The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Lobster Day, in these United States. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of late, one has been observing a growing trend wherein those who write about NYC pine for some mythological golden age they believe to have occurred hereabouts in the 1970’s and 80’s. They will wax on with great eloquence about Tompkins Square Park, the East Village “scene” which spawned bands they like, and an era in which rent was only $500 a month for a supposed palace in some pre war Manhattan building. Older generations do this as well, especially here in Astoria – “y’know, this apartment used to rent for $20,” back in the good old days.

The fact that income levels were lower back then and that $500 was as difficult a number to arrive at – proportionately speaking – as $2,000 is today… Back when Patti Smith and the Talking Heads and even the Ramones were enjoying the height of their fame and they were buying property – pizza was fifty cents a slice, folks, and the minimum wage was $3.35. Those minimum wage jobs were held by teenagers, not adults, it should be mentioned as well. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Quoting another band of an era (Fear) which younger generations seem to believe was the epitome of NYC’s culture – there were “piles of blood, scabs, and hair everywhere.” It was fairly routine to see bodies lying in the street – I can tell you about the guy with the smashed skull on the corner of 22nd and Third nearby the NYPD Police Academy, or the “bloodsicle” guy frozen into a phone booth on 99th and Broadway, or the dozens of people who found out just how organized crime was back then that were fished out of Sheepshead Bay by the cops. A big business in residential neighborhoods was the installation of wrought iron bars over first and second floor windows, and most of the autos you saw parked on the street had signs taped up in them proclaiming that there was “no radio” in the car. Beat downs and “getting jumped” were a facet of life in the 1980’s – in particular – and at the edges of my neighborhood in Brooklyn you’d see people with bandaged up “crack smiles.” For you youngins – a crack smile (aka “bustin ’em a fiddy,” slang for inflicting a fifty stitch facial wound) was gang retribution for informing to the cops about drug dealers taking over your block. 

The pop culture references you can google or watch clips of on YouTube from back then would include the movies “Taxi Driver” and “Death Wish.” The NYPD was purely reactionary in those days, and Williamsburg was just as dangerous a place to visit as the South Bronx. I know, as I used to have a job in Williamsburg during college, working at a garment factory across the street from Domino sugar and just down the block from a facility called Radiac where nuclear, radiological, and chemical waste products were transferred and stored. In communities at the lower side of the economic spectrum it was common for parents to have their kids sleep on the floor for fear of stray bullets, and property was so worthless that it was cheaper for a landlord to hire an arsonist to torch buildings for the insurance money than it was for them to continue operations.

New Yorkers of my generation don’t carry money in our wallets. We keep our cash in discretely pocketed bundles, a large amount and a smaller one. The latter is called “mugger money,” which you’d be ready to toss at an assailant(s) before turning and running away at “maximum boogie.”  

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This era which spawned hip hop, and saw punk rock become culturally relevant… what do you think we were all so angry about back then that we were driven to gather in Bowery Bum shit holes like CBGB? When you arrived here from Derrien, or whatever semi suburban City you’re from to pursue your dream of “life in NYC,” was it before or after 2001? Are you disappointed with what you found? Was it less “real,” or not as “vibrant” as Hollywood told you it would be? Did Spike Lee sell you a bill of goods about what Brooklyn would be like? Do you understand that the “Gentry” who have gentrified the City are yourselves? 

Also, when you look in the bathroom mirror in the mornings, is it just you looking back or is it “humanity”?


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 25, 2017 at 11:30 am

Posted in newtown creek

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