The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Queens’ Category

apropo shunning

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Scuttling, always scuttling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In many ways, one misses the old days when Long Island City was a deserted wasteland on the weekends. There’s so many people here now, and so damn many of these folks are “consumers.” I’ve always broken the human herd into two groups – producers and consumers. It’s not capitalism that these terms emanate from, as my definitions have little to do with economics. Instead, what I mean is that there are two distinct kinds of people in society – those who take what they’re offered and those who offer. Consumers readily form audiences and crowds eager to be entertained or fed. Producers entertain and feed. I’ve always fancied myself a member of the latter grouping, most artist and musician types are. It’s not a judgement, or statement of one grouping’s superiority over the other, rather it’s one of those “ground rules” observations which I tend to abide by. You can’t have one without the other.

Last weekend in LIC, while getting some exercise and waving the camera about, vast flocks of consumers were wandering about seeking diversion and entertainment, or just trying to find a meal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One actually finds it a bit difficult these days to find a spot, in what used to be referred to as “Lonely Island City,” to commune with the concrete devastations and meditate on his inadequacies and failings. I really used to enjoy working myself over psychologically while navigating the broken pavement and endless avenues, ruminating on “why did I say that” or wondering if some untoward act or casually cruel comment from my High School years might be retroactively considered a hate crime. I’d warn the “youngins” who so laboriously chronicle their lives on social media that, just in my half century walking the planet, the script of acceptable speech and behavior has flipped about quite a few times.

Consumer or producer, be wary of changing mores and remember that there’s a generation coming just after yours that will be absolutely disgusted by the behavior of your own. As a “Generation X” member, my distaste for the selfish baby boomer generation is at an absolute apex right now. The boomers will talk about their Civil Rights era efforts and an all encompassing liberalization of American culture during their watch, but they’re ultimately the ones who put Trump and his Legion of Doom cabinet into office.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The kids who are not kids anymore that follow my generational cohort are just as screwed as my peers were and are because of this generation of Baby Boomers. I made the case to one of these youngins the other day that we have to legalize weed in New York State just to pay for the heroic level end of life medical care that this generation of characters are going to demand. They will consume, and we will produce. Luckily, after they all die off, it’s going to be like the years after the Black Plague in Europe and vast sums of money are going to escape the lock boxes of IRA’s and retirement pension accounts.

That’s unless the Baby Boomers can figure out a way to take it with them, which I wouldn’t put past the most self centered generation in American History to do. Somebody else is always handed that generation’s bill.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 17, 2018 at 3:00 pm

confined wholly

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A garbage post today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One makes a point of photographing the things which other people do not. Partially, this stems from my fascination with the vast municipal machinery of New York City. I know a lot of people who work in the boiler room of the great hive, from executive to laborer, and what I’ve gleaned from conversation with them over the years is how complicated and byzantine the “system” is. Many have opined about the proverbial situation of “replacing the carburetor while driving down a dark highway at ninety miles an hour” they encounter at work. There’s holdover labor agreements which were arrived at prior to the Second World War, political compromises made by Mayors who have been dead for fifty years, and legal or regulatory issues which randomly arrive from Albany or Washington that can upend an otherwise smoothly functioning operation.

I’m particularly interested, on the subject of recording things few others notice, with the muni services that nobody really wants to think about that revolve around human and animal cadavers, sewage, and especially garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Intricate. That’s how I’d describe the system in NYC which gathers up waste and moves it out of the City. Originally a wholly owned arm of the Dept. of Health, the Deparment of Sanitation is a “Reports directly to the Mayor Commissioner” level operation in modernity, although it’s still organized as part of the Health Dept.

As Wikipedia will tell you – The New York City Department of Sanitation is the largest sanitation department in the world, with 7,201 uniformed sanitation workers and supervisors, 2,041 civilian workers, 2,230 general collection trucks, 275 specialized collection trucks, 450 street sweepers, 365 salt and sand spreaders, 298 front end loaders, and 2,360 support vehicles. It handles over 12,000 tons of residential and institutional refuse and recyclables a day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a boy in blue collar Brooklyn, the conventional wisdom passed on to a young but already humble narrator as far as success in life was to “take the civil service exam” and become a garbageman as they had a strong union with great benefits and you’d basically never be out of work. There was also a contingent who recommended becoming affiliated with the court system as a Bailiff, as a note. Almost nobody recommended becoming a Cop, but it was the 1970’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a private carting industry in NYC, of course, which handles commercial and restaurant waste. That side of waste handling has a decidedly checkered past, whereas the DSNY is generally considered above any reproach.

Part of the reason I’m fascinated by services like DSNY or the DEP is that people would rather not think about their personal waste stream, so they’re seldom aware of the budgets or sending practices of either agency. Anything municipal that operates in shadow is something that should very much be paid attention to, in my opinion. All of the classified stuff that NYPD gets up to involving terrorists is a subject which should receive a lot more introspection than it gets, as “black box” spending is where a lot of dirty laundry can be found.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DSNY handles residential recycling collections, passing the material pulled off the curbs to private companies like SimsMetal, or in the case of black bag garbage – Waste Management. I’ve written a whole lot over the years about how this system operates and the intricate web of waste transfer stations and maritime industrial transport of the stuff which occurs invisibly all around us. It’s made me highly aware of my own contributions to the “flow” and quite conscious of my own culpabilities as far as destroying the planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may have guessed, this is another one of my “archive posts,” but if all goes to plan and I manage to process the shots I have cooking on my hard drive today, you’ll see some of what I saw over the last few days in tomorrow’s post at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 16, 2018 at 1:00 pm

honest bourgeoise

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Street Furniture, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is still a bit behind in his schedule, and a series of peregrinations over the weekend diverted one from producing new posts or putting the finishing touches on any new shots, so I reached into the archives for today’s post. It’s one of my favorite subjects – street furniture. Normally that term applies to fire hydrants or lamp posts or benches, but in my little world it can also be used for the cast off furnishings that the humans who inhabit this urban hive position on the street in the hope that some one, anyone in fact, might lessen their burden and take the unwanted thing.

Interesting thing about street furniture is that it often speaks to the economic status of the neighborhood you encounter it in. To wit – this rather expensive looking chair encountered along the sidewalks of the Upper East Side of the Shining City of Manhattan, pictured above. That’s some high class trash, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Brooklyn rules” state that if something has been abandoned on the sidewalk, it’s yours for the taking. Before the reemergence of bed bugs (or “vantzem,” as my Grandma would have said) in NYC in recent years, it was fairly commonplace for young folks and college students to furnish their entire apartment with found furniture.

Not so much anymore, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is always impressed with the material wealth of our culture. The amount of usable and fairly well conditioned furniture cast aside in the pursuit of redecorating is kind of staggering. Often it seems that you could fill an entire apartment with stuff you’d find after a bit of leg work on bulk pickup days.

I’d need to buy a new mattress, as a note. There are certain items which I categorize as “personal” – hats, shoes, underwear, bedding. Items that might spend a lot of its time absorbing bodily fluids like spit or sweat are things you really want in “virgin” condition, in my opinion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a few non profits out there, beyond the morally circumspect Salvation Army people, who will take your “good condition, used” category furniture items and see that they find a new home with somebody in need. There’s “Build it Green” here in Queens, for instance. I’ve always wondered why the Sanitation Department doesn’t do something similar with good condition furniture left on the curb.

I would guess that the logistics of redistribution rather than disposal would be too expensive and complicated to be feasible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A complaint often offered at this – your Newtown Pentacle – centers around the lack of public lavatories in NYC.

This sidewalk find in LIC suggests that all things are possible if a little imagination is utilized.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This fellow is a hero to all Astorians, having dragged his reclining “dad chair” into his minivan and then deploying it at Astoria Park. Thusly, the very best definition of street furniture is submitted for your approval.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm

aroused about

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A storm’s a coming.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Depressing, that’s how I usually describe it. Shortly after taking this photo in the Court Square/Queens Plaza area of Long Island City, where the sidewalk was actually blocked off by this enormous midden of residential tower garbage, I sat in one of the high priced cafes installed into one of those residential towers (the kind that offers fare best described as a single perfect tomato served on a big white artisinal plate) and listened to a group of activists telling me that all this real estate development was just peachy and that they’d like to see more of it. My spiel about opposing the Sunnyside Yards fell on fairly deaf ears, and I inquired about how long the folks I was chatting with had lived here in LIC. The answer was pretty much encapsulated by De Blasio’s term in office, and I realized that these folks hadn’t been here for a transit strike, or a blackout, or had the Mayor turn a hotel on their block into a homeless shelter yet. Give it time folks, and remember the Borough Motto – “Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself.” 

They didn’t mind the fact that they were living on the site of a 19th century chemical factory, and in fact didn’t care.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another sit down with a group whom I would describe as “hard left” was also somewhat dismaying, as their plan for the future involved collapsing one of the legs of the economic stool which the City’s economy stands upon. I’ve said this a million times, it seems, but one is not “anti-development” as macro economic forces such as our current building boom need to be managed, and the job of government is to manage and eke concessions or “buy-in’s” from the real estate industrial complex which both current and future populations will need. Transit improvements, green infrastructure, medical facilities, supermarkets and laundromats, school space, street level urban furniture like benches and garbage cans. Instead, our government still operates as if it’s the 1970’s and they need to beg developers to begin projects in NYC. The Real Estate people are awash in the “LLC” money that often malign foreigners are laundering through our local economy, so let’s demand that they share the wealth just a little bit and design some ameliorations of the City’s many needs into their towers – that’s what I say. It’s called “good old fashioned graft” in case anyone has forgotten that term. Why isn’t there still any place to take a piss, amidst all this new construction?

Is Long Island City going to function as a “city,” or is it instead just destined to be a dormitory for Manhattan’s job base. Why aren’t we talking about office space and commercial construction here? As the old adage offers – if you build it, they will come. That’s how Queens was originally developed a hundred years ago – they built the Subways, and the people came.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking these not so mean streets as I do, I can tell you that vast stretches of Queens are unfriendly, forbidding, and barren of any of the things you’d expect to find in Brooklyn or Manhattan. We’re starved for hospital beds, school desks, street trees. Our commercial strips are bare as far as street benches and everything else you’d expect to find in the “fastest growing community” in the northeastern United States, and Queens has less park land acreage per person than anywhere else in NYC except for Greenpoint in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. 

While all of this is going on, or not going on, everybody continues to snipe and gripe and fight over an ever smaller piece of the pie. They’re fighting battles that they’ve already lost, which seems to be the Queensican way.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

dyed aspect

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Sunlight, who needs it, gimme the night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Diurnalism has its benefits, sure. There’s the tan, of course, and the vitamin D production. The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, however, often causes one to “shvitz.” Night time shvitz only occurs during periods of exertion. but the lack of ambient light is a bane for the photographically ambitious. Regardless, the shots captured which I seem to be drawn towards these days involve darkness. I’ve grown bored with dappled morning light and bold sunsets, it is feared.

Besides, night time is when true party animals come out to play.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s always night in the sweating concrete bunkers offered by the MTA, which is a good place to practice low light photography. Lighting conditions are fairly uniform, and you’ve got a series of challenges to overcome down below – fast moving shiny things with bright lights moving through sooty black tunnels, weird depths of field, an abundance of signage printed on saturated color boards, and then there’s your fellow New Yorkers you have to contend with. Saying that, if you want to begin to understand low light photography, the relationship of captured color temperature with noise, and exactly how to fine tune your usage of the manual mode of your camera – use your Metrocard and get clicking.

Seriously, the MTA should hold workshops for photo people on the weekends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While this shot was being captured over by the Sunnyside Yards, a humble narrator was being assaulted by a plague of flies. Must have been something dead in the grassy knoll behind me. I also had to watch out for traffic, as there is no sidewalk on this section, which is one of those Queens things I will never understand.

How can there be no sidewalk on 43rd, a block from Northern Blvd.? Or 58th a block or two from Queens Blvd.? How did you people ever survive here in Queens before I showed up and started complaining about things to anyone who would listen? Sheesh. Growing up in Brooklyn, where “bitching” is weaponized, a sidewalk would have been complained into existence decades ago.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 4, 2018 at 11:00 am

attic realm

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Aftermath, LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You may have heard that there was a rather large fire in Long Island City over the weekend, which saw an auto body shop consumed in what ended up being a five alarm blaze. Multiple FDNY units were sent to LIC from other boroughs, and despite their efforts the fire raged for hours and hours. The roof of the structure collapsed, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s going to be declared a total loss somewhere down the line by insurers.

On Sunday I walked over to get some shots of the scene, and given that this area is kind of “my stomping grounds,” knew where to go for an efficacious angle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The FDNY had two units on hand in case anything flashed back to life, and NYPD was also on hand controlling the intersection and keeping “lookie-loos” like me from getting into trouble. FDNY had Rockaway’s Tower Ladder 155 unit, as well as Engine unit 289 from Corona, on point. The coppers were from the 108 pct.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I say it all the time, “Newtown Creek has a history of large industrial site fires.” When I say that, I’m thinking of actual history – the 1882 and 1919 Standard Oil refinery fires in Greenpoint or the Pratt Varnish works fire just down the block here in LIC. Just in the last decade there’s been two major fires, both in Greenpoint, which took nearly a week to put out. Also in Greenpoint, there was the Greenpoint Terminal Market fire about 15 years ago which saw the largest FDNY deployment since 911.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm

stifled oaths

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A bit more Creekery, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Middle part of last week, I had to get together with some of my colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance to discuss and strategize about a project we’re involved with over in Long Island City, and we decided to do the meeting in the early evening at the NCA offices at 520 Kingsland Avenue over in Greenpoint.

It was a misty day, with crazy dark clouds blowing through the sky, which made for nice atmospherics and a couple of times during the meeting I excused myself and headed out onto the green roof to shoot some shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our topic of focus was the Montauk Cutoff project, which is a whole other story.

Me? I was fascinated by the contrast being offered by the illuminations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself setting to west and the restless clouds rolling through the sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, and looking towards the Metro Fuel facility, you could see some sort of fiery industrial process at work.

I had an urge to find a really long stick and try to toast a marshmallow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking home afterwards via the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, on the Blissville side of the Newtown Creek, I noticed that the NY & Atlantic outfit were getting busy with the whole garbage train business. Shot this through a convenient hole in the fence on the bridge, and noticed that the train set was sitting there in a static position so I quickened my pace and got down to the dangerous intersection of Review Avenue and Van Dam street as quickly as possible.

Didn’t have the time to slip on my reflective safety vest, which is kind of stupid but I’ve always been fairly lucky as far as not getting killed by trains and trucks – so far.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For some reason, whenever I seem to get into position for this sort of shot, I instantly need to pee. I’m talking dancing around, shifting weight from foot to foot like a five year old need. Didn’t have an inkling of it on the bridge, and took care of business prior to leaving the offices not fifteen minutes prior.

Biology… it affects us all. Me moreso than others.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, the NY&A folks didn’t keep me waiting too long before the signal arms came down and they advanced along the tracks of the Lower Montauk branch, exiting the Blissville Yard and heading eastwards a short distance to the Waste Management company’s transfer station found a short distance away.

WM handles the curbside black bag, or putrescent, waste collected by the Sanitation Department.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For short distance hauling, the NY&A folks use this “critter” which is a slow moving but powerful engine unit. It’s job is to move empty cars into loading position at the waste transfer station and then move the full ones back to the Blissville Yard where they’ll be coupled to other full boxes. At some indeterminate time in the late night, a “proper” locomotive engine will arrive and haul the train set away.

Our garbage goes on quite a scenic journey, through the Fresh Pond Yard and over the Hell Gate Bridge via the NY Connecting Railroad. It heads up the Hudson after visiting the Bronx, and eventually crosses over onto the continent.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By this point, it felt as if my bladder was about to explode, but I had to get in a couple more shots.

Exigent prioritization of such matters are the razors edge of a humble narrator’s existential experience.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, the operator of the train set moved out of eyeshot shortly, and a misdemeanor or two occurred.

At least there’s now a semi clean spot on the Blissville side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, albeit one that smells slightly of urine.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


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