The Newtown Pentacle

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tentative measures

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It’s National Orange Blossom Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another day, another commute. One’s life is odd, and each day brings its own sort of challenge.

I didn’t have any paying work one recent weekday, so when a Manhattan based anti gentrification activist emailed and asked if he could meet up with me to discuss the DEP and their CSO’s in Greenpoint and LIC… well, how could I say no to something like that? We met at Dorians in LIC, I had a cheeseburger and a cup of black coffee. On the way home, I had to stop off in Sunnyside to see a guy about a thing, so I hopped on the 7 across the street from Dorians at Vernon/Jackson.

As a note, I sometimes use “Vernon Jackson” as an alias.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m trying to come up with a term to replace “gentrification” at the moment, as I don’t think it’s apropo to describe what’s happening in Long Island City and the East River coastline of Brooklyn (et al) in modern times. According to the dictionary people, gentrification is defined as – “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

That’s not what’s happening in Long Island City. At all.

Gentrification is something that “happened” in East Harlem and the Upper West Side, Bushwick and Williamsburg and Park Slope, but back in the 1990’s. What’s going on now… we don’t have a name for it, yet. Longtime Newtown Pentacle commenter and reader “Cav” has suggested “development rampage.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, let me qualify my statements with this – unlike normal people, I don’t exactly have “feelings.” Rather, and especially when behind the camera, I try to be some sort of extraterrestrial thing recording the antics of you drunken man beasts in a quite separated, sterile, and utterly emotionless manner. When not shooting, I don’t run around waving signs, chanting chants, or spouting sophomoric “poli-sci” nonsense about “the youth” or “verbal activists.” If I need to get something done, or fixed, I “show up” and get involved in the process of fixing it.

I don’t think that what’s in your pockets is somehow mine by natural right, and I wouldn’t dream of telling you what to do or not do with your own property. Like most Americans, I want to be left alone to mind my own business without input from you, the government, or anybody else.

Saying all that, I may not like what you do with your personal property, but just as I would insist regarding my own “stuff” – it’s none of my business what you do. Key word in that statement is “business.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It always pisses off the officialdom types when I refer to “my property” and question them about their stewardship or management thereof. A good political operator working for the Government will respond positively to me when I refer to them as “my employees,” whereas others will sneer at me and adopt a tired expression. When we’re talking about Sunnyside Yards, that’s the very definition of “our collective property,” however. Amtrak and MTA don’t own the yards, the public does, and the two agencies are meant to represent our collective interests. The only part of the yards which are in private hands is on the 43rd street side, and it’s owned by General Motors. With a phone call and a quick Wall Street transaction, I can own some “buy in” of General Motors too.

Ultimately, if it’s government land, WE own it. Maybe… just maybe… before any sort of deck thingamabob is built on our property, there should be a vote about disbursing it for the usage of the real estate industrial complex?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It always makes my fellow riders a bit uncomfortable when they see me pressed up against the window of a subway car, furiously working the shutter button on the camera. This is something I’ve never quite understood. People often react to the presence of a camera in the same manner as if I was carrying a firearm, and God forbid you get a shot with some random person in it who has decided that you’ve just stolen their soul or something. The odd thing about this, to me at least, is that half the train population seem to be taking “selfies” and it’s fairly common for people to use their phones to take shots of every amusing or wry thing they see these days.

Me? I’m just the guy taking pictures out of the dirty windows on the 7 train, trying to make some productive usage of the otherwise wasted time as I travel from Hunters Point – where I met a guy to talk about a thing to Sunnyside – so I can go see another guy about a different thing before heading home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to being photographed and videoed over the last decade, but it really doesn’t grind my gears if someone takes a photo of me – especially if I’m doing something outlandish in public.  It’s something that happens all the time during my tours of Newtown Creek, and I do turn up in newspaper articles periodically, commenting on this event or that so I guess I’m used to it. My understanding of things, law wise, is that if you’re in public you have no basic right to privacy. It’s the pretext which the cops and others use when installing street facing security cameras, and the only “rule” surrounding the photography of the public sphere is that you can get in “libel” trouble for assigning an editorial meaning to an image that isn’t inherent. There’s also a whole set of rules about private property, but that’s a different tale.

Example – you’re coming out of a pharmacy and pop a physician prescribed pill you just purchased, and I present it with a caption saying “well known drug addict Joe Blow popping pills again.” That’s libelous, and bad journalism, as I don’t know for certain what sort of pill it is and whether or not it’s habitually consumed, nor whether or not Joe Blow is an addict. All I actually know is what happened in the 1/500th of a second when the shutter was open.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Deep existential wandering, such as that contained in this post, is also one of the ways a humble narrator passes the time during the random series of subway connections which allow one to maintain his odd lifestyle. The bullet points of this post are “wow, look at all this construction and we have a looming infrastructure crisis on the horizon,” “must come up with a term to replace gentrification,” “what’s up with all these communists wackos suddenly emerging from the woodwork in Western Queens who have been emboldened by Trump’s surprising victory,” “must oppose the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards in every possible way,” “people are staring at me on the train while I’m shooting,” and so on.

What can I tell you, I’m all ‘effed up.

I was also a bit gassy after eating that cheeseburger at Dorians in Hunters Point, and had been suppressing the emergence of a colossal fart for the entire ride on the 7. Here at 40th street, as the next 7 was pulling in, I let it rip. It would have been bad form to do so in the confines of the subway car.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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inappropriate interludes

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It’s National Cupcake Lovers Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lonely path one such as myself walks often reveals hidden facets of the great human hive which are unnoticed or uncommented upon by most. An often quoted line from the 1980’s film Buckaroo Banzai is “no matter where you go, there you are,” and that’s something I couldn’t agree with more. Under the LIRR tracks at 43rd street nearby Barnett Avenue, an enterprising family has been collating the collections of the neighborhood “Canners,” who harvest recyclable beverage containers from residential trash. These containers are literally “money left in the street” and prove out the old aphorism that the streets of NYC are paved in gold if you’re willing to work hard enough to get it.

I first became aware of the “collectors” around twenty years ago when I was working a night shift and living in Manhattan, and I’d encounter trucks filled with bags of bottles. The exchange rate was three or four cents a can (depending), as opposed to the five cents you’ll get at a redemption center, with the extra pennies compensating the truck driver and saving the canner the hassle of using the slow and often out of order bottle redemption mechanisms found at supermarkets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a timing thing, getting the blue arc of electrical energy that lights up the train on the local Queens bound track at Queens Plaza. Cannot tell you how many times I miss it, even though I can utterly predict when the flash will occur as the R line local enters the station. My normal predication is to walk home to Astoria, from Queens Plaza, but at night you need to be worried about the pestilential Vampires who are known to infest the area. The 108th and 114th precincts will both deny the existence of this crowd of blood drinkers.

There’s also teenagers, who are wildly unpredictable creatures given to sudden flights of fancy and best avoided.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as I’ve been able to discern, the only vampire we’ve got locally here in Southern Astoria is my pal Matty, pictured above. The shot above was captured just as he was about to lean in and suckle on my jugular, and I surprised him by suddenly spinning around to catch him in the act before he distended the fangs. Legend has it that Matty has been “living” in the neighborhood since the 1880’s, but it isn’t clear if he was already a nosferatu when he arrived or if it’s something that happened locally. No one, not even Matty, is sure where he nests – but as soon as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself ducks below the horizon, he appears.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm

cylcopean mass

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It’s National Applesauce Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was out of the house early today, to attend a meeting sponsored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce which invited a team from the NYC EDC to present their feasibility study on the Sunnyside Yards at the Bulova Corporate Center found on the border of Astoria and East Elmhurst. I’m happy to say that this was a well attended meeting, and that the attendees included members of the Queens activist community as well as the usual and expected representatives from the Real Estate Industrial Complex. A breakfast meeting, bagels and coffee were offered, along with those very sweet little danishes which are typical of corporate catering.

The EDC presentation was offered by one of their many Vice Presidents, a charming fellow named Nate Bliss. I inquired after the meeting, and there was no relation to the Neziah Bliss family of Greenpoint, just as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EDC presentation was a roadshow version of the executive summary report found at their website. The presentation glossed over several seminal objections to the project which have been offered by various community organizations such as the gargantuan size of the deck itself (at 43rd street and Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside Gardens, for instance – 109-110 feet above street grade, or at Northern Blvd. and 39th/Steinway – 65-70 feet), but did acknowledge the transit and environmental issues associated with creating a new development that would require between 10 and 19 new schools to be built, and which would install a new population in LIC that would number about half that of Boulder, Colorado – on the 180 acres found between Queens Plaza and 43rd street, Northern Blvd. and Skillman Avenue.

I asked them what they’re planning on plugging the deck and city of towers built on it into, electrical wise. I threw some shade at the fact that their report says that’s it’s not feasible to bring construction materials to the job site, which is a rail yard, by rail. Pointedly asked them, as well, about how they intended to route the thousands of daily trucks which would be carrying in steel and concrete since they won’t be using the railroad to do it.

Ultimately, there’s two efficient routes, and both feed in through Manhattan from the continent – George Washington Bridge down 125th street to Triborough and then through Astoria, or Lincoln Tunnel across 42nd street to Queensboro. Guess which one they’ll pick?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To be entirely clear, despite the fact that the Sunnyside Yards is literally “in my back yard,” my resistance to the plan has nothing to do with the dismissive term “NIMBY” thrown about by the Real Estate Industrial Complex and the bureaucrats of Lower Manhattan. Western Queens is suffocating for lack of infrastructure given the construction boom which has been underway for the last decade and a half. The MTA is overwhelmed, we’ve been closing power plants instead of building new ones, the sewer system is overburdened and outdated. Somebody in the meeting asked me “where are people going to live?” which is the sort of thing that a real estate developer always throws out as if they’re doing us some sort of favor or good deed with the condemnation of whole city blocks and the subsequent erection of mirror glass skinned towers.

Short answer is this – if we improve our transit system, people can live anywhere they want to. Before the ABC and 456 lines reached into northern Manhattan and the 123 lines went to the Bronx, those areas were typified by farmland. So was most of Queens and Eastern Brooklyn, prior to the arrival of the Subways a century ago. Transit expansion equals an opportunity for rapacious profiteering on the part of the real estate industrial complex, and since greed seems to be the only thing that motivates us these days… Imagine the possibilities of an elevated track that crossed from the 103rd Corona Avenue stop on the 7 south across the transit deserts of Queens and Brooklyn all the way to Broadway Junction.

The mind boggles. 


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local matters

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It’s National Walnut Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been keeping an eye on the panel truck pictured above, which often parks on 43rd street alongside the Sunnyside Yards, which has been covered in increasingly literate graffiti over the last year. One was taken aback by the appearance of “The Federalist Papers” on it recently. It is my belief that Alexander Hamilton very well might have risen from the grave and picked up a can of krylon. Burr will likely be next to rise and begin a graffiti campaign. 

It would just like Hamilton (or Madison for that matter) to rise from the grave, just in the name of proving a point and pointing out how far we’ve strayed. Freaking Publius. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the sixth of June, a hilariously scheduled meeting with the NYC EDC is being hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce at the Bulova Center which will concern itself with the latter entity’s Sunnyside Yards decking proposal and feasibility study. A humble narrator will be waking up with the sun to be able to attend, and for those of you who care about things which Queens residents think about as being good for Queens, versus those things which Manhattan real estate interests think of as being good for Queens – I’d hope to see you there, at eight o’clock in the morning, on a Tuesday, in East Elmhurst. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LA punk band Fear don’t exactly have “hits” as far as the pop music standard goes, but one of their catchier ditties is “New York’s Alright.” The choral segment of the late 70’s arrangement involves a growling rendition of the song’s title followed by “if you like saxophones.” Just last week when I was moving through the West 4th street station over in the City, on my way to the Waterfront Alliance annual conference, some fellow across the platform was honking out the Fear song on his sax. There were probably less than ten people in the station who recognized the song, or the irony.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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double steps

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It’s both National Pig Day, AND it’s concurrently National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, one is not entirely sure why it is that our culture ever abandoned the paper grocery bag in favor of the plastic ones, but I have my suspicions that something inhuman was involved with the decision.

I remember the transition… when the paper grocery bag was used as the core and a plastic bag as the outer shell… sometime during the late 1980’s. Paper bags, which made for a fine series of secondary uses such as school book covers and drawing paper, were phased out entirely by the 1990’s. Today, we can’t get rid of the things. Given the nature of the recycling industry, which is always desperately seeking new customers for paper pulp and the like, wouldn’t it make a bit of sense for our elected officials to embrace the return of biodegradable paper bags made from recycled cardboard and paper? Wouldn’t that enrich their constituents and donors in the waste handling industry, nourish the recycling economy, and help end the plague of flyaway plastic carrier bags? This used to be an industry absolutely owned top to bottom by the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn, incidentally, rather than foreign plastics factories. The old brown paper bags would just melt away in the rain, you may recall, whereas the somewhat immortal plastic ones have become wind blown nuisances.

I’m talking to you Simcha Felder, or @NYSenatorFelder, if you like. I’m watching you, since you were opposed to doing away with the plastic ones, as to what your solution is to this problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of watching – that all knowing thing which cannot possibly exist in the cupola of LIC’s Sapphire Megalith, which stares down upon the world of men through its three lobed burning eye, has been on my mind of late. It does not breathe, nor sleep. “Too big to fail” is how occultists might refer to it, but all that one can say confidentially about it cannot be repeated in open parlance for fear of angering its global army of mortal acolytes. Anarchists and regulators have attempted to control or destroy it over the two and change centuries after the thing first revealed itself in 1812, but it is beyond the power of mortal man to do anything but annoy the thing in the megalith.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are occult constructs which might attempt to explain it. Its material origins lie with the Astor family, but the modern incarnation is strictly the work of the Rockefellers. There comes a moment in an Oligarch’s life when they ask “is this all there is?” and the path to perfidy opens before them. Just as Dr. Dee found his place beside the throne of England, and Cagliostro found himself in elevated positions in both Papal Rome and Versailles, the idyll of the wealthy often leads to occultism and the harnessing of “things” better left unknown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Sapphire Megalith of Long Island City encompasses 54 stories. Four of those floors are below the ground, 50 above. Rumor has it that there are unacknowleged levels which extend below the ground, so is it “as above, so below”? The Jewish Pentateuch (or Torah) is divided into 54 weekly sections. There are 54 volumes in the the Buddhist Tripitaka, and the word wisdom appears some 54 times in the New Testament of the Christians. In the I Ching, the number 54 is indicated via the Kwei Mei hexagram, indicating that (under the conditions which it denotes) any action undertaken will be evil, and in no way advantageous.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The inhuman thing which lurks within the cupola of the Sapphire Megalith of Long Island City would have no time for any of this mortal occultist claptrap, of course, if it actually existed.


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restoring shadow

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It’s global Rare Disease Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can you hear it yet? I mean the thunder. It’s hard to hear, I know, over the sound of the drums and bagpipes.

The NYC EDC recently released their feasibility study for the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards, and as a humble narrator predicted some 24 months ago – they believe it to be “doable.” The scale of the project, as described in the two documents they’ve released – one a twenty page “executive summary,” and the second a whopping two hundred and change page “full report” – is brobigdagnian. In essence, they propose building the Death Star along Northern Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One will be writing and speaking about this proposal extensively over the next few months. Study of the document is part of what was occupying my thoughts during the last couple of weeks when archive shots were being presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle. I’d recommend that you read the longer “product” rather than the executive summary, if you’re interested in existential issues which threaten to overwrite the way of life enjoyed by those of who live in southern Astoria, Dutch Kills, LIC, Sunnyside, and Woodside in the name of building luxury housing. The project, rolled out in the name of “affordability” actually discusses the fact that rents in the neighborhoods surrounding the Sunnyside Yards would go up instead of remaining static. Isn’t reducing scarcity the whole point of bringing new stock into the real estate market?

I will offer compliments to the EDC team, as this is a very well put together and thought out plan. Saying that, adding 14-24,000 apartments (70% Luxury/market and 30% “affordable”) with 5,300 parking spots and building 19 schools up on the deck isn’t going to address many of the issues familiar to Western Queens. The height of the deck is staggering – between three to seven stories over street grade along Northern Blvd. and nearly eleven stories along 43rd street in Sunnyside Gardens. The towers built on top of the deck would be another matter, and if a series of sixty story buildings are planned (they are), EDC would count the height of those stories starting at the deck – so a sixty story apartment house would in fact be seventy one stories were it built on the eastern side of the project (43rd street).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can you hear it yet? The thunder, I mean? I can tell you that they are going to be hearing it in the air conditioned offices of lower Manhattan, where this land grab was conceptualized by Michael Bloomberg’s right hand man Dan Doctoroff and then proposed by a feckless quisling, and unpopular populist – the Mayor of NYC, whom the children of Queens know as the Dope from Park Slope – Bill de Blasio. That vainglorious opportunist… don’t get me started on this throwback to the failures of the Dinkins administration, this fraudulent national aspirant, progressive in name only, his clueless and tone deaf Manhattancentric policies that are bought and sold by the Real Estate industry, or the echo chamber of vast personal and political hubris which he operates within.

Can they hear the thunder? Something wicked this way comes, they must be telling themselves, over in Manhattan. The bedroom communities of Western Queens have been awoken.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 28, 2017 at 1:00 pm

odd debris

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress. That’s what they used to call it. The reclamation of wetlands for profitable municipal or private use, and the installation of some sort of useful industry upon the new land. Here in Queens – Northern Blvd., or Jackson Avenue depending on where you are standing, used to be a raised road that rolled through a swampy lowland. Queens, and LIC in particular, were remarkable in the post Civil War era for the prevalence of water borne diseases suffered by occupants of the various towns and villages found along its route. Typhus, malaria, cholera – all of the mosquito vector illnesses were quite common.

It’s the reason that Queens was so open to large scale development in the early 20th century when technologies emerged that allowed for the draining of swamplands and marshes. In a sudden burst of activity at the start of the last century – you see the emergence of the Queensboro Bridge, the Sunnyside Yards, and the appearance of the subway system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as the critters go, they’re still following their old patterns even though the ancestral waters are buried tens of feet below the surface. It’s why you’ll still see clouds of gulls flying around at Sunnyside’s northern border or over in Woodside, miles from the East River or Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The automobile represented “progress” to the generations who fought the World Wars. The City was remade and rebuilt by Robert Moses and the armies he led in pursuance of progress. The highways and local streets which divide us also provided the opportunity to raise the level of land over the water table and install sewerage systems. These sewers quicken the flow of water, which in turn did away with the languid puddles and marshes in which the disease spreading clouds of mosquitos could breed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was no more potent symbol of “progress” in the late 19th century however, than the railroad. Unfortunately, it was ruled by opportunist financiers like JP Morgan and predatory capitalists like John D. Rockefeller, both of whom contributed to the industry becoming less and less profitable to operate. Robert Moses was no friend to the railroads either. Ultimately, by the late 1960’s, all of the private rail companies that handled passenger and freight were bankrupt and brought under government control.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress seems to be a forgotten concept in the modern day. It’s about maintaining what we’ve inherited, rather than dreaming big, of what we could have. We no longer reach for the stars, even on National Chocolate Cake Day.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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