The Newtown Pentacle

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tangible stream

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To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A colloquial translation from Tacitus’s Agricola, attributed to the Caledonian Chieftain Calgacus, the little ditty at the top of this post was originally written in Latin (as you’d imagine). The original goes like this – Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

It’s exactly what I was thinking while transiting through the Brooklyn side of DUKBO, Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp, just the other day as one spotted this thoroughly destroyed truck.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s hardly the Roman Empire affecting these parts, rather it’s the Empire State. The properties and businesses all along Cherry Street have been vacated, as have all but one of the waste transfer stations which used to underlie the Kos, all in the name of the NY State project which will be replacing the 1939 era truss bridge with a new cable stay bridge.

What you’ve got down here, in the interim between now and then (then being the beginning of construction on the new bridge) is the absolute dream of every illegal dumper and freelance mechanic in NYC.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My understanding of the project suggests that Cherry street will cease to be, as the BQE and the new bridge will sit slightly east of the current span. Parts of Meeker Avenue will shift a bit as well. Accordingly, the Empire (state) has been acquiring properties on both sides of Newtown Creek for quite awhile and making sure that they have a clear path.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as the titular subject of this post, being the skeleton of a semi truck and trailer, my understanding is that the vehicle had been brought to this spot approximately a week or so ago. It had caught fire on the BQE, and was towed off the highway by FDNY. Evidence of my eyes suggests that this is not true, as there would be visible scorch marks on the onramps, and the street that the thing sits on does not betray the presence of the foam suppressants that FDNY typically deploys during vehicle fires.

Also, FDNY usually doesn’t let things burn out this completely.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The plants and concrete traffic barriers around the vehicle do not appear to have suffered flames, nor the presence of the 10 to 20 firefighters and their equipment either. Curious, this, but one must accept things in DUKBO as they are.

The whole “towing it off the highway” thing was offered to me by a local witness, so I transmit it as such.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A good natured Spaniard that called himself “Zumba” and who was working as a mechanic, on a somewhat less immolated truck, and it was he who transmitted the tale of the tow. Zumba inquired if I was working for the City, nervously eyeing my camera, out of probable concern that I might be some sort of taxman seeking to screw up his weekend job. Waxman, I explained.

Zumba kept on walking back and forth to this open hatch as he went about his work. The aperture sits alongside one of the emptied industrial buildings that occlude the path of the new Kosciuszko Bridge. Someone, or something, was passing him tools from down below.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be found down there?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, September 27th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, September 28th, The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

uttermost fields

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Night shooting in DUPBO, Down under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, your humble narrator attended the first half of the North Brooklyn Boat Club’s annual “Rock the Pulaski” party. One arrived a bit early, staked out a spot of the bulkhead, and waited for it to get dark. Pictured above, obviously, is Frederick Zurmuhlen’s 1954 vintage double bascule Pulaski Bridge – owned and operated by the NYC Department of Transportation.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

While squeezing out tripod shots of the Newtown Creek scenery, this critter suddenly made an appearance. I’m told that it’s a juvenile Night Heron. It seemed to be doing some hunting, and was rather non-plussed when I attached the flash to my camera.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The bird was hunting worms, of the aquatic variety, and using a floating plank of wood as a platform from which to do so. That’s actually a peanut shell in its beak in the shot above. Apparently, Night Herons like peanuts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A long exposure shot of the scene, looking towards Long Island City’s Hunters Point neighborhood, and the Vernon Avenue Street end. Once upon a time, the Vernon Avenue Bridge and the Newtown Creek Towing Company (and an Ulmer Brewery saloon) would have been in the center of the shot. That’s what it looks like at night, in DUPBO.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, September 27th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, September 28th, The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm

mournful planets

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Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Many times have I commented on the odd causality surrounding certain dates in the historical record. Obviously – September 11 has become the center of attention for NY historians since 2001, but this is a week wherein propitious events seem to have happened over the centuries. To begin with, the European discovery and description of our little town seems to have begun some four hundred and five years ago today.

In 1609, September 12th was the day that a fellow named Henry Hudson sailed up a certain river after having noticed two or three large islands in a natural harbor, onboard a Dutch East India Company ship called the Halve Maen.

Oddly enough, September 12th is considered to be the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon by scholarly sources.

Then there’s the First World War, and September 12th is the day that Gerry decided to dig in – which began three and a half years of trench warfare.

from greatwar.co.uk

From 12th September 1914 the German Army began to “dig in” on the high ground of the Chemin des Dames ridge on the north bank of the river Aisne. The Germans dug defensive trenches with the intention of securing the position and preventing any further possibility of withdrawal. This battlefield area witnessed the beginnings of entrenched positions and the change from a mobile war to a static deadlock between the opposing forces. From this date the entrenchments would gradually spread along the whole length of the Western Front, would become deeper and more impregnable and would characterize the siege warfare fighting of the Western Front for the following three and a half years.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in the past, your humble narrator has been writing a bi-weekly column over at Brownstoner Queens.

There’s a few of these posts which I’d direct you to check out, including:

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Oddly enough, I’ve got this weekend off from tours and obligations.

I plan on attending Kevin Walsh’s Forgotten Tour #83, which will explore Little Neck and Douglaston, in an effort to ameliorate my utter ignorance about eastern Queens. Also, I just received my paper back copy of Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” from Amazon, so there’s  a bit of reading I’m anxious to get into.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, September 27th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, September 28th, The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 12, 2014 at 11:16 am

ethereal harmoniousness

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Mystery is such a bother.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In another one of the dynamic and action packed moments which populate my days, your humble narrator was leaving LIC’s Sweetleaf coffee shop in LIC on Saturday when a cool car suddenly manifested itself within Jackson Avenue’s left turn lane for the Pulaski Bridge. The pillars of heaven began to shake, and the camera found itself deployed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, here’s the thing… one prides himself on the ability to focus in on any random thing found in the street and then finding out everything that can be reasonably discovered about it. This automobile has me stumped. Zooming in at a billion percent in photoshop shows the “lazy s” logo of the Studebaker company emblazoned on the red disks at the center of the wheel covers, but…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This car also resembles a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe 2 Door Coach in many ways, but there’s no “silver streak” running down the middle of the hood and the grill is all wrong for that model and then there’s those Studebaker logos on the wheels. Grrr. A four door version of the Pontiac model reveals a very similar silhouette to that exhibited by this car, however.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Nothing I’ve seen from South Bend, Indiana’s own Studebaker during the late 1930’s or early 40’s looks remotely like this. If there’s anyone out there with a specialized knowledge of the subject, please add a comment to this post and educate not just me but your fellow lords and ladies.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing was heading to Brooklyn, which is always kind of a mistake. Who would want to leave Queens?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 8, 2014 at 11:00 am

defined apprehensions

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Twirling, ever twirling.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The affability of recent climate has seen me visiting old haunts and novel locale alike in recent weeks, which might be described as having been a somewhat pleasurable set of experiences. That would mean, of course, that your humble narrator was actually capable of experiencing a sensation called “pleasure.” A series of dull events punctuated by occasional gastro-intestinal distress, all sorts of bacterial and viral infections, and the oft bizarre actions of others is the way one such as myself describes “Life.”

One bright spark in the otherwise gathering clouds of existential horror which plague me are unexpected moments of serendipity.

A train passing by can excite one endlessly, and reminds that “you have to appreciate the little things.”

In my case, it’s big things that go “thruuummmm thruuuuuuummmm thruuummmm” or “claaacckkclaaacckkclaaacckk” as they pass by, but I’m all ‘effed up.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Good days are ones where I’m not walking to go anyplace in particular. Days when I leave the house and decide only which compass point to walk toward. For some reason, its not east that often, as that’s usually looking into the light. Instinct always points my path towards water, no matter where I am. It was kind of interesting finding myself in Queens Plaza, which I used to inhabit back in 2009 and 2010 during the Queensboro Bridge Centennial period but which I mainly cross through these days on my way to someplace in Brooklyn or Hunters Point.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, Our Lady of the Pentacle had agreed to visit the Brooklyn Grange roof top farm here in Astoria with a friend of ours who subscribes to their CSA program and I tagged along. While they picked up some quality produce, I got busy with the camera. Serendipity at work, when I woke up that morning, seeing this vista overlooking the Sunnyside Yards and the Shining City of Manhattan was not on the menu.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

spectral summer

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Damnation, hell, and other allegories plague my days.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a gull catching the free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, a critter smarter than me who says “why walk (or fly) when you can ride?” Severe fatigue marks this day for a humble narrator. A freelance assignment carried one out to storied Red Hook yesterday, a trip made remarkable by the atypically wonderful weather. Having clicked the shutter while pointing the camera at my intended targets, and not having much else to do for the afternoon, one decided to walk home to Astoria.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above depicts what the City looks like from the water, at night. Walking from Red Hook to Astoria sounds insane, I know, but it’s only about 10 miles from A to B. Along the way, one gets to witness the majesty of the East River while moving out of Red Hook, into Brooklyn Bridge Park, through Vinegar Hill, past the Navy Yard, into Williamsburg and Greenpoint, over the Pulaski into Hunters Point, and then the Queensbridge, Ravenswood, and finally Astoria neighborhoods are encountered in Queens. It takes around four to five hours to do this section of the western coast of Long Island.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My beloved Dutch Kills, above. When you return home, a little puff of steam is released as you doff your shoes. You really do feel it the next day, mainly in the lateral part of the hips, which is where my feeling of fatigue comes in.

It’s actually so silly cool a walk that I’m considering organizing a free event on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, the 29th of November, and calling it the “Red Hook to Astoria Challenge.” This won’t be a tour, per se, it’ll be more of a hang out. More to come on this.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

This weekend-

Saturday, August 16th, LIC’s Modern Corridor
With Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

greatest suddenness

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Vas doin on English Kills, boychik, mit the bubbles?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

DUMABO. Down Under the Metropolitan Bridge Onramp, is a spot that bisects the pathway of the so called “industrial Canals of Brooklyn” or English Kills. The darkest thicket of the troubled Newtown Creek, English Kills is largely isolated from casual perusal by the electorate by a continuous shield wall of industrial buildings, which means that what happens on the water is usually commented on by an unlucky few such as myself. The engineered path that the water flows through follows the Brooklyn street grid, which creates a series of right angle turns that impede the tidal actions of the East River which is some 3 miles from here.

This adherence to the street grid, and the hydrological issues it introduces, has caused huge accretions of the so called “Black Mayonnaise” sediments to agglutinate. This sedimentation, along with the summer heat, causes the water to be “anoxic,” meaning that it often carries little or no dissolved oxygen. This kills off any aquatic life that may have wandered back here, and promulgates the colonies of sewage bacteria in the water whose aromatic exhalations remind one of rotting chicken eggs.

The sewage bacteria is provided by the many CSO’s (Combined Sewer Outfalls) found along the waterway.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

To combat these anoxic conditions, the ever reliable NYC DEP (in concert with the state DEC) have installed an aeration system. Basically a giant pipe through which pressurized air is pumped, the thing operates in the same manner as a bubble wand on your aquarium fish tank. Disturbing the surface allows atmospheric gases like oxygen to become dissolved in the water. The DEP building you’ll notice on Metropolitan Avenue in East Williamsburg that adjoins the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge contains the air compressors.

It all sounds rather logical, as the efforts of engineers often do. Problem is that the sewage bacteria conditions are being caused by the Combined Sewer Outfalls on English Kills, which the DEP engineers are not focusing on. It’s sort of like shitting in a fish tank every day, and attaching more and more aerating bubble wands to combat the conditions being caused, without doing anything about… y’know, not shitting in your aquarium.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the problem - my pals over at Riverkeeper have voiced MAJOR concerns about this system, and cite a study by M. Elias Dueker which shows that bacterial fauna from English Kills are provided with an opportunity to enter the air via this system. A “Culturable Bacterial Aerosol” as they describe it, is allowed purchase into the atmosphere.

Said organisms can then find a home on any friendly terrestrial surface.

In effect, these bubbles provide a ladder for the worst pathogens in the Newtown creek watershed an opportunity to get up and out of the water. Keeping this sort of bacteria away from the general populace is sort of the mission of the DEP, btw.

from riverkeeper.org

Riverkeeper raised concerns when the city proposed aerating the rest of the creek last spring and asked the DEP to test for pathogens and sewage associated bacteria in the air, which they did not agree to do. Aeration creates bubbles on the water’s surface and is a Band Aid solution to the underlying serious problem of combined sewage overflows. Low oxygen conditions in the creek occur due to sewage contamination and although aeration increases the oxygen level in the water, it does not reduce the amount of sewage or sewage associated bacteria that are dumped into the creek. Riverkeeper has argued that aeration is an ineffective way of addressing the pollution problem and the recent study suggests that it may also negatively impact local air-quality.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Worse still, the aeration system performs its job quite well. Dissolved oxygen levels in English Kills are higher than they used to be. Accordingly, the DEP is planning on expanding the system from English Kills all the way to the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, more than a mile away.

The pipes are planned to follow the contour of the Queens coastline, of course, because you wouldn’t be able to get away with doing it on the Brooklyn side. This puts Maspeth, and parts of Sunnyside and Blissville, in the path of the pestilent wind which would rise from the loathsome Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

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