The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s Wednesday again, say its name.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Firebox, firebox, firebox. The one pictured above, encountered on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside, is telegraphic. You pull the handle, a circuit is broken within the thing, and the bells go off at the local firehouse which brings out the lads and ladies who drive the big red truck. It’s likely a product of the Gamewell Company, which controlled about 95% of the market for this product at the start of the 20th century when the modern day FDNY was being formed and the Tammany crew were writing the checks. This, in my observation, the most common encountered form of fire alarm box you’ll find in NYC. The mount it’s sitting on is far more modern, but the alarm box itself probably dates back to the 1930’s or 40’s.

There are so many features of our New York streets that thoroughly blend into the background, and do it so well that you barely notice them. Manhole or access covers, utility poles, weird antennae… there’s all sorts of gear.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Midnight wanderings, especially with all the bars closing early, can be a lonely affair. What with the quarantine and such, it’s been hard for me to find a few minutes to myself for “psychic butt scratching time.” The phone keeps ringing, Our Lady of the Pentacle requires company, there’s all of these Zoom meetings… I’ve really come to value these little snatches of nocturnal freedom more than I can say. Also, whereas in a spot like the one pictured above I’m quite obviously masked up, it’s been a sincere pleasure to forego the thing while marching about in the cold solitude of a January night.

If everything went to plan this week, as you’re reading this it will have been some 24 hours since a humble narrator received his first of two vaccination shots. If, by this time, you’ve received news of a humble narrator toothsomely tearing into passerby in pursuit of consuming their brains – you’ll know that we have arrived at a Walking Dead sort of scenario and you should avoid me. Who can say?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, NYC began retiring the old Gamewell Telegraphic Fire Alarm Boxes in favor of a dual duty fire/police telephonic unit. This was during the crime wave which too many of you believe to have been a myth, or caused by “systemic racism,” or whatever other political terms you’re enamored with. People just like you, and Bill De Blasio, were in charge back then too. If crime, and being a victim thereof, is an intellectual concept for you rather than an ironclad memory that involves spitting out the bloody shards of your teeth, you really need to rethink your stances. I’m not advocating for bootlicking, nor for taking the Cops at their word and not holding them to account for every little thing, but very few of you “new people” have any idea what NYC was actually like prior to the current day. These new people have coined new lexicons, so the disconnect is logical.

Allow me to translate the recent past for you – “sex workers” controlled entire blocks, and all night long cars driven by “clients” would trawl around the neighborhood. In the mornings, used condoms and empty or smashed liquor bottles littered the sidewalk. Beyond the skin trade – school playgrounds were covered in broken glass, drug dealers operated with impunity and owned entire blocks, the Mafia controlled construction and private garbage collection as well as a bunch of other things and if you were smart you didn’t pay much attention to them. The cops did nothing but respond to 911 calls, and otherwise wouldn’t leave the safety of their cars to be proactive. The FDNY alarm boxes would alert fire houses of burning buildings, but FDNY wouldn’t be able to start fighting fires until armed Cops showed up to protect them. Rape didn’t involve being made to feel uncomfortable because somebody said something ugly or pointed at you. It was a world without bike lanes, if you can imagine such a thing.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, March 1st. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


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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

March 3, 2021 at 11:00 am

breathing stertourously

with one comment

A few odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turns out that the NYPD has a wrecker tow truck stationed in Woodside, all kitted out with their colorways, logos, and flair. The coppers have all the good toys. I think we, as a City, should license out and sell toys of all of the municipal vehicles the way that the Star Wars people do. Have you got the limited edition mobile oppression platform? How about a Dermot Shea talking action figure? You pull a string on its back and it makes excuses for the Mayor’s policies while resisting the urge to call him an asshole.

The cops have aircraft of all types, drones, tanks, boats, cars, trucks, buses… someday I think there will be an NYPD branded Mobile Suit Gundam deployed on the mean streets of New York. Now, more than ever.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is absolutely startling to see Roosevelt Avenue empty. This is the corner of 58th street, which is one of the busier intersections in the borough of Queens under normal circumstance. A short burst of rain had just broken out. There were cops driving around with their lights off, seemingly looking for someone. The 7 train rattled by on the overhead tracks, puncturing the quiet. I did see a pair of guys carrying a whole lot of beer back to their apartment. Also, I had to pee.

That burst of rain occurred after a period of sweaty humidity and a subsequent ground fog had built up, when a strong cold wind began blowing through in a northerly direction. I can tell you this first hand, as I had actually been roaming around Queens for hours at the moment that this shot was gathered, and I was sweaty and rain soaked and growing steadily more chilled. It had been a warm night, so no filthy black raincoat, just a sweatshirt. The need to urinate had nothing to do with the weather, rather it was normal renal function at work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

38th Avenue runs between Woodside Avenue/58th street and 61st street. It mirrors and follows the path of the Long Island Railroad tracks which are elevated up on a berm and surrounded by vegetated slopes. The section of it between Woodside Avenue and 54th street is spooky. There are homes on the north side of the street, but their back yards and driveways are what face 38th. It’s dark, and a few of the people who live here have not very high fences and excitable dogs. It’s a creepy street, for some reason. I instinctively don’t like walking down this stretch during the daylight hours, either. Can’t tell you why.

It’s a Queens thing.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, May 4th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“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 8, 2020 at 11:00 am

innocuous solidity

with 3 comments

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.


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“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

correlate every

with 2 comments

Artsy fartsy on Roosevelt Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, I was actually talking on a conference call about MTA with a couple of colleagues while shooting the shots in today’s post. Additionally, I was freezing my yum yums off, but what does a little existential discomfort matter when one is pursuing the muse? I had scuttled along this pathway on Roosevelt Avenue sometime in the last couple of weeks and decided there and then that I needed to come back with the intention of capturing the artificial light playing along the steel of the IRT Flushing or 7 Line elevated subway tracks above. These shots are from where and when I did so.

Last Monday and Woodside, which sounds sort of anticlimactic, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, during the day, the steel structure casts harsh shadows that are framed by extremely bright shafts of sunlight which reduces photo exposure options significantly. At night, however, traffic and street lights – even light spilling out of apartment windows – creates a random and often quite colorful luminance. Throw in passing auto traffic and illuminated shop signs? Yup, interesting place to do some long exposures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roosevelt Avenue, however, isn’t exactly a backwater. It’s densely travelled by vehicles of all kinds and there’s lots of pedestrians as well. Luckily, the steel girders supporting the overhead trackage provide lots of places for you to set up and compose a tripod shot. Unfortunately, these girders seem to be favorite spots for illegal dumping or vomiting and are very popular with the canine population of Woodside. C’est La Vie, ay?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The path I decided on walking was, by necessity of climatological conditions, short by my standard. A quick subway ride on the M train from Astoria to the Roosevelt Avenue stop carried me to Jackson Heights, whereupon a southeasterly posture was assumed by turning onto Roosevelt and walking up the hill towards Queens Blvd. After finishing up my self appointed task, one walked down the hill at 48th street and back to HQ in Astoria.

Yes, I was tempted to cut things short and hail that cab in pursuance of warming up my yum yums.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The conference call I was on, as mentioned, revolved around the MTA and various issues surrounding it in Queens. Given the dearth of subway lines serving 75% of the Borough, and the fact that most Queensican commuters have to rely on Buses, I volunteered to begin using the bus system more and more to “get smart” about it. Back when I was full time advertising guy Mitch, one of the agencies I worked for was Ogilvy & Mather, founded in part by a fellow named David Ogilvy. Ogilvy was one of the first scientific marketers back in the “mad men” era, and wrote several books about his experiences and realizations. One of his bits of advice involved signing up for or using your customer’s products, to learn what the experience is of the said customer you’re trying to sell something to.

I’m not trying to sell you bus rides, of course, but within a year I’ll be able to speak a lot more intelligently than I can now (I literally live over a Subway line, so I’m going to have to go far afield of “my way” on this one) about what’s good or bad about Bus service in – at least – Western and Northern Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Baby, it was cold outside. Luckily, I arrived at my turnaround point at Queens Blvd., packed up the tripod and wide angle lens, refitted the camera to handheld settings and affixed a “bright” night lens. As it turns out, my yum yums survived the cold and are in fine fettle.

Next week – something completely different at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2019 at 11:00 am

much attention

with 2 comments

Woodside area, Roosevelt Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throughout 2018, particularly from the end of the summer through the autumn and all the way into December, a nighttime photographic survey of Newtown Creek and its surrounding neighborhoods was undertaken. As regular readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you, every nook and cranny around the waterway saw me show up in the dead of night and set up the tripod. Because of this effort, I’m trying to take a Newtown Creek break and shoot other things for a bit. Sometime in the next couple of weeks I need to go shoot another progress report on the K Bridge project, but I’ll do that when I feel like it and have some time to kill. Right now, I’m really interested in the 7 train corridor.

Coincidentally, since the aforementioned corridor has a de facto roof on it provided by the elevated tracks of the IRT Flushing Line, it’s a bit less “chilly” than it is hanging around the waterfront in January.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always wondered about what it’s like living near the Woodside stop on the 7, where there’s both an elevated 7 line stop and a Long Island Rail Road station. Noisy, I’d imagine. Luckily for the folks that live here, it’s also on a primary approach to LaGuardia Airport which is found to the north. The folks that live on the block pictured above actually have an awesome Irish Bar on their corner, Saints and Sinners, so they can at least find solace or succor deep in their cups if the noise is keeping them awake at night. HQ back in Astoria sits atop a subway tunnel, the IND Broadway Local or R line. I barely even notice the vibrations anymore. You don’t hear anything, other than minor rattling emanating from the cupboards.

It’s best to just ignore the rattling, or any of the sounds which come from deep inside the walls, at Casa Mitch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

58th street, which at Roosevelt Avenue is just a few blocks from the dead bang geographic center of NYC at Queens Blvd. and 58th, is where I decided to start deploying the tripod and other long exposure gear to try and capture the amazing amount of light kicking around in the steel rafters after dark. During the day, it’s just a mass of hard shadows up there, and a fairly difficult place to get the right exposure due to the bright shafts of sunlight peeking through the steel. There aren’t a lot of middle tones, essentially, to meter against in such a contrasty environment.

More tomorrow. 


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 17, 2019 at 11:00 am

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