The Newtown Pentacle

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buzzing polyhedron

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It’s National Vanilla Custard Day, in these United States. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One insists on a couple of cups of coffee in the morning, accompanied by a bit of quiet time to read the papers. I’m not one of the artisanal coffee people, as a note, as I favor the supermarket brand Folgers. I’ll actually sacrifice an hour of sleep and wake up at 4:30 in the morning to get my morning coffee time in on days when I have to leave the house early to catch a boat or something. Once upon a time, when I was a full time advertising fellow, you’d see me riding the train in the morning with one of those travel mug things, but in recent years I’ve realized that doing that sort of thing is just servicing the need for morning caffeine rather than servicing the need for some “me” and composing my thoughts time. 

This whole morning coffee ritual is critical to my day long happiness, and something I enjoy. Now, it’s up to the Internet commentariat to tell me that I’m deluding myself, and being some kind of asshole, because that’s the world in which we now live. Mind your own business, and don’t tell me what to think or do. Look in a mirror instead, and work yourself over instead. I don’t have time, nor do I want, to argue semantics. My day is busy enough by the time I finish that coffee. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I’ve finished my coffee, I usually get down to business. There’s always shots to develop, calls to make, posts to write, schedules to keep, checks and payments from clients I need to chase down. There’s “deliverables” which I need to get out to those clients, attention to pay to the dog, trouble I need to start involving the Newtown Creek or any of the hundreds of little existential things I care about here in Queens. I’m also sort of obligated to do the social media thing a few times a day, promoting this or that event or trying to call attention to some of those aforementioned “Queens things” I care about. 

Occasionally, over the course of the day, I’ll check in on the various video games I have in my iPad and play a round or two for diversion (at the moment, that means “Boom Beach” and “Star Wars Commander”)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometimes I’ll knock off in the late afternoon and head over to the local pub for a pint or two of beer and chat with the neighbors to find out what they’re thinking and what they care about, and then head home to get dinner ready. Post meal, I’ll hang out with Our Lady of the Pentacle for a bit, and then I try to stick to a schedule of reading some dry text related to the history of NYC for a couple of hours. By this point, I’m dying for another cup of coffee, but resist the urge since it means that I’ll be up all night while buzzing on caffeine. I’ll usually hit the work again before drifting off to bed since – as mentioned – there’s always more of it to do. 

That’s a day in the life, for a humble narrator. What’s your life like? What do you do? Who do you spend your time with? Where do you go? Why do you go there? 


Upcoming Tours and events

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.

America’s Workshop Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday August 26th, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Explore the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek in Long Island City, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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heavy rumblings

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It’s National Panini Day, in these United States. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day, in 3,114 B.C.E., the Mayans began their “long count” calendar. Today’s also the day, in 480 B.C.E., that Leonidas and his 300 Spartans finally succumbed at Greece’s Thermopylae to the human wave attacks of the Persian armies of Xerxes. In 1929, Babe Ruth became the first baseball player to achieve 500 career home runs, and in 1972 the United States exited its last combat units from Viet Nam. Today is the day that industrialist Andrew Carnegie died in 1919, the painter Jackson Pollock also kicked the bucket in 1956, and we also lost comedian Robin Williams on this day in 2014. In 1992, the Mall of America opened for business, and in 1965 the Watts riots kicked into gear in Los Angeles.

 Me? I don’t have too much to do today, but it’s going to be a fairly busy weekend. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m planning on checking out the “Queens Anti-Gentrification” march on Saturday afternoon in LIC. What I’ve read about, and offered by, this group doesn’t exactly jibe with reality as I know it, but I figure if somebody is willing to stick their neck out and offer their views and opinions in public you owe it to them to at least listen to what they have to say. So far, I haven’t been a fan of their tactics either, but there you are. After that, I’m hopping on a ferry to Pier 11 in Manhattan, where I’ll be boarding a boat with the Working Harbor Committee. I’ll be sharing the microphone with Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours and we will be talking about the Brooklyn Waterfront’s (Newtown Creek to Sunset Park) “Past, Present, and Future.”

Come with?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ll be up early on Sunday to conduct the “Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek” walking tour for Newtown Creek Alliance. This is one of my favorite excursions to conduct, and it tells the story of the oil and energy industries in North Brooklyn from the 1850’s all the way to the present. It also moves through one of the most god awful areas NYC has ever created, so how’s that for a selling point? 

See you Sunday?.


Upcoming Tours and events

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

tentative measures

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It’s National Orange Blossom Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another day, another commute. One’s life is odd, and each day brings its own sort of challenge.

I didn’t have any paying work one recent weekday, so when a Manhattan based anti gentrification activist emailed and asked if he could meet up with me to discuss the DEP and their CSO’s in Greenpoint and LIC… well, how could I say no to something like that? We met at Dorians in LIC, I had a cheeseburger and a cup of black coffee. On the way home, I had to stop off in Sunnyside to see a guy about a thing, so I hopped on the 7 across the street from Dorians at Vernon/Jackson.

As a note, I sometimes use “Vernon Jackson” as an alias.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m trying to come up with a term to replace “gentrification” at the moment, as I don’t think it’s apropo to describe what’s happening in Long Island City and the East River coastline of Brooklyn (et al) in modern times. According to the dictionary people, gentrification is defined as – “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

That’s not what’s happening in Long Island City. At all.

Gentrification is something that “happened” in East Harlem and the Upper West Side, Bushwick and Williamsburg and Park Slope, but back in the 1990’s. What’s going on now… we don’t have a name for it, yet. Longtime Newtown Pentacle commenter and reader “Cav” has suggested “development rampage.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, let me qualify my statements with this – unlike normal people, I don’t exactly have “feelings.” Rather, and especially when behind the camera, I try to be some sort of extraterrestrial thing recording the antics of you drunken man beasts in a quite separated, sterile, and utterly emotionless manner. When not shooting, I don’t run around waving signs, chanting chants, or spouting sophomoric “poli-sci” nonsense about “the youth” or “verbal activists.” If I need to get something done, or fixed, I “show up” and get involved in the process of fixing it.

I don’t think that what’s in your pockets is somehow mine by natural right, and I wouldn’t dream of telling you what to do or not do with your own property. Like most Americans, I want to be left alone to mind my own business without input from you, the government, or anybody else.

Saying all that, I may not like what you do with your personal property, but just as I would insist regarding my own “stuff” – it’s none of my business what you do. Key word in that statement is “business.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It always pisses off the officialdom types when I refer to “my property” and question them about their stewardship or management thereof. A good political operator working for the Government will respond positively to me when I refer to them as “my employees,” whereas others will sneer at me and adopt a tired expression. When we’re talking about Sunnyside Yards, that’s the very definition of “our collective property,” however. Amtrak and MTA don’t own the yards, the public does, and the two agencies are meant to represent our collective interests. The only part of the yards which are in private hands is on the 43rd street side, and it’s owned by General Motors. With a phone call and a quick Wall Street transaction, I can own some “buy in” of General Motors too.

Ultimately, if it’s government land, WE own it. Maybe… just maybe… before any sort of deck thingamabob is built on our property, there should be a vote about disbursing it for the usage of the real estate industrial complex?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It always makes my fellow riders a bit uncomfortable when they see me pressed up against the window of a subway car, furiously working the shutter button on the camera. This is something I’ve never quite understood. People often react to the presence of a camera in the same manner as if I was carrying a firearm, and God forbid you get a shot with some random person in it who has decided that you’ve just stolen their soul or something. The odd thing about this, to me at least, is that half the train population seem to be taking “selfies” and it’s fairly common for people to use their phones to take shots of every amusing or wry thing they see these days.

Me? I’m just the guy taking pictures out of the dirty windows on the 7 train, trying to make some productive usage of the otherwise wasted time as I travel from Hunters Point – where I met a guy to talk about a thing to Sunnyside – so I can go see another guy about a different thing before heading home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to being photographed and videoed over the last decade, but it really doesn’t grind my gears if someone takes a photo of me – especially if I’m doing something outlandish in public.  It’s something that happens all the time during my tours of Newtown Creek, and I do turn up in newspaper articles periodically, commenting on this event or that so I guess I’m used to it. My understanding of things, law wise, is that if you’re in public you have no basic right to privacy. It’s the pretext which the cops and others use when installing street facing security cameras, and the only “rule” surrounding the photography of the public sphere is that you can get in “libel” trouble for assigning an editorial meaning to an image that isn’t inherent. There’s also a whole set of rules about private property, but that’s a different tale.

Example – you’re coming out of a pharmacy and pop a physician prescribed pill you just purchased, and I present it with a caption saying “well known drug addict Joe Blow popping pills again.” That’s libelous, and bad journalism, as I don’t know for certain what sort of pill it is and whether or not it’s habitually consumed, nor whether or not Joe Blow is an addict. All I actually know is what happened in the 1/500th of a second when the shutter was open.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Deep existential wandering, such as that contained in this post, is also one of the ways a humble narrator passes the time during the random series of subway connections which allow one to maintain his odd lifestyle. The bullet points of this post are “wow, look at all this construction and we have a looming infrastructure crisis on the horizon,” “must come up with a term to replace gentrification,” “what’s up with all these communists wackos suddenly emerging from the woodwork in Western Queens who have been emboldened by Trump’s surprising victory,” “must oppose the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards in every possible way,” “people are staring at me on the train while I’m shooting,” and so on.

What can I tell you, I’m all ‘effed up.

I was also a bit gassy after eating that cheeseburger at Dorians in Hunters Point, and had been suppressing the emergence of a colossal fart for the entire ride on the 7. Here at 40th street, as the next 7 was pulling in, I let it rip. It would have been bad form to do so in the confines of the subway car.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

cylcopean mass

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It’s National Applesauce Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was out of the house early today, to attend a meeting sponsored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce which invited a team from the NYC EDC to present their feasibility study on the Sunnyside Yards at the Bulova Corporate Center found on the border of Astoria and East Elmhurst. I’m happy to say that this was a well attended meeting, and that the attendees included members of the Queens activist community as well as the usual and expected representatives from the Real Estate Industrial Complex. A breakfast meeting, bagels and coffee were offered, along with those very sweet little danishes which are typical of corporate catering.

The EDC presentation was offered by one of their many Vice Presidents, a charming fellow named Nate Bliss. I inquired after the meeting, and there was no relation to the Neziah Bliss family of Greenpoint, just as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EDC presentation was a roadshow version of the executive summary report found at their website. The presentation glossed over several seminal objections to the project which have been offered by various community organizations such as the gargantuan size of the deck itself (at 43rd street and Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside Gardens, for instance – 109-110 feet above street grade, or at Northern Blvd. and 39th/Steinway – 65-70 feet), but did acknowledge the transit and environmental issues associated with creating a new development that would require between 10 and 19 new schools to be built, and which would install a new population in LIC that would number about half that of Boulder, Colorado – on the 180 acres found between Queens Plaza and 43rd street, Northern Blvd. and Skillman Avenue.

I asked them what they’re planning on plugging the deck and city of towers built on it into, electrical wise. I threw some shade at the fact that their report says that’s it’s not feasible to bring construction materials to the job site, which is a rail yard, by rail. Pointedly asked them, as well, about how they intended to route the thousands of daily trucks which would be carrying in steel and concrete since they won’t be using the railroad to do it.

Ultimately, there’s two efficient routes, and both feed in through Manhattan from the continent – George Washington Bridge down 125th street to Triborough and then through Astoria, or Lincoln Tunnel across 42nd street to Queensboro. Guess which one they’ll pick?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To be entirely clear, despite the fact that the Sunnyside Yards is literally “in my back yard,” my resistance to the plan has nothing to do with the dismissive term “NIMBY” thrown about by the Real Estate Industrial Complex and the bureaucrats of Lower Manhattan. Western Queens is suffocating for lack of infrastructure given the construction boom which has been underway for the last decade and a half. The MTA is overwhelmed, we’ve been closing power plants instead of building new ones, the sewer system is overburdened and outdated. Somebody in the meeting asked me “where are people going to live?” which is the sort of thing that a real estate developer always throws out as if they’re doing us some sort of favor or good deed with the condemnation of whole city blocks and the subsequent erection of mirror glass skinned towers.

Short answer is this – if we improve our transit system, people can live anywhere they want to. Before the ABC and 456 lines reached into northern Manhattan and the 123 lines went to the Bronx, those areas were typified by farmland. So was most of Queens and Eastern Brooklyn, prior to the arrival of the Subways a century ago. Transit expansion equals an opportunity for rapacious profiteering on the part of the real estate industrial complex, and since greed seems to be the only thing that motivates us these days… Imagine the possibilities of an elevated track that crossed from the 103rd Corona Avenue stop on the 7 south across the transit deserts of Queens and Brooklyn all the way to Broadway Junction.

The mind boggles. 


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

just off

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It’s National Eat What You Want Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Behind sapphire glass, in LIC, lurks a thing. Orbiting its unblinking three lobed eye, this impossible intelligence which cannot exist stares down on the world of men through azure mirrors which cloak its alien presence from all but those acolytes which serve its sinister whims. Pulsating with a fiendish genius and dire intent, this thing lurking in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of Long Island City is patient above all else. Soon, though, its time will be soon…

Glad to get that out of my system… 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I have to believe that “NYC TS” stands for NYC Transit System, given that the access cover which the screed adorns is on Jackson Avenue in LIC more or less directly over the G train tunnel. The rondulets on the hatch indicate that there’s likely electrical equipment below. It’s possible that the wiring might be related to the nearby Pulaski Bridge, or to the bank of traffic signals found nearby, but then it would say “DOT” instead of “TS.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If the shots in today’s post appear a bit random, it’s because they are. I’m walking around a new lens this week, the Sigma 18-300 f3.5-6.3 zoom. It’s strictly a daylight lens, given that it’s not “bright” in the aperture department, but so far so good. Sigma has surprisingly handled barrel distortions quite well given the enormous range of the thing, but of course there’s still some present. It would be crazy to think otherwise.

Not abandoning the rest of my kit, mind you, but I just felt a desire to have a bit more versatility in range available on the fly – when I’m out scuttling about the concrete devastations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After a week of carrying the thing, the only real complaint I have about it involves the lens’ communications with my camera’s light meter. The camera reports things as being at least a stop off of what the lens actually sees – over or under – and I’ve found that I have to continually check the preview screen while shooting to confirm my exposure. The other sigma lenses in my kit don’t have this issue, but they’re a bit more advanced and specialized (and far more expensive) than this newer one.


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 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

suitable pressure

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It’s National Garlic Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been “behind the eight ball” of late, as far as getting things done. There’s so much to do and see in Queens, but lately I can’t seem to climb outside the box of obligation which I’ve built for myself. Something as myopic as that previous sentence will sound hilarious to my friends with kids, of course. The truth is that I just can’t seem to get on top of my various deadlines for some reason, and this unpredictable weather pattern we’re in at the moment is “harshing my buzz.”

As a note, there’s a new event that just popped up on the “upcoming tours and events” section today, an event with Access Queens which will be celebrating the centennial of the opening of the “7’s 11” or Corona Extension in 1917. Come with?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor saw Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary at a rooftop bar and restaurant here in Astoria, and when the sun began to set – the ancient village was cast in a beautiful sculptural light. Long suffering, Our Lady knows that when my head starts twisting around at such moments, and I start fiddling with the controls on the camera, that I need to crack out some shots.

Pictured above is the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridges, as seen from high over Steinway Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On “Astoria Business” notation – I spotted this adorable bit of signage one night while walking my little dog Zuzu. I wish it hadn’t been screwed into the street tree, but there you go. That water main leak I mentioned the other day continues to magnify, despite my urgent warnings to the government officialdom who oversee such things. Accordingly, I’m spending today filling up sandbags and shoring up the levie here at HQ.


Upcoming Tours and events

7 Line Centennial Ride, April 21st.

With Access Queens and NYC Transit Museum, Free event, except for subway fare – details here.

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

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

April 19, 2017 at 11:30 am

teetering sanity

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It’s National Pecan Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The glorious IRT Flushing Line, or 7 line, opened in a couple of stages here in Queens. It wasn’t until 1928 that the line reached its modern terminal destination in Flushing, with the section in LIC between Manhattan and Queensboro Plaza having opened in 1915. The second section to open was the QB Plaza to 103rd st./Alburtis Avenue stop in Corona, and that happened on the 21st of April in 1917. That means that we have a centennial on our hands, lords and ladies, next Friday.

Luckily, a humble narrator and his friends are not the sort of people to allow such important matters to go unacknowledged.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may or may not know, I’ve been hanging out and working with the folks at Access Queens of late, a community group dedicated to transit advocacy issues. Next Friday, we are going to be commemorating the opening of the line – and I’ll supply details of the event with you as soon as possible next week (everything is still forming up) – and I wanted to advise those of you inveterate fans of the NYC Subway system to start the process of getting the afternoon off on the 21st (next Friday) if you want to join us in celebrating the “international express” which, in many ways, built modern day Queens.

There’s going to be some pretty cool stuff going on, I tell you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The plan, as it stands right now, involves the replication of a journey which the “hoi polloi” and politicians made a century ago, boarding the IRT Flushing Line at Grand Central at 2 in the afternoon. We are going to ride the line through the eleven stops after Queensboro Plaza to 103/Alburtis and then commemorate “our train.” Come with?

The history of Queens is often unacknowledged, ignored, or forgotten entirely. Not on my watch, however.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

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

April 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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