The Newtown Pentacle

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faulty circuits

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Just another day in paradise, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If memory serves, the section of Manhattan along the East River found between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges was once known as “the fourth ward.” Formerly hosting some of the busiest docks on the entire planet, this stretch of shoreline was occupied by tenements, factories, and warehouses. Robert Moses took care of that back in the mid 20th century when his arterial road project “The FDR Drive” was driven through, an endeavor which was accompanied by an “urban renewal” project that saw the surrounding building stock leveled and replaced by public housing and large apartment blocks.

Today, shadowed by the “high speed” roadway above, there’s a “park” along the waterfront. One thing to take notice of in the shot above are the pipes descending down from the roadway, which carry wastewater from the elevated road and allow it to drain directly into the water. For some reason, nobody in government thinks this is much of a problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you look over the fence at the waters of the East River, you’ll notice the stubby remains of concrete pier footings jutting out of the water here and there. To be fair, unlike today, the citizenry wanted nothing to do with the East River. Until quite recently, the City treated the East River as an extension of the sewer system and it was rife with not just sewer effluents but with industrial waste products as well. The political struggle in modern times is to create unfettered public access to the water for recreation.

As you’d imagine, and as mentioned several times over the years, when the weather is cold and forbidding a humble narrator is busy consuming historical literature and studying the great human hive. My dad would say that this is one of those periods when I’ve got my head stuck right up my butt and that I should put the books down and get outside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a block or two back from the waterfront is the financial district of lower Manhattan, an inhuman landscape of glass walls and towering blocks where the greed demons Mammon and Asmodeus rule. A Potemkin Village called the South Street Seaport is nearby, which purports to represent what once was, and every now and then you’ll encounter some toony old structure which has somehow survived the wrecking ball, but Manhattan is ultimately a lost cause – historically speaking.

For some reason, whenever I’m walking around down here, I hear Al Smith’s voice singing “The Sidewalks of New York.”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2018 at 1:30 pm

hurled consequentially

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No matter where you go, there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“How are ya?” is usually greeted wth “just another day in paradise,” whenever a humble narrator is queried by friends and acquaintances. It’s nice to have a catchphrase, and it took me years to come up with one that didn’t involve verbiage that could be considered a threat, hate crime, or offer a string of profane words randomly strung together. For a while, I liked “gaze upon the dragon and despair” but it’s difficult to pull that one off with the proper theatrics before coffee.

Here in paradise, one has been quite inert due to the weather. That sucks, but the good news is that “the project” has been moving along nicely. Allow me to explain…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The project” which was slowly chipped away at throughout 2017, is cataloging photos. It all started last winter when I realized that I needed to print up new business cards. I use a printing company called “Moo” for this, and their services allow for variable color fill on one side of the card (photos) and a single BW layout for the other. Essentially, it’s up to twenty shots for the photo side. Thing is, while hunting through something like sixty thousand photos, I realized that it was time to start organizing and separating the wheat from the chaff. That means that I’ve had to comb through the entire archive, just in the name of “doing it right.” I literally finished the process on December 30th, and am in the early stages of arranging shots into categories – harbor, bridges, people etc. Believe it or not, I’ve consciously avoided inclusion of Newtown Creek or NY Harbor oriented shots, as those will be getting their own individual processes. There’s a reason this project has taken so long to get done.

The end of this grueling procedure will be a godsend, and will be spawning several byproducts. I still haven’t printed any new business cards, incidentally, that’ll be the first thing I do. 2018 is going to be something of threshold year I hope, which will lead into the tenth anniversary of this – your Newtown Pentacle – in June of 2019.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things I plan on doing in 2018 is creating more video essays like the “A Short History of the Sunnyside Yards” or “Newtown Creek Magic Lantern” ones I’ve offered in the past. I’m also planning on creating a few pamphlet sized publications exploring various subjects, which would be offered for sale as both digital and physical items. Suffice to say that there are other goals for the end product of this project, but that’s still something I’m scribbling down in my notebooks and thinking about.

“Just another day in paradise” might be a worthy title for a photo book about Western Queens, one believes.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm

archaic chirography

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It’s National Pepper Pot day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I was hanging out with a friend over in the City, and we decided to hit the eastern side of Chinatown for a wee photo walk. This is the Manhattan side definition of “DUMBO,” which is an area still defined by the presence of late 19th century tenement buildings and narrow streets. Chatham Square, the Five Points, and Paradise Alley aren’t too far away, and it’s one of the few spots on the island which haven’t been ruined by the real estate industrial complex in recent decades. Off in the distance, a municipal complex of government buildings and courthouses positively looms.

We were wandering about, my friend and I, and decided to grab some lunch at a Chinese bakery before heading south and east. After a super hot cup of coffee and a couple of roast pork buns (Bao) we fired up the cameras and started marching about in an area which has apparently been called “Two Bridges” since 1955. I think the Two Bridges thing, since I’ve never actually heard it before, is real estate industrial complex propaganda being specifically disseminated by the Extell corporation which happens to be building a 68 story market rate tower nearby. Just a hunch there, by the way.

Saying that, as of 2003 there’s been a Two Bridges Historic District on the national list of such things, so…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This part of Manhattan Island has been occupied for longer than the United States has existed, and was part of the exurbs of the New Amsterdam colony. During the “Gangs of New York” era, Chatham Square was a central market place and meeting point where foodstuffs, farm goods, and often less than salubrious goods and services were offered for sale. The tenement dwellers in this area, who were those “huddled masses” mentioned by the screed on the Statue of Liberty, were largely destitute and lived in conditions which modernity would perceive as squalor. Jakob Riis and other contemporaries described it as squalor, it should be mentioned, so maybe…

from wikipedia

Up until about 1820, the square was used as a large open air market for goods and livestock, mainly horses. By the mid-19th century, it became a center for tattoo parlors, flophouses and saloons, as a seedy section of the old Five Points neighborhood. In the 20th century, after The Great Depression and Prohibition, the area was reformed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I always try to analogize the era of early to mid 19th century New York City to people by reminding them that this was the same age as when Cowboys were riding horses about the west, and that folks in Europe were still fighting each other with swords, spears, and arrows. They had cannons and firearms over in Europe, of course, but these early weapons were pretty clumsy, prone to misfires, and inaccurate. There’s a reason that they used to affix those long bayonets on muskets back then, y’know.

Guns were practically a brand new commodity, with Mr. Remington having begun the democratization of rifle firearms only in 1816. It wasn’t until 1852 that Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson incorporated, becoming the Henry Fords of firearms. In NYC, a pistol was a fairly uncommon and expensive commodity, as I understand things. Rifles and shot guns were more common but still relatively rare amongst the tenement crowd.

It would be far more likely, were you to invent time travel and visit this section of Manhattan in the 1850’s, that you would be beaten to death or fatally stabbed shortly after stepping out of your time machine. They were big on blades back then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can’t walk through Chinatown and not grab some shots of the foodstuffs being offered for sale on the sidewalks in front of shops. Thing is, these fish may or may not be considered “food” per se. A lot of what’s on sale in this eastern section of Chinatown is actually medicinal in nature, which my ignorant and dross western eyes cannot discern. Have to admit, I’m pretty ignorant about the nuances of the Chinese culture(s)…

from wikipedia

Manhattan’s Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 曼哈顿华埠; traditional Chinese: 曼哈頓華埠; pinyin: Mànhādùn huábù; juytping: Maan6haa1deon6 waa1bou6) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, bordering the Lower East Side to its east, Little Italy to its north, Civic Center to its south, and Tribeca to its west. Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I love the fact that there are still junkie squats and homeless camps found in and amongst the streets/alleys of this area. It’s good to know that there are still some parts of Manhattan that have been resistant to the high fructose financial syrup that has decimated the East and West Village, turned the Lower East Side into bro-hipster Disneyland, and rendered the neighborhood around Port Authority into a grotesque.

I miss the old days, when Manhattan was ecstatic and predatory all at the same time…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friend and I continued south and east, into the boring Battery section. We had a quick refreshment at a local watering hole, used the facilities, and got the hell out of dodge before rush hour started. A quick trip on the 5 line got us to 59/Lex, where a transfer was enacted to the IND R line which carried us beneath the river and back to the almond eyed milieu known as Astoria. As is always the case, a warm feeling erupted in my chest upon returning to Queens.

Might have been indigestion though, from eating those two roast pork buns. Probably should have had just one…


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 29, 2017 at 1:30 pm

mock fireplace

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It’s National Pumpkin Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Merry Christmas to all.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 25, 2017 at 2:30 pm

seasonal tiding

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It’s National Date Nut Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Holiday greetings and salutations to all of you lords and ladies who ascribe to the particular sort of iconography pictured above.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

sickly complected

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cliché, a “New Yorkers walking through steam boiling out of a lower Manhattan street grate” shot is presented above. Often, whilst moving around the City, one is confronted with imagery like this. It’s a shot which people far more talented and technically adept than I have taken a thousand thousand times before, and there’s little point to adding another specimen of it to the visual lexicon but there you are. Same thing with seeing a squirrel eating an acorn while perched on a fence or something. You just have to click the shutter.

This time of year, I don’t have much going on anyway, might as well take what the City offers you when it comes along.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often has a humble narrator asserted that NYC is embedded with psychic firmament, and that the city itself is somewhat sentient – a “being” possessed of a seething cauldron of emotions and a radiant intellect. I believe the City to be female in gender and temperament – a mother goddess like the Hellenic “Hera.” She likes to mess with you, throwing pedantic and existential obstacles or tests your way, the city does.

“Oh great” usually precedes many of my observations concerning the MTA, or the sudden appearance of any number of City agency or utility employees on my block. “Oh great, Verizon is setting up on my corner at midnight. And, they’ve got a backhoe with them…” is the last one I can recall uttering. Occasionally it will be stated as “Wow, there’s a lot of Cops here all of a sudden.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, the City is eternal. Long after the American experiment has faded away, New York City will still live on in some sort of decedent form. Cities almost always seem to live on in one form or another long after the Empire has fallen; Rome, Memphis, London, Istanbul, Beijing, Persepolis, Tokyo, Damascus… Babylon the great always falls. A certain point of view often comes up in modern conversations which looks back to a period just one century ago in NYC as some sort of heroic age. Giants existed, who built subways and great bridges and highways and tunnels. These giants are long gone, and we marvel at their works, which we lesser beings are barely able to maintain.

What do I know? I’m just some wandering mendicant in a filthy black raincoat, scuttling along the streets of an eternal elder goddess/City which is possessed of a malefic sense of humor, carrying a camera.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 14, 2017 at 1:30 pm

sensitive people

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It’s National Indian Pudding Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A variety of obligations and impediments have caused one to come up short on content this week. As is my custom, accordingly, whilst a humble narrator is out perambulating about the great city seeking to ameliorate his shortcomings – single shots which I like for one reason or another will be presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

Pictured above – a shot of the Chrysler Building as seen during a rare meteorological event which occurred as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was settling into the horizon behind New Jersey.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 13, 2017 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Manhattan, Midtown

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