The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Kneeling upright

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

The local supermarket, a Pathmark on Northern Blvd., has installed a device on its shopping carts that lock the wheels when you try to roll them off the property line. A buried wire, perhaps, or some sort of radio signal keeps the carts from distributing themselves around the neighborhood like the Home Depot and Stop n’ Shop carts that can found in basements and garages across the Newtown Pentacle. Once, this was the preferred cargo carrier for New York’s unfortunates, an uncovered wagon for the concrete prairies.

from wikipedia

Shopping cart theft can be a costly problem with stores that use them. Often the carts end up in apartment complexes, low-income housing, bus stops or locations where the person doing the shopping is unlikely to own a car. The carts, which cost between $75 and $150 each, have been used for such purposes as barbecue pits, go-carts, laundry trolleys and even shelters, or they are simply abandoned. Because such losses can be substantial (up to $800 million globally lost every year), stores have resorted to various systems to prevent theft. Stores may use one or more of these systems (i.e., cart retrieval and electronic).

Cart retrieval service

Some stores utilize a cart retrieval service, which collects carts found off the store’s premises and returns them to the store for a fee. The drawbacks of this measure include that it is reactive instead of proactive (i.e., it can only be used once a cart has been taken from the premises), can become costly, and does nothing to deter hoarders. Some retrieval services have also been caught taking carts from the store’s parking lot and turning them in as stray carts.

Electronic

Electronic systems are being increasingly used by stores because of their successful deterrence. In principle, the system is similar to electric fences that give dogs’ necks a yank when they cross an underground boundary. Each shopping cart is fitted with an electronic locking wheel, or ‘boot’. A transmitter with a thin wire is placed around the perimeter of the parking lot. The boot locks when the cart leaves the designated area. Store personnel must then deactivate the lock with a hand-held remote to return the cart to stock. Often a line is painted in front of the broadcast range to warn customers that their cart will stop when rolled past the line.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The cheap wire shopping carts offered to perform the curb to house function today just can’t compare. The bottle and can collectors favor this sort of model, and an iteration of it is found in my own kitchen. It’s not sturdy, quite unstable, and has an incontrovertibly high center of gravity making it prone to unexpected tipping. A sudden abundance of laundry here at Pentacle HQ was instrumental in discovering its load capacity was a mere 80 pounds (don’t ask) which causes the wheels to snap off. A sturdy supermarket style cart carries an unknown, but substantially higher weight.

from nyc.gov

To ready your metal, glass and plastic containers for recycling, rinse them clean and place them in a clear bag or blue-labeled container; caps and lids should be removed. You should place paper recycling in a separate clear bag or green-labeled container and tie flattened corrugated cardboard with strong twine.

Collect glass, plastic or aluminum beverage containers with a 5-cent deposit, such as those for beer, soda and other carbonated drinks, and take them to a local grocery, deli or other store for recycling. (You can also put your redeemable cans and bottles out with your other recyclables where needy individuals may find them and turn them in for the nickel deposit.)

If you live in a building that does not recycle, contact your building manager or superintendent to set up a recycling system for tenants. You can report recycling violations anonymously online or by calling 311.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

To a veteran of the 1980’s and early 90’s iteration of New York City- when 42nd street at Times Square was called “dadeuce”- a time when endemic homeless populations ruled the streets, it is disturbing to see their population swelling again. The local Croats and Serbs refer to the village madmen as “sin eaters”, and the more august members of the community have other colorful terms to describe them. New immigrants are typically less than charitable toward such individuals, but to be fair- their perspective is that of having showed up in this country with just a suitcase and then building a life for themselves within just a few years. It is inconceivable to these new citizens to see an American who would live in such a state, when the solution to all their problems is “work”, an opportunity not available or perhaps denied in their countries of origin.

from wikipedia

The term sin-eater refers to a person who, through ritual means, would take on by means of food and drink the sins of a deceased person, thus absolving his or her soul and allowing that person to rest in peace. In the study of folklore sin-eating is considered a form of religious magic.

This ritual is said to have been practised in parts of England and Scotland, and allegedly survived until modern times in Wales. Traditionally, it is performed by a beggar and certain villages maintained their own sin-eaters. They would be brought to the dying person’s bedside, where a relative would place a crust of bread on the breast of the dying and pass a bowl of ale to him over the corpse. After praying or reciting the ritual, he would then drink and remove the bread from the breast and eat it, the act of which would remove the sin from the dying person and take it into himself.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The fellow pictured above, a “regular” along Northern Blvd., is actually quite mad. I’ve spoken to him- he calls me “Mr. Camera Lens Man”. Back in my merciless youth, a time when I scorned weakness and foreswore empathy, individuals who exhibited similar appearance and behavior were christened Shipwreck Victims. They appear to have been deposited on the sidewalk by some titanic wave, mournfully lost in a foreign city. For many years, I lived on the corner of 100th and Broadway in Manhattan, and the neighborhood had a colorful cast of mendicants.

from nypirg.org

  • In its 1998 survey of 30 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that the homeless population was 49% African-American, 32% Caucasian, 12% Hispanic, 4% Native American, and 3% Asian (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1998).
  • 46% of cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1998).
  • Research indicates that 40% of homeless men have served in the armed forces, as compared to 34% of the general adult male population (Rosenheck, Robert, Homeless Veterans, in Homelessness in America, 1996).
  • Approximately 20-25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (Koegel, Paul, The Causes of Homelessness, Homelessness in America, 1996, Oryx Press.). According to the Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, only 5-7% of homeless persons with mental illness require institutionalization; most can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options (Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, 1992).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Larry “the Wild Man” Hogue haunted 96th street, terrifying residents and attacking random passerby- the Police had him on a revolving door version of jail. This was, of course, before Rudy Giuliani defined the Bill of Rights as containing no provision guaranteeing the right to sleep in the street.

There was Raggedy Andy, who suffered from AIDS, and would tell you as a matter of fact that he didn’t want handout money for food, he was going to use it to buy crack. Andy was meant to take the homeless bus every night to a medical dorm at Riker’s Island, to get his antibiotics for the various infections afflicting his skeletal frame, but the trip from the upper west side would deliver him there at 2:30 AM and wake up was at 6 so he only went 3-4 times a week (or so he said). The original “ship wreck victim”, along with “the suffering man” and my 80 year old friend Bent Willette (who was on heroin since the 1930’s- an astounding run- in her 70’s she started doing crack to “stay alert”) worked the 96th street and Broadway subway stop. On the east side, my pal Ricky lived behind the basketball game in a Third Avenue Irish bar, working for drinks as a bar back and signing his social security check over to the owner as rent for the pile of rags he slept on. An NYU student dormitory is there now.

from the nydailynews.com site, dated May 30, 2009

Larry Hogue, a drug-addicted wacko who terrorized Upper West Siders in the 1990s, strolled away from the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens on Thursday.

The notorious hell-raiser was arrested “without incident” in his old stomping grounds Saturday morning after being spotted on 96th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam, cops said.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In the angle between Astoria and Woodside, all along the LIRR tracks- I observe long established homeless camps. There’s a well developed one on Shore Road by Astoria Park at the river bank, down at the bottom of the wall. LIC’s empty corridor, and all along Borden Avenue as it tracks toward the hallowed altitude of Calvary sustains a large population of tyvek tents. A few weeks ago I showed you the Black Crow’s nest at Dutch Kill’s Borden Avenue Bridge, and a while back ran a few shots of the troll who lives up the block (he does live under a bridge).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making fun of these people, or making light of their desperate plight or calling for the massive powers of the government to do anything at all. Most of the homeless guys (especially guys) that I know are square pegs, or addicted to something, or stark raving mad. This is one of those societal “things” that cannot be fixed, and its a problem as old as civilization. See, the problem is that this population resists being “civilized” (read civilized as a verb) which they perceive as living in a prison. As always, no moral overlays- not good nor bad- just “is”.

Build all the shelters you want to, but all that Raggedy Andy wanted was to just get high and be left alone, especially when it was snowing.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 25, 2010 at 11:20 am

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