The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘New York City

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

disproportionate orders

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What if peace broke out? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given my love of hatred and conflict, it’s an odd thing that I found myself at the East River last weekend to attend a solemnified ceremony led by an international team of Spitiual Industrial Complex employees and sky father worshippers devoted to “peace.” Additionally, since my entire spiritual path and moral compass is built around the “Adventures of Superman,” the only way to achieve a lasting peace on this planet might just be the presence of an extraterrestrial savior possessed of powers and abilities greater than those of any ordinary man. Disguised as one of us, and working at a great metropolitan newspaper… well, you know the rest – leaping tall buildings, mighty rivers, locomotives. Truth, Justice, and the “American Way.”

The American Way ain’t peace. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, there are others out there who live in a more hopeful stat of awareness, and work towards achieving a goal which I’m convinced you’d need laser vision and the ability to walk across the surface of the sun unscathed to do. They gathered last weekend in Gantry Plaza State Park to meditate, and speak in public, sharing their points of view and offering curative advice to halt the epic suffering of their fellow humans by causing a cessation of armed conflict and violence. 

To this end, they inscribed prayers and other missives on a series of floatable lanterns. Some of my friends were driving the kayaks which hauled the things into position. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, this is an annual event, one which my friend Erik Baard is centrally involved with. Erik is a deeply annoying friend, I would mention, as he sets forward examples in his lifestyle, politics, and behavior that few can actually measure up to. Many people in the environmental community “talk the talk,” but few “walk the walk.” They’ll yell and scream about oil and the modern world in a meeting, then get into an SUV and drive into Manhattan. Not this bloke.

I know three, maybe four, of the “real things” and it’s important to acknowledge them when they’re around. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, Erik and his group of paddlers hauled the lanterns out and affixed them to a wire of something anchored on the bottom of the East River. I started getting bored at this point, and decided to play around with the camera a little bit.

Me? I ain’t the real thing, I’m just some schmuck with a camera. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I set the thing up for some longish exposures, about thirty seconds each. Luckily, the displacement waves from passing NYC Ferries were splashing in and around the rip rap shoreline.

Technically speaking, this isn’t Gantry Plaza State Park’s shoreline, it’s NYC’s Hunters Point South Park. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s what I did on Sunday night. 

TLDR; Peace lanterns, musing about Superman, pictures. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 20, 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

certain theories

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Central planning likes homogeneity, which is why they hate Queens. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There really is no place like the Borough of Queens, and in particular the western half of it, for encountering sudden visual serendipity. You’ll notice the Triborough Bridge peeking out from a driveway between two semi detached houses in Astoria, a commanding view of the Manhattan skyline from a toilet’s window on Jackson Avenue in LIC, or a railroad train running through someone’s back yard at a BBQ in Woodside. Maspeth’s elevation offers grandiose views of the entire “soup bowl” surrounding the East River and Manhattan, as does Calvary Cemetery in Blissville, and I can tell you – Landing Lights Park in East Elmhurst is an exceptionally interesting place to bring a camera if you’re an aviation enthusiast. 

It’s the patchwork nature of Queens that makes it a special place. Up until a little over a hundred years ago, all the “111” zip codes of modernity were part of an independent Long Island City, Woodside was a seperate town, and so too was Winfield distinct. That’s why you sometimes feel like you’ve crossed from one distinct “zone” into another in Queens, and why we all use our individual community names instead of “Queens” on return address postal labels. Disturbingly heterogenous is the way I’d describe the alignment of street grids, abundance of dead ends, and the chaotic building stock in Queens. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Queens is still the way all of NYC used to be. Organic and quixotic, quite filthy in certain places, and there are entire blocks you’d be better off walking around than down. There’s too much traffic and not enough transit. It’s a Tower of Babel, with dozens of languages being casually overheard as you saunter along. There’s houses of worship to nearly every god you can imagine (haven’t been able to find a temple to Svarožič, the proto Slavic fire God yet, but give me time… it’ll probably be just north east of Elmhurst somewhere). There’s no form of food you cannot seek and find, product you can’t acquire, nor trouble you cannot get into hereabouts. I know a place in Jackson Heights that will custom tailor a gold thread embroidered Hindu wedding suit that comes with curly toe boots, for instance. The one governing rule in Queens is a complete lack of cross compatible unformity from one side of the street to another, and that there really aren’t any sort of rules. You do what you want or can do, until somebody from the City shows up and hands you either a ticket or a cease and desist order. 

It drives the urban planning crowd insane, Queens does. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The City Planning types like order, geometric precision, and clarity of purpose. They also like ordering things to be done to Queens in the hope of “fixing” it and making it palatable to Manhattan centric sensibilities, something that started with Robert Moses digging trenches through Astoria so that his arterial highway system could feed traffic to his Triborough Bridge. You don’t get a street with a “Utopia Parkway” cognomen if urban planners aren’t involved. 

These folks like “plazas” and theorize about “desire lines” while worrying about density restrictions and guide lines. They spend their working life at the exact intersection where politics and big money real estate crash together, and see some of their best laid plans laid to waste when a concession from a Real Estate Developer is paid to the exigent needs of the Politician who needs to ensure that “the International Brotherhood of Screw Turners Local 6” gets 15 on site positions for the duration of the project. They look and listen as the local community folks yell and scream about gentrification, displacement, and rising rents with calloused eyes. The same sort of eyes that a stripper looks at all males with, since they’ve seen only the toxic excesses and behavioral extremes of the gender. Urban planners, accordingly, have developed a thick skin to the voices of the “locals.” They call us “NIMBY’s” or some other derogatory term.

Thing is, out of chaos comes order, not the other way around. Chaos is life, and entropy is vibrant. Order is staid, banal, maddening. If you allow the urban planning crowd the chance, all of Queens will be covered in campuses visually reminiscent of NYCHA housing. Manhattan is not the model to follow for the “solution to Queens,” rather it’s the problem. I’d rather live in a forest than an orchard, personally.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 14, 2018 at 11:30 am

cacophonous pause

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6,210 days ago…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday, one spent his day participating in several call in meetings with the various folks I work with. On my last call, with Access Queens, the reopening of the Cortlandt Street MTA station, which somehow took the powers that be seventeen years to rebuild, came up. The seventeen years thing stuck with me, however. It also occurred to me after the call that there’s an entire generation of voters who will, next year, be pulling the levers in the voting booth whose formative years and world view were entirely shaped by the Terror Wars. They grew up in a country that’s now on a permanent war footing, and have never known anything else. 

Did 911 really happen seventeen years ago? Seventeen years? On a Tuesday morning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The level of optimism in pre 911 America was total, for those of you who have forgotten or were too young to perceive it. Back then, the politicians and pundits were talking about the end of history after the end of the Cold War with the now fallen Soviet Empire. They gloated about the weakened Russians, proclaimed that the neoliberal agenda had prevailed, and generally behaved like a rich bully in a bar room. Then, those two planes came screaming down the Hudson.

I lost friends that day, but others lost everything they loved. Vengeance, we all cried. Bomb them into the Stone Age, we said. Kill, kill, kill. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. French Fries were renamed Freedom Fries. “They” hurt us, so we hurt “them” back. Let’s Roll…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Seventeen years later and we are seemingly coming apart at the seams. Reactionary populism, division of the electorate into ever smaller slices and interest groups, Americans at each other’s throats over relatively minor political issues… All of this was present back then, but not to the degree it is today. The Terror Wars are just a fact of life now, and it’s normal for American Soldiers to be deployed overseas in combat zones. The Freedom Tower, rebranded as just “One World Trade” is open, and is where you’ll find a memorial museum which is a very popular destination for foreign tourists. Personally, I’ve never managed to well up the courage to visit it. 

I also don’t like to visit my father’s grave, as I’d rather remember him as he was before cancer ate him alive. 

Seventeen years.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

peculiar kind

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Back in session, your Newtown Pentacle is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, the humanity and the carnage! Happy Rosh Hashanah to all of you heathens out there, and a short holiday post arrives in your inboxes today. I’ve had quite a last week, and think I may have managed to piss off everybody encountered. It’s what I do, I guess.

Currently, there’s a large group of bicycle enthusiasts angry at me for describing their tactic of waiting for somebody to get killed and then rallying for more bike lanes while acting like buzzards circling a highway and looking for more roadkill. They’re nice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Taxi people also don’t like me. I personally don’t care that their dying industry has been disrupted by better versions of “for hire” cars. I’ve never had an Uber or Lyft driver refuse to go to Queens, or say they won’t take me to industrial Maspeth from Astoria, and even though I’m sure that the venture capitalists running both of these services are eaters of roasted baby flesh in their off time – when I need a ride on a rainy night, I don’t find myself standing in the middle of nowhere as cab after cab rejects a street hail so that they can get back to Manhattan or the airports.

Google up who owns the majority of the medallions issued by TLC, and you’ll discover a less than salubrious bunch of millionaires whose exploitation of their work force would curl the mustache hair of any 19th century robber baron.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The government people are annoyed by me as well, for the constant pointing out of their shortcomings.

Hey, you don’t run a blog about NYC without the intention of complaining, right?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

popularly linked

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Texting while driving?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a break this week, and single images will be greeting you sans the verbose drivel they’re normally accompanied by. It’s a rather busy week that I have ahead of me, but look for a strange old man wandering about the concrete devastations of the Newtown Creek with a camera. That’ll likely be me.


Tours and Events


Dutch Kills Dérive. Free!
Saturday, September 8, 2018, 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM with Flux Factory

Drowning in our own muck and mire, modern society must transmute its existence into that of an allegorical baptism in order to emerge a society of water protectors. The historic facts of exactly how our civilization has transformed the historic Dutch Kill waterway into a sewershed will act as both a numbing analgesic and a point of illumination. Tickets here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 7, 2018 at 11:00 am

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