The Newtown Pentacle

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vague hints

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Astoria, will thy wonders never cease?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, a brief respite from the stinging cold occurred and I stumbled out of HQ into the looming dusk. My ideation involved no destination, rather it was just a desire to give my internally lubricated parts a chance to operate. There’s so much sitting and hiding from the cold this time of year that a man of my age finds himself stiffening up without a regular scuttle. During warmer climes, I’m out and about all the time, but this is the time of year for which I build a pile of books to consume and address long standing projects. That means that when I do start moving around again, it hurts, and there’s sounds traveling along my skeleton which I do not like. Stretching my leg the other day created a resonance that sounded like hitting the strings of a Cello with a sack of oysters.

You’re about to see the big project I’ve been consumed by for the last few months at the start of Februrary, incidentally, which is what a lot of this sitting in front of my desk has revolved around. It’s the start of a whole chain of “stuff” which I’ve been working on, which will be revealed over the coming months.

My path carried me down Astoria’s Broadway, and at the corner of 35th street, my eye was caught by the signage of Dave Shoes. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this subject in the past, but I’m fascinated by the offerings of this small business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit of quick research revealed that a man’s foot requiring a “size 18” shoe can be expected to display a heel to “big” toe length of thirteen and five sixteenth inches, and that a six “E” shoe width translates out to a foot of some six and one eighth inches across. That’s a pretty big foot. Apparently the average American male can be expected to wear a “size ten” and “d” or “m” width shoe.

I’ve experienced a certain foible of human biology which younger readers probably haven’t, as of yet. That’s the tendency of the human foot to spread out and its arch to become more shallow as you grow older. In High School and early college, already fully grown, I wore a size nine and one half shoe. By the time I was thirty, a size ten was required. These days, an eleven is what I buy at the shoe shops. Presuming I somehow make it through another twenty years, my shoes will likely look like swimmer’s fins with my toes extending several feet out in front of me, and it’s likely I won’t be scuttling but instead flopping along the bulkheads like a seal by then. I’ll probably be a much better swimmer, so there’s a silver lining. Saying all that, barring some cartoonish interaction with a steam roller, I doubt I’ll ever be shopping for a size 18 6E shoe.

A humble narrator will likely need to forgo the usage of escalators in this dire future.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Modernity is so boring. 31st street? Really? Can’t we just go back to Debovoise Avenue, which is what 31st used to be called in Astoria’s 19th century? I’ll admit that the old system, when 31st avenue was Jamaica Avenue and 30th was Grand Avenue, was a bit confusing to outsiders but at least Astoria was safer in case of an invasion. The north/south streets and east/west avenues and using numbers instead of names are some times called the Philadelphia plan. The “Commissioners Plan” rules the roost in Manhattan, where the streets are east/west and the avenues north/west, as a note. Post NYC Consolidation, the new powers that be in City Hall created the modern day street grid of Queens by renaming all of the hodge podge street names offered by all the independent towns, cities, and villages that predict dated 1898.

That’s why you’ll encounter those corners where time and space bend in on themselves like 31st avenue at 31st street.

More tomorrow. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

husky whisper

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Back in session.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the fabulous Newtown Creek, and the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. A humble narrator had multiple errands to run the day this shot was captured, including recoding a pretty neat moment in the history of the Greenpoint side of DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp), which I’ll describe in a later post. In consideration of my too tight scheduling that particular day, and a sudden urgency evinced by my landlord to gain access to HQ in order to conduct a nebulous series of repairs, one found himself in a for-hire vehicle heading towards Brooklyn from Astoria on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and upon the Kosciuszcko Bridge over the aforementioned but still fabulous Newtown Creek.

I figured that since I was paying for the ride anyway, I might as well get something out of it other than mere conveyance, so the window was rolled down and… you know the rest, there it is up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bored and overwhelmed by the schedule of holiday events one found himself attending recently, a rare night at home revealed an NYPD car sitting on my corner for a couple of hours, which caught my attention. Since I was bored and the cops didn’t seem to be doing anything particularly interesting other than sitting there, I decided to get artsy fartsy and use my tripod to get a portrait shot of the scene here in Astoria. This was the night of that day when it stopped raining like a week ago – you remember, that time when it rained buckets for about nine thousand straight hours? Yeah? This is that night when it had just stopped raining.

Seriously, cannot tell you how bored I was at this particular point in the last week and a half, with not a lot of adventure to report – but it was nice to be around people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just yesterday, with my holiday obligations done, a humble narrator skittered forth with the camera and out into the night. My feet just started kicking along, and soon my path had carried me from Astoria to the Degnon Terminal in Long Island City, where the fabulous Newtown Creek’s astonishing Dutch Kills tributary is found. Even after it got dark, one continued along and was soon cruising through Blissville. Nearby Blissville’s border with Industrial Maspeth, the southern – or Penny Bridge – gates of First Calvary Cemetery are found, and that’s where one found himself just last night whilst stabbing at the shutter button.

Who can guess, where the heck it will be, that Mitch goes tonight?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 27, 2018 at 11:00 am

forbidden retreat

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more #thingstheydidnttellamazon, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst shlepping about the other night with camera in hand, I was listening to an audiobook recording of David McCullough’s “The Great Bridge,” which is a wonderful recount of the struggles of the Roeblings in pursuance of building the Brooklyn Bridge. In my mind, you can divide the historical narrative of NYC into halves – before and after the Brooklyn Bridge was built. There’s lots of other “bookmarks;” Fulton and his ferries, the emergence of Tammany Hall, City Consolidation, the Robert Moses era, the age of Anarchy and diminished expectations, even the second Gilded Age which we’re living in right now. The Brooklyn Bridge project, however, was a epochal moment. I bought the audiobook a few years ago from Audible.com, which is an Amazon affiliate, and I like to revisit it periodically while I’m “doing my thing.”

All of the bookmark moments mentioned above are important, in my mind, because they set political precedents when they occurred which both current and future generations will have to live with. Brooklyn Bridge as the beginning of the age of progressivism in NYC, a term which meant something entirely different when it was coined than how it is used or interpreted in modernity. Back then, it invoked “progress” and stated that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. What that meant was that if you owned a business or home that was in the way of the Brooklyn Bridge, or some other needed improvement, you got out of the way in the name of the common good. The ultimate incarnation of “progress” was carried forward by Robert Moses in the middle 20th century, with his slum clearance and urban highway programs carving up entire neighborhoods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is one of the inconvenient truths about Queens that I’m sure Amazon hasn’t been made aware of, which is that the high speed data lines that will connect them to the world are strung to rotting utility poles which are often – as is the case in the photo above – held together with bits of jury rigged string. I’ve got some personal experience with this sort of situation, and have been haranguing to get a similarly rotten utility pole on Broadway in Astoria replaced for several years. The situation boils down to there being a NYS Utility Commission governing the poles, who are slow moving but ultimately effective. A work crew arrives and installs a new pole, in short order. The problem is that the utility providers of NYC – ConEd/NatGrid/Verizon/RCN/Spectrum or Time Warner or whatever they are now – are allowed to take years to transfer their lines from the old pole to the new one due to their special “licensed monopoly status.” There was one situation here in Astoria, and I’ve got a photo of it somewhere, where the old pole had been sheared off its base by a truck and they tied it up with maritime rope to the new one. It took about five years for the wires to be transferred and the broken utility pole to be removed.

You don’t get away with this sort of thing in Manhattan, by the way. Queens is sort of the red haired step child amongst the boroughs, and always gets the smallest portion when the municipal cake is getting divvied up. This is because of the “get along” and “development at any cost” mind set that has ruled over the Queens Political caste since City Consolidation in 1898. That mind set has created “precedent,” and it’s why our sewers overflow and the lights go dim during high electrical demand periods during summer heat waves. It’s also why our streets are caked in ice during the winter days after the pavement in Manhattan is clear.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Setting a precedent is important in legal and political circles, as it allows some opportunist to say “I’m just doing what ‘so and so’ did last year, so what’s the problem?” What the citizenry always needs to be wary about is “the first time,” since that’s what the lawyers are going to cite “the next time.” One of the things which President Obama did that made me go red in the face was to give the Executive Branch the power to unilaterally execute an American citizen on American soil using a drone strike, in the name of national security and the never ending “war on terror.” All my pals on the Democrat side of the conversation said “don’t worry about, Obama won’t use that power all willy nilly” whereas I said “yeah, but what happens when somebody you don’t like inherits that precedent and power?”

Thanks Obama. Donald Trump can use a drone strike to assassinate an American citizen on American soil at his own discretion, and so can every future President of the United States. Precedent is important, and we need to be very careful as a society when setting it. Did you know it was originally an extraordinarily rare thing for a NYC Policeman to be seen carrying a gun? Now, it’s precedent.

The thing about the Amazon deal is the precedent it sets, which says that the executive branches of NYC and NYS can bypass all of the procedural “stops” which have been inserted into the process of large scale development in NYC to keep a Robert Moses from ramming highways through the Bronx or Austin Tobin from condemning dozens of thriving acres of Lower Manhattan to build a World Trade Center complex at the behest of the Rockefeller brothers which nobody really wanted except them?

The dimunition of legislative branch prerogatives and community input is what the Amazon deal represents, and it’s ultimately a disturbing precedent.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 13, 2018 at 2:00 pm

queerly disturbed

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Ahhh…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interminable period, that’s how one would describe the rain situation last weekend, one which got in the way of pointing the camera at cool things at night. Most of Sunday was spent in careful observation of the outside environment and the monitoring of predictive meteorology information. A window was going to emerge on Sunday night where there would be fog but no rain, and a humble narrator would be ready to fly into action when it arrived.

I didn’t really fly, instead I left HQ and hailed a cab. The driver was told a street address, to which he replied “Really?” After affirming my destination, we set off. My timing worked out perfectly, as it was still drizzling when I got into the two ton death machine cab, and steady precipitation had stopped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Soon; I found myself scaring feral cats, avoiding a particularly slippery patch of mud, trying not to fall into any giant puddles, and in general having a grand old time at the Newtown Creek till well after midnight. It’s spooky in the creeklands at night, with all sorts of mystery sounds emanating from inky black shadow. There’s also the whole “by yourself with no one around for blocks and blocks physical vulnerability” thing. At least it wasn’t cold, and there weren’t any wolves or teenagers roaming about seeking victims. Really, the only interaction I had with anybody else involved exchanging convivial greetings with a couple of Indian guys waiting for their trucks to be loaded at a Korean food warehouse.

The shot above depicts the street end of Meeker Avenue in Greenpoint, which regularly floods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This whole enviromental craze is particularly annoying during the summer, as all that foliage blocks my points of view and is constantly blowing around in the wind. Seasonally devastated plant life, all withered away to brittle sticks and twigs, is better. Often have I wished that I could power wash the shorelines of Newtown Creek with herbicides… it would be historically accurate… and I’d get a better shot if the Brooklyn Queens Expressway was framed by a nice lunar landscape littered with garbage. C’est la vie, huh?

While shooting this particular photo, I heard a noise behind me, and upon spinning about to analyze my surroundings a black cat suddenly jumped between the shadows. It was just like a horror movie.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 4, 2018 at 11:00 am

funny feeling

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Out of sync…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A single image greets you today, as a humble narrator is utterly out of sync with NYC time. All this night shooting I’ve been doing has resulted, especially after the long weekend, in one being utterly nocturnal. I mean graveyard shift nocturnal, going to sleep at five or six in the morning kind of nocturnal. The shot above was actually a test shot meant to simply test a new lens I picked up, one that was significantly discounted in an “early bird” sale at Beards and Hats. That’s the bodega across the street from HQ here in Astoria, as they’re closing up for the night, a POV which I’ve shot a million times before from my porch. It was a quickie photo cracked out just to confirm the lens was functioning and to see how it handled. It didn’t look too shabby, so I uploaded it along with a bunch of other shots that were in the same batch on my camera card.

Somehow, the curators at Flickr’s “Explore” group noticed it, and it spent most of yesterday on their front page. Go figure.

I’ve got a lot of cool stuff coming your way this week, so strap in.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 26, 2018 at 2:00 pm

aroused about

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A storm’s a coming.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Depressing, that’s how I usually describe it. Shortly after taking this photo in the Court Square/Queens Plaza area of Long Island City, where the sidewalk was actually blocked off by this enormous midden of residential tower garbage, I sat in one of the high priced cafes installed into one of those residential towers (the kind that offers fare best described as a single perfect tomato served on a big white artisinal plate) and listened to a group of activists telling me that all this real estate development was just peachy and that they’d like to see more of it. My spiel about opposing the Sunnyside Yards fell on fairly deaf ears, and I inquired about how long the folks I was chatting with had lived here in LIC. The answer was pretty much encapsulated by De Blasio’s term in office, and I realized that these folks hadn’t been here for a transit strike, or a blackout, or had the Mayor turn a hotel on their block into a homeless shelter yet. Give it time folks, and remember the Borough Motto – “Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself.” 

They didn’t mind the fact that they were living on the site of a 19th century chemical factory, and in fact didn’t care.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another sit down with a group whom I would describe as “hard left” was also somewhat dismaying, as their plan for the future involved collapsing one of the legs of the economic stool which the City’s economy stands upon. I’ve said this a million times, it seems, but one is not “anti-development” as macro economic forces such as our current building boom need to be managed, and the job of government is to manage and eke concessions or “buy-in’s” from the real estate industrial complex which both current and future populations will need. Transit improvements, green infrastructure, medical facilities, supermarkets and laundromats, school space, street level urban furniture like benches and garbage cans. Instead, our government still operates as if it’s the 1970’s and they need to beg developers to begin projects in NYC. The Real Estate people are awash in the “LLC” money that often malign foreigners are laundering through our local economy, so let’s demand that they share the wealth just a little bit and design some ameliorations of the City’s many needs into their towers – that’s what I say. It’s called “good old fashioned graft” in case anyone has forgotten that term. Why isn’t there still any place to take a piss, amidst all this new construction?

Is Long Island City going to function as a “city,” or is it instead just destined to be a dormitory for Manhattan’s job base. Why aren’t we talking about office space and commercial construction here? As the old adage offers – if you build it, they will come. That’s how Queens was originally developed a hundred years ago – they built the Subways, and the people came.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking these not so mean streets as I do, I can tell you that vast stretches of Queens are unfriendly, forbidding, and barren of any of the things you’d expect to find in Brooklyn or Manhattan. We’re starved for hospital beds, school desks, street trees. Our commercial strips are bare as far as street benches and everything else you’d expect to find in the “fastest growing community” in the northeastern United States, and Queens has less park land acreage per person than anywhere else in NYC except for Greenpoint in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. 

While all of this is going on, or not going on, everybody continues to snipe and gripe and fight over an ever smaller piece of the pie. They’re fighting battles that they’ve already lost, which seems to be the Queensican way.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

billious congestion

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Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few shots from my travels and travails over the last couple of weeks assail you today, lords and ladies. Pictured above, the NYC DEP has been working on a water main replacement project here amongst the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria for the last month or two, which has necessitated the occasional interruption of residential water service. The access, or manhole (as its called colloquially), cover which one of our municipal heroes is standing upon vouchsafes the subterrene valve which controls such service on the corner that Newtown Pentacle HQ is found on.

Who knew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That bulkhead collapse on Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary I told you about shifted one of the derelict oil barges, long abandoned, from its decades long position. That’s the black mayonnaise sediment I’m always talking about exposed to the air in the shot above. The particular day I was shooting this was a dicey one due to a heavy rainfall and high atmospheric humidity which caused my camera to malfunction. A few of the mechanical controls on the back of the thing began to “stick,” which made me nervous as heck. Luckily, after returning home and throughly cleaning the device and then leaving it wrapped in a thick and thirsty towel, everything was back to normal the next day. Whew.

Rain + humidity = bad for camera. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is seriously tired of this summer humidity crapola. I do enjoy warm weather, but not when it’s accompanied by dew points in the 70 – 80th percentiles. It’s after Labor Day, and I’m still wearing white? Gauche, I. 

That’s one of the arches of the New York Connecting Railroad leading to the Hell Gate Bridge, which is one of the defining landmarks here in Astoria. HQ is to the south of the rail aqueduct, with Astoria Blvd. with the “Ditmars side” of Astoria found to the north. The rail tracks and the Grand Central Parkway form a physical and social barrier between the two sides of the ancient village.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 21, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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