The Newtown Pentacle

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swarthy foreigners

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It’s National Clams on the Half Shell Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So… right after that last snow event we had a couple of weeks ago, I saw something utterly unique in my experience as a New Yorker. I’m almost a half century old at this stage, and one has never – NEVER – observed the Department of Sanitation do anything but plow the vehicular section of the streets in Brooklyn or Queens. This year, however, they were out in force – in Astoria, Queens – clearing the curbs and walkways of snow.

Wha, wha, what?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DSNY had this neat little bobcat doohickey, which they were using to mash up and disassemble the berms of ice and snow which had piled up along the sidewalk and curb boundary area. I noticed this as it was happening directly under my bedroom window, which woke up both my little dog Zuzu and Our Lady of the Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They were actually clearing the streets! The slush lagoons too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself” is the borough motto most of the time around these parts. Snow clearance has been a political thorn for Queensican Electeds, going back to the days of Mayor John Lindsay, but seldom is anything improved. Not in 2016.

Maybe this gentrification thing has its benefits, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few hours later, around four in the morning (yes, I was still up and awake at four a.m.), another DSNY crew rolled through. This time they were shoveling pathways at the crosswalks. What has happened? Am I in some parallel reality? Is this a dream?

Is Trump still President? Was that just some sort of fevered vision?


Upcoming Tours and events

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 31, 2017 at 11:00 am

long quay

with 4 comments

It’s Australia Day, in the Commonwealth of Australia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m likely the only person in Astoria, Queens who exclaims “Hey, that’s the DEP” when he hears a random series of clinks and metallic groans coming from outside. I’m also likely to be the only person who grabs his camera and gets in on the action. It was the eleventh of January, a Wednesday, when it all started – a brand new Astoria Hullabaloo, and the first one of 2017, too. It was unseasonably warm that day in Astoria, and sunny.

Me? My names Mitch. I’m a shmuck with a camera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Astoria’s Broadway in the shot above, in the 40’s. It’s a shopping strip, with tracks of the NYC Subway’s IND Queens Blvd. line running beneath it. The subway stations hereabouts opened on the 19th of August in 1933, and were paid for (in part) by money sent from the Federal Work Projects Administration during the New Deal. The modern day, as in 21st century, designation for the lines that pass by underneath are the “R” and “M.” In the recent past, the “V” and “G” lines used to service these stations as well.

The tracks have to be a good thirty to forty feet down below the roadway and housed in a cut and cover tunnel. The intervening void between the tracks and the asphalt hosts a heterogenous collection of wires, electrical equipment, concrete vaults, and lots of pipes. The pipes are why the DEP were on scene, but more on that in a moment.

Personally, I had to exit the area to attend a meeting, but later when I got home…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on the corner of Broadway and 45th street, here in Astoria, water was observed bubbling and spurting out of the street. A completely different DEP crew had shown up and they were settling down into the task of digging their way into the asphalt. They had all sorts of lovely equipment with them, which normally makes me jealous. What didn’t make me jealous was the fact that the temperature had dropped and there was now a slow drizzle of rain falling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was also positively ecstatic that a jackhammer was being used just one block from my house, at night, but what are you going to do? Water main breaks have to be addressed.

BTW, whereas I’m actually quite adversarial with the people in the fancy suits that run the DEP (Newtown Creek makes you mean), I’ve got nothing but praise for the “dirty fingernail” folks who do the actual hard work which keeps NYC both wet and dry. Never met a DEP worker I didn’t like, in fact. I’ve met a few Commissioners and other brass who I’d like to feed head first into a pit of zombies, but the workers are generally “A-OK.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Thursday the 12th of January, one had a bit of a busy day. A few errands in the neighborhood were accomplished before I had to go and take a picture of something for someone, and I noticed that several fire hydrants had been fully opened and were discharging into the gutter. This aroused no end of curiousity and amusement on the part of the neighbors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fun part was watching people who had their noses deeply buried in their phones suddenly realize that they had walked into several inches of water running towards the sewer grates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m surmising here, but what I think was going on was that the DEP crew needed to empty the water in the affected pipe over on 45th street and did so by opening the fire hydrant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Good news is that the streets around here have never been cleaner than they were on the morning of Thursday, January 12th.

When the Department of Sanitation, which I believe was originally styled as the Dept. of Street Cleaning at its creation on May 30,1881 (but didn’t do a very good job of it until Col. Waring took over in 1894), this was actually how they did their thing. Those old school sanitation workers with the brushes and pails that had wheels? Yep, they’d open Manhattan’s hydrants up and use their brooms to move all the trash either towards the sewers or down to the rivers, which were and are essentially the same thing. They started calling it the Department of Sanitation in 1929, if you’re curious.

This is about NYC DEP, though, a municipal agency which was created in 1983 out of multiple City agencies that governed water supply and sewerage, amongst other things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One sped off to my aforementioned appointment, pointed my camera at the intended target, and then headed back to Astoria later that afternoon. Hoping to see more of the Hullabaloo, one walked up 45th street towards Broadway and found that the DEP crews were still hard at work on solving the case of the Astoria Water Pipe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving at the corner, one discovered that they had dug quite a hole, having brought in lots more labor and some heavy equipment. They had encountered a snag apparently, discovering that whoever had installed the damaged pipe (which could have been anytime between about 1875 and now, actually) had done so in an incorrect fashion.

They had to dig their way into the concrete barrel vault of the sewer in order to repair the leaking water main.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was one heck of a prodigious hole, however, and I complimented the foreman on his crew’s efforts. Funny thing was that he asked me who I was after noticing the camera hanging by my side, and seemed to recognize my name. That was sort of weird.

I asked if I could get a couple of shots of the hole, and he offered no objection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They were all gone the morning of Friday the 13th, the street was patched with fresh asphalt, and garbage was again building up in middens along the curbs – normal, in other words – for Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yet another Hullabaloo, here in the ancient village.

One gathered up my little dog Zuzu for her constitutional stroll, and as we wandered down the pavement, I was wondering “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there,” while Zuzu the dog grew apprehensive as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself began to drop away. She sniffed something on the air she did not like.

It was Friday the 13th eve, after all.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

loathsome tittering

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Astoria, Queens rules – In today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering about in the dark and cold, as one is wont to do, this inflatable snowman was encountered on Northern Blvd. at the angle between Astoria and Sunnyside. For those of you who don’t “speak Mitch,” an angle is the borderland between two neighborhoods where you’re neither here nor there. These “angles” are usually where the old municipal borders between the town and villages of Western Queens were found – prior to the creation of Long Island City in 1870, or the consolidation of the greater city in 1898. These angles are where Robert Moses would usually site his roads, as is the case with the border between Sunnyside and Blissville or Woodside and Maspeth where the LIE was built, or between Long Island City and Maspeth when the BQE was routed.

I’ve always ascribed this to Robert Moses having been clever enough to play the politicians of both communities off of each other, which got him better deals and concessions from each. These ward bosses and assemblymen and town Mayors could then report back to their constituents that not only didn’t they allow Moses to dig a trench through the center of their town but that Old Man Moses had promised them that building jobs would be available for anyone that the elected official put forward. That’s how you build a city!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also spotted while picking my lonely way through the nighted devastations was this pair of taxis gassing up before starting (or ending, perhaps) their shifts. Urban ephemera is what I’m all about these days – gas stations, car washes, minor bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Longtime readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – might remember that there was an electrical transformer fire on my corner back in July of 2016, which was described in this post. This set off a whole slew of work by Con Ed and its contractors here in Astoria, some of which is discussed in this post. During the intervening months since the event, multiple crews of workers have randomly shown up on the corner, then dug a new trench down into the street, did some sort of stuff, and then filled in their new hole. Two to three random weeks later, another bunch of guys in orange vests shows up and then they repeat the process.

The latest passel of work involves the replacement of a lamp post, which must have been shorted out during the transformer fire. Pictured above is a crew who have dug the most recent trench, this time going from the transformer to the affected lamp pole. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the lamp pole now seems to have power, the newly installed LED luminaire mounted on the pole is displaying a red bar rather bright bluish white light. The red bar is the “trouble” signal that repairs are needed, I’m told.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

looke backe

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Banal pedantry, Astoria, and the day the music died.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is absolutely unfathomable to me how hidebound government is. The DEP has a problem with “floatable” solid materials entering the sewage flow. The DSNY is under orders to provide public waste receptacles for street trash. The DOB is on a crusade to discover illegally converted apartments in residential buildings.

DOB enforcement, which uses DSNY inspector data to discover the presence of illegal conversions, causes the residents of illegal apartments to not put their trash out on the curb for collection by DSNY, so they use the street corner trash bins to dispose of household garbage instead. This causes the bins to overflow, which causes the trash to fall on the sidewalk and street, where it enters the sewer system and bedevils the DEP  – which does nothing to control their sewage from flowing into waterways via open overflow pipes. The DSNY positions their overflowing trash bins  – overflowing due to DOB – right next to DEP’s sewer grates so… sigh…

We are all doomed, and hurtling towards destruction, aren’t we? When I mention this sort of thing to officialdom, their response isn’t “wow, we should rethink this,” it’s “that can’t happen because it’s illegal.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The City is all agog, under the leadership of the Dope from Park Slope, about affordable housing. Rather than process the fact that there is actually housing which ordinary and current residents CAN afford, but which is found in extant transit deserts outside of the City center – the DOB and City Planning assists the Real Estate Developer shit flies in demolishing existing housing stock within the center in pursuance of creating mega structures. They do not seem to consult with the sewer and water people at DEP about built capacity first, or the electrical and gas supply companies like ConEd or National Grid, or the transit folks at MTA as to the existential result of this population loading. The whole notion of expanding mass transit options to College Point or other outer circle spots – now that’s madness.

To put it plain – Bill De Blasio and his inane shit fly inspired “vision” is going to destroy New York City, or at least leave behind a series of bills to pay that will make the Presidency of George W. Bush look fiscally responsible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Burrachos of Astoria’s Broadway, whose population has been seriously cut down by the 114th Pct. and the Dept. Of Homeless Services in the last year – largely due to the urging and cajoling of this, your Newtown Pentacle – have been exploring their creative side lately.

A series of deployed guitars have been observed, many of which have been strummed while chanties have been sung. I’m actually a casual fan of modern day Latin American folk music, much of which centers around the adventures and warfare of “Los Narcos” in their struggles with competitors and describes their resistance against “Los Federales.” Seriously – Google for some of the “El Chapo” songs and think about the early years of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

It’s been a pleasure to discover that the Burrachos are something other than just drunks and bums, but unfortunately – they still have a dark side that extends beyond defecating on the sidewalk. Pictured above is the consequence of using a guitar as a bludgeon, and it signifies the day that the music died on Broadway in Astoria, Queens.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 7, 2016 at 1:30 pm

reasonably legitimate

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Another Astoria Hullabaloo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I was walking home to Astoria with the goal of reuniting with Our Lady of the Pentacle and Zuzu the dog before they both fell asleep. I was returning from a meeting over in Sunnyside, and imagine my surprise as I encountered the Woodside Warriors on 34th avenue. Housed on 51st street, the 49th Battalion of the FDNY is composed of Engine 325 and Tower Ladder 163. The firefighters had taken over the corner of 45th street and 34th avenue.

Couldn’t possibly tell you what was going on, they were too busy for me to ask. Didn’t smell smoke, nor did I see arcing flashes of electricity, and it was just the FDNY response units on scene – no Ambulances or Police were there.

from wikipedia

There are currently six different types of fire companies in the New York Fire Department which all operate distinct types of apparatus: 198 Engine Companies, 143 Ladder (or Truck) Companies, 5 Rescue Companies, 7 Squad Companies, 3 Marine (or Fireboat) Companies, and the Hazardous Materials (Haz-Mat) Company. In addition to these six types of fire companies, there are numerous other specialized units that are operated by the Special Operations Command (S.O.C.), the Haz-Mat. Division, and the Marine Division. Each fire company has a specific role at the scene of an emergency.

Each type of fire company utilizes a certain type of fire apparatus, colloquially known as “rigs”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ladder 163 extended itself up to the roof level of the apartment building that FDNY was focusing on, but after spending a couple of minutes shining lights around up there, they retracted the basket back down to the truck. Notably, the Engine 325 folks didn’t connect their hoses up to the hydrants.

I have no clue what was going on, hence – I call it a hullabaloo.

from wikipedia

FDNY Ladder Companies (also known as Truck Companies) are tasked with search and rescue, forcible entry, and ventilation at the scene of a fire. A Ladder Company can operate three types of Ladder Trucks: an Aerial Ladder Truck, equipped with a 100′ aerial ladder mounted at the rear of the apparatus; a Tower Ladder Truck, equipped with either a 75′ or 95′ telescoping boom and bucket mounted in the center of the apparatus; a Tractor Drawn Aerial Ladder Truck, or Tiller/Tractor Trailer, equipped with a 100′ aerial ladder. A Ladder Company carries various forcible entry, ventilation, and rescue tools to deal with an assortment of fires and emergencies, including motor vehicle accidents.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since nothing seemed to be going on, as far as the likelihood of the FDNY doing “batman” type stuff – which is fun to photograph – I continued back on my way home. Zuzu the dog needed walking, and that’s my job. The pup and I wandered about for a bit. She seemed a bit on edge, my dog, the sort of mood she gets into when the silhouette of a bicycle chained to a fence presents itself. The game was afoot, signaled the dog. Then she peed.

from wikipedia

Most of the Engine Companies in FDNY’s fleet are Seagrave Commander II’s and Seagrave Marauder II’s and include 500 gallon water tanks and either 1,000 or 2,000 gallon per minute pumps. The 2,000 gpm pumps are primarily located in the high-rise districts and are considered high pressure pumpers. With the loss of apparatus which occurred as a result of the September 11 attacks, FDNY began to use engines made by other companies including Ferrara, KME and E-One. The FDNY is making the move from a fixed cab to a “Split-Tilt” cab, so the Seagrave Marauder II Pumper will fill the FDNY’s new order for 69 new pumpers. In 2014, FDNY went to KME for an order of 97 pumpers over the next few years. The new KME pumpers feature the split tilt cab and are also high pressure pumpers. As of January 2015, All future pumper orders will be ordered from KME. Seagrave will no longer make the split tilt cab, high pressure pumpers for the FDNY.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The next day, on the self same corner that the FDNY were doing their thing, Zuzu discovered the scene above. The dog was upset that the Squirrel, which seemed to be reaching for its last cigarette, didn’t react when she barked at it. I wondered, and more than wondered…

Then, Zuzu the dog peed again. Short attention span, my dog.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

muffled conversation

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There was quite a hullabaloo, here in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One received a text from a neighbor on the night of October 30th that there had been a vehicle collision involving the local gendarmes here in Astoria, so I grabbed the camera and headed down to take a look at what happened.

The NYPD unit involved was from the local precinct, the 114,  and they had collided – at speed- with a civilian vehicle at the intersection of 45th street here on Broadway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that I’m a “yenta” and the whole neighborhood knows it, the neighbors began relating the story to me.

Apparently, the NYPD unit was in one of those big hurries that they periodically display, the kind when they don’t have their sirens or lights on. My understanding is that this is procedure when they’re trying to catch someone surreptitiously by sneaking up on them, or they’re enroute to assist another officer who is in a dicey situation.

Observationally, when Cops blow a light just cause they want to, they perform what could be best described as a rolling stop while doing so. They can also park pretty much anywhere they want to, and I see both as perks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the local Greeks informed me that he had witnessed the incident. The cops were moving through a red light at the corner of 45th street and Broadway at a considerable velocity when they contacted the front end of a sedan which was proceeding at speed through the green light. They tore the front end of the civilian car up, but neither car’s occupants were seriously hurt. That’s what the Greek guy said.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the bumper of the sedan, which was being operated by a fairly young guy who had two passengers with him. They were instructed to park around the corner, and seemed – to me at least – as quite anxious. On Broadway itself, there were multiple NYPD people investigating the event. There were ambulances, looking loo civilians like me, and the usual emergency crew that the City’s got.

Of course the three kids were anxious, how would you feel if you had just rammed a cop car?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I ran into a couple of officers from the 114 a couple of days later (long story) and inquired as to the condition and health of their comrades. They informed that the two officers in the unit were fine, but had taken a couple of days off to recuperate nevertheless. No word on the three kids, however.

My personal belief is that all five participants in the accident probably had to go shopping for new underwear.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

last straw

with one comment

Always surprising – Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle has been quite busy in her professional life of late, and she rang me up recently as she was leaving her offices to suggest that we visit our local Astoria pub to grab a late dinner. As the bride working late is a fairly normal occurrence, we shortly settled in at some familiar outdoor seating at our “local,” ordered ourselves a couple of pints and plates of food. While discussing our day, I noticed a truck full of port-a-potties speeding down Broadway, and splashing the “via publica” with those blue chemicals that are found in the portable commode’s septic tanks.

Lovely, thought I. After paying the bill, we went home and while sitting outside on our porch with my sleepy dog (named Zuzu), certain odd sounds woke up and drew the attentions of that ever vigilant canine guardian of the domestic portico. These emanations were coming from an alley separating my building from the next one to the north. Said alley contains my neighbor Mario’s collection of safety cones as well as a collection of junk which my landlord is holding on to until an opportune moment for bulk disposal presents itself.

From the dog’s reaction to these sounds, I figured “rat.” Maybe “cat.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

However, after having peered over the veritable edge of my leased domain and gazing into the alley with the aid of one of my trusty flashlights… It was then that I went inside and fetched my camera.

It seems that there is now an Opossum living in the aperture between the two buildings, which is something that one of my neighbors – a sturdy Croatian – finds quite amusing. I believe it’s a “Virginia Opossum,” specifically, but I’m from Brooklyn so at the time I was referring to it as a “some kinda friggin thing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Opossums are fairly harmless critters, apparently, despite packing some fifty teeth and a nifty set of claws. I freaked the thing out, not with the flashlight mind you, but with the sound of my camera shutter flipping. This friggin thing didn’t want to leave the alley after hearing the shutter sound and hunkered down. I had grown bored with it by this point, so I decided to do some Opossum research at two in the morning. They’re Marsupials, I’ve learned. I also learned that if you cook one, it’s best to serve these friggin things with sweet potatoes. They are virtually immune to rabies, and highly resistant to snake venom. Y’know – Possum research.

That’s the sort of thing that normal people do at two in the morning, right?

As an aside, since these photos were taken – another Possum was spotted just about a block away (Zuzu scared that one too) and another, distinctly juvenile version, of these friggin things was observed hanging out on my porch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a defense move that Opossum’s do, “playing possum” as its called. They simulate that they’re a rotting corpse by stiffening up, curling back their lips and foaming at the mouth, and these friggin things release a foul smelling liquid that they secrete from their butt glands which smells like putrefaction. The particular Astoria Opossum in the shot above decided to forgoe the stiffening and foaming, and instead went directly for the corpse smell.

Zuzu was fit to be tied over that.

The juvenile one I spotted a couple of days later did the whole stiffen up thing, complete with the curled up lips, especially when the dog charged at it. Friggin thing.

Zuzu completely bought the corpse act though. The dog danced around like she had just found the last dodo, so I shuttled her back inside before she decided to eat or hurt the friggin thing, and I gave her a dog cookie to commemorate her victory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, many sorts of critters seem to have have turned up on my porch. Birds of all sorts – including a seagull and a nest of sparrows, raccoons, rats, mice, squirrels, and just about every kind of insect you can think of from digger wasps to centipedes. Now we’ve got a possum. This is all above the ground, of course.

Makes me wonder, and more than wonder, what else there may be lurking around in the underworld of sewer and subway tunnels under Astoria. There has been a foul wind exhaling from the sewer grates of late, and DEP workers have been observed operating heavy equipment at access holes all along the avenue.

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

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

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