The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Astoria’ Category

no worse

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The world is not as it should be, rather it is as it is and always has been.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When a humble narrator was a boy, there were quite a few “doomsday scenarios” in play. Existential threats included the probable outbreak of a global thermonuclear war fought between the United States and the Soviet Union and the so called “population bomb” which was meant to cause mass starvation (predictions included the deaths of over 60 million Americans due to food shortages – a third of the population at the time). There was also an ozone hole which was meant to BBQ farm and city alike, an atmospheric phenomena whose formation was blamed on the presence of certain chemicals in aerosol hair spray cans. Additionally, an ice age was thought to be just around the corner, one which would depopulate the northern hemisphere and force humanity to cluster about Earth’s equator.

Slightly lower on the scale – but still terrifying – were threats posed by the rise of violent crime, disestablishmentarianism, and the rise of narcoterrorism. The world was ending, so say your prayers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a whole set of existential worries afoot these days – sea level rise, global warming, the rise of religion based terrorism, etc. Since these terrors are routinely explored in mainstream media, there’s no reason to repeat them as I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the various story lines. There’s a lot of drums that get beat upon by the “usual suspects.”

For those on the so called “left” – any factory or mill is by definition “satanic.”

For those on the so called “right” – the natural world is merely a collection of unharnessed natural resources.

The lefties want to see strict regulatory controls enacted on business, capital, and seek to curtail personal liberties in the name of protecting populations whom they have decided are vulnerable. The righties wish for an unfettered business environment, cessation of tax and regulation, and to curtail personal liberties in the name of protecting themselves. Both poles see society as teetering on the brink of destruction. Some predict a second American Civil War as being just around the corner.

Both sides populated by absolutists, who are dwellers in ivory towers. One set of towers is found in academia, the others on Wall Street. Both forget about the rest of us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are no Mongol armies about to ride over the hill and force our village to submit to their yoke. If there were, these Mongols would meet the United States Marines, or the Russian Spetsnaz, or the British SAS and there would soon be no more Mongols. It’s no secret that the biggest problem encountered by the United States military in its recent wars was how to fight a war in which you don’t exterminate the entire population of any given country and instead just target the bad guys.

Superman would have to consciously pull his punches when apprehending bank robbers. One good punch from the big guy could reduce a human’s head to a spray of red mist, and his gaze could easily immolate. Criminals in Metropolis would seldom need to be reminded of what they’re dealing with. Neither would the ones in Gotham City.

The lefties would want Superman or Batman jailed for vigilante activity, and the righties would want them to go overseas and slaughter some Mongols.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I find both arguments pedantic. There are so many things commonly agreed upon, that are actionable, which get lost in this ideological tug of war that it actually depresses me. Don’t throw litter and garbage into the street? Be nice to each other and don’t call people ugly names? Don’t feign political naïveté? Don’t call yourself a “progressive” when you don’t understand what that means?

Maybe I’m just getting old. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maybe everybody else is right, and the Mongols are in fact coming to get us – or we should celebrate their vibrant diversity. The division between the two points of view is exactly the sort of thing which wily old Chingis Khan would have expolited. The Khans viewed themselves as appointed by God itself to rule mankind, and Chingis often referred to himself as “God’s curse.” The Mongol term for submission and peace used the same word.

The Khans would send a rider to the village gates before an attack, who would pronounce the following (the actual quotation is lifted from a letter sent to Pope Innocent IV, in 1246, by Chingis Khan’s grandson Güyük):

“You must say with a sincere heart: “We will be your subjects; we will give you our strength”. You must in person come with your kings, all together, without exception, to render us service and pay us homage. Only then will we acknowledge your submission. And if you do not follow the order of God, and go against our orders, we will know you as our enemy.”

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 2nd, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek – Bushwick & Mapeth Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 30, 2015 at 10:37 am

which swelled

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Random sightings in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other day, whilst waiting for the bagel shop guy to assemble a sandwich for my consumption, this pile of cigarette refuse was observed. One was impressed not just by the quantity – this has to represent around $75-80 worth of coffin nails as currently priced in NYC – but by the relative tidiness and self contained nature of the refuse. The “Vision Zero” branding on the muni meter receipt just brought it home for one such as myself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Astoria’s Broadway, nearby Crescent Street, one of those Chinese owned dollar stores had a display of plastic flowers arrayed upon the pavement. Other offerings included off brand backpacks and those wire shopping carts which we all use for transporting bags of laundry to and fro, but the patent artificiality of the flowers transfixed me. It was actually a bit of a challenge to capture how truly saturated their colors were.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Near Astoria Boulevard’s intersection with 21st street, this pentagram graffiti was found on the back door to a fairly ancient commercial building. When I spotted it, a loud exhortation bubbled out of me and “yeah, Satan!” was uttered. This caused no end of concern to the old Greek lady sitting on her porch across the street. Accordingly, one scuttled away and brisk perambulation carried me in a generally northern direction.

I’ve been chased through the neighborhood by a group of angry Greek women before, and do not intend on suffering through that sort of thing again.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

As detailed in this recent post, my camera was destroyed in an accident.

For those of you who have offered donations to pay for its replacement, the “Donate” button below will take you to paypal. Any contributions to the camera fund will be greatly appreciated, and rewarded when money isn’t quite as tight as it is at the moment.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 23, 2015 at 11:00 am

vine encumbered

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It’s “something completely different day” in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle has been exercising her green thumb since the late spring, and we have quite a cucumber patch situation in one of the flower boxes out on said porch. Our Lady is an early riser, whereas your humble narrator is not, so one recent evening after she had retired to the boudoir, I was found out on the porch. Astoria is somewhat infested with rats, and given the abundance of cucumbers found hereabouts, a rustling in the patch caused me to grab a flashlight and inspect. While doing so, and it was just the wind btw, it occurred that it would be cool to stick a camera down in the pot and see what I could see.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My trusty old Canon G10 has a fantastic macro lens function on it, but the device’s weaknesses have always been most apparent in low light situations. Luckily, one of my flash guns has a “slave” function built into it, which triggers it when another camera flash is actuated within a certain visual range of its sensor.

Accordingly, the secondary flash was positioned at the far end of the vine, and the G10’s onboard flash (which is pathetic, but adequate for the task at hand) activated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The G10 was outfitted with a remote cable release, and its menu of options set up, whereupon I sat it down on the soil deep within Our Lady’s flower trough. A little bit of noodling on the settings was called for, and eventually, the correct combination of instructions were encoded into both the capture device and external flash gun. Did I mention that these shots were captured well after midnight and in somewhat complete darkness?

Also, I never knew that cucumbers were covered in little hypodermic needles when immature.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Encouraged by my results in the first few shots, I ran inside and grabbed another bit of photographic kit, a clamp with a tripod’s ball head built into it and used the same technique to shoot down into the vine at some of the maturing fruit. In some of these shots, like the one above, you can actually see worms emerging from the recently watered soil. I plan on exploring this approach in the future, presuming that some urban farmer will allow me access to their planting beds at night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that botanical macro shots aren’t exactly par for the course here at your Newtown Pentacle, but since I couldn’t stop looking at them, it was decided to share them in today’s rather late in the day post.

Also, for all of you who donated money to the camera fund last week, I cannot express my gratitude. I will at some point in the near future, incidentally, when my financial life isn’t quite as rugged. Like the Grinch confronted by Mary Lou Who, my heart grew two sizes due to your generosity and support.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

As detailed in this recent post, my camera was destroyed in an accident.

For those of you who have offered donations to pay for its replacement, the “Donate” button below will take you to paypal. Any contributions to the camera fund will be greatly appreciated, and rewarded when money isn’t quite as tight as it is at the moment.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 20, 2015 at 1:05 pm

horror

with 17 comments

Into every life, a little rain must fall. My life seems to be Hurricance Sandy, every day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is the very last one which will ever be captured by the camera which has been utilized to record the startling truth of our times, as presented in graphic narrative at this – your Newtown Pentacle – for the last 4 years. The device has been, as those of you who know me, omnipresent. Normally, the thing is strapped to me and never leaves my hand. If it was to be put down, extreme care and attention to its resting place has always been exercised. Friends often chide a humble narrator as to why the camera got its own chair.

All that is over now, due to a single careless moment on the 4th of July.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other day, shots captured from Williamsburg depicted the 4th of July fireworks. After the rooftop gathering attended to view the show, which a friend had graciously invited Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself to join in on, Our Lady insisted that we hire a taxi to cross the short distance from Williamsburg back to Astoria. While exiting the vehicle, the camera tumbled out of my hand and struck the street.

The lens, my “good lens,” shattered into multiple pieces.

The camera body seemed fine at first, but soon revealed itself as non functional after just two mirror flips. Massive self recrimination ensued, as one might imagine, but just as in the case with any kind of accident – what are you going to do? “Command Z, undo, undo” cried I.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, given my tremulous financial equilibrium, (hey, you think environmental activist – historian – blogger – photographer – tour guide – actually pays well?) a trip to BH Photo was demanded. One such as myself cannot be without a capture device, and replacement equipment was expensively acquired. The horror.

The good news is that I’m back in business. The bad news is that I’m out a big chunk of change. For those of you that feel my pain, I beg you to buy some tickets to one of the walking tours I’m doing this summer.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms – Greenpoint, Brooklyn Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 10, 2015 at 11:25 am

only crawl

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Astoria, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the other night, while hanging out at my local pub here in the southern end of Astoria, some rough fellow accosted one with the usual “hey, what are taking pictures of?” thing. Bellicose, the gentleman began to advise me that I should spend my time photographing the skyline of Manhattan because “no one cares about Queens.”

He was rather insistent about this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is kind of rallying cry for me, this “no one cares about Queens” thing, and it’s bothersome to have to argue about it with some guy who – as it later turned out – had a largish back tattoo whose motif included a shoulder to shoulder swastika.

I’m all for political expression of course, but a Nazi in Astoria?

Conversation with amiable bartenders over the weekend revealed that there seems to be a small population of like minded individuals in the neighborhood. They’ve actually had to reprimand one fellow who liked to read passages from “Mein Kampf” out loud at the bar.

“Really?” was all I could say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not strange that racists and other adherents to rather ugly philosophies can be found in Astoria. We’ve got Jihadi sympathizers on the ass end of Steinway Street, and those Greek “National Front” guys are here as well -heck- a few years ago I even ran into a small group of actual card carrying Bolsheviks who opined that the revolution was nigh. “Diversity” includes nut jobs and jerks too, it would seem.

Thing is – If you’re a racist, “politically” a racist that is, Astoria probably ain’t the sort of place you’re going to want to live in. It will be exhausting for you to merely identify or classify the human infestation hereabouts, let alone espouse a specific grievance about all the groups who are living and working here. We have everybody from Egyptians to Eskimos, Thai to Tibetan, Irish to Indian. There’s normal human prejudice and frictions encountered occasionally when these wildly different cultures rub up against each other, but Nazi’s?

How retro.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Historically speaking, Queens has a rather checkered past on this subject. Members of what we would call the American Nazi party – the so called German American Bund – were rather active in the years leading up to the Second World War here in Queens (and especially so in Ridgewood and Bushwick).

These neighborhoods hosted a rather large German population back then, who referred to their communities in New York City as “Kleine Deutschland” and the “bund” was usually in tune – politically speaking – with their distant homeland. All of that fell apart during the Second World War and the American Nazi’s became associated with extreme elements of the Ku Klux Klan, and prison gangs like the Aryan Nation.

Hey, when you grow up Jewish, you develop a certain sensitivity to this sort of thing. Swastika bad.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

sidetracked once

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Death, annihilation, and hatred… in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is not in a good mood, so bitching will ensue.

Psychological firmament at the moment would be best defined as reminiscent of the general anger and malaise one enjoyed in the late 1980’s. A neighbor casually asked me the other night “Howz yooz doins, brah?” and my only answer emanated from that era with “What this City needs is a good plague.” If it weren’t for the physical cowardice and generally avoidant set of behaviors which rule me, I might stamp my feet and cry out loud at passerby. A desire to craft a sandwich board vest which announces the nighness of the end compels and overtakes. The train is crowded, and so are my thoughts.

Why is it so noisy all the time, and why is there no place to pee?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’d bring up the whole dumb idea of decking over the Sunnyside Yards with these innocent travelers whom I’d acost with the truth of our times, and check off a list of realities associated with the population whose arrival in Western Queens is already scheduled. Thing is, if one was to become overexcited and display the wild eyed zeal and abundant mania which typified the behaviors of times gone by, one might fall into one of his states and need to be taken to a trauma center of some kind and the nearest one is found in Manhattan at Bellevue.

How could I achieve carbon neutrality after spending a hour in an Ambulance in Manhattan traffic? Ow, my algorithm.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Would one opine about the corrosive effects that afternoon drunkeness and public vagrancy cause in the minds of kids in particular and the community as a whole? Here, on Broadway in Astoria, populations of fellows like the gentlemen pictured above spend their days and nights wandering about in a drunken haze. Public urination, defecation, and drinking are commonly observed. As well, one routinely has to wake them up when they pass out in his doorway. Whether you feel sorry for these chaps or hate them, why aren’t the Police policing them?

Would the presence of obvious brothels in storefront locations on the main shopping thoroughfare be mentioned, and would the seeming toleration of such establishments by the aforementioned local police come up as well? If you leave your car parked in the wrong place for just a few minutes, the gendarme are promptly on scene to issue a ticket. What about drunks sleeping in front of your grocery stores and in your driveways, or storefront whores performing their trade next door to the bagel shop?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“What this City needs is a good plague” was a standard answer for me when people asked “Howze it goin, dude” back in the 80’s. That era in NYC wasn’t the way that some are describing it these days, opining about “energy and vigor and…” It was a grimy shithole which had seen better days, where you took your life in your hands by getting off at an unfamiliar Subway stop. An era of “getting jumped” and “mugged,” when you’d routinely see trails of blood on the pavement which would lead you from place to place. Sometimes they’d lead back to a party, but you didn’t have to go far to find a house party somewhere in East Village back then. More often the trails would lead over the bridge from Alphabet City into Williamsburg, where a lot of people found themselves bleeding back then.

Meh, I’m going to go listen to some Black Flag.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

hysterical madness

with one comment

Shots and anecdotes from Astoria, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Queens Cobbler is at work again, this singular shoe was observed on the 21st street side of the ancient village while perambulation was underway. A trophy hunting predator walks amongst us, unseen and unnoticed by the Gendarmes. Mark my words, lords and ladies, soon you will see banner headlines about the Queens Cobbler and his nefarious work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My upstairs neighbor, one of the laconic Croatians who populate my particular neck of the woods, tells me that the price of food has become “terrible” hereabouts. She laments what has happened to her adopted country in the roughly three decades that she has dwelt here, and informs that once she reaches retirement age a return to Istria will be a top priority.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Pentacle’s district office is found at Doyle’s, an Irish bar on Broadway and 42nd street – the Times Square of Astoria. During the warm months, it is my habit to pack up Zuzu the dog and make an end of day pilgrimage to this District Office, in order to touch base with the neighbors and enjoy a pint or two of beer.

Not long ago, whilst engaged in this activity, a bird on a wire was observed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria, Queens… we now have wild Parrots infesting the neighborhood. There’s also Opossums, one of which showed up at my own door recently. Zuzu the dog bit it on the butt, which caused it to retreat back to whatever cryptid critter bolt hole is preferred by the out of place and unexpected fauna wandering about the ancient village.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 11th, 2015
BROOKLYN Waterfront Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

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