the can, obtuse angles were formed, as well as shallow arcs and blasting straight shots. If you’re too close to the source, it feels like you’re being pelted with gravel, and great joy was to be had by we lads when one of the female members of our cohort would find part of her bathing suit coterie carried away by the water.

The tough guys always tried to walk right into it, but were inevitably unable to deny the “hard deck” of physics when the flow struck, below the belt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wonder if any of the local bakeries have Bearclaws for sale around here, or Grape Nehi, or those weird wax tubes with the sugar water in them?

This is the corner of South 4th and Rodney, just in case you’re curious.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 31, 2010 at 2:27 am

One Response

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  1. During the early 70’s I lived in Washington Heights and was the person on the block with the wrench and cap. The kids on the block loved getting cooled off, and so did the cars that drove by.
    That was 188th Street and St. Nicholas Ave.


    December 25, 2010 at 10:16 am

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