The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Martini Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things that we, as in the environmental and activist community along Newtown Creek, have been asking officialdom about for years is about why there is zero signage advising the citizenry about not fishing or crabbing in the Newtown Creek. I know this might strike you as odd, but folks actually do fish and crab hereabouts. Observationally, these are people who were born overseas, so the signage issue becomes a bit complicated given the legendary “diversity” of Western Queens and North Brooklyn. The Albany people have always questioned as to why you’d need signage, as it’s illegal to fish without a license, and every NYS licensee has been advised about the environmental conditions encountered on the inland waterways of NYC – which is one of the most “Albany people” things I’ve ever heard.

Luckily, the Feds at EPA realized what we’ve been asking for is necessary and have begun the process of creating advisory signage, and the PRP (Potentially Resonsible Parties) consortium which styles itself as the “Newtown Creek Group” volunteered to manufacture the placards, which EPA would in turn design and install. The signage is pretty close to its final design iteration, and the latest version looks like this. As to where the signs should be placed? Who has carefully documented every little pocket and corner of the streets surrounding the Creek? Who can tell you where people commonly fish? That’s a Newtown Creek Alliance job, anyone can tell you that.

Let’s face it, who ya gonna call?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, one found himself in Greenpoint recently at nine in the morning as the EPA team assembled. Civilians cannot ride in Government vehicles (which is an odd rule, as we technically own them) so the third party contractor who will do the actual installation of the things did the driving. We hit every little corner of the Newtown Creek where people can find access to the water, even the hidden spots where the “utes” of Greenpernt like to experiment with cannibinoids.

It was actually quite a beautiful morning, and the light was fantastic, so while the Feds got busy with the tape measures and GPS’d the various locations we visited, I waved the camera around a bit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We did encounter an “enforcement situation” in Brooklyn alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. There’s a protocol for “who’s responsible for what” along the Newtown Creek. Short version is this – EPA is in charge of Superfund, which is specifically related to the sediments under the water. New or ongoing pollution entering the water is the provence of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The NYC DEP is responsible for absolutely nothing anywhere or anytime, it’s not their fault at all, and they have no idea why they were named as a PRP in the first place as it’s all Exxon or National Grid’s fault.

The fellow from EPA I was on the bridge with confirmed my belief that “I should call this in” and the NYS DEC Spill Response hotline was called. If you spot oil slicks, plumes of floatable contaminants, or as in the case of the shot above – hundreds of gallons of milky white mystery juice exiting one of DEP’s open sewers – the protocol is to first photograph it, as documentation, and then to call 1 (800) 457-7362 to let DEC know about the situation so they can investigate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were, as mentioned above, visiting every conceivable spot that the citizenry could find their way to the water.

That included “off limits” locations like the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge over the English Kills tributary. As you can see from all the interesting graffiti on the bridge, which carries lead tracks of the Bushwick Branch LIRR, trespassing is pretty common back here. This is the reason that EPA asked Newtown Creek Alliance to send somebody along with them, as there’s the “official story” and a “real story” found along the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This family of Canada Geese were encountered at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, and were being predated by a feral cat who was anxious for breakfast. Momma and Poppa Goose were just out of frame to the left, so the cat made a brilliant decision and continued on into the brush to look for some easier prey. We encountered a couple of broods of Geese over the course of the morning. Geese can be ornery, as a note, and will smack you up if they’re annoyed.

One of these illegal alien avian bullies, at Maspeth Creek, actually hissed at us as we neared, and stuck its tongue out at me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reasoning behind the signage is based around science rather than good humored politics, incidentally. When you’re chatting with environmental officials, they don’t refer to oysters or mussels as shellfish, rather they call them “bioaccumulators.” Animals that are high up in the food chain have internal organs – livers in particular – and muscular tissues which have amassed dangerous levels of whatever pollutant is found in the sediments of the waterway, which they’ve attained by consuming all the prey critters who are below them in the food chain hierarchy. In the case of crabs, in particular, you can encounter a fantastic amount of chemical concentrates due to their particular niche and occupations.

Newtown Creek is – of course – a Federal Superfund site. The sediment beds hereabout are a goulash of petroleum and petroleum byproducts, organocopper compounds, volatile organic compounds, PCB’s, coal tar, sewage, and everything else that has ever been dumped or spilled into the water. The sediment is referred to as “black mayonnaise” and it’s where the crabs live. It’s also where most of the invertebrates that form the bottom of the food chain for the fish population live. Itty bitty critters eat the decaying organics of the black mayonnaise, and slightly less itty bitty critters eat handfuls of the little guys, and the larger critters eat hundreds of them – you get the idea.

You don’t want to eat fish or crabs that you catch in the Newtown Creek. Really.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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It’s National Escargot Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is fairly crispy around the edges, and in a state best described as “too little butter scraped over too much bread.” The ridiculous schedule I’ve been keeping throughout the months of April and May is beginning to wear me down a bit, and I’ve got literally thousands of photos to process and deliver to various entities. Busy is good, admittedly, but “man alive” do I need a day or two off.

Pictured above is one of the Cormorant breeding/habitat stands which are observable beneath the Bayonne Bridge, at the intersection of the Kill Van Kull and Newark Bay

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ultimately, it’s the dog who suffers. Poor Zuzu the dog didn’t get out for her slow motion walk last night until after midnight. She’s a bit pissed off at me, my dog. Saying that, she was quite engaged with the late night sniffing, probably because every other dog in the neighborhood had already taken care of business and every tree pit was redolent with their scents and “pee mail.”

Pictured above, the spring blossoms of a tree you might observe on the corner of 45th street and 34th avenue in Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s entirely likely that, as we descend into the madness of a holiday weekend, you’re going to be greeted with single image posts tomorrow, Friday, and Monday, so apologies are offered. My services have been engaged by one of the local newspapers to photograph the Maspeth Memorial Day parade on Sunday, incidentally, so if you’re there and you see some weird looking old guy with a camera and a Newtown Creek Alliance hat, say hi.

Pictured above, a double entendre laden bit of signage from Third Avenue in Manhattan. If you don’t know the street slang meaning of “Toss my salad” I’d suggest you google it, as this is a family blog.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper Visioning, June 3rd, 1-4 p.m..

Imagine the future of Newtown Creek with Riverkeeper and NCA at the Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) details here.

Newtown Creek Alliance History lecture with NCA historian Mitch Waxman, June 3rd, 5:00- 7:30p.m.

An free hour long lecture and slideshow about Newtown Creek’s incredible history at the gorgeous Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) followed by a walk around the roof and a Q&A – details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 24, 2017 at 1:00 pm

heavy spring

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It’s National Liver and Onions Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is deep within a web of “have to’s,” “wish I hadn’t’s,” and “should have done better’s” at the moment. All of this coincides with a fiendishly tight schedule of “things to do.” Luckily, after Friday, my burdens will ease up a bit. In the meanwhile, it feels like I’ve drank too much coffee too quickly.

As a note, as you’re reading this, I’ve been onboard a boat with the Waterfront Alliance and attending their annual harbor conference for a good couple of hours. Odds are pretty good that I’ve annoyed the Mayor and several other elected officials by now with stupid questions, asnine observations, and generally sarcastic comments. It’s what I do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was wandering though Sunnyside the other day, this bagged bear was spotted and it’s probably the saddest thing I’ve seen in a while. My thoughts as I was shooting it were along the lines of “well, I guess somebody’s childhood just ended” and “wow, that’s just weird looking.”

I also considered the idea of grabbing the thing and finding it a home at a clothing bin or in front of a church, as it was in fairly pristine shape, but I’m a big softie when it comes to stuffed toys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found it odd that the bear was in a recycling bag, incidentally. Who recycles a stuffed toy?

Curious. 


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

hushed conversation

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It’s National Cheeseball Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lots of odds and ends today. A supposition which opines that I live on the most exciting corner in Astoria continues to play out, as evinced by a deployment of the ever reliable FDNY the other night. It seems that one of the neighbors discerned the olfactory evidence of combustion emerging from a storefront occupied by the local bagel shepherds, which was a report which the FDNY responded to with a fairly large deployment. The fellows on the big red trucks soon determined that this was a false alarm, and it all ended up being just another Astoria hullabaloo. 

My suspicions that I live on the most interesting corner in Astoria will soon bear a different kind of fruit, however, as the trickle of water which I reported to 311 as bubbling out of a manhole cover on the next block – about two weeks ago – has now grown into a small flowing stream. Never quiet – here in Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hypothetically – due to having had to sign a non disclosure agreement with the State of New York today, one cannot tell you where I am this morning or what I am doing. I am precluded from sharing photographs or discussing my visit to some mysterious location where my camera has been brought to today until some indeterminate time in the future when the embargo on such collected material has been rescinded by NYS officials. There are no specific penalties described for violating this embargo (which is odd), nor was it originally offered with an “expiry” date, which is fairly standard for such situations (an open ended NDA contract for such matters isn’t strictly “kosher” legally, anyway, and there’s also that whole first amendment thing which NYS doesn’t get to suspend). Saying that, a humble narrator made a big stink about the imposition of an open ended image embargo with certain hypothetical people whose offices would be found in some theoretical minor City – which would be found around two hundred miles to the north of the de facto Capitol of New York State at the other end of the Hudson River – and eventually I will be able to describe in some excruciating detail where I went this morning and what I saw at some later date whenever they decide it’s no longer a state secret. 

The photo of the two Kosciuszcko Bridges seen above is merely a decorative addition to this post – filler, if you will – and does not in any way indicate where I am, or what I may be walking upon or over as you’re reading this. The shot was gathered a week ago in Greenpoint, on April 9th, for the legally minded and prosecutorially inclined amongst you. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the bagel shop which drew the attentions of the FDNY to Astoria one recent night, while waiting for the bagel shepherds to construct a sandwich for me one recent afternoon, one was standing outside in the rain and glowering at passerby when I noticed these two pigeons working a flooded tree pit for bits of food and drinking from the puddles. Our normal flock of pigeons, who live in Astoria in fairly considerable numbers, have lately been harassed by a sudden explosion of super aggressive sparrows. This flock of avian bullies has been chasing the pigeons about, and driving them from their ledges. The Sparrows, on the other hand, have recently begun to be harassed by a bunch of Ravens. The multitudinous Sparrows will be loudly chirping when a single “caw” is sounded, which shuts them all up. Down below, the street cats watch, and wait. Luckily, after the bagel shepherds completed the construction of my sandwich, I was able to remove myself from this internecine urban warfare and return to the tranquil safety of HQ where my little dog Zuzu polices the behavior and habits of all the lower life forms. 

Gang warfare, of the feathered variety, affects us all. It’s best to have an elderly dog around to keep things straight.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

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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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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