The Newtown Pentacle

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does enjoy it when they accidentally leave the industrial fences open, over at the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek in Queens’ Long Island City section. It was a hot night in LIC, with high humidity. One was hoping for a spectacular sunset which didn’t materialize, which is sort of a metaphor for my entire life, but that’s neither here nor there. Here’s this profundity however – If you’re working at sorting different grades of gravel and sand, you need the sort of stuff pictured above to do so. That’s a sly observation, no?

There was some sort of drama playing out on the street behind me, wherein a woman was displaying all sorts of outré behavior while two uniformed men sat in a car not far away and watched her. They had DHS logos on their polo shirts, so the entire tableau likely involved official business on the part of the Department of Homeless Services. I didn’t inquire into the matter as it was none of my actual business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, the sewer jellies. The sewer jellies are categorically my business. Over at Dutch Kills’ intersection with Hunters Point Avenue, a work barge has been stationed. The gear they’re using seems to involve large chunks of lumber and a lot of rope. These floating apparatuses allow the sewer borne lipids dancing along the surface of the water to congeal into fungible fecundities. When the light is just right, one may discern the conditions.

New York City has a combined sewer system. What that means is that sanitary and storm water travel through the same pipes. A quarter inch of rain in NYC, citywide, translates into a billion gallons of water entering the system. During thunderstorms and other sudden deluges, the people who operate the sewers – the NYC Department of Environmental Protection or DEP – are forced to release untreated combined sewer waste water into outfall pipes which empty into area waterways. A lot of cooking grease and oils get carried in this flow, as does petroleum residue from the streets.

Jellies. Meringue. Syrups. The DEP calls the stuff honey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One always scolds newcomers to the Newtown Creek watershed to beware the trucking traffic and be very careful when moving about. Eyes are crinkled, smiles are forced, and they tell me that they know how to cross streets. I offer “this is not the world you know” and then point out safety cones which are squished by, or torn apart by, the wheels of heavy trucks.

If a safety cone ain’t safe on the street, you ain’t. Never walk in front of a truck without first getting acknowledged by the driver that they know you’re there. You don’t want to get squished by a gravel sorting machine, which would turn you into a kind of red street jelly.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 14, 2021 at 11:00 am

shocking moan

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amongst the shocking grotesques of Brooklyn’s DUKBO, or Down Under the Kosciuzscko Bridge Onramp, one such as myself finds confirmation of all those things I wish I didn’t know. Following my nose, as it were, an odiferous cloud drew me to this particular corner seeking to investigate whether some cauldron of ichor might have been overturned or to discover whatever it might be that could produce such a miasmic stink.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A pile of industrial site runoff ran lugubriously toward the sewers, obeying gravity. The effluent carried with it some odd and somewhat fibrous substance. The smell intensified as I neared the fence line, and the runoff was clearly organic, shimmering beneath the thermonuclear eye of god itself with a greasy iridescence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Close inspection revealed the presence of avian feathers in the runoff, betraying the origin of the brownish gray liquid. This was clearly chicken feces, running in a rivulet toward the oil stained streets which adjoin and parallel the gargantuan thoroughfare known as the Brooklyn Queens Expressway that is carried by the pendulous Kosciuzscko Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The variegated texture exhibited by the pavement is coincidental, and due to the habits of local concrete contractors who cleanse their machinery on the street, dumping what washes from their trucks wherever it may fall. There are large sections of this neighborhood whose sidewalks and streets exhibit the appearance of volcanic flow, where tons of waste concrete cured while seeking those self same drains which a feather laden stream of poultry feces was attempting to enter on this day.

Choked with cement, the sewers become the center of a fetid lagoon, but such sights are common in DUKBO.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The operation which plies its trade at this corner is a poultry merchant, one which trucks the hapless birds to this warehouse. My understanding is that they are involved in the wholesale section of the business, supplying neighborhood Halal abattoirs, “Pollo Vivo” dealers, and certain Asiatic Restaurants which are scattered around Brooklyn and Queens with fresh stock. Unlike the native born’s habit of purchasing a familiar and largely inoffensive carcass- a plucked, butchered, and often steamed or bleached cadaver- on sale at chain supermarkets and “traditional” Yankee butcher shops- many newer immigrants in the area prefer to inspect their food animals while still alive.

Prosaic, the practice is regarded as barbaric by area wags who prefer to maintain some insulation from the bloody business of supplying industrial quantities of animal protein to an ever growing human infestation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Urban sophisticates tend to overlook these sort of details, forgetting that every “organic” or “factory farm” chicken may not have been a healthy bird before it was roughly extinguished. Recent immigration from the queer foreign courts of Asia and other more southernly latitudes has carried with it a certain skepticism about such matters. Inspection of eye, beak, and feet is paramount in certain circles- especially when it concerns the food laid out for children.

They have no trust in the USDA, it’s curious marks and unintelligible grading system for food quality- all of which were codified by bureaucrats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, what stretch of the imagination could conjure for them the image of that prize bird stacked in crates ten deep just 3 blocks from the Newtown Creek, imprisoned in those exhaust clouds which bubble and froth invisibly down from the BQE? Could they understand that this is a neighborhood of scrap yards, garbage depots, oil tank farms, and former home to oil refineries, bone boilers, and chemical refineries? Can anyone imagine what these birds are breathing in?

A question often asked of your humble narrator these days concerns the status of those who might engage in subsistence fishing on the Newtown Creek, and the consequences of consuming such a catch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The question which is offered as an answer in itself is “do you have any idea how much of the food you buy as “organic” moves through the shadowed warehouses and poison atmospherics of the Newtown Creek?” and “what makes you think you’re any different than those fishermen”?

Seldom do I receive an answer, for when faced with considering such realities about their own food supply, even the clear eyed and prosaic will reveal themselves to be chicken shit.

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