The Newtown Pentacle

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cylindrical drop

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Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the discount Chinese restaurant near your house is doing some sort of repair job in their basement, it’s best to remain ignorant of what they’re doing. This is related to the old adage about not wanting to know how sausages are made. It’s preferential to pretend that whatever is happening down there is salubrious, and doesn’t resemble the movie “Ratatouille” at all. Personally, I’ve sworn off the nasty variant of Chinese take out available in Astoria, as I’ve been to Flushing quite a few times in the last six months and what we’ve got locally just doesn’t compare to the good stuff that’s found to the east.

Still, as far as my current desire to shoot a few “minimalist” shots a week, this one fits the bill. I don’t want to imagine what’s going on down there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Those are collapsed docks and piers at Shooters Island above, a landform which sits at the junction of Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kull, and Newark Bay. For a little spit of land, Shooters Island is a fairly interesting spot. George Washington’s spy network would use the place for meetups during the American Revolution (British HQ was on Staten Island), it used to be owned by Standard Oil, and legendarily – Teddy Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm once started a yacht race with a couple of the Vanderbilt Brothers from it “back in the day.”

These days it’s a bird sanctuary owned by the NYC Parks Dept.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I had to go to Queens Borough Hall to get sworn in as a member of Astoria’s Community Board 1. I’ve since been informed that I’m being assigned to the Environmental and Transportation Committees, which kind of makes sense. As part of the swearing in ceremony, which was led by BP Melinda Katz, we were given a multi hour series of presentations and training sessions by various members of the City government. One of the things that stuck with me was when they were describing an exact dollar figure at which point a gift is considered a bribe or inducement ($50) which would then trigger an investigation by the ethics people. They also discussed “talking to the press” and public statements, so…

As those of you who have come on my various tours over the years have heard me state at the start of the excursion – unless I’m specifically stating “Newtown Creek Alliance says” or “Access Queens wants” or whatever, the words coming out of my mouth are my words. Views and opinions are my own and do not represent the official opinions or stances of organizations or groups with whom I work or I might be a member of.

As an example; if I describe Mayor De Blasio as “the Dope from Park Slope” or describe him as an atavistic and dangerous throwback to Tammany Hall style corruption, or deride his vainglorious Presidential ambitions by pointing out his campaign pledge to “Make America Late Again,” or mock his desire to eliminate America’s Ground Hog infestation once and for all…

Well, you must presume that’s me talking as your neighbor and friend, and not describing an official position of NCA, or AQ, or the Community Board. If that’s not the case, I’ll let you know.


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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 10, 2019 at 12:00 pm

slightly abated

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A city of fortresses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing which bugs me so much about the conceptual model evinced by the City Planning crowd and the so called “urbanists” is how much they actually detest the chaotic streets and the “hustle and bustle” side of NYC. Everything they can do to eliminate the “unplanned” or the “unsightly” is on display over in Manhattan. Long blocks without street benches or other “friendly” features, a lack of interesting mid block street level buisness which might draw you away from the corner. The preservation of “sight lines” in favor of planting trees or other greenery… favoring certain kinds of commerce – high end retail and or office space – over needed businesses like supermarkets and laundromats. Modern Manhattan looks more and more like Marie Kondo has swept through it and thrown out all the stuff that doesn’t bring the “urbanists” crowd “joy.”

I’ve offered this thought before, but it seems that the crew running NYC’s regulatory environment regarding municipal preferences on street life don’t like cities all that much. They want order, and predictability. They want midwestern shopping malls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A comment often offered by a humble narrator to companions and sometimes passerby strangers involves me gesturing towards something and saying “Look, it’s just like an architects drawing. All the people in this scene are two dimensional, notice all those massing shapes and wayfinding infrastructure.” I once had a City Planner indicate to me, when I pointed out that a certain section of LIC’s street design was creating bottlenecks for pedestrians that necessitated walking multiple blocks just to find a place to cross the street, that “well, we don’t want people crossing the street there.” Thing is, people ARE crossing the street there, and what somebody in City Hall WANTS New Yorkers to do will always be trumped by what New Yorkers HAVE to do. Best laid plans, mice, men, all that.

I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with some NYS officials from Albany who told me that since they wouldn’t issue a fishing license for Newtown Creek, nobody would fish there because it would be illegal so there was no need for signage cautioning against the practice around the waterway. I inquired as to how the war on drugs was going, and proceeded to make my appeals to a different agency for signage. The Federal EPA saw my point, and there’s now signage around the creek stating the obvious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Old New York” and “New New York” used to refer to the era of modernist skyscrapers coexisting with and alongside the 19th century town houses and brownstones or tenements of an earlier age. These days, at least in my mind, it refers to the differential qualities of areas which the City Planning crowd has “fixed” versus those it hasn’t. Luckily, there’s large sections of Queens which their tender mercies haven’t been applied to. Yet.

Look at Astoria, with it’s vibrant street life and retail economy of mom and pop shopping. “Disturbingly heterogenous” and “chaotic” is probably how the City Hall people would describe things, and they’d ask “is this the best use of the land”? The bulldozers would be sitting on Northern Blvd. idling while they wait for the answer they want to hear coming back from people who think just like they do.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 9, 2019 at 12:00 pm

seemed baffling

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Astoria scenes, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m always impressed by the daily dedication of the local “canners,” which is what we call the folks that walk about with shopping carts searching for redeemable deposit cans and bottles, towards making a buck. For some of these canners, this is an existential practice, and how they earn the money to keep their apartments or eat regularly. For others, it’s a “side hustle” and they’ll express their amazement at the American habit of “throwing money out with the trash.”

The more you have, the less you care about it, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Steinway Street at 34th Avenue, it seems that the corner furniture store is either giving up the ghost or just changing out their awning. In the meantime, an old timey bit of signage has been revealed.

“Auto Parts Place” is from before my time in the neighborhood. Any of you life long Queensicans who are reading this remember it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If memory serves, we had to start dialing area codes back in the early 1980’s, so the lack of a “718” on the sign indicates that the advertised phone number dates back to at least the first or second Koch administration.

Personally, I live in what used to the second floor office of an appliances store a few blocks away, and my porch used to be the roof of a barber shop. The Barber Shop is now a studio apartment, and the office is now Newtown Pentacle HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The population of drunkards along Astoria’s Broadway in the ’40’s has become quite attenuated in recent years. There used to be, just 5 years back, between 30 and 50 of these guys hanging around in various states of inebriation.

Somebody who shall remain nameless… ahem… pretty much embarrassed the local precinct into practicing the sort of subtle Policing which NYPD is famous for, and the cops made it uncomfortable for these fellows to be seen hanging around all day. Many of these guys have drank or drugged themselves into an early grave, and others have moved on to plague other neighborhoods, but we’ve still got a small core group of them hanging around all day and getting pass out drunk.

This poor guy passed out on the sidewalk and fell asleep with his back against the wall of a shop. The shop was closing up and when the steel gate came down it cracked him one on the gulliver and trapped his shoulder under it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not the first time I’ve seen this particular scenario play out, and the inebriate tried to salvage his pride by demanding that the shop owner give him a few bucks to not make a big deal of things. A word of advice I’d offer is to not try a “slip and fall” grift or attempt to con a Greek owned business in Astoria.

The remaining Hellenes don’t play.

The shop owner simply grabbed the guy by his collar and pulled him forward, signaled to his worker to finish lowering the steel gate, and then left the fellow sitting there with his back against the gate with an electronic keyboard (which had apparently been harvested from some trash pile) in his lap.

The scene will repeat itself again and again. Just watch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every day in Astoria can be a bit operatic. I like to sit and observe the neighbors. Just the other night, three spanish speaking gentlemen got into an argument in front of my door at about two in the morning, an altercation which resulted in fisticuffs and harsh talk. It was all very exciting.

These humans, here in Astoria, are endlessly fascinating.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 7, 2019 at 11:00 am

bearded stranger

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Long shadows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor found one sheltering from a passing band of precipitation over on the normally sunnier side of the neighborhood, and once the atmospheric wave had passed through a humble narrator began kicking his heels around in pursuance of returning to HQ. My northward path was a familiar one, as was the pensive and self reflective mood I was in. The odor of a not unpleasant smelling strain of marijuana which those two teenagers crossing the street above were smoking mingled with the musty smells of a wet and cold evening. The trees and gardens of Sunnyside Gardens added to the bouquet, as did the wet but creosoted wood of the railroad tracks and the oily street. I can capture audio and images, but I’ve got no methodology for transmitting the experience or quality of “smell,” other than describing it with words.

Is smell the new technological frontier, I wonder? Just imagine if I could deliver the smell of Newtown Creek or its tributaries, after a thunderstorm, to your inbox.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The forgotten sense, smell is. Humans are essentially audio visual beasts, I suppose, which is why there’s so much technology available out there that allows us to transmit what we see and hear. Personally, when the olfactory region isn’t too clogged up by seasonal allergies, I like to take a ripping “shnort” of the ambient. There’s a whole memory center associated with smell that’s almost never accessed. I can imagine something I’ve seen in the past, conjure up a sound or series of sounds, but can’t seem to tell my brain that I’d like to imagine the smell of toast or whatever.

Funny that, ain’t it? Life’s rich pageant and all this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The scene above was encountered nearby Northern Blvd., and I can offer two possible explanations for it. One is that somebody was making a meal of a watermelon and drinking water from a red plastic cup when they were raptured.

The other is that the foul serial killer whom I have named as the “Queens Cobbler” has returned to the neighborhood and is leaving behind their gruesome trophies as a taunt to community and the Gendarmes alike.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 3, 2019 at 1:00 pm

locked attic

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A few odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A late model and quite adorable pickup spotted at Willets Point is pictured above. One continues to suffer from a lack of fresh content for this – your Newtown Pentacle – due to the abundance of atmospheric precipitation and a rather full schedule of other tasks. I’ve got a pile of shots on the computer which have been gathered in my comings and goings around Queens which I hope to have the developing process finished on shortly.

A few of you have asked about the enigmatic “developing process” statement in the past, so here’s a brief description…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I have my camera set to generate “RAW” format images rather than jpegs. When the camera card is offloaded (I generally download shots off of the thing as soon as I return to HQ from an adventure or whatever, same day as capture) onto my desktop, they are first converted over from Canon’s .cr2 format over to Adobe DNG. The DNG files, which are easier (and quite malleable) to edit, are then loaded into Adobe’s Bridge. Bridge is where I hit them with certain presets – I have one or two for normal daylight shots, a couple of different setups for high iso night or subway shots, and so on. This is hardly an automatic process, rather the settings assign correct color temperatures, sharpness and saturation settings, and a few other technical corrections are introduced into the images. This isn’t the final step by any measure, rather it creates a starting point for the next step. Setting up these settings, or loops, has been a trial and error evolutionary process which I’m always tweaking.

Next up is a review of the entire catalogue of shots, during which I’m ensuring that focus is where I wanted it to be, and I’m looking for images that carry a general esthetic sense. Ideally, at least half to two thirds of what landed in the folder are tossed, leaving behind a set of shots I can hang my hat on. Those shots are then cropped, keyworded, and have their horizon lines straightened or “dutched” depending on what I’m going for with the image.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The final step, and I leave it for last as the prior phases can often be boring and technical exercises during which my head feels like it might slide off the back of my neck during, is the development one. That’s where I noodle brightness, contrast, and so on to find some accommodation between what my perception of the scene was while shooting it and the technical shortcomings of the captured image. Once I’m happy with what I’ve got, and at this point it’s something like 15 or 20% of what originally came off the camera, I make my selects that I want to present. Maybe 10% of the original number of photos captured in the field make it through to that final cut. Sometimes, you need to “get it in one,” especially when it’s an assignment, but personal work involves a different thought process.

I’ve got a couple of “secret sauce” tricks that I picked up over the years working as a Madison Avenue retoucher, but one thing I never do with the shots you see here is “photoshop” them and alter the capture by removing or adding elements. It’s just color and brightness, contrast and so on that I hit them with. I aspire to maintain some measure of journalistic integrity in these images.

Everything gets rendered out as jpegs for web delivery at Flickr, ultimately.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 2, 2019 at 1:30 pm

living thing

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Happy Birthday Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

History boy wise, one makes it a point of keeping track of certain things, and especially so when it involves one of the organizations that make life possible within the megalopolis. Centered on the Statue of Liberty, if you were to draw a 25 mile long line on a map of New York Harbor, then rotate it into a circle that encompasses roughly 1,500 square miles… you’d begin to form an idea of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s turf.

The first organization of its kind, and created on this day in 1921; Port Authority oversees tunnels, airports, cargo ports, sea ports, bridges, has an impressive real estate portfolio including the World Trade Center pictured above, operates train and bus stations, it’s own subway and freight rail lines, and operates a 1,700 member police organization which – in any other City – would be enormous.

As a note – PANYNJ is how the rest of this post is going to refer to the organization.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the PANYNJ’s George Washington Bridge pictured above.

Conflicts between the neighboring states of NY and NJ were a serious issue in the years leading up and including WW1, with squabbles over jurisdiction and competition for Federal funding getting in the way of “Progress” during the Progressive era. Modern day “progressives” don’t actually understand the term, I’m afraid. Back when it was coined, it was about streamlining and improving Government services, eliminating political corruption, and the scientific management of Government capital and resources to reduce wasted or duplicate effort. PANYNJ was formed specifically in the name of “Progress,” and to ensure economic growth in the bustling harbor cities of our archipelago.

Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson were the national figures leading this “Progressive” movement which gave birth to the high priests of “Progress” a generation later – Robert Moses, Austin Tobin, the Rockefeller brothers; David and Nelson. All saw the so called “middle class” as the key to American prosperity and growth, and they spent their lives creating institutions and infrastructure to promulgate an expansion of this demographic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s PANYNJ’s Port Elizabeth Newark Global Marine Terminal pictured above, a small part of the third largest cargo port in the United States. After Wall Street, the actual wealth of NYC and NYS is entirely predicated on maritime trade. The Real Estate Industrial Complex of NYC is a comparative midget when you look at the economics of the Port of New York and New Jersey. Literally tens of billions of dollars of trade move through the facilities, with lots and lots of tax revenue extracted along the way.

The PANYNJ’s role in all this economic activity is to facilitate the physical plant of the port, ensure passage into the harbor via various maintenance functions like dredging and bridge maintenance and sometimes replacement, and to work with local shareholders. PANYNJ is authorized to issue bonds, borrow money, and act fairly independently of the political regimes in both states (although that last one is fairly debatable).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Outerbridge Crossing on the Arthur Kill, named for Eugenius Outerbridge of the New York Port Authority (which predates PANYNJ).

Bridges and Hudson River crossings owned and operated by PANYNJ include Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, GW Bridge, Bayonne Bridge, Goethals Bridge, Outerbridge Crossing. They also run the PATH subway service, Port Authority and GW Bridge Bus Terminals. PANYNJ also owns the Expressrail network in New Jersey, a freight rail system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

PANYNJ also operates NYC’s airports; including LaGuardia (pictured above), JFK, Newark, Atlantic City, Stewart International, and Teterboro.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been one hell of a 98 years for this organization, huh?

This history boy, for one, looks forward to their centennial.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

evidently achieved

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Ain’t Queens cool?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The views available from the IRT Flushing, or 7 Line subway, tracks along Queens Blvd. never fail to impress. The three shots in today’s post were captured at the 40th Lowery stop in Sunnyside one recent late afternoon/early evening. One was returning to the neighborhood from some adventure and I had decided that rather than transferring to R line in Jackson Heights, which comes quite a bit closer to HQ than the 7 does, I’d instead take the train to somewhere photogenic and then walk home instead. This is one of my little habits, and guilty pleasures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always loved the telephoto possibilities along the 7, as there aren’t all that many spots along the elevated lines where you can capture an entire train in one picture. In recent weeks, as mentioned in prior posts, a humble narrator has been beset by obligation and I haven’t had too many chances to say “cool” about the various sights which have rolled in front of the daily grind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is fairly shattered – physically – today by yesterday’s Newtown Creekathon, which saw me guiding and narrating a walking tour of the entire Newtown Creek. It’s the shouting, ultimately, which exhausts. Couple that with the multiple miles crossed, and I found myself passing out on the couch in the early evening yesterday. At some point, one must’ve found his way into the bed, but a clear memory of moving from one set of cushions to the next doesn’t exist.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 29, 2019 at 1:00 pm

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