The Newtown Pentacle

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exceedingly gruesome

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I still need a vacation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent an interval arguing with a proverbial “angry old white man keyboard warrior” type yesterday afternoon, who accused me of being a “hystrionic hipster clown.” I’ll accept clown, but hipster? I encounter this sort of fellow occasionally in real life, sometimes when I’m conducting a tour. You can always spot them; head cocked back, one eye slightly winced, sour look on the face. They showed up to see me screw up so they can then call me out on something. Usually, they will interject with some obvious thing – “you gonna mention the Long Island Railroad?” or something.

Yes, I will, when we get to that section of the tour. If they continue with the derision, I tend to bury them with a depth of knowledge that they aren’t prepared for, or introduce them to the group and hand them the microphone. Screw with the bull, you get the horns. Given my love of conflict and argument, if you come at me all aggressive like, I’m going to freaking bury you with a smile on my face as I do it. Brooklyn, that’s where I’m from.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Getting all granular about every little thing is something that I prefer not to do. I’ve never claimed to be an expert on all things – however – I do possess an enormous knowledge base which covers a lot of subjects. Subway and train people are the worst about this sort of thing, writing you off if you don’t know the model number of some twenty turn screw that the Dual Contracts era engineers had problems with. I know a lot about a lot of things, and know everything about one or two things. Given my particular interests, which generally revolve around Newtown Creek, anything that’s tangentially related to the waterway’s history is something I’ve read up on and at least tried to talk to an actual expert on the subject. That means I know far more than most “civilians” about wastewater management, trash hauling, maritime shipping, and the sociopolitical history of Brooklyn and Queens. It’s a pleasure to meet somebody who wants to share what they know about trolleys or some other esoteric subject, but the vast majority of these armchair scholars just want to hoard their knowledge.

The fellow who was being aggressive and nasty to me yesterday didn’t get the “full treatment,” which is what I call the vulgar display of my well honed internet research powers. Suffice to say that within fifteen minutes of his ugly attentions and nasty commentary, I knew his home address and had a photo of him sitting on his porch in Smithtown out on Long Island. As expected, he was a retired city employee pining for the “good old days.” Seriously, folks, there is no such thing as online anonymity unless you are very, very skilled in hiding your tracks. All I need is your email address and I can follow the wires back to, at least, the corner you live on. Imagine what the cops can do. Don’t make threatening statements online, with the ideation that you won’t get kicked in the skedooch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m not offended by the “hipster” or “clown” accusations, incidentally, although “hipster” is a bit of stretch. What pissed me off was the accusation that I’m some sort of transplanted Midwest suburbanite who recently arrived in NYC to disaffectedly enjoy soy mocha lattes at some upscale Williamsburg cafe. I’ve encountered this sort of thing before, and it just ticks me off. Other than something like six to eight composite weeks when I was off galavanting in New England or Europe on vacations, I’ve woken up in New York City every single day for the last fifty one years. I didn’t pick up and move to Long Island or Westchester or …Staten Island… like some goddamned little kid afraid of what he’s seen in the big bad City. That would be giving up, and admitting that the malefic intelligence of the City had beaten you.

It’s standard “keyboard warrior” technique, calling somebody names. Let’s talk face to face, on the street where things are tangible and real. Say it to my face, if you want to deploy your MAGA code words and veiled threats.

Feh. 

Upcoming events


Saturday, November 3rdTidal Toast, a fundraiser party to support Newtown Creek Alliance in our mission to “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” the Newtown Creek. Since 2002 the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) has been the voice of Newtown Creek; working with industry, agencies, and residents alike to promote awareness, remediation, access, resilient businesses and ecological restoration. This celebration will champion the Vision for the future of the waterway and those that have contributed their time, energy and effort to it.
More information and tickets here. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 2, 2018 at 11:15 am

unforeseen hitch

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One of those days…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

October 29th is one of those days on the calendar when things just seem to happen. In 539 BC, Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and sent the Jews back to their homelands, whereupon they came up with an official version of what we call “The Old Testament.” In 312 AD, fresh off his victory at the Milvian Bridge where he claimed to have seen visions in the sky and swore to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire if he was victorious, Constantine the Great entered Rome as the Emperor of the Roman Empire. In 1390, Paris began holding witch trials, signaling the beginning of a European Witch Panic which would ebb and flow for centuries. Over in Geneva, in 1863, the International Red Cross was formed. In 1914, October 29th is the entry date for the Ottoman Empire into the First World War, and since things went very badly for the Ottomans in that conflict it also happens to be the day that the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923.

Closer to home – in 1929, October 29th was a Tuesday, and is known to history as “Black Tuesday” as it’s the start date for the Great Depression. In 2012, October 29th is the day that Hurricane Sandy blew through NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was out and about shortly after the flood waters receded in 2012 (on the 30th), accompanying a pair of scientific researchers who were collecting samples of the muck and mire deposited around the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek. The LIRR tracks in LIC, pictured above, were littered with all sorts of junk – including a sizable portion of FreshDirect’s truck fleet. The nearby Queens Midtown Tunnel was literally flooded with water from the Dutch Kills tributary of the Creek, which rose over its banks. Friends who were shepherding maritime vessels in the harbor described the swell from Sandy as being less of a tide and more of sudden rising of sea level. The waters rose vertically, and one of them said that his biggest challenge that night was maintaining a position on the Hudson River which wouldn’t find his vessel grounded on the West Side highway the next morning.

This sort of thing did happen on Staten Island, as a note, and a ship was found sitting somewhere along Richmond Terrace which should have been in the Kill Van Kull.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The MTA proved itself criminally unprepared for an event like Sandy, and the Subway system suffered massive amounts of damage from flooding in the deep.

Personally speaking, Sandy didn’t affect me terribly much, but I’ve always looked at old maps when choosing a place to live and make it a point of living where the Dutch did. The Dutch were, and are, brilliant when it comes to this sort of thing whereas the English speaking world isn’t. I had power and water here in Astoria, but not too far from HQ the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant and LaGuardia Airport were pretty much put out of business by the coastal flooding for about a week. Our Lady of the Pentacle was away on a trip, which became extended by about three to four days due to not being able to fly home, which made my little dog Zuzu quite pensive.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 29, 2018 at 1:00 pm

more affable

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Heading somewhere, with nowhere to go, while having to “go.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator’s experience can be described, ultimately, as a series of denied ambitions coupled with frustratingly implacable obstacles. Too often are my carefully laid plans upset by an externally generated mid course correction, or by having the bar raised as I’m reaching for it. My life often seems to be gummed up while trying to get from anywhere else in NYC to “Point A” in Astoria, Queens while using the subway. Additionally, enough people have told me that “I’m full of shit” over the years that I’ve started to believe it.

Last week, I found myself going everywhere all the time and wandering about the City in pursuance of a series of mundane tasks. At the end of each of them, whilst trying to return home, creativity and adaptability were required.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On one particular day, and I should mention that I had eaten oatmeal for breakfast the day before, there was some urgency in finding my way back home, so the observation about “being full of shit” offered by many was demonstrably true. Certain biological functions, as centered in the alimentary system, had created a bit of a ticking clock which needed to be acknowledged and dealt with in a somewhat expeditious fashion. Renal function is easily accommodated, in my experience, but blowing other forms of ballast are something which I have a certain situational preference for handling back at HQ. Somehow the MTA realized this, and conspired with that malign sentience which NYC is possessed by to have some fun with me. I saw many, many subway stations and instituted several increasingly urgent transfers. Having what one would colloquially refer to as “one in the chamber” while negotiating the transit system is not pleasant.

Before you ask, I did make it home in time, but just barely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is blessed by predictable function regarding such matters. Regrettably, life in the Big City and its various exigencies don’t always jibe with or conform to the clockworks found within. Accordingly, while double timing it back from the N – as MTA had decided it would be crazy for me to have actually used the R line which stops two blocks from my house – one pondered that age old question…

Why is it that in the greatest city in all of human history there no acknowledgement of human biology, and no public “pissoirs?” The Romans and Babylonians managed to create facilitations for this unavoidable existential fact, so why not NYC?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 8, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Subway

Tagged with , ,

every evidence

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Children don’t seem to sing rhyming songs about lethal infectious diseases anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Colloquially speaking, the whole “Ring-a-round the rosies, a pocket full of posies” rhyming nursery school standard is commonly thought to refer to the onset of Bubonic Plague, but scholarly experts in the field of folklore deny such interpretation claiming that such ideations first appeared in the post modernist plagued 20th century. There’s evidentiary usage of the rhyming song from early in the 19th century, with regional and linguistic variations, contained in journalism and travelogue writings. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle documented Brooklyn street urchins singing a version of “Ring A Rosie” in 1846, for instance, and there’s written accounts of variants from Britain and Germany in about the same period. The German version sounds terrifying of course, which confirms something I’ve been chatting about with one of my Astoria buddies who originally hails from Cologne about.

“Nice” things, when spoken in German, sound terrifying whereas terrifying things sound like desserts. As an example – “newborn baby” is “Neugeborenes,” which sounds like some sort of a bone cancer. “Death by fire” is “Tod durch Feuer,” which my first instinct would presume is a fried fruit and chocolate cake concoction served on a wad of whipped cream.

It’s odd that, almost as odd as the design of that Amtrak engine unit 651 pictured above. This model of train engine seems to have an angry face, complete with glowing red eyes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was quite a hubbub here in the neighborhood last weekend, as the MTA was busy working in Queens Plaza on the N/W elevated tracks and had closed several arterial streets leading to and from the Queensboro Bridge. There were all sorts of diversions and reroutings, with all sorts of lovely gasoline powered signs flashing important messages at passerby. This was actually a difficult shot to acquire, as the “Expect Delays” sign was of the LED type.

The reason that LED lights use so much less energy than incandescent or flourescent ones revolves around the fact that they’re actually flashing on and off rather staying steadily on. To the human eye, something that’s flashing on and off a hundred times in a second appears steadily illuminated, in the same way that we perceive the 30 frames per second of cinema or tv images as moving images. One wonders about the subliminal effects of LED lighting, and whether or not they could be used to alter human perception via changes in frequency, perhaps inducing mood changes in a madding crowd environmentally. Visual morse code? Maybe. Try going out with and without the tinfoil hat and see if you think different things between the two experiences. Be empirical, I say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A significant percentage of MTA’s rolling stock down in the sweating concrete bunkers has seen their “badge” indications converted over to LED lighting, which causes me no end of trouble when engaging in my habit of photographing trains entering and leaving the station. I’ve settled on a minimum shutter speed of 1/160th of a second for such matters, although 1/100th seems to be the actual frequency of the badge’s lighting cycle. The latter speed is too slow for the approaching locomotive, as the image of the thing gets “smeared” with motion blur. Even at 1/160th, however, as in the shot seen above, there is a discernibly lit and unlit portion of both the badge circle and the line designator.

Also, before anyone becomes fixated on the purplish lens flare visible, I cannot tell you why it’s purple. There’s a lot of light kicking around when a train enters a station, dust and crap in the air, and the headlights are pointing right into the lens which has an anti glare coating on it as well. It’s all part of the environmental effect.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2018 at 11:15 am

poignant sensation

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Underground philosophizing, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator does three things, generally, while riding in “the system.” One, I’m trying to get a few decent shots of trains coming and going into the station. Two, I’m usually listening to music of one sort or another on my headphones. Three, I’m struggling with some existential dilemma, which I tend to avoid thinking about when I have better things to do.

Since time spent in “the system” is essentially the exploration of a parabola of mindless intent, I figure you might as well use it to work out some deep seated personal conflict or other bull crap that’s slowing things down when you’re not on the Subway. I’ve been told by MTA employees that train operators (that’s the driver, the conductor is the one mid train who opens and closes the doors) loathe getting photographed, so I make it a point of doing so. One of the many things I plot, plan, and philosophize about are passive aggressive revenge scenarios against fairly unreliable and impersonal government agencies. It keeps me from pondering what sorts of debased life may be hiding in the sweating concrete bunkers just beyond the light puddles created by the station platforms, at any rate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In case you’re wondering why today’s post has little to do with what I did last week, it’s because the rain and high humidity  basically cancelled out any and all plans that didn’t involve a humble narrator earning a paycheck. My time was essentially spent staring into space and bemoaning the climatological extremes, in between subway trips.

While on the train, I pondered why so many Democrats describe themselves as “progressives,” as they don’t actually seem to know the mean of the word (Robert Moses was a progressive, as in “progress”) and why so many Republicans call themselves “conservatives” since they too seem ignorant of what that term indicates. Progressive is “you need to move, since the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and the many need an eight lane highway instead of your house,” and Conservative is “things are pretty good the way they are, so I’m going to resist anything but incremental change.”

As a note, one thing I don’t wonder about are the incorruptible human remains of Saints. They were embalmed in honey. Honey is basically a time machine. They pull jars of the stuff out of Egyptian tombs that are pretty much edible 5,000 years later. In ancient times, if you received a wound, they’d put honey (liquid gold) in it. Then they’d layer some odiferous powder like Frankincense on top (to defeat the olfactory senses of flying insects), and splatter a resin like Myrrh on top to seal it. The whole affair would get wrapped in clean linen. Y’all don’t need three wise men, you have me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spends a pretty good amount of time wondering what the steel dust choked air, combined with the electromagnetic spill over from the energized third rail and the nitre coated concrete walls of the subways, is breeding underground. You’ve got all you need down there to replicate the early conditions for life on Earth – electrical fields, organic molecules, lots of solute choked liquids…

Who can guess, all there is, that might be festering into life down there?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm

magic evening

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Nothing’s easy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hates going into the City, or Manhattan for those of you who didn’t grow up in Brooklyn or Queens, so very much that a tendency has developed in a humble narrator to cluster together errands and get them all done in a single go. Tax season is upon us all, so a trip to my “numbers guy” and his accountancy office was required. Additionally, a quick stop at “Beards and Hats” or the BH Photo store to purchase supplies for various endeavors was on the list.

When I left the neighborhood, I put the guy pictured above in charge, but I think a poor choice was made regarding my choice of deputy given that he was out cold before I even got on the R train.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A quick stop in Jackson Heights was executed first, wherein Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself indulged in a meal at one of the local curry shops. Our chosen dining location was of the buffet type, and while filling a plate with exotically spiced chicken and well cooked rice and vegetables, a humble narrator was approached by a strange woman.

She informed me that I was “going to purgatory” and walked away. Despite my questioning of her curious pronouncement, that was all she had to say. My theory is that she misread the Newtown Creek Alliance “NCA” hat I was wearing as NRA, but then again she was probably just another nutcase. I attract them flies to poop, after all.

After eating, Our Lady and myself climbed the stairs to the 7 line subway tracks and boarded a train heading towards the Shining City itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, whilst on the 7, I found a relatively clean window and pointed the camera at various points of interest. Pictured above is the Sunnyside Yards, and the fleet of trains which LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak store in Queens between peak demand periods – the so called “rush hours.”

To anyone reading this who works in Government, or the Transit sector, or in the Non Profit Industrial Complex – the old 9-5 concept only applies to you. Corporate America has long abandoned the “English week” of eight hour workdays. The rest of us are doing everything we can to keep our heads above water, and that involves staying late and coming in early as well as showing up sometimes on a Saturday to help out. Additionally, “rush hour” begins at about 5:30 a.m. and lasts till 10:30 a.m. due to staggered work shifts. In the afternoon, it actually starts around three and lasts till nine. Please staff accordingly.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We arrived in Manhattan, and boarded the vertigo inducing escalators at the 7 line’s terminal stop at Hudson Yards.

“Beards and Hats” was – as always – a model of customer facing commercial efficiency, and even with a bit of browsing amongst the shelves we were out of there in about a half hour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Being a relatively nice day, and knowing that lousy weather had been forecasted for the middle of the week, we opted to walk from BH photo at 34th street to our tax appointment with the Accountants nearby 72nd and Broadway.

Upon arrival at the office, however, we were told that our number cruncher was seriously behind schedule and we would have to cool our heels in the waiting room for at least an hour. Everybody else in the waiting room had “gone to the phones” as I descirbe it, including Our Lady of the Pentacle. I instructed her to text me if anything sped up, and that I’d be back in a little while if she didn’t mind waiting without me. She didn’t.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One didn’t want to wander too far afield, and I wasn’t fully equipped (or inspired) to do full on night shots, but – I did have a tiny little tripod with me. A couple of set ups followed, the one above is looking downtown along Broadway towards Columbus Circle.

Incidentally, has the Mayor considered the fact that if he pulls the statue of Columbus down and renames the roundabout at 59th and Broadway, he will be forced to then rename Columbus Avenue and compel Columbia University to change their name? Just saying…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A long time ago, I used to live waaaaay north of “the Dorilton” building found at west 71st street. It’s a handsome beaux arts “block of flats,” built in 1902 and a landmark. It was originally called “the Weed” when it was built, after its developer Hamilton Weed. It’s architects were the firm of Janes and Leo.

For some reason, it’s always filled me with a sense of foreboding and seems to be pulsing with some latent occult potency. God only knows what goes in there, but who can guess what the moneyed classes do behind closed doors? There’s probably roasted baby being consumed in there. brrrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After finally sitting down with the accountant, and working out exactly the financial tithe to war and waste which Our Lady and I owed to both the Federal and NYS political establishments, we decided that a quick trip back to Astoria was in order. Our little dog Zuzu had been alone all day waiting for us, and you don’t want to make an elderly dog angry. The plan was simple – get to 42nd street and then transfer to a Queens bound R.

Have I mentioned that the “A” in MTA is for “adventure?”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After waiting for a period of time considerably in excess of my visit to “Beards and Hats” and which promised to approach that of my delayed appointment with the Accountant, we decided that the likelihood of an “R” showing up was slight. MTA hit us with a great fakeout when an N line train appeared using the rolling stock you normally see on the R line.

They have some sense of humor, I tell you, those guys and gals at the MTA.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having resigned ourselves to walking from 31st street back to HQ, which is only two blocks from an R stop as a note, the N pulled into Queens Plaza and announced that the train was going to go express to the terminal stop at Ditmars and 31st. “Why do they do this” asked several of my fellow riders. Having zero barriers or inhibitions about talking to strangers, a humble narrator had to opine to my fellow commuters the probabile reason we were standing on a train platform in Queens Plaza at 8:30 p.m. after getting turfed off the one we were on.

Simply put, MTA rates its on time performance by measuring when a train leaves one terminal stop as compared to that of its arrival at the one on the other end of the line. Should a train set get delayed doing local stops, particularly common in Manhattan, MTA’s practice is to switch the train to express to make up the lost time. This is why you’ll periodically see the train you’ve been waiting for speed by the platform with no one on board. Their (MTA Bosses) job performance review is more important to them than yours, and you’ve been cited several times for showing up late to work because of their desire to be “on time.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While we were waiting, one again waved the camera around at points of passing interest. Luckily, the 7 was sitting at the platform for a good ten minutes so I had something nice and static to photograph.

Were there a so called “walking transfer” available between Queens Plaza (upstairs) and Queensboro Plaza (downstairs) we would have tried our luck with catching an R or M back to our actual destination but c’est la vie. Unfortunately, MTA still operates the IRT and IND lines as if they the separate entities of the dual contract era, even when it comes to fare control.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When a local stop N line train finally arrived, we boarded. A debate about which stations are currently under construction began, wherein Our Lady was forced to ask google about it. I know this is probably heresy, but if there was a single piece of signage explaining it to the ridership found in the cars…

Bah. I relieved the shopping cart guy from watch when I got home, and got back to my malingering amongst the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria.

I did wonder a bit about that purgatory comment from the crazy lady back in Jackson Heights.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2018 at 11:00 am

hurled consequentially

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No matter where you go, there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“How are ya?” is usually greeted wth “just another day in paradise,” whenever a humble narrator is queried by friends and acquaintances. It’s nice to have a catchphrase, and it took me years to come up with one that didn’t involve verbiage that could be considered a threat, hate crime, or offer a string of profane words randomly strung together. For a while, I liked “gaze upon the dragon and despair” but it’s difficult to pull that one off with the proper theatrics before coffee.

Here in paradise, one has been quite inert due to the weather. That sucks, but the good news is that “the project” has been moving along nicely. Allow me to explain…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The project” which was slowly chipped away at throughout 2017, is cataloging photos. It all started last winter when I realized that I needed to print up new business cards. I use a printing company called “Moo” for this, and their services allow for variable color fill on one side of the card (photos) and a single BW layout for the other. Essentially, it’s up to twenty shots for the photo side. Thing is, while hunting through something like sixty thousand photos, I realized that it was time to start organizing and separating the wheat from the chaff. That means that I’ve had to comb through the entire archive, just in the name of “doing it right.” I literally finished the process on December 30th, and am in the early stages of arranging shots into categories – harbor, bridges, people etc. Believe it or not, I’ve consciously avoided inclusion of Newtown Creek or NY Harbor oriented shots, as those will be getting their own individual processes. There’s a reason this project has taken so long to get done.

The end of this grueling procedure will be a godsend, and will be spawning several byproducts. I still haven’t printed any new business cards, incidentally, that’ll be the first thing I do. 2018 is going to be something of threshold year I hope, which will lead into the tenth anniversary of this – your Newtown Pentacle – in June of 2019.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things I plan on doing in 2018 is creating more video essays like the “A Short History of the Sunnyside Yards” or “Newtown Creek Magic Lantern” ones I’ve offered in the past. I’m also planning on creating a few pamphlet sized publications exploring various subjects, which would be offered for sale as both digital and physical items. Suffice to say that there are other goals for the end product of this project, but that’s still something I’m scribbling down in my notebooks and thinking about.

“Just another day in paradise” might be a worthy title for a photo book about Western Queens, one believes.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 3, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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