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

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.

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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.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 5, 2015 at 11:10 am

corporeal tenement

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Wind, snow, rats, egg rolls, fear.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting visualization of the locations where rats were reported in 2014 in the City of Greater New York, as presented by the Village Voice, was reviewed over the weekend. The health department and the writer of the piece focused in on the seeming correlation between the addresses of Chinese restaurants and the location of rat colonies. Officialdom and the Voice writer speculated on whether or not the rodents have a preference for Chinese take out. When viewing the map, I couldn’t help but notice that the shape of the rat infestations closely mirrored that of the NYC Subway system. Follow the critters through Queens, and you can trace out the path of the R/M, 7, and F lines rather neatly. Same thing with Brooklyn, where you can trace out the G tunnels. Just saying… these restaurants are either located above subway tunnels or are nearby the entrances to the system.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Personal observation of the Chinese restaurants here in Astoria, a few of which are on the Voice map, reveals that the owners of these establishments consider the corner sewer drain as a handy receptacle for the issuance of both fryer oil and the emptying of mop buckets. Rats love fatty foods (who doesn’t, after all?) and hang around the local sewer interceptors and underground vaults knowing that the good stuff will be coming soon. Thing is, my belief is that these sorts of anecdotes are coincidental to the real issue of where the rats are coming from – which are the MTA tunnels.

Ask anyone who lives in public housing – the worst landlord in the City of New York is actually the City of New York, which passes strict rules and enacts a series of fines on the citizenry to enforce them, rules which it does not find itself obliged to follow. Show me a New Yorker who hasn’t seen a rat in the Subway and I will declare them a one percenter who normally gets around town in the back seat of a limo. Show me an apartment house owner with black mold on the walls and no available heat or hot water, who never gets fined, and I’ll automatically tell you the owner is the City of New York.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

After the snow finishes falling, look around tomorrow. You’ll be able to discern which properties in your neighborhood are owned and operated by the City simply by noticing which sidewalks haven’t been shoveled (with the exception of schools, courthouses, and anything within camera range of Manhattan’s City Hall). These City owned stretches of pavement will remain covered in snow, which will shortly compact down into a plate of milky colored, rotting, wet ice that will persist until the spring thaw. Sadly, many of these spots will surround Subway stations and bus stops. This is one of the things which “I don’t get” as even the Soviet Commisars acknowledged that they had certain responsibilities to the Proletariat. The connection between high volume restaurants and rats is actually a correlation of the proximity of these establishments to Subway infrastructure. Dealing with NYC’s rat infestation should begin with that which connects us all – the subway tunnels. Then, we should work our way up to the surface and blame the Chinese restaurants.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

terrible injuries

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Aching, painful butt? Get outside, I say.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, one forced himself off the couch, dared the frigid antibiome of Queens, and moved. Movement is difficult in this sort of weather, as one needs to swaddle himself in insulation. Sometimes I like to weigh myself unclothed, just out of the shower, and then get back on the scale after getting dressed. One recent day, I realized that I was wearing twenty seven pounds of clothes. We are all forced to carry baggage, I reckon, but no one is encouraging me to just sit on the couch so I picked myself up and went out – into the cold waste.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This crow was spotted over in Flushing, walking a cart of harvested alloys towards an Iron Triangle scrap yard for conversion into cash. He’s walking in a vehicle lane on the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge, which is ill considered – “vision zero” wise. Just before and about a minute after this shot was captured, vehicles moving at speed nearly struck him, dual events which really seemed to tick him off. The auto drivers offered the crazy notion that he should be using the pedestrian lane. Chalk this one up to “user error,” I guess.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Roaming into the park via the pedestrian bridge that connects the LIRR station with the Subway stop at Citifield, many sevens were present, but it was seven sevens that were focused upon. This is the MTA’s Corona Yard, which is next door to an MTA Bus terminal. All very exciting, except for the fact that due to track work, the train wasn’t running on the day I shot this and that I live way over in Astoria. Probably why there’s so many of them just standing around and apparently looking for something to do.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

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