The Newtown Pentacle

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never fainted

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I now know it was you, Larry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Leaving HQ the other day, this is the scene which greeted me. Our Lady of the Pentacle spotted this tableau separately. Astoria, Queens is a place full of mystery, but you can’t beat the “block watchers” when you’re playing detective. On Saturday late afternoon/evening, while enjoying a few pints of beer at the “local” with some of the local commentariat, we put our heads together and pieced together the story of a skeleton cat wearing a collar that read “heartbreaker” which appeared in front of my door.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My neighbor Kenny, who is in many ways the adult man that Nelson from the Simpsons (the haw haw kid) would grow up to become, provided many of the individual pieces of the puzzle. He described seeing an affable fellow named Larry emerge from his building with the skeleton cat in hand, who thereupon placed it on the sidewalk with the intention of letting it find a new home.

Another neighbor described the Cat being picked up by ready hands and then abandoned again. It seems to have moved up and down the block a few times before coming to rest in the tree pit in front of HQ, one building lot from its original placement by the aforementioned Larry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heartbreaker apparently made it most of the way up to Newtown Road from the Broadway side of the block before track of it was lost. Having satisfyingly assembled the origin and travels of the thing, discussion of the articulation and manufacture of the skeleton cat ensued. Such are the minor points of interest upon which the neighborhood grinds away, here in Astoria. Whether or not Larry was the original owner of the thing, I cannot say, and speaking for the community – we’ve lost interest and moved on to other topics.

The possibility of having a block party during the late summer months came up, whereupon everyone turned to me in pursuance of getting a permit for said function.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 30th – The Skillman Avenue Corridor
– with Access Queens.

Starting at the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, we will explore this thriving residential and busy commercial thoroughfare, discussing the issues affecting its present and future. Access Queens, 7 Train Blues, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and Newtown Creek Alliance members will be your guides for this roughly two mile walk.
Skillman Avenue begins at the border of residential Sunnyside and Woodside, and ends in Long Island City at 49th avenue, following the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards for much of its path. Once known as Meadow Street, this colonial era thoroughfare transitions from the community of Sunnyside to the post industrial devastations of LIC and the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

Tickets and more details
here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 27, 2018 at 11:00 am

stinking ossuaries

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Scuttling, always scuttling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever I mention the 1980’s to those who grew up in Long Island City and Astoria, a shudder seems to go through them. I’ve always wondered if that shudder has anything to do with why all the trees are in cages.

I’ve asked a few of the lifers, but boiling down the answers offered by them reveals one singular truth, which is simply expressed by describing the Croatian people as being remarkably tight lipped. There’s some gesturing involved in their answers, and sometimes a few words in a language which I can never understand (I’ve tried). Regardless, something motivated several of them to build iron cages for the street trees around here. I’ve learned to just accept things over the years which I’ve dwelt here in Astoria, Queens. 

Such is my lot. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is in a weird place, in terms of his mood. Feeling increasingly obsequious, and often wondering who the old fellow staring back at me from the bathroom mirror is, a humble narrator nevertheless sallies forth. Like the trees here in Astoria, there are iron bars and fences all around me. Often it feels as if one is juggling chain saws, and that one slip up will result in disaster. The whole “angry young man” thing is no longer a valid posture, as I’ve instead found myself cast as a broken old man. Such is the wheel of life, however, and there’s no point in moaning about it.

There are still battles to fight, and wars to win.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of, that’s the Sunnyside Yards (est. 1909) pictured above. The shots in today’s post, from this point onward, were all captured along 43rd street while walking south. 43rd street, once you cross Northern Blvd. from the blessed rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, used to be called Laurel Hill Blvd. It connected the eastern side of LIC’s Blissville over by Newtown Creek and Calvary Cemetery with Middleburgh, which modernity calls Sunnyside. That was before the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and even before Queens Blvd. and the IRT Flushing Line were created in the 20th century.

Referring to old maps of Western Queens requires the usage of three distinct sets of documents, as they’ve (a shadowy cabal, probably) renamed and reoriented the streets so many times in Queens that it’s confusing as all get out figuring out what something used to be called. There’s a few “landmark” lanes which you can use to figure out relative positioning, like Jackson Avenue or Steinway Street, but even then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

43rd street, as a pathway to Newtown Creek, has been off my radar for the last few years due to the Koscisuzcko Bridge construction project. Just this last winter, the newly rebuilt pedestrian bridge spanning the onramp to the BQE from the LIE was opened. It replaced an older iteration as part of the bridge project, and I’m in the process of reinstalling this pathway as part of my mental map for “where do I want to go today” usage.

The scaffolding in the shot above obscures the Celtic Park apartment complex, so named for a former beer garden and complex of athletic fields which the development is named for. The Celtic Park, as it was known, was designed and situated to take advantage of the huge numbers of Irish Catholic New Yorkers who came to Queens to visit loved ones in the various properties maintained by Calvary Cemetery found nearby in Blissville and Woodside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One improvement which hasn’t occurred, and I plan on getting after the K-Bridge team about it next time I see them, is the approach to the pedestrian and bicycle bridge that joins 43rd street with the stubby three block stretch of Laurel Hill Blvd. found on the south side of the LIE. The trestle seen above carries the Long Island Expressway, and acts as a seldom mentioned approach to the BQE and Koscisuzcko Bridge itself.

It’s fairly terrifying walking along this stretch of sidewalk, with traffic ramping up to highway speeds alongside of you. A series of jersey barriers would cheaply and effectively address the issue. I’m on it, don’t worry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Aforementioned, that’s the extant section of Laurel Hill Blvd. mentioned above. To the west (or right) is Blissville’s Calvary Cemetery, to the east (or left) is the BQE and industrial Maspeth. This is also more or less the legal border which once existed between the independent municipalities of Long Island City and Newtown, prior to the consolidation of the City of Greater New York.

Tomorrow – so, what’s going on with the Kosciuszcko Bridge project?


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lingered tenaciously

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Atmospheric temperature inversions are cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may recall, last Friday was unusually warm for a day in January, and a patch of heavy fog fairly permeated the ether. Later in the evening, when the temperature began to drop towards seasonal norms, many would have described weather conditions as rainy but in actuality it was a precipitating mist. A variety of social functions saw one flitting to and fro in the cloud of vapor which occluded human vision and lent a mutiplicity of illuminates full discourse to dissipate and diffuse into its heaving forms.

Paragraphs like the one above are part of the reason that I don’t get invited to many parties, so when I am on a guest list – I go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A soirée in Sunnyside to celebrate a friend’s birthday was attended, and after escorting a third party back to her home, one found himself close enough to home to walk. The City of Greater New York is always at its most photogenic when it’s moist, and given that the temperature was pleasant… why not?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The next time a temperature inversion occurs and misty banks of vapor are observably rolling across the concrete devastations, my intention is to cancel or back out of any and all interpersonal plans. One shall pack up the tripod and camera kit and head over to the Newtown Creek.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

disturbingly heterogenous

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It’s National Drink a Beer Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry for the single shot today, lords and ladies, a humble narrator is a bit behind on his schedule this week. Back tomorrow with something a bit more “in-depth” at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Hidden Harbors Of  Staten Island Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee – Sunday, October 15th, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

A very cool boat tour that visits two of the maritime industrial waterways of New York Harbor which adjoin Staten Island and Bayonne in New Jersey – The Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill. There will be lots of tugboats, cargo docks, and you’ll get to see multiple bridges from the water – including the brand new Goethals Bridge. I’ll be on the mike, narrating with WHC board member Gordon Cooper details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 28, 2017 at 11:00 am

narrow mounting

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It’s National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was hanging around Astoria at the local pub recently, and while enjoying a lovely pint of beer and carousing with the local crowd, a group of scabs were busily at work doing an installation for Time Warner Spectrum cable.

As you may or may not know, the worst company in America has been involved in a labor strike by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3. The fellows pictured in today’s post, who are scabs, were employed by some non union shop in LIC that’s handling the conglomerate’s business while its actual employees stand up for their rights and a fairer contract.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Being the sort of arse that I am, I started playing the Dropkick Murphys cover of “which side are you on” on my phone, and let the union guys inside the bar know that a couple of scabs were undercutting organized labor as a whole outside. We all marveled as these scabs were running wires across Broadway and right through traffic, and at their complete lack of regard for the safety of passing pedestrians or bicyclists. There were no safety cones, except around their trucks. Kids and passerby were just allowed to step over their wires and under their ladders.

As a note, I’ve got no skin in the union game. Thing is, as a history minded fellow who has in particular studied the industrial past rather extensively, one of the greatest cons ever offered to Americans is that unions are somehow bad. You work an eight hour day? Get hurt on the job and receive compensation? Unemployment benefits? Have health insurance? A retirement plan or pension? You owe all of that to organized labor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of safety, the personal rigs you’d normally see the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 wearing to vouchsafe themselves against falls were not anywhere to be seen, and as mentioned above the scabs thought it was just fine to allow pedestrians to walk under their ladders while they did their thing up on the utility poles.

The only interjection which one offered to them was that the DSNY collection baskets on the corners were not meant to be receptacles for their trash, and my attention to the matter caused them to scoop out the forty to fifty feet of coaxial cable which they had decided to attempt disposal of in the corner bin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is my distinct desire, once this strike has been settled, that our local elected officials can find a way to compel the worst company in America to do something about the hopeless tangle of wires which sway from the utility poles here in Astoria.

I like the idea of that, for aesthetic reasons alone. I’d also like to see some sort of penalty applied to Spectrum’s management which would also create a huge block of overtime pay for the men and women of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 to earn and collect, from the worst company in America.

Rewiring Astoria would cost Spectrum millions, I suspect.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Saturday August 5th, 11 a.m. – 1;30 p.m.

Century old movable bridges, the remains of a 19th century highway between Brooklyn and Queens, and explore two of the lesser known tributaries of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. For the vulgarly curious, Conrad Wissell’s Dead Animal and Night Soil wharf will be seen and described, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.

DUPBO Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with NYCH20 – Thursday August 24th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Explore Greenpoint and Hunters Point, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 2, 2017 at 12:00 pm

needling comments

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It’s National Chocolate Chip Day, in these United States.  

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s never quiet, here in the western Queens neighborhood of Astoria. I’ve found myself referring to the sudden explosions of noise and activity simply as “Astoria Hullabaloos.” Ever the curious type, one has inquired into the scholastic hive mind and it seems that the word “hullabaloo” was first noticed by the Oxford English Dictionary back in 1762. It is defined by the aforementioned authority as an uproar or a fuss, and the general consensus amongst linguists is that the British picked it up during their adventures on the Indian subcontinent during that era. The Indian root word would be “Hullabol” which refers to a particularly ecstatic civic demonstration. The “Hulla” part is thought to come from Persian and Urdu, while the “Bol” is thought to emanate from Hindi. 

See, you learn something new everyday, at this – your Newtown Pentacle. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The particular hullabaloo pictured in today’s post seemed to be electrical in nature, with a crew of laborers firstly closing a curbside lane along the north side of Astoria’s Broadway, and then tearing open the street. The effect on traffic was immediate, and the ripple effect transmitted up and down Broadway for several blocks in both directions. Both the stout Croats, and strong backed Spaniards, stuck in this traffic situation loudly signaled their disapproval with a steady cacophony of automotive horn bleats.

One does not understand the “standing on your horn” thing. A “toot” or a “beepity beep beep” yes, but “wharrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn?” Seriously? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is often the nature of efforts such as this, whatever mystery these construction fellows were sent to accomplish was wrapped up by about four in the afternoon, and the next morning another crew arrived who filled in the excavation and applied a fresh layer of asphalt to the road. The everpresent Burrachos drunkenly returned to their perches atop residential stoop and commercial step, indolent adolescent groups began to prowl about again, and the normal pattern of life here in Western Queens returned. The car horn honking continued on, however, unabated – which is as mentioned – normal for these parts. 

That’s the great thing about a hullabaloo, it seldom lasts more than a day, here amongst the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria. 


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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 15, 2017 at 11:00 am

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

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