The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Queens’ Category

reluctant glimpse

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Tomorrow, tomorrow… it’s only…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weather has a humble narrator down, man. This constancy of daily thunderstorms has really thrown a wrench into the works, and I find myself wistfully thinking of the anthem from the Broadway Musical “Annie” – tomorrow, there’ll be sun… its only a day away. Problem is that “tomorrow never comes,” which leads me from Broadway hopefulness back to mid 1980’s punk. We haven’t seen the sun in so long at this point that mushrooms are growing on my back. I don’t even want to think about the conditions on my beloved Newtown Creek at this point, which must be historically swollen with sewage runoff by now.

Is it just me, or has this been the wettest couple of months in the last twenty years?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All of this weather has really gotten in the way of things for me. I’m not entirely sure that you haven’t seen at least one of the shots in today’s post before, which is symptomatic of some of the dramatic issues thrown down in recent weeks by the various service providers used for delivering the blog. The whole flickr issue has been nothing but a pain in the neck, and I’m quite resentful of having to fork over a bunch of money to the site host in return for them not populating my posts with lowest common denominator advertising. The final straw on that front was the arrival of one of those javascript traps you commonly see at the NY Post website that takes over the screen and is designed to ensure that you have to click on it to get your screen back.

Congratulations, Apple user, you’ve won the day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The forecast for the weekend seems to be looking up, however, so perhaps Annie is wiser than you’d normally expect. One plans on being “out there,” as I have no obligations other than to myself for a few days. I’m anxious to get out in the dark with the tripod as well, and resume the night photography work.


“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

June 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

innocuous solidity

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The “A” in MTA is for “adventure.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our return trip from the Queens Zoo last weekend, Our Lady of the Pentacle and I took a stab at using the cheapest and fastest way from 111 street in Corona to Broadway in Astoria. In the morning, we were forced to use a cab and plunked out nearly $20 doing so. The alternative was to take the R into Manhattan, and transfer at 42nd street/Grand Central to the 7 line which would then take us to the zoo. Maintenance crews were at work on both lines, and there was neither an east bound option on the R (to Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights where you normally transfer to the 7, or the E and F for that matter) nor a west bound one since the R was bypassing Queensboro Plaza. You had to go into Manhattan. Another alternative I sometimes use, when needing to access the 7 line, is the Q 104 bus which connects Astoria’s Broadway to Queens Blvd. Unfortunately, the 7 line was skipping more than half of its eastwards route as well, which included the stretch from Queens Plaza to Jackson Heights. As mentioned above, the “A” in “MTA” stands for “Adventure.”

Before one of you jokers jumps in with “why not ride a bike, Mitch,” allow me to offer a saying I learned from the Sicilians of Canarsie – Bafongoo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily for us, upon arriving at the 7 line stop at 111th street after our zoo experience, we discovered that the trains heading towards Manhattan were operating in the standard fashion. After weaving our way through the groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had arranged themselves around the station, we swiped through “fare control” and joined with the hundreds and hundreds of people waiting for the 7 up on the platform. Seemingly, Corona still hosts a large population of Puerto Ricans, many of whom seemed to be traveling to the Puerto Rican Day Parade over in the City. I presume they were Puerto Rican, given that many of them were wearing clothing adorned with the island’s flag and were also adorned with various garments reading “Boricua” or “Nuyorican.” They might have just been fans of the island and its peoples, who knows. Never assume.

All I can tell you is that it was a pleasure to hear Spanish spoken with the particular rhythms that the Puerto Rican accent brings. Growing up in NYC, most of the Spanish speakers I encountered were Puerto Rican or Dominicans. These days, the entire Spanish speaking world is represented here in NYC, but the dulcet and softer spoken tone of the Mexican and Central American accents seem to be the ones most commonly encountered. Kind of a Boston accent versus a Louisiana one sort of thing, y’know.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Alongside basic mathematics, the intellectual weakness I’ve most commonly displayed over the decades has been a consistent inability to speak other languages. I can understand a bit of Spanish, or at least watch an espanol movie or TV show and follow along with most of the dialogue. Often, I can form a simple sentence in my mind ina foreign tongue, but can’t force my mouth to make the words come out correctly. I’ve tried and tried. Yiddish was regularly spoken by my family, but the same issue occurs if I try to speak it. Essentially, I’m doing an imitation of somebody talking yiddish rather than speaking it. Weird, huh?

I’ve got friends, born overseas, from all over the world here in Astoria. They’ll often apologize for not knowing some esoteric English word or turn of phrase and proclaim their stupidity. I remind them that they speak two languages cogently, and oftentimes more than two. That’s a pretty incredible thing, when you think about it. I pronounce “hors d’oeuvres” (those little French snack things) as “whores da ohvoors,” after all.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
here.


“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

June 12, 2019 at 11:00 am

natural laws

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Queens Zoo, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in the recent past, I’m now serving as a member of Community Board 1 here in Astoria, and upon receiving an invitation to attend a (borough wide) Community Board members event at the Queens Zoo I leapt at the chance. The bad part of the invite was that I had to be at the zoo in Corona at 8:30 a.m., but the good part was that I got to bring Our Lady of the Pentacle along. Our Lady is a big fan of the petting zoo section of Queens Zoo, where you can purchase little cups of animal treats to filter into the goats and sheep they maintain.

Me? I just like the zoo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As all political events do, this one started with a short speech, and the narration discussed – in particular – 2019 programming changes and initiatives at the Queens Zoo. A few plates of bagels and fruit were available for the CB members to graze through, and we were given free run of the place prior to it opening to the public.

We were encouraged to proselytize our “people” to visit the institution, which is in the Flushing Meadows Corona Park complex and accessed via 111th street in what I’d describe as the south eastern section of Corona. Accomplished, as you have now been proselytized.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s gardening season at the moment in Queens, and especially so at Newtown Pentacle HQ here in Astoria, where Our Lady has been spending a great deal of time on the pursuit. Accordingly, some notice was taken of the various plantings surrounding the animal display areas at Queens Zoo. The plant above caught my notice, which was found nearby an enclosure housing Lynxes. Nice splash of color, thought I.

We got lucky coming home, as MTA was actually running trains that connected to Astoria from Flushing Meadow Corona Park without necessitating a round trip through Manhattan – a rarity in recent years.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
here.


“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

June 10, 2019 at 1:00 pm

swiftly followed

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Picking up after yourself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You know things have gone “over the top” when a humble narrator is the one telling everybody else that it’s time to police the area, grab a broom or a sponge, and start cleaning things up. I’m notoriously uncaring about such matters, other than when hygiene and food safety are involved. You should see my office desk. Saying that, there’s just junk and crap scattered everywhere these days and it’s depressing. It’s also recursive. If you see a lot of garbage lying about, your societal cue to avoid adding to it is cancelled out. Might as well chuck that beverage container into the pile over there, or toss some other discard about. Leave some construction debris, illegally dumped yes, on a street corner in Queens and watch it multiply almost as if by magic.

Remember, in NYC, legality is determined by the proximity of the Police. Things you shouldn’t do according to statute are illegal only when the Cops are around, when they’re not… well… how’s that “war on drugs” going these days? Speed limits for traffic? There any cops around? Ride my bike on the sidewalk and against traffic? You get the idea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The photo above and the one below were captured on the Eastern side of the Newtown Creek last Monday. The after effects of that week long banding of thunderstorms is on display in the one below, showing the garbage pile along the shoreline, deposited into the water column by the “CSO” or Combined Sewer Outfall system. The shot above is from right alongside the Grand Street Bridge, where the NYC DEP has been operating part of their newly installed aeration system. Basically an aquarium bubble wand, the aeration system is designed to increase oxygen levels in the water and promulgate the biologies one would expect and hope for from a local waterbody – fishies, shrimpies, crabbies, birdies, and so on. Anoxic conditions in the water caused by bacterial invasions from the CSO’s have plagued Newtown Creek since the American Civil War. Ship’s Captains used to sail into the Creek to rid their wooden hulls of worms and barnacles, after all.

What the aeration system has done, which I do not believe was anticipated by those who promoted and engineered it – as well as forcing DEP into building the thing (I’m looking at you, Gary from DEC) – is creating a “meringue” of cooking oils, grease, petroleum, and garbage which has formed into a filmy foamy skin on the water’s surface and all along the littoral zone shorelines. This meringue is now choking out anything it manages to coat, which brings us back to the fishies, shrimpies, and crabbies. Best laid plans of mice and men, and Gary from DEC, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot is from the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road shoreline, captured on the same day as the one above. Notice how the meringue border is forming an edge with the surface water of Newtown Creek, and the way that the garbage and “floatables” are being constrained by it and pushed against the shoreline? Right in the center of the channel is the aeration system, which causes big belches of bubbles to break the surface. It’s reminiscent of the storytelling from old Godzilla movies in appearance, showing the ocean boiling right where the big G was about to appear from. The kinetics of the water breaking and bubbling up in the center of the channel are designed to increase oxygenation by introducing surface turbulence. What they’re doing, however, is carrying the bottom waters (and likely the Black Mayonnaise sediment bed) up. Theoretically, they’re also introducing bacteria and viruses into the air column. Demonstrably, the currents created by the system are driving the meringue and garbage into the littoral zone along the sides of the channel.

So, why’s that an issue? The shallows and tidal areas are where you’d expect to find shellfish attaching themselves to anything they can. Filter feeders like the oyster or the ribbed mussel can process hundreds of gallons of water a day. They literally eat the organic materials out of the polluted water and piss out clean water. In terms of “energy” and expense spent in cleaning the water up, and counteracting our societal tendencies towards pouring raw sewage into inland waterways like Newtown Creek, seeding the littoral zone with millions of filter feeders is the way to go. Unfortunately, the aeration system is now creating a shoreline blanket of greasy filth which precludes that.

Oysters won’t do squat where plastic bottles are concerned, of course. For that you’d need a platoon of specially trained Raccoons.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
here.


“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

June 6, 2019 at 1:00 pm

chipped flagstones

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May showers bring June flowers?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bother. Last week, the closest I got to photographing any part of Newtown Creek – due to the daily thunderstorms – was the sort of view you see above, which is to say that I was looking at it through the closed window of a car. I had a relatively light schedule last week, but as opined – god hates me – so any chance I had to find time to go out shooting was abrogated by meteorological instability. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but an unimaginable amount of liquid cascaded down over the City of Greater New York.

NYC possesses what’s known as a “combined sewer system” wherein sanitary sewers (toilet water and other lovely effluents) and storm sewers (street runoff and so on) feed into the same pipe. During dry weather this isn’t an issue, as the NYC DEP’s 14 sewer plants can usually handle the flow. During rain events, a quarter inch of rain, city wide, can add a billion gallons of water into the mix. The DEP is then obliged to release the untreated sewage overflow into area waterways, a practice they’re working hard on avoiding, via “CSO’s” or Combined Sewer Outfalls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s four hundred of these “CSO’s” operated by DEP in NY Harbor, and there’s even more of them on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. As you move into other counties in Upstate New York and on Long Island, even more release points are found. Last time I checked, there were twenty two CSO points found along the bulkheads of Newtown Creek. Pictured above is Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek in Long Island City, from last Sunday afternoon shortly before yet another thunderstorm rolled through. The water was a chocolate/coffee brown color this time around, and there were literal tons of floatables – a term used for the garbage and street litter which has been hydraulically swept into the sewer system – moving around on the surface of Dutch Kills in the wind.

To the west, another thunderstorm was building, and the wind was picking up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Give a hoot, don’t pollute” is what Woodsy the Owl used to advise every school kid in the 1970’s, alongside Smokey the Bear reminding us not to start forest fires. Societal priorities shifted towards smoking cessation, avoiding teenager pregnancies, and HIV prevention more recently. We stopped “promoting shame” regarding littering in the 1990’s, as I recall. The City of New York’s streets are dirtier with clutter and unswept garbage than at other point in my lifetime except for the late 1970’s and early 1980’s budget crisis era when cuts to municipal spending reduced the ranks of DSNY personnel. Don’t read that wrong, incidentally, the DSNY is doing its job quite well. The problem is “us.” There’s several generations of native born and immigrant Americans alike who don’t see any particular reason not to just toss their garbage in the street.

I’m pricing out one of those “Game of Thrones” style shame bells. I plan to walk around Queens ringing the thing and proclaiming “SHAME” whenever I see someone toss a plastic bottle at the curb. I know where it’s going to end up, after all. Check out that plastic bag life raft for other plastics floating in the water of Dutch Kills above. Yuck, ya buncha slobs.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
here.


“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

June 5, 2019 at 2:00 pm

swapping books

with one comment

Single shot today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As seen in the “cranes district” of West Maspeth, here in the Borough of Queens, a trio of construction cranes decked out in the colors of the German flag. Back tomorrow with a more substantial posting, as a humble narrator is roughly twelve hours behind schedule today.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 15th – Exploring the East River,

From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
here.


“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

June 4, 2019 at 2:30 pm

when shouldst

with one comment

So what’s with all the weird stuff this last week?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ten years ago this week, a humble narrator was pooping his pants out of nervousness and anticipation, as the Queensboro Bridge Centennial event was about to play out and I was transitioning from being a passive participant to becoming one of the people at the front of the line talking to the crowd. My pal Bernie Ente has dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the spotlight for this event. He asked me, roughly a decade ago today, what website I intended to tell “the audience” to visit. On May 29 of 2009, a purely text post was offered titled “what is the Newtown Pentacle,” which was followed by a couple of staccato postings. I like to think that I’ve stayed true to the outline in that post, despite being carried far afield by opportunity. Everywhere I go is someplace that the Newtown Creek has led me to.

What I consider to be the actual “first” post at Newtown Pentacle was offered on June 3rd of 2009. That was 2, 275 posts ago.

I began hanging around with the Working Harbor Committee, and with Newtown Creek Alliance. The first time Captain John Doswell handed me the Circle Line microphone on a boat tour I stuttered and sputtered, but the Captain had faith in me and with some coaching I developed into a fairly decent narrator.

NCA believed in me too, and we began doing walking tours around the Creek. Atlas Obscura started up in Greenpoint about that time, and soon I found myself working with them as a paid guide and event host. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve brought to Newtown Creek, or out on a boat tour of NY Harbor at this point. There’s been literally tens of thousands; including college students, professional urban planners, activist organizations, environmental officialdom, and most importantly – ordinary New Yorkers. There’s also been dozens of classroom lectures, but that’s a different banana. I’ve published two paper books – “Newtown Creek, for the vulgarly curious” and a recent photo book “In the shadows at Newtown Creek.”

Ten years later, I’m a steering committee member at Working Harbor and I just joined the board of the Newtown Creek Alliance. I was also invited to join Astoria’s Community Board 1 quite recently.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle has been visited more than half million times in the last decade, and my Flickr account has seen nearly six million views. I’ve been profiled in dozens of news reports in the last decade, most notably in a NY Times piece back in 2012. When I say “google me,” I’m not kidding or being vainglorious. I’ve made some great friends who are engaged in similar pursuits to mine, like Kevin Walsh from Forgotten-NY, Nate Kensinger from Curbed, Joseph Alexiou from the Gowanus community. I’ve lost some great friends too; Bernie Ente, John Doswell, John Skelson. Our Lady of the Pentacle (my wife Cat), and my buddy Mai Armstrong, have been with me every step of the way and none of what’s happened to me over the last decade would have gone as well as it did without their counsel and help. I also have to tip my hat to some of my NCA peeps who have always been in my corner – Mike Heimbinder, Katie Schmidt, Kate Zidar, Will Elkins, and Lisa Bloodgood. Another person of note is WHC’s Meg Black, who has handed me the mike more times than I can count on boat tours of Port Newark and Kill Van Kull. Oddly enough, some of the other friends I’ve made are in elected office here in LIC, notably Cathy Nolan and Jimmy Van Bramer. It’s an honor to know and interact with all of you fine folks, and thank you for tolerating the presence of this bellicose kid from Brooklyn in your lives.

I’ve made some great enemies as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, why all the reflection and the bizarre POV stuff that’s been presented this last week? Short answer is that I’ve been holding that stuff back, editorially, for a while and just wanted to give myself a little freedom this week – get it off my chest, as it were.

What’s next? Good question, that.

There’s going to be a few changes coming, notably I’m going to be figuring out how to excise all those annoying ads which WordPress has been inserting into my posts of late. I’m also going to be opening up a few new channels as we move through the summer and into the fall, evolving things as it were. Ultimately, I’m going to continue trying to answer the one great question, which is the only question which matters.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


“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 31, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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