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Archive for December 2015

once had

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Should old acquaintances…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, that was kind of lousy year, huh?

Here’s to a better 2016 for everyone, from this, your Newtown Pentacle.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 31, 2015 at 11:00 am

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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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hunched servitor

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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.

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Bulkheads of the Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, you saw a post about a Hindu statue found in a fairly obscure spot in Maspeth along the Newtown Creek at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Mentioned in that post, a couple of my Newtown Creek chums and I were out in a small boat and performing a bulkhead survey. What that means, and it’s something we Newtown Creek Alliance types do periodically, is that we do a close up observation of the armored shoreline. Armored is apt, as the Newtown Creek’s littoral zone is almost entirely covered in a variety of maritime structures which are referred to as “bulkheads.”

Some are designed for docking ships and boats, or tying up barges, others simply as barriers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of the shoreline along the Creek has lost its occupation over the last century, as business adopted a truck and automobile based model for shipping cargo. Lack of maintenance and the corrosive forces of nature have caused the bulkhead structures all over the Newtown Creek to decay. Some have collapsed. When a bulkhead has actually fallen apart, as seen above and below, it is considered to have become “habitat” by environmental officialdom.

Close inspection reveals what sort of life forms have taken up habitation in the cracks and fissures of what were once amongst the most valuable maritime bulkheads on Earth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All sorts of colony critters – lichens, molds, algae – are seen, for instance. They infest the flood zone, which is exposed and hidden by the tidal cycle. Wooden bulkheads along the Creek generally date back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. This wood would have been treated with something like Creosote Oil to guard against infiltration by insects and smaller parasites. Creosote Oil was a by product of the gasification of Coal, one of the many, many commercial products which emanated from the pursuit of so called “Natural Gas.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit higher up in the tide line, and a rip rap shoreline. Rip Rap is basically a series of small boulders and large rocks which are dumped along shorelines. The good news about this sort of tidal liner is that it offers a tremendous amount of surface area for the aforementioned colony creatures to attach to, as well as macro organisms like barnacles, clams, and oysters to grab onto. The bad news is that there’s a lot of concrete included amongs the rocks and boulders, and as concrete decays the lime in it causes the water’s ph to rise and become acidic.

There’s also lots of “mystery pipes” that emerge from the shoreline hereabouts, as depicted above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The National Grid company, which operates an LNG distribution and storage operation at the former Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas Plant site in Greenpoint, doesn’t allow docking at its bulkheads. Accordingly, they erected a wooden shield all along the edge of their property. This sort of thing is actually a gigantic box driven into the mud that is filled with rip rap. The wooden planks provide ample attachment sites for colony critters and filter feeders.

This is a part of the Newtown Creek which is referred to as “The Turning Basin” and it is an engineered wide spot designed to allow a tug and articulated barge enough room and depth to be able to safely reverse course on the otherwise narrow waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A close up of a colony of Mussels attached to the National Grid bulkhead. One of NCA’s science people, a certain radical biologist, coined the term “Kidneys of the Creek” for filter feeders like this. Each mussel is able to process “x” number of gallons of water, and remove “y” amount of solute from it. Of course, this means that the Mussel itself becomes a concentrated blob of toxicity, but the sort of Mussels you commonly encounter on Newtown Creek aren’t the species which are part of the human food chain.

On the Creek, it’s the fish and crabs. The fish and crabs which people catch, and then eat, that they gather from Newtown Creek. Yes, you did just read that. The Federal EPA has confirmed this fact.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You encounter masonry rising out of the water, which is capped by concrete, in many spots. This particular spot is about three miles from the East River. There are lots and lots of apertures in the shoreline here, and lightless chambers and flooded voids which recede beneath the “land’s” surface. The word “land” is in quotation as the area which touches the water, with just a few exceptions, was primevally a swamp or at best a flooded marsh. There is no true land, certainly on the Queens side, for a good half mile back from the present day shoreline. It’s all landfill, of the 18th and 19th century variety mainly – rubble, domestic and agricultural waste, ashes and cinders from furnaces and residential hearths. The areas around Grand Avenue, Maspeth Creek, and Dutch Kills, were largely reclaimed in the early 20th century and the ground is filled with more modern crap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearby the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, Brooklyn side, a bulkhead of the same variety enjoyed by National Grid is in the process of collapsing and you can discern the internal structure of the thing. A creosote oil treated wooden box filled with rip rap. Self seeded, the plants you see are thorned and I can attest that those spikes will easily find your tender skin if you venture close enough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A little further to the west, on the Brooklyn side foundations of what was once called Penny Bridge, nearby the pipe which ExxonMobil returns water to the Creek which was extracted from their Greenpoint Oil Spill remediation efforts. I cannot tell you why anybody decided to hang razor barbed wires from bits of cord, but this improvised filtering technology does seem to be removing “floatable” pollution from the water in an admirable fashion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Bulkhead Survey is something we Newtown Creek Alliance folks do from time to time, in pursuance of our mission to “reveal, restore, revitalize” the waterway. It’s a lot more fun than sitting in a bunch of meetings and arguing with regulators and corporate types, I can tell you. We don’t do the former it all that often, whereas the latter seems to be at least once every couple of weeks, but there you go.

My job in this sort of endeavor is to sit sideways in the boat and take a series of pictures, one shot is popped off every time I count to five mississippi, depending on how fast the boat is moving.

Ideally, we go out at low tide, when all the poisons hidden in the mud hatch out and stand revealed beneath the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself – along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

impossible manifest

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Merry Christmas, y’all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My Russian Jewish grandmother always pronounced Merry Christmas “Marry Kracksmerez,” and referred to the central object of veneration at Christian churches as “Yuyzel en da cruss.” Back Monday with more Newtown Creek stuff, see ya then.

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December 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

thousand faced

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And here we are, Christmas.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I like a good religious tableau, which is odd, as I believe in nothing. Literally, “nothing.” As in the void, emptiness, and entropy. Call me a nihilist if you will, or a strict materialist – but if I can’t burn it, break it, or prove it empirically – it ain’t. Others cling to their own beliefs, and luckily many are inspired to create art to express these ideations and fantasies. Pictured above, a carved wooden nativity display observed at a church on Manhattan’s Houston Street shortly following a tense discussion with my landlord last year.

I may not believe in anything beyond dissolution (and Superman, of course), but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate someone else’s set of ideas made manifest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saint Irene’s in Astoria displays the Orthodox splendors for which the Greek church is renowned. As the perennial outsider, I’ve always observed that a primary difference in the graphic stylings of Orthodox and Catholic Churches is in the depiction of the god head itself. The Latins prefer to focus on the final stages of the passion, depicting the Christ during or after the scourging offered by the Romans. Catholic Jesus is moments away from death, covered in wounds, and suffering. The Greeks seem to focus in on Christ in the mold of a “hero” in the classical sense – well muscled, tough and triumphant, a spiritual Spartan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan, which is one of the most glorious interior spaces to be found anywhere on that accursed island. This shot is actually from their Irish language St. Patrick’s Day mass, which I’m mentioning simply because anyone who grew up Catholic will be able to spot the costuming on their prelates as being seasonably inappropriate. I get in trouble with the religious types all the time when I refer to the pulpit as the stage, the robes as costumes, and ask about what the script calls for.

This betrays me, as it becomes fairly obvious to all that I regard visiting a church in the same manner as I do a theater. Saying that, just because I don’t believe in what you do doesn’t make me right and you wrong, it just means we differ. I’d like to believe that everybody else out there would afford others the same courtesy, but the front pages of newspapers and the interiors of history books indicate that such a belief is a foolish but inherently American sort of idea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

St. Andrew’s at Printers Square in Lower Manhattan, just behind the courthouse, has a spectacular pieta on display in its dimly lit chapel. This is an example of what I was saying about the “suffering Christ” iconography which seems to be preferred by the Catholic side of the great schism.

I really enjoy photographing churches and ritual spaces, incidentally, and should anyone reading this be in a position to invite me in to one for a couple of hours – I’d love to come by with the tripod and my other gear and record the scene if you can “get me in.”

As always, however, like a Vampire I need to be invited in to do my work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, what do Jews, Mohammadans, Buddhists, Daoists, Agnostics, Atheists, Nihilists, and the Hindus do on Christmas Eve? Short answer involves Chinese food, and bars. There’ll be someplace open to go tilt back a few and play some pool, discuss the issues of the day, and avoid the seasonal holidays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Merry Christmas, from this, your Newtown Pentacle.

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December 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

systemic horror

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An altar to Lord Dattatreya, at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, which was the only day in Decemeber that has actually felt – climatologically – like December, one found himself in the company of a couple of my Creek chums in a small boat on Newtown Creek. We saw something odd while out on the poison waters.

Our excursion was launched in pursuance of surveying certain bulkheads in an area defined by the former Penny Bridge and the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. We were literally studying the Creek, and I was along to gather photographs for further inspection at a later date – this is the sort of sinister stuff we get up, in Newtown Creek Alliance. Our survey of the study area was completed, a loop through the East Branch tributary was enacted, and we were headed west towards a dock at North Brooklyn Boat Club nearby the Pulaski Bridge in Greenpoint.

That’s when one of my companions asked if I’d seen “the statue.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Restaurant Depot company, a wholesaler which supplies commercial food establishments, sits on part of the former Phelps Dodge property in Maspeth. Their property is lined with industrial piers which have seen better days, but which were stoutly constructed and you can still observe rail tracks adorning them. In a couple of spots, the piers have decayed or collapsed, and there are little wooden bays amongst the piles.

That’s where the statue is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The style of the thing is clearly southeast Asian, and specifically subcontinental. Given the reach and spread of Indian culture, which is far flung, it’s often difficult to say “Indian” as opposed to “South East Asian.” The statue, however, displayed certain details which betrayed its stylistic and ritual origins, and after a bit of research – the specifics of its representation.

How it ended up in the littoral zone at the former Phelps Dodge property on Newtown Creek in Maspeth is anyone’s guess. I’ve long stopped asking these sort of questions on the Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The statuary was around three to four feet in height, and seemed to be made from molded concrete. It depicts Lord Dattatreya, who is a well known member of the Hindu Pantheon. The particulars of the statue are that it represents the Hindu trinity of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva – which members of the faith refer to as the Trimurti.

Note – if I get something wrong here, my Hindu friends, please offer correction in the comments section: 

Dattatreya is a primordial figure in Indian culture, and is mentioned in the Mahabharata – an epic holy text whose origins are nearly prehistoric. Mahabharata scholars believe its texts were originally written between 800 and one thousand BCE, making it a 2.5-3,000 year old holy book which is coincidentally the longest epic poem ever written at nearly two million words. Mahabharata is as culturally significant a text as the Christian Bible or the Quran, and offers spiritual guidance to what probably boils down to as much as a quarter of all living humans.

Dattatreya veneration was ancient when the Mahabharata was written, and the deity was originally represented with one head. Dattatreya came from the Deccan Plains in South Eastern India, which is one of the cradles of human civilization. The Trimurti version of the deity, seen above, has six arms and three heads. That’s Brahma on the statue’s left, Vishnu in the center, and Shiva on the statue’s right. The hands are all meant to be holding symbolic weapons and icons of these deities. The cow is sacred to Vishnu, and although it’s not terribly clear in the representation above, there are traditionally four dogs on a Dattatreya statue. Hindu scholars debate the meaning of the dogs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the Vedic religious traditions began, Dattatreya was reconsidered as an avatar of the Trimurti. About a thousand years ago, it became common practice to represent the deity as three headed. Certain Hindu sects revere Dattatreya as a supreme being singularly, with others placing him near the top of the food chain in the pantheon, but still subordinate to Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. His sister is Chandra, who is the moon goddess.

One can merely speculate as to the presence of the statue in the tidal zone of Newtown Creek, and as to what sort of congregants might rise from the water to worship before it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, our party was out on the water performing a bulkhead survey, and we were in search of something far more modern and mundane than an ancient Indian God. Controversy in the Superfund community has recently involved discussion of “Manufactured Gas” and the ebullition (reverse dripping) of coal tar sludge from subaqueous pockets in the sediment up to the surface. This has resulted in a humble narrator “getting smart” about the waste materials which the manufactured gas industry spewed out. Coal tar, and coal tar sludge, were – by far – the most abundant material that arose from the retorts and distillation equipment of the industry, but were hardly the only noxious material produced.

We were searching for “blue billy” amongst the rip rap shorelines of the lugubrious Newtown Creek, which is “spent lime” that had become infiltrated by ferrocyanide compounds during the industrial gasification of coal. There was no aftermarket for this material, and more often than not it was just dumped. Examining photographs of “blue billy,” my cohorts in NCA and I all remarked on how familiar it seemed, and set out to find some.

Instead, we found an Indian God.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2015 at 11:30 am

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