The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for June 2010

guilty agony

with 6 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Reeling from the implications of those utterances which- I must have imagined- were experienced in DUPBO, I scuttled fiercely away, hoping to reorient myself toward pursuits and thought patterns more comfortable, wholesome, and safe…

I headed for the long corridor that will connect to the Hunters Point South development, along that industrial roadway which begins at the old Vernon Avenue Bridge and which is defined by those ancient rail yards of the LIRR which lie just beyond the fences.

Along the way, Al Smith’s monument served as a polestar of navigation and material consistency throughout the swirling of my thoughts, as I drifted along numbly imagining that my name was being called from the direction of the Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

The Cotard delusion or Cotard’s syndrome or Walking Corpse Syndrome, also known as nihilistic or negation delusion, is a rare neuropsychiatric disorder in which people hold a delusional belief that they are dead (either figuratively or literally), do not exist, are putrefying, or have lost their blood or internal organs. Rarely, it can include delusions of immortality.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Visible from storied Greenpoint, a group of small boats illegally utilize the former bridge landing as an ad hoc marina, and there was a group of men climbing over the crumbling cement to access one of them. Their presence disturbed me, and I wondered if their party’s appearance was not accidental, but rather something covert.

Oh, why did I open that letter, the one whose dire message will forever rob me of peaceful sleep and whose implications have penetrated even into my dreams?

Seldom does good news arrive by postal missive, in my experience.

Deciding that these otherwise innocent characters might be a threat to me due to my gentle habits and extraordinary physical cowardice, I scuttled on.

from wikipedia

Cowardice, in general terms, is the perceived failure to demonstrate sufficient robustness in the face of a challenging situation. The term describes a personality trait which is viewed as a negative characteristic and has been frowned upon (see norms) within most, if not all global cultures, while courage, typically viewed as its direct opposite, is generally rewarded and encouraged.

Cowards are usually seen to have avoided or refused to engage in a confrontation or struggle which has been deemed good or righteous by the wider culture in which they live. On a more mundane level, the label may be applied to those who are regarded as too frightened or overwhelmed to defend their rights or those of others from aggressors in their lives.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As one moves from 54th avenue to 53rd, a pleasant enough scene awaits one observant to the ecstasies of old Long Island City’s low declination and squamously set building stock. Enormous in footprint, but small in height, the vast oceanic skies of the metropolitan archipelago peel open in the manner of some vast scroll framed by brick and fence.

The horizon becomes a three point perspective lesson, with a Shining City rising and occludes the horizon, over a River of Sound.

from wikipedia

In psychology, confabulation is the spontaneous narrative report of events that never happened. It consists of the creation of false memories, perceptions, or beliefs about the self or the environment usually as a result of neurological or psychological dysfunction. When it is a matter of memory, confabulation is the confusion of imagination with memory, or the confused application of true memories. Confabulations are difficult to differentiate from delusions and from lying. With respect to memory, wild confabulations about one’s past are rare in the absence of organic causes (e.g., brain damage), and the term “confabulation” is often restricted to these types of distortions. In contrast, even neurologically intact people are susceptible to memory errors or confusions due to psychological causes (see false memory).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast agglutiations of warehouse, distribution point, and industry can be observed here- best on a weekend as the place is quite busy and well populated during the week.

On weekend mornings, the curious indications of habitation by wandering mendicants are observed- bits of food, a worn shoe, or a soggy collection of windblown rags bearing an impression that suggests the shape of something very like a man. During winter months, the unremarked but obvious effects of camp fire upon ice is seen around discarded oil drums and other cast off containers.

from wikipedia

The core symptom of depersonalization disorder is the subjective experience of unreality, and as such there are no clinical signs. Common descriptions are: watching oneself from a distance; out-of-body experiences; a sense of just going through the motions; feeling as though one is in a dream or movie; not feeling in control of one’s speech or physical movements; and feeling detached from one’s own thoughts or emotions. Individuals with the disorder commonly describe a feeling as though time is ‘passing’ them by and they are not in the notion of the present. These experiences may cause a person to feel uneasy or anxious since they strike at the core of a person’s identity and consciousness.

Some of the more common factors that exacerbate dissociative symptoms are negative effects, stress, subjective threatening social interaction, and unfamiliar environments. Factors that tend to diminish symptoms are comforting interpersonal interactions, intense physical or emotional stimulation, and relaxation. Factors identified as relieving symptom severity such as diet, exercise, alcohol and fatigue, are listed by others as worsening symptoms.

Fears of going crazy, brain damage, and losing control are common complaints. Individuals report occupational impairments as they feel they are working below their ability, and interpersonal troubles since they have an emotional disconnection from those they care about. Neuropsychological testing has shown deficits in attention, short-term memory and spatial-temporal reasoning. Depersonalization disorder is associated with cognitive disruptions in early perceptual and attentional processes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Curious, the idiom of the place is purely functional, with vast sheets of cement and steel rebar flung about. Everywhere, slanted planes designed to accommodate trucking descend from the sidewalk into scummy puddles which collect at the bottom of the ramps. Fantastic machines which serve the cinema and television industries show just part of their arcane mechanisms over those great gates which occlude them.

from wikipedia

Akathisia may range in intensity from a mild sense of disquiet or anxiety, to a total inability to sit still, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, malaise, and severe dysphoria (manifesting as an almost indescribable sense of terror and doom). The condition is difficult for the patient to describe and is often misdiagnosed. When misdiagnosis occurs in antipsychotic neuroleptic-induced akathisia, more antipsychotic neuroleptics may be prescribed, potentially worsening the symptoms. High-functioning patients have described the feeling as a sense of inner tension and torment or chemical torture.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking south down second street, toward the mouth of the Newtown Creek where it congeals and mixes with the East River, and where the Hunters Point South project is in its earliest stages.

To the right is Water Taxi Beach’s new home, and the left looks nearly all the way back to the intersection of 54th and 53rd avenues. Behind me lies the beginnings of Tower Town, and the vast new constructions just beginning at 51st avenue.

This point, far from the Newtown Creek, is where I stopped imagining that gurgling auditory murmur that seemed to be repeating my name over and over.

from wikipedia

Emotional detachment in the first sense above often arises from psychological trauma and is a component in many anxiety and stress disorders. The person, while physically present, moves elsewhere in the mind, and in a sense is “not entirely present”, making them sometimes be seen as preoccupied or distracted. In other cases, the person may seem fully present but operate merely intellectually when emotional connection would be appropriate. This may present an extreme difficulty in giving or receiving empathy and can be related to the spectrum of narcissistic personality disorder.

Thus, such detachment is often not as outwardly obvious as other psychiatric symptoms; people with this problem often have emotional systems that are in overdrive. They have a hard time being a loving family member. They avoid activities, places, and people associated with any traumatic events they have experienced. The dissociation can also lead to lack of attention and, hence, to memory problems and in extreme cases, amnesia.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing 2nd street, I began to feel safer, and convinced myself that the vocalizations were mere hallucination. Often it is easier to consider oneself mad, than to confront the existential realities of the Newtown Pentacle head on. Sometimes it is better to just believe that you’re just crazy… that is what I was thinking as I headed for Tower Town, but I’m all ‘effed up.

Would that I had never opened that letter… nay… that it was ever delivered…

from Nietzsche’s Human, all too Human at wikisource

ART DANGEROUS TO THE ARTIST.— When art seizes violently on an individual it draws him back to the conceptions of those ages in which art flourished most mightily, and then it effects a retrogression in him. The artist acquires increasing reverence for sudden excitations, believes in gods and demons, instills a soul into nature, hates the sciences, becomes changeable of mood as were the men of antiquity and longs for an overthrowing of everything unfavorable to art, and he does this with all the vehemence and unreasonableness of a child. The artist is in himself already a retarded being, inasmuch as he has halted at games that pertain to youth and childhood: to this there is now added his gradual retrogression to earlier times. Thus there at last arises a violent antagonism between him and the men of his period, of his own age, and his end is gloomy; just as, according to the tales told in antiquity, Homer and Aeschylus at last lived and died in melancholia.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 30, 2010 at 3:17 am

isolated phenomena

with 7 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Would that I never opened that hated letter. Oh, unhappy act.

A cloak of comfortable ignorance would still drape your humble narrator, and this existential terror would not subsume every moment of my days. In no uncertain terms, a large and shadowy cabal has taken notice of this- your Newtown Pentacle- and focused their attentions upon me. Vast machinations, whose byzantine splendor indicates a guiding master hand, closes about my throat. Proof of it arrived just the other day…

I’m all ‘effed up.

from wikipedia

Schizophrenia is often described in terms of positive and negative (or deficit) symptoms. The term positive symptoms refers to symptoms that most individuals do not normally experience but are present in schizophrenia. They include delusions, auditory hallucinations, and thought disorder, and are typically regarded as manifestations of psychosis. Negative symptoms are things that are not present in schizophrenic persons but are normally found in healthy persons, that is, symptoms that reflect the loss or absence of normal traits or abilities. Common negative symptoms include flat or blunted affect and emotion, poverty of speech (alogia), inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), lack of desire to form relationships (asociality), and lack of motivation (avolition). Research suggests that negative symptoms contribute more to poor quality of life, functional disability, and the burden on others than do positive symptoms.

A third symptom grouping, the disorganization syndrome, is sometimes described, and includes chaotic speech, thought, and behavior. There is evidence for a number of other symptom classifications.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon receipt of that malign missive, delivered by a sturdy Postal Employee who claims his name is “Mr. Lee”, a fugue state came over me and solace was sought in sanguine familiarity.

Often, when subsumed by malignity in my thought process, your humble narrator seeks out the familiar- something quantifiable, knowable, and grand. Strapping on my camera, and setting my iPhone to a playlist heavy on early Patti Smith, I descended from the densely populated hills of Astoria and set off for the Newtown Creek.

By the time that my playlist had cycled through the first 20 songs, and hit the Mountain Goats song “Lovecraft in Brooklyn“, I was in DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp).

from wikipedia

Persecutory delusions, also known as querulant delusions, are the most common type of delusions.

The affected person believes they are being persecuted. Specifically, they have been defined as containing two central elements:

- The individual thinks that harm is occurring, or is going to occur,

- The individual thinks that the persecutor has the intention to cause harm.

- The perceived persecution may involve the theme of being followed, harassed, cheated, poisoned or drugged, conspired against, spied on, attacked, or obstructed in the pursuit of goals.

Sometimes the delusion is isolated and fragmented, but sometimes are well-organized belief systems involving a complex set of delusions (“systematized delusions”). People with a set of persecutory delusions may believe, for example, they are being followed by government organizations because the “persecuted” person has been falsely identified as a spy. These systems of beliefs can be so broad and complex that they can explain everything that happens to the person.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The roaring silence of the place, which normally enhances the wonders observed in this forgotten and lonely angle between Long Island City and Greenpoint, did not comfort me. Suddenly, I was pulling the ear buds from my sense organs, as I perceived an antiphonal muttering that sounded like the hebraic ritual name assigned to me by prelates at the coming of age ceremonies well known to even Gentile readers.

Of course, it was just the coincidence of aural background sounds, the vast traffic flow and heavy infrastructure all around DUPBO causes everything around to vibrate slightly creating a sustained field of infrasound that is just beyond the limits of human auditory capabilities. I’m sure an Elephant or Cetacean could tell us what it sounds like, if only we could understand their languages.

from wikipedia

The ancient world viewed hallucinations as it did most of the natural world, with awe and superstition. As such, it was viewed as either a gift or curse by God, or the gods (depending on the specific culture). The oracles of ancient Greece were known to experience auditory hallucinations while breathing in certain neurologically active vapors, while the more pervasive delusions and symptomology were often viewed as possession by demonic forces as punishment for misdeeds.

Treatments

Treatment in the ancient world is ill documented, but there are some cases of therapeutics being used to attempt treatment, while the common treatment was sacrifice and prayer in an attempt to placate the gods. The Dark Ages saw the most horrific accounts where the suffered of auditory hallucinations were subjected to trepanning or trial as a witch. In other cases of extreme symptomology individuals were seen as being reduced to animals by a curse, these individuals were either left on the streets or imprisoned in insane asylums. It was the latter response that eventually led to modern psychiatric hospitals.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking around me, only the poetry of the street stood, and I experienced goose bumps despite the sultry climes suffered by all New Yorkers that day. I imagined that… it must have been an imagining… a mind fever brought on by dehydration or thermal exhaustion… I imagined, damn it- imagined- that I heard a heavy splash in the waters of Newtown Creek, just over the wall separating DUPBO from its waterline…

I will not admit to it, running, except to say that I scuttled away… quickly, and set my iPhone to periodically email my location to Our Lady of the Pentacle should the need arise for her to attempt to find my remains.

from wikipedia

Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli and a constant scanning of the environment for threats. Hypervigilance can be a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder and various types of anxiety disorder. It is distinguished from paranoia. Paranoid states, such as those in schizophrenia can seem superficially similar, but are in fact characteristically different.

Hypervigilance is differentiated from dysphoric hyperarousal in that the person remains cogent and aware of his surroundings. In dysphoric hyperarousal the PTSD victim may lose contact with reality and re-experience the traumatic event verbatim. Where there have been multiple traumas, a person may become hypervigilant and suffer severe anxiety attacks intense enough to induce a delusional state where the effect of the traumas overlap: e.g. one remembered firefight may seem too much like another for the person to maintain calm. This can result in the thousand yard stare.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 29, 2010 at 4:14 am

bazaars in the dusk

leave a comment »

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Mrs. Softee is lonely during the torrid nights, and wonders for whom her man plays his song, knowing that Mister Softee is no damn good.

One of the many occupations enjoyed by your humble narrator (who started working at 7, shining shoes in a mafioso barber shop in 1980’s Brooklyn) was as a Good Humor man. I drove one of the old fashioned trucks, the kind with the little door on the back, and wore the white uniform with a little change maker on the belt. I’ve also worked as a dish washer, pancake cook, supermarket cart and bag boy, aquarium service man, film store clerk, corporate drone, drawn and written comic books, been a fine art mover, advertising studio technician, photo retoucher- once I even took a job shoveling a seven foot by 20 foot pile of dog shit into plastic bags.

Good Humor man is still my favorite.

from wikipedia

Good Humor is an American brand of ice cream novelties sold from ice cream trucks as well as stores and other retail outlets. Originally, Good Humors were chocolate coated ice cream bars on a stick, but the line was expanded over the years to include a wide range of novelties. The Good Humor company started in Youngstown, Ohio during the early 1920s and covered most of the country by the mid 1930s. Good Humor became a fixture in American popular culture, and at its peak in the 1950s, the company operated 2,000 “sales cars”.

In 1961, Good Humor was acquired by Thomas J. Lipton, the U.S. subsidiary of the international Unilever conglomerate. Profits declined when the baby boomers aged and costs increased because of labor issues, gasoline and insurance. The company sold its fleet in 1978, but continued to distribute its products through grocery stores and independent street vendors. By 1984, Good Humor returned to profitability. Starting in 1989, Unilever expanded Good Humor through its acquisition of Gold Bond Ice Cream that included the Popsicle brand. Four years later, Unilever bought Isaly Klondike and the Breyers Ice Cream Company. Good Humor-Breyers is now a large producer of branded ice cream and frozen novelties with nine plants around the country.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A two man operation, the little white truck had actual bells which you’d ring while the other guy drove. It was a one man truck, but for safety reasons, was staffed by two. We’d drive around our route in Canarsie, ringing the bells and drawing the attention of children- who would begin a St. Vitus dance at the merest hint of the sound. Part of the job was to drive slow, allowing the kids to beg for money from their parents, who were generally arranged on folding chairs in front of their homes drinking red wine from a soda glass with floating ice cubes. Vulnerable to their kids, single dollars would be produced and their progeny would jet toward our position, which was mid block, to allow maximum sales. A good night would witness kids a couple of blocks away at the curb waiting.

Ka-chinng.

goodhumortrucks.com has some restrictions attached to their content, so I’m not going to provide the cursory quotation here, but will instead direct you to click here to see what a Good Humor Truck looked like.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One night, my friend- whose great claim to fame at that time was that he was able to grow a full mustache- pointed out that Mr. Softee had entered our route and was pilfering sales from us by advancing to that next block and arriving there while we were serving the strawberry shortcake, chocolate eclair, toasted almond, and creamsicle pops from our freezer on the first. We instituted a chase, screaming over the roar of our engine, and soon found ourselves in a high speed chase on the service roads which follow the course of the Belt Parkway (which allowed no commercial vehicles). Of course, Ice Cream trucks of the era lost much of their potential motility to the compressors which kept the goods frozen and we never actually got moving much faster than 35 mph. Past Kings Plaza, Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island, Bay Ridge, and under the Gowanus- Mr. Softee evaded us- but we endeavored to serve our revenge cold.

Cold is best, when you’re a Good Humor Man bent on beating Mr. Softee to a pulp.

from wikipedia

Mister Softee is a United States-based ice cream truck franchisor popular in the Northeast. It was founded by William and James Conway (Oct. 30, 1927 – May 28, 2006) in 1956 in Philadelphia. It is one of the largest franchisor of soft ice cream in the United States. It has about 350 franchisees operating 600 trucks in 15 states. The company is headquartered in Runnemede, New Jersey. It is still run by the Conway family; James Conway, Jr. is now President.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Softee lost us somewhere around Williamsburg (a horrible part of town in the 1980’s), and our efforts at vengeance were stymied. Nearly out of fuel, with steam rising threateningly from under the hood, we were forced to swallow our pride and mourn the profits lost. Our adolescent hearts did not consider the confectionary disappointment of the children of Canarsie.

The pattern that we had established, my friend and I, was that he would pick up the truck at the yard and return it for a greater share of the night’s take. He would pick me up at my parent’s house and drop me off at the end of the shift, but as we were quite close to the yard, that night we went together.

That was the first night that I helped bring the truck back to its yard, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was the first time I entered storied Greenpoint and experienced that ribbon of sense shattering abnormality called the Newtown Creek.

from amny.com

Mister Softee isn’t just dispensing vanilla ice cream this summer, he’s also trying to dish out soft-serve justice to cone-head wannabes.

Mister Softee distributors aren’t soft or sweet when it comes to rogue franchisees who routinely rip off the company’s trademarks without paying the licensing fees.

They hire private investigators to tail imposters and send the U.S. Marshals Service to tow offending trucks. They even spend tens of thousands of dollars every year to sue about 40 truck owners for lifting the cone-head logo, the white-and-blue color scheme and the jingle.

“These guys are mobile,” said Peter Bouzio, the Mister Softee distributor for the Bronx and Manhattan. “It’s an uphill battle.”In midtown Thursday, an ice cream truck called “Softee Treats” infringed on Mister Softee’s trademark, according to the company’s lawyer.

“I’m not Mister Softee, nowhere on my truck does it say Mister Softee,” shouted the ice cream vendor, who declined to give his name.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 28, 2010 at 2:21 am

Project Firebox 6

leave a comment »

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The monstrous pride of this hold out from an earlier day serves sentinel duty on Vernon Blvd., near that point where the ancient path intersects with 44th avenue and curves south. A seller of ornate garden stones and ceramic artifices sits securely behind its steely gaze, and it was undoubtedly the good natured industry of that facility’s owners that created the decorative sidewalk which lends this Firebox its panache. Surely, it cannot just be the backdrop of the Shining City beyond?

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 27, 2010 at 12:52 am

a sea of roots

with one comment

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Obliviated by exposure to the volatile climate of New York City, this cruciform statue adorns the small chapel found nearby the Johnston Mausoleum in First Calvary Cemetery. Depicting the latin, or suffering Christ, the affectation of its artificer in the choice of wood for its construction is both noted and appreciated. Raised in the Hebrew faith, your humble narrator abstains from ritual and dogma as an adult, and instead prefers to believe that every thing is true if one believes in it hard enough. Thor, Buddha, the Orishas, all true.

Atheism is a religion as well- a cohesive and dogmatic system of belief with absolute truths and undeniable heresies. It’s all magick, this jumping about and chest beating we call religion.

My personal world view and moral compass, of course, is built around the simple question “what would Superman do? or WWSD?” Measuring against this rubric, I must always come up short. Superman would have found Gilman by now, but he has x-ray eyes after all. I’m all ‘effed up.

Note: an interesting counterpoint to the suffering of the Latin Christ is the Hellenic “Christ as Athlete” tradition. This photo is from a Cretan church I visited a while back, it’s in a former fishing village called Kalives- notice the physicality and robust physique of the Eastern Christ in comparison to the mendicant like interpretations of the West. The Byzantine tradition focuses a great deal more on the power of the redeemed and revealed godhead, rather than dwelling on its  journey “through the meat” that ends on Golgotha.

from wikipedia

Western crucifixes may show Christ dead or alive, the presence of the spear wound in his ribs traditionally indicating that he is dead. In either case his face very often shows his suffering. In Orthodoxy he has normally been shown as dead since around the end of the period of Byzantine Iconoclasm. Eastern crucifixes have Jesus’ two feet nailed side by side, rather than crossed one above the other, as Western crucifixes have showed them for many centuries. The crown of thorns is also generally absent in Eastern crucifixes, since the emphasis is not on Christ’s suffering, but on his triumph over sin and death. The “S”-shaped position of Jesus’ body on the cross is a Byzantine innovation of the late 10th century, though also found in the German Gero Cross of the same date. Probably more from Byzantine influence, it spread elsewhere in the West, especially to Italy, by the Romanesque period, though it was more usual in painting than sculpted corpuses. Since the Renaissance the “S”-shape is generally much less pronounced. Eastern Christian blessing crosses will often have the Crucifixion depicted on one side, and the Resurrection on the other, illustrating the understanding of Orthodox theology that the Crucifixion and Resurrection are two intimately related aspects of the same act of salvation.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Whether decided by landscape design or geology, there are a series of steep hills at Calvary. Early maps and 19th century illustrations detail this land as quite hilly even before 1848, when the Rt. Rev. Bishop Hughes solemnly blessed and consecrated this place- formerly part of the Alsop plantation- as Calvary Cemetery on the 27th of July. The Alsops are still here, resting in a narrow plot of Protestant loam fenced off from the rest of the place. The deal that the Catholic Church struck with the family for the land stipulated that the protestant Alsop section must be maintained in perpetuity, and its organs have maintained the ancient agreement- rumor states that this is the only Protestant section to be found in a Catholic cemetery upon the Earth.

from junipercivic.com

The male children of the first Richard Alsop, Thomas, Richard and John, became prominent in the legal profession and mercantile life. The children of the second Richard adhered to the ancestral seat in Newtown and married into the Sacketts, the Brinckerhoffs the Whiteheads, the Fisks, the Woodwards and the Hazzards – names now extinct save as they appear on the tombstones, many of which are sadly neglected. The Alsop Cemetery is within Calvary Cemetery, which absorbed all of the property, and is thus certain of receiving proper care. The owner in trust of the reservation is William Alsop, the only living lineal descendant, who resides in New York at present, but for a great many years had his abode in Florida. The family relics have disappeared almost entirely. The only thing that remains to be cherished is an old clock, which is in the remaining descendant’s possession. The house itself, two centuries and a quarter old, has now disappeared forever.

The yellow fever epidemic of 1798 made havoc in the Alsop household, and two tombstones mark the graves of the victims, one of whom was Elizabeth Fish, the widow of Jonathan Fish. She was the widow of the grandfather of President Grant’s Secretary of State. Several slaves died of the contagion, and one at least called Venus, on account of her remarkable beauty, was buried in the family plot. The graves were made ready before death, and no coffins were used. The bodies were merely wrapped in the infected cloths, saturated with pitch and tar, and hastily interred. The slaves’ graves are not marked by stick or stone, because the custom of that time forbade it. The house at one time occupied by Peter Donohue, near the side entrance of Calvary, at Blissville, was built by Thomas Alsop, the father of William. Eventually, it fell into the hands of Paul Rapelyea. The farm surrounding it was part of the Alsop estate, derived from the marriage of Thomas Wandell with the widow Herrick, who owned it in 1750.

After the death of Richard Alsop in 1790, the property was divided between the sons, John and Thomas. John retained the old homestead, and Thomas received the Blissville section. John Alsop died in April 1837, and his widow sold the property to a corporation, and it now embraced in Calvary. John Alsop left no children. Thomas, his brother, married Catherine Brinckerhoff, the daughter of George, a Revolutionary patriot residing at Dutch Kills. A British officer, Finlay McKay, cut his name on a pane of glass in the old Brinckerhoff house in 1776, and it remains there to this day. The well on the Alsop property, which was sunk at the time the mansion was built, still supplies water to many families in the neighborhood. The house was one hundred feet long, and the first floor was divided into four rooms, with a hallway eighteen feet wide. Two round windows, resembling port holes, were cut in the ends of the building in 1776 by Lord Cornwallis for musket practice, and as lookouts to guard against surprise. The chimney place, around which the slaves need to gather, had the capacity of receiving logs of wood ten feet in length. Rufus King married Mary Alsop. He died at Jamaica in 1827. Of this union came John Alsop King, who was Governor of this state from 1857 to 1859.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Johnston Mausoleum is surely the grandest structure, beyond the ceremonial chapel of the Cemetery itself, to be found here at First Calvary. Smaller tombs and mausolea ring the hillsides, as do vaults whose gated entry points hide tunneled corridors which burrow into the earth to unknown depths. The shot above, for instance, was captured while standing on the earthworks which bury just such a vault. Just as every other form of city, the Necropolis maintains infrastructure. Calvary has its own sewer system, roads, and irrigation channels. A vast buried culvert underlies the place, providing drainage for this formerly swamped valley of the shadow. Who can guess, what it is, that might be buried down there?

from wikisource.org, “How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis

Life in the tenements in July and August spells death to an army of little ones whom the doctor’s skill is powerless to save. When the white badge of mourning flutters from every second door, sleepless mothers walk the streets in the gray of the early dawn, trying to stir a cooling breeze to fan the brow of the sick baby. There is no sadder sight than this patient devotion striving against fearfully hopeless odds. Fifty “summer doctors,” especially trained to this work, are then sent into the tenements by the Board of Health, with free advice and medicine for the poor. Devoted women follow in their track with care and nursing for the sick. Fresh-air excursions run daily out of New York on land and water; but despite all efforts the grave-diggers in Calvary work over-time, and little coffins are stacked mountains high on the deck of the Charity Commissioners’ boat when it makes its semi-weekly trips to the city cemetery.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Disturbing subsidences aside, there is obviously an expensive schedule of groundskeeping kept here, despite the ravages wrought upon the statuary and monuments by the acid rain and corrosive miasma which arises from the nearby Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Newtown Creek’s industrial activity. In all the time I’ve spent here, peaceful rustications of devastating loneliness, not once have I ever noted “the colour” which is both odd and remarkable. The pernicious influence of that otherworldly iridescence does not seem to penetrate the fencelines of Calvary. Perhaps it is hallowed, this ground, and the working invocations of Dagger John still protect this place from that which lies beyond its gates.

from wikipedia

John Joseph Hughes (June 24, 1797—January 3, 1864) was an Irish-born clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, serving between 1842 and his death in 1864.

A native of Northern Ireland, Hughes came to the United States in 1817, and became a priest in 1826 and a bishop in 1838. A figure of national prominence, he exercised great moral and social influence, and presided over a period of explosive growth for Catholicism in New York. He was regarded as “the best known, if not exactly the best loved, Catholic bishop in the country.” He also became known as “Dagger John” for his practice of signing his name with a dagger-like cross, as well as for his aggressive personality.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Proverbial, the needle in a haystack your humble narrator seeks is the grave of a certain man, named Gilman. Engendering frustratingly unproductive journeys to dangerously obscure corners of the City of Greater New York in the name of finding a certain document, which might be used as a cypher to decode the ancient graveyards mysteries, my searching for Gilman is frustrated. Your humble narrator has been reduced to performing a visual census, wandering the place looking for his name recorded in stone.

from archny.org

Our Catholic Cemeteries have a history as old as the catacombs.  Early in the development of our Catholic tradition, our forefathers in the Faith found the ministry of burial of the dead to be most important.  From the catacombs, where early Christians met secretly in prayer and entombed the mortal remains of the early martyrs, to today where the Archdiocesan cemeteries serve the needs of the millions of Catholics located in the greater New York area, our Catholic cemeteries silently bear witness to the respect we give the human body, even in death, because of its status as Temple of the Holy Spirit.  Our Catholic cemeteries, filled with artistic expressions of our religious traditions, provide an environment of comfort in times of sorrow and are meant to continually remind us that Jesus Christ promised one day we would all be together in the Eternal Life of Resurrection.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

By 1900, nearly three quarters of a million people were buried here. Today, millions of interments are recorded. Many of these gravesites, according to Catholic tradition, represent a multiplicity of individual burials. Many of the stones and markers which once adorned these family plots are gone- destroyed or misplaced by careless workers, vandals, or in some cases lightning. Whatever records there are, maps and charts of the place, are sealed and vouchsafed by the bishops- who state categorically that the history of Calvary is no one’s business but that of those who are resident there. Frustrated, is my search for Gilman- by the sudden realization that the word “Gilman” was used during the 19th century as a given name- as well as surname.

from wikipedia, another Gilman with no tangible relation to the enigmatic Massachusetts man…

Henry Gilman (May 9, 1893, – November 7, 1986) was an American organic chemist known as the father of organometallic chemistry, the field within which his most notable work was done. He discovered the Gilman reagent, which bears his name…

For a short time after receiving his Ph.D., Henry Gilman worked an associate professor at the University of Illinois after being invited by his former instructor Roger Adams. In 1919, Gilman moved on to become an assistant professor in charge of organic chemistry at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now Iowa State University). At the age of 30, Gilman was given the title of full professor. While at Iowa State College, Gilman met Ruth V. Shaw, a student of his first-year organic chemistry class, and the two were married in 1929.

Gilman had high expectations for his graduate students, and it often took them more than twice as long as the norm to earn their degrees. They were expected to work in the research lab well into the night and on weekends. Gilman was known for frequently visiting the lab during the day and questioning each student as to what they had accomplished since his last visit. Gilman had another common practice for his graduate students. He would not assign a research project for his graduate students, but he would push students to produce a series of preparations. Students would write short publications that would spark ideas about additional experiments to perform, drawing all the material together to form a central thesis.

During his career, Gilman consulted for many companies such as Quaker Oats and DuPont, although he continued as a professor at Iowa State University, as it came to be known. At the usual retirement age of 70, at that time, Gilman chose not to retire from Iowa State University and remained active in research until 1975 when he was 82 years old.

World War II brought new opportunities for Gilman to do research for the government. He took part in the Manhattan Project, which was the code name for the government’s work on the atom bomb. Gilman concentrated on preparing volatile uranium derivatives, mainly dealing with alkoxides.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Gilman… where is Gilman?

tyranny of the now

leave a comment »

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever I notice that employees of Con Ed have opened the street and descended into their hidden vaults- especially on a hot summer day- I can’t help but remember the Astoria blackout of 2006. A week long event of flickering lights and municipal indifference, it exposed the ancient skeletal superstructure upon which the modern city’s flesh hangs, and shattered the mythologies of the “now”.

Something about having witnessed blue light and yellow smoke pouring out from manhole covers changes the way you think about the City, and to quote an old 1980’s aphorism- “people just walk around like they’re safe or something”.

from wikipedia

The cause of the outages – which was undetermined for five days – appeared to be the company’s decision to continue supplying power to the 400,000 people serviced by twenty-two feeder cables after ten of them had failed, overloading the remaining twelve. After these were repaired, a manhole-to-manhole inspection and repair of smaller cables which had also burned took place. Consolidated Edison was due to make an initial status report, regarding the outage, on August 2, 2006. Data submitted by Con Edison in August, 2006 indicated that the failed feeder cables had been in service an average of 16 years, with the oldest failed cable 59 years old.

For the official CONED report on the event- which is a highly technical document, click here

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Astoria

Tagged with

ratstravaganza or “I am not that demon swineherd”

with one comment

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The voice was familiar, polished by Marlboro and inflected by origin and experience in Astoria, when it asked “Do you want to take pictures of rats… I mean a whole lot of rats?”. One of my buddies, employed by a mid size garbage haulage company based in Maspeth, described the scene to me in lurid detail- when his trucks returned to the garage from a weekly garbage run (they normally specialize in certain recyclable materials, but also handle organics) rats would pour out of them and claim free reign over the enormous structure for a few hours. A home grown colony of rats, as well, were known to come spilling out of the walls when the lights went down.

from wikipedia, and note- this isn’t the company “waste management”, just the subject

Waste management is the collection, transport, processing, recycling or disposal, and monitoring of waste materials. The term usually relates to materials produced by human activity, and is generally undertaken to reduce their effect on health, the environment or aesthetics. Waste management is also carried out to recover resources from it. Waste management can involve solid, liquid, gaseous or radioactive substances, with different methods and fields of expertise for each.

Waste management practices differ for developed and developing nations, for urban and rural areas, and for residential and industrial producers. Management for non-hazardous residential and institutional waste in metropolitan areas is usually the responsibility of local government authorities, while management for non-hazardous commercial and industrial waste is usually the responsibility of the generator.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Dark and effluent, the garage is a multiple acre building with 40-50 foot ceilings and cinder block walls. Industrial equipment is installed directly into concrete flooring, and in places there are pits and deep channels that allow the automated equipment room to operate. An amiable Brooklynite agreed to accompany me around the place, and steer me from hazardous drops familiar to him after a life time of occupation at the facility. I had to rely on flash photography and high ISO settings, as the quick moving rodents shied away from any attempt at lighting.

from wikipedia

Rats are known to burrow extensively, both in the wild and in captivity, if given access to a suitable substrate. Rats generally begin a new burrow adjacent to an object or structure, as this provides a sturdy “roof” for the section of the burrow nearest to the ground’s surface. Burrows usually develop to eventually include multiple levels of tunnels, as well as a secondary entrance. Older male rats will generally not burrow, while young males and females will burrow vigorously.

Burrows provide rats with shelter and food storage as well as safe, thermoregulated nest sites. Rats use their burrows to escape from perceived threats in the surrounding environment—for example, rats will retreat to their burrows following a sudden, loud noise or while fleeing an intruder. Burrowing can therefore be described as a “pre-encounter defensive behavior”, as opposed to a “post-encounter defensive behavior”, such as flight, freezing, or avoidance of a threatening stimulus.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Scurriers abound in this cairn of municipal waste management, which is built in the industrial heartland of the Newtown Creek. Concentric layers of factory and mill are pancaked beneath the structures that have survived into modernity. Beneath the ground, collapsed crawl spaces and forgotten pipelines rifle through the poison soil. Memory of these voids beneath Maspeth is long dead, and the architectural plans that detail their course have long since turned to dust… or have been recycled.

from wikipedia

Industrial archaeology, like other branches of archaeology, is the study of material culture from the past, but with a focus on industry. Strictly speaking, industrial archaeology includes sites from the earliest times (such as prehistoric copper mining in the British Peak District) to the most recent (such as coal mining sites in the UK closed in the 1980s). However, since large-scale industrialisation began only in the eighteenth century it is often understood to relate to that and later periods. Industrial archaeologists aim to record and understand the remains of industrialisation, including the technology, transport and buildings associated with manufacture or raw material production. Their work encompasses traditional archaeology, engineering, architecture, economics and the social history of manufacturing/extractive industry as well as the transport and utilities sector.

The term ‘industrial archaeology’ was coined in the 1950s in Birmingham, England by Michael Rix (academic) although its meaning and interpretation has changed. Its development as a separate subject was further stimulated by the campaign to save the Euston Arch. Palmer and Neaverson (Industrial Archaeology Principles and Practice, 1998) defined it as: “the systematic study of structures and artefacts as a means of enlarging our understanding of the industrial past.”

Initially practiced largely by amateurs, it was at first looked down upon by professional archaeologists. However, it has now been welcomed into mainstream archaeology. Since the timeframe of study is usually relatively recent, industrial archaeology is often (but not always) able to achieve a more reliable and absolute recording of past behaviour than is possible for the more remote past.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Urban explorers have brought reports of this underworld to the surface, but they will only discuss the subject after a series of stiff drinks. Following the natural course of water, voids in the subsurface are found and accessed through sewer and electrical utility vaults. Compass readings and radio telephony are impossible beneath the streets, and hushed allusions to a pair from East Williamsburg who are rumored to have never returned from the sepulchral depths verge on urban legend. As one proceeds closer to the Newtown Creek, vast middens of rats are mentioned, living amidst and in some cases feeding on an oozing black jelly whose vile smell vaguely suggests vaseline mixed with ham.

from wikipedia

Petroleum jelly, petrolatum or soft paraffin[1], CAS number 8009-03-8, is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons (with carbon numbers mainly higher than 25), originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties. Its folkloric medicinal value as a “cure-all” has since been limited by better scientific understanding of appropriate and inappropriate uses (see Uses below). However, it is recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an approved over-the-counter (OTC) skin protectant and remains widely used in cosmetic skin care.

The raw material for petroleum jelly was discovered in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, United States, on some of the country’s first oil rigs. Workers disliked the paraffin-like material forming on rigs because it caused them to malfunction, but they used it on cuts and burns because it hastened healing.

Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist whose previous work of distilling fuel from the oil of sperm whales had been rendered obsolete by petroleum, went to Titusville to see what new materials had commercial potential. Chesebrough took the unrefined black “rod wax”, as the drillers called it, back to his laboratory to refine it and explore potential uses. Chesebrough discovered that by distilling the lighter, thinner oil products from the rod wax, he could create a light-colored gel. Chesebrough patented the process of making petroleum jelly by U.S. Patent No. 127,568 in 1872. The process involved vacuum distillation of the crude material followed by filtration of the still residue through bone char.

Chesebrough traveled around New York demonstrating the product to encourage sales by burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle product.

He opened his first factory in 1870 in Brooklyn, United States. The brand name “Vaseline” has been anecdotally claimed to be from the German word for water, wasser (pronounced vahser), and the Greek word for oil, elaion, but this is unconfirmed.

The part of Brooklyn Chesebrough located his factory in, incidentally, was Red Hook and it was at Columbia and Delevan Streets.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My guide in the garage informed me that these rats were nearly impossible to control via the use of baited traps and poisons. It was his supposition that the whole place was poisoned, afflicted with some sort of chemical overdose, and pointed out the stunted trees that dot the area. I mentioned “the colour” and he said that was as good a name for it as any. He went on to say that the only thing which has alleviated the rat population in the garage at all is a raccoon which has taken up residence in the place.

That’s a raccoon, -which just showed up- in Maspeth, a few blocks from Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

The area known today as Maspeth was chartered by Dutch and English settlers in the mid-17th century. The Dutch had purchased land in the area known today as Queens in 1635, and within a few years began chartering towns. In 1642 they settled Maspat, under a charter granted to Rev. Francis Doughty. Maspat became the first European settlement in Queens.  The settlement was leveled the following year in an attack by Native Indians, and the surviving settlers returned to Manhattan. It wasn’t until nine years later, in 1652, that settlers ventured back to the area, settling an area slightly inland from the previous Maspat location. This new area was called Middleburg, and eventually developed into what is now the town of Elmhurst, bordering Maspeth. Following the immigration waves of the 19th century, Maspeth was home to a shanty town of Boyash (Ludar) Gypsies between 1925 and 1939, though this was eventually bulldozed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As we headed back for the office section of the facility, where my buddy awaited, my guide pointed out the cinder block wall and the apertures chewed through it by the rats. The rats are in the walls… there are rats in the walls, the rats… in… the… walls…

Just then, my buddy walked out and asked if I enjoyed my “ratstravaganza”.

from HP Lovecraft’s “Rats in the walls” at wikisource

When Dr Trask, the anthropologist, stopped to classify the skulls, he found a degraded mixture which utterly baffled him. They were mostly lower than the Piltdown man in the scale of evolution, but in every case definitely human. Many were of higher grade, and a very few were the skulls of supremely and sensitively developed types. All the bones were gnawed, mostly by rats, but somewhat by others of the half-human drove. Mixed with them were many tiny bones of rats — fallen members of the lethal army which closed the ancient epic.

I wonder that any man among us lived and kept his sanity through that hideous day of discovery. Not Hoffman nor Huysmans could conceive a scene more wildly incredible, more frenetically repellent, or more Gothically grotesque than the twilit grotto through which we seven staggered; each stumbling on revelation after revelation, and trying to keep for the nonce from thinking of the events which must have taken place there three hundred, or a thousand, or two thousand or ten thousand years ago. It was the antechamber of hell, and poor Thornton fainted again when Trask told him that some of the skeleton things must have descended as quadrupeds through the last twenty or more generations.

Horror piled on horror as we began to interpret the architectural remains. The quadruped things — with their occasional recruits from the biped class — had been kept in stone pens, out of which they must have broken in their last delirium of hunger or rat-fear. There had been great herds of them, evidently fattened on the coarse vegetables whose remains could be found as a sort of poisonous ensilage at the bottom of the huge stone bins older than Rome. I knew now why my ancestors had had such excessive gardens — would to heaven I could forget! The purpose of the herds I did not have to ask.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 19, 2010 at 4:41 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 880 other followers

%d bloggers like this: