The Newtown Pentacle

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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

entropy prone

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Everybody poops, even the Queen of England. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one spent some time last weekend wandering around the forbidden northern coast of Queens. On my way back to HQ on the other side of Astoria, I opted to take advantage of the gathering dusk and swung along the open East River coastline views offered by Astoria Park. The tripod was set up, filter affixed, and that’s a three minute long exposure of Hells Gate you’re looking at above. 

As is usually the case here in Astoria, the tripod and camera gathered no small amount of attention unto me. For many of my neighbors, it seems it would be far less shocking were one to whip out an AK-47 and start shooting randomly into the air than it is to see a DSLR being brandished and operated. Small children had their hands gathered up by parents and caregivers as they walked by, women clutched at their purses, and men began aggressive posturing while chattering away in some central Asian guttural language. iPhones were produced, and a humble narrator was photographed while photographing, which must create some sort of recursive loop in space and time, ultimately.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If only these people knew what lurked below the waves… the battrachian horrors which exist in the kettles and broken stones that litter the bottom of the river… but… such matters and knowledge have been carefully suppressed by Federal and State authorities for generations. Suffice to say that Hells Gate and Triborough not only provide for passage above the river, but also act as weights to cage something that we never, ever, want to see rising from the water. 

Brooklyn doesn’t have these sorts of problems. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, a ball game of some sorts was occurring on Randalls/Wards Island, which bathed the mighty Triborough Bridge in cold stadium light. Post facto, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself decided to meet up for dinner back on our decidedly terrestrial side of the neighborhood, whereupon we visited a place which had caught our eye but which we hadn’t patronized. 

Here’s a rare Newtown Pentacle recommendation for a restaurant – District Saigon on Broadway just off 37th street was fantastic and not terribly “spendy.” After my long walk, a delicious bowl of Vietnamese Pho soup was quite a welcome repast. It also pooped out nicely the next day, which is a big part of my consideration when discussing food. I like to review its entire gastrointestinal journey from tip to tail, rather than just the sensations of entry. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 18, 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

increasing pallor

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I like when the DEP brings the show to me, saves a lot of walking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neighborhood is abuzz at the moment, here in Astoria, over a water main replacement project which has been going on for a month and change now. There’s been a tearing and a wrenching, lots and lots of noise and activity involving heavy equipment, and a somewhat random series of notices taped to the front door promising that DEP water service will be temporarily interrupted. My block’s turn for the latter occurred yesterday, and just down the street from HQ, the DEP and their contractors (Tully) finally opened up the hydrants and got busy with the underground stuff. 

I was hanging around the home office yesterday, developing shots from last weekend’s Tugboat Race on the Hudson, but found an interval when it wasn’t raining to grab the tripod and get a few shots of the flowing water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The actual construction is “up the pipe” from HQ, thank goodness. You should see what the next block over looks like, they’ll be repaving that for months. 

Ever notice the way that significant road work and infrastructure repairs only seem to happen when Election time nears? I’m told by those whom this tsunami of backhoes and construction workers have already washed over that a second wave of Con Edison gas main contractors followed the water people, and there’s been a protracted occupation by the NYC DOT nearby as well – who seem to be grinding down and then resurfacing the roads. The Zero Vision people can’t be far away, but it suddenly makes sense as to why the Department of Buildings forced all the local property owners to replace their sidewalks in the last couple of years. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a bit difficult to actually lock down on actual government sourced numbers on this, as the DEP continually treats its most mundane capabilities and public facing infrastructure as a state secret. 

There’s approximately 109,000 fire hydrants in NYC which are maintained by the NYC DEP for the FDNY’s usage. There’s also an uncountable number of hydrants maintained by other entities both private and public, and notably the NYC Parks Dept. has a large number of them installed on their property which are connected to DEP’s pipes but are Parks’ problem to maintain. DEP’s system uses two basic types of hydrant, the kind pictured above which is an “O’Brien Style Model, Series S,” and the “Dresser 500 Style.” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that the hydrant above was left open was to allow the construction crews to bleed out the water flowing through the water main they were replacing. The maximum flow of one these O’Brien models is about 1,000 gallons an hour, I’m told. The water in the hydrants is the same stuff delivered to residences, good old NYC drinking water from the Croton Resovoir system. 

There’s two pipe fittings on the hydrants, one is for normal water hookup by FDNY, the other is for use by their pumper trucks. Since the 1980’s, when DEP shut down the old “High Pressure” network that dated back to the dawn of the 20th century, the hydrants have been installed with a street level flange that intersects them to the main. Prior to this, were a car or truck to back into the hydrant (which was directly connected to the buried pipe) it tended to damage the underground pipe and necessitate a messy and expensive repair job that involved opening the street. The flange connection instead allows the hydrant to get knocked about without the buried main pipe getting damaged. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That 1,000 gallons an hour flow was pouring out all day, or at least from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a couple of coffee breaks and a lunch hour thrown in. Since I had the camera mounted on the tripod anyway, and my block here in Astoria was closed to traffic because of the construction so I could stand in the street without getting squished by trucks, I decided to follow the flow down to the corner where it was all pissing into the drain.

As a note, DEP doesn’t like to use the word “sewer” ever. They call these bits of their system “street drains.” It’s also not “sewage,” it’s wastewater, they say. I’ve been lectured by one of the high muckety mucks over there about this, being told that the word “sewer” or the term “sewer plant” is offensive to modern day “Wastewater Management Engineers.”

I fear that Louie the garbageman is going to want to be called a “solid waste collection executive” or something soon. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gazing into the abyssal “street drain” in the shot above, one wondered how much of this flow was going to the somewhat archaic “Bowery Bay Wastewater treatment Plant” on the forbidden northern shore of Queens and how much of it was traveling down Astoria’s Broadway to 43rd street where an underground intersection is found that feeds directly into the Dutch Kills tributary of my beloved Newtown Creek over in LIC.

Hey, at least it’s clean water flowing into Dutch Kills for a change, a thousand gallons an hour worth. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 12, 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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 7, 2018 at 11:00 am

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