The Newtown Pentacle

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polyploid extrusions

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Just another one of those days, man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s the seventeenth of August, a Friday. The word Friday is derived from the Norse and Germanic traditions, indicating that the day is devoted to the Mother Earth type of Goddess named Frigga, whom amongst other notable traits, was married to the high father Odin himself and Queen of Asgard. On this day, in 1945, British author George Orwell saw his now seminal “Animal Farm” book published. Additionally, on August 17 in 1977, a Soviet Nuclear Icebreaker called the NS Artika became the first surface ship to successfully and purposely navigate it’s way to the North Pole.

Closer to home, Greenpoint girl Mae West was born on this day in 1893.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where is a humble narrator as you’re reading this, you might wonder? I’m out stomping out a pathway for a walk I’m going to be conducting with my pal Gil Lopez from Flux Factory. This promises to be a fairly weird one, by my standards, which are normally governed by a fairly conservative recitation of historical and current condition facts about some section of Newtown Creek or NY Harbor. Admittedly, I’ll deep dive a bit more than most on tours, but this one’s going to include the Blissville Bashee and the Vampires of Queens Plaza. I did mention “Flux Factory,” yes? Suffice to say that this one promises to be a bit more avant garde than usual.

I’ll provide ticketing links next week in the usual spot at the bottom of the daily postings at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Additionally, I’m doing an interesting boat tour on the 30th, with an astounding ticket price of $5. Links, next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Flux walk will be following, as much as possible, the original diagonal to the modern street grid path that the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek followed through Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza. There’s also going to be a fantastic opportunity to see something I can’t normally show you at the end of the walk, so for you photographer types reading this, you’ll want to be there. 

Happy Frigga’s Day, and happy birthday Mae West, wherever you are.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

every evidence

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Children don’t seem to sing rhyming songs about lethal infectious diseases anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Colloquially speaking, the whole “Ring-a-round the rosies, a pocket full of posies” rhyming nursery school standard is commonly thought to refer to the onset of Bubonic Plague, but scholarly experts in the field of folklore deny such interpretation claiming that such ideations first appeared in the post modernist plagued 20th century. There’s evidentiary usage of the rhyming song from early in the 19th century, with regional and linguistic variations, contained in journalism and travelogue writings. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle documented Brooklyn street urchins singing a version of “Ring A Rosie” in 1846, for instance, and there’s written accounts of variants from Britain and Germany in about the same period. The German version sounds terrifying of course, which confirms something I’ve been chatting about with one of my Astoria buddies who originally hails from Cologne about.

“Nice” things, when spoken in German, sound terrifying whereas terrifying things sound like desserts. As an example – “newborn baby” is “Neugeborenes,” which sounds like some sort of a bone cancer. “Death by fire” is “Tod durch Feuer,” which my first instinct would presume is a fried fruit and chocolate cake concoction served on a wad of whipped cream.

It’s odd that, almost as odd as the design of that Amtrak engine unit 651 pictured above. This model of train engine seems to have an angry face, complete with glowing red eyes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was quite a hubbub here in the neighborhood last weekend, as the MTA was busy working in Queens Plaza on the N/W elevated tracks and had closed several arterial streets leading to and from the Queensboro Bridge. There were all sorts of diversions and reroutings, with all sorts of lovely gasoline powered signs flashing important messages at passerby. This was actually a difficult shot to acquire, as the “Expect Delays” sign was of the LED type.

The reason that LED lights use so much less energy than incandescent or flourescent ones revolves around the fact that they’re actually flashing on and off rather staying steadily on. To the human eye, something that’s flashing on and off a hundred times in a second appears steadily illuminated, in the same way that we perceive the 30 frames per second of cinema or tv images as moving images. One wonders about the subliminal effects of LED lighting, and whether or not they could be used to alter human perception via changes in frequency, perhaps inducing mood changes in a madding crowd environmentally. Visual morse code? Maybe. Try going out with and without the tinfoil hat and see if you think different things between the two experiences. Be empirical, I say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A significant percentage of MTA’s rolling stock down in the sweating concrete bunkers has seen their “badge” indications converted over to LED lighting, which causes me no end of trouble when engaging in my habit of photographing trains entering and leaving the station. I’ve settled on a minimum shutter speed of 1/160th of a second for such matters, although 1/100th seems to be the actual frequency of the badge’s lighting cycle. The latter speed is too slow for the approaching locomotive, as the image of the thing gets “smeared” with motion blur. Even at 1/160th, however, as in the shot seen above, there is a discernibly lit and unlit portion of both the badge circle and the line designator.

Also, before anyone becomes fixated on the purplish lens flare visible, I cannot tell you why it’s purple. There’s a lot of light kicking around when a train enters a station, dust and crap in the air, and the headlights are pointing right into the lens which has an anti glare coating on it as well. It’s all part of the environmental effect.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2018 at 11:15 am

morbid listening

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It’s a small world, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometimes it seems like all of Western Queens is a visual parable, some Hollywood set piece or theme park designed by an otherwise unmentioned truly evil brother of Walt and Roy Disney – Dick Disney. The good news is that DickDisneyland doesn’t require an admission ticket, but enter at your own risk since it was designed by a real Dick. Of course, one of my postulates states that entire City of Greater New York is composed of five theme parks. I refer to Queens as “Adventureland,” the Bronx as “Frontierland,” Brooklyn as “Tomorrowland.” The big attraction for the punters is Manhattan the “Shining City,” and there’s always “Staten Epcot” but not many people visit that one. The world of tomorrow ain’t what it used to be, I fear.

Straddling the currently undefended border between Adventureland and Tomorrowland is the Newtown Creek attraction, and I’ll trust that you’ll find it a non obsequious and intrinsically interesting section of DickDisneyland during your next family friendly vacation to New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DickDisneyland has a litter problem, unfortunately, but try to view it as the stuff that future archaeologists will make their careers on, making their academic bones while studying our historic trash middens. It’s not just about entertainment here in the Creeklands (found just next door to Tomorrowland’s Sewer Mountain ride), it’s also educational. Over in Maspeth, nearby the Haberman rail siding, there’s going to be an animatronic showpiece and theater installed soon which will depict Dick Betts and the original Maspeth colonials scalping and killing the Lenape, followed by a live action raid of the theater by actors playing Maspeatche Warriors. At the end of it, the audience will be transported to Elmhurst to find out how that whole story ending up working out.

At the Haberman theater gift shop you’ll be able to buy jarred samples of Black Mayonnaise, small quantities of Peter Cooper’s Glue, and replica oil drums with commemorative certificates indicating the time and date of your visit to the Creeklands attraction here in DickDisneyland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Management at DickDisneyland, it should be mentioned, enforces rules upon its employees and visitors which do not apply to themselves. Were a concession manager to maintain gigantic pools of standing water on their individual lots, enormous financial repurcussions would ensue as our management teams are terrified of mosquito infestation. You can’t have visitors and resident employees of DickDisneyland getting sick, after all. That would reflect poorly on the managers, and deny them promotion to higher positions within the organization.

On the properties directly administered by the management, however… well… who watches the watchers in DickDisneyland?


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was sane

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Odds and ends from LIC, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other day, a photographer friend of mine came out to LIC, and I introduced her to a few interesting points of view along Skillman Avenue and the Degnon Terminal section of Long Island City. Whereas I’m nowhere near as jaded as those who grew up in the area are, it was still fun hearing her gasp in wonder at the marvel of it all. I see this when I do tours as well, when ordinary people find themselves in this extraordinary place found along the loathsome Newtown Creek. Often, I analogize it to the time that I visited a friend who was working as an animator for Disney in Florida. He instructed, as we were moving through one of the parks, to step over towards what appeared to be a solid white wall. When you were within a couple of feet of the structure, a hidden aperture appeared, and with a side step or two you suddenly found yourself backstage where the guy who plays Goofy had his head off and was smoking a cigarette.

Is the rest of NYC actually the customer facing part of Disneyworld, with industrial LIC the back lot where they store the compressed gas cylinders for the soda machines? Maybe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom? We do have rides and attractions hereabouts. There’s a lot of rules, you’re almost always on camera, and there’s lots of people either pretending to be or acting like fictional characters they saw in some old movie. There’s underground networks of tunnels used by a secretive workforce, long suffering municipal employees involved in an elaborate kabuki show put on for the tourists and real estate customers… the only thing that really distinguishes modern day NYC from one of the Disney parks would be the lack of political “cosplayers.”

Hi kids, I’m Progressive Pigeon, meet Diversity Doggo and Equity Eagle. Watch out for that nasty old Conservative Kitty Cat and Counter Revolutionary Rat, they’re on the wrong side of that protected bike lane over there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned hundreds of times at this point, I really need a vacation. Literal “recreation” as in re-create. Unfortunately, I’ve arrived at that stage of life in which it is impossible to enjoy anything, and even going to sleep is a pain in the ass. Anhedonia is the medical term for this, a total physical and emotional numbness which I fear even a visit to the Magic Kingdom cannot cure. Nothing’s easy, and even if I cured Cancer, the result would be everybody telling me I’m an asshole for doing so. I have become an assassin of joy in my old age.

At least I can bring others to the back stage at NYC’s 5 theme parks, and talk about things which are – in fact – amazing. It seemed to make my photographer friend happy the other day, so at least there’s that. Bah.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more deatils here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 2, 2018 at 11:00 am

last cleaning

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Utopia, along the East River?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had an interesting but short chat last night, with the always interesting and sometimes chatty Robert Singleton of Greater Astoria Historic Society, about a piece he had recently written for a magazine about colonial era Maspeth and how he framed his tale around the desires of those long ago and far away colonists seeking “utopia” in the so called “new world.” I haven’t read Bob’s piece yet, but I’m sure it matches up with his normal high standards (Bob is who I publicly call “the acknowledged expert” on the subject of colonial era history in Western Queens). It did spark a few thoughts in my mind though, on the utopian eidolon which drew so many of our ancestors to what would become the United States. For native born 21st century citizens of the United States and Canada, “freedom” is a fairly abstract idea, but to our predecessors who undertook the dangerous journey from Europe to North America it was crystal clear what they were trying to leave behind.

It’s hard to imagine in modernity – the iron grip of the Hapsburgs, the Tsars, the Ottomans, the Popes, even the relatively “liberal” enlightened despots and parliaments of Western Europe – maintained a choke hold on thought, science, business, religion, and dissent in their lands. Especially after the French Revolution, and the appearance of Napoleon the antichrist, these governments maintained networks of domestic spies and employed forces of “Secret Police” to maintain their franchised version of “order and stability” at all costs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Utopia is what Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, have been chasing since the first Dutchman cut down a few trees in what was once a forest that stretched from coast to coast, to began clearing a spot to build a house. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and prosperity? That’s the American Dream, right? The pursuit and concept of “utopia” in the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860’s eventually morphed into “progress” in the late 19th and entire 20th centuries, and is currently being conceptually framed as the quest for “equity” and “fairness.” Translating that for those of you who aren’t wise to these DEP currents: ‘Murica.

Chasing the utopian ideal in the United States has actually resulted in and spawned a modern day dystopia, with a government that maintains the status quo with a domestic spying network and literal armies of police – both public and secret – who are tasked with maintaining order and stability at all cost. Ironic, isn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve had friends who espouse all sorts of solutions and often radical visions of how to “fix” America. Socialist and Communist leaning folks want to institute a one size fits all approach with a super powerful central authority that dictates behavioral and social norms via the redistribution of private wealth through the “state,” not realizing that at no time in history has this not resulted in the appearance of an “elite” group of administrators and politicians that resemble nothing other than “born to the manor” nobility. Business and militaristic focused people want a system of lassez faire government whose only role is “ensuring the general welfare” and national defense, which historical precedent suggests as resulting in the subjugation of individual liberty and fostering military adventurism and leads to the formation of an elite group as well. Both are extremes, neither results in “utopia.”

What’s the way forward then? What can we do to answer the dreams of our forebears? Do we launch colony rockets into space, hoping some future version of the Pilgrims or Waloons can figure it out? What is Utopia?

As mentioned, a chat with Bob Singleton is often interesting and thought provoking.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more deatils here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 31, 2018 at 1:00 pm

always inclusive

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Summer Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is always puzzled by this sort of sight, when a piece of heavy construction equipment rolls by on area streets. A buddy of mine in construction once opined that some heavy equipment handlers, who are apparently the construction workers you’ll see who wear  brown helmets with a bunch of stickers on them, aren’t allowed to leave the vehicle alone on the job site. They are obliged to use it for transportation from site to site, and even use it if they’re just picking up lunch somewhere. That doesn’t sound right to me, but I only wear a hard hat occasionally and when it’s required for visiting a work site I’m photographing, but the heavy equipment I’m rolling with is a camera.

Still, screw your bike lanes, “I wants me one of dose tings” pictured above. If I couldn’t find parking, I’d be able to dig a hole for it to live in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Next week promises to be more of the same, weather wise, and my schedule is lightly packed. Perhaps I’ll spend some time down in the sweating concrete bunkers of the MTA and raise the suspicions of bored police officers again by photographing trains. I don’t know, I make things up as I go along. One has to be open to serendipity when you’re staring at the world through a camera’s diopter. One has to go the City a couple of times in the coming week to accomplish a few errands, so I might try to find some time to hit the zoo or a museum while I’m in town.

Been meaning to wander around lower Manhattan at night again anyway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my errands is to get a discounted camera maintenance and sensor cleaning session over at Beards and Hats on Sunday, which will eliminate some pesky dust motes that have resisted all my efforts at removal. You can only discern these occlusions in long exposure and tight aperture shots, which are exactly the direction that my proverbial muse is currently pointing at.

It’s always something.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 27, 2018 at 1:00 pm

carved overmantel

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Who wouldn’t want to live in Queens Plaza, that’s the question.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Probably the most unwelcoming place on the planet, an area which is frankly antithetical to human life, Queens Plaza has nevertheless become a hub of residential development in recent years. You’ve got the 24/7 vehicle traffic spilling angry motorists on and off of the Queensboro Bridge, a complex of elevated subway lines above (the steel rafters are infested with vampires, but that’s a whole other story) and a complex of underground subway lines below. The sidewalks have become nonexistent due to the exigent needs of the construction industry, and there are thousands upon thousands of residential units opening within the new and quite banal glass boxes that soar twenty and thirty stories above the traffic choked streets.

The political class in Western Queens loved all of this “growth” as it meant campaign donations from banks and real estate interests flowed freely into their reelection accounts, and then they also got to talk about “affordable” housing as if it was actually “affordable” while insisting that the real estate people hand out a token number of plum development jobs to friendly construction unions.  This caused even more campaign donations to manifest from cultic eidolons like the Working Families Party and the trade unions. Since the Democrats of Queens generally run unopposed by other parties, the cash they didn’t have to spend during the elections then allowed them to use these campaign donations as slush funds to curry favor with, and financially support, weaker candidates in districts that enjoy actual elections. The whole time, these elected officials referred to themselves in glowing terms as “progressives,” which is a term that they don’t seem to have ever looked up in a dictionary.

There are no food markets, bodegas, coffee shops, parking lots, nearby schools, or hospitals on the construction schedule… but there’s lots of noisy traffic if that’s your bag… Just imagine if you had an emergency and you needed to wait for an ambulance to navigate through rush hour traffic at Queens Plaza. You won’t see a lot of municipal investment here in Queens Plaza or LIC as a whole, except for tax abatements and City subsidies encouraging the growth of more tower apartment buildings, as the political class is averse to being perceived as having “increased government spending.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bought and sold politicians of Western Queens are in a tizzy at the moment. First Marge Markey, then Liz Crowley – and even Joe Crowley – have been seen applying for benefits at the unemployment office. They’re the first.

Comical just desserts have been served by the electorate to the “growth at any cost” crowd, as election results for Boss Crowley’s downfall have shown that he lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez not because of some demographic change amongst the burgeoning Latino population or the “I want to help POC” crowd who wanted “one of their own,” rather it was the overwhelmingly wealthy Caucasian and Asian gentrifier crowd that are moving into the tower buildings in places like Queens Plaza and Court Square who booted him out. Markey and Liz Crowley lost their jobs because they sided with City Hall against their own communities.

The body politic is changing in Queens, and for those politicians who used to count on incumbent victories due to low voter turnout and the affections of the party faithful, a chill is in the air. As I’ve often said to these elected officials “how do you know that these rich people from the Midwest are Democrats?” “Aren’t you concerned that you’re unintentionally shifting the electorate to the right, since the demographics and politics of the moneyed people who can afford $3,000 for a studio apartment are very, very different than those of the people you’re claiming to represent?”

They don’t teach that in politics school, apparently.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing is, a humble narrator watches all of this dispassionately. He rages against the sophists and the connected, is rude to the mid level representatives of “the powers that be,” and enjoys popping the egomaniacal balloons arrayed at political events. Ultimately, it’s all wasted effort.

The reality of things is that while all of this extra inventory of apartments has been created over the last twenty years, rent has gone up all over the City and that homelessness is now approaching levels not seen since the Hooverville’s of the Great Depression. Job creation and sustainability is not on the syllabus offered by these so called progressives, except for themselves and their staffs. These progressives close hospitals and nursing homes rather than open them, allowing their donors in the real estate industrial complex to then convert the structures to bespoke luxury condos with some token “affordable” component which no NYPD or even Teachers Union employee could afford to live in. 

Growth, unchecked, is called Cancer.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

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