The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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of them

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I cannot understand why others do not find these things quite as thrilling as I do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On one of my constitutionals, a humble narrator found himself at the veritable edge of Queens, heading in a  southerly direction through Blissville on my way to “the Pernt.” Hoary Greenpoint can be accessed from Queens via just a few easily defensible littoral spots, one of them being an eponymous path called “Greenpoint Avenue” and the bridge which is named for it.

It’s a double bascule draw bridge which spans my beloved Newtown Creek, and I refer to the area surrounding it in both Brooklyn and Queens as “DUGABO” which is short for “Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Off in the distance to the east, another one of these Thermopylae like passages is visible, the Kosciuszko Bridge.

Should hostilities between Brooklyn and Queens ever break out, it is certain that their respective militaries will make every effort to take and control these passes. Ultimately, you’d want absolute command and control over Pulaski, Kosciuszko, and Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, although sentries and artillery units would no doubt be deployed all along the Newtown Creek to guard against an amphibious invasion. The crumbling bulkheads and industrial fence lines would no doubt make for a daunting landing, and the Queens faction would have a de facto advantage in the conflict due to their ability to deploy artillery on LIRR flatbed cars.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn side would be devastated by the first wave of a rail based artillery attack, given the massive presence of oil storage tanks on the southern shoreline. The sewer plant would be an easily targeted site, but vast reserves of Kings County loyalist troops can be found to the South and could easily be brought to the front by the G line. I’m sure there would be a fierce battle in the G tunnel underneath the Vernon/Manhattan avenue area, fought by locally raised units. Lentol’s Leathernecks, and Nolan’s Raiders, would fortify on either side of the tube, with setups reminiscent of WW1 trenches. It wouldn’t be long before both sides resorted to the usage of wonder weapons like poison gas, supplies of which are easily attainable on either side of the fabled Newtown Creek.

Queens would likely attempt the use of the 7 line to ferry in reinforcement troops like Van Bramer’s Sunnyside Battalion and Dromm’s Sikh and Gurkha Jackson Heights Commandos and the terrifying forces of the Meng Men from Flushing and Elmhurst, while Brooklyn would likely use the L line to bring in Reynoso’s Roughnecks, Levin’s Loppers, and Reyna’s Reapers from points east and south. Further to the east – where the borders of Brooklyn and Queens are not aqueous but rather terrestrial in nature – Dilan’s Death Dealers, Liz Crowley’s Maquis Freedmen, and Joe Crowley’s Fenians (backed up on their flank by Grodenchik’s Garroters, Vallone’s Vanquishers, and Katz’s Killers) would all be engaged in a Stalingrad like guerrilla struggle over Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Fresh Pond.

Media attention on the conflict would be of course be focused on LIC and Greenpoint, since you could see that from Manhattan’s east side.

Irregular sappers, freelancers like the Gambinos and Latin Kings, would no doubt be utilized by both sides in this Blood War of the Boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst musing about the idea of internecine and interborough warfare, I suddenly realized that traffic had stopped flowing on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. Worrying that the dark day had arrived at last when the border of Brooklyn and Queens would be marked by fire and death, it suddenly became apparent that the DOT was preparing to open the bridge to allow a maritime transit.

Whooopppeeee!!!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To all of those stopped in traffic, it must have appeared odd, seeing some despoiled creature In a filthy black raincoat jumping up and down while squealing with joy and waving a camera around.

A minor inconvenience experienced by others is often a moment of joy for me. 

I got busy with the camera, and ran out onto the non movable part of the roadway, which is normally quite a chancey thing to do on the highly travelled span over Newtown Creek, as you’d get squished by a truck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

God help me, but I just love watching a draw bridge at work. Also, check out those bike lanes. I encouraged a bicyclist to make a try for it, telling him he could easily jump the gap if he got enough headway speed. He ignored me and played with his phone instead.

Some people, I tell you, have no sense of adventure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The apogee of the bridge roadway’s open posture was attained shortly, and it rose in monolithic fashion. This is likely the position that the Bridge would be fixed into should hostilities between Brooklyn and Queens break out, which is offered as a strategic and or tactical note to the future combatants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In my incessant research of all things Newtown Creek, an eventuality in which the Creek would have become militarized was actually set down by the War Department of the United States, during the World Wars period of the early 20th century.

Naval Destroyers (sometimes the presence of a battleship is discussed as well) were set to be stationed along the Newtown Creek (as well as the East and Hudson rivers) and its tributaries to defend the Petroleum and Industrial bases along its shorelines from air or naval attack. The anticipated pathway which a German invasion fleet would have followed involved a passage through Jamaica Bay and the Narrows in pursuance of invading Manhattan at the Battery and Brooklyn via Bay Ridge. The naval guns on Newtown Creek would have been trained on the Narrows, shooting artillery in a parabola over all of Brooklyn and bombarding enemy vessels on the waterway. The defensive plan was to create a “death zone” between and supported by Forts Totten (Staten Island) and Hamilton (Bay Ridge). Governors Island was also meant to play a role in the deployment of long range defenses and weaponry.

I know, sounds silly to we children of the atom, but this was an actual military plan. It’s part of the reason why the Kosciuszko and Long Island Expressway over Dutch Kills were built as high as they are, to allow the smoke stacks of ocean going Naval Ships purchase. The East River Bridge heights were also built with the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the presence of Capital Ships in NY Harbor during times of war in mind. It’s one of those “alt history” scenarios which leads to a fascinating thought experiment – a Kriegsmarine and Wehrmacht invasion of New York Harbor (their ACTUAL plans, btw, would have included the setup of a German base of operations at Sandy Hook). Just to reiterate – the Germans were ACTUALLY and ACTIVELY planning for this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, an invasion of the United States would have been contingent on the Germans not being involved in two major European land conflicts simultaneously, and Germany being at peace with the UK and the Royal Navy. The invasion of NY Harbor would have represented about a third of the German assault, with other units landing at Cape Cod in Massachussets and in Virginia. A simultaneous landing of troops from the Japanese Empire would have occurred in Seattle and in San Diego.

Lost in my alt history thoughts, I suddenly realized that I didn’t know which vessel the bridge had opened for, and a quick dog trot to the fences of the eastern side of the bridge was enacted.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mary H tug was towing a fuel barge, no doubt headed some three and change miles back from the East River to the Bayside Fuel depot found nearby another one of the flash points in a Borough on Borough war – the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. Both Grand Street and Metropolitan Avenue Bridges span narrow passes on the Creek, where small arms fire and snipers would be easily able to command and control access between the two warring sides.

What would be the cause of a war between the two boroughs? Good question, lords and ladies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My bet is that it would be a trade dispute, with Brooklyn enacting a restrictive tariff on all things artisinal and organic.

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sometimes awed

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The unknown country, East New York,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, a drive around East New York was on the schedule recently, which was accomplished with frequent Newtown Pentacle opiner “Cav” (take that George the Atheist). Cav met me in Astoria, in his “automobile” and we motored along the Grand Central Parkway to the Jackie Robinson, or Interborough, Parkway in pursuance of a visit to the legend choked locale of East New York.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described endlessly, your humble narrator is a feckless quisling and vast physical coward, so leaving Cav’s auto was not on the menu. The murder capital of Brooklyn is not a place where you’d like to be noticed carrying an array of electronics including a highly visible DSLR camera, after all. Apprently, the facility pictured above suffered a fire, which somehow terrified me.

Cav laughed at me and my building sense of terror several times as we drove around the neighborhood, which is an area he knew well in his professional capacity. I’ll let him tell you what he did for a living hereabouts, but suffice to say that he was a Municipal employee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cav knew this neighborhood like the back of his hand, accordingly, and pointed out several land marks. He indicated that the building pictured above was once the City Hall of John Pitkin’s East New York, before it was agglutinated into the City of Brooklyn, back in 1886.

Apparently, it’s now simply a residence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of residences, the housing stock hereabouts was simply awesome. Unfortunately, the likely plans of City Planning, the NYCEDC, and our Mayor don’t include the people currently living in these structures – nor the structures themselves – in their “rezoning” efforts. East New York, which has had a series of targets painted on it for several generations, is currently being targeted by the “Real Estate Industrial Complex.”

Growing hungry, and knowing that the delicatessens of my youth were only a few miles away, I offered to buy Cav lunch if we headed towards the Flatlands/Canarsie/Mill Basin area. Never one to turn down a free meal, Cav pointed the car in a westerly direction and we headed towards Flatlands Avenue and the neighborhoods with which I can speak about with some authority and personal experience.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was along Glenwood and Flatlands, as we headed west past Starret City, that we began to encounter the horror of the now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We encountered some of that “affordable housing” which the Mayor is pushing, as mentioned above. Soulless and barren expressions of architectural banality, they surpassed what my pal Kevin Walsh originally christened as “Queens Crap” or “Fedders Specials” more than a decade ago. Looks like NYC is hell bent on not just repeating but magnifying the mistakes we made in the 20th century. Instead of vertical spires of poverty, we’re building horizontal sprawling poverty.

Cav offered that if the Soviets had created housing like this, even Stalin would have had to deal with riots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Block after block, the sort of architecture “designed to drive people insane” was encountered at the border of eastern Canarsie and East New York.

As mentioned endlessly, your humble narrator emanates from this neighborhood in Brooklyn and there is only one thing that I can say about this sort of construction.

Eff you, de Blasio, eff you.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

mental images

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It’s an insult to Jackie Robinson, if you ask me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Interborough, or Jackie Robinson Parkway if you must, is one of those less well known connecting points between Brooklyn’s East New York and Kew Gardens in Queens which the Manhattan people don’t really care about. It’s New York State Route 908B, and was known as Interborough until 1997. It opened in 1935, was profoundly reworked in the late 1980’s, and is another one of the traffic corridors which crisis cross through the citywide House of Moses.

As a note, my Dad used to curse vehemently whenever our daily round involved the Interborough, and he believed that it’s design was purpose built to populate the many cemeteries through which Team Moses cut it out of. I am not 100% sure that my Pop wasn’t correct about this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent outing with frequent Newtown Pentacle commenter “Cav” saw us careening along the Interborough, traveling as fast as traffic allowed. There are virtually no shoulders on this road, as it is surrounded by the aforementioned cemeteries and a series of steep hills. The parkway is cut through many of these cemeteries, and it’s construction required the disinterment of many graves. If ever there was a haunted highway here in NYC, it would be this one.

The always excellent nycroads.com has a page on the history of the Interborough/Jackie Robinson Parkway, check it out here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cav and I were chatting about our January boredom recently, and we decided to visit East New York, which is seldom boring for long. Luckily, he is a dedicated motorist, which meant that we could visit the murder capital of Brooklyn without having to get out of the car – a plus for one such as myself – who is a vast physical coward given to falling into convulsive fits at the slightest hint of danger.

East New York ain’t no joke, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having grown up in a neighborhood adjacent to East New York (Canarsie/Flatlands area), East New York – incidentally – was the place my friends would threaten to leave you tied up and naked if you were acting like a jackass while drinking, one still maintains a healthy amount of respect for the place and those who can endure it. Again, East New York ain’t no joke.

Of course, since our current Mayor is gaga about “Affordable Housing,” he’s decided East New York is the place to install a large residential population and attempt to gentrify the place. I would point out that rents are fairly affordable in East New York as it is, mainly because it’s the murder capital of Brooklyn, and functionally just about as far from Manhattan as you can get without leaving Brooklyn. It is served by a Subway line, but it’s a LONG commute. I remember taking the L from its terminus in Canarsie, and that was an unbelievably long trip back in the 80’s.

Incidentally, I understand that Jackie Robinson himself – or at least his mortal remains – can be located at Cypress Hills Cemetery nearby exit 3.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which makes the Interborough so spectacularly dangerous are actually the drives leading out from the cemeteries which line its route. One will not pretend to have any sort of familiarity with East New York, since as mentioned, it was a place to be avoided when I was growing up in 1980’s Brooklyn.

I lived on the Canarsie/Flatlands side of things, and 1980’s Brooklyn was a racially divided community. As you may have guessed, I’m a pale face, and back then there were “dividing lines” and “DMZ’s” between the various ethnic populations hereabouts. 1980’s Brooklyn plainly sucked for this reason.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Jackie Robinson or Interborough follows the Terminal Moraine of Long Island into a lowland area, the hills formed from the same geologic structure into which the Ridgewood Resovoir was set. There are sub neighborhoods in East New York which are named for said geology – The Hole, for instance, and “Flatlands” is right next door to “Flatbush.”

There used to be a “Stanley Avenue Dip” off Fountain Avenue, which followed the former path of Spring Creek from Jamaica Bay on its way inland. Fountain Avenue is where illegal street racing used to take place, which was quite multiracial, and apocryphal tales offered by the “Utes” of Brooklyn suggested that the sand strewn lots of East New York were a Mafia dumping ground that you didn’t want to ask too many questions about.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

weak and tender

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One last effort at combatting Cabin Fever, Dry Rot, and your SAD.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post will be your last dose of seasonal affective disorder medication, so drink in the color. Next week – it’s back to concrete devastations, chemical factories, superfund sites, cemeteries – you know, the usual.

Funny thing about the shot above is that I used to know a girl called Mary Gold. What was funny was that she was named Mary and was from a  Jewish family, but then again Christian Mary was from a Jewish family too, so maybe Mary is as Jewish a name as Abraham, Esther, or Sarah. In my family, there were two Aunt Rose’s, and my mother would call one of them “Rose Waxman” as she had married into the clan, and the other was Aunt Rosie as she had been born into it. There was only one Ida, but if memory serves she never grew any apples but made one heck of an apple cake.

Anyway, that’s my marigold rap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve never met, nor am I knowingly related to anyone named Albizia Julibrissin. Commonly referred to as the Mimosa, the Persian Silk Tree is actually an invasive species here in North America. It’s native to Japan and Korea, apparently, and was a prized landscaping specie in the recent past. Persian Silk Trees, aka “the bastard tamarind” and or “Pink Siris,” is an allelopathic organism. Allelopathy is a ten dollar word for “secretes chemicals into its environment whose function is to inhibit or eliminate competitors.”

It’s pretty though. I’ve heard many members of the gentry hereabouts in Astoria complain about the so called Mimosa, as when its flowers drop, they create a sticky mess on their sidewalks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m pretty sure that the flower above is an Iris, but what I know about flowers is less than what I know about brands of luggage. I’ve known several Iris’s in my days, including one whose last name was Gold, but was not related to the aforementioned Mary G (who was the “OG” as I had met her first). This was all back in an earlier era, of course, when Brooklyn was a place people didn’t want to live in, Mtv played music, a young Joe Piscopo taught us all how to laugh, and Huey Lewis was the Hootie of his time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery, one moist afternoon. It was Autumn, raining, and the light was great. Turning leaves, of course, which violates today’s flowery thema but follows along with the palette of reds and pinks nicely. Red light is carried on a longer wavelength than blue, and is of a higher frequency. The human eye – according to a couple of sources – perceives about 390 to 700 nm wavelengths and frequencies which are (in a banded gradation) in the vicinity of 430–770 THz. There’s all sorts of light invisible to human eyes, but certain critters abandon one end of the spectrum for the other, like the honey bee and the gold fish who can discern the ultra violet but lose the infrared. In return for seeing deep blues and violets, they lose the ability to see any wavelength longer than orange, which is kind of a neat trade off.

Makes me think about the things which might be flopping all around me that I can’t see. Wonder what sort of critters there might be might who have evolved an effective invisibility to Homo Homicidis?  This would be the ultimate defense mechanism against us. Might answer the question about “what is that smell, and where is it coming from”?

The reason why the sky is blue? It boils down to the shorter wavelengths and lower frequencies of the violet and blue range being scattering by the atmosphere, which is also why sunny days on Earth’s surface “look” warmer as the red light with its longer wavelength is able to penetrate down to the ground and is prevalent on deck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The most amazing skies I’ve ever witnessed were in Crete, over in the Peloponnesus of Greece.

Some awesome flower action is going on over there as well. Given the weather forecast, I sort of wish that that’s where I was right now. This is a back garden at a house which my In-Laws lived in for a number of years in a village called Tsiverus, a settlement which had the most treacherous road system I’ve ever experienced. Considering that this place has been settled by modern humans since the time of the pyramids, however, I’m willing to cut them some slack on the bad layout and placement of roads. I’m sure these paths were a lot easier to navigate with donkeys and slaves and stuff, but why there’s a highway with no guard rail placed on the ridge of a thousand foot gorge… it boggles.

Of course, the same day this was taken, I saw a work crew cutting a trench through the ruins of a Roman settlement to lay a sewage pipe into. Did you know that Greeks don’t call themselves that? They’re Hellenes, Athens and Kriti are in a country which is called the Ellīnikī́ Dīmokratía, and the word Greek comes from “Grik” which is a Roman slur that means “short legged.” Travel broadens you, I’m told, for me – it’s just another set of things to do research on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is hoped that this week of bright colors has helped alleviate the seasonal affective disorder symptomology which we are all feeling. People always refer to “cabin fever” during this time of the year.

Cabin fever is no joke, it’s an actual “thing.” “Piblokto” or Arctic Hysteria, is a condition that appears in Inughuit (which is how you spell “Inuit” now) societies up in the Arctic Circle, but it’s certainly not confined to the natives as both sailors and soldiers posted to the Arctic experience it as well.

Symptoms of Arctic Hysteria include: social withdrawal, excitement, convulsions with stupor, and recovery – which kind of describes my life in high school, except for the recovery part. The excitement part involves stripping naked and running around in the snow. You might survive Arctic Hysteria, but high school?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

OK, back to January.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

with dreams

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Constrained and contained.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The winter blues are upon us all, one fears. Dark skies and so on, combined with recurrent viral infections polluting the local outlook. Not so at this, your Newtown Pentacle. This week it’s not about the blues, rather it’s the purples, and reds, bright green, and lemon yellows. Every image that will greet you this week is chosen not for some narrative purpose, rather it’s a public service whose purpose is to help combat your SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and virus addled days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This week you’ll be greeted by a series of shots culled from the archives, accompanied by a bit of text discussing that which is pictured, when warranted. Above, a barbed wire fence line in Blissville, Queens. Behind it rises the former headquarters of the General Electric Vehicle Company, which manufactured electric automobiles and trucks in LIC back at the start of the 20th century. I described the saga of GEVC in this post, which is actually a few years old at this point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Williamsburg Bridge is actually the reason that there’s a Municipal Art Society, as the span was considered to be such an abomination when constructed that the gentry of the early 20th century wished to ensure that nothing like it ever occurred again. Personally, I don’t consider it that bad, although I prefer the venerable Manhattan and spectacular Queensboro bridges – speaking from a strictly esthetic point of view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s at the bottom of the barrel, January, in terms of the wheel of the year. What one such as myself craves is color, saturated and bright. If all I can get is artificiality, I’ll take it.

If this Astoria vending machine, which is the sort designed to tempt a passerby to drop a few coins in pursuance of a stuffed animal which might be obtained via the use of a metallic claw, is all I can get – I’ll take it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, over in North Brooklyn, has been laboriously restored to the glories typical of the era of France’s Second Empire. Luxurious detail and slavishly applied color is found on the domed ceilings of the place, both of which are sure to brighten up your wintry malaise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to LIC’s Blissville, in the shot above, and a religious parade committed by a small army of Bolivians at St. Raphael’s on Greenpoint Avenue. If this quartet of dancers cannot brighten a January day, I don’t know what can.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yuyzel on da cruss, as my Grandmother would have described the statuary above, is found at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Lower Manhattan. The cruciform is backed up by stained glass which provides for a bit of color at one of my favorite and most cinematic spots in NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can’t go wrong with Times Square if you’re looking to brighten up and color up your mid January. Of course, since it’s actually everything that’s wrong with modern NYC made manifest, a trip there might just backfire. Come to think of it, Times Square has always represented everything that was wrong with NYC, at least in the 20th and 21st centuries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

FDNY always lights things up when they’re working, come to think of it.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

sights familiar

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Newtown Pentacle’s 2015 Year in review

January, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the Newtown Pentacle “Year in Review” post, which is replete with links to earlier postings. The links were chosen for inclusion based on my own predilection. Either the photos contained in them don’t suck, or they were written to cover something significant that passed in front of my camera. There’s some pretty good stuff contained herein, IMHO. There will be a single image posted on Thursday the 31st and Friday the 1st, and new material will resume on Monday the 4th at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

2015 started off with a bang – and the loss of a dear friend – Captain John Doswell, who was eulogized in this post on January 5th. Out of a desire to escape from existential reality, I went searching for the Vampires that hang around the House of Moses down in Red Hook. Life kept on happening though, and while enduring an excruciating interval in Manhattan’s Gas Light district, a neat relic of tenement New York at a Church on 14th and 1st was described.

February, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator spends a lot of time outdoors and concurrently complains endlessly about the weather. Too hot, too cold, humid, dry, raining, or way windy – I’m a regular complaint department on the subject. This post from February depicts a frozen over Newtown Creek, and what turned out to be creosote oil migrating out of a wooden maritime structure called a “dolphin.” “Other Objects” discusses curious altars and offerings discovered adorning certain corners in Astoria from around the time of the lunar new year. Over at Bushwick Inlet on the East River, in hoary Greenpoint, a spectacular fire at the Citystorage building was observed.

March, 2015

x

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the Big Little Mayor announced his intentions to deck over the Sunnyside Yards, which is literally “in my back yard,” I was forced to say “not.” As history is ultimately the best weapon in my quiver, the video above was created and disseminated to the web. A dedicated effort to focus in on Queens was made in 2015, after having spent most of 2014 over in Greenpoint. Strange Oceans focused in on “used to be 5ptz” on Davis Street in LIC. Not Permitted continued to discuss the Sunnyside Yards issue, and Very Confines witnessed mystery discharges into the Newtown Creek at the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens.

April, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent quite a bit of time and effort visiting the “House of Moses” in 2015, and “Resting and Brooding” spent a bit of time observing the heart of Robert Moses’s empire here in Astoria – mighty Triborough. On the south end of Steinway Street, a tropical bird was noticed that was suffering from neglect in “Nearby Where,” and “Were Related” revealed where the City government stores a bunch of its gear under the Queensboro Bridge and at North Henry Street in Greenpoint.

May, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my highlights for 2015 was getting invited down into the Second Avenue Subway project, which spawned a series of posts. “Who can guess” “all that there is” “that might be” “buried” and “down there” arrived in Newtown Pentacle subscribers email, Twitter streams, or Facebook feeds in late May of 2015. Earlier in the month, “historical realities” explored DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp – back at Newtown Creek.

June, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In June of 2015, I was operating at full throttle. Opening about the ridiculous lack of public bathrooms to be found in the greatest City on the planet in “fully inanimate,” discussing the ongoing Superfund situation at Newtown Creek in “arduous details,” and asserting that 7 line Subway is far and away the most photogenic of NYC’s mass transit options in “simple swains,” and I got to bring the camera out with the Working Committee on a tour of Gowanus Bay in “quaint fusion.” The HarborLab group built and delivered a dock to Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary for the usage of LaGuardia Community College’s science programs, and I tagged along to document the effort in “jouncing descent,” “grim facade,” “listless drooping,” and “stinking shallows.

July, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amidst Glare” showcased the last photos my old camera ever took, before an accident destroyed the thing. A call out to Newtown Pentacle’s readers for financial aid in replacing it was answered handsomely, which warmed the calcified vesicle which passes for my heart. “Racing Ahead” returned to the House of Moses, and wished the Marine Parkway Bridge a happy birthday. An uncharacteristic post explored the macroscopic world of an Astoria cucumber patch in “vine encumbered,” whereas “Portal Guardians” brought me right back home to the gutter.

August, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking from Astoria to lower Manhattan one sunny day, via the Williamsburg Bridge, was discussed in “victoriously swept,” and led to another visit to the House of Moses in “pale vapors.” The House of Moses is citywide, and Greenpoint’s iteration was explored a bit in “staves and axes.” Over at Staten Island’s own Kill Van Kull waterway, a pretty significant bridge rebuilding project is underway at the Bayonne Bridge, which was detailed in “decadent element.” Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood was profiled in “ordinary interpretation.” Closer to home, Astoria’s Broadway was invaded this summer by an army of drunks which the 114th Precinct refused to notice. I forced them to notice in a flurry of posts and social media efforts, starting with “unknown things,” and “parched and terrible.” My efforts at documenting the neighborhood and its issues continued with “later civilizations.

September, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In September, like every other idiot with a camera and tripod in North America, I was up on the roof photographing the so called “super blood moon” in “khephrens gateway.” The battle of the Borrachos continued here in Astoria, in “another city.” “Drifting Sand” visited Astoria’s Steinway Mansion and offered a shout out to Newtown Pentacle’s most frequent commenter – George the Atheist – for his tireless documentation of the sinful manner in which the cultural heritage of Queens is treated. At Newtown Creek, the area I refer to as DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge – was discussed in “horrors and marvels.” I got to gather some night shots from mid channel on the Newtown Creek in “gorgeous concealment,” and tripod shots of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek were offered in “could furnish.

October, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

With tour season winding down in the late fall, my wandering about the City of Greater New York increased. Over at Newtown Creek’s Unanmed Canal at North Henry Street, a Newtown Creek Alliance event allowed me some purchase to explore the unexpected ossuary found at a semi abandoned DSNY Marine Transfer Dock in “gently heaving.” An Atlas Obscura night time event at Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery provided time and opportunity to provide some fairly surreal “night into day” shots in “breathing marble.” Back in Astoria, “swinging and plunging” showcased some passing maritime action at Hells Gate, and showcase a cool car spotted at the border of old Astoria in “other metals.” Newtown Creek has finally seen MTA re activating its rail presence, albeit for the purpose of shipping trash around, and the garbage trains at the Blissville Yard were described in “viewless aura.

November, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Halloween was spent at the corner pub which I refer to as my district office – Doyle’s at the Times Square of Astoria, 42nd and Broadway. Costumed hordes allowed me to photograph them in “rose oddly.” Oddly, my energy levels in November were quite high, whereas Consolidated Edison was busy dealing with low levels of residential supply found in Astoria as detailed in “full joys.” Discussion of manhole covers resumed in “discoursed of,” Mayor de Blasio and his agenda were derided in “mountain folk,” and LIC’s Montauk Cutoff was discussed in “these views.” The Montauk Cutoff post explored my growing interest and fascination with low light photography,  and a series of posts about a pre dawn walk from Astoria to industrial Maspeth – “grotesque night,” “betraying myself,” “duplicate and exceed,” and “ultimate effect” displayed what I saw on an uncharacteristically warm November night. Finally, DUKBO – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge(s) Onramp(s) – and the NYS DOT construction project, was visited in “brought up,” and “leftward fork.

December, 2015

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The close of 2015 began as it started, with the death of a good friend – Kill Van Kull chronicler and Photographer John Skelson, who was eulogized in “Marine Things.” The forbidden north coast of Queens, and Luyster Creek,  was visited in “known specie,” and the Queens side of DUKBO described in “cyclopean endeavor.” A boat trip on Newtown Creek found a Hindu god lurking along the bulkheads in “systemic horror,” and an encounter with some cheeky monkeys in Central Park was described in “urge primal.

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Breaking windows, on the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent controversy, and there’s always controversy, revolving around the Newtown Creek Superfund project has been swirling. Here’s the situation, which requires a bit of prologue for the uninitiated.

The Federal EPA has listed Newtown Creek as a Superfund site, which makes them the executive power responsible for its cleanup according to a bit of legislation called CERCLA. The EPA named several corporate entities as “PRP’s” or “Potentially Responisble Parties” who are culpable for the despoilment of the environment hereabouts. These PRP’s are the usual suspects – Oil companies, Gas Companies, a refinery. There are five of them, all conglomerate entities which absorbed one historic property or another over the years – ExxonMobil, National Grid, etc. There’s a sixth party which hasn’t been “officially” designated a PRP, which is the NYC DEP, a governmental entity responsible for (amongst other things) the sewer system of New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you’d expect, every one of the PRP’s wants to get out of this Superfund thing having spent as little as is possible on the cleanup. This is normal, and logical. The Corporations have an army of lawyers, and so does the DEP. Finger pointing is also normal in a situation like this, just as it would be for children who broke a school window while playing baseball. The corporate PRP’s are in the position of having to protect their shareholders from undue costs, as is the DEP in the case of taxpayers. Again, broken school window, baseball. The difference between government and corporation, however… well, the corporate manager will accept the fact that he’s cooked for breaking the pane and that it’s cheaper to just fix the window and get on with the business of earning money, while the government will try and tell you that the window shouldn’t have been there in the first place but the school they built needed windows by law so you just have to accept the broken window until next spring when the “new and better placed window bill” will be heroically sent to an indifferent Albany… and that after a sixteen year period of committee hearings… and… terrorists… and… Basically, they pass the buck down to the next election cycle. I’m prejudiced, I guess, as I always worked corporate and understand the internal processes a lot better than the intentionally Byzantine workings of government officialdom.

This is where the Federal EPA comes in, in their executive function. All of the PRP’s have contracted with environmental testing firms to perform the schedule of analysis which EPA requires in order to design a remedy for the environmental situation on the Newtown Creek. When the remedy is codified, it will be contractors hired by those self same PRP’s which will do the actual work, under Federal oversight. Meantime, everybody is blaming everybody else for whatever they can, hoping the other guy gets stuck with paying to fix the busted window.

A recent presentation offered by the NYC DEP discussed a process called “Ebullition.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Coal Tar Sludge is pretty ugly stuff, if you’re alive. It’s a by product of the gasification of coal, a product of what was once called “pneumatic chemistry.” National Grid is a multinational conglomerate that owns the holdings of what was once Brooklyn Union Gas in New York City. BUG had a massive manufactured gas plant at the border of Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. In the waters of Newtown Creek found off the National Grid bulkheads, NYC DEP’s environmental contractors observed an astounding 18 feet of coal tar sludge in the sediments of Newtown Creek. Natural processes – springs and ground water entering the bed of the waterway from below, for instance – cause bits of this coal tar sludge to migrate out of the sediment bed, which is called “Black Mayonnaise.”

The environmental types refer to this sort of thing as NAPL, or Non Aqueous Phase Liquid. That’s a fancy way of indicating that oil and water don’t mix, as the coal tar sludge – like petroleum – remains distinct from the water column surrounding it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is one of those bubbles of NAPL, or Coal Tar sludge which found its way to the surface of the water via the ebullition process. Surface tension breaks the bubble and begins to spread it into a disc. Presuming it doesn’t end up coating a bulkhead or rock somewhere between here and the East River, by the time this coal tar sludge reaches the east river it will just look like a bit of oil spread out over an area of several feet.

The NYC DEP, and their contractors, presented findings which suggested that as much as 5,000 KG of this stuff migrates up from the bottom sediments annually. They offered that in comparison, the combined sewers operated by DEP (which along Newtown Creek are amongst the largest in NYC) only deposit 27 KG of solute into the water. They also spent quite a bit of time critiquing the corporate PRP’s Contractor’s methodologies and procedures. After the presentation, it was time for questions and I asked a few pointed ones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Is this 18 feet of coal tar sludge an ongoing or historic event? 

“Good question” was the answer.

Given the fact that DEP has been paying fines on the combined sewers to the Feds since 1983, coincidentally the same year that DEP was created, you must have good records of what’s been flowing out of your pipes since then. That 27 KG number, how does it compare historically with those records?

“We’ll have to get back to you.”

I’m certain that – historically – some of that coal tar and petroleum in the sediment bed must have been carried into the water from upland sources via your pipes, when you observed this 18 foot high wall of coal tar sludge, did you notice if any of your out falls were nearby?

“The sewers have never carried oil, it’s illegal”

But what about the 1950’s when Greenpoint’s aquifer was on fire, and the sixties when manhole covers were erupting on gouts of flame, and the 80’s when it was discovered that petroleum fumes in the sewer pipes were above the upper explosive limit?

“Sir, I don’t know what you think the DEP has done to you, but on behalf of the Agency I’d like to apologize”

That’s called “crackpotting” btw. and that pissed me off.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Are the folks who run oil companies a bunch of bastards? You bet. Global Gas conglomerates are not operated by nice guys either, nor copper refineries. Know how Rockefeller made his money? Wasn’t by being a cool guy. Anybody in a position of real power is by definition “kind of a dick.” Obama would pull your tongue out and strangle you with it if he had to, but he doesn’t because there’s thousands of people who work for him that are specially trained to do so. Just because you work for the Government it doesn’t mean you’re some sort of altruist.

I cannot count the number of lies I’ve been told by employees of the NYC DEP over the years. Promises made last only as long as a Commissioner’s term, or a Mayor’s. Saying that, this is just one tiny sliver – the political and managerial department of the Agency – of an enormous 6,000 person organization which manages and polices the reservoirs, runs 14 sewer plants, possesses a small navy, handles air and noise environmental issues citywide, and has a $1.2 Billion budget. I’ve known people who work for the DEP that are amazing, and I’ve also met the political gasbags.

This is not some little mom and pop operation, the DEP.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, what the DEP management team is trying to do is to reduce their exposure to having to pay out for the cleaning up of the so called “Black Mayonnaise” which sits 20-30 feet deep in the Newtown Creek, and I can’t say I blame them. Like any entity, corporate or otherwise, they will have to pass the costs of this operation on to their customers.

Unlike a corporation, which would be put into a competitive advantage should it be forced to raise prices and drive customers to a competitor’s cheaper products, there is unfortunately only one City government to be found and you just have to pay the taxes that they inflict. There is no political will to raise water taxes in NYC after a roughly 400% rise in rates which occurred during the 12 years of Michael Bloomberg’s administration… so… do the math. The DEP people will say and do anything to avoid culpability, or delay the inevitable as long as they can and pass the buck to some new Mayor or Commisioner.

Crackpot me? Don’t piss off the photographer, doc, I’ve got pictures to back my side up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a saying which was passed down to me by my Dad and Uncles who had served in the military – “It’s a big shit sandwich and we all have to take a bite, so grab a napkin.”

Since the Superfund listing for Newtown Creek was made public, a humble narrator has been prophesying that the most interesting part of this story wasn’t going to be the oil companies trying to snake out of town and deny responsibility. Simply put, that’s the expensive way to go for them, as the courts and Feds will just stack fines up on them which they’ll have to pay IN ADDITION to the costs of the cleanup. It’s simpler, and cheaper, to cooperate. Nope, since the beginning of this tale I’ve been saying that “the fascinating part of this story will be watching the vertical silos of power in NYC’s government struggle and writhe against a higher authority.” Local authority, even that juggernaut in lower Manhattan, legally collapses before that of the Federal Government.

The EPA said that they’re willing to consider DEP’s Ebullitions study, and it’s data, but won’t be basing their decisions on either local government or corporate side’s assertions. The same DEP official who “crack potted” me in the earlier discussion mentioned above, upon hearing the EPA pronounce the substance of this statement, announced to a room full of people that DEP’s data “is just as good, if not better, or far better than EPA’s.” This is from the same official who claimed that it wasn’t going to be Superfund that cleans the Creek, rather DEP’s Long Term Control Plan – which is being designed by the same “ass coverers” and bureaucrats who haven’t done squat about it since the agency was created in 1983 by merging several smaller municipal entities which were responsible in the first place for dumping raw sewage into the waterway every time it rains.

Anyway, that’s the whole Ebullition thing for you, and a bunch of PRP’s who broke a window while playing ball. The one who threw the ball, the one who hit the ball, and the rest of the field. Meanwhile the window is hanging wide open and it’s raining into the school.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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