The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Astoria

disclosures which

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Happy Monday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, this weekend’s nocturnal walk occurred on Saturday night, which was a bit windy for my taste but I’m trying to be out and about as much as possible before proper winter sets in so there you are. Pictured above is Steinway Street, here in Astoria, where i considered getting on the subway in pursuance of getting to LIC but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of daring fate by entering the system. Instead, I scuttled along one of my usual routes, and whilst walking pondered a few things.

Amazon, Queens, life. One of the things I decided to do was put out an open request to you, lords and ladies, in the hope of attaining a point of view for the camera which I’m desirous of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Terrestrial is how I’d describe the images I usually capture. The point of view is generally somewhere between ground level and roughly 64 inches from it (that’s how tall my tripod is). That “big project” I’ve been working on is nearly finished, but I’m still missing something, and that’s a nocturnal aerial shot of Newtown Creek. Ideally, I’d love to set up and capture the image from the Empire State Building over in the City, but they don’t exactly encourage that sort of thing on the observation deck unless you’ve got TV Network money to convince them into letting you do so. The last time I was up there, I got a bunch of daytime shots like this one, just so you understand what I need to tie a bow around this project of mine and put it to bed.

If you’re reading this in Manhattan, and live or work between 18th and 34th streets, with visual access to the East River and Newtown Creek… I’d love to try and talk you into letting me set up the gear and record your POV. I’d only need around thirty minutes, on a clear night, well after dark which is about six p.m. or later this time of year. Contact me here (link is to my email address “newtownpentacle@yahoo.com” if it sets off any security alerts, there’s nothing “unkosher” in it) if this sounds like fun. I’ll pay you back with some sort of cool thing or other.

The “full view” of the Creek from on high is what I’m looking for, but if you’re living on an upper floor in one of the new buildings in LIC or Greenpoint and can see Newtown Creek from your windows or roof, that would work as well. Pictured above, as a note, is Skillman Avenue alongside the Sunnyside Yards. Those new bike lanes are barely being used for their intended purpose, but they do make a nice safe spot to take pictures from.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the meantime, I’m scratching along in the grit and grime on the streets of Western Queens.

The shot above was captured at the intersection where Queensboro Bridge traffic from Queens Plaza emerges from under the steel of the elevated IRT Flushing line #7 tracks, and travels on one of the five vehicle bridges spanning the trackage of the Sunnyside Yards. Just to the south is Thomson Avenue, which provides another connection for LIC traffic across the Sunnyside Yards via another viaduct, and westwards towards the Court Square section of Hunters Point, and Jackson Avenue. A busy and complicated intersection, this is also where Van Dam Street begins, carrying automotive traffic south towards the Blissville section of LIC and the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge (which overflies the tracks of the Long Island Railroad) after crossing under the Long Island Expressway at Borden Avenue.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 19, 2018 at 11:00 am

nicely scabbed

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Monday continues to suck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been burning the proverbial midnight oil for the last few days, working late into the night in the manner which I was once known for. There’s a couple of big projects in the works, which I hope to be telling y’all about in the coming weeks, but there is a dearth of content for the old Newtown Penatcle today, so a few odds and ends are on offer. Pictured above is a food truck observed on the corner of Steinway Street and Broadway in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has been running to and fro, and relying on the ever unreliable MTA to get me there. As I often opine – The “A” in “MTA” is for “Adventure.” That’s the M line entering the 46th street station here in Astoria, which one utilized to connect – via the Court Square Station – with the G line and North Brooklyn.

Once upon a time, I used to budget out a little extra time and plan my rides on the Subway in pursuance of getting a seat and taking one train to my destination. These days, I’m more likely to transfer three or four times along the way. When life throws you lemons you make lemonade, and when a Mayor and a Governor play political football with the transit system you figure out how to be agile when traveling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of subways, that streaky light in the shot above is the 7 line exiting the “tube” at the Hunters Point Avenue stop and climbing up the elevated tracks towards the aforementioned Court Square Station. The south western tip of the Sunnyside Yards is what you see in the rest of the shot, along with some of the new real estate development underway which will give everyone another chance to live in a high rise tower rooted into a toxic mess of post industrial ooze.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 5, 2018 at 1:30 pm

traumatic incursions

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It’s all so depressing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has given up hoping for a “win” and have instead begun to embrace the concept of mitigating the width and depth of loss. Going to sleep with the same number of fingers and toes that I woke up with is pretty much my daily goal at the moment. A humble narrator has reached that chronological age when body parts just fall off randomly, so I’ve begun carrying a tube of Krazy Glue around with me if I need to perform an ad hoc repair “in the field,” as it were.

My mood will certainly improve once my landlord gets the heat fixed, since right now HQ is the temperature of a meat locker. I told the superintendent last week that there was no heat on that suddenly cold day, and he informed that it “would come on automatically.” It didn’t, doesn’t, and hasn’t, and I think I can see a pinky toe lying under the couch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you speak one of those South African Bushman languages, the sort comprised of clicking sounds, you shouldn’t expect anyone to understand you. It’s like that with obscure tongues. One constantly reminds my colleagues along Newtown Creek that when we say “PRP” or “PCB” or “RI” or “CSO” to people new to the environmentalist world that they have no idea what we’re talking about and it sounds a lot like those aforementioned clicking sound languages. If you’re discussing something that’s novel, or known only to cloistered experts, you need to be explicit and clear while explaining things and avoid introducing cultic acronyms. You also need to educate people about what you’re doing, before you do it.

The new bike lanes on Skillman Avenue are full of clicking sounds for pedestrians, bikers, and vehicle operators. What the hell do all of these new striped in chevrons and curvy symbols mean? What are you meant to be doing here? “Buffer zone” means that you do what, where, and when?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fully realizing that I have a better chance of getting killed by a dead bird falling out of the sky and hitting me on the head than actually winning, I went out last night and bought a Mega Millions Lottery ticket. There’s an absolutely ludicrous amount of money on the table in this particular drawing, which I would use in pursuance of raining vengeance down upon all that have offended me in the manner of an Old Testament God. If you see me on the news tomorrow with a big evil smile and you know that I’ve taken issue with you in the past, it would be a great idea for you to start planning a long trip or just move to the West Coast as I’m going to be going all Michael Corleone, and real quick like.

The way I see it, if life hands you lemons, the best thing to do is squirt lemon juice into the eyes of those who have opposed or thwarted your will. I’d also buy a few space heaters, since my apartment is freaking freezing.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 19, 2018 at 1:15 pm

billious congestion

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Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few shots from my travels and travails over the last couple of weeks assail you today, lords and ladies. Pictured above, the NYC DEP has been working on a water main replacement project here amongst the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria for the last month or two, which has necessitated the occasional interruption of residential water service. The access, or manhole (as its called colloquially), cover which one of our municipal heroes is standing upon vouchsafes the subterrene valve which controls such service on the corner that Newtown Pentacle HQ is found on.

Who knew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That bulkhead collapse on Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary I told you about shifted one of the derelict oil barges, long abandoned, from its decades long position. That’s the black mayonnaise sediment I’m always talking about exposed to the air in the shot above. The particular day I was shooting this was a dicey one due to a heavy rainfall and high atmospheric humidity which caused my camera to malfunction. A few of the mechanical controls on the back of the thing began to “stick,” which made me nervous as heck. Luckily, after returning home and throughly cleaning the device and then leaving it wrapped in a thick and thirsty towel, everything was back to normal the next day. Whew.

Rain + humidity = bad for camera. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is seriously tired of this summer humidity crapola. I do enjoy warm weather, but not when it’s accompanied by dew points in the 70 – 80th percentiles. It’s after Labor Day, and I’m still wearing white? Gauche, I. 

That’s one of the arches of the New York Connecting Railroad leading to the Hell Gate Bridge, which is one of the defining landmarks here in Astoria. HQ is to the south of the rail aqueduct, with Astoria Blvd. with the “Ditmars side” of Astoria found to the north. The rail tracks and the Grand Central Parkway form a physical and social barrier between the two sides of the ancient village.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 21, 2018 at 1:00 pm

muffled shouting

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Everything in Queens has a cool story attached to it, if you care to look.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My reason for coming over to the forbidden northern coastline of Queens on this particular day was to gather a few street side shots of the NYC DEP’s Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant. I know… who dares to spend a Saturday evening walking over to the local sewer plant? One such myself, that’s who dares!

According to the NYC DEP – “The Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant went into operation in 1939 and is designed to treat 150 million gallons of wastewater a day. The plant serves approximately 850,000 residents in a drainage area of more than 15,000 acres in northwest Queens,” and “At the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant, there are four holding tanks that have the capacity to store a combined 550,000 cubic feet of sludge.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bowery Bay is the fifth largest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, and you’ll find it on Berrian Blvd. between Steinway and 45th streets in Astoria, on the forbidden northern coast of the borough of Queens. Check out that bas relief on the Art Deco building with curved walls and glass brick windows! More on that in a minute, after the sewer story. 

Long story short, by the beginning of the 20th century, NY Harbor was in essence an open sewer which was severely compromised by both industrial and biological waste. Remember, before cars there horses and oxen, and everybody and everything poops at least once a day. They used to just wash into all the sewers, which were open to the rivers and harbor. This is why the rich people lived on the central spine of Manhattan, rather than at the water’s edge where the poor people gathered in tenements. In 1909, a fellow named Dr. George Soper (who was also the guy who identified Typhoid Mary) led the first comprehensive survey of the harbor’s ecology. In 1914, Soper led the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, which released an 800 page long “Main Drainage and Sewage Disposal Works Proposed for New York City: Reports of Experts and Data Related to the Harbor” document which made recommendations about curatives. 

By 1920, a plan had been drawn up, and in 1929 the Department of Sanitation was designated as the agency which would execute it – digging sewer pipes, connecting existing drainage systems in what was now the five boroughs, and building water treatment or sewer plants. They would also do what DSNY continues to do today, but what’s now the DEP used to be part of Sanitation. Then the Great Depression came along. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

President Roosevelt created the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to jump start the national economy and put the talents of the jobless masses to work on vital infrastructure projects around the country. Hoover Dam, as well a good number of schools, libraries, parks, and post offices got built by WPA in this fashion. WPA didn’t forget about art, and made it a point of including public artworks on many of its projects. The WPA people worked with DSNY to build three new wastewater treatment plants in NY Harbor (between 1937 and 1944) – Wards Island in Manhattan, Tallman Island, and Bowery Bay in Queens. 

The bas reliefs adorning the Bowery Bay plant are by an Italian American sculptor named Cesare Stea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Bowery Bay plant sits quite low to the water, and is in fact within the current zone you’d expect to flood due to coastal storms. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy did quite a number to the place, I’m told, and if current projections about sea level rise are accurate, the DEP is going to be experiencing a lot of problems at Bowery Bay in the coming decades. 

Two of Stea’s Bas Reliefs depicting depression era wastewater workers are covered (there’s four), along with an Art Deco entranceway to the plant, by plywood. Presumptively, the structure is still being repaired from the walloping it took during Hurricane Sandy. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having hung around the more modern plant in Greenpoint has familiarized one with the shape of things, and the shot above depicts the settling tanks and high pressure air pipes which aerate the “honey” at the treatment plant. The stuff spends a bit of time in deep concrete tanks with pressurized air being forced into it from below. This causes solids to migrate downwards in the liquid column for post drainage collection, and oils and greases to migrate upwards for skimming. By modern day standards, there’s a lot left to be desired by the Bowery Bay Plant. It was designed with neighborhoods of two story homes and factories in mind, not city block sized fifty story residential towers. 

Given all the real estate activity in Western Queens in recent decades, and the sort of plans being bandied about by the powers that be in Manhattan for remaking the place in their own image… you’d think…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It just isn’t the way people think anymore, I’m afraid. 

What we’re doing, municipal plan wise, is akin to cooking a large holiday meal, not setting up the table with plates and silver wear, and just flopping the food onto the table. You then tell your family and guests to just lick it all up, and that probably next year you’ll go out and buy plates. Or at least, we will leave that to the next Mayor to deal with. 

Dr. George Soper would probably be angry, if he hadn’t died in 1948.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm

entropy prone

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Everybody poops, even the Queen of England. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one spent some time last weekend wandering around the forbidden northern coast of Queens. On my way back to HQ on the other side of Astoria, I opted to take advantage of the gathering dusk and swung along the open East River coastline views offered by Astoria Park. The tripod was set up, filter affixed, and that’s a three minute long exposure of Hells Gate you’re looking at above. 

As is usually the case here in Astoria, the tripod and camera gathered no small amount of attention unto me. For many of my neighbors, it seems it would be far less shocking were one to whip out an AK-47 and start shooting randomly into the air than it is to see a DSLR being brandished and operated. Small children had their hands gathered up by parents and caregivers as they walked by, women clutched at their purses, and men began aggressive posturing while chattering away in some central Asian guttural language. iPhones were produced, and a humble narrator was photographed while photographing, which must create some sort of recursive loop in space and time, ultimately.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If only these people knew what lurked below the waves… the battrachian horrors which exist in the kettles and broken stones that litter the bottom of the river… but… such matters and knowledge have been carefully suppressed by Federal and State authorities for generations. Suffice to say that Hells Gate and Triborough not only provide for passage above the river, but also act as weights to cage something that we never, ever, want to see rising from the water. 

Brooklyn doesn’t have these sorts of problems. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, a ball game of some sorts was occurring on Randalls/Wards Island, which bathed the mighty Triborough Bridge in cold stadium light. Post facto, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself decided to meet up for dinner back on our decidedly terrestrial side of the neighborhood, whereupon we visited a place which had caught our eye but which we hadn’t patronized. 

Here’s a rare Newtown Pentacle recommendation for a restaurant – District Saigon on Broadway just off 37th street was fantastic and not terribly “spendy.” After my long walk, a delicious bowl of Vietnamese Pho soup was quite a welcome repast. It also pooped out nicely the next day, which is a big part of my consideration when discussing food. I like to review its entire gastrointestinal journey from tip to tail, rather than just the sensations of entry. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 18, 2018 at 1:00 pm

slouching suggestively

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Astoria’s Luyster Creek. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, one decided to stay in Astoria rather than trek over to Newtown Creek in pursuit of some photos. Funnily enough, HQ is roughly equidistant between the southern border of Western Queens – Newtown Creek – and the Northern – Bowery Bay. Luyster, or Steinway, Creek is accessible from the street in only one spot that I’ve ever been able to find. It’s a tributary, essentially, of Bowery Bay. Bowery Bay is a section of the water heading eastwards of the East River which splashes up against Astoria’s northern coastline, and which moistens Rikers Island and LaGuardia Airport. Eventually, you hit an invisible line analogous to East Elmhurst and then you’re in Flushing Bay. 

Like Newtown Creek, Luyster Creek is highly contaminated by a variety of “point sources” revolving around industry and municipal sewer outfalls. Unlike Newtown Creek – Luyster Creek doesn’t have any community groups of concerned citizens, or alliances devoted to “reveal, restore, revitalize” looking after it. Oddly enough, Luyster Creek also sits square in the district of the Chair of the City Council’s environmental committee who has never mentioned it, but there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I like to come by here about once or twice a year to check up on things. The illegal dumping along its shoreline is generally of the light industrial type – last Saturday there were a few dozen rolls of roofing tar paper, rotting insulation panels, and somebody had decided to drop off a bunch of building scaffold sections along the shore as well. Access is limited to the waterway, and these shots were accomplished while standing on top of a combined sewer outfall. 

There were quite a few critters doing their thing down at Luyster Creek just before sunset, birds and such. The water was also positively boiling with icthyan activity. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That floatables boom you see in the shot above is because of me, since the last time I was down here there was a stream of oil pouring into the water from a privately owned sewer hidden behind those piles and I made a call to one of my Newtown Creek contacts who works for a state agency that polices such matters. The garbage piled up behind it will presumptively be collected by a skimmer boat at some point. It just pisses one off that such citizen action is required in Astoria, where, as mentioned, the City Councilman directly responsible for overseeing environmental matters is based. Additionally, the City Department of Environmental Protection – or DEP – has its Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant based just a few blocks away. You’d think… Well… lessons learned on Newtown Creek, and the world only makes sense when you force it to do so.

I guess this means I’m going to have to start thinking a lot more about Luyster Creek in the coming years. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

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