The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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other objects

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Curiouser and curiouser.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been encountering these odd little offerings and altar pieces for a while now, here in the Astoria section of Queens. This post from March of 2014, and this one from 2011 illustrate and speculate upon their origins and purpose. The one pictured above was discovered in calendrical confluence with the celebrations of lunar new year that are practiced by many of the cultures hailing from Asia. Chinese New Year fell on April 19th in 2015, for instance, and the shots offered in today’s post were captured on the morning of the 20th.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As in prior instances and encounters with these… are they small altars, or offerings, or… All I can offer is a brief description without any interpretation or insight. They seem to be molded out of a doughy substance, several different doughy substances actually. This one was obviously disturbed and jostled – whether by the careless footfalls of passerby, or the curious examinations of some canine, I cannot say. The central figure was roughly hewn, and held a candle in its lap.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A block away on the same date, at 34th avenue’s intersection with 43rd street, this example was found. The workmanship seemed quite a bit more advanced, and it was entirely undisturbed. It’s facing essentially north west, if that might have any significance to somebody who knows what these things are. Speculations about prior sightings have pointed towards Latin American Santeria, but there’s no coins and I cannot imagine a Padrino using a plastic plate. Santeria practice would demand a “plate of great price.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What I’m seeing here is a sculptural tableau of some kind, and due to the proximity of lunar New Year, one likely connected to the traditions of Asia. Anybody out there recognize what these things are, and which culture they emanate from? Tibetan, maybe? If this looks familiar, please educate the rest of us and leave a comment for everyone else to read.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

these instruments

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It’s a real mess around these parts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

So, here’s the skinny – bulk pickup and recycling day in my part of Astoria is Monday. More specifically, we are meant to stock the curb with refuse on Sunday nights. This routinely means that the neighbors and myself end up sitting on the clear plastic bags for a week or so, as legal holidays in January and February usually fall on a Monday. Problem is that snow storms seem to come on Sundays too, which further interrupts bulk and recycling pickup. Accordingly, there are mountains of garbage both within and on top of the mountains of rock hard ice lining the sidewalk. To wit, pictured above is a piece of what my friend Heather over at newyorkshitty.com would refer to as “feral furniture” found on Broadway. It’s sitting on top of a glaciated pile of recyclables.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite Christmas having come and gone some two months ago, holiday trees keep turning up on the pavement. This rather creative use of the corner waste pail was shot just last week, for instance. I don’t call these things the Astoria Tumbleweeds for nothing, y’know. My neighbor, a laconic Croatian lady who believes that cracking a smile might be deadly, simply offers that “it’s terrible” and blames the Mayor.

I don’t blame the Mayor, because the entire country seems to have been damned to Viking Hell (or more accurately “Hel”) and I don’t think that’s his fault. The Mayor is very tall, however, and just might be a Storm Giant (a Jotun),so he might be somehow complicit in the whole Viking Hell thing after all.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This Astoria Tumbleweed just revealed itself to me on Tuesday, emerging along with a pile of newspapers from a sunlit section of the ice pack. It’s actually sort of grim, seeing a Christmas Tree – in February – which has been preserved in the sidewalk ice. One half expects a Wooly Mammoth to be found over on 19th avenue or something.

Reflecting on the recent cold snap, my thoughts turned first to Rankin Bass Christmas specials (because of the Tumbleweeds, I suppose) which featured the brothers Heat and Cold Miser. That led to wondering about the famous “hundred words for snow” which are attributed to the Inuit peoples of the Arctic, and why there are comparatively so few adjectives attached to winter weather, as opposed to the rich tapestry available for summer. You never hear someone say “yeah, but it’s a dry cold” or “it’s not that cold, temperature wise, but Oy it’s so humid.” Winter has a lot of Germanic sounding ones – bitter, biting, brutal.

What do I know, I’m freezing and there’s frozen garbage everywhere.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 19, 2015 at 11:00 am

somehow managed

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Some archive shots, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One surprising thing, as revealed by a recent spurt of ultra violent propaganda videos offered by certain extremist groups, is how easy it is to behead a human being. These terrorist fellows are using kitchen knives, it seems. I’ve known a couple of people who were employed as butchers, of the beef and pork sort, and they were fiendishly strong but man – those cabezas really just seem to pop right off with minimal effort. It seems like the only thing that poses any sort of resistance in the neck is the spine, which is sort of interesting to me. I once had a tooth extraction that went on for more than an hour back in the early 90’s, one which saw a stout 250 pound Hasidic Dentist prying the thing out of my head with a weirdly shaped set of pliers in some Brooklyn basement office over in Midwood. In retrospect, he could have had the whole head off in a few seconds, rather than just taking a piece out of it.

BTW, Here’s a NYC tip for you from a lifer - if you have to get a tooth pulled on New Years Day or Christmas, Hasidic Dentists don’t observe these holidays and they will generally be open or available to see you. The beard can be weird, especially with a Dentist, but my guy was wearing a hospital mask style bib over his.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The whole “beheading thing” however, has led me down a dark path while trying to research it. It seems that the reason northern European swords and Chinese Swords are generally pretty heavy is to bust the spine up whilst beheading. This led me to reading up on the whole “broken on the wheel” thing, and a general exploration of well known medieval practices that involve all sorts of ugly. All of this is horrifying of course, to a 21st century fellow who was lucky enough to have been born an American. The great thing about bullets, bombs, and all the other high tech goodies our culture utilizes to kill and behead is that we don’t have to get our hands all dirty.

Americans don’t chop off one head with some crappy kitchen knife, we blow a thousand heads off at a time in an increasingly accurate and cost effective manner. America is like Superman in many ways, the hardest part of any conflict is not utterly annihilating every living thing within the determined “kill box” and holding back from using all you’ve got.

Me, I’m a bit more Scipio Africanus in my outlook, and I happen to know where we can find large quantities of salt.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve been stabbed, slashed, gashed, lacerated, scraped – you name it – regardless, I still find it shocking how easy it seems to be take off ones head. Why the expense and bother of the Guillotine, then? Why does an executioner carry that ridiculous axe in Europe, or Scimitar in Turkey and Arabia? In China, they use a pistol, or the old bailey, I’m told.

Unfortunately, I did click on the link to watch that immolation video, which is freaking horrible. One thing that jumped at me, however, is that whoever put that thing together is a pretty talented video editor. Not necessarily Hollywood level, but pretty talented, but doomed. Apparently, Superman is coming.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 13, 2015 at 12:28 pm

unrecognizable pulp

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Subway thoughts, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The “R” is now one of the subway lines offering connectivity for cellular telephones, which I guess is somewhat handy for those last minute dinner negotiations with Our Lady of the Pentacle, but the presence of the beeping and chiming and people shouting into their phones distracts one such as myself from philosophizing. Doesn’t matter how crowded the train is, you’re always alone on the Subway, and that’s the only thing I ever really liked about the system. I miss those quiet moments where you could contemplate how and when you had screwed up that day, and had the opportunity to think about how “shit” your life has become. Now, it’s just more connectivity and distraction down there in the kingdom of the rats.

Conservatively speaking, I give it around ten years for the MTA to have figured out a way to pump location based advertising to your phone as you move from stop to stop. It’ll be an “opt in” scenario, which you’ll agree to automatically, by entering the system. This is the future, btw, and it’s going to seriously annoying. As you walk down the street, your phone is going to be buzzing away, bringing you personalized “beacon” based ads.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Subway thoughts often form in cascading waves, coinciding with the rising and falling tides of the suffering and apprehension which riding it brings. Accordingly, I budget my time for self recrimination to my commutes, which frees up the rest of the day for more profitable pursuits. That moment when one realizes that it is 5:45 and the R is approaching the always crowded 59/Lex station… Now, that’s a perfect interval to tear open emotional wounds, think about dead people, and examine ones recent mistakes, omissions, or screw ups. This way, when a monstrous crowd of sharp elbowed humans surges forth – you kind of feel like you deserve it.

Certain personal failings were paramount in my thoughts one recent evening, so when the “makeup girl” whipped out her phone and started playing some atonal ditty, and with “eat greasy stuff from a paper bag” lady and “so tired that I will lean against and sleep upon strangers” woman closing in around the pole I clung to, and along came “gigantic knapsack” man… the penitence for my sinful inadequacies seemed to be at hand. As they closed in around me, I thought of my beloved creek, which offers such a splendid isolation.

At least “Korean preacher who bad mouths gay people” guy wasn’t onboard, nor “Earwire,” or “Pretends to be a Gypsy with sick baby, but is really an Albanian with a borrowed and quite healthy niece” woman were also absent, and “Is anybody Hungry, I have sandwiches” man were nowhere to found.

It’s all so depressing, really.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Subway thoughts that mainly concern me, other than vague fear over the microscopic biota which populates the air and coats every surface within these traveling aluminum boxes, is purely one of puzzled annoyance. During warmer months, one has mentioned the charming MTA practice of only switching the air conditioning on when the train leaves Queens and enters Manhattan. The one that gets me during this frigid time of the year is actually the inverse, which is running the heat at full blast. Entering the system, from wintry streets above – I, for one – am clad in twenty nine pounds of insulating garments. From observation, I am not the only traveller who is so bundled, nor am I the only one who is visibly sweating after only one or two stops.

Good one there, MTA, good one.

As mentioned, you’re always alone on the Subway, even a crowded one. Me, I’m just always alone, and prefer to remain an outsider. No, really. I’d actually much rather be outside in the fresh air than trapped with all these humans on the train.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

typical denizen

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Beneath the sodium light of a salty moon.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Today, in 1881, the bleeding heart Russian author Dostoyevsky died from a triad of pulmonary hemorrhages. In 1913, a mysterious series of fireballs streaked across a 7,000 mile long patch of the night sky, which scientific opinion described as the break up of a previously unobserved natural Earth satellite – a tiny moon. It’s also Ash Monday, aka “Clean Monday,” which kicks off the liturgical calendar for Easter in certain variants of Christianity. Queensicans rejoice on February 9th, for on this day in 1956 – Mookie Wilson entered this world.

For me, it’s just Monday. I hate Mondays.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever it has been possible, as the weather has been decidedly antibiotic, one has engaged in the usual pursuit of hidden knowledge around the dustier sections of North Brooklyn and Western Queens. Most of the aforementioned objects of my interest have been a bit better hidden than usual, given the blanket of snow and ice which occludes the pavement. Luckily, the Real Estate Industrial Complex is at work in Greenpoint converting the toxic East River shoreline of that ancient village into a residential zone. A protective wall of condominiums will rise, ones so stout that they can protect neighborhood streets from fire and flood alike.

A few of them will be residential transformers, I imagine, able to turn into giant robots who will defend Greenpoint and Stuyvesant town against an attack. They will be known as CondoBots. That earth mover you see in the shot above? Yep, that’s a small one, and it calls itself Payloader.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The latest bit of hidden knowledge I’m working on, incidentally, is figuring out where all the hidden or filled in tributaries of Newtown Creek are or were. One branch of Maspeth Creek used to terminate at the locus of 58’s – avenue, street, road – nearby the Clinton or Goodfellas Diner. Under the Kosciuszko Bridge, on the Queens side, there was a largish tributary that flowed south out of the heights of Sunnyside, and ran between Laurel and Berlin Hills on its path to Newtown Creek. It’s “map work” and since I have zero budget for acquiring facsimiles of historical plottings, quite difficult and slow going. Headway has been made, however, and all will be revealed soon enough.

It’s all so depressing, really. Look at what happened to Dostoyevsky, who died of a bleeding heart.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

leers down

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A short one today, from the frozen zone.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted this bicycle frozen to its pole mount on Steinway Street the other day, the presence of the Ambulance was coincidental. The FDNY personnel were headed down into the Subway station with their bags of kit – the oxygen bottles and all that other gear. Didn’t stick around long enough to find out what was doing, as a humble narrator had places to go.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot was also captured in Astoria, on Broadway, at one of the heaviest moments of precipitant snowfall last week. Ughhh. I’ll be back next week with some hopefully sunnier shots at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 6, 2015 at 11:00 am

creeping silently

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Always classy, Astoria.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Since we seem to live in preternatural darkness and cold, Viking Hell as it were, one has decided to just accept the fact that it will never be warm or sunny again. There will never be a day when one needn’t pull on the twenty nine pounds of coats, boots, and sweaters again. This is how we live now, it’s the new normal, and “wet and cold” is this years version of a black t-shirt and a pair of Levi’s. Never has my Metrocard seen as much use as it has in the last few weeks, as I’m taking the bus and train to places that I normally walk to, something which I consider an admission of defeat.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing that’s really charming about this time of the year is the fact that garbage day has been cancelled numerous times due to all the snow, and giant piles of frozen trash are embedded in the mountains of ice and snow. This is fantastic for several reasons, but the big one around HQ is that my little dog Zuzu – who is an inveterate and unapologetic sniffer or trash bags – came down with some sort of stomach bug after a recent walk. Nothing improves the experience of being stuck inside more than a dog who is either vomiting or experiencing “dogarreha.” An expensive visit to the Vet seems to have cured her up, but Astoria has become a septic mess in the last couple of weeks. Realize who is saying that, incidentally, as I’m “Mr. Newtown Creek.”

How bad is the weather? The shot above is from my iPhone, which was used because I didn’t want to bring my regular camera out into this mess. Said camera is casually brandished during rain storms while out on the harbor, and I didn’t want to risk it walking down the ice clad sidewalks of Astoria. Similarily, I worry about risking the dog on these hazardous substrates.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing I worry about the most, dog wise, is actually stray voltage from brine soaked electrical infrastructure embedded in the sidewalks.

The second big dog hazard is something which I’ve been noticing the last few years. Salt is pretty terrible for the pads and naked feet of the pooch, but a simple prophylaxis against it entails the usage of something called “Musher’s Wax.” The oily substance is mainly beeswax, which when rubbed onto a dogs paw creates an oily barrier that protects and moisturizes. Of late, however, road salt has been declining in popularity in favor of some sort of “melt pellet” substance. These pellets seem to find their way into the webbing between the dogs toes, and work their way up into the pads. Since her feet are already wet, the pellets begin to dissolve and release solvents. Bad stuff, and before you ask, my little dog Zuzu ain’t gonna wear those stupid little red boots.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 5, 2015 at 11:10 am

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