The Newtown Pentacle

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needling comments

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It’s National Chocolate Chip Day, in these United States.  

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s never quiet, here in the western Queens neighborhood of Astoria. I’ve found myself referring to the sudden explosions of noise and activity simply as “Astoria Hullabaloos.” Ever the curious type, one has inquired into the scholastic hive mind and it seems that the word “hullabaloo” was first noticed by the Oxford English Dictionary back in 1762. It is defined by the aforementioned authority as an uproar or a fuss, and the general consensus amongst linguists is that the British picked it up during their adventures on the Indian subcontinent during that era. The Indian root word would be “Hullabol” which refers to a particularly ecstatic civic demonstration. The “Hulla” part is thought to come from Persian and Urdu, while the “Bol” is thought to emanate from Hindi. 

See, you learn something new everyday, at this – your Newtown Pentacle. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The particular hullabaloo pictured in today’s post seemed to be electrical in nature, with a crew of laborers firstly closing a curbside lane along the north side of Astoria’s Broadway, and then tearing open the street. The effect on traffic was immediate, and the ripple effect transmitted up and down Broadway for several blocks in both directions. Both the stout Croats, and strong backed Spaniards, stuck in this traffic situation loudly signaled their disapproval with a steady cacophony of automotive horn bleats.

One does not understand the “standing on your horn” thing. A “toot” or a “beepity beep beep” yes, but “wharrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn?” Seriously? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is often the nature of efforts such as this, whatever mystery these construction fellows were sent to accomplish was wrapped up by about four in the afternoon, and the next morning another crew arrived who filled in the excavation and applied a fresh layer of asphalt to the road. The everpresent Burrachos drunkenly returned to their perches atop residential stoop and commercial step, indolent adolescent groups began to prowl about again, and the normal pattern of life here in Western Queens returned. The car horn honking continued on, however, unabated – which is as mentioned – normal for these parts. 

That’s the great thing about a hullabaloo, it seldom lasts more than a day, here amongst the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria. 


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 15, 2017 at 11:00 am

just off

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It’s National Eat What You Want Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Behind sapphire glass, in LIC, lurks a thing. Orbiting its unblinking three lobed eye, this impossible intelligence which cannot exist stares down on the world of men through azure mirrors which cloak its alien presence from all but those acolytes which serve its sinister whims. Pulsating with a fiendish genius and dire intent, this thing lurking in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of Long Island City is patient above all else. Soon, though, its time will be soon…

Glad to get that out of my system… 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I have to believe that “NYC TS” stands for NYC Transit System, given that the access cover which the screed adorns is on Jackson Avenue in LIC more or less directly over the G train tunnel. The rondulets on the hatch indicate that there’s likely electrical equipment below. It’s possible that the wiring might be related to the nearby Pulaski Bridge, or to the bank of traffic signals found nearby, but then it would say “DOT” instead of “TS.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If the shots in today’s post appear a bit random, it’s because they are. I’m walking around a new lens this week, the Sigma 18-300 f3.5-6.3 zoom. It’s strictly a daylight lens, given that it’s not “bright” in the aperture department, but so far so good. Sigma has surprisingly handled barrel distortions quite well given the enormous range of the thing, but of course there’s still some present. It would be crazy to think otherwise.

Not abandoning the rest of my kit, mind you, but I just felt a desire to have a bit more versatility in range available on the fly – when I’m out scuttling about the concrete devastations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After a week of carrying the thing, the only real complaint I have about it involves the lens’ communications with my camera’s light meter. The camera reports things as being at least a stop off of what the lens actually sees – over or under – and I’ve found that I have to continually check the preview screen while shooting to confirm my exposure. The other sigma lenses in my kit don’t have this issue, but they’re a bit more advanced and specialized (and far more expensive) than this newer one.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

heavy spring

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It’s National Liver and Onions Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is deep within a web of “have to’s,” “wish I hadn’t’s,” and “should have done better’s” at the moment. All of this coincides with a fiendishly tight schedule of “things to do.” Luckily, after Friday, my burdens will ease up a bit. In the meanwhile, it feels like I’ve drank too much coffee too quickly.

As a note, as you’re reading this, I’ve been onboard a boat with the Waterfront Alliance and attending their annual harbor conference for a good couple of hours. Odds are pretty good that I’ve annoyed the Mayor and several other elected officials by now with stupid questions, asnine observations, and generally sarcastic comments. It’s what I do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was wandering though Sunnyside the other day, this bagged bear was spotted and it’s probably the saddest thing I’ve seen in a while. My thoughts as I was shooting it were along the lines of “well, I guess somebody’s childhood just ended” and “wow, that’s just weird looking.”

I also considered the idea of grabbing the thing and finding it a home at a clothing bin or in front of a church, as it was in fairly pristine shape, but I’m a big softie when it comes to stuffed toys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found it odd that the bear was in a recycling bag, incidentally. Who recycles a stuffed toy?

Curious. 


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

short pursuit

with 3 comments

It’s National Shrimp Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Zuzu the dog is pictured above, and she has been growing ever more “crotchety” as she’s grown older. She does not like it when one leaves her alone in the house, no matter the cause. Notice the amount of smoke she’s blowing at me there, and she was giving me the side or horse eye while I was calling her inside from her perch on the porch. I had to go, as there was some business I needed to attend to during the evening over in LIC, and I also wanted to get some shooting time in as well. Zuzu, however, was having none of that.

Promising her that we would go for a walk when I got back home, she nevertheless angrily slunk past me, and then dove right into the bath tub. This is how she signals her displeasure, my dog. She has become a canine Jewish mother, my dog.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My path carried me first through the Dutch Kills neighborhood and into Queens Plaza, which is in the middle of a dystopian construction boom, on my way to Hunters Point. Nightmares in sapphire glass, these titan things just keep on going up. The real estate shit flies may have stolen the sky, but at least we can still see the reflections of it in the mirror facades of the residential slabs they’ve thrown at it. They don’t need to build supermarkets or anything like that around here, since FreshDirect is nearby, found along the Newtown Creek.

Soon, every midwestern trustfundafarian’s dream of living on the site of a former chemical factory in Queens Plaza can be realized. Progress is achieved.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was walking down 29th st. in Dutch Kills, this interesting bit of street furniture was observed. It was right in front of the Flux Factory, so it’s entirely possible that this was “art.” Saying that, in my experience, when you leave a toilet on the street, somebody will use it for the purpose it intended for whether or not it’s hooked up to plumbing.

Also – gentlemen, please remember to leave the seat down for the ladies.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

revenue sloop

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It’s National Coconut Cream Pie day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a story about yet another Astoria Hullabaloo, this one involving the NYC DEP. Back in the third week of March, whilst walking Zuzu the dog along her normal sniffing route, one noticed liquid bubbling up out of a manhole – or access cover – on 44th street midway between Broadway and 34th Avenue here in Astoria. Back then, it was a slow flowing trickle of water – maybe five gallons an hour.

A week later, on the 29th of March I had the dog out again for her outing, after noticing that the flow of water had increased significantly, I finally shrugged my shoulders and accepted the fact that since no one else was going to do anything about this situation before the street exploded in a geyser – I called 311 and reported the thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first week of April arrived and after querying the neighbors about whether or not anyone had shown up to investigate, one was not surprised that – in fact – no one from the NYC DEP had shown up at all. Don’t forget that the borough motto is “Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself.”

If it’s water related, DEP is the agency that handles investigation and repair, in terms of the City process. Procedurally – if it’s their pipe, they send out a city crew or contractor to fix it, if not – they figure out whose pipe it is and write an order for the property owner. This is pretty straight forward. Ultimately, you don’t fool around with any of the four primal elements, whether it be fire, water, air, or stone.

The first week of April is when I called Councilmember Van Bramer’s office and apprised his staff of the situation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP said that “they were aware of the leak and keeping an eye on it.” By the second week of April, the water flowing down 44th street had gained in volume and flow, and was fast becoming a stream. Wind blown trash began to catch in the curbside puddles and rivulets, and was being carried towards the corner of Broadway by the water.

There it was carried into the catch basin and into the sewer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Other access covers along the path of the water, like this electrical one, were inundated and in some cases completely underwater. During the second week of April, I called Councimember Van Bramer’s office again to inquire if they had heard any news about the leak. They were under the impression that DEP was working on it.

Note – The NY&QEL&PCo screed on the hatch cover stands for “New York and Queens Electric Light and Power Company” (incorporated 1901, absorbed by Edison in 1913), which is one of the 170 smaller gas and electric corporations that were “consolidated” into the CONED conglomerate during the 20th century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While all of this back and forth was going on, the leak grew larger and larger.

A now constant flow of water, roughly equivalent to letting a garden hose endlessly empty into the street, was moving north on 44th street from the bubbling manhole cover at mid block. At this point, I had made contact with someone I know at DEP and made the upper management of the agency aware of the situation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a fairly modern Consolidated Edison transformer pit access cover in the shot above, which was under a couple of inches of flowing water for most of the month of April. Remember last summer, when I told you about the transformer explosion and fire on my corner? If you’re asking yourself “why does he care about this stuff,” that’s why.

The first week of May is when I hit my breaking point with this situation, as I watched my friends who run the bodega across the street from HQ get a ticket from a Sanitation Cop, who was fining them for the water swept garbage that this flowing stream continuously transported in front of their shop and into the sewer catch basin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By the second week of April, some of the neighborhood fellas on the block had put out chairs and set up a hookah, saying that they had decided to sit by the water.

That’s the source of the leak, another NY&QEL&PCo access cover found mid block on 44th street, in a photo shot on May 2nd.

It had been bubbling like this for about five weeks at this point and the flow was still increasing daily. I called Councilmember Van Bramer’s office again, his staff was frankly stunned that the situation was still ongoing, and I also informed them of the unfairness of the ticket received by my buddies at the bodega.

Team JVB jumped into serious action at this point. Seriously, when it comes to quality of life issues, Team JVB is best of breed and sets a standard which the rest of the City should be envious of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I specifically asked them to conspicuously use my name with DEP, and to say “yes, that Mitch Waxman, the one from Newtown Creek.” Now to be clear, Councilmember Van Bramer certainly does not need any help in being taken seriously, but when the subject of the DEP comes up… I’m sort of the fly in their ointment, along the Newtown Creek, and there’s precious few of the “bigwigs” who haven’t suffered my wrath… so I knew that when the Commissioner’s office saw my name attached…

I don’t play nice with people who lie to me on a regular basis. They know I can be mean spirited, routinely ask pointed questions, and will not just accept their pronouncements at face value.

water main

video by Mitch Waxman

An atypical video (for Newtown Pentacle) is offered above, depicting the bubbling water sometime around the end of April.

On Friday, May 5th, DEP investigators finally responded to the gathering storm and determined that the leak was not coming from a city owned pipe, rather it was a residential connection that was leaking due to a tree root infiltrating it. The home owner who owns the pipe is now on the hook for not just the repairs, but also paying for the thousands of gallons of water which were released (last I checked, that’s $1.36 per 100 gallons). An uncalculable amount of garbage and street trash was also swept into the sewer system. The bodega guys are appealing the sanitation ticket. Team Van Bramer could have been spending their time on more useful things. I had other things to do as well.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the DEP had inspected and assessed the situation back in March in response to the initial 311 call – this whole chain of events could have been avoided.

Just another Astoria Hullabaloo, I guess.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

regions below

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It’s National Hoagie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few odds and ends today. Whilst walking some folks around the Creek the other day, we found ourselves at the corner of Grand St. and Morgan Avenue, and this atypical MTA bus was observed. The general consensus amongst Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY and myself was that it was possibly heading to the racetrack at Aqueduct, hence “Roadeo” and the pictures of the horses, but who the hell knows? There is a “bus Roadeo” event wherein the MTA shows off its historic rolling stock, but that usually happens in the summer. Anybody out there know?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We encountered a fantastic display of illegal dumping on Varick street nearby the National Grid property, which saw shattered window glass spread liberally about the sidewalk. Often opined, illegal dumping in Brooklyn is amateurish. For color, composition, and overall message – come to Queens. Illegal dumping is the native art form of this borough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lastly, spotted this lucky fellow driving a vintage Ford pickup down Metropolitan Avenue nearby the bridge of the same name. He was stuck in a traffic jam, so I didn’t want to bother the driver with queries as to model year and the restoration story.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

certain captives

with 2 comments

It’s National Raspberry Tart Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Call me Ezekial for my visions of a dire future are informed solely by the lessons of the past. When the NYC DEP people told the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee of their plans for a “waste to energy” project at the sewer plant in Greenpoint a while back (I think at the end of the last Bloomberg administration?), they also mentioned that they intended for the equipment which would convert the waste methane produced by their industry into a usable fuel – “natural gas” – on the Greenpoint Avenue side of the sewer plant, a humble narrator grew agitated.

The DEP people said “c’mon, it’s behind the fence, what could happen?” I turned around to Councilmember Steve Levin, who was observing the meeting, and said “Greenpoint has a long history of huge industrial fires, and it’s only a matter of time before a car or truck accidentally blasts through the fence, or a fire starts nearby that could threaten the perimeter here.” “Do we really want a high pressure gas manifold on heavily trafficked Greenpoint Avenue with only a chain link fence to protect it? What if?”

Mr. Levin took note, but the DEP was dismissive. The DEP is always dismissive, and the agency does not like its pronouncements or plans being questioned by unwashed rabble like myself, the State of New York, or the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not six months afterwards, a paper recycling yard across the street from the sewer plant caught fire and burned for several days. DEP had people on the plant’s grounds sweep their property facing the smokey fire with hoses, for fear that wind scattered embers from the blaze across the street might cause damage or start a fire at the plant. The next Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting came around and I got to say “I told you so” to the DEP. The councilman gave me a knowing look and acknowledged that I “called it,” and that was the end of that. The DEP people went along with their plans to install the gas equipment on a busy truck route called Greenpoint Avenue.

Of course, the Citistorage Building fire on the East River side happened a few months later, so allow me to reiterate…

Greenpoint has a history of fires that occur in large industrial buildings that tend to burn for days and days. In 1882 and again in 1919, the entire refinery complex on the Newtown Creek coastline between Greenpoint Avenue and Meeker Avenue were immolated and utterly lost, and in the 1882 fire – the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge burned down. Don’t believe me? Ask my colleague, Greenpoint Historian Geoff Cobb, or do your own research on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine my recent joy, therefore, when another of my little prophecies came true.

I was at the plant to attend a presentation offered by the DEP regarding their “Long Term Control Plan” for combined sewer overflows into Newtown Creek. The plan is a lot of hoo-hah if you ask me, a Potemkin Village’s worth of politically convenient bioswales, rain gardens, and unfunded mandates for large scale construction projects which is designed to compel future generations into finding a way to pay for it all, rather than asking it of the current one. The LTCP process, citywide, is turning out to be a wonderful example of non urgently passing the buck while billions of gallons of sewage flow into New York Harbor every single time it rains. They want to build pump houses and dig retention tunnels, but all of it begins in twenty to thirty years and…

Thirty years ago, New York City was financially crippled and crime was at an all time high, and you couldn’t give away the waterfront land in Williamsburg or Long Island City. Twenty years ago, America had “won the Cold War” and it was the “end of history.” Rudy Giuliani was already a bit crazy, but not like now… Bill Clinton was President… you would have been hard pressed to get anyone to believe the sort of dystopic world we now live in, or the property valuations of Williamsburg, were just on the horizon. Donald Trump? What?

A lot can happen in 20-30 years, and there’s no time like the present for “getting it done.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, I had attended a tour of the plant on Sunday April 22nd, and these shots were captured on Wednesday the 26th. Anonymous informants who work at the plant informed me that some driver had not recognized the presence of the fence when traveling west from North Henry Street, and crossed Greenpoint Avenue at accelerating speed, and plowed into the fenceline without braking.

As a point of trivia, North Henry Street actually does continue through the plant, it’s just closed to non official traffic. I seem to recall seeing a street sign for it inside the fence quite a while ago, but I also might be imagining it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news, which came to me in another Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting on the 30th of March, is that DEP’s partners in the “waste to energy” project – National Grid – now prefer a spot deeper within the plant’s grounds to install their equipment to harvest the waste methane which is not on Greenpoint Avenue.

Ezekial, call me Ezekial, for I am a prophet.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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