The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for October 2012

boisterous company

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

All ‘effed up. Only way to describe it. Often, a feeling will come over me, a sensation that my shirt is too tight or an odd itch will manifest deep in my ear- far beyond the reach of common probes. Annoyance sets in, with every mundane happenstance somehow confirming that “this is not my day”. In these moments of pique, I reach for the camera and head out the door, much to the puzzlement of my little dog who worries that it might have been she that upset me. It’s the psychological equivalent of hay fever, not unlike the sensational annoyance of a nose which drips uncontrollably. Luckily, I live within walking distance of more than one interesting place.

from wikipedia

Mucophagy is feeding on mucus of fishes or invertebrates. It may also refer to consumption of mucus or dried mucus in primates.

There are mucophagous parasites, such as some sea lice that attach themselves to gill segments of fish.

Mucophages may serve as cleaners of other animals.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The headphones are in before the portal to the human hive is crossed, and when angered or annoyed, the tunes are as well. Normally, one enjoys the company of an audiobook or the extensive list of podcasts to which I am subscribed, but on days like the foggy one on which these shots were captured – it’s Husker Du. For those of you unfamiliar, the seminal hardcore trio from Minneapolis produced some of the finest punk albums of the 1980’s, and their masterpiece is something called Zen Arcade. The double album, which is meaningless term in the age of digital music, reminds me of those days when a young narrator was capable of a dizzying number of emotions rather than the three or four I’ve been reduced to in my increasing dotage.

from wikipedia

Common features of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) include excessive, often persistent anger, frequent temper tantrums or angry outbursts, as well as disregard for authority. Children and adolescents with ODD often purposely annoy others, blame others for their own mistakes, and are easily disturbed. Parents often observe more rigid and irritable behaviors than in siblings. In addition, these young people may appear resentful of others and when someone does something they don’t like they prefer taking revenge more than sensitive solutions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Joking to myself that there might be things moving about in the fog, a reference to another bit of 1980’s pop culture, my plodding steps led me- as always down toward Newtown Creek and in the direction of the LIRR station. Can’t tell you why, but this spot is thrilling to me. Something about the trains moving along at grade level, so close you can touch them, and feeling (rather than hearing) the titan engines of these locomotives go by just electrifies- it feels as if a strong cup of coffee has just been injected intravenously.

from wikipedia

Caffeine overdose can result in a state of central nervous system over-stimulation called caffeine intoxication (DSM-IV 305.90), or colloquially the “caffeine jitters”. The symptoms of caffeine intoxication are comparable to the symptoms of overdoses of other stimulants: they may include restlessness, fidgeting, anxiety, excitement, insomnia, flushing of the face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, a rambling flow of thought and speech, irritability, irregular or rapid heart beat, and psychomotor agitation. In cases of much larger overdoses, mania, depression, lapses in judgment, disorientation, disinhibition, delusions, hallucinations, or psychosis may occur, and rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue) can be provoked.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the conspirators who plot against Queens in their Manhattan offices would like to see this solace taken away from me, and would love nothing more than to deck over these tracks and install bland real estate. The masters they serve, and that thing which cannot possibly exist in the cupola of the sapphire Megalith is one of them, know that my joy is something to be crushed and will do whatever they can to see me cry. Next, they’ll take away my right to listen to loud thirty year old punk and take photos of stuff. Bastards!

I’m all ‘effed up.

from wikipedia

Grandiose delusions (GD) or delusions of grandeur is principally a subtype of delusional disorder that occurs in patients suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses, including two-thirds of patients in manic state of bipolar disorder, half of those with schizophrenia and a substantial portion of those with substance abuse disorders. GD are characterized by fantastical beliefs that one is famous, omnipotent, wealthy, or otherwise very powerful. The delusions are generally fantastic and typically have a supernatural, science-fictional, or religious theme. There is a relative lack of research into GD, in comparison to persecutory delusions and auditory hallucinations. About 10% of healthy people experience grandiose thoughts but do not meet full criteria for a diagnosis of GD.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

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forbidden zone

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Consultations with the elder tomes, Armbruster and Riker amongst others, an activity entered into during an innocent pursuit of certain historical lore about the area surrounding the conjunction of Grand Street/Avenue and the fabled Newtown Creek, revealed- or rather suggested- blasphemous realities difficult to digest. Needing a walk, and desiring to be warmed by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself, your humble narrator found himself scuttling forth and somehow ended up at the hidden relict known to some as the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. It was there that a corpse was discovered.

from wikipedia

Horseshoe crabs resemble crustaceans, but belong to a separate subphylum, Chelicerata, and are therefore more closely related to arachnids e.g spiders and scorpions. The earliest horseshoe crab fossils are found in strata from the late Ordovician period, roughly 450 million years ago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, are familiar with the spot. The wooden structure visible is the last remains of the Maspeth Toll Bridge Co.’s Plank Road- which last crossed the Newtown Creek in 1875. Connecting the ancient community of Maspeth and Newtown with the hellish expanse of Furmans Island (home to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory and Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal Dock, amongst other notorious or malodorous occupants), the Plank Road today exists as a destination for Newtown Creek devotees and fetishists. One did not expect to find a cadaver there, especially not of a creature whose origins stretch back to the Ordovician age.

from wikipedia

For most of the Late Ordovician, life continued to flourish, but at and near the end of the period there were mass-extinction events that seriously affected planktonic forms like conodonts, graptolites, and some groups of trilobites (Agnostida and Ptychopariida, which completely died out, and the Asaphida, which were much reduced). Brachiopods, bryozoans and echinoderms were also heavily affected, and the endocerid cephalopods died out completely, except for possible rare Silurian forms. The Ordovician–Silurian Extinction Events may have been caused by an ice age that occurred at the end of the Ordovician period as the end of the Late Ordovician was one of the coldest times in the last 600 million years of earth history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given its size, the departed was likely a female, and it was fairly apparent from both olfactory and visual inspection that it had emerged from the water and mounted its cairn several days before you humble narrator stumbled upon it. Clearly, its eyes had been chewed away by some scavenger. Often have I been told that this specie exists in Newtown Creek, but never have I beheld a specimen along it. Truly- who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

from wikipedia

Xiphosura is an order of marine chelicerates which includes a large number of extinct lineages and only four recent species in the family Limulidae, which include the horseshoe crabs. The group has hardly changed in millions of years; the modern horseshoe crabs look almost identical to prehistoric genera such as the Jurassic Mesolimulus, and are considered to be living fossils. The most notable difference between ancient and modern forms is that the abdominal segments in present species are fused into a single unit in adults.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often has the thought occurred to me. The relatively sudden change in the chemistry of both water and sediment over the last couple of hundred years- what process has that begun in the genome of local specie? Those who cannot adapt to the “new normal” will wither and die off, while others will alter themselves to thrive in the environment they find themselves in. Such is the very nature of life upon this world. Creatures such as this Horseshoe Crab have persisted, generation after generation, through asteroid hits and volcanic calamity and ice age. Surely they can adapt to the petroleum and chemicals in the water. They have seen dinosaurs come and go, these creatures.

from wikipedia

The Atlantic horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, is a marine chelicerate arthropod. Despite its name, it is more closely related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions than to crabs. Horseshoe crabs are most commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the northern Atlantic coast of North America. A main area of annual migration is Delaware Bay, although stray individuals are occasionally found in Europe.

The other three species in the family Limulidae are also called horseshoe crabs. The Japanese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus) is found in the Seto Inland Sea, and is considered an endangered species because of loss of habitat. Two other species occur along the east coast of India: Tachypleus gigas and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda. All four are quite similar in form and behavior.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The province of science fiction, such industrially adapted animals might thrive on petroleum derivates, taking advantage of other species inability to exist in such places. It has happened before, sudden environmental change. Unfortunately, it is rather simple creatures like the horseshoe crab and those smaller who are most likely to survive. Always, it is the apex predators who dominate the landscape that die off, which in modern times – unfortunately- is us.

from wikipedia

It is generally agreed that the Chelicerata contain the classes Arachnida (spiders, scorpions, mites, etc.), Xiphosura (horseshoe crabs) and Eurypterida (sea scorpions, extinct). The extinct Chasmataspida may be a sub-group within Eurypterida. The Pycnogonida (sea spiders) were traditionally classified as chelicerates, but some features suggest they may be representatives of the earliest arthropods from which the well-known groups such as chelicerates evolved

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine the earth of a century or two from now- flooded and with vast reserves of carbon dioxide loosed within the atmosphere. Contrary to doomsayers fantasies of some parched Sahara, the historic record suggests- based on the fossil record of eras when CO2 existed in concentrations well beyond any modern day greenhouse gas scenario- that the planet will host vast forests as opportunist trees and plants drink in the stuff. We will be long gone, of course, either having escaped into space or extinct because of changes in rainfall, habitable land, and climate which will render large scale agriculture a quaint memory. If and when the monsoons fail to arrive in China and India, we will know the end is nigh.

Of course, these CO2 rich epochs were also marred by incredibly vast fires. The smoke from forest fires which consumed whole continents contributed to palls of smoke blotting out the sun which eventually cooled the planet and caused ice ages. Additionally, the precipitate of this smoke, carried down by rain, changed the pH of the oceans which dissolved the shells of mollusks and burned away the coral reefs. Ask the Xiphosura, they’ll tell you all about it, unless we wipe them all out first.

from pbs.org

With its armored shell, ancient anatomy, and 350-million-year lineage, the horseshoe crab almost seems too inconspicuous to stir up controversy. Yet this humble creature is at the very center of a collision between three completely different species.

For many decades, humans have harvested the horseshoe crab for use as fishing bait. Since the 1970s, we have also used horseshoe crab blood for medical purposes. But we may have gone too far. Horseshoe crab numbers have declined significantly since the early 1990’s. And, naturally, so did their egg numbers.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

gleaming image

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that under normal circumstance, the narration recited on board one of the Newtown Creek boat tours which I’ve been a part of in the recent past has been “the straight story”. By that, I mean that the normal narrative which readers of this blog have grown used to is toned down a bit, and a more mainstream presentation is offered. There are still plenty of “night soil and offal dock” stories, but as I have a relatively short amount of time to tell the story of Newtown Creek, a lot of the more… colourful… stuff gets trimmed out. Luckily, the Newtown Creek Alliance is producing a “spooky” Halloween tour this Saturday (October 27), and I get to go to town on this one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to weaving the Blissville Banshee, Maspeth Gypsies, and witch panics into my speech- there are two other factors which make this tour special. First and foremost is the price, subsidized by grant money from the NYCEF fund of the Hudson River Foundation – which allows NCA to offer the trip at an amazing price of just $25. Secondly, the time at which we will be embarking is late in the afternoon, which should offer spectacular sunset lighting of the Creek for photographers and sensitives alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a two hour excursion, leaving from Manhattan’s South Sea Seaport on board a comfortable NY Water Taxi (which, yes, has bathroom facilities). NCA is encouraging the wearing of seasonal costuming to celebrate and acknowledge the Halloween holiday. Scheduled speakers include your humble narrator and NCA Executive Director Kate Zidar. Whatever there is, which cannot possibly exist, lurking in the Black Mayonnaise which underlies the cursed waters of that cataract of agony known as the Newtown Creek has refused to make an appearance sans ritual sacrifice- something NCA cannot have any involvement with due to the intricacies of its 501/3c non profit status. The thing in the megalith will be watching, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The question of what sort of costume I will be wearing is still up in the air. Attempts to borrow a death cloak have so far been unsuccessful, despite the fact that several people I know own such raiments. Click the banner just below this paragraph for ticketing information and fulfillment. Do you dare to enter this nightmare world of the Newtown Creek, or will you instead cling to the illusion of sanity which exists beyond its banks?

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

quieter bazaars

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mer de Beaufort, or the Beaufort Sea, is a body of water found north of Alaska and Canada which is frozen over most of the year. Beneath it are significant reserves of natural gas and petroleum, which are exploited by and fought over by both Canadian and United States interests. Due to its severe weather and ice bound condition, little to no commercial fishing happens, and it is home to a large colony of Beluga Whales and other cetacean megafauna. Most of the folks who live there are aboriginal- ethnic Inuvialuit Inuits and Native Americans.

It’s also a tugboat.

from tugboatinformation.com

Built in 1971, by Main Iron Works of Houma, Louisiana (hull #258) as the Corsair for Interstate Oil Transportation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.



At the time Interstate Oil Transportation operated two fleets. Their Northeast Fleet or “Green Fleet” operated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And their Southern Fleet or “White fleet” which operated out of Tampa, Florida.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, the Kirby Corporation bought a large outfit operating in NY Harbor called K-Sea. Beaufort Sea was a K-Sea tug, now it’s one of the hundreds owned and operated by the Texas based Kirby. The acquisition, apparently, was driven by a desire to strengthen their coastal towing capabilities in the field of refined petroleum and other barge shipped volatile liquids. An extensive corporate history, which reads like something out of an Ayn Rand book, can be perused here.

from kirbycorp.com

The New York Division operates tank barges ranging in capacity from 1,800 barrels to 81,000 barrels, and tugboats from 400 to 3,400 horsepower. This division services a wide variety of customers in both the refined and residual petroleum trades. Many of the barges in the New York fleet are engaged in the delivery of bunker fuel to ships. The NY Division vessels also transport gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, ethanol and other refined products for local and regional customers. In the residual fuel sector, power generating customers rely on New York division vessels for floating storage and transportation of heavy fuel oil to local power plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The actual Beaufort Sea- as in the section of the Arctic Ocean which is found between Point Barrow, Prince Peters Island, Banks Island, and the northern coast of Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territories- seems like a fascinating place whose native peoples live a kind of life one can scarcely imagine as your humble narrator lives in a place called Queens. Hearty, a maritime Sunday shout out goes to both the native people of some far away coast and to the crew of the Beaufort Sea Tug.

from workboat.com

Kirby Corp. is buying K-Sea Transportation Partners in a deal that expands the giant tank-barge operator’s business into the coastwise petroleum transport trade.

The Houston company’s latest and largest acquisition this year is valued at $600 million — $335 million for K-Sea’s equity and $265 million in assumed debt — and is expected to close by July.

The two companies share oil company and refinery customers, so the transaction announced Sunday combines complementary rather than competing businesses. Kirby operates 825 inland tank barges and 222 towboats, as well as four offshore dry-cargo barges and four tugs. K-Sea has 58 coastal tank barges and 63 tugs that operate along the U.S. coasts as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

nature and position

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shenanigans continue on the weekends, here in the heart of the perennial “next big thing” known to most as Long island City. When the “next big thing” term originally applied, in 1909, it actually was true and a vast industrial city sprang forth from amongst scattered mills and swamps overlaid with rail tracks. That whole thing lasted around twenty or thirty years, whereupon the neighborhood began a long and slow decline. In the late 1980’s, LIC became the “next soho” and then in the late 90’s the “next DUMBO”, and of late the “next Williamsburg”. Problem is that these days, it’s just kind of difficult to get around the place without a car, which is ironic, as this is where all the trains are headed.

from mta.info

Work Completed

Court Sq Station was closed for ten weeks between January and April. During the time the station was closed, we replaced the Manhattan-bound and Flushing-bound platforms and windscreens (platform walls), installed ADA accessible boarding areas, tactile warning strips, and signage. In addition, new track and platform to mezzanine stairways were installed and the station’s mezzanine and columns on station platforms were painted.

At Hunters Point Av, during an 11-month construction project we installed new column and wall tiles, a floor in the mezzanine, new railings and stainless steel handrails and light fixtures above stairs. In addition, we refurbished the street and platform stairs, painted the mezzanine, platform and track ceilings and repaired structural steel above the platforms and tracks. Also, water leaks were sealed and the public address system was modified.

A six-month station improvement project at Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av resulted in repairing/replacing station column and wall tiles; repairing platform surfaces and platform edge concrete; and repairing and painting platform and track ceilings. Station lighting and platform drainage was upgraded, and tactile ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) warning strips and new rubbing boards (edge of platform) were installed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They just love to mess around with us on the weekends, don’t they? Turn off entire subway lines while running the buses on weekend schedules. Just a few weeks ago, signal problems on the R and N tracks also shut down the G, F, and E- all this on the same day that 7 service was closed for maintenance. This put western Queens in quite a pickle, except for those who ride bicycles or drive cars.

from wikipedia

Long Island City is served by the elevated BMT Astoria Line (N Q trains) and IRT Flushing Line (7 ; trains) of the New York City Subway. It is also served by the underground IND 63rd Street Line (F train), IND Queens Boulevard Line (E F M R trains) and IND Crosstown Line (G train). The Long Island City and Hunterspoint Avenue stations of the Long Island Rail Road are here, and a commuter ferry service operated by NY Waterway at the East River Wharf. Cars enter by way of the Queensboro Bridge, the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the Pulaski Bridge. The Roosevelt Island Bridge also connects Long Island City to Roosevelt Island. Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard (New York 25A) and the Long Island Expressway all pass through the area.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “next big thing”, you have to understand, is the concentrating point of transportation infrastructure on western Long Island. The Long Island Expressway terminates at the Midtown Tunnel, and the various rail tunnels peppered about this ancient city are the choke point for subway, LIRR, and Amtrak service into and out of Manhattan. Losing any one piece of the system is massively disruptive, especially when it becomes a multi month affair as it was in the first quarter of 2012. Luckily, we are about to enjoy another protracted period of transit outages in 2013, and your humble narrator has grown quite used to walking.

from wikipedia

The Steinway Tunnel carries the 7 ; trains of the New York City Subway under the East River between 42nd Street in Manhattan and 51st Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, in New York City. It was originally designed and built as an interurban trolley tunnel (hence the narrow loading gauge and height), with stations near the 7 ; trains’ current Hunters Point Avenue and Grand Central stations. It is named for William Steinway, who was a major promoter of its construction, although he died in 1896 before it was completed.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

harnessed shadows

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin with, you will be hard pressed to find someone who is a bigger supporter of the efforts of the NYPD than your humble narrator. Vast physical inadequacies and a timorous constitution render one a “victim waiting to happen” and the presence and oversight of the gendarme is the only reason that you haven’t heard about finding my corpse lying in the street somewhere, as we live in a community cursed with predators and a criminal element which threatens all. Saying that, I recently attended a meeting of the 114th pct. community council here in Astoria, and one of the speakers was a representative of the “Anti Terror” squad. I have long been a proponent of the single truth of a “Terror War” which is that the side which most scares the shit out of the other is the one who wins. Apparently, the other guys have the upper hand at the moment, as we continue to be a reactionary and terrified opponent given to wild flights of fancy about the capabilities enjoyed by the enemy- including the deadly martial art of photography.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This unit is tasked with subverting and detecting terrorist plots, gathering intelligence on “bad actors”, and performing a role few would ask for. The representative who spoke at this meeting, however, informed the community that should they witness- for example, someone taking photographs of bridges or other “odd” things- that they should call the police and report it as suspicious behavior. After his statement was concluded, the Lieutenant was suddenly faced with an odd mendicant named Mitch who confronted him on this. I asked “Did you actually just tell the room that photography is a precursor to terrorism”?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I let the Lieutenant know that I ran a blog, and was speaking to him in the manner of a journalist. “Other than the fact that there is no documented evidence of this, and that google maps would actually be a far more effective tool to scout a potential target than sending out an operative with a dslr, there are specific orders curtailing the harassment of photographers issued by Chief Kelly” I continued. Then, I asked him about the glaring lack of security and holes in the fences around the Sunnyside Yard and the energy infrastructure around Newtown Creek. I asked about the boats tied off to the Buckeye pipeline at Vernon Blvd. street end, the ferry boat on English Kills, and several other choice spots for undocumented and uncommented deviltry to occur. Additionally, did he know that there are websites which claim that anyone can find a free berth on Newtown Creek and that boats regularly show up there these days from unknown points carrying who knows what? I had to remind him where Newtown Creek and the largest rail yard in New York City was, as he seemed rather focused on Manhattan.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

excellent care

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve recently had the honor of making the acquaintance of the Queens Borough Historian, Dr. Jack Eichenbaum, and when I heard that he was going to conduct a walking tour around a section of Newtown Creek for the Municipal Art Society- I asked if I could come along. Luckily he consented, and even introduced me to his group. They were a little taken aback, as you’d imagine, as your humble narrator is extremely horrible in appearance and manner.

from geognyc.com

I hold a Ph.D. in urban geography (University of Michigan, 1972) where my dissertation was titled Magic, Mobility and Minorities in the Urban Drama. I’m a lifelong observer of NYC and other large cities around the world. My expertise lies particularly in quantitative methods, historical urban geography, migration, ethnicity, and technological change. I maintain a storehouse of urban concepts, researched facts, and biased memories of bygone eras.

Much of what I know about digital NYC comes from a career in the Property Division of the NYC Department of Finance collecting data and modeling valuation of tax parcels. Most of whom I know in NYC comes from founding and coordinating GISMO, NYC’s GIS user group, participating in non-profit institutions like the Municipal Art Society, and teaching at Hunter College (CUNY). I continually update my familiarity with NYC by walking, walking, and walking in all five boroughs.

In June, 2010, I was appointed Queens Borough Historian. My agenda includes advising the Borough President, convening people and organizations concerned with Queens history, education at all levels, promoting Queens’ history-related attractions and changing cultures, and introducing the concept of “digital history.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing you should know, lords and ladies, is that the historical community here in Queens spends most of its time fighting with each other. Often, I’m angry at someone, who hates me back. Alternately, this historical society is at war with that one, usually over some small point of contention. Everyone is actually pretty ok, and most of the arguments- which seem like the end of the world when they’re ongoing- settle out after a period of time. Such heated discourse, however, is something which I avoid at all costs and is why I spend my time- alone- down by the Creek. I would hate having Jack’s job as Borough Historian, and don’t know how he deals with the politics and backbiting without striking out or fleeing into the night. He’s a cooler cat than I.

from wnyc.org

They give lectures and tours and help New Yorkers learn about their neighborhoods. Their positions are mandated by state law…but they don’t make a penny for the job. They’re the five city historians, one for each borough. This summer, we’ll be meeting them and finding out some of the secret knowledge about their respective ‘hoods.

Queens Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum is the new kid on the block. He got his job in June, promising not to hide behind books.

In the Flushing apartment he’s lived in for decades, Eichenbaum looks tan and fit in a t-shirt, royal blue track shorts and running shoes. He’s lived nearly all of his 67 years in Queens — a place he believes is still undervalued by the rest of the city.

The people who act like Manhattan is the center of the known universe? Don’t even get him started.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along the way, Dr. Eichenbaum had arranged to meet up with George Trakas at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk. Mr. Trakas, who designed the Nature Walk, is a terrific guy and a fantastic ambassador for his inimitable public space. The Newtown Creek Armada art installation was also in place at the Nature Walk that day, which titillated the crowd.

from urbanomnibus.net

Newtown Creek’s notoriety as one of the most polluted waterways in the country belies its peculiar beauty and uncommon potential to provide vistas of New York’s industrial history and the scale of the city’s waste management machine. It’s also a wicked cool place to impress a date with a surprise picnic.

Artist George Trakas saw the potential of this canalized estuary as he navigated the waterways of New York over the past forty-five years. When the City’s Department of Environmental Protection launched a $3 billion upgrade of the wastewater treatment facility in the late 1980s, Trakas was able to seize the opportunity – through the City’s Percent for Art program – to go beyond the brief and to provide public access to the water for treatment facility employees and local residents. And by access, he means access: visitors won’t merely see the water from above, behind a fence. Rather, you can descend staged granite steps to the water’s edge and sit (or dock your boat) on a series of getdowns perforating the bulkhead along the Whale Creek tributary. It’s part amphitheatre and part shore, with horticultural and sculptural references to local history, geology, and geography. But it’s also a model of a successful community engagement process. Trakas participated in meetings with the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee every month for the past ten years, incorporating community feedback and priorities into his design. Instead of using art to conceal environmental hazards with decorative band-aids, Trakas has created a Nature Walk that provides an interpretive frame on its surroundings and invites visitors to share his delight in water, industry and the urban beauty of the overlooked.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a cool dog who came along as part of the group, said canine seemed transfixed by what he was seeing and hearing along the way. Can you imagine what Newtown Creek must smell like to a dog?

There is so much interest in Newtown Creek amongst the general public, something I learned personally this last summer, and it was quite spectacular to hear Jack’s take on the place. The Municipal Art Society sent along blogger Kate Lenahan to record the event, and her post can be accessed here. Additionally, I got mentioned in a third party’s blog post, linked to below.

from downwithtyranny.blogspot.com

First, when I first did the walk, some 15 months ago, the primary attraction was laying eyes on Newtown Creek, which to my knowledge I had never done before. You have to remember that like most industrial waterfronts it was pretty well closed off to civilian eyes and feet. But in that intervening year and a quarter I had done more walks around various parts of the creek than I can remember and also cruised the creek, mostly under the auspices of the Newtown Creek Alliance (it’s definitely worth signing up for their e-mail list), and mostly with NCA historian Mitch Waxman (whose blog, “The Newtown Pentacle,” is always worth checking out).

Second, there’s the Jack Eichenbaum factor. In all the many walks I’ve done with Jack, I can hardly remember one where I didn’t learn something of near-life-changing importance — certainly a change in my way of perceiving the city, and likely the world around me. Walking with Jack, you learn to see how basic factors of physical and human geography have shaped the way regions and neighborhoods have developed and redeveloped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dr. Eichenbaum led the group over the Pulaski Bridge and into Long Island City, but I had to split off and stay in DUPBO. Another event was scheduled to begin later in the day, a presentation on water quality at the North Brooklyn Boat Club. The very good news was that they had beer, and a campfire going down there.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

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