The Newtown Pentacle

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recalls nothing

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There’s something wrong…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

When the prophesied storm of fimbulvinter rolled through our town the other night, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself (along with our little dog Zuzu) were warm and snug down in the bunker we had readied for the Mayan Apocalypse. My understanding is that when the glacial ice sheet moved south across Astoria, according to some of the hardier Croatians who disregarded the warnings of City and State, a wooly mammoth was spotted on 31st avenue as it fled from a group of fur clad Neanderthals. Word has it that folks in the East Elmhurst area spotted a Sabre Toothed Tiger roaming about. The ice age escalated quickly, and this is how we live now. Please, please, generate some global warming and fast – do something to increase your carbon footprint right now – it’s freezing outside.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that the singular tonality of the age we live in is one of looming apocalypse. I get it. Jaded, the human infestation won’t respond to warnings about this and that unless you attach an existential danger to the message. Having grown up in a home where my mother would pop a blood vessel if the kitchen sink displayed moisture or a crumb was found nearby the toaster, I really do understand overreaction. However, the lesson of “Chicken Little” seems to be something that our risk averse culture has forgotten these days.

The sky was literally falling last week, but it was snow. This is normal, and expected, because it’s January in New York. If the government really wants to get ahead of this sort of thing, they should start considering turning NYC into one of those science fiction style domed cities.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Those things one such as myself worries about are a bit mundane, I fear. Having somebody who is texting while walking on a subway platform jostle and knock me onto the tracks, getting crushed by a falling air conditioner, or being splattered by the manic actions of some truck driver. Being struck by a bicyclist or electric delivery bike as they speed down the sidewalk – all of my little scenarios are far more likely than being flash frozen in a “Day after Tomorrow” style atmospheric inversion.

While sitting in the bunker, drinking hot chocolate with Our Lady, one did begin to ponder what has become of all that post Hurricane Sandy money which was spent studying ways to protect the City against extreme weather events.

Perhaps we should initiate a blue ribbon commission to study the studies which studied the problem?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm

smartly curled

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A visit to Manhattan, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For reasons that I’d rather not go into, one had several hours to kill recently while immersed in an elevated and overtly emotional state of mind. Wandering around First Avenue and its side streets, between 14th and 23rd street, happenstance carried me to 415 14th street where one may notice that the Church of the Immaculate Conception stands. The address once belonged to a Presbyrterian outfit that called itself “Grace Chapel” but after the construction of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village annihilated the Roman Catholic original “Immaculate Conception” across the street, the Catholics purchased the building and moved in. They’ve been here since 1946, I’m told.

from immaculateconception-nyc.org

In 1914, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company embarked on one of the most successful urban renewal projects in the history of New York City. It created Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town to address a projected housing shortage among returning World War II veterans. The Met, as it was known in those days, bought up block after block of the area between 14th and 23rd Streets, from First Avenue to Avenue C. Included in the purchases were Immaculate Conception Church, its rectory, convent and school buildings.

The Archdiocese of New York then purchased an Episcopal mission settlement, Grace Chapel, on the south side of 14th Street, East of First Avenue. It was renamed “Immaculate Conception.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Lower East Side, along with Harlem, barely resembles the neighborhood I remember from the 1980’s. This particular corner used to be a good place to die, or at least catch a scorching case of death, and there was a bit of a fortress mentality to the area back “in the day.” Junkies, addicts, and the whole crew of loathsome indigents who called the L line Subway station on 14th “HQ” used to pollute the sidewalks hereabouts. It was odd to see the gates to the church open, and a sign promised that there was a cloister back here, so I scuttled onto the property to take a look.

from wikipedia

A cloister (from Latin claustrum, “enclosure”) is an open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth. The attachment of a cloister to a cathedral or church, commonly against a warm southern flank, usually indicates that it is (or once was) part of a monastic foundation, “forming a continuous and solid architectural barrier… that effectively separates the world of the monks from that of the serfs and workmen, whose lives and works went on outside and around the cloister.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, the so called cloister seems to have converted over to a parking lot, so there wasn’t too much to see. There’s also a parochial school back here, and for some reason – unaccompanied middle aged men with cameras seem to set off alarm bells when the subject of school children comes up so I headed back out to 14th street. I did stop into the chapel, but there were bunches of adherents praying in there and I didn’t want to disturb their reverie or violate their privacy by taking photos.

It’s quite lovely in there, however.

from wikipedia

Stranger danger is the danger to children presented by strangers. The phrase stranger danger is intended to sum up the danger associated with adults whom children do not know. The phrase has found widespread usage and many children will hear it (or similar advice) during their childhood lives. Many books, films and public service announcements have been devoted to helping children remember this advice. The concept has been criticized for ignoring the fact that most child abductions and harm result not from strangers, but rather from someone the child knows.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On the front of the church, there’s a public fountain. There aren’t many of these 19th century artifacts left in Manhattan – I can think of one in the west village and a couple down near the City Hall/Canal Street area that was once known as the Five Points, but it’s a rare thing to spot them anymore. I’m far more surprised that it survived the urban renewal period of the 40’s and 50’s than our current era of gentrification, actually. It’s more than likely that there used to be a common cup chained to the fountain, not unlike the one displayed in a period photo at ephemeralnewyork in the link below.

from ephemeralnewyork

This 1913 photo shows a boy at a public water fountain in Madison Square Park; he’s drinking from a common cup attached to a chain. Of course, no one today would ever drink from the same cup thousands of strangers also put their lips on. But back then, in pre-germ-awareness times, not everyone realized how unsanitary it was.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m no metallurgist, but to me the fountain seems to be bronze. There’s a basin and two ornamental fishes, the latter were where the water was dispensed into the former. If you think its difficult finding a place to sit down or use a toilet in 21st century Manhattan, you couldn’t imagine how rough it would have been back in the late 19th century.

Back then, this part of the Shining City was a thriving immigrant neighborhood of tenements and small factories that extended to the East River. The other side of the street, where Stuyvesant Town currently squats, was once a slum called “The Gaslight district.” Amenities like this drinking fountain were acts of charity offered to the affected masses by the well off. On the masonry above it is the legend “Ho, everyone that thirsteth.”

from wikipedia

In 1842, one gas storage tank at East 23rd Street and the river was erected, quickly followed by the construction of other gas tanks, and by the late 19th century, the site of the complex had become known as the Gashouse District because of the many tanks that dominated the streetscapes. The tanks, which sometimes leaked, made the area undesirable, as did the Gas House Gang and other predators who operated in the area. With the construction of the FDR Drive, the area began to improve. By the 1930s, all but four tanks were gone and, while shabby, the area was no more blighted than many parts of the city after the years of the Great Depression; crime in the district had been endemic, however. When Alexander S. Williams was promoted to police captain and assigned to the area, he met the gangs’ violence with equal force of his own, putting together a brute squad that beat up gangsters with clubs. He commented: “There is more law at the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At the base of the bronze fountain is a legend offering the birth and death dates for a person named “Fanny Garretson Russell.” I looked around the web for information on this inscription, which you’d think would be well documented due to its presence in Manhattan, but found nothing.

“OK” thought I, and utilizing some of my “find the hidden history of Queens” skills, I got to work-

Fanny was the grand daughter of Charles Handy Russell, of Providence Rhode Island. Russell’s father was a Major in the continental army during the American Revolution, and the family history goes all the way back to the Mayflower on one side and the founding of Woburn, Massachusetts in 1640 on the other.

Charles Handy Russell came to New York in the 1820’s, rising to a position of financial and political prominence. Russell was a railroad man, the President of the Bank of Commerce, dabbled in maritime insurance, was part of the original board of directors in charge of Central Park, and a husband to Caroline Howland. The couple had children: Charles Howland Russell – who was the Private Secretary of the United States Secretary of State during the administration of President Hayes, and Samuel Howland Russell were amongst them.

Samuel, a mining engineer who graduated from Columbia University, married Elizabeth Watts Garretson in June of 1884. Their first daughter was named Fanny, who died on the 23rd of August in 1894. This fountain’s dedication is to her.

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rattling and beating

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Meshuggenehs, all of us.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting exercise was undertaken recently, which involved the peeling back of hardened scabs and callouses. Whilst browsing the vast interwebs recently, a link carried me over to YouTube. A recording of “The Howard Stern show,” which was broadcasting live during the September 11th attacks, was perused. The reactions of Howard and his crew to the attacks as they happened put me in touch with my own experiences that day, and opened up an old wound. This touched off a spate of reviewing broadcasts, both news and scripted drama, produced in the aftermath of the attacks. One remembers the emotional numbness of the time, when it seemed that nothing would ever be funny again, and the paramount question of that moment in time – raised over and over – was “why do they hate us.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

All these years later, the answers offered by the entertainment industry – whether asked by the hosts of what passes for news in our nation or as interpreted by dramaturges – boiled down to “freedom.” Aside from a childish lack of knowledge about the actual foreign policy of, and an unvarnished look at the actions of the United States in the second half of the 20th century, what struck me was the notion we held about ourselves back then. The general gist of what folks wanted in the months following the attacks was to “unleash” the CIA, and to teach the rest of the world “who’s the boss.” I guess we’ve got that now – with our fleets of flying robot assassins, institutional torture, and a gulag in Cuba. If you’ve got the time, I suggest you scan the web in a similar fashion, as it’s an interesting thing to see what our world was once like and how far we’ve travelled in a very short time. Remember “freedom fries”?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An urban myth is put to rest, incidentally, in the shot above. “Ever notice how you never see a dead pidgeon” is the particular yarn, something I’ve heard repeated over and over. I see a LOT of dead pidgeons, and have photos to prove it. An urban myth which the September 11th attacks actually put to bed was the efficacy of the so called “Emergency Alert System,” whose tests interrupted television and radio broadcast throughout my childhood. It was nowhere to be found on 911, despite there being an actual emergency in my area. Additionally, the Emergency Alert System didn’t seem to activate during Hurricane Sandy either.

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resplendent aura

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A short encounter with the Saw Lady, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, while moving through the Subway system, as one paid his fare with a Metrocard Swipe, an oddly familiar sound penetrated through my headphones. Plucking the tiny speaker out of my ear confirmed it, the Saw Lady was nearby. Looking around and following my ears, I soon found Natalia Paruz busking.

from wikipedia

Natalia ‘Saw Lady’ Paruz is a New York City-based musical saw and novelty instruments player and busker. She is the founder and director of the annual Musical Saw Festival in New York City. She also organized the musical saw festival in Israel. She is a columnist of the ‘Saw Player News’ and a judge at international musical saw competitions.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Saw Lady, as Natalia calls herself, plays the musical saw with a sort of passion that others can only aspire to. I first met her around 4-5 years ago at a holiday party she was performing at here in Astoria, and most recently she and I were part of a nocturnal Atlas Obscura event that played out over in Greenwood Cemetery. Let me tell you, if you think the sound of a musical saw bouncing around a Subway station is ethereal, you should hear what it sounds like when played inside of a tomb.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Natalia Paruz maintains a website at sawlady.com, where you can check out and purchase her recordings, or learn more about the ethereal sound produced by the unique instruments. She’s a Guinness World Record holder, incidentally, having assembled the largest orchestra of musical saw players together, an event which happened right here in Queens.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 25, 2014 at 1:26 pm

chlorate cube

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Merry Festivstmas Kwaazannukah, yo.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

After my experiences at the camera shop, which were described yesterday, a series of emails indicated that one needed to cut his visit to the Shining City short and return to the grind back at HQ in Astoria. Originally, plans to do some shooting along the Hudson were on the menu, but there you go. Down in the sweating concrete of the subterranean transportation bunkers, I decided to do some “shooting from the hip” to pass the time while waiting for my train to arrive.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

“Shooting from the Hip,” as I define it, is when the camera is pre focused to a certain depth of field and held away from the face. Technically, you’re shooting “blind” and operating the camera sheerly on instrumentation and by obliquely pointing it at things. Also, I usually hold the camera upside down for some reason. Many of the shots gathered this way are useless, some are “happy accidents” like the first shot in today’s post, or conventionally spotted and captured as in the portrait oriented shot above.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, arriving trains were catalogued. Suddenly the fellow in the shot above appeared in my diopter, and he proceeded to begin staring me down. My first instinct was that he might be some sort of law enforcement officer, and that we were about to begin a dance which would start with “what are you taking pictures of.” My answer would be “trains.” Then he’d say “why are you taking pictures of trains” which would be answered with a memorable quip, which I’d tell with a certain Brooklyn inflection noticeably present in my voice, followed by “comma sir.” Usually, being polite to law enforcement is the smart guys way to stay out of trouble, but that’s me. Thing is, the fellow (I’d say Gentleman but I don’t know if he’s landed or gentry – what am I, psychic?) in the shot just stood there and kept staring at me as the train came in. Never stepping forward or even blinking. Cops are a lot of things, but shy and or reticent ain’t on their list of traits. I started to get creeped out, what if this guy was some sort of ideologue or anarchist?

I wondered if, hoped actually, there might be a Cop nearby.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A theory hatched in my fevered thoughts that this fellow might be some sort of Bolshevik or something, sent to the 34th street Subway station to subvert or just observe the American way. His unwavering, unblinking posture, coupled with the odd wires arrayed about his neck, led me to theorize that this might be some sort of time traveling android sent back to our age – Terminator style – as an intelligence drone gathering historical data. Before I could ask if there might be a sequence of numbers handy for playing the lottery, this “Staring at me (possible) Bolshevik Drone from the Future Guy” stepped into a passing crowd and disappeared. Pfft – gone.

That was a close one, I guess. I really fricking hate being in Manhattan. It looks great from the outside, but once you’re inside of that thing – yikes!

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm

golden valley

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Free is free, McGee.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my photographer buddies, the notorious John Skelson, emailed me to inform that Chrysler Camera would be performing free camera maintenance and checkups over at BH Photo (I’ve always thought that the BH stands for Beards and Hats, it doesn’t) on 34th street last week. As my rig spends most of its time swinging about in a superfund situation, or out on the brackish waters of NY Harbor, this sounded pretty good to me. Negotiations resulted in a plan for us to meet up over in the shining city from our respective corners of the world at the camera shop.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit and curse, one arrived a bit too early and I decided to saunter around the hellish neighborhood surrounding Penn Station and Madison Square Garden for a bit. Hellish? Why, yes it is. This neighborhood has to host one of the largest accumulations of scabby, boil you down to sell you for elements, old school junkies left in in Manhattan. My footsteps carried me, however, over to a largish construction site. While there, I observed an enormous piece of construction equipment at work – which I understand as being called a “beam launcher.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The purpose and operation of this device is explained succinctly in this constructionspecifier.com post, which also offers the story of the various challenges faced by the Real Estate Industrial Complex regarding the exploitation of this parcel of midtown Manhattan at 33rd and 9th. Happily, the endemic junkies and scalliwags who populate the streets here will soon have a brand new and baked in population of office workers and condominium dwellers to prey upon when the project is completed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My viewpoint on the neighborhood surrounding “Beards and Hats” is based on personal experience, incidentally, not out of some dilettante distaste or opinion and it sure as hell ain’t “politically correct.” There are two areas in Midtown where I’m actively looking over my shoulder for fear of getting jumped. The 34th street zone around 9th and 10th, and the 40’s around 11th avenue are well populated with a criminal underclass of indigents, addicts, and good old fashioned criminals. The residential populations of affluent New Yorkers who have been moving into this former industrial zone along the Hudson look upon this group with pitying and sympathetic eyes, and will tell me to “lighten up, they’re just homeless and down on their luck. They just need a helping hand.” If you believe that, then this malign grouping has already made a mark out of you.

In the end, however, my camera came out of its maintenance session clean and shiny and I headed back to the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, where I belong. Christ almighty, do I hate Manhattan or what?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2014 at 10:55 am

southern satellites

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Roosevelt Island and the Megalith, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As described yesterday, one found himself scuttling across the pavement of Roosevelt Island recently. Purpose had carried me to this spit of land which exists as a sort of existential buffer between Manhattan and Queens, and the desire to see what had become of the Queensboro Lamp Post base under the stewardship of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society. After visiting the group’s HQ, one elected to move across the island in a southerly direction, whereupon the Vane Brothers “Red Hook” tug was observed towing a fuel barge in a northernly direction.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the previous administration of the Big Little Mayor signed a deal with Cornell University to create a new campus here on the island. As far as I know the current administration of the Little Big Mayor hasn’t found a way to bollock that up yet by inserting “affordable housing” into the mix yet, and there is an awfully large demolition project underway at the former Goldwater Hospital campus. As always, the thing which cannot possibly exist that dwells in the cupola of LIC’s sapphire megalith has its unblinking eye fixed upon the world of men and is omniscient.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The impossible ideation found at the apex of the megalith, and its global army of acolytes in the Real Estate Industrial Complex, will see all around it transformed. In the end there will be naught be mirrored towers for miles in any direction, daggers aimed at the heavens, shadowing the earth from the radiant gaze of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. How many vantage points have I presented to you, over the years, which depict a scene such as the one above? How many more will we see before the world is remade in its image?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One cannot relate too much about the hospital itself. The Goldwater Hospital was established in 1939, and was named for a former NYC Hospitals official. Goldwater had been merged with another hospital on Roosevelt Island, Coler, and served the community as a more than 2,000 bed chronic care facility. Dilapidated and decrepit, the hospital complex was condemned in order to make way for the coming university campus. The acknowledged expert on this subject is Judith Berdy from the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, so why not come out to the island and allow her to share her wisdom?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Neither Goldwater Coler nor the Tug Red Hook was the focal I had in mind when beginning the short walk from the Roosevelt Island Historic Society’s HQ to the southern tip of the island, however. One’s desire was to visit the brand new “FDR Four Freedoms Park” which was opened somewhat recently. Observations of the space from Long Island City and multiple boat trips over the last summer have intrigued me, and a closer inspection seemed warranted.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On Monday, a short photographic presentation of my observations will be made manifest at this, your Newtown Pentacle – but here’s a teaser image of the sights encountered when I first entered the monument. It seemed quite appropriate, somehow – that as I walked into a park celebrating the first of the imperial Presidents of the United States – a military helicopter was flying overhead, and that the United Nations building was framed by the park’s masonry.

There was a sign, one which admonished visitors “do not climb on the walls.” Don’t believe me? See for yourself, if you dare.

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