The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for August 2018

very haggard

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I miss the old days when “troll” meant you hung out under bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My Monday meander meant saw this wandering mendicant patrolling about half of the East River coastline of Queens this week, and since I had packed my “full kit,” setting up the tripod and all the frammistats and whatsits a few times. That’s future Superfund site Anable Basin in the shot above, which has served as the delineation point and northern border for the hyperdrive real estate development zone of the LIC waterfront for a couple of decades now. That’s about to change.

I’ve got maps of what this zone used to host about a hundred years ago, and I can tell you that there’s a lot of poison in the mud hereabouts which is just itching to leach out and find its way into living organisms. I don’t know if petroleum byproducts could accurately be described as “desirous to join with your liver” but Anable Basin is a good place to find out, so the powers that be are planning to surround it with residential towers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DURIBO? Down Under the Roosevelt Island Bridge Onramp… can we just start calling this section of Ravenswood that?

The powers at that be in Manhattan (and their anxious lapdogs in elected office in Queens) have designated Ravenswood, which is the most “Gotham City” of all the place names in the borough of Queens, as being part of a “tech corridor” which will reinvigorate the area from a sleepy industrial zone defined by two massive housing projects with the highest rates of childhood asthma in the United States into a Silicon Valley style eutopia of bicycle commuting technocrats. “Central Planning” has decreed that there will be street level retail, and tower apartments, and that the “Big Allis” power plant will not be noticed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Waterfront post industrial property is ultra valuable, you see. There’s lots of examples in Brooklyn and here in LIC where endemic environmental concerns have been quietly covered over, remediated, or just ignored. Stick a park on top of the land that’s too expensive to fully clean up, let it be an amenity or “draw” for real estate development sited on spots that you get the State to pony up the money to clean through one of the “brownfield” programs located a few hundred feet back, and “Central Planning” has created another success story.

What do they care if somebody gets sick down the road, as they’ll have moved on to private consultancies and maybe even a good paying job in Singapore by then. The job with “Central Planning” is just another click on their resumes, a notch on their career oriented belts.


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm

night watchman

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Smooth, original flavors, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has always had a tendency to ignore the diurnal nature of the human specie, preferring instead to exist in the darkness when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is occluded by the planetary body. Accordingly, when a humble narrator was in his early years, it was not uncommon to find myself employed during overnight shifts at Manhattan’s corporate salt mines. Other than putting a dent in an otherwise nonexistent social life, this particular style of life afforded one rare sights and uncommon experiences. It played to a certain sense of self, wherein one was out of sync with the rest of the world, wanting to eat dinner whilst the menu offered only breakfast fare. The weekends were difficult, as a note, since I was waking up on “Saturday morning” at about seven p.m.

If you want to experience hypnogogic hallucinations regularly, the night shift is the best way to get there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s late night, as in one or two in the morning, and then there’s the “hour of the wolf” as its called by European peasantry. The latter are the fuligin depths experienced between three a.m. and the rising of the burning thermonuclear eye in the eastern skies. That’s when the animals of the Shining City have regency over the streets. One of my overnight jobs, which was an astounding number of decades ago, saw a humble narrator working in the complex of “international style” office buildings at Rockefeller Center adjoining that hive of villainy and perversion called Times Square.

Something I can tell you is that Rockefeller Center sits upon a connected complex, and that beneath the banal glass frontages of the office buildings is a subterrene series of basements, tunnels, and facilities that maintain the physical plant of the offices above. Many times I had occasion to enter this underground complex, as the company I labored for on the overnight shift maintained a small print shop down there which I’d periodically have to deliver and pick up work from. They have golf carts with flashy siren lights on them down below, and a small army of maintenance workers. I never saw a map, but this series of interconnected basements and underground floors has to cover at least five to six square city blocks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been inside the Manhattan Bridge, officially. Never have I entered the vaults of the Brooklyn Bridge, nor the towers of Queensborough. “As above, so below” is something an occult scholar will tell you, and one of my obsessive desires is to gain nocturnal entrance to the dripping network of maintenance tunnels and underground caverns maintained by the City someday. How far down have we tunneled and chipped away? It’s always night underground, so I should fit right in.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be hidden down there?


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 21, 2018 at 11:30 am

despair’s profundity

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Just another day in paradise, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the height of last week’s “hot” one found himself at Hallets Cove here in Astoria, killing some time with the camera whilst waiting for the NYC Ferry to arrive. Unfortunately, the long exposure shots from Hallets Cove didn’t turn out well, as in the midst of calculating exposure times and compositional angles, a humble narrator omitting calculating the effect of setting up a tripod on sand. It was my firm belief that that the tripod legs were spread out far enough to create a stable enough platform for the camera, but alas, like sand through the hourglass (or within five feet of the tide line) so are the days of my life – shifting, insubstantial, and without foundation. The long exposure above and below were actually gathered at Socrates Sculpture Garden where a more solid firmament is found.

Accordingly, I spent the entire weekend beating myself up over coming home from Hallets Cove with a bunch of motion blurred shots which would have otherwise been quite fetching.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is always the case this time of the year, one is more introspective and self critical than is usual, which is usually “very.” I still retain vague recollections of the impending doom felt during childhood for the “back to school” part of the late summer, an atavist memory which always colors my mood. It’s also a particularly depressing week for me personally, since I have a birthday coming up and my birthdays never seem to go well. There’s been like fifty of them so far, and maybe five haven’t resulted in some sort of traumatic experience. Our Lady of the Pentacle and my coterie of friends try their hardest, but I’m just jinxed when it comes to birthdays.

Speaking of, today is H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Check out the link (below) to a boat tour I’m going to be conducting on the 30th of August, after all this birthday business has passed. It’s underwritten by a grant that my pals at Waterfront Alliance and Working Harbor Committee managed to get that commemorates the bicentennial of the opening of the Erie Canal. Only five smackers for this one, and we’re going to be onboard a NY Water Taxi leaving from Red Hook. First, we’re heading north along the East River as far as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then reversing and going south towards Erie Basin and Industry City in South Brooklyn and eventually returning to Red Hook. 

I’ll be on the mike for this one, and I’m planning on regaling the folks onboard with maritime history. It should be a fairly vulgar display of my rhetorical prowess. Also, it’s only $5, so if I’m as disappointing in real life as many tell me you don’t have much to lose.


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 20, 2018 at 11:15 am

polyploid extrusions

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Just another one of those days, man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s the seventeenth of August, a Friday. The word Friday is derived from the Norse and Germanic traditions, indicating that the day is devoted to the Mother Earth type of Goddess named Frigga, whom amongst other notable traits, was married to the high father Odin himself and Queen of Asgard. On this day, in 1945, British author George Orwell saw his now seminal “Animal Farm” book published. Additionally, on August 17 in 1977, a Soviet Nuclear Icebreaker called the NS Artika became the first surface ship to successfully and purposely navigate it’s way to the North Pole.

Closer to home, Greenpoint girl Mae West was born on this day in 1893.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where is a humble narrator as you’re reading this, you might wonder? I’m out stomping out a pathway for a walk I’m going to be conducting with my pal Gil Lopez from Flux Factory. This promises to be a fairly weird one, by my standards, which are normally governed by a fairly conservative recitation of historical and current condition facts about some section of Newtown Creek or NY Harbor. Admittedly, I’ll deep dive a bit more than most on tours, but this one’s going to include the Blissville Bashee and the Vampires of Queens Plaza. I did mention “Flux Factory,” yes? Suffice to say that this one promises to be a bit more avant garde than usual.

I’ll provide ticketing links next week in the usual spot at the bottom of the daily postings at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Additionally, I’m doing an interesting boat tour on the 30th, with an astounding ticket price of $5. Links, next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Flux walk will be following, as much as possible, the original diagonal to the modern street grid path that the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek followed through Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza. There’s also going to be a fantastic opportunity to see something I can’t normally show you at the end of the walk, so for you photographer types reading this, you’ll want to be there. 

Happy Frigga’s Day, and happy birthday Mae West, wherever you are.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

every evidence

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Children don’t seem to sing rhyming songs about lethal infectious diseases anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Colloquially speaking, the whole “Ring-a-round the rosies, a pocket full of posies” rhyming nursery school standard is commonly thought to refer to the onset of Bubonic Plague, but scholarly experts in the field of folklore deny such interpretation claiming that such ideations first appeared in the post modernist plagued 20th century. There’s evidentiary usage of the rhyming song from early in the 19th century, with regional and linguistic variations, contained in journalism and travelogue writings. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle documented Brooklyn street urchins singing a version of “Ring A Rosie” in 1846, for instance, and there’s written accounts of variants from Britain and Germany in about the same period. The German version sounds terrifying of course, which confirms something I’ve been chatting about with one of my Astoria buddies who originally hails from Cologne about.

“Nice” things, when spoken in German, sound terrifying whereas terrifying things sound like desserts. As an example – “newborn baby” is “Neugeborenes,” which sounds like some sort of a bone cancer. “Death by fire” is “Tod durch Feuer,” which my first instinct would presume is a fried fruit and chocolate cake concoction served on a wad of whipped cream.

It’s odd that, almost as odd as the design of that Amtrak engine unit 651 pictured above. This model of train engine seems to have an angry face, complete with glowing red eyes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was quite a hubbub here in the neighborhood last weekend, as the MTA was busy working in Queens Plaza on the N/W elevated tracks and had closed several arterial streets leading to and from the Queensboro Bridge. There were all sorts of diversions and reroutings, with all sorts of lovely gasoline powered signs flashing important messages at passerby. This was actually a difficult shot to acquire, as the “Expect Delays” sign was of the LED type.

The reason that LED lights use so much less energy than incandescent or flourescent ones revolves around the fact that they’re actually flashing on and off rather staying steadily on. To the human eye, something that’s flashing on and off a hundred times in a second appears steadily illuminated, in the same way that we perceive the 30 frames per second of cinema or tv images as moving images. One wonders about the subliminal effects of LED lighting, and whether or not they could be used to alter human perception via changes in frequency, perhaps inducing mood changes in a madding crowd environmentally. Visual morse code? Maybe. Try going out with and without the tinfoil hat and see if you think different things between the two experiences. Be empirical, I say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A significant percentage of MTA’s rolling stock down in the sweating concrete bunkers has seen their “badge” indications converted over to LED lighting, which causes me no end of trouble when engaging in my habit of photographing trains entering and leaving the station. I’ve settled on a minimum shutter speed of 1/160th of a second for such matters, although 1/100th seems to be the actual frequency of the badge’s lighting cycle. The latter speed is too slow for the approaching locomotive, as the image of the thing gets “smeared” with motion blur. Even at 1/160th, however, as in the shot seen above, there is a discernibly lit and unlit portion of both the badge circle and the line designator.

Also, before anyone becomes fixated on the purplish lens flare visible, I cannot tell you why it’s purple. There’s a lot of light kicking around when a train enters a station, dust and crap in the air, and the headlights are pointing right into the lens which has an anti glare coating on it as well. It’s all part of the environmental effect.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2018 at 11:15 am

morbid listening

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It’s a small world, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometimes it seems like all of Western Queens is a visual parable, some Hollywood set piece or theme park designed by an otherwise unmentioned truly evil brother of Walt and Roy Disney – Dick Disney. The good news is that DickDisneyland doesn’t require an admission ticket, but enter at your own risk since it was designed by a real Dick. Of course, one of my postulates states that entire City of Greater New York is composed of five theme parks. I refer to Queens as “Adventureland,” the Bronx as “Frontierland,” Brooklyn as “Tomorrowland.” The big attraction for the punters is Manhattan the “Shining City,” and there’s always “Staten Epcot” but not many people visit that one. The world of tomorrow ain’t what it used to be, I fear.

Straddling the currently undefended border between Adventureland and Tomorrowland is the Newtown Creek attraction, and I’ll trust that you’ll find it a non obsequious and intrinsically interesting section of DickDisneyland during your next family friendly vacation to New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DickDisneyland has a litter problem, unfortunately, but try to view it as the stuff that future archaeologists will make their careers on, making their academic bones while studying our historic trash middens. It’s not just about entertainment here in the Creeklands (found just next door to Tomorrowland’s Sewer Mountain ride), it’s also educational. Over in Maspeth, nearby the Haberman rail siding, there’s going to be an animatronic showpiece and theater installed soon which will depict Dick Betts and the original Maspeth colonials scalping and killing the Lenape, followed by a live action raid of the theater by actors playing Maspeatche Warriors. At the end of it, the audience will be transported to Elmhurst to find out how that whole story ending up working out.

At the Haberman theater gift shop you’ll be able to buy jarred samples of Black Mayonnaise, small quantities of Peter Cooper’s Glue, and replica oil drums with commemorative certificates indicating the time and date of your visit to the Creeklands attraction here in DickDisneyland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Management at DickDisneyland, it should be mentioned, enforces rules upon its employees and visitors which do not apply to themselves. Were a concession manager to maintain gigantic pools of standing water on their individual lots, enormous financial repurcussions would ensue as our management teams are terrified of mosquito infestation. You can’t have visitors and resident employees of DickDisneyland getting sick, after all. That would reflect poorly on the managers, and deny them promotion to higher positions within the organization.

On the properties directly administered by the management, however… well… who watches the watchers in DickDisneyland?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

was nightlocking

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Who can guess, all there is, that might be lurking down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In industrial Maspeth, where I spent last Sunday afternoon, are the relict maritime industrial bulkheads of a corporate outfit called Phelps Dodge, which has long since “left the building.” The Phelps Dodge property has been divided up, sold off, and developed separately. The company, which was in the copper refining trade along Newtown Creek, is one of the “PRP” or “potentially responsible parties” originally named in the EPA’s 2010 Superfund declaration for the waterway. Although there isn’t even a sign indicating they were once here, Phelps was one of the largest employers on the Queens side of the Creek for more than a century. The first incarnation of what would become the Phelps Dodge plant on the LIC/Maspeth border planted heir stakes here in 1872 as “G.H. Nichols and Co.,” later becoming “Nichols Chemical Co.” in 1891 and then “General Chemical Company” in 1899. In 1930, the so called Laurel Hill plant was purchased by the Phelps Dodge corporation. At it’s height, the plant directly employed 17,000 people.

They manufactured several chemicals here, but their main product line centered around sulfuric acid. The Phelps Dodge people were copper refiners, ultimately, and used the acid to free metal ore from the rock it was embedded in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Laurel Hill Plant declined, and in 1984 it was shuttered. The United States Postal Service purchased the site from Phelps Dodge in 1986, hoping to use it as a truck storage yard, but it was soon determined that the property was too contaminated for use as a parking lot and a judge ordered Phelps Dodge to buy back the property in 1996. In 2001, the old factory and acid mill buildings were torn down, and the property was subdivided into lots. At one of these lots, the Restaurant Depot wholesale chain erected a location. On another, the Koscisuzcko Bridge replacement project is playing out, and on yet another a brand new Federal Express shipping hub has been created.

The shots in today’s post depict the last vestiges of Phelps’s long occupancy, the remains of heavy piers which carried terminal railway trackage on them, allowing for barge to rail operations at the acid factory and copper refinery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Phelps Dodge property is found just to the south of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks, along a section known as “deadmans curve.” The nickname for this section of the tracks is due to the Berlinville Rail Disaster in 1893 (two LIRR passenger trains collided at speed, engine to engine) and the habits of Phelps Dodge workers who would routinely attempt to run in front of and outpace the trains when crossing the railroad tracks, resulting in a lot of squished employees.

Modern day 43rd street used to be a colonial era pathway that crossed modern day Queens from the forbidden northern coast of Queens’ Berrian and Riker properties at Bowery Bay in Astoria, then ran south and across the swamps at modern day Northern Blvd. and then over the hills of Middleburgh (Sunnyside) and then down to Newtown Creek through Maspeth. This path was paved with crushed oyster shells, and hence was called “The Shell Road.” It’s a little hard to visualize this in modernity, because y’know… Robert Moses. The Long Island Expressway, BQE, Queens Blvd., Northern Blvd., and the Grand Central Parkway all conclude this ancient pathway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a couple of other businesses on the former Phelps properties, but none of them look towards the water. I can’t speak intelligently about who owns what, but from observation it seems that since Superfund when a property changes hands on the creek the original owner holds on to the sections that directly touch the water. My presumption is that this insulates the new owners against liability for the cleanup costs, but that’s an assumption and you know what “they” say when you “assume” something. It makes an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”

What I can tell you for certain is that these collapsing and rotting heavy piers look pretty cool and make for good lens fodder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That water pouring out of the pipe you see is a permitted “SPDES” outfall, and connected to the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. It was a late afternoon low tide period when these shots were captured. With all the rain we’ve been getting, the “eau de Creek” was particularly strong and inescapable, amplified as it was by a dew point humidity up in the 75% range.

A humble narrator was also cooking in the early August emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and there were a few times when touching the camera that I was concerned about how hot it was getting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before any of you accuse me of heavily retouching or manipulating these shots to make things look surreal and weird – here’s how I got them:

These are deep focus, narrow aperture tripod shots accomplished via the usage of a ten stop ND filter. This allows for exposure times of (in the case of today’s images) twenty to thirty seconds. This smooths out the water, and renders the specular highlights of sun and wave invisible. It also allows the camera to peer into the shallows and depths alike, offering a chance to observe and answer the oft asked question of “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

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