The Newtown Pentacle

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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

increasing pallor

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I like when the DEP brings the show to me, saves a lot of walking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neighborhood is abuzz at the moment, here in Astoria, over a water main replacement project which has been going on for a month and change now. There’s been a tearing and a wrenching, lots and lots of noise and activity involving heavy equipment, and a somewhat random series of notices taped to the front door promising that DEP water service will be temporarily interrupted. My block’s turn for the latter occurred yesterday, and just down the street from HQ, the DEP and their contractors (Tully) finally opened up the hydrants and got busy with the underground stuff. 

I was hanging around the home office yesterday, developing shots from last weekend’s Tugboat Race on the Hudson, but found an interval when it wasn’t raining to grab the tripod and get a few shots of the flowing water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The actual construction is “up the pipe” from HQ, thank goodness. You should see what the next block over looks like, they’ll be repaving that for months. 

Ever notice the way that significant road work and infrastructure repairs only seem to happen when Election time nears? I’m told by those whom this tsunami of backhoes and construction workers have already washed over that a second wave of Con Edison gas main contractors followed the water people, and there’s been a protracted occupation by the NYC DOT nearby as well – who seem to be grinding down and then resurfacing the roads. The Zero Vision people can’t be far away, but it suddenly makes sense as to why the Department of Buildings forced all the local property owners to replace their sidewalks in the last couple of years. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a bit difficult to actually lock down on actual government sourced numbers on this, as the DEP continually treats its most mundane capabilities and public facing infrastructure as a state secret. 

There’s approximately 109,000 fire hydrants in NYC which are maintained by the NYC DEP for the FDNY’s usage. There’s also an uncountable number of hydrants maintained by other entities both private and public, and notably the NYC Parks Dept. has a large number of them installed on their property which are connected to DEP’s pipes but are Parks’ problem to maintain. DEP’s system uses two basic types of hydrant, the kind pictured above which is an “O’Brien Style Model, Series S,” and the “Dresser 500 Style.” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that the hydrant above was left open was to allow the construction crews to bleed out the water flowing through the water main they were replacing. The maximum flow of one these O’Brien models is about 1,000 gallons an hour, I’m told. The water in the hydrants is the same stuff delivered to residences, good old NYC drinking water from the Croton Resovoir system. 

There’s two pipe fittings on the hydrants, one is for normal water hookup by FDNY, the other is for use by their pumper trucks. Since the 1980’s, when DEP shut down the old “High Pressure” network that dated back to the dawn of the 20th century, the hydrants have been installed with a street level flange that intersects them to the main. Prior to this, were a car or truck to back into the hydrant (which was directly connected to the buried pipe) it tended to damage the underground pipe and necessitate a messy and expensive repair job that involved opening the street. The flange connection instead allows the hydrant to get knocked about without the buried main pipe getting damaged. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That 1,000 gallons an hour flow was pouring out all day, or at least from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a couple of coffee breaks and a lunch hour thrown in. Since I had the camera mounted on the tripod anyway, and my block here in Astoria was closed to traffic because of the construction so I could stand in the street without getting squished by trucks, I decided to follow the flow down to the corner where it was all pissing into the drain.

As a note, DEP doesn’t like to use the word “sewer” ever. They call these bits of their system “street drains.” It’s also not “sewage,” it’s wastewater, they say. I’ve been lectured by one of the high muckety mucks over there about this, being told that the word “sewer” or the term “sewer plant” is offensive to modern day “Wastewater Management Engineers.”

I fear that Louie the garbageman is going to want to be called a “solid waste collection executive” or something soon. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gazing into the abyssal “street drain” in the shot above, one wondered how much of this flow was going to the somewhat archaic “Bowery Bay Wastewater treatment Plant” on the forbidden northern shore of Queens and how much of it was traveling down Astoria’s Broadway to 43rd street where an underground intersection is found that feeds directly into the Dutch Kills tributary of my beloved Newtown Creek over in LIC.

Hey, at least it’s clean water flowing into Dutch Kills for a change, a thousand gallons an hour worth. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 12, 2018 at 11:00 am

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