The Newtown Pentacle

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half way

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It’s National “Eat like an Irishman” day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin with, apologies for the weird half post some of you received yesterday. One hit “publish” accidentally, instead of “save draft.” An effort has been underway of late to try and focus the production of this – your Newtown Pentacle – onto a mobile device tablet (specifically an iPad) and as any user of an iOS device will tell you – it’s a temperamental beast. Photo development and “heavy lifting” chores are still handled through my desktop, of course, but one of my winter projects has been to not sit at my office desk quite as often. I like the ability to set up, research, write, and so on at coffee shops and bars with wifi. Unfortunately, there are occasional technological bumps such as yesterday’s, so there you go.

It’s all about freedom. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Freedom is something which seems to be on my mind at the moment, probably because of the trash fire that’s burning in the Oval Office at the moment. I’m not entirely sure that Team Trump actually understands what the Government is meant to do, incidentally. Let’s take a refresher course:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Establish Justice” is generally interpreted to mean the presence of some sort of law enforcement, open access and obeyance to the rulings of the Judicial Branch. Once the Judges have interpreted the issues of the day through the letter and intent of the law and issued a ruling, you have to live with it. “Insure domestic tranquility” is related to the Justice bit, but it’s also been interpreted to mean that the Government is there to quell internal strife and create a stable environment in which a free people can go about their business. It’s part of the reason that the States aren’t allowed to create tariffs or tax barriers between each other, and that interstate trade is administered over by the Federal rather than local state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Provide for the common defence” refers to the administration of State militias and a common Federal military (back at the end of the 18th century, that largely meant the Navy). Jefferson and the rest lived in an era when individual European nobles held standing armies, and they foresaw what would happen if an “Army of Georgia” got into a fight with the “Army of Massachusetts” somewhere down the line (which as it turns out, was the Civil War). Common defence is on steroids now, covering most of the Western Hemisphere, and has been for the last 75 years. All enemies “foreign and domestic” are mentioned after the preamble, when the Constitution begins to get into details, and that language is included in the oath which both our President and military personnel take when entering service.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Promote the general Welfare” has been interpreted a lot of ways over the centuries. It’s involved railroads and trade deals with foreign nations, the expansion of civil liberties, deepening of harbors and rivers, the regulation of what can sold as foodstuffs, even the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It also means setting standards for schools.

The reason that the “administrative state” exists is because of the excesses witnessed by our ancestors. Tuberculoid pork and tainted beef being pumped full of dye and preservatives? That’s how the FDA and USDA came into existence. Corruption at the docks? Waterfront Commision. Pouring industrial waste into rivers and lakes? EPA. The list goes on, but there’s a reason all of these agencies exist.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” means that we aren’t supposed to burn down the house in the name of political exigency. It also means that we are meant to keep the ship afloat in the name of there being a future for Americans yet unborn. If you haven’t read the Constitution of the United States of America, and most Americans haven’t, I’d suggest giving it a quick scan this weekend.

It’s no “fifty shades of gray” or anything, but it’s definitely worth a look.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 17, 2017 at 1:30 pm

fragrant memories

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It’s National Blueberry Popover Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few odd and end shots of critters encountered today. Low tide at Hells Gate will offer you a chance to observe a gaggle of gulls exploiting the exposed intertidal zone. Gulls evolved what turns out to be one of the most important adaptations for survival on a human dominated planet – inedibility. You can actually eat them, but reportedly they taste heavily of all things maritime and you have to worry about worms and accumulated toxins. In their world, Gulls are near the top of the food chain and their diet consists of critters which the environmental activist community would describe as “bio accumulators.” Apparently, there are people who eat gulls, but gussy them up with bacon and a whole pack of spice.

Bacon could make a turd taste nice, I believe, but it ain’t kosher.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Squirrels are regularly eaten by Americans, although this one from Astoria Park doesn’t have to worry too much about being consumed by a human. It’s main problem are Hawks and Falcons, Dogs and Cats, and Raccoons. I’m told that Opposums and even Rats will go after squirrel nests. There’s something about the phrase “squirrel nest” that just fills me with an indefatigable whimsy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A culinary tradition from Europe continues in the United States, which states that swan meat is reserved for the tables of royalty, and it’s generally not on the menu for us common folk. Another water fowl near the top of its food chain, the Mute Swan pictured above probably has a liver full of mercury and PCB’s, and it’s flesh is likely riddled with parasitic worms picked up out of the sewage laden waters of New York Harbor – or in the case of the bird above, Luyster Creek in Astoria on the forbidden northern coast of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you many have discerned, it’s time for a humble narrator to organize up his luncheon. Y’know, a blueberry popover sounds pretty good right now.

See you Monday, with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 10, 2017 at 1:00 pm

utterly devoid

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It’s National Potato Salad Day, National Peanut Cluster Day, and National Pancake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where to go, what to see, and why bother? Such are the thoughts which intrude and occlude whenever one such as myself leaves the house. Someone else has always gotten there first, and there are certain scenes which – while they never disappoint – I’ve visited literally thousands of times. I’d like to travel abroad, photographing exotic animals and esoteric people, but that would likely involve a good deal of finance, and planning, and I hate to fly. Also, it may be too hot, or cold, and I’ll likely get sunburned. Physical discomfort will likely result, my cherished preconceptions would likely be challenged, or I could end up being killed and eaten by a pack of monkeys.

Ultimately, everyone and everything will eventually make it to Queens anyway so why leave? As the band TLC advised – stick to the hills and waterfalls you’re used to. We’ve got the monkey situation sorted out around here already, there are no uncaged hippos or other large mammalian killers (other than mankind), and I know every possible private spot there is to urinate around these parts. As a note: There are two public bathrooms in Calvary Cemetery, but the one at the Review Avenue gates is often locked. You really, really shouldn’t let loose elsewhere in the cemetery. That’s just disrespectful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a recent wander through Calvary, wherein I was exploring the eastern side of the polyandrion, a humble narrator became the focus of attention for a group of Crows. Possibly Ravens, but I don’t know what the difference between the two are. My belief is that they saw my filthy black raincoat flapping about and figured that one of their own had taken to the ground, but I’m an idiot. As is usually the case, for some reason birds aren’t afraid of me. I can walk through a flock of pigeons or sparrows pecking at the ground and they neither scatter into the air nor otherwise acknowledge my presence.

For some reason this is equal parts disconcerting and deeply satisfying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Long Island City is famously home neither to packs of carnivorous monkeys, nor lurking hippopotamus, or even large feline predators. There are absolutely no giant fire breathing lizards or irradiated turtles lurking in Newtown Creek, which categorically never attacked Maspeth in June or September of 1958.

Our big problem are the vampires, of course, who lurk in the shadowed rafters of the Long Island Expressway during the day, as well as the elevated subway tracks around Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Avenue. There are reportedly “things” down in the sewers which the NYC DEP refuses to acknowledge, bizarre abominations and parodies of the primatological branch which IND platform based commuters sometimes spot moving about in the fuligin shadows of the subway tunnels. The MTA denies their existence too, calling them “urban legends.”

There are the rat kings, the cockroach collective consiousness, and the aboriginal horrors which lurk at Hallets Cove – but that’s another story. If you ask the U.S. Coast Guard, they’ll deny those reports offered by professional sailors of a sea monster dwelling in the turbidity of Hells Gate, one which only emerges during powerful thunder storms.


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bleary eyed

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It’s National Crown Roast of Pork Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Death – the fear of same, avoidance of said state, and the unavoidability of both circumstances stains my waking hours. Science fiction scenarios involving the transfer of my brain into some electrode laden jar both tempt and torment, as it would needlessly lengthen my existence but offer an extended period of time in which to annoy others. Thing is, everywhere I go, death is already there. Newtown Pentacle HQ is located in a rental apartment in Astoria, and shortly after moving in my landlord and his wife came by for dinner. We chatted, and enjoyed a bottle of wine together, but he refused to answer my query as to whether or not anyone had ever died in my then new domicile which is about a century old (I like to know if its likely a specter or just a rodent making that mysterious noise in the middle of the night).

It’s more than likely, in NYC, that somebody has kicked the bucket in your place if it’s over a certain age. Real estate interests preclude the discussion of such matters, as the reputation of haunted premises tends to depress potential profits by lowering the rental threshold. Nobody wants to live in a haunted house.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This haunted realtor hypothesis of mine is how I explain the relative lack of supernatural lore enjoyed by New York City as compared to other eastern cities of proportionate size and commensurate age. Boston seems to have a ghost in every single home, as does Albany, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Atlanta, St. Augustine, and especially New Orleans. New York City, on the other hand, saw its first great fortune arise around the Real Estate industry (The Astors). Realtors and property owners have always enjoyed a somewhat unique socioeconomic status in this megalopolis of ours, and accordingly, they control the newspapers. To this day, the number one class of advertisers in any City oriented publication involves real estate. The conspiracy theory I suggest is that there has been a tacit and centuries long agreement between editors, journalists, and the folks who ultimately pay their salaries not to report on poltergeists, phantoms, or noncorporeal bogeymen.

Famously, the most expensive real estate in New York City – in terms of price per square foot – is found in cemeteries. Four square meters in the ground can run you hundreds of thousands of bucks. No wonder ghosts would prefer to just squat inside some living person’s walls, alongside the rat skeletons. I’m actually surprised that the real estate guys haven’t figured out a way to monetize that gap of a few inches which is sandwiched between the slat boards and drywall.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For years, one has joked that when the EPA finally begins dredging out Newtown Creek that NYPD will be closing half of its open missing persons cold case files. I wonder how many human remains came spilling out of the old factory and tenement walls which were demolished in recent years in LIC and Williamsburg. Ever wonder what that weird smell in your apartment was, or where it was coming from? Presumed it was a dead mouse?

It makes one wonder, and more than wonder.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

cavitating motions

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It’s National Banana Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A shot of a friendly parrot today, but only a single one – as I still haven’t dug myself out of a hole which I currently find myself in. FYI, a humble narrator is involved in that most harrowing of all projects which an artist of any stripe can venture into – the creation of a portfolio to showcase past work and procure future employment. This is a vast endeavor, ripe with psychological recrimination and personal ennui. It’s also “all consuming,” but I should be done with the meat of it by the end of this week at which point postings of a more substantial sort will be coming your way.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 23, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in animals, Astoria, birds, Broadway

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modern matters

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It’s Street Children’s Day, in the Republic of Austria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek which abruptly turns north off the main channel three quarters of a mile east of the East River, is entirely contained within Long Island City. It’s crossed by five bridges – the LIRR bridges DB Cabin and Cabin M, the Borden Avenue Bridge, the Queens Midtown Expressway truss, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Dutch Kills, like all of Newtown Creek’s tributaries and the main channel itself, is lined with a toxic sediment referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.” This sediment is composed of coal tar, petroleum and refining byproducts, industrial waste of various provence and typology, as well as human excrement deposited by NYC’s open sewers.

At its northern terminus, Dutch Kills is across the street from a CUNY college and several charter schools serving high school and junior high school aged kids. One of the most significant build outs in recent real estate history is happening less than a quarter mile from that spot, along LIC’s Jackson Avenue in an area referred to as “Court Square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to a non functioning railroad swing bridge at Dutch Kill’s junction with Newtown Creek’s main channel, there is absolutely zero maritime industrial activity along the tributary. The bulkheads along its reach generally date back about a century, to a massive “improvement” conducted around the time of the First World War which saw the marshes and swamps it fed drained and both the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon Industrial Terminal constructed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets surrounding Dutch Kills offer fleeting glimpses of the waterway, and many of them are not City streets at all but “railroad access roads” owned by the MTA. You can almost always smell the waterway before you can see it, and whereas I can tell you a few spots to access the water, none of these are “legal” and all involve trespass of private or government property. You can legally observe it from the Borden Avenue or Hunters Point Avenue bridges, however.

At it’s terminus – or “turning basin,” there are two abandoned oil barges rusting and rotting away into the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Illegal dumping, the native art form of the Borough of Queens, is practiced hereabouts with relish and abandon. The DSNY garbage bin in the shot above appeared on 29th street back in November, and I’ve been watching it steadily fill up and overflow. DSNY doesn’t seem to remember where they put it, as I haven’t seen it empty since the day it arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amidst the sheens of oil and grease you’ll observe on Dutch Kills, which are both historic and newly spawned, there are what the NYC DEP would describe as “floatables.” That’s government code for garbage that’s either been flushed or has been swept into the sewer grates on every street corner in NYC. In the case of Dutch Kills, the “sewer shed” that feeds these floatables into it extends all the way to East Elmhurst and Woodside to the east, Sunnyside and Astoria to the north, and the rapidly growing Long Island City which Dutch Kills is a part of.

The sewer plant that handles this burgeoning area was opened in 1931, and Fiorello LaGuardia cut the ribbon to open it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting tomorrow, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could really use some Queensican bodies and voices in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evinced by the corpse pictured above, life has actually begun to recolonize this waterway in recent years. The presence of higher mammals hereabouts speaks to an ecosystem that is beginning to recover from centuries of industrial and municipal abuse. Of course, nothing is going to save a raccoon from getting ground into hamburger by the wheels of a semi truck.

At Newtown Creek Alliance, we’ve been cataloging and observing for a while now. There’s more than seventy individual species of birds for instance – including Great Blue Herons and Ospreys – living along the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Their presence speaks to a growing population of prey animals (fish) present in the water column, and to a broader environmental recovery happening along this industrial waterway at the literal center of NYC.


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grim castle

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Today is the Fête du Vodoun in the Republic of Benin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shlepping around Astoria one day, my footsteps found me over by Luyster Creek on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. The real estate shit flies have recently been getting pretty active nearby, with medium sized developments that absolutely do not have any connection to local elected officialdom’s blind trusts and out of office legal partnerships. That sort of thing could never happen in modern day NYC, after all. Dimly lit rooms have replaced the smoke filled ones, I’m told, as it’s now impolitique to smoke indoors. I don’t want to talk about any of that this week, however.

I came here for the boids. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another urban waterway in Queens which I describe as a “future superfund site,” Luyster Creek can also be referred to as Steinway Creek – as it adjoins the Steinway piano factory and once upon a time, old man Steinway used to have his mahogany delivered in log form via Bowery Bay and Long Island Sound by floating it into Luyster Creek lumberjack style. One wrote a profile of the waterway at my old Brownstoner Queens column a few years ago, click here for it.

To understand the modern incarnation of the waterway, let’s just say that these shots were captured from a spot at the end of Astoria’s 19th avenue and that I was standing on an open sewer leaking sewage overflow from the nearby Bowery Bay sewer plant. The shorelines on the western side are pretty much all Consolidated Edison property, but as you head north to where it meets Bowery Bay, you’ll encounter a couple of fuel depots on the eastern side. The water smells like bad cheese and goat poop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite all that, it’s still one of the spots where migratory water birds like to hang out during the winter. The shallows seem to host a fairly abundant amount of whatever delicacies they prefer to quaff. I’ve never been sure where “Duck” ends and “Mallard” begins, but there’s a few of one or the other in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m fairly sure that these friggin things are Mute Swans, which as of quite recently (January 1st) are no longer targeted by Department of Environmental Conservation hit squads for being a specie termed “invasive.” The DEC hit squads are nothing to mess around with, incidentally. A team of hard men and and women with combat experience and the “thousand yard stare,” they recently exterminated a group of coyotes in this area with extreme prejudice.

I’ve heard accounts of that operation which sounded like something from a Charles Bronson movie.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

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