The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

important sidelight

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It’s National Potato Chip Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Any part of the urban landscape which the voracious minions of the Real Estate craze sees as “having a large footprint” is in danger of being consumed by it. Supermarkets, factories, warehouses, and in the case of today’s post – gas stations. One has noticed over the last few years that filling stations with a small bodega have largely replaced the “gas pump and mechanic” style facilities. These latter versions, which host a larger number of pumping units than their forebears did, now seem to be disappearing as well. There’s a few left in the “central core” of NYC, but this non municipal infrastructure seems to be disappearing as well. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Used to be… not too long ago… back when I was a boy… how sick one grows of using these phrases. Cab drivers have told me that they are often forced to travel long distances to fill their tanks these days. Forget about “normal” vehicles, of course. What are we going to do when all that’s left in NYC are apartment buildings? 

Pictured above is a gas station on Northern Blvd. at Steinway/39th Street, where one can witness – around 3:30 in the afternoon, an armada of taxi cabs filling up before the shift and driver change at 4 p.m. Here in the Astoria and Sunnsyide sections of LIC, there’s still a few gas stations left, but this one – so close to what would be the development site described in the Sunnyside Yards decking proposal – would clearly be wiped away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the reason that the yellow cabs fill up in Queens is that there are so few gas stations left in Manhattan. The taxi industry used to be based along Manhattan’s west side, until a real estate craze there in the 1970’s and 80’s pushed them out. They relocated to LIC, largely, where the same process that pushed them out of Manhattan is now playing out. 

That’s one of the few survivors in Manhattan, below 96th street, pictured above. It’s at the northern edge of Hells Kitchen, adjoining the Hudson Yards development site. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm

incessant mixings

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It’s National Coconut Torte Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s about three thousand commercial air flights on any given day in the NYC area. This includes helicopters, all three airports, even the sort of goofy water plane you see in the shot above. One such as myself has no desire, or ability, to leave “home sweet hell.” NYC is where everybody else is working to get to, but if you’re born here, that’s already been all sorted out.

Personally speaking, I’d like to just get out of Astoria for a few days, but back to back colds in March and a pulled abdominal muscle at the end of February have kept me on the bench, and the injured list. Into each life a little rain must fall and all that, but jeez…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that my infirmaties have allowed for catching up on a lot of television shows which all my friends have been rattling on about. One can highly recommend the Marvel “Daredevil” show on Netflix, which purports to be set in Manhattan’s Hells Kitchen but which is shot in Greenpoint, Bushwick, and especially Long Island City. Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will likely be thrilled seeing “The Man without Fear” duking it out with an army of Ninjas in LIC’s Degnon Terminal nearby LaGuardia Community College. 

In many ways, it confirms something I’ve always believed might be occurring on the rooftops of LIC, but you’d need some sort of aircraft (or maybe a drone) to witness it. The Marvel Netflix series are largely being produced at the Broadway Stages company based in Greenpoint, so it’s an easy reach to see why LIC looms so large in it. Also, Manhattan’s west side doesn’t really look like NYC anymore, due to the real estate craze. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just because a humble narrator switched gears and stopped writing and drawing comics a few years back doesn’t mean that my childhood fascinations have abided. I can also recommend to you Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” film. What does all this have to do with a blog devoted to the history of Newtown Creek and the communities surrounding it? 

Nothing, but you’re going to need something to do when that blizzard hits us. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm

fragrant memories

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It’s National Blueberry Popover Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few odd and end shots of critters encountered today. Low tide at Hells Gate will offer you a chance to observe a gaggle of gulls exploiting the exposed intertidal zone. Gulls evolved what turns out to be one of the most important adaptations for survival on a human dominated planet – inedibility. You can actually eat them, but reportedly they taste heavily of all things maritime and you have to worry about worms and accumulated toxins. In their world, Gulls are near the top of the food chain and their diet consists of critters which the environmental activist community would describe as “bio accumulators.” Apparently, there are people who eat gulls, but gussy them up with bacon and a whole pack of spice.

Bacon could make a turd taste nice, I believe, but it ain’t kosher.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Squirrels are regularly eaten by Americans, although this one from Astoria Park doesn’t have to worry too much about being consumed by a human. It’s main problem are Hawks and Falcons, Dogs and Cats, and Raccoons. I’m told that Opposums and even Rats will go after squirrel nests. There’s something about the phrase “squirrel nest” that just fills me with an indefatigable whimsy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A culinary tradition from Europe continues in the United States, which states that swan meat is reserved for the tables of royalty, and it’s generally not on the menu for us common folk. Another water fowl near the top of its food chain, the Mute Swan pictured above probably has a liver full of mercury and PCB’s, and it’s flesh is likely riddled with parasitic worms picked up out of the sewage laden waters of New York Harbor – or in the case of the bird above, Luyster Creek in Astoria on the forbidden northern coast of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you many have discerned, it’s time for a humble narrator to organize up his luncheon. Y’know, a blueberry popover sounds pretty good right now.

See you Monday, with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 10, 2017 at 1:00 pm

great bridge

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It’s both National Crabmeat Day, and National Meatball day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy official anniversary of the first train crossing of the Hell Gate Bridge! Personally, I’m going to attend the celebratory soirée at Greater Astoria Historic Society tonight, where Dave “the Bridgeman” Frieder is going to be talking. Dave Freider is a photographer and historian who probably knows more about this subject than anyone else alive, and he was featured in a recent NY Times article on the subject as well.

I’ve been talking about the Hell Gate bridge since Newtown Pentacle started. This recent post, commemorating the day on which the steel of the bridge was finished, for instance. As an aside, here’s a post on it’s neighbor to the south, the Triborough Bridge, and one of the many where a humble narrator described ships and other vessels passing beneath it. There’s that time I spotted an experimental combat vessel at Hells Gate, described here. The esoteric history of Hells Gate was discussed in this 2010 post, and the largest explosion in human history prior to the atomic era as well as why its called “Hells Gate” was offered way back in this 2009 post, and in this one as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually because of all the rattling on I’ve done over the years about Hell Gate that the decision to largely shut up and let you look at the pictures is offered today. Of course, since I’m a “Chatty Cathy,” that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fill the dead air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mose the fireboy is said to have strangled a sea serpent to death at Hell Gate in the early 19th century, a creature whose skin was draped over the bar at McGurk’s Suicide Palace during the legendary era of the Bowery B’hoys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate Bridge is federal property, specifically Amtrak, who acquired it out of the (then) largest bankruptcy in American history. It was the Pennsylvania railroad that built the thing, which eventually merged with their arch rivals at New York Central Railroad. The combined company, Penn Central Transportation Company (and its assets like Hell Gate), also collapsed into bankruptcy (in 1970) and were federalized by Richard Nixon into Amtrak and Conrail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This bridge is pretty much the only way off of a Long Island and onto the continent for freight rail. There’s a second and quite smaller structure called Little Hell Gate which isn’t not too far away, and that span carries rail traffic into the Bronx and from there all points north and west. On the other side of this connected track system, which is called the New York Connecting Railroad, is the Sunnyside Yard. That’s where the passenger links are, which lead to the east river tunnels, Penn Station, and the Hudson River tunnels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hell Gate Bridge hurtles over Astoria Park, and fills the background of much of it. It’s a rite of passage for the “utes” of Astoria to find their way up to the tracks, I’m told, and there’s a legend they propagate that there’s a phantom train which emerges along the unused fourth trackway to chase and claim the unwary.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The arches of the NY Connecting Railroad continue eastwards, and as they do, begin to intersect with residential properties. There are dozens of homes in which the back yard plots include geometries formed by these cylcopean structures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria legend also describes a homeless serial killer of children who once lurked within the bridge’s Queens side tower. As the story goes, there’s a room in there where photos of the killer’s young victims are displayed. The 114th pct will deny that such a person ever existed, but will mention the occasional “ultra violence” that happens around the bridge – like the homeless man who had his skull crushed here a couple years back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The New York Connecting Railroad tracks continue on through Astoria, heading eastwards toward the edge of Woodside and then crossing Northern Blvd. Local community organizations sponsor the creation of murals on the street facing sections.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After 31st street, there is naked steel again, with the massive concrete structures giving way to columns and posts. There is still quite a bit of collossal concrete arch and balustrade along the route, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s such a part of the Astoria landscape that seldom is it commented upon, the passing of the railroad.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy birthday, Hell Gate Bridge. I’ll be thinking of you at Greater Astoria Historic Society’s “do” tonight.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

utterly devoid

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It’s National Potato Salad Day, National Peanut Cluster Day, and National Pancake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where to go, what to see, and why bother? Such are the thoughts which intrude and occlude whenever one such as myself leaves the house. Someone else has always gotten there first, and there are certain scenes which – while they never disappoint – I’ve visited literally thousands of times. I’d like to travel abroad, photographing exotic animals and esoteric people, but that would likely involve a good deal of finance, and planning, and I hate to fly. Also, it may be too hot, or cold, and I’ll likely get sunburned. Physical discomfort will likely result, my cherished preconceptions would likely be challenged, or I could end up being killed and eaten by a pack of monkeys.

Ultimately, everyone and everything will eventually make it to Queens anyway so why leave? As the band TLC advised – stick to the hills and waterfalls you’re used to. We’ve got the monkey situation sorted out around here already, there are no uncaged hippos or other large mammalian killers (other than mankind), and I know every possible private spot there is to urinate around these parts. As a note: There are two public bathrooms in Calvary Cemetery, but the one at the Review Avenue gates is often locked. You really, really shouldn’t let loose elsewhere in the cemetery. That’s just disrespectful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a recent wander through Calvary, wherein I was exploring the eastern side of the polyandrion, a humble narrator became the focus of attention for a group of Crows. Possibly Ravens, but I don’t know what the difference between the two are. My belief is that they saw my filthy black raincoat flapping about and figured that one of their own had taken to the ground, but I’m an idiot. As is usually the case, for some reason birds aren’t afraid of me. I can walk through a flock of pigeons or sparrows pecking at the ground and they neither scatter into the air nor otherwise acknowledge my presence.

For some reason this is equal parts disconcerting and deeply satisfying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Long Island City is famously home neither to packs of carnivorous monkeys, nor lurking hippopotamus, or even large feline predators. There are absolutely no giant fire breathing lizards or irradiated turtles lurking in Newtown Creek, which categorically never attacked Maspeth in June or September of 1958.

Our big problem are the vampires, of course, who lurk in the shadowed rafters of the Long Island Expressway during the day, as well as the elevated subway tracks around Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Avenue. There are reportedly “things” down in the sewers which the NYC DEP refuses to acknowledge, bizarre abominations and parodies of the primatological branch which IND platform based commuters sometimes spot moving about in the fuligin shadows of the subway tunnels. The MTA denies their existence too, calling them “urban legends.”

There are the rat kings, the cockroach collective consiousness, and the aboriginal horrors which lurk at Hallets Cove – but that’s another story. If you ask the U.S. Coast Guard, they’ll deny those reports offered by professional sailors of a sea monster dwelling in the turbidity of Hells Gate, one which only emerges during powerful thunder storms.


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bleary eyed

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It’s National Crown Roast of Pork Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Death – the fear of same, avoidance of said state, and the unavoidability of both circumstances stains my waking hours. Science fiction scenarios involving the transfer of my brain into some electrode laden jar both tempt and torment, as it would needlessly lengthen my existence but offer an extended period of time in which to annoy others. Thing is, everywhere I go, death is already there. Newtown Pentacle HQ is located in a rental apartment in Astoria, and shortly after moving in my landlord and his wife came by for dinner. We chatted, and enjoyed a bottle of wine together, but he refused to answer my query as to whether or not anyone had ever died in my then new domicile which is about a century old (I like to know if its likely a specter or just a rodent making that mysterious noise in the middle of the night).

It’s more than likely, in NYC, that somebody has kicked the bucket in your place if it’s over a certain age. Real estate interests preclude the discussion of such matters, as the reputation of haunted premises tends to depress potential profits by lowering the rental threshold. Nobody wants to live in a haunted house.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This haunted realtor hypothesis of mine is how I explain the relative lack of supernatural lore enjoyed by New York City as compared to other eastern cities of proportionate size and commensurate age. Boston seems to have a ghost in every single home, as does Albany, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Atlanta, St. Augustine, and especially New Orleans. New York City, on the other hand, saw its first great fortune arise around the Real Estate industry (The Astors). Realtors and property owners have always enjoyed a somewhat unique socioeconomic status in this megalopolis of ours, and accordingly, they control the newspapers. To this day, the number one class of advertisers in any City oriented publication involves real estate. The conspiracy theory I suggest is that there has been a tacit and centuries long agreement between editors, journalists, and the folks who ultimately pay their salaries not to report on poltergeists, phantoms, or noncorporeal bogeymen.

Famously, the most expensive real estate in New York City – in terms of price per square foot – is found in cemeteries. Four square meters in the ground can run you hundreds of thousands of bucks. No wonder ghosts would prefer to just squat inside some living person’s walls, alongside the rat skeletons. I’m actually surprised that the real estate guys haven’t figured out a way to monetize that gap of a few inches which is sandwiched between the slat boards and drywall.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For years, one has joked that when the EPA finally begins dredging out Newtown Creek that NYPD will be closing half of its open missing persons cold case files. I wonder how many human remains came spilling out of the old factory and tenement walls which were demolished in recent years in LIC and Williamsburg. Ever wonder what that weird smell in your apartment was, or where it was coming from? Presumed it was a dead mouse?

It makes one wonder, and more than wonder.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

curious sequel

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It’s European Day of the Righteous, in the European Union.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, last week I decided to play around a bit with my camera, in the cause of doing “the opposite of what I normally do.” All of today’s shots were shot with my night lenses set wide open to f1.8. Why? Why not? Gotta mix things up every now and then. I had nothing else to do anyway, as I was early for a meeting in LIC and was just hanging around killing time.

The thing in the sapphire megalith finds everything we mortals do funny.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A curious access – or manhole – cover was spotted along Jackson Avenue at a former Taxi depot which has recently been vacated. No doubt, this site will soon host a gigantic apartment building, of course. The creed on the manhole cover is “NYCTS” which likely indicates it as the property of the MTA (NYC Transit System). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having little to do and no where else to go, one headed over to the crumbling 51st avenue footbridge in anticipation of watching a LIRR train go by. Given the current expectations of joy which one such as myself expects, this was a rather exciting prospect, and when the railroad’s signal arms descended over Borden Avenue, I was all a twitter.

This is pretty much all I’ve got these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the LIRR 7100, and unless I’m mistaken – it’s one the 836 electric M7 electric multiple units that the MTA bought from the Bombardier company and which started service in 2002. It’s moving from the Hunters Point Yard to the Hunters Point Avenue station, after crossing under the Pulaski Bridge and across Borden Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Presuming that I’m correct in naming it as an M7, the train is powered via a non proverbial third rail, just like the NYCTA subway system. I hung around for a little bit and watched the train pass by, as I was still quite early for my meeting.

It was all kind of depressing, actually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long Island City has grown so significantly in recent years that this, along with all the other lonely spots which I used to indulge my innate and deep sense of isolation in, was quite crowded. The 51st avenue footbridge which I was squatting upon had a steady stream of pedestrian traffic flowing over it.

Your humble narrator was in the way, as I am in many situations and scenarios.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LIRR train continued on to the Hunters Point Avenue station where it picked up people who had somewhere to go. I had somewhere to go for a change, so I flopped out the big lens for the small one and headed over to my meeting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing in the megalith doesn’t care how any of us feel, just so you know.


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