The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Northern Blvd.’ Category

every evidence

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2018 at 11:15 am

learned abroad

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Is it “Hell in a hand basket,” or are our hand baskets sending us to hell? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the very few places where my personal ideology aligns with that of the Dope from Park Slope – aka the current Mayor of the City of Greater New York – concerns discouraging the continued usage of those plastic shopping bags that every shop in NYC jams their goods into. I’m old enough to remember when the then ubiquitous brown paper bag was phased out in favor of these things. The excuse at the time was that “it saved trees” not using paper.

Of course, in the current era of ubiquitous municipal recyling programs, those paper bags would be worth a small fortune on the “pulp” market. The plastic ones, well, they ain’t exactly saving any trees here in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This unfortunate example of the urban arbor is found on 43rd street, just off Northern Blvd. It serves the community as a rake set high into the air column, gathering unto itself wind blown trash. Given that the common plastic grocery sack couldn’t be better designed, as far as parasailing, the air is sometimes thick around Western Queens with these things. Ask my colleague Will Elkins (at Newtown Creek Alliance) about how many of these things he scoops out of the water every year.

Plastic, ultimately, is a waste product of the oil refining process, just like asphalt. That means that the manufacture of new plastic items, in particular poly vinyl chloride based ones, uses a super cheap “feed stock” and are massively profitable to produce and sell accordingly. If some science fiction like limitless and clean energy source was discovered today, we’d still be using petroleum a century from now, so this is a problem that isn’t going away.

People from industrialized countries might say “oil? if we went all “sci fi power source,” it would disappear.” Remember that right now and today in 2018, at least 50% of all living humans use wood fires to heat their homes and cook their food. Coal is still used in massive quantities all over the world, and the underlying technology behind even a nuclear power plant is ultimately a steam driven engine. “Installed base” is the conversation, not fuel source. Just saying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which right wingers opine about environmentalists is that they often have no idea what they’re doing and have just jumped onto an issue because it’s fashionable. They will point out misreadings of climatological data which predicted a new ice age starting in the 1990’s, or mock the banning of CFC accelerants and the so called “Ozone Hole” during the late 1980’s. They will declare many, many things which paint a picture of vainglorious hippies tilting at imaginary windmills that just get in the way of National Business, and which put “hard working Americans” out of work. The more extreme amongst them will say that this all part of God’s plan for us, and not to worry about the natural environment. Faith sustains, not nature. 

I submit the photos in today’s post, and ask “did the trees in Eden look like this”? 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 12, 2018 at 11:00 am

defeated aspirations

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It’s National Roast Suckling Pig Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, I mentioned to a friend that I had no reason to get up in the morning, and he inquired as to whether or not I was depressed. My statement had nothing to do with mood or mental state, instead it was factual – my daytime calendar is fairly empty between the first week of December and middle January. Part of this is my peculiar vulnerability to cold weather which necessitates a certain amount of hermitage, another part of it is that this is the time of the year when I’m hitting the books and doing research into this or that, and working on presentation materials (working on the 2018 photo portfolio, me). This has really hampered photo gathering – as a note – which is a negative, but I’ve got to get my house of cards together for the new year. You’re only as good as the last provable shutter flop.

Since I don’t have to necessarily be “somewhere” at 8 in the morning most days, what’s the point of maintaining a farcical kabuki and simulating adherence to the “ole nine to five”? I’m often up at the hour of the wolf this time of the year. If you’re sacking out at four or five in the morning, you ain’t getting up at seven, if you know what I’m saying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing that’s emerged in my searching through multiple archives of photos, which number in the tens of thousands at this point, is that I seem to have fallen into a bit of a rut over the last year and a half. The other is that a bunch of my friends have died along the way. There’s a few long term projects which will be reaching fruition in the next twenty four months, and the stuff generated by this “rut” has become noticeably more refined, but it seems I need to get out more. That’s my New Years resolution, by the way.

“I been everywhere, man” is a bit of generalization and I certainly haven’t been “everywhere.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my annual habit, I plan to wallow in laziness and turpitude for another couple of weeks and get it out of my system. By the new year, boredom and self hatred will have expanded sufficiently to force me into action. Some pedantic and utterly banal explosion of activity inspired by Marcus Aurelius will form up and despite my ennui – me and the camera are going to be “out there” every single day.

For now, though, I still don’t have much of a reason to wake up in the mornings.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 18, 2017 at 2:15 pm

artisanal hatred

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having fairly few tasks at hand the other night, one announced to Our Lady of the Pentacle that a dark light photowalk was in the offing, but that I was going to stay local and would be back in an hour or so. The first rumblings of some viral infection were on the horizon, and I figured that if I didn’t go out for a short walk with the tripod and camera while still relatively well… I would regret it as I suffered through the virus for the next couple of days.

I’m excellent at suffering.

Partially it’s Jewish tradition, this being good at suffering thing. I’m really into the operatic side of it all though. Since I seldom get sick, when I do… it’s pretty bad… so why not wallow in the misery and suffer like a boss?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted this neighbor sleeping on a park bench along Northern Blvd. If you not savvy at reading the occluded messaging of NYC’s streets, there’s a whole story at work in this shot which isn’t the “homeless” trope. Those are new, clean clothes on display – which also color match. A newish leather bag was serving as a pillow, and there were no carts of possessions in view. There are three hypotheses which one can offer:

  • One is that this person was tired and needed a quick nap.
  • Two is that this person needed to get out of their domicile, or couldn’t go back to their domicile for some unknown reason.
  • Three is that this person is dead, as I had the shutter open for about thirty seconds and they never moved or twitched.

Whatever the reason, I moved on. If this individual was actually dead, at my age you’d just say “at least it ain’t me,” and get on with it. Which is what I did, as the suffering was beginning to present itself, and the last thing I needed was to explain to a bunch of cops why I was wandering about on Northern Blvd. with a camera, at night, when I had discovered a corpse across the street from Guitar Center.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, I was more than a little bored whilst waiting for the expected suffering to set in, hence a shot of the unbelievable amounts of garbage piled up on and around the corner collection basket on my block.

Notice the sewer in the left side of the shot? I’ll have you know that one of the biggest issues which the DEP (water and sewer) has to deal with is garbage swept into the sewer system. Now, you can’t expect people to change their behavior on this front around Astoria or most of Westrn Queens. A lot of this heap is actually household trash emanating from the hundreds of illegal basement apartments around these parts. If left on the curb in front of an actual address, Sanitation Inspector reports about abundant trash coming from what should be just a two family house will lead DOB (buildings) to investigate and fine the building owner for an illegal conversion and likely put the tenants out on the street. Hence the abundance of household trash at the collection basket, right next to the sewer.

The question I ask continually is “if trash getting swept into the sewers is such a big issue, why does the DSNY (garbage) put the collection bins literally right on top of the sewers?”

I pondered all of this as a semi delirious, painful, and sleep deprived state of suffering set in over the next 48 hours during which I behaved like a total diva.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

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. 


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urbane rector

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a well known physical coward, and after having observing that a quartet of fourth graders (whose aspect I did not like) were heading my way along Northern Boulevard the other day, it seemed logical to duck under a parked car and hide. You really just cannot be too careful these days. While passing the time it would take for these rough looking nine to ten year olds to exit the scene, one pondered about life in Western Queens and the meaning of it all. Also, I wondered how I was going to wiggle my fat ass out from under this car, which was pretty easy to dive under, but which ended up being a tighter fit than one would have guessed.

Banal reality is all I’ve got, what can I tell you?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The Queens Cobbler” is the name I’ve assigned to a likely serial killer operating hereabouts whose macabre trophies adorn the streets of Queens in the form of singular orphan shoes. The Cobbler left behind one of his or her little messages on Broadway in Astoria recently, pictured above. It’s my belief that, just like Jack the Ripper, the Queens Cobbler is connected to one of our noble political families and that both the press and police are laboring to keep the thing quiet just for the sake of maintaining everyone’s patronage. You won’t get to be judge, or a DA, or a Captain, or an editor, if you piss them off. There’s rumors, of course…

Maybe that’s just a cast off shoe, or maybe not… the question you have to ask is – where’s the other one? You and your “Occam’s razor.” pffft.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Usually, whenever a humble narrator leaves the house, people point and stare. Women clutch at their handbags, mothers gather their children close, and dogs begin to whine pitiously. If one steps out of line in any minor way – say jay walking, or depositing metal foil in a bin marked for paper – a crowd gathers and law enforcement displays an enviable level of efficiency and deployment. These sorts of experiences are why one is constantly confused by the freedom enjoyed by serial graffitists, the bastards who post those cash for cars stickers, and those who can urinate anywhere they choose to.

My reverie beneath the car was broken when the owner of my hiding place began heading towards the vehicle, as signaled by the “beep boop” signal sent by the electronic key chain fob to the conveyance. One rolled out from my shadowed safe space and discovered that that the threatening quartet of sinister seeming children had moved on, so once again I stood and faced the concretized reality of Western Queens – here in the Newtown Pentacle.


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.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

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

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