Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Catching up with Mitch Waxman: "If you see something, say something" -- but what of it?


"If you see something, say something"? Just another day on the platform of the 46th Street station of the R train, in Long Island City, Queens. But wait, what's that silver kitchen-trash-can thing, and what's it doing sitting unattended on the platform?

by Ken

I assume folks outside NYC are also told constantly, "If you see something, say something." But certainly we NY-ers have heard it a lot in the post-9/11 world. But what happens, you may wonder, when you see something and you do say something? Not for the first time, our old pal Mitch Waxman had occasion to ask this question, and not for the first time he wasn't exactly crazy about what he found out.

I've been looking for an opportunity since I resumed blogging to catch up with Mitch Waxman, that inveterately cantankerous man-on-the-move-with-a-camera, usually found trudging through the precincts of Western Queens, including the Brooklyn side of his beloved Newtown Creek ("the Newtown Creek," as Mitch and other close personal aficionados of "the" Newtown Creek would put it) -- but also anyplace in the NYC metro area within hailing distance of water. And even, when dire necessity dictates it, in the underground precincts of the subway system, precincts he doesn't visit except under the duress of circumstance.

As I've said any number of times here, Mitch's Monday-Friday Newtown Pentacle blog is my only blogorific "must read." I love the way Mitch trains his formidable powers of observation and the way his wide-ranging mind processes all that material, and I don't know of anyone who makes richer, more revealing use of those basic blog tools: pictures and worse. As I've also mentioned here, when I made that observation to Mitch, he immediately connected it to his history as a comic-book creator, using those very same tools, pictures and words.

The pictures, of course, are peerless, and even for someone as photographically inept as yours truly there's fascination in the virtual photography clinic Mitch frequently includes in his blogposting. I imagine that for actual photo bugs his technical tips must be a treasurable resource. And the words, well, nobody looks at our fair city with quite the betrayed passion that Mitch does.

There was a splendid Newtown Pentacle post a couple of weeks ago, "reptilian devils," in which Mitch went off as only he can go off on worldly conspiracy-seers, built around his charmingly documented conviction that the standard suspects are far too inept to be masterminding and actually carrying out these grandiose webs of secrets. "I want to believe. The world would be so much more interesting if all the nutty and paranoid stuff was true. . . . Have you actually interacted with the government? Try it out, and that should sunder all notions of the 'hidden hand.' " Dark and hilarious -- vintage Mitch.

Then there's today's post, "tried every." It's not a post where the pictures loom as large as they often do on Newtown Pentacle -- this is more of a "story" post -- but still the pictures are gorgeous, aren't they? (You can see them larger-size onsite, with links to even larger sizes.)
tried every

I mentioned this over the weekend to my Facebook peeps, now it’s your turn…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An old friend of mine recently hit a bit of a health crisis. Surgery ensued, and she’s having a bit of trouble with the purely existential part of her life during recovery – food shopping, laundry, the lifting and carrying sort of stuff. Our Lady of the Pentacle and I volunteered to help her out, and last Saturday our plan involved an afternoon trip to Hunters Point to help out with “whatever.” Before you ask: a) my old friend doesn’t live in one of the new buildings (it’s one of those century old and quite rickety walk up jobs on Jackson where she has lived for literally decades), and b) there was no connection between Court Square and the IND station at Queens Plaza due to maintenance work so we took the R from Astoria and hoofed it the rest of the way.

That’s not the story, though, that’s just the setup.


Now, this was Fourth of July weekend, of course. The news was abuzz with the news that NYPD was operating a full scale and City wide security operation, and that Hunters Point in particular was going to be focused on due to the gathering at the waterfront to watch the fireworks. I call it the Homeland Security Kabuki show, for various reasons. Pretty standard stuff, in the age of the Terror Wars.

What wasn’t standard was the steel cylinder, which appeared to be some sort of garbage can, sitting on the 46th street subway platform. Having “seen something” a humble narrator thereupon went over to the MTA Station Agent housed in the booth and let her know that the incongruous item was there. She indicated that the authorities would be alerted, and I boarded the incoming R train having “said something.”

As a note, when I arrived at Queens Plaza, I walked over to the NYPD office at the end of the platform and informed the on duty officer of the situation – and also showed him the picture positioned above. He seemed concerned about it.

I was thanked and told that it would be investigated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the 114th precinct being what it is, when Our Lady of the Pentacle and I returned to the 46th street station some three and change hours later… the curious cylinder was still there and clearly unmolested or investigated. That’s when I posted about my experience, and made sure that our local Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer was tagged in my missive. He let me know that he had contacted the precinct and that it would be dealt with. In my neighborhood, JVB is the motive force of all things, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, the council member has a unique ability to twist the dials and move the levers of the municipal machinery.

The thing about Queens which drives me absolutely mad is why it is that when someone “sees something” and “says something,” you still need a high government official to cajole the freaking cops into doing their damn jobs. As far as the MTA station agent goes, she probably didn’t have the union certifications for dialing the phone.

I think it’s the International Brotherhood of Button Pushers, Local 5, who does that. You also need three Union carpenters on duty, but you always need three carpenters for some reason.


I've written a fair amount about the delightful around-NYC gadding I've done with Mitch, who leads a lot of walking tours in his favorite haunts and frequently mans the microphone on boat trips on his favorite waterways. (Hit the "Mitch Waxman" label below to call some of those posts up.) But I always keep an eye out for what he's up to now, hoping to slip new adventures onto my schedule.

I was delighted finally to be able to sign on to one of the walks Mitch has been doing for a while now in Queens's Calvary Cemetery, on the western edge of Long Island's terminal moraine, where it turns south toward Brooklyn and Staten Island, marking the farthest reach of the Wisconsin Glacier, whose melting created much of the topography of the whole area.
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour

Image courtesy Mitch Waxman

$30    Saturday, July 23, 11:00am-1:00pm

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman for a walk amongst the 300 year-old headstones of the colonial-era Alsop cemetery, in the neighborhood that was once known as Laurel Hill, Queens.

Calvary Cemetery, founded in 1848 by Roman Catholic Archbishop "Dagger" John Hughes, sits atop what was once the Alsop Farm in Newtown's Blissville. First Calvary is the final resting place of senators, governors, businessmen, mafiosos, even an heir to the throne of Ireland. See the memorial to NYC's Civil War soldiers erected by Tammany Hall, and one dedicated to the "fighting 69th".

The walk will range throughout rolling hills of the cemetery. Its expanse of open space is a jewel of green infrastructure nestled in the midst of Newtown Creek's industrial zone. In addition to its original purpose, Calvary also serves the City of New York by soaking up billions of gallons of water during storms.

The views from Calvary Cemetery are iconic, with the Manhattan and LIC skylines framing the scene, so bring a camera. We will be walking across a natural surface of grass and soil, so if your mobility is limited, this might not be the tour for you.

Meetup at the north east corner of Greenpoint and Review Avenues. Map: nearby the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge in Blissville. We will be exiting the Cemetery through the main gates at Greenpoint and Gale Avenue, nearby Borden Avenue and the Long Island Expressway.

Dress and pack appropriately for hiking and the weather. Closed-toe shoes are highly recommended. Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the end of the walk. We will be outside until the very end of the tour, which will run about two hours.
Until now, as I've noted, every time he has done the Calvary Cemetery walk I've been thwarted by a schedule conflict. This time I preempted a conflict-in-the-making. It means I'm not going to be able to do the Art Deco Society of New York's tantalizing "Egyptomania at the Met" event later that day at the Metropolitan Museum, but hey, life is about choices, no?

In addition, I'm close to pulling the trigger on this intriguing event this coming Tuesday:
Obscura Society NY: LICHenge - A Celebration of Astronomical Proportions

Join us to view the annual solar phenomenon that lights up our city's streets, from the banks of Long Island City.

DATE: July 12, 2016
TIME: 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM (EDT)
COST: 45.00 USD [+ service fee]

Manhattanhenge is what you call the astronomical phenomena which sees the setting sun align with Manhattan's street grid. On a single day out of the year, the setting sun beams directly through the latitudinal streets of the city producing a spectacularly radiant sight. The problem with enjoying it is that if you're in Manhattan, you can't really see it. The NY Obscura Society offers a solution.

The Hunters Point Park Conservancy in Long Island City, and Newtown Creek Historian Mitch Waxman, present LICHenge. A short walking tour will start this event, which will meet up in Greenpoint and cross the Newtown Creek via the Pulaski Bridge into LIC. The tour will end at the HPS Park, where the conservancy will be throwing a party to celebrate this rare occasion. Enjoy live music, drinks, food, and unbeatable views of Manhattanhenge from across the river - all included in your ticket price.

In addition to spectacular panoramic views of the East River, every Obscura Society participant will become a member of the HPS Conservancy, which offers a full calendar of events all year long.

Meet-up: In front of St. Anthony's Church on Manhattan Avenue at Milton Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Map:
So far I've been held back by the stiffish price as well as my standard acrophobic's qualms about crossing bridges -- even though I've in fact done the Pulaski Bridge crossing from Greenpoint (Brooklyn) to Long Island City (Queens) several times. (What really freaks me out is walking up and down all those flights of stairs at either end of the walkway.)

On Mitch's blog, in addition to the "LICHenge" event he lists a couple of Newtown Creek boat tours. These tend to fill up quickly, so if you're interested, you might not want to delay.
Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. -
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. -
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip - 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip - 6:50 p.m. -
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

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