The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

rat bitten

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Manhattan just stinks, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I did two things which I had been looking forward to for a bit. The first was the purchase of a new lens to fit into the camera, one whose specific occupation and design revolves around low light and night time photography (the shots in today’s post were captured with the thing), and the other was narrating a Working Harbor Committee “Newark Bay” excursion. Having the former with me, and having completed the mission for the latter, one headed for the Subway to make a hasty retreat back to the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria .

My path carried me through the stinking warrens of the financial district. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many years did a humble narrator live on this island called Manhattan, which one used to refer to as “Home sweet Hell.” At night, the garbage collects on the concrete in front of office building and apartment block alike. The vermin rise from the sewers, drawn by the scent of festering food and moldering coffee grounds. Sidewalks narrow, and oddly colored rivulets of khaki colored liquid ooze into the gutters through rodent chewed apertures in the bags of filth. Sidewalk pavement and roadway asphalt both seem to be covered in a layer of rancid cooking grease, which gets tracked around by a thousand pairs of shoes an hour. It was a hot night, humid.

And they say Newtown Creek smells…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was heading for the Fulton Street stop for the 5 line. The 5, an express, is the preferred method for me to escape the municipal and financial center of the greatest city the world has ever known. The line traverses the spine of the island, and allows for a connection to a Queens bound train in just a few stops. The less time spent on this island, especially the southern third of it, the better.

That’s where I spotted this mountain blocking the cross walk and spilling into the street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has many friends who call Manhattan home – and as confessed earlier – I used to do so myself. My cliff dwelling pals tend to get hot under the collar when a humble narrator begins to discuss his disdain for the unsustainable civilization of Manhattan. My points are all “matter of fact,” and I usually advocate for something like “Brexit” but involving Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn breaking away from the center and forming a new political entity which is a bit less vampiric than the one we’ve had since 1898 – which is centered around a Beaux Arts building that we unfortunately keep Bill De Blasio in that stands (partially) on what was once a colonial era garbage dump known as the “Collect Pond.”

“Consume, consume, consume, flush, throw it out, let it be somebody else’s problem” – that should be the Borough Motto over in the City.

I would hazard a guess that within six hours of the above shot being captured, the entire mountain of trash pictured above was actually being sorted somewhere along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a fellow at the center of the midden, peeking into bags and removing items of value like recyclable deposit bottles and bits of copper wire. Got to hand it to the “canners” for their industry and hustle, you really do. The streets are literally paved with gold in America, or at least there’s money lying around in the stinking streets.

What many don’t know is that canners have their own territorial “routes” in the City, and that violating another canner’s turf can result in a physical confrontation. I discovered that there’s also an organized crime aspect to this industry, or at least there used to be over on the West Side, back when I lived in Manhattan about fifteen years ago. Mystery trucks would show up at predetermined times and locations, paying cash at three to four cents per bottle, as opposed to the little chits that you get from the recycling machines at supermarkets which you need to redeem within. The canners are happy to settle for the lesser number, as they don’t have to waste hours feeding the machines which take one can at a time, or deal with the manager of a supermarket for whom they are less than a priority.

Something very similar to this collection spot has been observed in Sunnyside, incidentally, on 43rd street beneath the Long Island Railroad Tracks. There’s a Spaniard with a van… but, of course, the scale of business that the canners of Queens operate at for an entire week would be dwarfed by a single night’s worth of collections for these financial district guys.

Wall Street versus Main Street, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to the rats and canners scurrying about, the sewer grates hereabouts also crawl with roaches and water bugs migrating in and out of Manhattan’s underworld. Those little black “drain flies” are also abundant in the air. The smell, which I attempted to define earlier, could be best described as “yellow.”

As an aside, I’ve always found it interesting that in English there are so few words, comparatively, for descriptions of smells. There thousands of visual adjectives, plenty for sounds, lots for the touch and feel category, but relatively few for smells. Accordingly, I ascribe colors to the descriptions of smells, and after dark – Manhattan smells yellow. I have spoken.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The worst part of lower Manhattan, to me at least, is that for the people who work hereabouts – this all must seem normal. Unfortunately, most of the people who spend their professional lives in this area can be best described as financial titans, realtors, politicians, and an army of government bureaucrats. Spending their time in this stinking, shadowy warren of imposing buildings and narrow sidewalks – which only occasionally allow a glimpse of the sky or a breeze – has made them think that this is what the entire city should look like and that they’ve somehow failed the rest of us until it does.

It’s why when they visit Queens or Brooklyn, their first instinct is to demolish some property and erect large buildings on it. Those large buildings can then be used for affordable housing people who “don’t fit” in Manhattan. These people can then support themselves by collecting cans, or whatever, as long as it’s somebody else’s problem.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 31, 2016 at 11:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. There are areas of LIC – Tower Town – where the claustrophobic views shown in your photos can already be experienced. I hope this stays out of home turf neighboring Sunnyside, Astoria and Woodside where the architecture is more human-scaled.

    BTW, this new piece of glass you bought, may I kindly inquire: what’s the focal length and the widest f-stop? Also, what’s you usuaL ISO setting?

    georgetheatheist . . .thirsting for knowledge

    August 31, 2016 at 11:34 am

    • sigma 50-100, f 1.8. on my crop sensor camera (7d) that translates to an 86-150. ISO is situational. Custom color temps are important for pm capture. The new LED street lights are usually shot at 4300 K, the older sodium ones I use 3150 K. You can always adjust the temp in Photoshop, but given that most of the noise in a digital photo appears on the red plate (red + green, in rgb sense) I try to have the image lean towards the blue plate. On a strictly “artist” level, I try to have certain phrases that I mentally repeat to myself when shooting (a devastating sense of loneliness, for instance) and the one I keep in my brain at night is “a lurid shimmering of pale light”). The bright lens lets me expose a bit higher than normal, as it’s easier to manage shadows if they’re not all closed up during the capture.

      Mitch Waxman

      August 31, 2016 at 11:53 am

      • I’ve got that covered s well, with the sigma 18-35 1.8. I’ve been desirous of “reach” during night excursions.

        Mitch Waxman

        August 31, 2016 at 12:51 pm

  2. Thanks for the info. 1.8 is nice on any lens. However, I would have opted more for an ultra-wide lens. Chacon a son gout.

    georgetheatheist . . .thirsting for knowledge

    August 31, 2016 at 12:20 pm


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