The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for April 18th, 2019

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A quick stroll through Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A statement offered by older New Yorkers which has always driven a humble narrator absolutely nuts is “It was different back then, you could leave your door unlocked and not have to worry.” Beyond the logical fallacy of having a door that locks and not securing it, I always inquire to the utterer what their calendrical age is and what – precisely – era they’re referring to as “back then.” When my parents used to say it, they were talking about the Great Depression and WW2 era. Somebody who’s about 70 said it to me the other night, and the era they were referring to was the 1970’s and 80’s.

Bull hockey. Nobody in 1970’s or 80’s New York City left their door unlocked. That’s when people were installing iron bars over their windows, entry doors gained steel plating, and junkies owned the streets. That’s when parked cars had signs in them saying “no radio” in an attempt to forestall windows getting smashed, and you were constantly looking over your shoulder. There were also vicious packs of roving feral dogs, which sounds like something I’m making up, but there were.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My particular style of accoutrement evolved during this time. “Look like you haven’t got two pennies to rub together,” “keep your wallet and money in separate pockets,” “keep moving.” The whole punk rock esthetic which a lot of shops will sell you this days at a significant markup evolved out of simple economics and practicality. “Army and Navy” stores were everywhere and you could get a flannel shirt for pennies as they were stylistically out of step with the polyester and shoulder pads crowd. Combat boots were a logical prophylactic, given that the entire city was covered in shattered bottle glass prior to the days of deposit and return recycling. Home sweet hell, that’s what I used to call it. Everybody carried a blade, but the City offered so many opportunities for ad hoc improvisation when it came to self defense they were seldom brandished. Metal garbage can lids were really, really versatile.

It bugs me, when I’m talking to people who weren’t there, that pine for those days. The reason that the rent was low was that no one wanted to live on the lower east side or Soho unless they had to. Also, rent as a percentage of income is critical. You may have been able to find a huge flat in some tenement for “only” $500 a month, but in the 1980’s minimum wage was $3.35 an hour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The aphorism of “you could leave your doors unlocked” was always sort of tinged with racism, as well, at least to my ears. As offered, it pined for an early age when “the neighborhood” was composed of monolithic ethnic blocs – Greek, Italian, Jewish – whatever. The presumption of the statement was that since “redlining” had been abolished, which was a real estate industrial complex/government segregationist policy that resulted in those ethnic blocs by saying that “blacks live here” and “jews live there,” you knew and would interact with neighbors whom you could trust. High levels of street crime and the culture of that era which saw families curl up in front of the television put an end to that.

Bah. I hate false mythologies. I also hate it when somebody just twenty years older than me begins referring to the absolute low point of 20th century NYC as something wonderful. It sucked back then. NYC sucks now, but for different reasons. Read Jakob Riis and you’ll learn how it sucked in the 19th century.

Lock your doors.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.


Slideshow and book signing, April 23rd, 6-8 p.m.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for a slideshow, talk, and book signing and see what the incredible landscape of Newtown Creek looks like when the sun goes down with Mitch Waxman. The event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP here. Light refreshments served.

Click here to attend.

The Third Annual, All Day, 100% Toxic, Newtown Creekathon. April 28th.

The Creekathon will start at Hunter’s Point South in LIC, and end at the Kingsland Wildflowers rooftop in Greenpoint. It will swing through the neighborhoods of LIC, Blissville, Maspeth, Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint, visiting the numerous bridges that traverse the Creek. While we encourage folks to join us for the full adventure, attendees are welcome to join and depart as they wish. A full route map and logistics are forthcoming.This is an all day event. Your guides on this 12+ mile trek will be Mitch Waxman and Will Elkins of the Newtown Creek Alliance, and some of their amazing friends will likely show up along the way.

Click here to attend.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 18, 2019 at 12:31 pm

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