The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

rumbling, lumbering, crawling

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The horror…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One actually had to sit down and wait to get these three shots, a violation of normal shooting protocols. An interminable seven or eight minutes was spent uselessly fretting, searching for signs of an approaching chain of motorized boxes as they turned off of Queens Blvd. for Queens Plaza. Rules are rules, and if something isn’t randomly happening why I’m passing by, it might as well not have happened at all – as far as I’m concerned.

It is a delusional belief one has often enjoyed – that the rest of you simply power down, like some urbanized version of Disney’s “Pirates of the Carribbean” ride, whenever I leave the room. Right now, there’s a diner full of automata, waiting for me to trigger their pre recorded dance at dinner time. There’s also electric schoolchildren, who wait to point and laugh at the threadbare thing seen scuttling along area lanes. One pretends as if he doesn’t know, but realizes all.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The world is a stage, and we are all just players upon it… somebody said something like that, probably someone important or noteworthy… someone who was likely English and favored iambic pentameter. Confusion about whether I might be asleep in the world’s balcony cloud and perturb.

What does any of this have to do with the elevated section of the 7 line, here in Long Island City, you ask? Well, this sort of self recrimination and existential angst is how one idled away those seven to eight eternities of static position waiting for a subway to appear. I do not know how the wildlife photo people deal with the waiting.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned ad infinitum, under normal photowalk circumstance and custom, one scuttles along across the concrete devastations with no destination – allowing interest and fancy to guide me around. More often than not, when all the gears are clicking, something finds me. As I’ve grown older, I seem to avoid steep hills more and more, which means a lot of time is spent along the waterfront.

Keep moving, don’t stop, shoot on the go. That’s me. Spending seven or eight minutes waiting for a shot? Your humble narrator is getting long in the tooth, and cannot afford to waste any time at all. Seven or eight minutes might be a statistically relevant portion of my remaining time amongst the automated marionettes, here in the Newtown Pentacle.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

padding, clicking, walking

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Want to feel better? Take a walk in Queens.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Skillman Avenue between 39th street and 49th avenue is “big sky country” here in Western Queens, with the majesties of the Sunnyside Yard and the glorious skyline of the Shining City laid out for all observers. It has always been one of my favorite spots for a stroll, and never more so than at twilight.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a number of things I can tell you about the yards. When it opened, this was the largest coach yard on the planet, and it hosts the busiest tracks on earth to this day – specifically, the Harold Interlocking, which is shared by Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad. There’s an ocean of PCB’s and other industrial chemicals in the ground here, and its likely going to be listed for some sort of environmental cleanup or remediation before too long.

The odd and continuing appearances of cast off single shoes found along the fence line continues to intrigue and puzzle a humble narrator, but that’s another story.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the whole “deck over the yard and build a new neighborhood on top of it, with a stadium and hotel complex at the Queens Plaza side and affordable housing to the east” chestnut has surfaced again – the latest iteration of a plan espoused by Dan Doctoroff early in the first Bloomberg term. A number of people have asked me what my thoughts on the matter are.

My reply is always: How, in any way, would that be good for Queens? Does the proposal to deck the yards include hospitals and schools, an annex for the already stretched 104th and 114th precincts, additional FDNY personnel and equipment, or some mechanism to incorporate this new population into the existing wastewater system? Who will bear the costs of these municipal services? It won’t be the entity that builds a stadium or hotel complex, one guarantees you.

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innermost monstrosities

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I know things, I tell you, things!

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Owing to it being Columbus Day and all, one got to thinking what the old boy might have seen were he to have ever made it to Newtown Creek. Columbus, of course, never got anywhere even remotely close to NYC – but if today’s post was a thought experiment designed to picture a spot that the Dutch Kills Tributary of Newtown Creek flowed to prior to European colonization… well, 40th avenue between 29th street and 30th is a darned good place to visit. Just saying.

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all pantheons

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Hey, youse, whatcha taking pixchas of? Comere, ahlls gis yes someting to take pixchas of right heres…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The first time that a camera was used as a weapon of war, not for propaganda or image capture but as a bludgeon, was during the First World War. A century ago, a British infantryman who was completely out of ammunition on the Western Front swung his Kodak Brownie stoutly around for 17 straight hours, holding off a German division singlehandedly before succumbing to his injuries.

I’m making that up of course, to illustrate the ridiculous nature of people’s reactions when they see a camera being used these days. Folks don’t react in the same manner to cell phone cameras, mind you, dslr’s must awaken some ancestral memory of one eyed predators stalking our primate predecessors. At any rate, here we go again with the Subway pics.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Compared to the shooting protocol I’ve been perfecting for the underground system, down in the tubes, the 7 line is a piece of cake. Above ground through most of Queens, every one of its platforms (except Hunters Point, which has its own virtues) offer fantastic points of view. The shot above is the Corona Yard, nearby Flushing Meadow Corona Park and Citifield, on the pedestrian bridge between the LIRR station and the 7 line’s stadium stop.

Whilst shooting this one, some faceless security guard asked me “what are you taking pictures of?”. Gesturing to the yard, I said “the trains.” He offered that it was disallowed, noticing such things and capturing the reflected light streaming off of them. Not desiring to discuss constitutional law with a fellow in a rented cop suit, I instructed him to summon the police. He declined and began to harass a teenaged skateboarder instead.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

While on Skillman Avenue near Queens Plaza recently, the 7 came sliding in over the intersection and the deployed camera was called to action. An older woman, whose logical decision making process is clearly flawed – she made the decision to drive into Manhattan at rush hour – called out to me from her idling automobile, offering a question.

Her query was “are you a terrorist?”. I affirmed the negative on that one, and asked if she had remembered to turn the oven off before she left the house. I’m a real stinker like that, she was probably worried about it for the rest of the day. Seriously though Queensicans, leave me the hell alone when I’m working, because that’s what photographers are doing when we have those one eyed predator weapons systems pressed to our faces.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm

so dissimilar

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Places to go, no one to see.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Over at Newtown Creek’s LIC tributary, Dutch Kills, a property owner has been clearing away a stand of poison ivy and feral trees which have been occluding views of the turning basin (47th avenue at 29th street). There’s a bit of controversy about the property owner’s plans to erect a fence line here, as it seems to be NYS property, but this is Queens so who cares? If this was North Brooklyn, there’d be hunger strikers and hipster girls would be chaining themselves to the bulkheads. Here, the primary impact on the community is the loss of a good spot for weed smoking used by students from a nearby college and high school.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, Working Harbor Committee did a tour of the Gowanus Bay and Canal which I was onboard for. Conversation with members of the Gowanus Conservancy allowed me to utter aloud one of the “faux pas” for which I am famous. My statement that Newtown Creek is a FAR bigger problem than their troubled waterway was greeted with “oh, here we go.” I explained that its geography, and that Newtown Creek and its tributaries simply occupy more space than the Gowanus. Closest analogy for the Gowanus, in my opinion, is actually Dutch Kills – multitudes of bridges, overflown by a highway, narrow channel, and abandoned bulkheads.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Got me thinking about Luyster Creek and all the other largely abandoned industrial canals in Queens that never get mentioned, of course. Flushing River, Anable Basin, and the rest seldom receive much notice from regulators. They’ve got the Black Mayonnaise and the VOC’s, the CSO’s and PCB’s. Heck, the entire alphabet can found floating around in New York Harbor. Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull is so rich in pesticides that it could likely wipe out every roach in Manhattan.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm

too vivid

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The Brooklyn Queens Expressway, what a gas.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, an assignment I was working on sent me packing back home to Astoria from Red Hook in a Taxi, and one became sublimely bored as the driver negotiated through traffic. As is my way, the camera was deployed to see “if I can get anything worth keeping.” Every time that I see, or cross, the Kosciuszko Bridge these days – a sense of finality kicks in and it occurs that I really should get some shots of it since there will shortly not be a bridge to be shot – rather it will be a construction site.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For the camera folks out there, these shots were captured with settings of f1.8 at around 1/250th of a second at ISO 2000+. It’s actually pretty dark up there, something which I’ve never been able to understand given the number of street and vehicle lights, but there you are. I guess there’s a lack of ambient light coming up from Newtown Creek and Calvary Cemetery.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator has nearly caught up on a couple of projects which have been weighing heavily, and is anxious to get back to weightier matters around the Creeklands. Another week or so and one should be free of entanglement and distraction. There’s also a couple of autumn walking tours I need to tell you about, but that will have to wait for a day or two.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 8, 2014 at 10:50 am

healing balm

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Cry havoc, and let slip the dog of Blissville…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way to a recent Poison Cauldron tour, wherein a group of overtly curious New Yorkers were guided around neighborhood found in Brooklyn’s DUKBO, a rather large canine was spotted. It is my belief that I have met this dog before, and if I’m correct in my assumption of its identity, all one hundred pounds of slavering canine flesh contained in its skinvelope are overtly friendly and desirous of a good scratch. One way or another, he caught my eye whilst a humble narrator was scuttling toward the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Stinging critique is omnipresent in my mind, as always. A novel one has been added to the list over at my Brownstoner Queens column, where someone has characterized a recent post as “classist.” That’s a new one. I’ve been called a lot of things over the last five years or so, but classist ain’t one of them. Just so that you understand where I come from, my Dad called the commode “a terlet” and the conventional wisdom in my family was that the best you could do in life was to pass a civil service exam which would vouchsafe “security” in the form of a job working for the City.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Dogs are generally good, to me at least. Here in Astoria, where a significant number of the neighbors hail from the near east and adhere to the mores of a Muslim upbringing – they’re not so good. There’s a whole other cultural imperative at work with these folks, and they view dogs as “unclean.” Canines aren’t as “haram” as pigs, of course, and I’ve noticed that there seems to be a coefficient to how unclean they are based on geography. Conversation with the neighbors has revealed that folks from the western side of the near east – Lebanon, Egypt etc. – are fairly tolerant of dogs although they are a bit wary about them (much like the Greeks who hail from the Cyclades). When you meet folks from further east – Bangladesh, India etc. – the sudden appearance of a dog amongst them is tantamount to pulling the pin on a grenade. The dividing line between the two points of view seems to be somewhere around the Arabian peninsula. This is entirely unscientific, of course, and based strictly on conversation with the neighbors.

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