The Newtown Pentacle

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chipped flagstones

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May showers bring June flowers?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bother. Last week, the closest I got to photographing any part of Newtown Creek – due to the daily thunderstorms – was the sort of view you see above, which is to say that I was looking at it through the closed window of a car. I had a relatively light schedule last week, but as opined – god hates me – so any chance I had to find time to go out shooting was abrogated by meteorological instability. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but an unimaginable amount of liquid cascaded down over the City of Greater New York.

NYC possesses what’s known as a “combined sewer system” wherein sanitary sewers (toilet water and other lovely effluents) and storm sewers (street runoff and so on) feed into the same pipe. During dry weather this isn’t an issue, as the NYC DEP’s 14 sewer plants can usually handle the flow. During rain events, a quarter inch of rain, city wide, can add a billion gallons of water into the mix. The DEP is then obliged to release the untreated sewage overflow into area waterways, a practice they’re working hard on avoiding, via “CSO’s” or Combined Sewer Outfalls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s four hundred of these “CSO’s” operated by DEP in NY Harbor, and there’s even more of them on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. As you move into other counties in Upstate New York and on Long Island, even more release points are found. Last time I checked, there were twenty two CSO points found along the bulkheads of Newtown Creek. Pictured above is Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek in Long Island City, from last Sunday afternoon shortly before yet another thunderstorm rolled through. The water was a chocolate/coffee brown color this time around, and there were literal tons of floatables – a term used for the garbage and street litter which has been hydraulically swept into the sewer system – moving around on the surface of Dutch Kills in the wind.

To the west, another thunderstorm was building, and the wind was picking up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Give a hoot, don’t pollute” is what Woodsy the Owl used to advise every school kid in the 1970’s, alongside Smokey the Bear reminding us not to start forest fires. Societal priorities shifted towards smoking cessation, avoiding teenager pregnancies, and HIV prevention more recently. We stopped “promoting shame” regarding littering in the 1990’s, as I recall. The City of New York’s streets are dirtier with clutter and unswept garbage than at other point in my lifetime except for the late 1970’s and early 1980’s budget crisis era when cuts to municipal spending reduced the ranks of DSNY personnel. Don’t read that wrong, incidentally, the DSNY is doing its job quite well. The problem is “us.” There’s several generations of native born and immigrant Americans alike who don’t see any particular reason not to just toss their garbage in the street.

I’m pricing out one of those “Game of Thrones” style shame bells. I plan to walk around Queens ringing the thing and proclaiming “SHAME” whenever I see someone toss a plastic bottle at the curb. I know where it’s going to end up, after all. Check out that plastic bag life raft for other plastics floating in the water of Dutch Kills above. Yuck, ya buncha slobs.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
here.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2019 at 2:00 pm

stricken flesh

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My foot hurts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lately, it feels like I’ve been exposed to ionizing radiation at some point in the recent past, as everything hurts. Part of getting older, I suppose. I’d worry more about it if the various aches and pains were more chronic and didn’t move around. One day it’s the knee, the next it’s a foot on the other leg, another it’s a weird knot in my neck which came out of nowhere. I’ve come to refer to this phenomena as my “pain squirrel” since everyday it seems to take up residence on a different branch of my personal Yggdrasil or world tree. Regular talking folk would just say “body,” but I ain’t regular.

What can I tell you, I spent most of my life burning the candle at both ends. If a situation required it, I’d use my body as a wrecking ball. It’s taken a toll, and the bill is coming due these days. All this recent rain has made me suspect that arthritis might be the culprit behind some of the various aches and pains, but it wouldn’t surprise if I woke up one morning and found that some part of me had turned to a form of goo under the blanket.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ideally, I’d like to house my brain, after the bodily gooification is complete, in some sort of robotic housing. On envisions a robust fluid filled jar for the brain, with electrical connections allowing me to control a mobile chassis. Said apparatus would have modular attachment sites for devices to interact with the world outside the jar. Given that I view the human body as little more than a chassis for carrying around the brain as it is, this scenario would be a bit less nightmarish for me than it would be for others. What I’d miss would be the feeling of sunlight on my face, as I wouldn’t have a face. A software algorithm could simulate any of life’s pleasures by pumping the appropriate dopamine solution into the jar anyway.

Yes, I sometimes fantasize about becoming a cyborg. Sue me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If my mobile brain chassis was constructed properly, I’d be able to crawl up walls, or even activate an amphibious modality and become a boat. I’ve never understood the science fictional trope of the robot man trying to return to being human. People already react to me like I’m some sort of monster, and I’m barely transhuman as it is. The camera is always hanging off of me, but that doesn’t count. I’m talking brain in jar, mounted in a poly alloy battle chassis powered by the particle decay of some sort of radioactive isotope, not rapidly aging idiot wandering around Queens. I look forward to the day when my biggest problem would be a patina of oxidation. Come to think of it, my biggest problem would actually be torch bearing mobs of peasants chasing me around since they’d perceive me as a monster, but that’s the sort of thing that already happens to me occasionally. Ask me about the time that a group of old Greek ladies saw me taking a pic of St. Irene’s here in Astoria when you see me.

In the meantime, the pain squirrel is lodged squarely in my left foot today, but I’ve got to walk over to a Greenpoint tonight for a Superfund meeting so it’s best to just suck it up and take a tylenol. That’s the burning the candle at both ends thing again, I guess.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

secretive days

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Darkness and cold, it’s all darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just last night, I was menaced by a raccoon over in Industrial Maspeth, but that’s another story for a different day. Last week, on the other hand, I was on Borden Avenue in LIC where I discovered that the Borden Avenue Bridge is undergoing an asbestos remediation project that nobody in Queens seems to know anything about. Unlike asbestos jobs I’ve seen elsewhere, there was no plastic sheeting on the scaffolding and nothing in place to guard against bits and pieces from falling into the water.

Multiple inquiries were made. Even the NYC DOT (the people I’m supposed to ask are at Deputy Commish level, suppose I’m going to have to use back channel sources to find out), whose bridge this is, were stumped as to what’s going on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It often startles me how close the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are to the very center of NYC, both geographically and politically, yet it often feels like you’re in a foreign country when talking to Manhattan based “officialdom.” The actual geographic center, according to NYC City Planning, is at Queens Blvd. and 58th street – if you’re the curious type. I am.

It’s funny, actually. Land in LIC is worth more now than its ever been, or at least more than its been valued at in at least a century, but just 3/4 of a mile from the East River at Dutch Kills you’re in a black hole.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Irving Subway Grate iron works site pictured above. Long abandoned, it was immolated about eight or nine years  ago and has been standing fallow ever since. This is huge footprint site, just a few blocks from the red hot Degnon Terminal area on Thomson Avenue and a ten minute walk from the white hot Court Square zone. The dreams of avarice are being realized for real estate industrial complex speculators in Court Square, yet this gigantic patch of ground sits febrile.

Go figure.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

every limit

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LIC at night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a short break this week, and single images will be greeting you through the July 4th Holiday week while I’m out shvitzing and photographing things.

Today is July 5th, and just like the rest of the calendar, there’s always a series of events that occurred over the centuries which seems to suggest that history might not be all that random. Alternatively, it probably is, and it’s the nature of human beings to attempt to form ordered patterns out of chaos.

  • 1810 – P. T. Barnum, American businessman, co-founded Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was born.
  • 1937 – Spam, the luncheon meat, is introduced into the market by the Hormel Foods Corporation.
  • 1954 – The BBC broadcasts its first television news bulletin.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

rather gruesomely

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Like every other bit of wind blown trash in NYC, this is where I belong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite being a shambling and sclerotic mess, nevertheless does a humble narrator scuttle on about and around the Newtown Creek in the middle of the night. Recent endeavor found one in Blissville to attend a meeting of the newly created Blissville Civic Association, which the community has formed in response to the Mayor dropping multiple homeless shelters into their midst, and afterwards one set out to a nearby tributary of that legendary cataract of urban malfeasance known as the Newtown Creek – specifically Long Island City’s Dutch Kills.

That’s the Borden Avenue Bridge in the shot above, but don’t ask me where the shot was captured from as I’d have to confess to a misdemeanor. Suffice to say that every nook and cranny is known to me. It’s all I’ve got, ultimately.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Either the world happens to you, or you happen to the world.

That’s the Long Island Expressway above, riding on a truss bridge that carries it some one hundred and six feet over the waters of Dutch Kills. The height was determined by the demands of the War Department of the Federal Government, who had laid down the law to State of New York that the LIE would need to allow egress for maritime vessels on Dutch Kills, and specifically vessels of the Naval surface warfare type.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has read some of the planning documents for this section of the LIE, which is officially the Queens Midtown Expressway, and sections of said plans discussed the need to defend Newtown Creek and the larger harbor of New York against a potential maritime invasion by German naval forces in the run up to WW2. One of the guiding principles was the defense of the industrial zones, and the East River corridor specifically. The Navy’s theory was that the Kriegsmarine would enter New York Harbor via the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island (there was no bridge there in the 1930’s) and that would be the most strategic and effective spot to interdict the German Navy. Accordingly, in the case of such an invasion they would have stationed Destroyer class vessels in Newtown Creek and the Gowanus (as well as other places) to act as protective bulwarks for the industrial operations.

The Navy plan also intended for the Destroyers to fire artillery southwards over Brooklyn to shell the Narrows on vast parabolas. The people in Bay Ridge would have loved that one, I tell you, had it been commonly known. Fuhgeddaboutit. 

Upcoming Tours and Events

April 29 – Bushwick-Ridgewood borderline Walking Tour – with Newtown Historical Society.

Join Kevin Walsh and Mitch Waxman as they take us along the border of Brooklyn and Queens, Bushwick and Ridgewood, with stops at English Kills, an historic colonial Dutch home, and all kinds of fun and quirky locations. End with an optional dinner on Myrtle Avenue before heading back to the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station. Tix are only $5 so reserve your space today!
Tickets and more details here.


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long miles

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Borden Avenue Bridge and environs, in today’s post. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There have been three Borden Avenue Bridges, the first being a wooden draw bridge that opened when Borden Avenue was created in 1868. It was replaced by an iron swing bridge which was demolished in 1906, and the modern day retractile bridge was opened on the 25th of March in 1908. It cost $157, 606 to build in 1908. That would be $4,365,073 in modern money, adjusted for inflation.

A bargain, no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue Bridge is one of only two retractile bridges in NYC, the other one being the infinestimal Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal. This specie of movable bridge is actually quite common in other cities, notably Chicago. 

Chicago ain’t got a view like the one above though, I’d wager.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the south of Borden Avenue, one might notice the two railroad bridges spanning Dutch Kills – Cabin M and DB Cabin. The latter carries traffic for the Lower Montauk Branch of the LIRR from the Wheelspur to Blissville Yards, all of which which are mainly used for freight these days. Cabin M connects to the Montauk Cutoff, a now severed connection to the Sunnyside Yards and the LIRR Main Line tracks.

Just beyond the two rail bridges is the main body of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills itself, in this area around the Borden Avenue Bridge, is stagnant and choked with wind blown garbage. A tepid current in the water creates a vertical rather than horizontal flow pattern, which factors into the accretion of sediments on the bottom. These sediment beds, which are found across the entire Newtown Creek watershed and represent a centuries long cross section of industrial and municipal pollution, are the reason that the Creek and its tributaries are a superfund site. 

At low tide, mounds of this material become exposed to the air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many years, there was a shanty dwelling here, occupied by some unknown entity. Hurricane Sandy ended that tenancy. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My chosen path next carried me eastwards on Borden Avenue, away from my beloved Creek and deeper into the post industrial landscape of Long Island City. The concrete devastations were calling to me.


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cannot give

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Another set of shots from the Newtown Creek frozone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week I showed you what it looks like when Brooklyn’s English Kills freezes over, today it’s the polar paradise which Dutch Kills in LIC became after that recent spell of super cold weather that’s in focus. Both waterways are tributaries of the fabulous Newtown Creek, and the “kills” bit is Old Dutch for “creek.” The English and Dutch parts of the names are meant to indicate where the various ethnicities of European settlers sited themselves.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, as we know it today, is a canalized post industrial waterway surrounded by stout factory and warehouse structures and crossed by multiple bridges, with the current shape of things dating back to the creation of the surrounding Degnon Terminal in the late nineteen-teens. It attained its modern characteristics by 1921, and the last big addition to Dutch Kills was the installation of the Midtown Tunnel and Long Island Expressway way back in 1940.

That’s the LIE, or at least the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the it, pictured above. Close to 90,000 vehicle trips a day pass over the water here, yet most people you meet say they have never heard of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like English Kills in Bushwick, Dutch Kills here in LIC was contained nearly completely by a layer of plate ice when I visited it last Wednesday. The ice was already “rotting” as the air temperatures returned to seasonal norms, and the weak tidal action witnessed in Dutch Kills was breaking it into distinct floes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just like English Kills, certain areas which have been observed as being highly biologically active due to the presence of sewage sediment mounds during warmer climes were fully melted and flowing. The status of those unknown things which slither and slide and slop about in the bottom sediments during these unfrozen times remains a mystery.

There are some things you really do not want to know, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on the Borden Avenue Bridge, just to the south of the vantage point in the previous shots – which is offered by the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge – the rot of the ice was a bit more pronounced. An analogous appearance vaguely reminiscent of an otherwise wholesome slice of Swiss Cheese came to mind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The structure pictured in the first shot of today’s post, as well as in the last one presented above, is called a “dolphin.” It’s rooted deeply in the substrata of Dutch Kills and constructed of creosoted lumber piles. The purpose of these things is to protect the movable bridges they adjoin from an allision, accidental contact with passing maritime traffic. If both the boat and bridge were moving it be a collision, allision is if a moving object strikes a stationary one. 

For me, they provide essential design elements and focal points for the framing of photos at a frozen superfund site, hidden at the very center of New York City.


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