The Newtown Pentacle

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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

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

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