The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Maspeth? Laurel Hill? Where am I?

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g10_img_6845_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The angles found between neighborhoods are perilous and enigmatic, here in the Newtown Pentacle. Denigrated and given over to commercial interests, these areas which are neither here nor there- tick nor tock- exist outside of the normal rules that govern the more wholesome and presentable villages that surround them. Just to the south and east lies storied Maspeth, due south is centuried Greenpoint and colonial East Williamsburg, north is venerable Sunnyside and luminant Astoria.

The hill one climbs- the shot above is looking up said hill, and the one below is its counterpoint- was called Laurel in those days when august titans like Neziah Bliss strode the earth with omnipotent confidence in the future. So close to the Newtown Creek’s industrial heartland and Calvary Cemetery, one gains an impression of an undefinable sickness hanging about every malformed plant and pollution streaked brick. Hints of its former glory can be detected by observing an ornate cornice of finely carved masonry, or in proud cast iron logotypes found in rusted pilasters, atavistically claiming a structure for a long bankrupt company or proud individual proprietor. 

There is a colour about the place. A queer iridescence, neither black nor white, which is the same sort of colour found in the Newtown Creek. It is not a terrestrial colour, the colour… is like something from outer space.

g10_img_6846_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

43rd street continues its murderous and poorly graded ascent over the sickly hill, its sidewalk and street scribed with automotive fluids and petroleum residues. At the bottom of the hill is where copper was burnt out of its ore matrix using powerful acids for over a century. In previous explorative descriptions of the larger context of this place, I described a pathway around and into Calvary Cemetery and beyond. This exploration intersects with that one, and with another describing the Maspeth Plank Road.  

This colour, it pollutes, and it has a smell- something metallic- like the sensation of licking a battery.

g10_img_6847_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Late, too late, had I set out for my journey through this place. The barking of hungry dogs and the scurrying of small things which, for the sake of my sanity, we’ll call rats- could be heard from behind the gates and within the very walls of the shuttered properties. I realized that, immersed as I was in my historical musings, I was completely alone on this street- there was no traffic. Always nervous and possessed of a weak psychological constitution which makes me prone to paranoid fantasy and physical cowardice, I decided to seek out the safety of companions and quicken my steps.

The effusive colour of the place, stronger now as I ascended Laurel Hill, was playing on my nerves. In my mind, I felt a growing warmth which was puzzlingly dry- and somehow cold as well- a disorienting and very bad idea forming in my mind. The colour.

g10_img_6849_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Seeking a guidepost, the obsequious spires of Manhattan could be seen rising over Calvary. With the BQE onramp for the Kosciuzko Bridge thrumming- in rythmic sense impacts- as vehicular traffic pulsed over the rough hewn and pitted slabs of masonry from which the road surface of that busy highway carried by the bridge is built, I had a moment of clarity and somewhat regained my senses. The odd colour, it was visibly not present over -or in- Calvary, whose plants and trees sway accordingly to the direction of the wind, not against it. A fever overtook my thoughts and I feared one of my “episodes” was beginning. 

g10_img_6853_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Resting for a moment by a garbage bin whose inner sounds filled me with a malevolent premonition, I noticed that people actually do live here. Lovely, well cared for, and huge houses can be witnessed on 43rd street.

A testament to the character and resiliency of Newtownicans- these holdouts of a time when hard men and ironclad women bit into life with shining teeth, live in the middle of an area reviled and shunned by most. This is at most 2-3,000 feet from either Phelps Dodge and Calvary, and within shooting distance of an industrial waterfront fallen on hard times. Only those who move into the new housing units proposed for Hunters Point will be able to boast of living closer to the bulkheads of the Newtown Creek.

Except for this guy

g10_img_6854_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At the summit of the hill, whose attainment by a physical specimen as poor as myself is a breathless experience, a highway cloverleaf cuts 43rd street off at 54th avenue- and the road offers a right hand turn that continues to climb higher. Especially prevalent here, the colour adorns the illegally dumped truck and automobile tires and variegated forms of construction debris that accompany all dead end streets in western Queens. Squamous little bushes adorn the curblines, and potholes mark the asphalt. In those cavities, cobble stones are illuminated by the merciless Newtown sun, revealing an earlier world which our modernity increasingly seems to be a cheaply wrought imitation of.

g10_img_6855_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Following the erratic and illogically sharp curve of the 54th ave., which matches the arc of the highway that has precedent right of way- and cuts this area off from the surrounding communities- the colour persisted.

g10_img_6856_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

g10_img_6859_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Be sure to look all around you here. Spectacular views of Manhattan are to the west, and you are standing pretty close to the top of the hill.

At this elevation, we are actually looking right over Long Island CIty and the Newtown Creek which are close to or at sea level.

I have always lived in terror of some seismic event or industrial accident disturbing the vast deposits of the subaqueous Methane Clathrates in the New York Bight. This potential petrochemical replacement for oil is so plentiful in the waters surrounding New York State that many energy companies are exploring methods of economically harvesting it. The Saudi Arabia of these undersea “ice which burns”, incidentally, just happens to be the northeast coast of North America. Were there to be a sudden upwelling of these frozen gases, it would trigger a tsunami wave that would flood New York City’s lowlands in a way that would dwarf… well- it has happened in the past

g10_img_6857_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Relict building stock abounds, but remain occupied. I attempted conversation with an area resident found on a different block, a skeletal man in his early 40’s, but noticed that the colour seemed to be dancing around in his eyes and his complexion was wan and jaundiced. I asked him- Is this Maspeth, or Laurel Hill? In a nervous whisper, he informed me that he didn’t know- then glanced over his shoulder into a house- and asked me if I knew that he knew that I know that he knows that I know that he knows I was a cop.

Crane yard 03 by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I said “yes”, and moved along. I’m not a cop.

g10_img_6864_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Everything I saw here was eaten away at by that damned dry cold hot colour- a queerly iridescent patina so familiar to those inveterate observers of the Newtown Creek and its environs.

Who can guess what this home of former style and antiquarian taste saw- its joyous weddings and births, the tragedy of its funerals and disease. How many families welcomed their sons home from war, or sent their daughters off to college from this place? What heroic immigrant struggle played out between the clapboard walls? And when did this colour begin to manifest itself here, and why?

I cannot believe it just fell from the sky one night.

Whatever happened here, its all gone. Lost to time and dissolution and the tyranny of the silent tomb. Like so much of our Newtown history, these tales will be unremarked and forgotten. 

g10_img_6866_phwlk.jpg by you.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Still looking for Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Maspeth, Astoria, LIC, Elmhurst, Newtown Ghost Stories- by the way- Halloween is coming. Send anything you’d like to share to me privately through this address. I’ll contact you back and we’ll arrange details, you’re as anonymous as you’d like to be. Developing a multi witness one right now, which folks in the 40’s along 34th avenue and Broadway in Astoria have described. Have you seen “her”?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 3, 2009 at 2:55 am

7 Responses

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  1. [...] up the glacier carved hillocks that define northwestern Queens- climbing away from the terrors of Laurel Hill and leaving the malefic secrets of Maspeth and the Newtown Creek behind, the intrepid pedestrian [...]

  2. [...] up the glacier carved hillocks that define northwestern Queens- climbing away from the terrors of Laurel Hill and leaving the malefic secrets of Maspeth and the Newtown Creek behind, the intrepid pedestrian [...]

  3. [...] atmospheric miasmas extant about the nearby Newtown Creek for 94 years, only losing a thumb. The colour, oddly, doesn’t stain sanctified Calvary. Xanthian skill representative of true artistry went [...]

  4. [...] they mix with those unstudied emissions wafting from the Newtown Creek. The same vapors that tattoo the “colour” and dissolve the marbles and bronze of Calvary, a corrosive ether that smells of [...]

  5. [...] drawn from a palette not of this earth, rather it is best described as looking like some “Colour out of space“. Observable on every oil soaked cobblestone which pushes up through the asphalt, and pulsing [...]

  6. [...] Queens shoreline boasts a geologic feature called Laurel Hill. High ground, as it were. A lot of time is spent on the Queens side, scuttling around in a filthy [...]

  7. [...] we’ve been to 43rd street before, in the “Maspeth? Laurel Hill? Where am I?” posting of [...]


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