The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘CSO

limned delicately

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has always enjoyed strange interests and pastimes, even as a child. Vivid, memories of a next door neighbor (who owned a commercial vessel which was part of the Sheepshead Bay fishing fleet) displaying a captured deep sea creature- the sort whose teeth are transparent, skin is shiny black, and bearing a bioluminescent lantern protruding from its forehead- persist decades after viewing it dying in a bucket. Joy is found wandering about cemeteries and wasted heaths, or anyplace shunned by the common gentry.

from “Beyond Good and Evil” by Friedrich Nietzsche, Chapter IV. Apophthegms and Interludes

Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.

Translation: He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Early experience has led one to appreciate, seek, and cultivate interest in the macabre. Hidden truths, occultist fantasy, the lure of the “real”- all have carried your humble narrator to bizarre locales in search of thrills. Delight is found in jars of formaldehyde cured anatomies, displays of skeletonized life forms, and the arcana of the mortician and police scientist. One thing which bizarre experience has taught me is that there are certain things which cannot be “unseen”, which will alter your perceptions of the normal.


The original Maelstrom (described by Poe and others) is the Moskstraumen, a powerful tidal current in the Lofoten Islands off the Norwegian coast. The Maelstrom is formed by the conjunction of the strong currents that cross the straits (Moskenstraumen) between the islands and the great amplitude of the tides.

In Norwegian the most frequently used name is Moskstraumen or Moskenstraumen (current of [island] Mosken).

The fictional depictions of the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne describe it as a gigantic circular vortex that reaches the bottom of the ocean, when in fact it is a set of currents and crosscurrents with a rate of 18 km/hr.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During my student years, a part time job at a photo developing company provided me with visions of horror normally reserved for the world weary gendarme. A certain police command in Brooklyn utilized our services to process evidentiary photographs and videotapes, and the horrors witnessed in these scraps of visual data imparted a real and lasting sympathy for the men and women who operate on the front lines of society. A child half consumed by zoo animals, bodies clad in the proverbial “cement overcoat” hauled from long residency in Jamaica Bay, the hapless victims of vehicular accidents. If you know a cop or ambulance driver, buy them a drink, as they have seen too much.

from The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft

Complaints from many liberal organizations were met with long confidential discussions, and representatives were taken on trips to certain camps and prisons. As a result, these societies became surprisingly passive and reticent. Newspaper men were harder to manage, but seemed largely to cooperate with the government in the end. Only one paper – a tabloid always discounted because of its wild policy – mentioned the deep diving submarine that discharged torpedoes downward in the marine abyss just beyond Devil Reef. That item, gathered by chance in a haunt of sailors, seemed indeed rather far-fetched; since the low, black reef lay a full mile and a half out from Innsmouth Harbour.

People around the country and in the nearby towns muttered a great deal among themselves, but said very little to the outer world. They had talked about dying and half-deserted Innsmouth for nearly a century, and nothing new could be wilder or more hideous than what they had whispered and hinted at years before. Many things had taught them secretiveness, and there was no need to exert pressure on them. Besides, they really knew little; for wide salt marshes, desolate and unpeopled, kept neighbors off from Innsmouth on the landward side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps this is why, whenever I am on Newtown Creek (which is rather frequently, after all) insistence on getting close to the open intestines of the cruel megalopolis is insisted on by your humble narrator. Miasmal, these pipeways contain the hidden and truly occult unknowable. Darkness shrouds and shelters unknowable realities in this system of engineered horror, whose construction largely dates back to a time in which a Kaiser still ruled Germany. An extensive urban mythology exists which speculates upon what might be found in this kingdom of the rat, along those weirs and subterranean grottoes fed by decay, filth, and all that which might be discarded by the sunlit world above.

Truly- who can guess, all that there is, that might be buried down here?

from “The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri“, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Inferno, Canto III

“Through me the way into the suffering city,
Through me the way to the eternal pain,
Through me the way that runs among the lost.

Justice urged on my high artificer;
My maker was divine authority,
The highest wisdom, and the primal love.

Before me nothing but eternal things were made,
And I endure eternally.
Abandon every hope, ye who enter here.”

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 27, 2012 at 11:01 am

revel and chaff

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As soon as the rain died down, I descended from Newtown Pentacle HQ here in the rolling hillocks of Astoria to the so called “Zone A” to see what Irene might have wrought here in western Queens. The shot above is from Second Street near Borden Avenue, at the largish worksite which Skanska has been employing hundreds for the last few months. Cleverly, the construction giant had dug a diversion ditch to allow storm water drainage.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

“There will be plenty of cameras walking around in Tower Town, so it would be silly of me to spend much time there” were the actual words spoken to my walking companion, who we’ll call the Charismatic Croat (CC). CC was also told that we’d be taking a short walk, and would be back in a half hour. He’s used to my lies and wasn’t surprised when we had inexorably headed for another part of “Zone A”.

All through the storm, I was wishing that I had the camera out at Newtown Creek, or at least Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Curiosity about the actions of the much feared storm surge upon the fragile bulkheads of Dutch Kills was killing this cat, and I dragged CC back and forth over these streets. There was some flooding, but in the usual places that flood anyway. Back on 2nd street, a few nice shots of the surge were captured by Jesse Winter and others, and an actual wave of East River had risen up and flooded 2nd. The Crab House was bailing water from their basement and more than one giant puddle still remained.

Down at Dutch Kills, 29th street and the large truck yard which houses this cement company were under a foot or more of water- but they are regularly immersed by small amounts of rain anyway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What made the day noteworthy, from a Newtown Creek point of view, was this little river of urban chocolate flowing out of one of the many CSO’s (Combined Sewer Outfall) which are found abundantly along the waterfront of the Creek and it’s tributaries. It smelled just the way it looks like it might. One often sees discharges coming from these CSO’s, but this was just a spectacular flow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I will point out that this could be soil washed into the pipes during the tremendous amount of rain which Irene brought to Queens. It could be sand or actually be a chocolate spill at some industrial confectionary which got washed into the sewers or something. That’s what I said to CC at the time.

Doesn’t smell like chocolate, the Charismatic Croat opined.

gentle manner

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Combined Sewer Outfall BB-013, from the Pulaski Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin- I warn you- this post will most likely “gross you out”.

In 1674, Boyle said: “I have often suspected, that there may be in the Air some yet more latent Qualities or Powers differing enough from all these, and principally due to the Substantial Parts or Ingredients, whereof it consists. For this is not as many imagine a simple and elementary body, but a confused aggregate of ‘effluviums’ from such differing bodies, that, though they all agree in constituting by their minuteness and various motions one great mass of fluid matter, yet perhaps there is scarce a more heterogeneous body in the world”.

When the pithy observation was recorded, “effluviums” were the central notion behind the miasmatic theory of disease.

CSO Outfall NC-077, Maspeth Creek, discharges 288.7M gallons per year into English Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

The viewpoint of the learned classes in prior ages held that when certain noxious vapors produced by a mingling of soil with that standing water typically found about marsh, swamp, and sewer- then mixed with the cool night air- form so called miasmas (which is an ancient greek for pollution, I’m told).

CSO Outfall NC-077, Maspeth Creek, Tier 2 outfall – photo by Mitch Waxman

These miasmas- or “epidemic influences”- were believed to be the cause of Cholera and Typhus– and all the other plagues which would one day scythe through the crowded 18th and 19th century cities of the Industrial Revolution.

Vitruvius, in the 1st century BCE, said: “For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mist from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy.”

CSO Outfall NC-077, Maspeth Creek, Ranked 25 out of over 400 in terms of volume – photo by Mitch Waxman

The air produced by, in, and around a sewer is typically an aerosol of whatever liquid solution might be floating through it. Hydroden sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and a host of other constituent compounds mingle and form what is generically known as “Sewer Gas”. Typically, this gas has the sulfurous smell commonly associated with rotten eggs. Otherwise lacking and poor, the average human’s sense of smell can discern this odor when its concentration in the surrounding air is minor- which speaks to an evolutionary quirk.

Obviously- our ancestors who could not detect this aerosol, or miasma, died off while while those who could detect them passed on these sensitivities on to future generations.

CSO Outfall BB-026, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

If you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this would probably be a good time to stop reading this post, incidentally. Things are about to get ugly.

As an example- When a toilet is flushed, and there is scientific evidence to back this, a plume of microscopic droplets- an aerosol– erupts from the water. These droplets carry microbes and virus particles, which then settle on surfaces around the commode facilitating the “surface to hand to mouth” vector of infection. Modern plumbing does its best to minimize this bioaerosol in the house, but routine antimicrobial maintenance with bleach and other chemicals is necessary to sterilize the potential infections which might otherwise occur.

CSO Outfall BB-026, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, these cleaning chemicals- along with non neutralized microbes- end up in the wastewater flow, and make their way into the sewers… just like the petroleum productsvolatile organic chemicals, and everything else that the human hive produces… where they swirl about beneath the streets and follow gravity to low lying areas. A properly designed system intercepts these waters, but in the case of a “CSO”, a lot of the poison makes it into the mud.

CSO Outfall BB-026, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

A classic example of a bacterium whose spread is defined by such aerosol dissemination is Legionella, but heavy metals and other contaminants may also find a pathway into the human body via such aerosols (let’s just call it vapor or fog). Additionally, fibers of toxic manmade substances- Asbestos for instance- are left behind during evaporation. Such deposits are then picked up on the wind, as are the dusty remains of the putrescent particulates which escape treatment by wastewater industries like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant in Greenpoint or the Bowery Bay facility in Astoria.

During heavy rain events, some untreated sewage reaches the rivers, but a large percentage of it- the lion’s share- oozes out from the bulkheads of that assassination of joy called the Newtown Creek.

CSO Outfall NCB-632 – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek and its tributaries are indeed waterways, but no one ever discusses this plume of disease and contamination in the air. Fingers are pointed at certain chimneys and infamous underground lakes of petroleum and chemicals, heated discussions of when it might be safe to kayak or swim in the water are offered by interested parties, and odd admissions that there are some who actually fish in and consume the catch from these waters (which according to the EPA, are offering this catch for sale in area restaurants) both shock and titillate area wags- but what about the miasmas?

CSO Outfall NCB-632 – photo by Mitch Waxman

The sewer system of New York City is a composite beast, marrying together the municipal infrastructure of multiple communities into a single system. The cities of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan (the historically agrarian and until modernity- lightly populated – Bronx has almost always been ruled over by Manhattan) each had their own standard, staring elevation, and set of regulations governing the sewers.

This article from 2008 discusses recent attempts to consolidate and digitize the municipal record, and make sense out of the byzantine network of pipes which underlie the city.

CSO Outfall NCB-632 – photo by Mitch Waxman

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

Who can speculate, all there is, which might be wafting out from these deep channels of filth and what strange aerosols are carried upon the gentle breeze- here in the Newtown Pentacle?

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