The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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anytime, anywhere

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A few shots from last week’s blizzard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given a humble narrator’s legendary vulnerability to cold, as you might have guessed, I spent most of the blizzard last Saturday firmly ensconced in the steam heated walls of Newtown Pentacle HQ in Astoria. I did venture outside during the afternoon to visit the bodega across the street for breakfast cereals, I like a bowl of Cheerios with a banana cut into it, and to vouchsafe a bar of chocolate for Our Lady of the Pentacle.

When venturing into the cold waste, I discovered that at least one Chinese restaurant was open, and offering delivery services. Early bird gets the worm and all that, but… Jaysis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were those who had decided to try and motor about, this was before the Mayor banned automotive traffic, but they were soundly rebuffed by road conditions. It was actually kind of difficult just to crack out a couple of exposures due to wind blown snow, which tended to “spot” the lens, let alone cross the street.

Luckily, most of the neighbors didn’t attempt to drive, and the streets were eerily quiet hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The only thing you saw much of were Municipal vehicles like the ambulance pictured above. One neat thing was that everyone in the neighborhood was given the opportunity to recognize the undercover vehicles which the 114th pct utilizes after the Mayor’s ban on travel was enacted.

After 2:30 p.m., anything you saw on Broadway was basically “blue” or “red.” Or Green, Orange, and a White in the case of the sanitation guys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having purchased my Cheerios and Chocolate, I began to scuttle back towards home, and one of the hundreds of plow trucks operated by DSNY rolled by. The annual Astoria problem has begun again, incidentally. As happened last year, and the year before – recycling pickup was cancelled due to Martin Luther King day. Recycling in my neighborhood is Sunday night’s problem, so it is up to us to store the stuff in anticipation of the following weekend. Now, we’ve got a blizzard’s worth of snow, so recycling pickup is again postponed till next week.

Last year, a series of similar cold weather events and legal holidays pushed the storage of the entire month of January’s recycling trash until well past President’s day in February.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in HQ, and with no intentions of leaving the place, one nevertheless used the fortuitous positioning of the building relative to the prevailing wind in pursuance of a few shots in the evening. As you’ll recall, this is when the storm really got rolling. I set up a tripod and all my night shooting gear, but in the end elected to use low light techniques for the shots.

The long exposure methodology effectively eliminated the falling snow from the shots, and since I wanted to have a “truer” record of the event – I went for high ISO and a faster shutter speed to capture the drifting snowflakes. As is always the case, getting the color temperature of the light was critical, and for the new LED street lights that’s 4300 Kelvin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Got to hand it to the neighbors, they were fighting this storm while it was at full force and attempting to keep their cars from being completely buried in the drifts. The different technologies of street lighting which were discussed a couple of weeks ago – the old school orange yellow sodium lights versus the new school led blue colored lights can be discerned in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new school LED’s actually performed quite well during the storm, I would add.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The buildup of a shelf of snow on my window sill while shooting inspired me to shove a couple of flashlights into it and get a macro shot of the translucent accumulation. These lights are part of what I call my “ghetto lighting” rig. Ghetto as in I have zero funds for real lighting and therefore have been forced to jury rig a set, which given my normal shooting habits – needs to easily portable. The warm light and blue light are formed by identical and quite powerful LED flash lights which can pump out an amazing 300 Lumens and are powered by just 3 AAA batteries each. That’s actually kind of amazing, but I’m a flashlight geek, and will jump up and down if you say “Cree.”

The warmer light is created by the flashlight having an old pill bottle gaff taped to its head.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

sun choked

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Consarned and new fangled gizmos – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY is the lamp post guy. You will tremble in your boots when he begins discussing “luminaires” and other mechanistic implementations designed to light the streets of the City of Greater New York. Saying that, here on Broadway in Astoria (and along 34th avenue) between Steinway and 48th street, the inestimable NYC DOT has recently installed the latest generation of street lighting – which are LED fixtures that replace the familiar sodium lighting which has long punctured the sepulchral darkness of Gotham.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the start of December, work crews from Weisbach – DOT’s contractor for all things electrical – were observed on the throroughfare in a “cherry picker” truck swapping out the old school sodium lights for the new LED ones. According to official sources “NYC DOT operates the largest municipal street-lighting system in the country, with 262,000 lights on City streets, bridges and underpasses, 12,000 in parks and 26,000 on highways,” and the City plans on replacing every single one of them with the new LED lights.

The effort is expected to reduce the amount (and cost) of electricity consumed in pursuit of lighting the streets by a significant amount, as well as reforming the “carbon footprint” of the municipality. It’s costing us tax payers about $75 million smackers to change out every light, but is expected to save about $6 million a year in energy costs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you’d imagine, the gentry here in Astoria have been busy debating the relative merits of the new lighting. On the plus side, the LED’s produce a brighter light which is quite a bit “whiter” than the old sodium lamps. The actual color of the light is 4300 Kelvin, which is quite a bit “bluer” than the sodium lamps which produced the familiar (and warmer) orange yellow light that all New Yorkers are used to suffering in. The LED light is quite a bit better focused on the street itself, and from a photographic point of view – has brightened things up by around two stops.

Observation and conversation, however, have revealed that the new lights create quite a bit of glare. I wear glasses, so… bother.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Non empirically speaking, the sodium lamps scattered their light in a globe of illumination whereas the newer lights are a bit more like a reading lamp in design. Drivers have reported to me that on rainy nights the new lights create a problem for them, windshield glare wise, but nothing insurmountable. There’s also people who just don’t like the new color.

Most of Astoria’s Broadway community seems fairly ambivalent/positive about the change, as a note, offering “why would I care, what can you do about it?” as a response to queries such as “what do you think about the new street lights?”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are all sorts of theories on the effects which LED lighting on human perception. Like the shutter of a motion picture projector, the LED’s flicker at a rate which is just outside of normal human perception. Some say that the flicker induces a state of anxiety to the sensitive, but truth be told, I’ve tried to capture it using video capture and have been unable to perceive anything other than steady illumination – no strobing, in other words.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the plus side, the directed light is no longer illuminating the residential windows along Broadway, and since I live along the street – I can report that at night my windows are considerably darker than they used to be under the old sodium lights. Additionally, the streets and particularly the sidewalks seem considerably and perceptually brighter.

Everything you could possibly want to know about the new LED lights is answered by this PDF at NYC.gov.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can discern the different temperatures of the two lighting systems in the shot above. The avenue (Broadway) is lit by the new and bluish LED’s and the street (44th) by the older and orange sodium light system.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

odd alterations

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Curious things, in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is happening again, here in Astoria Queens. As a humble narrator stumbles along while walking a highly reluctant dog named Zuzu, many things which the human infestation hereabouts get up to are noticed. The curious customs of the summer notwithstanding, every time the air begins to grow chill, a menacing event begins and spreads throughout the community.

Zuzu the dog is rather timid, and somewhat paranoid about several things. I’ve learned to trust the dog, and her vast canid sensory range – one that extends well beyond the dross observations which primate organs can discern. Well, except for the whole “see things in color” part, as dog vision ain’t so hot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’re not paranoid if people are actually trying to mess with you.

Wires begin to intertwine with vegetation annually, carrying current to blinking bulbs of uncertain origin. One has attempted to discern if these blinks are carrying some sort of coded message, but mathematics has always been a language alien to me.

Like the “Aglet,” which is the metal or plastic tips of shoelaces, I believe their purpose might be sinister.

 – photo by Mitch Waxman

Curious combinations of colored light have been known to carry coded missives. Given that the vast majority of these wired strings are manufactured in the factories of China, one wonders if the Commisars of the People’s Republic of China’s Communist Party have found a way to directly infiltrate the subconscious mind.

I’m not paranoid, though.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

full joys

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On it, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too long ago, some of the neighbors here in Astoria were experiencing electrical problems. The redoubtable employees of the Consolidated Edison Corporation began to appear in great numbers, arrange orange safety cones, and get busy. Luckily, for the 48-72 hours that their repairs took to administer, their idling trucks were directly in front of Newtown Pentacle HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, what roused me from mere proletarian to activist and “neighborhood crank” was the Great Astoria Blackout of 2006. For an entire week, this neighborhood was without power at the height of summer, and blue fire was erupting from manholes and transformer vaults. People died in the heat, and it seemed as if no one in City Hall cared. Ever since, one pays quite a bit of attention to power supply issues here in the neighborhood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The initial swarm of Con Ed employees was soon replaced by one of their emergency units. Like DC Comic’s Flash – the emergency unit is clad in red. Also like the Flash, these workers are meta humans who move faster than the human eye can follow. Often, all you can see is a blur. Guess that’s why they get paid the big bucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It took around 15 seconds for the junior member of this crew to assemble the safety cordon for the work site.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A more senior member moved even faster, opening the access cover to a hidden transformer vault and deploying a ladder and other equipment into it in the blink of an eye.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My upstairs neighbor Mario, who is a union guy and can get other adherents of organized labor to “spill the beans” with a few carefully placed “bro’s,” went out to get the story. It seems that some of the electrical supply cables, damaged by the surges and fires of 2006 I would add, had finally given up the ghost and that three homes on the next block were entirely devoid of juice. He deduced this from slowing down an audio recording he made of the Con Ed guys answering him, which sounded like the buzzing of a fly in the original recording.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The speedsters were assigned the duty of drawing a new set of cables from the transformer vault, in front of HQ, roughly half a block to the affected properties. It seems that in addition to the underground rooms that house the step up transformers which handle the conversion from high voltage “direct” to residential “alternating” current, there are pipes and concrete tunnels through which these wires travel honeycombing the neighborhood. This does beggar the question as to why the high voltage cables that Con Ed hung about Astoria back in 2006 to restore service are still there, but there you go.

Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Couldn’t get a shot of what they were doing down there, but when I woke up the next morning, the Con Ed guys were sleeping in the idling truck and I’m told that the three properties on the next block had been re-energized.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

very secret

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Election Day is upon us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, this Election Day does not offer New Yorkers our dearly held desire to send Bill De Blasio back to his house in Park Slope. One can only dream, I guess.

The only Queensican election of any consequence this year is in the 23rd Council district, a race discussed in this Observer article. It will likely end up with Grodenchik as the winner, he’s the “establishment” candidate after all, but I do hope that Friedrich gets in as he would be an incendiary and rebel voice in the Council. Other than the Barrons from Brooklyn, there aren’t enough dissenting voices in Government these days, even if – like the Barrons – they are nutters.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Democrats in Queens, the so called “Queens Machine,” are a megalithic party firmly in electoral control of the western side of a highly gerrymandered Borough. There are good ones and bad ones. I’m lucky enough to live in the districts of a few of the good ones, but I do find it kind of disturbing that the other parties basically throw their hat into the ring when election time comes. One likes debate, but then again I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn where a discussion about which bakery has the best rye bread can often escalate into a situation demanding the presence of the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of my neighbors don’t vote. Many of them are new(ish) immigrants who tell me that it doesn’t matter. They also inform that the best way to insure that you get called for jury duty is to register for the plebiscite. My response is “if you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to complain.” Also, one looks forward to voting against Bill De Blasio in his next polling, and ANYONE who supports his feckless and atavist agenda.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which a humble narrator has said in the past, and continues to strongly believe is this – Politicians will support whomever supports them, and without a strong showing of the electorate and a contested popular vote, it will be only monetary contributions by which they can gauge their efforts.

Don’t vote? You just gave a billionaire even more influence.

Didn’t have time to vote? You just gave REBNY and apostate “progressives” like Bill De Blasio even more “mandate” to rape our communities and serve the interests of foreign investors and big money.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

rose oddly

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Halloween sights from the Times Square of Astoria, 2015.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As has become our holiday tradition – Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself, along with a small group of people who can tolerate my presence for short intervals, headed over to the local corner pub and sat down with a few buckets of candy on Halloween. Our Lady and the others distribute the sweet stuff to the mobs of costumed “yutes” and after I check with and get the permission of parent or guardian to do so, I take some photos.

The ones in today’s post were my favorites, but if you want to check out the whole set – here’s the link to them on flickr.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sugar skulls and “Dias de Los muertes” iconography is a growing theme for Astoria costumers, as you’d suspect, given our growing and welcome population of Mexican and Central Americans. I love the visual style of this particular folk tradition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The superhero costumes available in shops these days are light years beyond what was available when I was a kid, back in the ’70’s, when the Don Post company offered plastic smocks with the characters name on them and weird PVC face masks that always seemed to have sharp edges on mouth and eye holes.

Check out that kid in the lion costume.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lot of Jokers were out and about, but this young lady was clearly the most “all in.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady had many, many customers for her candy. There were times when it felt like a relentless horde of zombies were attacking her.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bunch of the very young kids had literally no idea what was happening, but knew something involving candy was afoot. The toddler pictured above came very close to winning Halloween.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria is all about family, and as you can see in the shot above, in some units – every member of the clan was done up in holiday dress for Halloween.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yep, adorable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As it grew dark, the crowds continued to throb about. A weird thing about Astoria, or my section of it at least, is that the kids don’t trick or treat on the side streets at private homes.

They mainly stick to the avenues (like Broadway), and trick or treat at the mom and pop shops. I’m told that it’s part of the modern day fear of “stranger danger” and the parent’s assumption that every adult male whom the child encounters is likely a pervert or child molester.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the night moved on, the grown ups began to exhibit. This group of happy footed Penguins seemed to be on the way to a party. The chill of the night air, and the fact that we had spent something like six hours at the Doyle’s Corner Bar, contributed to a general agreement amongst my group that it was time to cut things off and head back to HQ to order a pizza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last call, and it was time to head on home with camera and Our Lady in tow. That’s Hank the Elevator Guy in the shot above, incidentally, an oft mentioned but seldom pictured resident of this – your Newtown Pentacle.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 2, 2015 at 12:30 pm

another city

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A few shots from the 11103, here in the NYPD’s 114th precinct.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As expressed in last week’s posts, a humble narrator has had a whole lot of stuff going on. Details, things to do, meetings… the usual “blah blah blah” of the daily round. Our Lady of the Pentacle announced that she was going to be heading over to the Shining City for a social engagement last Friday evening, but I had already made plans to meet with a NY Times photographer to discuss his intentions for a series of essays on the harbor of NY and NJ at my “district office” – a pub called Doyle’s Corner found at the Times Square of Astoria at 42nd and Broadway.

My evening began with a trip to the local bank to deposit and withdraw, and along the way – a genuine articact of the pre digital world was spotted sitting on the sidewalk at the aforementioned Times Square of Astoria – an IBM Selecrtix typewriter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This brand and model of typewriter was the weapon of choice for business and professional writers during the 1980’s and early 90’s. It used to cost hundreds of dollars (which would translate into thousands these days) and was a highly coveted device. Today, it’s an analog artifact, and relegated to the corner trash pile. The hand written price tag on it, and the nearby proximity of a thrift store, allows me to hypothesize that it was likely liberated from sale utilizing the “five finger discount” method. Further supposition would suggest that the thief soon realized that there is little or no market value for a typewriter of this sort in 2015.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few quick shots of it were captured, and a paramount in my mind as I was gathering them was my pal Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY, who would have likely been swept up by a nostalgic wave at the sight of the thing. One continued up to Steinway Street to accomplish my banking, and then I headed back to my “district office” for my meeting with the NY Times guy. A few chums from the neighborhood also stopped by, and several pints of beer were consumed. While this mild debauch was underway, the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself disappeared, and the usual passion plays of Broadway ensued.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fellow pictured above appeared in front of the sidewalk cafe table I was sitting at, asking for a dollar while claiming he was hungry. He wasn’t hungry, instead he was blind drunk. He decided to lecture me, in fairly good English I would add, about the differences in generosity between the Mexican and American people when refusal to part with my dollar was offered. He’s one of the population of drunks who have been plaguing the neighborhood in recent months, incidentally, and a familiar face. He announced “Soy es un burracho” and tried to find a more generous person to give him a dollar.

Soon, he collapsed onto the sidewalk and surrendered to his inebriation. Remarking to myself that he had the wrong idea about Americans, I flagged down a passing FDNY hook and ladder truck and informed them that they had a customer. An ambulance arrived, and carted him off to a hospital where he would sleep it off.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At home, later in the evening, one was hanging out with Zuzu the dog when that amiable canine began to utter a low growl. Coming from the sidewalk below was a string of Spanish curses, “puta madre” and the like. That’s when I noticed this fellow literally crawling home via the gutter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After an interminable struggle he managed to right himself by hand holding parked cars, which were alternatively vomited and urinated on as he headed north. As mentioned at the top of the post, a humble narrator is the first one to suggest enjoying a few pints of beer. It would be hypocritical of me to say that getting a bit drunk isn’t an enjoyable yet occasional diversion. The photos of the drunks which I’ve been sharing with you, lords and ladies, are not of casual passerby who happen to be a little “effed up.” These are serial offenders. The guy in the shots above, well, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him crawling through the gutter on his way home. The fellow passed out on the sidewalk who wanted a dollar? Same guy you see in the final shot of this post.

What we’ve been experiencing in Astoria, here in the 11103, is more than a bit over the top. This is a siege.

Just another Friday night, here in the 114th precinct, thought I.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

October 3rd, 2015
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 28, 2015 at 2:30 pm

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