The Newtown Pentacle

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utmost interest

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It’s World Hijab Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Boy oh boy, it has been a fairly depressing couple of weeks, huh?

As mentioned in the past, several of the casual friendships I enjoy at my local saloon include fellows who were Trump supporters. They’ve been forcing the rest of us to eat crow since the election, a phenomena which I’ve termed as being “sore winners.” Funny bit is, last week I was sitting alongside one of them “shooting the shit” when his phone began to light up as his union coworkers began teasing him that he’s too fat to be able to climb back in to the country over Trump’s wall. He, Mumbly Joe that is, presumed that when Mr. Trump talked about illegal aliens or those who have overstayed their visa period it was in reference to Mexicans and not Croatians. In my neighborhood, here in Astoria, back in the 1970’s when the predominant numbers of Yugoslavian and Greeks emigrated – it was far easier to get citizenship and green card paperwork fulfilled by certain distaff members of the Italian community for a fee than it was to “go through channels” with the Feds. This is also true for the Irish emigres of the 70’s and 80’s, incidentally.

As always – be careful what you ask for, as you just might get it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has truly enjoyed watching Mayor de Blasio attempting to position himself as figure of national importance during all this, presenting himself as the opposition to the current administration in Washington. The Mayor of NYC is an important position, of course, but City Hall does not “get you a seat on the rocket” which will launch and preserve the lives of important people as the world is ending. It’s also been a joy comparing him to Dickens’ Jakob Marley, dragging the chains of his own perfidy and legal trouble around as he has postured on the national stage.

Speaking on a strictly local level – why are we taxpayers expected to pay the nearly twelve million bucks for the legal defense teams that will attempt to keep the “dope from Park Slope” and his cronies from paying the piper for his sins?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It has actually been a pleasure watching the Democrats, both national and local, trying to figure out a way to attach themselves to the spontaneous and self organizing protests springing up all around them. Ever since the 1990’s, the national party has been operating in a space which – back in the 1980’s and 90’s – would have labeled them as centrist Republicans. Big business, corporatism, a deep embrace of the “forever war.”

When I’ve had labels thrown at me in the last few years – libtard, liberal, etc. – I’ve asked “What does that mean”? There hasn’t been a true liberal in the national sense since President Johnson (or just maybe Carter) and the last “actual” conservative on the Republican side was Bush the elder. Bill Clinton and Obama were actually left leaning conservatives, Bush the younger was a “radical,” and what we’ve got now… well, there isn’t a name for what Trump is yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My buddies at the bar all tell me “give him a chance.”

I respond that Trump has already blown that chance, just in the first days he’s been in office. I’ve been following with great interest the early signs of factionalization amongst the National Republicans, as the actual “conservatives” are beginning to break away from the White House. One thing that’s been truly interesting to consider is the observation that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is actually the most powerful person in the country right now, simply because it’s the Speaker of the House who holds the switch that triggers impeachment. In the meantime, Donald Trump has nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, as well as the ability to unleash the greatest military machine in human history on anyone he wants.

The Congress hasn’t held this much actual power since the early days of the imperial Presidency back in the 1950’s, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s it for my little missive about National and Local Politics. As I’ve been saying since the election, National stuff is way above my pay grade, and I’m laser focused on local matters which directly affect me and mine. The Sunnyside Yards decking battle is coming, and the Superfund situation on a certain local waterway is about to come to a head. We are being developed to death by the Real Estate shit flies, and Western Queens is under siege by opportunists from Manhattan. There’s an Underground Railroad to set up for the Mexicans… simply put, there’s lots to do.

Bill de Blasio and his vainglory must be sent back to Park Slope, and ultimately – Carthage must be destroyed.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 1, 2017 at 2:00 pm

eastern headland

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Cool cars trucks, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering home one day, I encountered this fantastically retro GMC RV parked alongside the Sunnyside Yards on 43rd street. Fiberglass body panels, panel truck frame… I didn’t check the registration sticker, but I think this is a GMC Motorhome, which was produced from 1973-8. There were only about 12,000 of these manufactured, and according to online sources, 7,000 of those are still registered and on the road.

They really knew how to make ’em back then, huh? This sucker is almost as old as me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A fence was down at the Sunnyside Yards the same day I spotted the GMC Motorhome, revealing the cable truck seen above. Love the wooden spools, I do. Made me think that some titanic tailor had taken up residence at what was once the world’s largest railroad coach yard, and had used up all the threading which the truck brought in.

If you’re a giant, you can’t buy off the rack, as even a “big and tall” clothing shop has limits. Just ask the Mayor… as the Dope from Park Slope is Brobigdagnian. Maybe the giant tailor is working for him.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Northern Blvd., the delivery of automobiles is a daily occurrence. I’ve mentioned before that this sort of sight brings out my inner seven year old in the same way that FDNY engine units screaming by does. There’s a reason that I call Northern Blvd. “the Carridor” y’know.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm

loathsome tittering

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Astoria, Queens rules – In today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering about in the dark and cold, as one is wont to do, this inflatable snowman was encountered on Northern Blvd. at the angle between Astoria and Sunnyside. For those of you who don’t “speak Mitch,” an angle is the borderland between two neighborhoods where you’re neither here nor there. These “angles” are usually where the old municipal borders between the town and villages of Western Queens were found – prior to the creation of Long Island City in 1870, or the consolidation of the greater city in 1898. These angles are where Robert Moses would usually site his roads, as is the case with the border between Sunnyside and Blissville or Woodside and Maspeth where the LIE was built, or between Long Island City and Maspeth when the BQE was routed.

I’ve always ascribed this to Robert Moses having been clever enough to play the politicians of both communities off of each other, which got him better deals and concessions from each. These ward bosses and assemblymen and town Mayors could then report back to their constituents that not only didn’t they allow Moses to dig a trench through the center of their town but that Old Man Moses had promised them that building jobs would be available for anyone that the elected official put forward. That’s how you build a city!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also spotted while picking my lonely way through the nighted devastations was this pair of taxis gassing up before starting (or ending, perhaps) their shifts. Urban ephemera is what I’m all about these days – gas stations, car washes, minor bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Longtime readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – might remember that there was an electrical transformer fire on my corner back in July of 2016, which was described in this post. This set off a whole slew of work by Con Ed and its contractors here in Astoria, some of which is discussed in this post. During the intervening months since the event, multiple crews of workers have randomly shown up on the corner, then dug a new trench down into the street, did some sort of stuff, and then filled in their new hole. Two to three random weeks later, another bunch of guys in orange vests shows up and then they repeat the process.

The latest passel of work involves the replacement of a lamp post, which must have been shorted out during the transformer fire. Pictured above is a crew who have dug the most recent trench, this time going from the transformer to the affected lamp pole. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the lamp pole now seems to have power, the newly installed LED luminaire mounted on the pole is displaying a red bar rather bright bluish white light. The red bar is the “trouble” signal that repairs are needed, I’m told.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

unctuous haggling

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Banal pedantry, Northern Blvd., and the carriers of cars – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering about in the dark along the Carridor, or Northern Blvd. as most people call it, one was recently contemplating his place in the world and the meaning of everything. Given that any long hard look in the mirror only depresses a humble narrator, I tend to avoid turning my famously incisive vision upon myself for fear of what I may see in a pane of silvered glass. I’ve taken to wandering about in the dark these days, suffering the lapsing of the lonely hours one must endure before the beckoning of the grave becomes irresistible, and in darkness so as to spare others a chance meeting with one so aberrant.

How’s that for holiday season depression? Pretty good, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of the Northern Blvd. Carridor is distinguished by gargantuan used car lots, and the biggest one is owned and operated by Major Auto World. There’s a couple of smaller players, but if you’re between 43rd and 47th streets and spot a car lot, the odds are that the auto retailer is owned or franchised by Major.

The good news is that unlike Northern Astoria or Maspeth, no mob of torch wielding peasants has ever chased me around these parts. A monster does have feelings, y’know.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One became fascinated watching the dark of night show as multiple car carriers disgorged their cargo to the various car lots for display and eventual sale. Car Carriers are endlessly engaging and curious vehicles to me, although the ones I’m truly occupied by are the ones that carry trucks to the car lots. The whole idea of a truck which carries trucks appeals to me, but – after all – I am an idiot.

At any rate, the ones spotted recently at the Carridor were carrying cars, not trucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The amazing part of all of this action on Northern Blvd. – to me – was the haphazard manner in which it was conducted. Spending as much time as I do around union guys – my neighbor Mario sets up safety cones when we BBQ – it is startling to see the car carriers unloaded right into the middle of oncoming traffic with nothing more than the truck’s hazard lights to indicate to oncoming traffic that a sticky situation is about to be entered.

What do I know, however? It’s all banal, isn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The trucker unloading this car carrier rig noticed me taking pictures and shot me what would have been called – in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn – as the “hairy eyeball.” Not really caring too much, and hoping for some sort of antagonist provocation to break through the numb pedantry of my daily round, I kept shooting.

Nothing happened, though, and it was decided that my existential boredom hadn’t peaked yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One last shot, captured whilst scuttling away to the west.

The whole “night photography thing” continues to excite me, as you may have noticed. A couple of new “digital darkroom” tricks I’ve worked out and have begun to institute in pursuance of conquering the digital “noise” inherent in lowlight shots are also proving highly interesting.

Saying that, I’m still not exactly in love with my results, but I’m starting to get close to where I want to go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To wit, this shot from Greenpoint, which is the sort of “range of human vision” effect that I’m pursuing.

Something to do in the dark, I guess. It’s all pretty depressing, though.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

little polyhedron

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Street photography, literally, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every little facet of Western Queens is endlessly fascinating to one such as myself. The section of Jackson Avenue which was refashioned into Northern Blvd. in the early 20th century (a puzzling nomenclature, as it runs east/west, and both Ditmars and Astoria Blvd. are further north), which I’ve long referred to as the “Carridor” has a distinctive look and feel. On the western end of it, the Real Estate Industrial Complex has finally broken through the barrier presented by the southern end of 31st street and large scale tower production is under way. It won’t be long before the Manhattan skyline views which Western Queens is known for will be completely obfuscated by the glass boxes being hurled at the sky.

Let’s face it, a used car lot has a huge footprint, and the Real Estate shit flies are rapacious when the subject of Sasquatch property lots arises. Thing is, this used car lot strains the Municipal infrastructure a whole let less than a block of apartments.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on 43rd street, a longish roadway that leads from Newtown Creek to the south to a northern terminus at Bowery Bay and which transverses Astoria, Sunnyside, and Blissville that used to be called Laurel Hill Blvd., there’s a window on the world of tomorrow which can be observed by looking over the Sunnyside Yards at the western horizon. In Tolkien’s epics, it’s the west that the elves disappeared into. Coincidentally, the same mythology is presented as relating to the Decadent Dutch colonials who fled the “English” through Western New York and New Jersey by the literature of Washington Irving, H.P. Lovecraft, and many others. In Western Queens, the Real Estate Industrial Complex has stolen the western sky, as evinced by the shield wall of luxury apartment buildings rising from the filled in swamps of Long Island City pictured above.

Legend has it that the Dutch will return someday, when we need them most, but we won’t see them coming anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The same shield wall of construction is visible from the eastern side of Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside, which rises from the elluvial flood plains of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary nearby Skillman’s intersection with Thomson Avenue. The intersection of two communities is nearby, on a sloping hill which hosts both a “Woodside” and a “Sunnyside.” The Woodside, my reading suggests, was heavily forested with deciduous speciation in its aboriginal state, and the Sunnyside was more of grassland interspersed with coniferous trees that graduated into what would best described as an environment resembling the Louisiana Bayous.

The Sunnyside of the hill sloped down to the swampy lowlands of what’s now Queens Plaza, Dutch Kills (neighborhood), and the Degnon terminal area. This condition, which bred what was contemporaneously described as a “pestilential number of cholera and typhus carrying mosquitoes,” largely persisted in Queens until the early 20th century when the Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal, and Queensboro Bridge construction projects included a fair bit of land reclamation and swamp drainage.

Upcoming tours and events:


“Brooklyn Waterfront – Past & Present” boat tour
with Working Harbor Committee, Thursday, September 15th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“13 Steps around Dutch Kills” walking tour
with Atlas Obscura, Sunday, September 18th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 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

swoopingly through

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Cool cars, Astoria/Woodside edition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gangster! Spotted this late model parked along Newtown Road near its intersection with Northern Blvd. recently. It’s registration sticker says it’s a 1960 Buick Four Door Sedan, and I do believe that it’s actually a 1960 LeSabre.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I dig the way the body styling above the head lamps makes it look angry. When you’re talking about a 1960 Buick, you should be using slang like “dig,” by the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The car wasn’t exactly “cherry,” as it had some body issues and was missing its proper wheel covers and more than a little bit of its chrome, but there’s a body shop on the corner of Northern which often has “cool cars” flowing through its lot so I suspect that this was one of theirs and that it was going to be receiving some love and attention.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a giant 8 cylinder engine under the hood of this auto, incidentally. If you’ve never driven a 1960’s Buick, I feel sorry for you, as you have no idea what real acceleration feels like.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This “cool car,” lords and ladies, caused a humble narrator to say out loud “me want.”

Of course, you’d be dropping half a tank of gas to get from one corner to the next, due to that giant 8 cylinder engine. It’s also from the “unsafe at any speed” era, so it’s likely that bumping into another car while parking might decapitate you, but…

Upcoming Events and Tours

Thursday, June 30, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Elizabeth Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm

repellant mannerisms

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No more meetings, supposition instead, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last few days, you’ve been informed about my various causes and committees, and some of the “inside baseball” on the Newtown Creek story has been offered. There’s more I could tell you, and will in the fullness of time. I’ve got a whole world of weird minglings with the “powers that be” which I can relate, but a lot of these encounters are in situations where some discretion is expected from all parties and I don’t want to act like a jerk and tattle everything I’ve been told about this and that.

One thing which I’ve been annoying the powerful about is the Mayor’s proposed street car system – the BQX. When I bring it up, the powers and potentates of the permanent government exhibit a momentary flash of wild panic, and they then start assuring me that it’s an entirely reasonable proposal, all the while forcing that horrible crocodile grin of the professional politician across their mugs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve got the route of this BQX thing figured out, incidentally. It’s an Einsteinian thought experiment, this, and entirely out of my own brain – none of the officials I know will say anything other than “we’re looking at a number of options” even in informal settings. My impression is that the Mayor just dropped this on officialdom and didn’t really check with anyone to see if the BQX was feasible before announcing it, but that’s strictly an impression. The route I list below is based on my personal knowledge gained from thousands of hours walking the western shore of Long Island, coupled with literally hundreds of water born observations.

At the northern side – it’ll start at the former Politti Power Plant by Astoria Park, travel down Shore Road to the corner of Astoria Park South, and then ride on a causeway built into the water, on its way to the Astoria Point development. It’ll roll around the periphery of the peninsula which Astoria Point will share with NYCHA’s Astoria Houses and then come back to shore at Hallets Cove near Socrates Sculpture Garden. It then heads south along Vernon to LIC, turning west at 46th avenue to meet and make a left on Center Blvd. just after Anable Basin. From there, it continues down to second street and a new drawbridge over Newtown Creek, which meets up with West Street in Greenpoint. South along West to Kent and Williamsburg, then around Wallabout Creek to Kent’s intersection with Flushing Avenue. The BQX then tracks south down Flushing Avenue and around the Navy Yard.

I’ll get to Vinegar Hill and DUMBO in a minute.

Let’s just skip ahead to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where Furman Street would carry BQX south to Columbia and then it would track under the Gowanus Expressway through Red Hook and all the way to Industry City in Sunset Park. I think it would be passing over a retrofitted Hamilton Avenue Bridge spanning over the Gowanus Canal.

Hamilton carries the BQX trackway to Third Avenue and – VOILA – you’re at Industry City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fly in the BQX ointment, as I see it, is precisely that Vinegar Hill section and the area which my dad used to refer to as “Downtown Brooklyn” where the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges converge with Subway lines, highways, a complex of courts, housing projects, government buildings, the rich people in Brooklyn Heights who are easily annoyed and politically relevant, and – literally – the highest real estate valuations which can be found upon the planet along Brooklyn’s Gold Coast.

I have no idea how you’d thread the streetcar needle through that area, and most of the important people (whom you’d be surprised I even know, let alone enjoy congenial relationships with – I still can’t believe some of the folks I get to interact with) I’ve asked how no idea how to do it either. I’ve been told by engineer friends in the construction business that it would be easier to build the two new bridges over Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal for this project, simultaneously, than it will be to acquire or afford enough space in “Downtown Brooklyn” for the BQX.

It’s funny, I have no real opinion on this project. I’m neither for, nor against, as I explain to these members of the permanent government whom I condemn to this conversation. I just think it’s kind of an interesting thought experiment, and when the conversation runs its course – alternatively suggest select bus service which could use the route described above, and you wouldn’t have to build any new bridges or buy up parts of DUMBO to accomplish the goal of the thing and achieve a right of way.

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April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 14, 2016 at 11:00 am

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