The Newtown Pentacle

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utterly devoid

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It’s National Potato Salad Day, National Peanut Cluster Day, and National Pancake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where to go, what to see, and why bother? Such are the thoughts which intrude and occlude whenever one such as myself leaves the house. Someone else has always gotten there first, and there are certain scenes which – while they never disappoint – I’ve visited literally thousands of times. I’d like to travel abroad, photographing exotic animals and esoteric people, but that would likely involve a good deal of finance, and planning, and I hate to fly. Also, it may be too hot, or cold, and I’ll likely get sunburned. Physical discomfort will likely result, my cherished preconceptions would likely be challenged, or I could end up being killed and eaten by a pack of monkeys.

Ultimately, everyone and everything will eventually make it to Queens anyway so why leave? As the band TLC advised – stick to the hills and waterfalls you’re used to. We’ve got the monkey situation sorted out around here already, there are no uncaged hippos or other large mammalian killers (other than mankind), and I know every possible private spot there is to urinate around these parts. As a note: There are two public bathrooms in Calvary Cemetery, but the one at the Review Avenue gates is often locked. You really, really shouldn’t let loose elsewhere in the cemetery. That’s just disrespectful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a recent wander through Calvary, wherein I was exploring the eastern side of the polyandrion, a humble narrator became the focus of attention for a group of Crows. Possibly Ravens, but I don’t know what the difference between the two are. My belief is that they saw my filthy black raincoat flapping about and figured that one of their own had taken to the ground, but I’m an idiot. As is usually the case, for some reason birds aren’t afraid of me. I can walk through a flock of pigeons or sparrows pecking at the ground and they neither scatter into the air nor otherwise acknowledge my presence.

For some reason this is equal parts disconcerting and deeply satisfying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Long Island City is famously home neither to packs of carnivorous monkeys, nor lurking hippopotamus, or even large feline predators. There are absolutely no giant fire breathing lizards or irradiated turtles lurking in Newtown Creek, which categorically never attacked Maspeth in June or September of 1958.

Our big problem are the vampires, of course, who lurk in the shadowed rafters of the Long Island Expressway during the day, as well as the elevated subway tracks around Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Avenue. There are reportedly “things” down in the sewers which the NYC DEP refuses to acknowledge, bizarre abominations and parodies of the primatological branch which IND platform based commuters sometimes spot moving about in the fuligin shadows of the subway tunnels. The MTA denies their existence too, calling them “urban legends.”

There are the rat kings, the cockroach collective consiousness, and the aboriginal horrors which lurk at Hallets Cove – but that’s another story. If you ask the U.S. Coast Guard, they’ll deny those reports offered by professional sailors of a sea monster dwelling in the turbidity of Hells Gate, one which only emerges during powerful thunder storms.


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doglike lopers

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The concrete devastations, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned several times recently, an effort is under way to revisit a number of spots which I’ve not set foot in for a while. When I first began wandering around Newtown Creek and the neighborhoods surrounding it, a point was made to visit every single block, but in recent months and years, temporal exigency has caused one to travel along “efficient” routes to get from Point A (A as in Astoria) to Points B, C, and so on.

Accordingly, since I seem to have all the time in the world at the moment, I’m taking the road less travelled and revisiting a few locales which have been off my radar for a bit. To wit, pictured above is the view from 53rd avenue at the angle between Sunnyside and West Maspeth, looking west towards the BQE/LIE interchange.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Prior to the installation of the two highways, roughly 75-80 years ago, this was a place where working people still lived. There was a neighborhood here, at the western border of Newtown’s Maspeth section and the eastern border of LIC’s Blissville subdivision. That’s when Robert Moses, with his New Meeker Avenue Bridge (Kosciuszko Bridge), and Brooklyn Queens Connecting highway, and Long Island Expressway came to town. Zoning decisions made in Manhattan during the post WW2 era rendered this area as “M1” – meaning it is designated for heavy manufacturing usage only.

Regardless of how the City people decided this land should be used, residential usage continued and there are still a small number of fairly ancient homes found peppered in amongst the warehouses, factories and construction oriented tower crane storage yards hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funny thing is that this neighborhood is – observationally – one of the last places in NYC where you can “leave your front door open.” Saying that, when I use the term “concretized devastations of Western Queens” this section of industrial Maspeth is what I’m usually thinking of.

Most of the surviving homes I see in this neighborhood are typified by what you see above, wood frame row houses which date back to around 1900 or so. There’s a few older houses nearby which are a bit “grander” and speak to an earlier incarnation of this area. A few have disappeared “under my watch,” and have been replaced with bland cinder block warehouse or industrial buildings. Can’t really speak to “who” lives here, amongst the cranes and highways.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All I can tell you is that they have an amazing view. This POV is on the rising bluff which once led to a prominent hill to the south called Berlin. The next highest prominence to the west would have been Laurel Hill, which Calvary Cemetery was carved into. This section of Maspeth was actually called “Berlin” until the First World War, when it was changed for obvious reasons to West Maspeth. To the east, the land’s declination rises until it meets a ridge which signals the beginning of the terminal moraine of Long Island nearby Mount Olivette and Lutheran Cemeteries. That ridge, which sports the same sort of rocky geology that lends its name to Ridgewood, is “real” land. Everything west of Laurel Hill is elluvial fill deposited by glacial process and sediment delivered by flooding from the Newtown Creek and East River.

Climate change and rising sea level wise, this likely will be the East River coastline someday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looping around to the south, as the BQE and LIE interchange cut off egress east/west, an ad hoc art gallery is encountered. Illegal dumping, as I’ve often opined, is the unofficial nativist art form of the Borough of Queens. Combined with long fence lines that are covered in crude graffiti, you’ll encounter several installations along this route which offer intriguing intellectual postulates from the local artistic community.

Everything here is artisanal, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reality of these installations are that this is simply a convenient place for a low level building contractor to dispose of construction debris without having to pay a dumping fee, but allow me to stay “high brow” in my assessments.

These dumpers really do seem to pay some attention to composition and color, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

53rd avenue terminates in a parabola which carries it into 43rd street, a colonial era pathway that once connected to Newtown Creek from Bowery Bay in Astoria. The road transected the properties of (amongst several other famous Dutch and English family names from the colonial era) the Riker’s, Skillman’s, and Alsops along its route, and according to the historic record – it was paved with crushed oyster shells. All that changed, of course, when first the Long Island Railroad and later Robert Moses came to town.

43rd street still exists in a fairly unbroken line from Astoria to Northern Blvd. and then crosses the Sunnyside Yards south into Sunnyside where it crosses Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Avenue. When it crosses under the Long Island Expressway overpass, it resumes its pre municipal consolidation name – Laurel Hill Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “43rd street” you encounter in this section of industrial Maspeth, however, is disconnected from the northern section. The last homes on 43rd street went “bye-bye” just a few years ago, due to a smallish construction project going on in the area. With fewer people watching, and caring, the artisanal illegal dumping in this area has amplified.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, you can discern why I sometimes refer to this section as the “crane district.”

You can also plainly see the sharp rise in altitude hereabouts. This is, as mentioned, largely an industrial zone. There’s a lot of heavy industry going on. Warehouse operations, severely heavy truck traffic, waste transfer stations – Newtown Creek is just a few thousand feet to the south.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Newtown Creek, that smallish construction operation I mentioned earlier is the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project, which crosses the waterway. If memory serves, that means that something like a half million vehicles a day pass through this pass between Berlin and Laurel Hills. The Kosciuszko Bridge was opened in 1939, and the Queens side approach was built into a shallow valley found between the two landforms, and over a lost tributary of Newtown Creek which was called “Wolf Creek.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s that, then. See you next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

tangible miasma

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The native art form of Queens, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long has one postulated that the native art form of Queens is illegal dumping. It is accomplished with a compositional flair and attention to detail that Brooklyn and the Bronx can only dream of. When you spend as much time as I do around the Newtown Creek and the concrete devastations surrounding it, this becomes obvious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was heading over to Greenpoint recently, to accomplish some sort of folderol, when the tableau above was observed in LIC’s Blissville section. This was on Greenpoint Avenue, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The dumped mattresses exhibited the tell tale signs of a bedbug infestation, so I was using my telephoto zoom lens to capture shots of it – not wanting to get closer to the things than I needed to.

Bedbugs… brrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m not sure if bedbugs can leap, or jump, or propel themselves through the atmospheric void in some unknown manner which would indicate that they can fly like Superman, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Bedbugs, or “vantzen” as my grandmother would have called them, are grotesque human predators. Vampire insects. The stains on the mattress covers are actually produced by their fecal matter and are literally digested human blood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Grossed out, I propelled myself across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge which spans the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Whatever ails you, parasite wise, will likely be cured by the therapeutic poisons of the Newtown Creek. If Newtown Creek doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger… that’s what I tell myself all the time.

Newtown Creek, is there anything you can’t do?

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

sojourns beyond

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A man needs a decent hat. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After conferring with a friend who is known for his regular display of sartorial excellence, regarding queries as to his current preferences for a haberdashery, a humble narrator found himself heading to the South Side of Williamsburg to purchase a summer hat. Famously, “I wear a lot of hats” – which is how I often describe the complicated web of non profit organizations with whom I’m associated. Saying that, I’ve always favored “old fashioned” hats in my normal round, the sort of things commonly observed on male heads until the early 1970’s – fedoras and the like. I used to have a place near Port Authority where I’d shop for my chapeaus, but that operation is long gone, and burnt away by the fires of gentrification. 

Accordingly, I found myself in a cab heading to Williamsburg (where those fires burn hottest, oddly enough) from Astoria last week. Normally, I’d walk it, but I was still convalescing from a nasty cold which I was suffering from and didn’t want to overexert. Since the logical route involved the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and a trip across the Kosciuszko Bridge and over my beloved Newtown Creek, I had the camera ready to go and was firing the shutter the entire way. 

Pictured above – Calvary Cemetery in Blissville. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hopes that before the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge is demolished that a chance to properly shoot Newtown Creek from up here comes along, rather than just using an insanely high shutter speed and the “spray and pray” technique. “Spray and Pray” is basically a series of blind shots, where you point the prefocused lens in the general direction of a subject and hold down the shutter button with one hand and with the other – you cross your fingers and hope your luck is good. 

The whole ride took around 15 minutes, which is kind of lucky. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from that rooftop in Greenpoint that I mentioned the other day, and it’s a lot more in tune with what one normally goes for – a composed shot with a thought out field of focus. Hopefully, I’ll get to do something similar from up on the “Kos” someday after the BQE is rerouted onto the new span, and before they demolish the old one. 

As far as the hat buying went, I went to “Bencraft” on Broadway and South 8th nearby the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza and bought a spectacular Panama for a reasonable price. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn, there wouldn’t be a single haberdashery left in the entire City of Greater New York.  

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

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fetter upon

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Wandering the post industrial wastelands of America’s Work Shop – that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted the numeral above in LIC recently, adorning the loading dock of some nameless warehousing company housed in the former Waldes Koh-I-Noor site nearby Dutch Kills. The Real Estate Industrial Complex recently discovered the former Degnon Terminal, it seems, and the Waldes buildings are currently being marketed as “The Zipper Building” by the powers that be and to opportunists who have connected themselves to LIC as some sort of stepping stone from Wall Street.

As a note, five is the only prime number that ends with the number five. It’s also the only number which seems to be entirely European in origin, having little verisimilitude to Arabic or Indian glyphs that represent the number. There’s five senses, five books in the Torah, five wounds of Jesus, five pillars of Islam, and in western music – a perfect fifth is considered to be the most consonant of all the harmonies. In geometry, there’s the Pentagram, and of course – you’re reading the pentacle.

Five.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Dutch Kills, when you see a structure of creosoted logs held together with iron, as you do nearby the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge – the official term for this sort of thing is a “dolphin.” It’s meant to vouchsafe the bridge against an accidental collision by maritime traffic, but since there’s little to no maritime traffic on Dutch Kills – a tributary of the legendary Newtown Creek – these days, it’s just a thing to take pictures of.

There’s twelve former trees, infused with creosote oil, in that shot above.

Twelve is thought to be a Germanic/Old English term describing the smallest composite number which has exactly six divisors. It’s the largest number that has a single syllable name in the English language. A cube has twelve edges, the human body has twelve cranial nerves. The Western zodiac has twelve signs, as does the Chinese variant, and the 12th moon of Jupiter is called Lysithea.

Twelve.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk in Greenpoint, should you have a medium long zoom lens on your camera, you can observe the Sims Metal Management Company at work – processing all sorts of metallic things. In the case of the shot above, it’s derelict cars in the process of being recycled. After collection at Sims on Newtown Creek, these automobile carcasses will be barged out to New Jersey where they will be fed into a shredder that will reduce them down to metallic bits and a cloud of dust.

As I count it, there’s eighteen automobiles in the shot above.

The number eighteen translates from the Hebrew word for it (Chai) as “Life.” There’s 18 chapters in the Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the 18 book Mahabharata. Chinese tradition declares the number eighteen as a lucky one. Eighteen in binary code is “10010” which is a seven block long zip code in Manhattan – from 20th to 27th, and from Sixth avenue to the East River.

51218, you ask?  According to the National Institue of Helath, that’s the numerical designation of a gene we inherited from our single cell ancestors.

What all of this means, I can’t say, but it’s kind of freaking me out.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, May 8th at 11 a.m. – North Henry Street Project,
with Municipal Arts Society Janeswalk and Newtown Creek Alliance,
in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

potential responsibility

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Creek Week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After visiting the Kosciuszko Bridge project, 57th avenue, and then Railroad Avenue, a humble narrator’s dogs were barking and a generally homeward course was adopted. As usual, that meant swinging down Borden Avenue and cutting over to Skillman Avenue on the way back to raven tressed Astoria. 

My favorite sections of Newtown Creek to photograph are found in LIC, along this particular tributary of the troubled waterway – called Dutch Kills.

It’s something about the light, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I haven’t been around here in a few weeks, and I discovered that a formerly fenced in section of the shoreline adjoining the Borden Avenue Bridge had been cleared away, which offered a few points of view which would have formerly required illegal trespass to capture.

Given such an opportunity, a humble narrator will always take it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking west, towards what I call the “empty corridor” found under the Long Island Expressway truss.

The LIE is some 106 feet high in this spot over Dutch Kills, and was built so to accommodate the stacks of ocean going vessels which were headed for the Degnon Terminal Turning Basin which is about a half mile away. The Federal War Dept. also required this particular height for the possibility of installing warships in the canal in order to protect the industrial sector in case of foreign invasion forces entering New York Harbor (a real worry, prior to the Atomic Bomb).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, you see the sort of scene most life long Queensicans would associate with the words “Newtown Creek.” Still, check out that tuney old truck – cool, huh?

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babbling over

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National Feasting week is upon us, eat long and hard, lords and ladies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the magical Chrysler Building, surrounding by the dross modernity of Manhattan. One of the few shots captured in the City after a recent crossing the Queensboro Bridge, which was detailed in recent posts. Odds are that few, or any, of you reading this post will actually be in New York for the holiday weekend – so Newtown Pentacle will be going into its traditional holding pattern for the next few days.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be publishing, but it’s just going to some pretty pictures for a few days, without much meat on the bone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, your humble narrator will be in town.

Holiday weekends such as Thanksgiving are a fantastic time to avoid family and friends for me, and to wander aimlessly about in the concrete devastations of the nearly deserted industrial quarters of the Newtown Creek. There’s quite a few irons in the fire, however, and one fairly earth shattering project in LIC which I’m extremely excited about which I’ll fill y’all in on when you settle back into your desk chairs on Monday next.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suffice to say that it involves a defunct railroad trackway, LIC, and the MTA itself. I’d tell you more, but that would technically be “spoilers.”

Have a happy and a healthy one, lords and ladies.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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