The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

curious pacts

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The great anniversary, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It all started in the Belgian Congo, over in Africa, when a fellow named Robert Rich Sharp discovered the deposit near a little town called Shinkolobwe.

The Union Minière du Haut Katanga, a Belgian Mining Company, assumed control over the resource and began to refine the material into something useful. It was something unique, this mineral deposit at Shinkolobwe, and the mine was soon producing ore materials that were 65% pure. Other global deposits of the stuff, discovered and exploited later in the 20th century, were considered major finds if they held 5% pure ore, and Shinkolobwe is described as a “freak occurrence in nature” by minerologists. The Belgians owned the Congo, and UHMK held a virtual monopoly on the rare elements found within the colony. Refineries were set up in Shinkolobwe, and both the town and the mine were excised from maps and official mention.

When the Second World War broke out, Belgium fell before the German Blitzkrieg, but the UMHK had already stockpiled some 1,200 metric tonnes of refined ore in the United States. It was stored in New York City, where UMHK had warehoused it on Staten Island, beneath the Bayonne Bridge. On the 18th of September in 1942 – Edgar Sengier, the head of UMHK, had a meeting with United States General Kenneth Nichols.

Nichols purchased the 1,200 tonnes of refined uranium from the Belgian Company, which was already in America and warehoused on Staten Island, and arranged for another 300 tonnes of the stuff to be shipped across the Atlantic from Shinkolobwe for usage by the War Department of the United States. This transaction ultimately caused the death of some 66,000 people, and the maiming of at least 70,000 more, a scant three years later on this day in 1945. Thousands more died on the 9th, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The military project General Nichols represented was started in 1939, eventually employing more than 130,000 people and costing nearly US $2 billion (about $26 billion in 2015 dollars). There were four known major deposits of the precious ore in 1940: one in Colorado, one in northern Canada, Joachimstal in Czechoslovakia, and Shinkolobwe in the Belgian Congo. Joachimstal was in German hands. The Canadian and American deposits were quickly nationalized, and the Congo mother lode was soon held firmly by British interests.

Across North America, dozens of industrial plants were built and got to work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

History is full of “what if’s.” What if Charlemagne had refused the title of Holy Roman Emperor? What if John III Sobieski didn’t break the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683? What if Chingis Khan had never invaded the Middle East? What if the Japanese Empire didn’t attack Pearl Harbor and force the United States into the Second World War? One can speculate…

Eventually, the U.S. would have intervened in Europe. Simply put, the English and French owed billions in war debts from the First World War to American banks, and the U.S.A would have been forced to intervene simply to protect its interests. The Pacific was considered an American and British lake back then, and the Phillipines were a de facto American colony in the 1930’s – so it was only a matter of time before the Japanese Empire and the United States would find themselves in one conflict or another.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the European Powers, the Japanese understood what “total war” meant in the age of industry. Their miraculous conversion, in just one century, from Medieval backwater to industrial superpower had already resulted in Japanese forces utterly dominating and annihilating both German and Russian armies in one sided conflicts. Their naval strength was staggering, and by the 1930’s their armies made short work of capturing the infinite resources of China. Pearl Harbor was meant to be a decapitating blow, clipping the Eagle’s wings.

There are mistakes in history, blunders of epic scale, and Pearl Harbor ranks up there with the Khwarazm Shah telling Chingis Khan to go fuck himself. The America that the Japanese empire attacked wasn’t the one we know today, full of soul searching and unsure of itself – rather it was the country which had produced Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and especially John D. Rockefeller.

It had also produced Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves, whom General Kenneth Nichols worked for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ore purchased from the Union Minière du Haut Katanga by General Kenneth Nichols, which was scratched out of the earth in the Belgian Congo’s Shinkolobwe mine and stored in a warehouse on Staten Island, was uranium. The United States of America used that ore to refine and produce Plutonium in a massive industrial complex which it built in just six years. On September 18th, 1942 – the fate of two Japanese cities was sealed when the ore came passed into the hands of the Manhattan Project, which came to fruition on August 6th in 1945.

Seventy years ago today – a device named Little Boy carried that ore, mined from Shinkolobwe and stored in Staten Island, over a city called Hiroshima in Japan.

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Upcoming Tours –

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 6, 2015 at 11:30 am

crawled into

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A short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, one found himself in Manhattan – I had to pick up a job from my printer – and transfixed by a lovely building facade in the 19th century’s version of “Tin Pan Alley” on Broadway in the 20’s.

This was once NYC’s theater district, Gershwin had offices nearby, and although I’m speaking strictly out of my admittedly hazy memory here – I believe this structure on Broadway at 29th street was originally built as a fancy hotel.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 31, 2015 at 11:00 am

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.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

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

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

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