The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for September 27th, 2022

churchyard teachings

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh! After an epic drive from NYC to the Paris of Appalachia, my pal Max and I were desirous of a hearty meal. Luckily, a previous trip here had revealed a good spot for dinner and beers, so we left the car in our rented AirBNB’s driveway and shlepped over to it. Burger, Yuengling, yum.

We were going to be spending the last week of the summer out here exploring the greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area, a process which I had begun back in June on my last trip to this “zone.” One is beginning to develop a geospatial awareness of this place, but a rudimentary one and I’m often lost about something as elementary as the cardinal directions. I’m also trying very, very hard – and often failing – to not look at everything through a NYC filter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The place we were staying in was on Mount Washington, in one of the several charming but quite hilly neighborhoods found upon the prominence. I’ll often offer the phrase “pretty city of Pittsburgh” when describing this place. One thing I’ve learned, and this is entirely informed by my life long residency in the dystopian shithole of NYC, is that what looks like a nice neighborhood to me will often be considered a slum by the people who have spent their whole lives in the region. That’s the NYC filter rearing it’s ugly head again.

I don’t necessarily recognize the threats here, since I haven’t yet developed a sense of syntax for the local culture and can’t spot a hero or villain from 1,00 feet away like I can in NYC.

As an example of what I mean, an anecdote: since returning to Astoria from this excursion in late August, I noticed that a neighbor colloquially known as “Johnny the Junkie” seems to be experiencing one of his periodic downturns, and has been stealing the electric bikes used by the Deliverista guys to fund his hobbies. He’s been selling the purloined vehicles to a local e-bike shop through the back door, something I know because I’ve seen him pushing locked bikes in and walking out with a wad of cash. “Fortune teller Mitch” will describe the severe beating that Johnny will inevitably receive when the Deliveristas figure out who’s getting in the way of them earning a living. Prior witnessing of other applications of street justice by this group suggest that Johnny the Junkie will be beaten to within an inch of his life with bike chains that have steel locks deployed on them. Nice guy, Johnny is, except when he’s dope sick. He crashes and burns about once every 8-9 months, does a hospital stay, is sober and putting on weight for a few months and then…

That’s what I mean by “syntax” – understanding what’s happening just by looking, and knowing will likely happen, because the milieu is so long observed and familiar. I don’t possess this sort of societal prescience in any way for Pittsburgh yet, which means I’m in an extremely vulnerable position until I do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neighborhood which our Airbnb was in seemed to be fairly quiet and what I’d describe as “middle class.” Everybody had a car, it seemed, and the streets were very quiet after about 8 o’clock. The rented space we were staying in had a second story patio outfitted with outdoor furniture. On our way back to the space, after having eaten dinner, we stopped off at a shop and bought a couple of six packs of beer, some water, chips, pretzels and other comforts. We quaffed said comforts on the second story patio. My pal Max and I discussed our journey from NYC, and organized a fairly broad set of destinations for the next week.

The weather was good.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying all that, one of the interesting things about Pittsburgh is that due to the topography of the place, even if something wild and loud is happening less than a mile away (as the crow flies) from where you are, it’s still wildly distant because of the deep valleys and hills which separate the various neighborhoods from each other even in the center of the city.

The photo above was taken about a mile from the titular center of the City at Point State Park, depicting the front yard of the AirBNB we were rooming at, and all I could hear was the sound of crickets and cicadas.

Day one of the latest visit to the area played out thusly: Long drive, dinner, drinks. Time for bed, as we were going to be following my normal “away game” schedule of getting up early and out of the house by 8.

I favor a heavy breakfast while traveling, as it makes the pooping schedule a bit more predictable and thereby you don’t find yourself needing a toilet suddenly the next day. I’ve been told that you Goyem don’t think about such things, and that it’s “eminently Jewish” to worry about where and when you’re going to be when the food you just ate comes back out. Ever wonder how we Jews managed to survive having everybody wanting to kill us? Planning ahead, that’s how, and sweating the small stuff. What? You’re not going to have to go?

4,000 years of contemplation about the availability of clean bathrooms… all I’m gonna say on that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We encountered a foggy morning once we exited Mount Washington’s tree lined streets on the next morning, which was Sunday the 28th of August. We were going to be moving around on foot in the Downtown area for this particular day, so we left the car behind and used a ride share to get us to our first destination. A greasy spoon diner in a neighborhood called the South Side Flats was where we were heading, and where I ordered the “lumberjack” with eggs, bacon, potato, and a short stack of pancakes.

The good news is that by the time we returned to the rented rooms at the end of the day, we’d walked about the place for nearly 8 hours and I had fully earned the entirety of that meal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last series of posts from this area published here, at the start of the summer, proffered the fact that I had developed a desire to examine – in some granular detail – the Smithfield Street Bridge, in a photographic sense. Built on foundations laid down by John A Roebling for a predecessor span, this extant lenticular truss bridge over the Monongahela River was designed by Queensboro Bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal.

As you’ll see soon, when I declared that I was going to photograph this bridge, and every single rivet holding it up, it was no idle boast.

More tomorrow.

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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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

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