The Newtown Pentacle

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narrow slits

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst shlepping about in Astoria, Queens – one often encounters cool cars. The one pictured above was a highly customized Chevy pickup which drew more than one admiring glance from both myself and some other bloke who was dressed as a butcher. I’m pretty sure he actually was a butcher, as after we compared notes on our admiration for the thing, he went into the butcher shop on the corner of 38th street. That would also explain the giant clots of blood I observed on the apron he was wearing, but you don’t ask too many questions about blood stains in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over by the NYCHA Astoria Houses, found to the north and west of that cool car mentioned above, one observed a group of workers building a dock to accommodate the Citywide Ferry service which is meant to be kicking into gear this summer. One advised everyone that would listen not to put it here, but nobody ever listens to little old me.

When a ferry leaves its dock in NY Harbor, regulation and custom demands that it signal its departure via the usage of a particularly loud foghorn. These horn toots are a regular complaint offered by the Manhattan people, who have docks near their homes along the Hudson, in the tony section called Battery Park City. Wonder how the Latin Kings of the Astoria Houses will react to it blowing outside their windows at seven in the morning.

It should have been placed to the south, at the Costco bulkheads where it would have become a viable transportation option for shoppers from Manhattan which would have made it an economically feasible stop and wouldn’t wake up anybody at seven in the morning, but as mentioned – nobody listens to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Traipsing down Jackson Avenue, one discovered that a Union protest of some sort (electricians, I think) was being aimed at the so called “5Ptz Towers” construction site. Personally, I’ve always believed there to be enough rodents of the home grown variety here in Long Island City, but there you go. One of these days, I’ve got to investigate where one would proceed to shop in pursuance of purchasing inflatable rodents. As you can see, there’s a regular and a family size model.


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other callers

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It’s International Whiskey Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is normal, right? Everybody wanders around in industrial neighborhoods at night taking pictures of highly polluted waterways, right? It’s not just me… right?

At this time of the year – when it’s neither hot nor cold, but instead lukewarm – the Dutch Kills tributary of the inconceivable Newtown Creek always displays a layer of filmy “goo,” which is at its most observable during the interval when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has dipped behind New Jersey. Not sure if the “goo” is just road salt and snow pellet residues, nor some sort of oil or grease, some effluent introduced by the multiple sewer outlets on Dutch Kills which are offered by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or perhaps it’s just the mucoid castings of some hidden water dwelling leviathan.

Me, I lean towards the leviathan theory, because it involves both mucous and a giant monster. Mucous is cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to tend to a bit of business in Greenpoint last week, and since it was decent out – weather wise – decided to walk home to Astoria. It’s a walk that sounds longer than it is, you just need to take advantage of fact that since the street grid here about is divided and subdivided by highways and rail infrastructure which creates a series of triangles – walk the legs of the triangle and not the hypotenuse until it’s advantageous.

Cutting through the streets around Dutch Kills leads me to that advantageous hypotenuse (which would make a great band name, incidentally) which is Skillman Avenue. A century ago, I would have been able to shortcut on Old Dutch Kills Road from there, but all that’s left of that is a stubby block following the rail tracks near Home Depot which the City calls 37th avenue. You have to work with what you’ve got, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is engaged, at the moment, with drawing up a schedule for this year’s walking and boat tours. A recently announced Newtown Creek Alliance tour – the 100% Toxic All Day Newtown Creekathon on April 9th – filled up in about half a day and I didn’t even have time to let everyone here know before it did. I have a feeling we will be repeating this one sometime in the fall, but there’s a lot of neat stuff coming this summer.

On the tours subject – Working Harbor Committee met the other night, and there are several water tours in the offing with that group of maritime educators and enthusiasts. We, as in Newtown Creek Alliance, are going to be announcing several opportunities to visit the Creek by water and on land shortly. Additionally, I’ve got a couple of things cooking with Atlas Obscura that are mighty cool. I’ll be letting everyone know about these and other excursions as soon as I’ve got all the dates etched in stone.


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haughty hermit

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It’s National Chips and Dip Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An acquaintance of mine, an immigrant frenchman that works at Delmonicos as a butcher (that’s him, all blurred up in the long exposure above) whom I know from the local saloon asked me just the other night “do you always hold meetings in the bar”? The answer is “yes.” If I have to sit down and chat with someone about work and there’s an opportunity to do it over a pint rather than in some banal office, I take it. One has always favored the “Irish Bar” variant of watering hole. One of the first times that I reveled in the glorious and often forgotten history of NYC was back in college whilst wondering about why Third Avenue in Manhattan seemed to host a group of Irish bars at seemingly regular geographic intervals (14th, 23rd, 34th etc.), and that’s when I learned about the former existence of the Third Avenue Elevated. The Irish bars agglutinate do around its no longer extant exit stairwells, and provided a clue as to “what used to be.”

Back when I was still doing comics, and doing promotional appearances at conventions around the country, I’d often find myself in some strange city or town all by myself after the show and would wander into the local licensed establishments for diversion. That’s when I discovered that there were ethnic influences in the set up of various regions – the “Slavic” style bars of the Midwest (a central island with low slung counters built around it, where shots of clear liquor are favored over tap beer) or the restaurant style setups of the American Southeast – where the bar itself is not meant for sitting at, and the patrons gather around tables and chairs set up in the manner of a coffee shop or diner. Further, you can tie the presence of the Northeastern style Irish bar, in say… Pittsburgh or Nashville, directly to the presence of a railroad line that connected to New England or New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In political circles, they’ll call a working guy “Joe Six Pack,” which was distinctly the sort of drinking that was favored in my old neighborhood back in Canarsie. Going to a bar was largely precluded for my cohort, as the law kept on changing and the level for legal drinking age was constantly being raised as I approached it. When I was 17 turning 18, they made it 19, and then again it was raised to 21 just as I was turning 19. Never stopped us from buying a bottle of suds at some bodega, but the bodega owners would only sell us the crap that no one else wanted like Meister Brau Light (shudders). There were bars in my neighborhood that looked the other way at your fake ID, of course. Famously, one of them in nearby Sheepshead Bay employed a bouncer who was a young Andrew Dice Clay. Dice didn’t care about ID if your face was familiar to him, and his parents lived a block away from mine, so…

The cool thing about my old neighborhood, right on the edge of an increasingly Caribbean Flatbush, was that the beers that nobody else in my social circle wanted to drink but were abundantly available included Red Stripe and Mackeson’s Triple Stout. Back in the 80’s, everyone was still salivating for Bud, Heineken, or Corona, and Coors was still a newly introduced brand in NYC, so… more of the “off the radar” stuff for me. I still like keeping a six pack of Red Stripe in the fridge during the summer, as the Jamaicans really have something going with their national lager as far as hot weather is concerned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has never embraced the high end beers which began to proliferate in recent years as part of the “microbrew” revolution. IPA just causes heartburn to blossom in my skinvelope, and a “flight of beers” as pictured above is just such a  “fancy shmancy” and “hoitie toitie” way to suck back a cold one that my inner “Joe Six Pack” just can’t help going all sarcastic.

The thing one finds disturbing about the Irish Bars which I love hanging out at – these days – are the sudden proliferation of the “sore winner” Trump guys who get angry when they overhear a humble narrator, or anyone else for that matter, using multi syllabic words whilst discussing the news of the day with the other “alta cockers.” Whatcha want from me, bro, you’re the one who voted for a walking trash fire to become President. Can’t we just argue about the relative valuations of the Rangers or the Mets like the good old days?

Just last week, a drunk gym teacher from some charter school comes up behind me and… well, that’s another story.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 23, 2017 at 11:30 am

well on

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It’s National Artichoke Heart Day, in these United States. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not want to deceive you, lords and ladies. A humble narrator often thinks about subjects both arcane and nebulous. A recent bit of pondering involved finding a way to hide things in plain sight, although my thoughts did not venture into the realm of nefarious or dubiously legal character. In Hollywood movies, there is a concept called the “Macguffin” – which is an object of desire that drives the protagonists and plot of an action movie. It’s the Lost Ark of the Covenant, the Maltese Falcon, the jewel called the Pink Panther. The Macguffin itself is less important than the events and characters surrounding it, of course. Where would you hide a Macguffin in modern day NYC?

I’m thinking the fleet of green Boro taxis would work. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Manhattan and its fleet of yellow cabs are relatively contained. Close the bridges and tunnels, monitor the shorelines, and you’ve created a closed box to search systematically in. The infinity of Brooklyn? The vast tracts of Queens and Staten Island, or the “attached to the continent” borough of the boogie down Bronx? Now you’ve got an intractable problem in finding the Macguffin, with open borders to other counties. The Boro cabs are largely individually owned, and do not return at set intervals to a central location in the manner of the yellow taxi fleets, which complicates locating them. Further, they are dispersed geographically, unlike the yellows.  

The green cabs, due to their meters and other electronic components are able to be found on a GPS map, of course. Saying that, there’s a lot of turf to cover and you’ve only got so many cops. Additionally, once you shut the engine off and park the thing, it’s just another one of the hundreds of thousands of vehicles in NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nefarious purposes notwithstanding… let’s say the Macguffin is a box of pastry prized by the gendarmes, and not some dirty bomb or other claptrap. A box of donuts, for arguments sake. Would it be possible for the Cops to catalog the contents of every single cab? 

One can report that, based on apocryphal reports offered by those involved with the trade, narcotics and other illicit goods are commonly moved about the City by taxi and car service rather than by private vehicle. Criminal elements amongst us know everything there is to know about forfeiture laws, and the building of RICO cases by association. The favored methodology for moving “weight” is not to have a known gang member carry the stuff (a kilo of Macguffins), but rather to find an innocuous courier whom the cops will not notice nor suspect. In my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, it was common for the mob guys to employ Orthodox Jews as paid couriers for cash and dope for exactly this reason. They blended into the background, just like the Boro Cabs. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note – something about living in Trump’s America has been causing my conspiratorial theorizing to go into overdrive. Hasn’t been this attuned to the hidden and obscured since the late 1980’s. Paranoid wonderings and obscure connections just seem to blossom these days. A box of donuts isn’t just a box of donuts anymore, instead it’s likely something sinister and laden with more than just too much sugar and fat. We live in a bigly country, and donuts are great again. 

I wonder if I could move a box of donuts through the City, undetected, using nothing but green cabs. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 16, 2017 at 2:22 pm

bubbling steps

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It’s National Egg Cream Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has always had an odd dream, inspired by that old television series “The Wild, Wild, West.” The two leads of the show lived on a train which carried them to their adventures, specifically in a sleeper car that had been modified for their usage. One has always wondered about the specialized rolling stock which might be attached to the end of a subway train. I’ve seen some of MTA’s more esoteric kit over the years – their work trains, a specialized unit which analyzes the tracks, once or twice I saw the actual “money train” shooting by on an express track. I’ve always desired a private sleeper car on the Subway. This would be selfish, and more than I deserve or could afford, so it would need to operate like a hotel. 

So, here’s my idea: we attach a car to each and every subway train that has blacked out windows and a custom interior, whose doors only open with a key card swipe. There can be several types of these private units, used for a variety of purposes which currently elude officialdom on the surface. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A certain percentage… say 70%… of these Subway rooms would be luxury units (the LUX line). The State would list availabilities for these units on AirBNB type sites, and found within would be all the amenities expected at a high end hotel. The walls are lined with mahogany panels, the floor lushly carpeted. There’s a king size bed, a heart shaped hot tub, and a commode with fine finishes. Naturally, there’s a mini bar as well. 25% of these short stay residential cars could also be set up as dormitory style hostel cars (the ECON line), designed for students and European tourist cheapskates. 

The remaining 5% would take its interior design cues from either 19th century slave ships or Soviet era army barracks, and these could function as homeless shelters – accomplishing the “out of sight, out of mind” policies of both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo nicely. The Mayor doesn’t take the train, and neither does the other guy. 

Alternatively, should Riker’s Island ever get closed down and cleared of jails so that the real estate guys can develop it, a couple of cars on each train could repurposed to serve as mobile jails. This would be the “DFPS line,” named for the Mayor, our very own Dope from Park Slope. The big guy would probably love this, as it would completely eliminate NIMBY’ism from the creation and placement of homeless shelters. “It’ll only be in your neighborhood for 3 minutes…”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a non sarcastic note, I finally filled in one of the two holes in my photographic catalog of NYC’s Subway lines with a shot of the Times Square Shuttle, as seen above. I just need to get to Brooklyn to get a shot of the elusive Z and then I can move on to other things. Perhaps, someday, when this current cold waste has retreated…

Go have an egg cream, lords and ladies.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 15, 2017 at 2:25 pm

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. 


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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