The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

byzantine mechanisms

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Can I ask everyone to stand still and just look right at the camera, please?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The little snatches of reality which I like to capture with the camera are often occluded by the omnipresent presence of the humans who infest New York City. A particular annoyance often encountered is when I’m about to click the shutter for a shot such as the one above when some bipedal creature staring into his or her glowing rectangle of glass steps directly in front of me. Often I think that they’re doing it on purpose, but that would indicate the presence of both thought and intent in a probably bestial and non self aware thing. Also, pull up your pants, you look ridiculous. Gahhh… how I hate all of you.

The problem with humanity is all the people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You remember that Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith, the one where there’s a nuclear war and he’s the only survivor who now has all the time in the world to read but then he breaks his glasses? Up until the glasses bit, the whole solitude on a shattered earth thing doesn’t sound too bad. I certainly wouldn’t need to worry about updating the blog, and my biggest problems would simply revolve around food and water. It would suck not having anybody to complain to – my parents and family used to refer to me as the “complaint department” when I was a young but already humble narrator.

In a thousand years, future archeologists would find a skeletal mass in a filthy black raincoat holding a camera memory card amongst the ruins of NYC, and they’d have some concretized idea what the first months after the apocalypse looked like. Even in the end of the world, you need to stay useful, I believe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I really need to take a vacation. Somewhere isolated and unpopulated where I can do long exposures of an empty horizon.

More and more, I think about that old Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft movie “the prisoner of second avenue.”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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

lingered tenaciously

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Atmospheric temperature inversions are cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may recall, last Friday was unusually warm for a day in January, and a patch of heavy fog fairly permeated the ether. Later in the evening, when the temperature began to drop towards seasonal norms, many would have described weather conditions as rainy but in actuality it was a precipitating mist. A variety of social functions saw one flitting to and fro in the cloud of vapor which occluded human vision and lent a mutiplicity of illuminates full discourse to dissipate and diffuse into its heaving forms.

Paragraphs like the one above are part of the reason that I don’t get invited to many parties, so when I am on a guest list – I go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A soirée in Sunnyside to celebrate a friend’s birthday was attended, and after escorting a third party back to her home, one found himself close enough to home to walk. The City of Greater New York is always at its most photogenic when it’s moist, and given that the temperature was pleasant… why not?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The next time a temperature inversion occurs and misty banks of vapor are observably rolling across the concrete devastations, my intention is to cancel or back out of any and all interpersonal plans. One shall pack up the tripod and camera kit and head over to the Newtown Creek.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

cannot give

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Another set of shots from the Newtown Creek frozone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week I showed you what it looks like when Brooklyn’s English Kills freezes over, today it’s the polar paradise which Dutch Kills in LIC became after that recent spell of super cold weather that’s in focus. Both waterways are tributaries of the fabulous Newtown Creek, and the “kills” bit is Old Dutch for “creek.” The English and Dutch parts of the names are meant to indicate where the various ethnicities of European settlers sited themselves.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, as we know it today, is a canalized post industrial waterway surrounded by stout factory and warehouse structures and crossed by multiple bridges, with the current shape of things dating back to the creation of the surrounding Degnon Terminal in the late nineteen-teens. It attained its modern characteristics by 1921, and the last big addition to Dutch Kills was the installation of the Midtown Tunnel and Long Island Expressway way back in 1940.

That’s the LIE, or at least the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the it, pictured above. Close to 90,000 vehicle trips a day pass over the water here, yet most people you meet say they have never heard of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like English Kills in Bushwick, Dutch Kills here in LIC was contained nearly completely by a layer of plate ice when I visited it last Wednesday. The ice was already “rotting” as the air temperatures returned to seasonal norms, and the weak tidal action witnessed in Dutch Kills was breaking it into distinct floes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just like English Kills, certain areas which have been observed as being highly biologically active due to the presence of sewage sediment mounds during warmer climes were fully melted and flowing. The status of those unknown things which slither and slide and slop about in the bottom sediments during these unfrozen times remains a mystery.

There are some things you really do not want to know, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on the Borden Avenue Bridge, just to the south of the vantage point in the previous shots – which is offered by the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge – the rot of the ice was a bit more pronounced. An analogous appearance vaguely reminiscent of an otherwise wholesome slice of Swiss Cheese came to mind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The structure pictured in the first shot of today’s post, as well as in the last one presented above, is called a “dolphin.” It’s rooted deeply in the substrata of Dutch Kills and constructed of creosoted lumber piles. The purpose of these things is to protect the movable bridges they adjoin from an allision, accidental contact with passing maritime traffic. If both the boat and bridge were moving it be a collision, allision is if a moving object strikes a stationary one. 

For me, they provide essential design elements and focal points for the framing of photos at a frozen superfund site, hidden at the very center of New York City.


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almost snatched

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Project Queens is a work in progress, and always has been.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It often seems as if everyplace I find my heels clicking upon the sidewalks of Western Queens is a construction zone. This one got my attention the other day when I noticed a shaft of sunlight while riding a train, somewhere between the 46th Street and Steinway Street stops on the venerable R line tracks. After returning to the ancient village from points west and south, a brief investigatory wander revealed it to be a crew from the MTA construction division hard at work on Astoria’s Broadway. I walked up on the end of this process, but it seemed that they had cut a hole in the street in order to deliver bundles of lumber and other heavy materials to the sweating concrete bunkers below the street.

I know, that sounds ridiculous, cutting a hole in the street. Why go to such lengths and expense, inconveniencing an entire neighborhood, when you could just use a work train to transport materials to the job site… but… I did say “MTA” didn’t I?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can you imagine the sort of existential horror that would ensue if the current Mayor of NYC’s mad plan to deck over the Sunnyside Yards happened? Often have I contemplated the nightmare scenario of materials laden heavy trucks criss crossing through Woodside, Astoria, Dutch Kills, Hunters Point, and Sunnyside while carrying tonnages of construction equipment and materials. The noise alone…

It would be less instructive, IMHO, if they were to just extend the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek a couple of blocks to the north and bring it all in via a maritime shipping channel. That is, in a scenario in which this Queens killing abomination actually happens, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst marching about on Skillman Avenue nearby Queens Plaza, a work train crew was spotted on the overhead tracks. Presumptively, these folks were working on the long overdue CBTC signals project on the 7 line. This project, which seems like its been going on for decades (it has been) and must be millions over budget (it is) will allow the estimable scions of the MTA the opportunity to run one extra train per hour on the 7 line. Will the perfidy displayed by Jay Street ever end?

One of the military industrial complex concepts, which I wish the MTA would adopt in planning and spending, is the “resource to kill ratio.” In layman’s terms, that call that “bang for the buck.” You don’t use a million dollar missile to kill a guy on a camel, essentially. You use a sniper instead.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 15, 2018 at 11:00 am

formula filled

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My creek also puts on a show when I’ve been away from her too long.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my practices, developed over the last decade or so, is to take a Newtown Creek break periodically and “allow my liver to return to a normal size.” I’m joking about the liver, but one does enjoy a bit of detox occasionally, and allowing the poisons I’ve accrued a chance to leach out. This is a luxury one enjoys, as he doesn’t live along Newtown Creek, others aren’t so lucky. Pictured above is roll on/ roll off garbage truck carrying a bin, spotted at a waste transfer station owned by a friend of mine which fairly straddles the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching along Metropolitan Avenue, one squealed with delight as the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge began to open. This used to be quite a frequent occurrence “back in the day.” These days there’s only one regular maritime customer back here on the English Kills tributary, which is Bayside Fuel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The timing of the bridge opening was bizarre, occurring at precisely the time of one of the heaviest traffic intervals in this section of North Brooklyn, about 6:30 p.m.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That odd timing, however, allowed one to stand in the middle of Metropolitan Avenue without getting squished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I believe that the tug pictured above is the Mary H., which normally handles the Bayside duty, but it’s hard to say as I didn’t get any of its markings. I did manage to focus in on the captain in his wheelhouse, however, so “win.”

As a note, the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge spans the English Kills tributary of the larger Newtown Creek at a navigational mark 3.4 miles eastwards of the East River. Metropolitan Avenue was originally created as a private toll road about 1814, and was called the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike. The owners of the toll road, and the original bridge, were two brothers whose family name was Masters. That’s why you’ll occasionally see references to the road as the “Masters Turnpike” and the “Masters Bridge” in the historical record, if like me, you stay up until 4 in the morning reading old municipal journals and reports from the Chambers of Commerce of Brooklyn or Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My conceit is to call this area of Newtown Creek surrounding the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge “DUMABO.” That’s short for “Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge,” as I believe we need to be ahead of the real estate people on these sorts of things.


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ignorantly spared

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Back on the job.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since the recent extreme cold spell has broken, a humble narrator has found himself marching about again, and boy are my dogs barking. On Tuesday, a stroll over to Bushwick East Williamsburg was enacted and the farthest reaches of the Newtown Creek at English Kills were observed. As expected, the waterway was frozen over.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Toxic ice. You don’t get to say that particular phrase that too often, but that’s what you’re looking at in the shot above. English Kills is the far eastern terminus of Newtown Creek, which branches off of the East River nearly 3.8 miles from the larger waterbody. These shots were gathered at about 3.7 miles back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That big sewer outfall at the end of the tributary is the 3.8 mile terminus mark, and the north/south street seen beyond the fencelines is Johnson Avenue. The surrounding neighborhood is gentrifying (dictionary definition of gentrifying), but on a fairly small scale as compared to points found to the west like LIC and Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One decided to hang around the neighborhood for a bit and stretch my legs after the long interval of being trapped in the house by inclement clime, and visit a few of my favorite places. This shot is from the Scott Avenue footbridge, which spans the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch freight tracks, just as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was dipping behind New Jersey to the west.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heading over towards Metropolitan Avenue, and another of the dead end tributaries of Newtown Creek – the East Branch, one discovered that this section of the water was similarly locked in a decidedly polar state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ice was decaying faster in both waterways where it touched the open sewer outfalls, no doubt due to the flow of melt water laden with road salt coming in from as far away as Canarsie. This untreated sewage is quite biologically active as well, and the metabolism of the microscopic entities contained in the water column likely helps to warm it up a bit.


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