The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for March 2017

swarthy foreigners

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It’s National Clams on the Half Shell Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So… right after that last snow event we had a couple of weeks ago, I saw something utterly unique in my experience as a New Yorker. I’m almost a half century old at this stage, and one has never – NEVER – observed the Department of Sanitation do anything but plow the vehicular section of the streets in Brooklyn or Queens. This year, however, they were out in force – in Astoria, Queens – clearing the curbs and walkways of snow.

Wha, wha, what?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DSNY had this neat little bobcat doohickey, which they were using to mash up and disassemble the berms of ice and snow which had piled up along the sidewalk and curb boundary area. I noticed this as it was happening directly under my bedroom window, which woke up both my little dog Zuzu and Our Lady of the Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They were actually clearing the streets! The slush lagoons too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself” is the borough motto most of the time around these parts. Snow clearance has been a political thorn for Queensican Electeds, going back to the days of Mayor John Lindsay, but seldom is anything improved. Not in 2016.

Maybe this gentrification thing has its benefits, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few hours later, around four in the morning (yes, I was still up and awake at four a.m.), another DSNY crew rolled through. This time they were shoveling pathways at the crosswalks. What has happened? Am I in some parallel reality? Is this a dream?

Is Trump still President? Was that just some sort of fevered vision?


Upcoming Tours and events

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 31, 2017 at 11:00 am

country seat

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It’s National Turkey Neck Soup Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Racing thoughts, cold sweats, night terrors, or existential anxieties notwithstanding – one is happy to report that the Hell Gate Bridge Centennial has been marked. Last weekend, one attended a walk conducted by the estimable Richard Melnick of Greater Astoria Historical Society celebrating the event. Mr. Melnick was joined by Dave Frieder, a photographer and bridge expert, as well as around fifty enthusiasts. For me, it was nice just to be around people who weren’t chasing or deriding.

Pictured above, a CSX freight train heading eastwards over the bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While following our course, the usual grand panoply of sights were encountered along the east river, including the transit of an articulated tug and barge – the Bouchard corporation’s “Evening Star” tug towing a fuel barge… It’s all so depressing, really.

As always, one reminds that whether they’re pulling or pushing, Tugboats are always “towing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate bridge overflies Astoria Park, of course, and one spotted the curious tableau seen above while there.

I’ve been warning all of you about Lovecraftian phenomena occurring in Queens for years, and now at last I can demonstrate the presence of the Shoggoths amongst us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This looked like the kind of fun I would have enjoyed having as a child, in those halcyon days before my soul had been blackened to a crisp by the unrelenting fires of adulthood. Life – it’s become a neutral gray for me nowadays – banal, ashen, joyless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greater Astoria Historic Society has a full calendar of Hell Gate related programming coming up, and this summer the folks who live in “Astoria, Astoria” or plainly Astoria’s north side are planning a few summertime celebrations for Lindenthal’s triumphant arch bridge over the East River.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 30, 2017 at 1:00 pm

shingled sides

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It’s National Chiffon Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our plan was a simple one, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself. The King of Falafel and Shawarma (aka Freddy), who has been operating out of a food truck here in Astoria for many years, has opened a store front on Broadway just off of 31st street. Our Lady was returning from her office in Manhattan at the usual hour, and our plan was to visit the King for a tasty dinner of middle eastern comfort food.

The MTA intervened into our plans of satiety and happiness with transit delays, and Our Lady advised that she was going to be a bit later than we had planned. Well, if you’re a humble narrator and armed with a trusty camera, there’s always something to do. Given the Governor’s plan to rehabilitate the stations along the N/W elevated tracks hereabouts, I’ve been paying some attention to them anyway… so – click, click, clickity, click…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s been some sort of underground work project going on all winter on 31st street, which I’ve presumed to be either utility (gas or electric) or sewer related. It’s a private contractor doing the work, so I’m assuming the former and that its related to the large building construction projects going on at the foot of 31st street near its intersection with Northern Blvd. What can I tell you, despite my reputation as a yenta, I don’t know everything.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a pretty chaotic scene, actually. Heavy equipment rolling around at rush hour in the already cramped environs under the elevated tracks. The ever impatient drivers of Astoria leaning on their horns, pedestrians darting to and fro, workers working. It was all very exciting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everytime that Broadway was blocked, you heard a cacophony of auto horns blowing steadily, all the way back to Crescent Street. The laborers seemed to be finishing up for the day, clearing away their tools and moving the traffic cones and safety tape wrapped traffic barriers into place. The fellow driving the earth mover was placing large steel plates over the giant excavation which they had been working in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The trains finally began to move along the tracks again, thundering into the station and vomiting forth the neighbors. It seems there was a “police investigation” at Queensboro Plaza which held the whole MTA operation up. Our Lady eventually wafted down the stairs and was greeted with an embrace, whereupon we spent about an hour at the storefront inhabited by the King of Falafel and Shawarma, treating ourselves. The meal was delicious, and worth the wait.

I love it when a plan comes together.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 29, 2017 at 11:00 am

narrow slits

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It’s National Black Forest Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst shlepping about in Astoria, Queens – one often encounters cool cars. The one pictured above was a highly customized Chevy pickup which drew more than one admiring glance from both myself and some other bloke who was dressed as a butcher. I’m pretty sure he actually was a butcher, as after we compared notes on our admiration for the thing, he went into the butcher shop on the corner of 38th street. That would also explain the giant clots of blood I observed on the apron he was wearing, but you don’t ask too many questions about blood stains in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over by the NYCHA Astoria Houses, found to the north and west of that cool car mentioned above, one observed a group of workers building a dock to accommodate the Citywide Ferry service which is meant to be kicking into gear this summer. One advised everyone that would listen not to put it here, but nobody ever listens to little old me.

When a ferry leaves its dock in NY Harbor, regulation and custom demands that it signal its departure via the usage of a particularly loud foghorn. These horn toots are a regular complaint offered by the Manhattan people, who have docks near their homes along the Hudson, in the tony section called Battery Park City. Wonder how the Latin Kings of the Astoria Houses will react to it blowing outside their windows at seven in the morning.

It should have been placed to the south, at the Costco bulkheads where it would have become a viable transportation option for shoppers from Manhattan which would have made it an economically feasible stop and wouldn’t wake up anybody at seven in the morning, but as mentioned – nobody listens to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Traipsing down Jackson Avenue, one discovered that a Union protest of some sort (electricians, I think) was being aimed at the so called “5Ptz Towers” construction site. Personally, I’ve always believed there to be enough rodents of the home grown variety here in Long Island City, but there you go. One of these days, I’ve got to investigate where one would proceed to shop in pursuance of purchasing inflatable rodents. As you can see, there’s a regular and a family size model.


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other callers

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It’s International Whiskey Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is normal, right? Everybody wanders around in industrial neighborhoods at night taking pictures of highly polluted waterways, right? It’s not just me… right?

At this time of the year – when it’s neither hot nor cold, but instead lukewarm – the Dutch Kills tributary of the inconceivable Newtown Creek always displays a layer of filmy “goo,” which is at its most observable during the interval when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has dipped behind New Jersey. Not sure if the “goo” is just road salt and snow pellet residues, nor some sort of oil or grease, some effluent introduced by the multiple sewer outlets on Dutch Kills which are offered by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or perhaps it’s just the mucoid castings of some hidden water dwelling leviathan.

Me, I lean towards the leviathan theory, because it involves both mucous and a giant monster. Mucous is cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to tend to a bit of business in Greenpoint last week, and since it was decent out – weather wise – decided to walk home to Astoria. It’s a walk that sounds longer than it is, you just need to take advantage of fact that since the street grid here about is divided and subdivided by highways and rail infrastructure which creates a series of triangles – walk the legs of the triangle and not the hypotenuse until it’s advantageous.

Cutting through the streets around Dutch Kills leads me to that advantageous hypotenuse (which would make a great band name, incidentally) which is Skillman Avenue. A century ago, I would have been able to shortcut on Old Dutch Kills Road from there, but all that’s left of that is a stubby block following the rail tracks near Home Depot which the City calls 37th avenue. You have to work with what you’ve got, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is engaged, at the moment, with drawing up a schedule for this year’s walking and boat tours. A recently announced Newtown Creek Alliance tour – the 100% Toxic All Day Newtown Creekathon on April 9th – filled up in about half a day and I didn’t even have time to let everyone here know before it did. I have a feeling we will be repeating this one sometime in the fall, but there’s a lot of neat stuff coming this summer.

On the tours subject – Working Harbor Committee met the other night, and there are several water tours in the offing with that group of maritime educators and enthusiasts. We, as in Newtown Creek Alliance, are going to be announcing several opportunities to visit the Creek by water and on land shortly. Additionally, I’ve got a couple of things cooking with Atlas Obscura that are mighty cool. I’ll be letting everyone know about these and other excursions as soon as I’ve got all the dates etched in stone.


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peculiar precaution

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It’s National Tortilla Chip Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finishing off my week of non ugly subject matter, here’s a few shots of delicious things shot close up, and I’ll talk about ugly things instead. Regarding these shots, you’ve seen them before, just about a year ago. One of the interesting things about my little world is that my photos serve as bookmark reminders for what I was thinking and experiencing while shooting them. In the case of today’s shots, it was searing pain and an incapacitating shoulder injury. Pain is an odd thing, something which the brain… well, my brain at least… tries to forget.

Think about it – if I say warm summer day, or allude to some pleasure of a sexual nature, or mention fresh bread coming out of the oven – your mind will begin to ruminate on the sensations described by those circumstances. If instead it’s “burned by an oven” or “cut by a knife” or “punched in the nose” you’ve got a vague idea of that as being unpleasant, but the actual memory of it is fairly well buried. It is for me, at least. I remember that it sucked, but can’t summon up a memory of the actual feeling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every now and then, one will allow himself to fully experience the full coterie of nervous signals which my conscious mind filters out. All of the minor injuries and day to day pathologies are allowed to signal their intent, and for a minute or two I get in touch with a lifetime of injuries. The vague numbness in my left thumb from that time in high school, or the disconcerting clicking that’s been present in my knee since that time I fell out of a moving car in college? Yup. The “turf toe” pain in my foot which is always there, a consequence of doing all the walking across miles of concrete that I engage in? Um hum. The evolving issues with and constant discomfort emanating from my always crappy teeth? Yessir. The list goes on and on – the weird pain in my left neck, right side lower back, left hip… Essentially, if I was to allow myself to fully experience all of these things all of the time, I’d fall over and writhe.

Then I tune it back out. I figure the only difference between me and someone 15-20 years older than I am is that you lose the ability to filter out the pain.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, whereas I have a distinct memory of the last time that I had a tooth go bad enough on me that it needed to be pulled, one finds it difficult to precisely remember the actual sensation. I can describe positive sensations in excruciating detail, conversely, but the things from my personal history that I remember are all decidedly negative in nature. The sound of a breaking bone, the feeling of a razor knife lacerating the skinvelope, the impact of a booted foot on my teeth – all that I’ve got. The smell of a newborn baby, or the aforementioned fresh loaf of bread? Not so much.

How about you? Do you remember the taste of vomit, or do you just remember puking?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What do you want me to say, I’m all ‘effed up.

Back Monday with something completely different, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

haughty hermit

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It’s National Chips and Dip Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An acquaintance of mine, an immigrant frenchman that works at Delmonicos as a butcher (that’s him, all blurred up in the long exposure above) whom I know from the local saloon asked me just the other night “do you always hold meetings in the bar”? The answer is “yes.” If I have to sit down and chat with someone about work and there’s an opportunity to do it over a pint rather than in some banal office, I take it. One has always favored the “Irish Bar” variant of watering hole. One of the first times that I reveled in the glorious and often forgotten history of NYC was back in college whilst wondering about why Third Avenue in Manhattan seemed to host a group of Irish bars at seemingly regular geographic intervals (14th, 23rd, 34th etc.), and that’s when I learned about the former existence of the Third Avenue Elevated. The Irish bars agglutinate do around its no longer extant exit stairwells, and provided a clue as to “what used to be.”

Back when I was still doing comics, and doing promotional appearances at conventions around the country, I’d often find myself in some strange city or town all by myself after the show and would wander into the local licensed establishments for diversion. That’s when I discovered that there were ethnic influences in the set up of various regions – the “Slavic” style bars of the Midwest (a central island with low slung counters built around it, where shots of clear liquor are favored over tap beer) or the restaurant style setups of the American Southeast – where the bar itself is not meant for sitting at, and the patrons gather around tables and chairs set up in the manner of a coffee shop or diner. Further, you can tie the presence of the Northeastern style Irish bar, in say… Pittsburgh or Nashville, directly to the presence of a railroad line that connected to New England or New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In political circles, they’ll call a working guy “Joe Six Pack,” which was distinctly the sort of drinking that was favored in my old neighborhood back in Canarsie. Going to a bar was largely precluded for my cohort, as the law kept on changing and the level for legal drinking age was constantly being raised as I approached it. When I was 17 turning 18, they made it 19, and then again it was raised to 21 just as I was turning 19. Never stopped us from buying a bottle of suds at some bodega, but the bodega owners would only sell us the crap that no one else wanted like Meister Brau Light (shudders). There were bars in my neighborhood that looked the other way at your fake ID, of course. Famously, one of them in nearby Sheepshead Bay employed a bouncer who was a young Andrew Dice Clay. Dice didn’t care about ID if your face was familiar to him, and his parents lived a block away from mine, so…

The cool thing about my old neighborhood, right on the edge of an increasingly Caribbean Flatbush, was that the beers that nobody else in my social circle wanted to drink but were abundantly available included Red Stripe and Mackeson’s Triple Stout. Back in the 80’s, everyone was still salivating for Bud, Heineken, or Corona, and Coors was still a newly introduced brand in NYC, so… more of the “off the radar” stuff for me. I still like keeping a six pack of Red Stripe in the fridge during the summer, as the Jamaicans really have something going with their national lager as far as hot weather is concerned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has never embraced the high end beers which began to proliferate in recent years as part of the “microbrew” revolution. IPA just causes heartburn to blossom in my skinvelope, and a “flight of beers” as pictured above is just such a  “fancy shmancy” and “hoitie toitie” way to suck back a cold one that my inner “Joe Six Pack” just can’t help going all sarcastic.

The thing one finds disturbing about the Irish Bars which I love hanging out at – these days – are the sudden proliferation of the “sore winner” Trump guys who get angry when they overhear a humble narrator, or anyone else for that matter, using multi syllabic words whilst discussing the news of the day with the other “alta cockers.” Whatcha want from me, bro, you’re the one who voted for a walking trash fire to become President. Can’t we just argue about the relative valuations of the Rangers or the Mets like the good old days?

Just last week, a drunk gym teacher from some charter school comes up behind me and… well, that’s another story.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 23, 2017 at 11:30 am

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