The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘photowalk

polyploid extrusions

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Just another one of those days, man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s the seventeenth of August, a Friday. The word Friday is derived from the Norse and Germanic traditions, indicating that the day is devoted to the Mother Earth type of Goddess named Frigga, whom amongst other notable traits, was married to the high father Odin himself and Queen of Asgard. On this day, in 1945, British author George Orwell saw his now seminal “Animal Farm” book published. Additionally, on August 17 in 1977, a Soviet Nuclear Icebreaker called the NS Artika became the first surface ship to successfully and purposely navigate it’s way to the North Pole.

Closer to home, Greenpoint girl Mae West was born on this day in 1893.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where is a humble narrator as you’re reading this, you might wonder? I’m out stomping out a pathway for a walk I’m going to be conducting with my pal Gil Lopez from Flux Factory. This promises to be a fairly weird one, by my standards, which are normally governed by a fairly conservative recitation of historical and current condition facts about some section of Newtown Creek or NY Harbor. Admittedly, I’ll deep dive a bit more than most on tours, but this one’s going to include the Blissville Bashee and the Vampires of Queens Plaza. I did mention “Flux Factory,” yes? Suffice to say that this one promises to be a bit more avant garde than usual.

I’ll provide ticketing links next week in the usual spot at the bottom of the daily postings at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Additionally, I’m doing an interesting boat tour on the 30th, with an astounding ticket price of $5. Links, next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Flux walk will be following, as much as possible, the original diagonal to the modern street grid path that the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek followed through Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza. There’s also going to be a fantastic opportunity to see something I can’t normally show you at the end of the walk, so for you photographer types reading this, you’ll want to be there. 

Happy Frigga’s Day, and happy birthday Mae West, wherever you are.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

every evidence

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Children don’t seem to sing rhyming songs about lethal infectious diseases anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Colloquially speaking, the whole “Ring-a-round the rosies, a pocket full of posies” rhyming nursery school standard is commonly thought to refer to the onset of Bubonic Plague, but scholarly experts in the field of folklore deny such interpretation claiming that such ideations first appeared in the post modernist plagued 20th century. There’s evidentiary usage of the rhyming song from early in the 19th century, with regional and linguistic variations, contained in journalism and travelogue writings. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle documented Brooklyn street urchins singing a version of “Ring A Rosie” in 1846, for instance, and there’s written accounts of variants from Britain and Germany in about the same period. The German version sounds terrifying of course, which confirms something I’ve been chatting about with one of my Astoria buddies who originally hails from Cologne about.

“Nice” things, when spoken in German, sound terrifying whereas terrifying things sound like desserts. As an example – “newborn baby” is “Neugeborenes,” which sounds like some sort of a bone cancer. “Death by fire” is “Tod durch Feuer,” which my first instinct would presume is a fried fruit and chocolate cake concoction served on a wad of whipped cream.

It’s odd that, almost as odd as the design of that Amtrak engine unit 651 pictured above. This model of train engine seems to have an angry face, complete with glowing red eyes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was quite a hubbub here in the neighborhood last weekend, as the MTA was busy working in Queens Plaza on the N/W elevated tracks and had closed several arterial streets leading to and from the Queensboro Bridge. There were all sorts of diversions and reroutings, with all sorts of lovely gasoline powered signs flashing important messages at passerby. This was actually a difficult shot to acquire, as the “Expect Delays” sign was of the LED type.

The reason that LED lights use so much less energy than incandescent or flourescent ones revolves around the fact that they’re actually flashing on and off rather staying steadily on. To the human eye, something that’s flashing on and off a hundred times in a second appears steadily illuminated, in the same way that we perceive the 30 frames per second of cinema or tv images as moving images. One wonders about the subliminal effects of LED lighting, and whether or not they could be used to alter human perception via changes in frequency, perhaps inducing mood changes in a madding crowd environmentally. Visual morse code? Maybe. Try going out with and without the tinfoil hat and see if you think different things between the two experiences. Be empirical, I say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A significant percentage of MTA’s rolling stock down in the sweating concrete bunkers has seen their “badge” indications converted over to LED lighting, which causes me no end of trouble when engaging in my habit of photographing trains entering and leaving the station. I’ve settled on a minimum shutter speed of 1/160th of a second for such matters, although 1/100th seems to be the actual frequency of the badge’s lighting cycle. The latter speed is too slow for the approaching locomotive, as the image of the thing gets “smeared” with motion blur. Even at 1/160th, however, as in the shot seen above, there is a discernibly lit and unlit portion of both the badge circle and the line designator.

Also, before anyone becomes fixated on the purplish lens flare visible, I cannot tell you why it’s purple. There’s a lot of light kicking around when a train enters a station, dust and crap in the air, and the headlights are pointing right into the lens which has an anti glare coating on it as well. It’s all part of the environmental effect.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2018 at 11:15 am

morbid listening

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It’s a small world, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometimes it seems like all of Western Queens is a visual parable, some Hollywood set piece or theme park designed by an otherwise unmentioned truly evil brother of Walt and Roy Disney – Dick Disney. The good news is that DickDisneyland doesn’t require an admission ticket, but enter at your own risk since it was designed by a real Dick. Of course, one of my postulates states that entire City of Greater New York is composed of five theme parks. I refer to Queens as “Adventureland,” the Bronx as “Frontierland,” Brooklyn as “Tomorrowland.” The big attraction for the punters is Manhattan the “Shining City,” and there’s always “Staten Epcot” but not many people visit that one. The world of tomorrow ain’t what it used to be, I fear.

Straddling the currently undefended border between Adventureland and Tomorrowland is the Newtown Creek attraction, and I’ll trust that you’ll find it a non obsequious and intrinsically interesting section of DickDisneyland during your next family friendly vacation to New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DickDisneyland has a litter problem, unfortunately, but try to view it as the stuff that future archaeologists will make their careers on, making their academic bones while studying our historic trash middens. It’s not just about entertainment here in the Creeklands (found just next door to Tomorrowland’s Sewer Mountain ride), it’s also educational. Over in Maspeth, nearby the Haberman rail siding, there’s going to be an animatronic showpiece and theater installed soon which will depict Dick Betts and the original Maspeth colonials scalping and killing the Lenape, followed by a live action raid of the theater by actors playing Maspeatche Warriors. At the end of it, the audience will be transported to Elmhurst to find out how that whole story ending up working out.

At the Haberman theater gift shop you’ll be able to buy jarred samples of Black Mayonnaise, small quantities of Peter Cooper’s Glue, and replica oil drums with commemorative certificates indicating the time and date of your visit to the Creeklands attraction here in DickDisneyland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Management at DickDisneyland, it should be mentioned, enforces rules upon its employees and visitors which do not apply to themselves. Were a concession manager to maintain gigantic pools of standing water on their individual lots, enormous financial repurcussions would ensue as our management teams are terrified of mosquito infestation. You can’t have visitors and resident employees of DickDisneyland getting sick, after all. That would reflect poorly on the managers, and deny them promotion to higher positions within the organization.

On the properties directly administered by the management, however… well… who watches the watchers in DickDisneyland?


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was nightlocking

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In industrial Maspeth, where I spent last Sunday afternoon, are the relict maritime industrial bulkheads of a corporate outfit called Phelps Dodge, which has long since “left the building.” The Phelps Dodge property has been divided up, sold off, and developed separately. The company, which was in the copper refining trade along Newtown Creek, is one of the “PRP” or “potentially responsible parties” originally named in the EPA’s 2010 Superfund declaration for the waterway. Although there isn’t even a sign indicating they were once here, Phelps was one of the largest employers on the Queens side of the Creek for more than a century. The first incarnation of what would become the Phelps Dodge plant on the LIC/Maspeth border planted heir stakes here in 1872 as “G.H. Nichols and Co.,” later becoming “Nichols Chemical Co.” in 1891 and then “General Chemical Company” in 1899. In 1930, the so called Laurel Hill plant was purchased by the Phelps Dodge corporation. At it’s height, the plant directly employed 17,000 people.

They manufactured several chemicals here, but their main product line centered around sulfuric acid. The Phelps Dodge people were copper refiners, ultimately, and used the acid to free metal ore from the rock it was embedded in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Laurel Hill Plant declined, and in 1984 it was shuttered. The United States Postal Service purchased the site from Phelps Dodge in 1986, hoping to use it as a truck storage yard, but it was soon determined that the property was too contaminated for use as a parking lot and a judge ordered Phelps Dodge to buy back the property in 1996. In 2001, the old factory and acid mill buildings were torn down, and the property was subdivided into lots. At one of these lots, the Restaurant Depot wholesale chain erected a location. On another, the Koscisuzcko Bridge replacement project is playing out, and on yet another a brand new Federal Express shipping hub has been created.

The shots in today’s post depict the last vestiges of Phelps’s long occupancy, the remains of heavy piers which carried terminal railway trackage on them, allowing for barge to rail operations at the acid factory and copper refinery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Phelps Dodge property is found just to the south of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks, along a section known as “deadmans curve.” The nickname for this section of the tracks is due to the Berlinville Rail Disaster in 1893 (two LIRR passenger trains collided at speed, engine to engine) and the habits of Phelps Dodge workers who would routinely attempt to run in front of and outpace the trains when crossing the railroad tracks, resulting in a lot of squished employees.

Modern day 43rd street used to be a colonial era pathway that crossed modern day Queens from the forbidden northern coast of Queens’ Berrian and Riker properties at Bowery Bay in Astoria, then ran south and across the swamps at modern day Northern Blvd. and then over the hills of Middleburgh (Sunnyside) and then down to Newtown Creek through Maspeth. This path was paved with crushed oyster shells, and hence was called “The Shell Road.” It’s a little hard to visualize this in modernity, because y’know… Robert Moses. The Long Island Expressway, BQE, Queens Blvd., Northern Blvd., and the Grand Central Parkway all conclude this ancient pathway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a couple of other businesses on the former Phelps properties, but none of them look towards the water. I can’t speak intelligently about who owns what, but from observation it seems that since Superfund when a property changes hands on the creek the original owner holds on to the sections that directly touch the water. My presumption is that this insulates the new owners against liability for the cleanup costs, but that’s an assumption and you know what “they” say when you “assume” something. It makes an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”

What I can tell you for certain is that these collapsing and rotting heavy piers look pretty cool and make for good lens fodder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That water pouring out of the pipe you see is a permitted “SPDES” outfall, and connected to the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. It was a late afternoon low tide period when these shots were captured. With all the rain we’ve been getting, the “eau de Creek” was particularly strong and inescapable, amplified as it was by a dew point humidity up in the 75% range.

A humble narrator was also cooking in the early August emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and there were a few times when touching the camera that I was concerned about how hot it was getting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before any of you accuse me of heavily retouching or manipulating these shots to make things look surreal and weird – here’s how I got them:

These are deep focus, narrow aperture tripod shots accomplished via the usage of a ten stop ND filter. This allows for exposure times of (in the case of today’s images) twenty to thirty seconds. This smooths out the water, and renders the specular highlights of sun and wave invisible. It also allows the camera to peer into the shallows and depths alike, offering a chance to observe and answer the oft asked question of “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

remonstrating hotly

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 Industrial Maspeth, where I go to get away from it all, is shvitzy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing I can tell you with certainty, that I would actually attest to in a court of law, is that the “Maspeth Heat Island Effect” is no myth. This is an environmental phenomena affecting urbanized areas where vegetation has been entirely replaced by concrete and cement. The entire inner urbanized core of New York City and its satellite cities around the archipelago are typically a few degrees warmer than vegetated or forested geography, but there’s a few spots in the city itself which can anywhere between five and fifteen degrees warmer (even at night) than they should be during (particularly) the summer months. This is the result of all that concrete baking in the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself all day, and the predisposition of masonry and concrete to “hold” heat and then radiate it out. NASA thermal imaging maps of NYC show Crown Heights, Sunset Park, and Greenpoint/Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Fordham and Hunts Point in the Bronx, Midtown East and the Financial District in Manhattan, Long Island City and Maspeth in Queens as being  the hottest parts of the City of Greater New York. 

Industrial Maspeth is literally the hottest spot on NASA’s map.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot going on because of these elevated temperatures that isn’t obvious. On the economic side, it means that businesses and homes in the hot zone spend a LOT more on cooling their facilities down with air conditioning and ventilation (Willis Carrier invented air conditioning at Newtown Creek, as a note). The tar used to seal roofs and repair roadways gets all gummy, area waterways experience depressed oxygen levels, and life found in the heat islands are stressed out. 

That includes us, incidentally. You can actually feel it getting warmer the closer you get. When I’m walking down 48th street from Sunnyside towards industrial Maspeth during the summer, crossing under the overpass for the Long Island Expressway involves the encounter of what feels like a “wall of hot.” Additionally, the squamous nature of industrial architecture with its long masonry walls and unforgiving streetscape tends to defeat the natural laminar flow of air currents. Any breeze there is tends to get sucked into the convective upwelling of warm air. That leaves behind radiant heat and atmospheric humidity with nothing to break it up, even temporarily. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The solution, which I’m just passing along from scholarly sources, is the promulgation of “living” or green roofs. Street trees and other plantings like rain gardens or bio-swales isn’t terribly realistic in areas like industrial Mapseth due to its occupation. Heavy vehicles ply these streets daily, and in the case of facilities like the MTA’s Grand Avenue Depot pictured above, the lanes and avenues and roads and drives of Industrial Maspeth are where these heavy vehicles are maintained and serviced. The entire bus company of Brooklyn makes its way to that spot pictured above at least once a week.

One of the interesting “carrot and stick” approaches to breaking up the heat island effect centers around creating a metered sewerage tax for new construction, with an exemption to this fee offered to property owners who install a green roof as part of their building design. This would divert water from the overtaxed DEP sewer system during rain events, and create acreages of urban greenery that would serve as a passive cooling system for the buildings, reducing energy costs and load on the archaic electrical grid. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 13, 2018 at 11:02 am

euclidian anomalies 

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Just another day in Paradise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been using the current air conditioned hermitage in pursuit of learning a few things completely unrelated to anything relevant to my life or the modern world, specifically the emergence and early history of modern humans. I haven’t been deep diving into this, mind you, it’s been watching a few BBC and PBS documentaries which have led me to some do some reading on the subject. My interest in this boils down, ultimately, to folkloric inheritances. Every culture on the planet tells their children stories about wild men who live in the woods, mountains, deserts – the “Bogie” or “Boogie” man who will kidnap a petulant or disobedient child and carry them off. These boogie men are usually large, muscular, possessed of ape like dentition, and hairy. I’ve often wondered if these boogie monsters are apocryphal remembrances of the days when our specie had competition from other hominids – Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, etc. Both of these other hominid specie, in a straight up fist fight, would clean even an MMA champion’s clock. They were stronger and faster than Homo Sapiens, on an anatomical level, based on observation of skeletal muscle attachment sites. Home Erectus, for instance, was a long distance runner with an incredible olfactory system.

The general scientific consensus states that since our specie had the capacity for language and long memory, we were able to plan into the future better than our competition. This allowed our ancestors to organize, pass the organization down from one generation to the next, and this eventually out competed the other hominids in the quest to hunt game and eventually led to the sort of agriculture that modern day “indigineous” people’s practice in jungle and forest settings. Neanderthal anatomy, in terms of their ability to conceptualize and then throw a spear or some other projectile, seems to have been similar to our own. Erectus, alternatively, was anatomically unable to throw a spear but would have been able to rip a modern human to shreds in close quarters combat with their bare hands.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Analogizing historical equivalencies is often required when discussing human history. As I often say – if you were a space alien who arrived in orbit at one point in history or another, and were asked to bet which culture which end up dominating the rest of the human hive, you’d almost certainly lose your wager. If it was during “biblical times” 5,000 years ago you’d have bet on the African cultures centered around the Nile Valley, or the Asian ones centered around either the Yangtze or Ganges rivers. A thousand years ago, you’d have probably placed your bets around the middle eastern cultures centered around the Tigris or Jordan River valleys. 500 years ago, it would have been the industrializing Rhine or Seine. For the last century, it’s the Missisippi and Hudson River valley cultures that seem to be the dominar, but it certainly looks like the Yangtze culture is making a comeback. Oddly enough, anatomically primitive hominids like Erectus seem to have persisted in Asia longer and later than originally thought, as late at 30,000 years ago.

Again, speaking from a folkloric point of view, every culture has legends of hulking brutes lurking in the woods ready to carry off disobedient children. There are certain commonalities in all of the legends and religious traditions – the omniscient sky father, the earth mother, the untamable horned adversary, and the wild men of the woods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting point of view offered in a BBC documentary of the history of Wales which I encountered offered an intriguing bit of logic. As westerners, our thought patterns are decidedly non metaphorical and quite literal. If you’re discussing the legends of King Arthur “pulling the sword from the stone” it’s literally interpreted as “there’s a forged sword stuck in a stone.” The historians who wrote this particular documentary instead pointed out that Druidic cultures were quite poetic in their speech patterns, and spoke in metaphor. Their supposition was that in pre modern Britain, early Iron Age cultures got their raw material out of the bogs – bog iron as it was called. That limited supply, and the iron found in bogs wasn’t forged, instead it was merely shaped. The “pull the sword from the stone” legend emerged shortly after the Romans vacated Britain, and the theory is that the legend referred to harvesting iron from ore and forging it into swords, rather than the more familiar imagery of a young Arthur removing Uther Pendragon’s fully formed magick sword from a boulder. Literally “pulling” the “sword” from the “stone.”

One wonders about the folkloric inheritances and associations of the “other” which are encoded in modern cultures, and the predilection towards “racism” that culture displays. Racists often use language describing the subjects of their ire as “monkeys, savages, primitives, or apes,” intoning a subhuman character to those they dislike. Such childish preoccupation with the primeval Boogie Man, Sky Father, Earth Mother, or fear of the Horned God is fascinating to me and I often wonder how much of it is and unspoken inheritance from the days when there were actual “others.”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 7, 2018 at 1:00 pm

curling tighter

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You won’t need a sweater today, as today is a sweater.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Uncharacteristically, one doesn’t have too much to say today. It was a fairly busy weekend, which included doing a well attended tour for Newtown Creek Alliance on Friday night (this one is called Infrastructure Creek), drinking about thirty gallons of water on Saturday and then hanging out with my friends and neighbors in Astoria on Saturday night, and then waiting for the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself to attain the right position in the sky about six o’clock for a photo expedition to industrial Maspeth and Newtown Creek on Sunday.

You’ll see those Sunday night shots later on this week, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, with all of the rain during the last couple of weeks, Newtown Creek is positively boiling with bacteria. Additionally, it’s boiling from the heat wave. This kind of heat reduces the amount of oxygen in the water, allowing anaerobic bacterial specie their season. The rainy weather means that the combined sewer system is carrying a lot of the fecund foodstuff that these anaerobic bacteria feed on into the tepid water. Their digestive exhalations are rich in hydrogen sulfide compounds, which means that “Eau de Creek” is staining the air column for blocks and blocks around the waterway.

There’s also a lot of floatables (plastics, garbage etc.) and sheens of various oils and greases visible in the waters of Newtown Creek. I hate you all, accordingly, but it makes for good photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been contracted to conduct a boat tour at the end of the month commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal, which will involve the Gowanus area in South Brooklyn. I’ll post ticketing links next week, but August 30th is the date for the thing, which will leave from Lower Manhattan. Most of what I’m going to be narrating about is already in my quiver, but I’m going to be heading over to South Brooklyn a few times this month to “get granular” about the grain terminals and former NYS Barge Canal properties around Erie Basin and Gowanus Bay which will be part of the “speechifying.” 

Additionally, I’m looking forward to the opening of the new NYC Ferry route to Sound View in the Bronx. Of all five theme parks in NYC, the Bronx (or Frontierland) is the one I’m least acquainted with.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 6, 2018 at 11:00 am

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