The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Maspeth’ Category

vital change

with one comment

DUKBO, in today’s all ‘effed up post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before you ask, no, I didn’t get any shots of the Astoria Borealis. I was too busy running around HQ and unplugging all my gear. Not my first Con Ed rodeo here in Astoria, and experience has expensively taught me to unplug the gear when weird electrical things are occurring. Now, back to…

Laurel Hill Blvd. used to be the legal border between Maspeth and Long Island City, and in those halcyon days before NYC consolidation, nobody used the term “Queens.” They sort of made that one up in 1898, the Tammany boys did. This “angle” between neighborhoods is often visited by a humble narrator, and given the deserted and lonely condition of the place it’s where one such as myself belongs. I shouldn’t be around people, preferring as I do the darkness found amongst these places of abandonment, broken pavement, and poisoned soil.

At this particular moment, still reeling from all the smiling and comraderie of the holiday season, one is not unlike a regularly beaten animal – vicious and ready to bite.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst hanging about the fencelines of a cemetery at night, as one does, I was busy mentally considering my “book of rules,” specifically the section that discusses the verbalization or offering of threats. My “book of rules” is a codified series of truisms which I’ve created or collected for myself over the years. Every man should have a code, I believe. Mine includes “say what you do and do what you say,” amongst others, but in the case of the “threats” subsection of the larger “aggressive behavior” chapter heading I’ve been thinking about adding a few things lately. There’s a couple I’ve picked up from others like Nietzche’s “regret is like chewing on a stone and has the same result” or Shaka Zulu’s “never leave an enemy alive or he will rise again to strike at your throat.” Mainly, these revisions to the code revolve around, and advise, specificity. There’s a whole section on “That’s how they getcha” which advises against ordering pasta as a main course in restaurants, but that’s a different story.

On the threat front, it’s far more effective – in my experience – to offer “I’m going to take your eyes” or “I’m going to break your arm, the left one, above the elbow” than more generalized statements revolving around the kicking or punching of the various sections of an enemy’s anatomy. Also, “I’m going to end you” is just way, way too vague.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I’m out at night taking photos of junkyards and construction sites, one is attempting to use every watt of brain energy he’s got, which isn’t much so I have to ration. In addition to watching out for the approach of vehicular traffic or malign examples of the local population, and avoiding obstacles or pitfalls in my path, as I’m composing photos and operating the camera, there’s generally an audiobook or podcast playing through my headphones. In another layer of thought, I’m engaging in an inner dialogue which focuses on times I’ve been wronged without redress (the shot above involved reliving the time in Third Grade that Karen Yee told the teacher that I’d kicked her on the stairs while our class was going down to assembly. I was innocent then, and now, and Karen Yee can burn in the hell of liars). Yet another layer is constantly revising the codification of the “Book of Rules” which, as mentioned above, revolve around several topics. “Don’t eat shellfish at the start of a vacation,” for instance.

Also, I had to pee.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Advertisements

oblique thing

leave a comment »

Friday odds and ends, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday’s snow storm really seemed to catch the City of Greater New York flat footed, huh? I actually had to contact Jimmy Van Bramer at one point in the evening to let him know that Broadway in Astoria hadn’t seen a snow plow or salt spreader all day. Within 15 minutes of me contacting the Councilmember, the plows came rolling through, which is one of the reasons that I’m glad my representative in the City Council is Mr. James Van Bramer. It’s also one of the reasons that I detest the Mayor so much, as since he’s been in office basic City services such as clearing roads during snow storms have become dependent on “knowing somebody important.”

Progressive in name only, or PINO, that’s what the Dope from Park Slope is. Every Mayor since John Lindsay has heeded the importance of clearing the roads in Queens during snow events. The Mayor tweeted that he was caught in traffic like “all of his fellow New Yorkers.” Unlike his fellow New Yorkers, the Mayor was in a caravan of NYPD driven SUV’s. His fellow New Yorkers, largely, opted to take the Subway instead. That’s what we do. Unfortunately… MTA… which I’m happy to report that former Borough President of the Bronx and failed Mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer is once again interim chair of. I know…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were captured around Newtown Creek, as part of a series of night shots which have recently been presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle – in recent weeks. Above is a shot of the Maspeth Plank road site during an unusually low tide, and is one of the few where I actually set up a portable light.

This particular light is an LED floodlight which is nice and bright, but doesn’t have much “throw,” meaning that at close distance it’s particularly effective but that the light diffuses out into nothing after about 5-10 feet. This is a long exposure shot, so the light gathering quality of this sort of exposure allowed me to light up those bits of wood you see which have somehow survived in this spot since 1875 when Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States and once supported a privately owned bridge across the Newtown Creek called the Maspeth Toll Road.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One plans, weather depending of course, on lugging the tripod and camera bag around at night again this weekend. Who knows what I’m going to see? My heartfelt desire would be to somehow get permission to enter Calvary Cemetery at night and record the darkened landscapes there, but that’s not likely to happen.

If you see some weirdo in a filthy black raincoat on the side of the road with a yellow safety vest and a tripod, that’ll be me. Don’t bother me though, I’ll be working.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 16, 2018 at 2:00 pm

immediately arranged

with one comment

Maspeth Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was an unusually low tide last Sunday night, discovered upon my arrival at the Maspeth Creek tributary of the larger Newtown Creek, and if one were to describe the exposed mud flats as being aromatic… that would be a bit of an understatement. Luckily, a humble narrator was alone in the concrete devastations, which provided for an opportunity for derring do and risky behavior. Soon, I found myself perched on a crumbling concrete ledge with a tripod and camera and a two story drop into the stinking mud just one stumble away, with a chain link fence directly behind that my free hand was clutched to. You want to be, always, on the other side of that fence.

This is exactly the sort of thing which I advise others not to do, as it’s stupid and foolhardy, but… I got my shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time and just a few blocks away from this spot, DeWitt Clinton sat on his porch and watched a meandering Maspeth Creek flow past his house, when the waterway was navigible half of the way to Elmhurst, and dreamt up the Erie Canal. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Maspeth Creek was described by contemporaries as a “stinking swamp, surrounded by pestilential industries and ugly to the ultimate degree.” By the time WW2 came along, this was where you’d access the bulkheads of the United Enameling and Stamping Co.

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Maspeth Creek was canalized and truncated, with its eastward or landward side being entirely taken over by a large combined sewer outfall concrete vault, and its once upon a time course towards Elmhurst buried into a sewer. In fact, the concrete ledge from which these shots were gathered is the roof of that sewer vault, known to Newtown Creek enthusiasts and Government regulators alike as “NC-077.” This drain reportedly allows about 289 million gallons of untreated wastewater a year to saturate into the tributary and deposit filth into it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were all sorts of critters moving around in the darkness; Geese, Rats, and Raccoons were all personally spotted, but there were other unseen but hinted at forms of life in both the water column and crawling about and along the shorelines. Something fairly large was crashing around in the bush found on the southern bulkheads, but that could have just been some of the Raccoons, or maybe some Opossums. I did not observe anything with tentacles, but I’ve always had certain suspicions about Maspeth Creek, revolving around old Lenape tales suggesting this area as “not being right.”

As far as what might be tunneling, wriggling, or sliding about in the exposed Black Mayonnaise sediment beds… who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

often waylaid

with 2 comments

If you want spooky, Industrial Maspeth at night is your best bet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s nothing spookier than a feeling of personal vulnerability, a discernment of solitude, and the certainty that there’s no escape should trouble or danger arise. Most avoid finding themselves in this sort of situation, a humble narrator instead seeks them out. After attending a performance art event at a friend’s house nearby which was both artsy and fartsy, one headed in the direction of that notorious cataract of municipal indifference called the Newtown Creek and got busy with the camera, Saturday last. It was sort of late, about ten p.m. I’d wager, and fairly comfortable climatically so a short scuttle into the nighted concrete devastations found me headed towards the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

The streets were empty, except for a few security guards sleeping in their security guard boxes at the MTA’s Grand Avenue Depot, or Sanitation workers enjoying weekend overtime shift work and smoking cigars in front of a DSNY garage. A humble narrator, filthy black raincoat flapping about, pretty much had the place to himself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was no sign of any sort of life other than the aforementioned municipal employees and errant geese, the latter of whom were heard rather than seen. Every now and then, I’d spot the eye reflection of feral felines prowling about in the darkness. For once, I was carrying a fairly ok consumer level LED floodlight, so I waved it around a bit while shooting. It’s pretty bright up close, as a note, but once you get past six or so feet from the thing it’s emanations begin to diffuse out to nothingness.

One of the many things which I “nerd out” about are flashlights. There’s two ways to describe the output from a “torch.” The first involves the actual light output of the thing, which is measured in “lumens,” the second is “throw.” Throw involves how far the light travels as a cohesive beam. The particular flood light I have is great on the lumen count, just not so great on the throw. With a long exposure night shot, however, it’s really about producing just a little foreground detail in what would otherwise be a field of blackness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wave the camera around at Plank Road all the time, but for some reason I had the distinct sensation that somebody was both nearby and watching me. There were occasional sounds coming from the brush surrounding the clearing at the water’s edge, but as mentioned – geese, and cats. I’m sure that there was some watership down action involving rats going on as well, but those sneaky little bastards are great at not being seen or heard.

This is what was behind me, which I kept on craning my neck around to check on due to paranoid imaginings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last time I published a shot similar to this one, which included a lens flare just like the one seen above, a whole thread of comments was unleashed about the visual artifact and its coloration. I was advised to retouch it out, which I rejected. Despite the many years I spent professionally engaged as a Madison Avenue Advertising Photo Retoucher, perhaps because of that, I tend to try and do everything “in camera.” There is a slight bit of alteration in the shot above, other than normal adjustments for brightness, contrast, and color temperature to the “raw” file – an exposure gradient is laid into the extreme top of the shot to darken up the otherwise fairly blown out concrete plant and sky.

I’m not against monkeying with the shot, obviously, but given the level of manipulation that’s possible these days I try to maintain the integrity of the original photo as much as possible whenever possible. If a lens flare manifests in camera, it’s part of the scene as I shot it and it stays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking to the west along Newtown Creek from the Maspeth Plank Road, with the Kosciuszcko Bridge all lit up like some strumpet, or a Greek coffee shop. That purple beam rocketing up out of the bridge’s lights is visible from a couple of miles away back in Astoria. One cloudy or rainy nights, there’s a giant luminous blob of unnatural color visible in the sky.

I’m still debating whether or not I like this part of the new bridge, but I can tell you that the saturated colors produced by its powerful LED lighting wreaks havoc when developing night shots and it’s a real challenge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “tripod section” of my night accomplished, one affixed a “bright lens” to the camera and began scuttling back towards Astoria. The walk home to HQ was uneventful, but I didn’t find my way inside the domicile until well after midnight.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 23, 2018 at 11:45 am

polyploid extrusions

with 3 comments

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

was nightlocking

with one comment

Who can guess, all there is, that might be lurking down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In industrial Maspeth, where I spent last Sunday afternoon, are the relict maritime industrial bulkheads of a corporate outfit called Phelps Dodge, which has long since “left the building.” The Phelps Dodge property has been divided up, sold off, and developed separately. The company, which was in the copper refining trade along Newtown Creek, is one of the “PRP” or “potentially responsible parties” originally named in the EPA’s 2010 Superfund declaration for the waterway. Although there isn’t even a sign indicating they were once here, Phelps was one of the largest employers on the Queens side of the Creek for more than a century. The first incarnation of what would become the Phelps Dodge plant on the LIC/Maspeth border planted heir stakes here in 1872 as “G.H. Nichols and Co.,” later becoming “Nichols Chemical Co.” in 1891 and then “General Chemical Company” in 1899. In 1930, the so called Laurel Hill plant was purchased by the Phelps Dodge corporation. At it’s height, the plant directly employed 17,000 people.

They manufactured several chemicals here, but their main product line centered around sulfuric acid. The Phelps Dodge people were copper refiners, ultimately, and used the acid to free metal ore from the rock it was embedded in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Laurel Hill Plant declined, and in 1984 it was shuttered. The United States Postal Service purchased the site from Phelps Dodge in 1986, hoping to use it as a truck storage yard, but it was soon determined that the property was too contaminated for use as a parking lot and a judge ordered Phelps Dodge to buy back the property in 1996. In 2001, the old factory and acid mill buildings were torn down, and the property was subdivided into lots. At one of these lots, the Restaurant Depot wholesale chain erected a location. On another, the Koscisuzcko Bridge replacement project is playing out, and on yet another a brand new Federal Express shipping hub has been created.

The shots in today’s post depict the last vestiges of Phelps’s long occupancy, the remains of heavy piers which carried terminal railway trackage on them, allowing for barge to rail operations at the acid factory and copper refinery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Phelps Dodge property is found just to the south of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks, along a section known as “deadmans curve.” The nickname for this section of the tracks is due to the Berlinville Rail Disaster in 1893 (two LIRR passenger trains collided at speed, engine to engine) and the habits of Phelps Dodge workers who would routinely attempt to run in front of and outpace the trains when crossing the railroad tracks, resulting in a lot of squished employees.

Modern day 43rd street used to be a colonial era pathway that crossed modern day Queens from the forbidden northern coast of Queens’ Berrian and Riker properties at Bowery Bay in Astoria, then ran south and across the swamps at modern day Northern Blvd. and then over the hills of Middleburgh (Sunnyside) and then down to Newtown Creek through Maspeth. This path was paved with crushed oyster shells, and hence was called “The Shell Road.” It’s a little hard to visualize this in modernity, because y’know… Robert Moses. The Long Island Expressway, BQE, Queens Blvd., Northern Blvd., and the Grand Central Parkway all conclude this ancient pathway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a couple of other businesses on the former Phelps properties, but none of them look towards the water. I can’t speak intelligently about who owns what, but from observation it seems that since Superfund when a property changes hands on the creek the original owner holds on to the sections that directly touch the water. My presumption is that this insulates the new owners against liability for the cleanup costs, but that’s an assumption and you know what “they” say when you “assume” something. It makes an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”

What I can tell you for certain is that these collapsing and rotting heavy piers look pretty cool and make for good lens fodder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That water pouring out of the pipe you see is a permitted “SPDES” outfall, and connected to the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. It was a late afternoon low tide period when these shots were captured. With all the rain we’ve been getting, the “eau de Creek” was particularly strong and inescapable, amplified as it was by a dew point humidity up in the 75% range.

A humble narrator was also cooking in the early August emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and there were a few times when touching the camera that I was concerned about how hot it was getting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before any of you accuse me of heavily retouching or manipulating these shots to make things look surreal and weird – here’s how I got them:

These are deep focus, narrow aperture tripod shots accomplished via the usage of a ten stop ND filter. This allows for exposure times of (in the case of today’s images) twenty to thirty seconds. This smooths out the water, and renders the specular highlights of sun and wave invisible. It also allows the camera to peer into the shallows and depths alike, offering a chance to observe and answer the oft asked question of “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

remonstrating hotly

with 2 comments

 Industrial Maspeth, where I go to get away from it all, is shvitzy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing I can tell you with certainty, that I would actually attest to in a court of law, is that the “Maspeth Heat Island Effect” is no myth. This is an environmental phenomena affecting urbanized areas where vegetation has been entirely replaced by concrete and cement. The entire inner urbanized core of New York City and its satellite cities around the archipelago are typically a few degrees warmer than vegetated or forested geography, but there’s a few spots in the city itself which can anywhere between five and fifteen degrees warmer (even at night) than they should be during (particularly) the summer months. This is the result of all that concrete baking in the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself all day, and the predisposition of masonry and concrete to “hold” heat and then radiate it out. NASA thermal imaging maps of NYC show Crown Heights, Sunset Park, and Greenpoint/Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Fordham and Hunts Point in the Bronx, Midtown East and the Financial District in Manhattan, Long Island City and Maspeth in Queens as being  the hottest parts of the City of Greater New York. 

Industrial Maspeth is literally the hottest spot on NASA’s map.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot going on because of these elevated temperatures that isn’t obvious. On the economic side, it means that businesses and homes in the hot zone spend a LOT more on cooling their facilities down with air conditioning and ventilation (Willis Carrier invented air conditioning at Newtown Creek, as a note). The tar used to seal roofs and repair roadways gets all gummy, area waterways experience depressed oxygen levels, and life found in the heat islands are stressed out. 

That includes us, incidentally. You can actually feel it getting warmer the closer you get. When I’m walking down 48th street from Sunnyside towards industrial Maspeth during the summer, crossing under the overpass for the Long Island Expressway involves the encounter of what feels like a “wall of hot.” Additionally, the squamous nature of industrial architecture with its long masonry walls and unforgiving streetscape tends to defeat the natural laminar flow of air currents. Any breeze there is tends to get sucked into the convective upwelling of warm air. That leaves behind radiant heat and atmospheric humidity with nothing to break it up, even temporarily. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The solution, which I’m just passing along from scholarly sources, is the promulgation of “living” or green roofs. Street trees and other plantings like rain gardens or bio-swales isn’t terribly realistic in areas like industrial Mapseth due to its occupation. Heavy vehicles ply these streets daily, and in the case of facilities like the MTA’s Grand Avenue Depot pictured above, the lanes and avenues and roads and drives of Industrial Maspeth are where these heavy vehicles are maintained and serviced. The entire bus company of Brooklyn makes its way to that spot pictured above at least once a week.

One of the interesting “carrot and stick” approaches to breaking up the heat island effect centers around creating a metered sewerage tax for new construction, with an exemption to this fee offered to property owners who install a green roof as part of their building design. This would divert water from the overtaxed DEP sewer system during rain events, and create acreages of urban greenery that would serve as a passive cooling system for the buildings, reducing energy costs and load on the archaic electrical grid. 


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 13, 2018 at 11:02 am

%d bloggers like this: