The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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hidden laboratory

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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hysterical laughter

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It’s Edgar Allen Poe’s Birthday, Icelandic Man’s and Woman’s Day (Bóndadagur), and it’s also National Popcorn Day – here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of my scheme to survive the cold this year involves a bit of a mix up on the normal routine. Rather than walk from Point A in Astoria to some distant industrial wasteland and then follow a completely different path back home (my normal “thing”), I’ve instead been taking the subway out a few stops to spots around three to four miles from home and then figuring out how to walk back home along an interesting route. On a recent day, my route involved taking the G out to Williamsburg. Not the shiny part of Williamsburg, of course, but the still crappy section that touches southern Greenpoint.

Whenever I’m in Williamsburg, I stare at the ground lest I catch the eye of a hipster who might find me novel or twee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Leonard Street, this centuried access cover was encountered, bearing the screed “Catskill Water Chamber.” Now, I’ve asked the question “who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?” more than once at this – your Newtown Pentacle over the years… but in this case I don’t actually have to guess or wonder.

This is the sort of stuff that I know about which makes the folks at NYC DEP nervous about how I know it, incidentally. Short answer – while everybody else is reading about celebrity news or watching sports, I’m combing through the well hidden corners of NYC.gov. It’s a gold mine, I tell you.

Water Tunnel #2 is about 17 feet in diameter, and it feeds pipes which first stretch out under Long Island City, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg. A sixty inch trunk main pipe under Jackson Avenue in LIC connects to one on McGuinness Blvd. in Greenpoint after passing under the Newtown Creek. At Leonard Street and McGuinness, a seventy two inch pipe is connected to the main line, and that one feeds water all the way to Driggs Avenue.

At the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Leonard Street here in Williamsburg, where the access cover seen above can be found, there’s a series of smaller twelve inch mains which split off from the main flow and feed water to local customers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s likely that these access covers were forged sometime between 1905 and 1915, with the Catskill system beginning to come online in late 1915. The Catskill system was ultimately completed by 1928, forging one leg of the tripod of upstate reservoirs which supply NYC with drinkable water. It’s all very complicated.

The NYC Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity was the entity which the Catskill system would be handed over to, and was one of the many “wet work” agencies that were compressed into the gargantuan NYC Department of Environmental Protection back during the City Charter revision of 1983.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After congratulating myself on displaying another bit of my largely useless knowledge base, it was time to start moving again as a small crowd of hipsters were beginning to form and I feared ending up being posted about on Instagram again. One decided to continue up Metropolitan Avenue, following it to the Northeast, and inexorably approaching those loathsome existential realities which one finds lurking about the legendary Newtown Creek.

More tomorrow – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

ultimate blackness

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It’s Al Capone, Betty White, and Andy Kaufman’s birthday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood, you’ll find the principal burying grounds of the Roman Catholic Church in 19th and early 20th century NYC, called First Calvary Cemetery. It’s called “First” Calvary, as there are three other properties found to the east in Woodside that the church refers to as “Second,” “Third,” and “Fourth.” First, or Old, Calvary has been in use since 1848. Calvary Cemetery is on a hill overlooking the Newtown Creek and is surrounded by the industrial zones of Long Island City and West Maspeth.

The majority of burials in First Calvary occurred between its founding and the Second World War, which means that the monuments found within its fence lines have endured the effects of the endemic atmospheric pollution typical of industrial America prior to the passing of the 1972 Federal Clean Air Act. Acid rain wasn’t a term used prior to that legislation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Granite seems to be the best choice for a monument able to weather the atmospherics hereabouts.

Marble rots away, obscuring the legend, iconography, and screed carven into the memorial stones. If you were to run your fingers across the surface of the stone pictured above, a sandy grit would transfer from it to your skin. To be fair, though, there used to be an acid factory right across the street from Calvary Cemetery.

That factory was opened in 1866, and was first known as “General Chemical,” then as “Nichols Chemical,” and then as “Phelps Dodge.” Phelps Dodge, of course, is one of the named “potentially responsible parties” or “PRP’s” in the ongoing Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Phelps Dodge vacated its property long ago. Back in 1901, when the corporate entity was still called the Nichols Chemical Company, community complaints and a law suit by the cemetery forced them to build what was – at the time – the largest chimney in the United States to release their acidic waste gases high above the ground. It was supported by wooden piles driven into the landfilled Newtown Creek marshlands their factory was built on. These piles supported a 25 foot deep concrete foundation, which in turn provided a stable enough base for a 22,000 ton, 367 feet tall chimney.

Roughly translating that to modern day “building stories,” this was a 36-37 story tall chimney.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For comparison, the sapphire megalith of Long Island City is 53 stories in height, but three of those stories are below the ground. The Nichols/Phelps complex employed close to 1,500 people back in 1901. The acid factory was merely part of their production line, and the high grade sulfuric acid they were known for as a mere co-product for their true profit center.

The main focus of their business was the refining of copper. The company was producing some 517,000 tons of the stuff, annually, back in 1901 when that chimney went up. Most of the landfill that the company had used to build out the marshy shoreline of Newtown Creek, and upon which they built their factories, was material harvested from the refining processes – specifically slag from their redoubts and furnaces. The original shoreline of Newtown Creek was anywhere from 500-1,000 feet back from the modern shoreline, more or less where the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks are found today.


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sheerly perpindicular

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It’s Friday the 13th…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tapophile? Ghoul? Trespasser? I’ve been called all of these things because of my devotion to studying the history of First Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville neighborhood of Long Island City. Calvary Cemetery, for the uninitiates amongst you, was founded by the Roman Catholic Church in 1848 to comply with New York City’s “Rural Cemetery Act” which proscribed the continuing interment of cadavers in Manhattan due to fears of contagious disease. Prior to this, it was common for churches to have graveyards, and far more common was the usage of the dirt floor basements of tenements as ad hoc burial spots for the poor. The law commanded all the major religious denominations to acquire and maintain cemeteries in “rural areas” to house their congregants – which at the time – was a description that included the south eastern corner of Blissville near its border with the Berlin section of Maspeth. The cemetery was consecrated by Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes in 1848, and there are literally millions buried in this – the original property – and in the nearby Second, Third, and Fourth Calvary Cemeteries. The law also requires the disinterment of buried bodies, which was a ghastly process that occurred in the dead of night, and vast numbers of human remains were removed from their Manhattan graves and barged across the river for reinterment in the new rural cemeteries. There are so many cemeteries in the surrounding neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens that the term “cemetery belt” is commonly used to describe the vast acreages of graves. All of these are not Roman Catholic ones, of course. There’s a cemetery for everyone.

For Catholics, however, all roads lead to Calvary.

Calvary Cemetery was founded, and continues to be maintained, by the Roman Catholic Church – specifically by the Trustees of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, and it is a very special place. The Trustees consider the cemetery to be an extension of the altar at the Cathedral. To one such as myself, Calvary is a history book, left sitting wide open and found along the Queens shoreline of the noisome Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your best bet is to wander in here, roam around a bit and see what you can see. If you come here looking for something specific, it’s going to be quite frustrating. Let the place talk to you, and it’ll show you exactly what you need to see – just like Queens itself. Don’t force it. Look up, down, all around. Notice things. If you take a hard look at these things, you might be offered a lost or occluded slice of the history of New York City.

That’s the grave of the Malone family – Father Sylvester Malone, his brother Edward and his sister in law Annie. Slice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Father Malone… wow… it’s actually amazing to me that he’s not still spoken of in North Brooklyn. Beloved in life, Sylvester Malone was born in Ireland’s County Meath. Malone was recruited to the priesthood by Reverend Andrew Byrne in 1838, and came to America with him. In NYC, Malone fell into the circle of priests surrounding Archbishop John Hughes, and was ordained at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1844. Malone was shortly assigned to Old St. Mary’s church in Williamsburg. Malone worked a Parish circuit that included the East River side of Newtown (including Astoria’s Hallets Cove) and the former Boswijck – or Bushwick – Colony, including Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. Malone formed a friendship with architect Patrick Keely (who also designed St. Anthony’s in Greenpoint and more than 200 other new gothic churches in the northeastern United States) and the two oversaw the construction of Sts. Peter and Paul church in Williamsburg, which Malone was permanently assigned to in 1852.

The inscription on his memorial reads: 

Sylvester Malone. Pastor of St. Peter and Paul’s Church for fifty five years. Regent of the University of the State of New York. Live in Charity with all of your fellow citizens. A curse on prejudice and ignorance. Bane of the human family. As long as you have existence, there can be but little peace and charity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Malone was known for his open acceptance of people of other faiths, regularly attending the Jewish community’s Purim Ball, visiting the Masonic Hall, was an outspoken abolitionist, and encouraged his flock to perceive other faiths and cultures as neighbors rather than adversaries. Famously, he was one of the first Catholic priests to embrace the African Americans in his community, presenting honors to the Civil War’s Black Veterans Association. He happily interacted with Protestant denominations as well. While researching this post, some of the earliest usages of the term “tolerance” jumped out at me. You don’t hear much about the modern political concept of “tolerance” in the 19th century, and almost never from the pen of an Irish born Catholic priest based in industrial Brooklyn.

Malone was also a regent of the State University of New York, and remained at Sts. Peter and Paul Church until his death in 1899. Unfortunately, the original building housing his church was demolished in 1957, so I can’t show you that. A modern church building sits on the old site, but the influential gothic design of the original is lost to modernity except for a few blurry old photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were three Malone Brothers, with Sylvester being the senior. Brother Patrick was the middle son and a Civil Engineer by trade, and Edward was the youngest. Edward fought in the Civil War, was a physician and surgeon of some renown, and died at the age of 52. Patrick and Edward actually died within a few months of each other in 1890. There was a sister too, but I can’t tell you anything about her, and I’m not sure if she ever left Europe or not.

Dr. Edward Malone was born Aug. 5, 1832, and died June 16, 1890. His wife, Annie Loyola Malone, died July 13, 1916.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You never know what, or who, you’re going to find in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery.


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unholy centuries

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It’s Rush Limbaugh and Rob Zombie’s birthdays today, and the day that Saint Aelred of Rievaulx died.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering through Woodside one fine day, I happened across this bit of memorial statuary at the corner of 65th place and Laurel Hill Blvd. Technically speaking, I wasn’t in Woodside, this is actually Winfield. The Real Estate shit flies have more or less eradicated that name from current discourse, calling this area “East Woodside,” but it’s Winfield. Winfield was named for Mexican and Civil War General Winfield Scott, if you’re curious, who died in 1866.

The statue commemorates 7 local soldiers lost to combat in the First World War, and was erected and paid for by the people of Winfield.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Originally installed at the corner of Fisk Avenue and Queens Blvd., Robert Moses’s people moved it here when they were building the Brooklyn Queens Expressway back in the 1950’s. It’s bronze, and was sculpted by Italian-American sculptor James S. J. Novelli. Seven feet tall, the statue’s official nomen is “Winfield War Memorial and Victorious America.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The statue has not had an easy time of it over the last century, particularly since 1958 owing to its location at an on ramp for a highway, according to the NYC Parks Dept. who maintain it and whom I gleaned the information for this post from.

from nycgovparks.org

Due to its location at 65th Place and Laurel Hill Boulevard adjacent to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Winfield Memorial has suffered various indignities over the years. In 1958, completion of the nearby section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway bisected the community, and orphaned the monument to this park triangle located perilously close to an off-ramp. In 1969 and 1989 the statue was knocked from its perch by vehicles, and on the second occasion the head was severed from the body and reattached. The monument suffered from weathering, frequent attacks of graffiti, and other assaults by vandals; it received an in-house reconditioning in the 1990s by Parks crews.

In 1999 a City Capital contract restored the monument, replaced its damaged granite base with a replica, and the surrounding plaza was upgraded in an attempt to beautify its setting and better protect the sculpture. Unfortunately, in December 2001 the sculpture was again injured in a horrific car accident that dragged the sculpture several hundred feet into the expressway. In 2010-11 Parks’ Citywide Monuments Conservation Program repaired the damages and reinstalled the artwork at its rightful place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Novelli bronze, which is seven feet and four inches tall above the base, seems to be in fairly fine fettle these days. Why not take a walk or ride your bike over to check it out, and contemplate the war to end all wars that happened a century ago. You can also muse about the Powerbroker, just like I do everytime I visit the “House of Moses.”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

flaming thing

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It’s Tag des Deutschen Apfels (German Apples) day in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bright passage, it’s a not unlikely spot to find a group of cultists dropping a bizarre golden diadem into the water hoping to contact those who might lie below the seething waters. Hells Gate, with its bizarre and blasted subterrene topography, cannot possibly host a race of non human intelligences, can it? That would be crazy.

I mean, is this Queens or Innsmouth?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of alien intelligences with unintelligible plans for the future, the DEP’s MV Red Hook sludge boat slid through the bright passage while one was contemplating what sort of life might inhabit the craggy bottom. Between the strong cross currents of the tide, all the endemic pollution… it boggles.

It’s almost as if the area is being terra formed for a different and quite alien species.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was pleased that a concurrence of maritime and locomotive subject matter occurred as Amtrak’s Acella came rolling by on the Hell Gate bridge at the same time as Buchanan 1 tug slid through the Hells Gate narrows of the East River. When I left the house this day, I rued not having the time to visit Staten Island and the Kill Van Kull – my original intention for the afternoon. What with the sun setting in the late afternoon, it’s kind of difficult to complete that journey from Point A in Astoria while the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is still hanging in the sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to worrying about the ones who cannot possibly exist in the deepest waters of Hells Gate, and their land dwelling acolytes who surreptitiously accompanied the wholesome Hellenes during their 1970’s migration to Astoria, did a humble narrator’s thoughts turn.

There are too many individual and quite minor clues to mention which lend credence to the theory of their presence – odd smells and sounds, brief flashes of unrecognizable shapes seen when walking past closing doors, the popularity of Bosnian cuisine, bizarre chanting. This is an entirely different “thing” than the occluded witch cult operating out of St. Michael’s cemetery, incidentally, but perhaps I’ve already said too much.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sound of chitinous scratching on my second floor garret window will no doubt resume after this posting, and the whispered calls to leave this life behind and to either go into the water or dance with the night ghouls of Nephren Ka across the rooftops and tombstones of western Queens will no doubt follow.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there, beneath the waters of the Bright Passage?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

rotting creation

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It’s National Cassoulet Day, here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Astoria Tumbleweeds doth fly. In accordance with the ancient village’s calendrical notch on the wheel of the year, it’s time to abandon the holiday tree to the vagaries of the wind. All the neighbors scoff at the idea of driving the thing over to one of the many municipal mulching drop offs. That ain’t natural.

What you are supposed to do, according to Astoria tradition, is drag it over to the corner and then skulk away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often there’ll be an orderliness to it all. One forlorn tree, excommunicated from the warm embrace of a family home, acts as an anchor point for others. Soon a veritable wagon train of trees can be observed. A recent perambulation carried me across several of these evergreen middens, which persisted well beyond the close attention which the redoubtable DSNY crews offered to their more mundane sort of waste collection duty – the black bag or putrescent waste, and the various recyclables encased in their respective blue and clear bags.

Apparently, medical waste is meant to be housed in red bags, so there you go. You’re also supposed to put grease in a can or bottle labeled appropriately, and spent batteries should also be in a labeled container.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily for one such as myself, as my walk was coming to its conclusion the wind began to kick up and the astoria tumbleweeds began to explore their migratory patterns. Speaking strictly as “a member of the tribe,” one has often wondered about the annual tonnage of lumber which the holiday month celebrations imports into NYC, by the various goyim, can be quantified as. I’m sure there’s somebody at DSNY who could inform. I’m sure there’s also someone else at DSNY who could and would catechize on the efficacy of mulching your Christmas Tree before it becomes an urban runabout.

All I can say about the Jewish POV on this holiday tree madness is this – what, you paid how much… for a dead plant which you can’t eat, and that you threw out after just a month? Meshuggenehs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As seems to be a holiday tradition here in my neck of Astoria, wherein garbage and recycling pickup are dually scheduled for Sunday nights, the back to back “day off” for the long suffering truck crews of DSNY results in the neighborhood beginning to fill up with considerable amounts of trash. Add in the tidal wave of cardboard and wine bottles which appear in the domestic bin…

Astoria, our abundance runneth over, and the tumbleweeds doth fly.

btw – for those of you Luddites who don’t know what a Cassoulet is, click this link to Food Network for a recipe.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

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