The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

confined wholly

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A garbage post today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One makes a point of photographing the things which other people do not. Partially, this stems from my fascination with the vast municipal machinery of New York City. I know a lot of people who work in the boiler room of the great hive, from executive to laborer, and what I’ve gleaned from conversation with them over the years is how complicated and byzantine the “system” is. Many have opined about the proverbial situation of “replacing the carburetor while driving down a dark highway at ninety miles an hour” they encounter at work. There’s holdover labor agreements which were arrived at prior to the Second World War, political compromises made by Mayors who have been dead for fifty years, and legal or regulatory issues which randomly arrive from Albany or Washington that can upend an otherwise smoothly functioning operation.

I’m particularly interested, on the subject of recording things few others notice, with the muni services that nobody really wants to think about that revolve around human and animal cadavers, sewage, and especially garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Intricate. That’s how I’d describe the system in NYC which gathers up waste and moves it out of the City. Originally a wholly owned arm of the Dept. of Health, the Deparment of Sanitation is a “Reports directly to the Mayor Commissioner” level operation in modernity, although it’s still organized as part of the Health Dept.

As Wikipedia will tell you – The New York City Department of Sanitation is the largest sanitation department in the world, with 7,201 uniformed sanitation workers and supervisors, 2,041 civilian workers, 2,230 general collection trucks, 275 specialized collection trucks, 450 street sweepers, 365 salt and sand spreaders, 298 front end loaders, and 2,360 support vehicles. It handles over 12,000 tons of residential and institutional refuse and recyclables a day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a boy in blue collar Brooklyn, the conventional wisdom passed on to a young but already humble narrator as far as success in life was to “take the civil service exam” and become a garbageman as they had a strong union with great benefits and you’d basically never be out of work. There was also a contingent who recommended becoming affiliated with the court system as a Bailiff, as a note. Almost nobody recommended becoming a Cop, but it was the 1970’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a private carting industry in NYC, of course, which handles commercial and restaurant waste. That side of waste handling has a decidedly checkered past, whereas the DSNY is generally considered above any reproach.

Part of the reason I’m fascinated by services like DSNY or the DEP is that people would rather not think about their personal waste stream, so they’re seldom aware of the budgets or sending practices of either agency. Anything municipal that operates in shadow is something that should very much be paid attention to, in my opinion. All of the classified stuff that NYPD gets up to involving terrorists is a subject which should receive a lot more introspection than it gets, as “black box” spending is where a lot of dirty laundry can be found.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DSNY handles residential recycling collections, passing the material pulled off the curbs to private companies like SimsMetal, or in the case of black bag garbage – Waste Management. I’ve written a whole lot over the years about how this system operates and the intricate web of waste transfer stations and maritime industrial transport of the stuff which occurs invisibly all around us. It’s made me highly aware of my own contributions to the “flow” and quite conscious of my own culpabilities as far as destroying the planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may have guessed, this is another one of my “archive posts,” but if all goes to plan and I manage to process the shots I have cooking on my hard drive today, you’ll see some of what I saw over the last few days in tomorrow’s post at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 16, 2018 at 1:00 pm

honest bourgeoise

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Street Furniture, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is still a bit behind in his schedule, and a series of peregrinations over the weekend diverted one from producing new posts or putting the finishing touches on any new shots, so I reached into the archives for today’s post. It’s one of my favorite subjects – street furniture. Normally that term applies to fire hydrants or lamp posts or benches, but in my little world it can also be used for the cast off furnishings that the humans who inhabit this urban hive position on the street in the hope that some one, anyone in fact, might lessen their burden and take the unwanted thing.

Interesting thing about street furniture is that it often speaks to the economic status of the neighborhood you encounter it in. To wit – this rather expensive looking chair encountered along the sidewalks of the Upper East Side of the Shining City of Manhattan, pictured above. That’s some high class trash, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Brooklyn rules” state that if something has been abandoned on the sidewalk, it’s yours for the taking. Before the reemergence of bed bugs (or “vantzem,” as my Grandma would have said) in NYC in recent years, it was fairly commonplace for young folks and college students to furnish their entire apartment with found furniture.

Not so much anymore, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is always impressed with the material wealth of our culture. The amount of usable and fairly well conditioned furniture cast aside in the pursuit of redecorating is kind of staggering. Often it seems that you could fill an entire apartment with stuff you’d find after a bit of leg work on bulk pickup days.

I’d need to buy a new mattress, as a note. There are certain items which I categorize as “personal” – hats, shoes, underwear, bedding. Items that might spend a lot of its time absorbing bodily fluids like spit or sweat are things you really want in “virgin” condition, in my opinion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a few non profits out there, beyond the morally circumspect Salvation Army people, who will take your “good condition, used” category furniture items and see that they find a new home with somebody in need. There’s “Build it Green” here in Queens, for instance. I’ve always wondered why the Sanitation Department doesn’t do something similar with good condition furniture left on the curb.

I would guess that the logistics of redistribution rather than disposal would be too expensive and complicated to be feasible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A complaint often offered at this – your Newtown Pentacle – centers around the lack of public lavatories in NYC.

This sidewalk find in LIC suggests that all things are possible if a little imagination is utilized.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This fellow is a hero to all Astorians, having dragged his reclining “dad chair” into his minivan and then deploying it at Astoria Park. Thusly, the very best definition of street furniture is submitted for your approval.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm

provoking curiousity

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DUGABO, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may have discerned by this point, one tends to circuit the Newtown Creek in its entirety about once a month.

Obviously, since I live in Queens, and specifically on the south eastern side of Astoria, the LIC and Maspeth zones are routinely visited when I stroll out for one of my constitutionals. The Brooklyn side is a bit more of a reach, especially the extant sections of English Kills which kiss up against the Ridgewood and Bushwick borderlands. The other night, while getting my gumption up in preparation of conducting a walking tour for Atlas Obscura, I wandered down to the Greenpoint Avenue street end to see what’s what and wave the camera around a bit. I find my time spent at the Creek and behind the camera to be rather introspective.

My beloved Creek never disappoints… thought I…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

then one laughed a bit after spotting this wry bit of signage adorning a parked car…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

commented to myself about the indomitable will to live that this patch of moss, found on the bulkhead’s edge, is possessed of…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

pondered my role in the universe, then I grew concerned about an itchy spot on my left leg, while spending way too much time framing this throwaway shot of some oil tackle…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

wondered if some new form of inorganic life was organizing itself here in the poison cauldron of the Newtown Creek…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

and that’s when I realized that time was growing short and that I had to get over to the meetup spot so that I could check everybody in for the tour.

Yes, my inner dialogue is that pedantic. My leg still itches a bit, and it’s possible that I may have picked up some poison ivy contamination on Sunday, or it’s just leg cancer. Who can say?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

villainous looking

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Happy 77th Birthday, Gowanus Expressway!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today is the day that all the children of infinite Brooklyn emerge into the streets and lanes to gambol and celebrate, reveling in a common heritage. October 1st signals to them not just the arrival of “sweater weather,” but also jogs an ancestral memory of the opening of a branch of the House of Moses in South Brooklyn along the fabled Gowanus Canal (Robert Moses, that is). They don’t celebrate the Hamilton Avenue Vampires of course, but… really… who celebrates exsanguinators on the first of October? That’s for the end of the month on Halloween.

The Vampires known to infest this section of the larger Brooklyn Queens Expressway were discussed in two posts from 2017 – “unsigned letter” and “decisive steps.” Read them and take the message of their presence to heart. We’ve got the same problem in Queens Plaza, I’m sorry to say. The City suppresses NYPD statistics on this subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The House of Moses landed heavily in South Brooklyn, and stole the sky. It blighted the ground and blocked the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself from ever directly warming the pavement set squamously about the Gowanus. As above, so below – automotive traffic is everpresent and flows heavily in these parts. The exigent needs of pedestrians in the area were abrogated, ignored, and arrogantly discarded.

I seem to recall that – sometime in the late 1980’s or early 90’s – a decades long season of deferred maintenance on the elevated Gowanus Expressway resulted in a truck plunging through it to the streets below. Same thing happened in the City, over on the West Side Highway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Construction on this wonder of the Brooklyn world began in 1939, and the consequences for the neighborhood below were dire. If you lived, or worked, in the pathway chosen by Mr. Moses for his marvel… well… you couldn’t stand in the way of progress. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. This was called “progress.”

As a note, this is why I argue about semantics with my political friends when they call themselves “progressives” in the 21st century. I usually refer them to a dictionary, because “progressive” doesn’t actually mean what they think it does. Robert Moses was a progressive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Gowanus Expressway as viewed from the turgid water of Gowanus Bay, in the shot above. Gowanus Expressway was designed to connect the corridors of Ocean Parkway, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Concurrently built, the Koscisuzcko Bridge over in North Brooklyn was meant to provide egress to extant sections of Queens, notably the new Grand Central Parkway which fed into the Triborough Bridge. Mr. Moses then made the case that it would all be wasted effort were a connecting highway not created between the structures. He called it the Brooklyn Queens Connecting Highway, which, in the years following the Second World War was widened and improved into becoming the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The BQE was then extended a bit to the south to meet and join with the Belt Parkway, which – coincidentally – also provided an eastern connection to Triborough via the Van Wyck and Interborough Parkways to the Grand Central.

That’s the Hamilton Avenue Bridge just below the Gowanus Expressway, if you’re curious, and it was discussed in this Newtown Pentacle post from 2014.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sections of Brooklyn found under the Gowanus Expressway, in addition to being lousy with vampires, are pretty horrible. The elevated road drips, it hums, it overshadows and overwhelms. It’s not a pleasant experience either driving or walking down here. All is shadowed by the best intentions of the exigencies of the past.

One of the less salubrious corridors of the “House of Moses,” this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s especially horrible at night.

Anywho – Happy Birthday Gowanus Expressway, you vampire infested nightmare.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 1, 2018 at 1:00 pm

stifled oaths

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A bit more Creekery, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Middle part of last week, I had to get together with some of my colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance to discuss and strategize about a project we’re involved with over in Long Island City, and we decided to do the meeting in the early evening at the NCA offices at 520 Kingsland Avenue over in Greenpoint.

It was a misty day, with crazy dark clouds blowing through the sky, which made for nice atmospherics and a couple of times during the meeting I excused myself and headed out onto the green roof to shoot some shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our topic of focus was the Montauk Cutoff project, which is a whole other story.

Me? I was fascinated by the contrast being offered by the illuminations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself setting to west and the restless clouds rolling through the sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, and looking towards the Metro Fuel facility, you could see some sort of fiery industrial process at work.

I had an urge to find a really long stick and try to toast a marshmallow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking home afterwards via the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, on the Blissville side of the Newtown Creek, I noticed that the NY & Atlantic outfit were getting busy with the whole garbage train business. Shot this through a convenient hole in the fence on the bridge, and noticed that the train set was sitting there in a static position so I quickened my pace and got down to the dangerous intersection of Review Avenue and Van Dam street as quickly as possible.

Didn’t have the time to slip on my reflective safety vest, which is kind of stupid but I’ve always been fairly lucky as far as not getting killed by trains and trucks – so far.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For some reason, whenever I seem to get into position for this sort of shot, I instantly need to pee. I’m talking dancing around, shifting weight from foot to foot like a five year old need. Didn’t have an inkling of it on the bridge, and took care of business prior to leaving the offices not fifteen minutes prior.

Biology… it affects us all. Me moreso than others.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, the NY&A folks didn’t keep me waiting too long before the signal arms came down and they advanced along the tracks of the Lower Montauk branch, exiting the Blissville Yard and heading eastwards a short distance to the Waste Management company’s transfer station found a short distance away.

WM handles the curbside black bag, or putrescent, waste collected by the Sanitation Department.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For short distance hauling, the NY&A folks use this “critter” which is a slow moving but powerful engine unit. It’s job is to move empty cars into loading position at the waste transfer station and then move the full ones back to the Blissville Yard where they’ll be coupled to other full boxes. At some indeterminate time in the late night, a “proper” locomotive engine will arrive and haul the train set away.

Our garbage goes on quite a scenic journey, through the Fresh Pond Yard and over the Hell Gate Bridge via the NY Connecting Railroad. It heads up the Hudson after visiting the Bronx, and eventually crosses over onto the continent.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By this point, it felt as if my bladder was about to explode, but I had to get in a couple more shots.

Exigent prioritization of such matters are the razors edge of a humble narrator’s existential experience.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, the operator of the train set moved out of eyeshot shortly, and a misdemeanor or two occurred.

At least there’s now a semi clean spot on the Blissville side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, albeit one that smells slightly of urine.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

drowsy realisation

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Newtown Creek, where all things are possible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, I’m hanging out with a photographer friend of mine, and she’s got a car. Therefore, since she’s become quite enamored with my beloved Creek, I decide to show her a few of the less than obvious locations where interesting shots can be attained. One of these spots is one that I seldom visit, the Maspeth Avenue street end on the Brooklyn side.

The Maspeth Avenue street end on the Queens side is the Maspeth Avenue Plank road, as a note, which I’m at quite frequently. The Brooklyn side is a pain in the neck to get to on foot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason it’s a pain in the neck is that there really aren’t any sidewalks, one side of the street is defined by the fences of the National Grid site, and it’s a long “road to nowhere” which doesn’t offer any possible “escape route” should anyone take issue with a photographer wandering around – which happens occasionally. The other side of the street hosts a series of waste transfer stations, vehicle impound lots, and concrete plants. All of those businesses are defined by Maspeth Avenue on the street facing or western side of the street, and by the English Kills tributary on the eastern side of their lots. In recent years, there’s been an abundance of homeless folks living out of their cars camping out along the National Grid side. If I get in trouble on this section of Maspeth Avenue while on foot, I’m pretty much screwed as I’d have to walk or run to get away from it. Since my friend had a car, we could zip down to the water and do our thing, then zip back out.

It’s pretty desolate and lonely back there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water quality is abysmal in this section, which is one of the narrowest points on the Newtown Creek. It’s where Furman Island used to be, just across the water on the Queens side, and the DEP has installed an aeration system in the narrow which creates weird lipid jellies of foamy garbage and sewer solids that collect up along the bulkheads.

The industrial people use the street itself as a private lot, storing materials and heavy equipment wherever they want to.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One climbed up on a giant pile steel beams for the shot above, which gave me a vantage over to the Queens side.

Someone has been using these steel beams as a shelter wall, and the signs of occupancy were all over the place at the Maspeth Avenue street end – clothing, suitcases, chairs, bedding.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This suitcase in particular caught out attentions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

‘Nuff said. 


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 25, 2018 at 1:30 pm

began negotiating

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A few shots from Penny Bridge, along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a busy weekend for a humble narrator, and had to show my face in public for a couple of events. Had a bit of time afterwards that was productively spent, as a photographer friend and I hit a couple of “sweet spots” along that troublesome cataract of municipal neglect called the Newtown Creek whereupon I got busy with the tripod and the clicking.

Pictured above, the Koscisuzcko Bridge project is moving along nicely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One seems to be obsessed with longish exposures of rotting piles these days, can’t tell you why. Give me a centuried mass of lumber groaning with ship worms and wood lice sticking out of the water and I’m happy.

Other people like seeing family or friends, I’ve got decaying maritime infrastructure. What can I tel you, I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking westward, towards the Shining City.

See y’all tomorrow, and check out the offer for the “Infrastructure Creek” walk I’ll be conducting on October 1st.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

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