The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for December 31st, 2021

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

My walk home from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Astoria was governed by proximity to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and the conscious intention followed was to never let it out of my sight. After entering Williamsburg, the theoretically high speed road runs in a trench surrounded by some of the most valuable real estate in New York City. A few decades ago, when I was in High School, this section of Brooklyn was analogous to Batman’s Gotham City – crime wise.

How crimey? Back in the 1980’s, if smoking cocaine was your deal, you’d either be “basing” as in “freebasing” or “doing flake.” A news crew for ABC’s 20/20 show did a feature on a local drug distribution racket in this part of Brooklyn. The gangsters interviewed offered that they called their “flake” by a different name – Crack. That’s literally where the national “crack epidemic” started, on tv, which fueled the “war on drugs” rhetoric and ultimately provided a legal pretense for Police officers to enter schools and search for drugs without warrants. That was also when the militarization of the local cops got started, as well as draconian measures like “three strikes” laws.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scare the shit out of people and they’ll rip up the Constitution for you. Crack, crackheads, war on drugs. Terror, terror wars, homeland security. There’s a play book.

Truth be told, back in the day, this was a pretty dangerous part of Brooklyn. It was one of those zones where my Dad would say “lock the doors” while driving through. The old man was a house painter by trade, and one of his suppliers was based somewhere around here. My Dad and one of his brothers used to work out of a store on Grand Street in the 1970’s, but the familial legend passed to me was that my Uncle lost the business to a Mafioso in a card game. My dad and his brothers would bet on which color car was going to pass the corner next, so that tale holds water for me. The old man got a job working for the “catlicks choich” doing maintenance at a kid’s hospital in the City. Not sure what my Uncle did afterwards, but he drove a Cadillac, whereas my Dad drove a Plymouth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An artifact of that era was encountered on the way, a firebox that has a two way speaker in it, which theoretically connects you to a 911 operator. This sort of device is called an “ERS” or Emergency Response System alarm box. The City began deploying these in the 1970’s, seeking to modernize the older spring wound alarm boxes which – believe it or not – still (as in today) use telegraph wires. ERS boxes are connected to telephone wires, specifically the fairly blackout proof system installed by “Ma Bell” which translates in modern day to the Verizon corporation. The City has been attempting to eliminate alarm boxes utterly since first Giuliani, but court orders have precluded their removal.

Anyway, that’s it for 2021. Back next year with more, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 31, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in Brooklyn, Williamsburg

Tagged with ,

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