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

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

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.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

lovely attribute

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Sneeze, cough, sneeze. Repeat.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself is defined by my list of phobias and fears, and a long list of prophylaxes is maintained. Fear of an unwarranted accusation, fear of finding myself in the path of a madman, fear of falling victim to someone else’s incompetent or lazy habits. I’m afraid of being seriously wounded in a manner that cripples rather than kills, terrified by stray electrical current loosed into salty puddles of melted ice and snow, and incapacitated by the notion of being pushed in front of a speeding subway train. What slays me, however, is the phobic reaction I suffer to the realization of the number of pathogens I’m exposed to whenever I ride the subway (and I regularly hang around waterways which has been added to the Superfund list that are choked with sewage). The stress is enough to make me develop a rash.

from wikipedia

The skin is the largest organ in the body. In humans, it accounts for about 12 to 15 percent of total body weight and covers 1.5-2m2 of surface area. It distinguishes, separates, and protects the organism from its surroundings. Small-bodied invertebrates of aquatic or continually moist habitats respire using the outer layer (integument). This gas exchange system, where gases simply diffuse into and out of the interstitial fluid, is called integumentary exchange.

The human skin (integument) is composed of a minimum of three major layers of tissue: the epidermis; dermis; and hypodermis. The epidermis forms the outermost layer, providing the initial barrier to the external environment. Beneath this, the dermis comprises two sections, the papillary and reticular layers, and contains connective tissues, vessels, glands, follicles, hair roots, sensory nerve endings, and muscular tissue. The deepest layer is the hypodermis, which is primarily made up of adipose tissue. Substantial collagen bundles anchor the dermis to the hypodermis in a way that permits most areas of the skin to move freely over the deeper tissue layers.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The close quarters of the mass transit system, where the air you breathe was recently dwelling within the chest of someone else, causes a massive “flight or fight” response to blossom around three inches behind my sunglasses. People actually eat while riding these trains, after having touched various surfaces found both onboard and in the stations. Leaving behind the various inorganic contaminants found down here – the brake dust, carbon compounds released from failing electrical connections, powderized steel from the rails – you’ve got an aerosol teeming with virus and bacteria. On top of that, the micro biome which every member of the human infestation hosts – mites and other microscopic horrors – mingles with the personal ecosystem of others in these tight quarters. It’s a wonder that we aren’t eaten alive on the morning commute, and that trainloads of skeletonized cadavers don’t arrive from Queens at Manhattan’s 59th street every 10-15 minutes. One realizes that this is illogically phobic, but nevertheless, it causes me to become quite itchy.

from wikipedia

Scabies (from Latin: scabere, “to scratch”), also known colloquially as the seven-year itch, is a contagious skin infection caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. The mite is a tiny, and usually not directly visible, parasite which burrows under the host’s skin, which in most people causes an intense itching sensation caused by an allergic response. The infection in animals other than humans is caused by a different but related mite species, and is called sarcoptic mange.

Scabies is classified by the World Health Organization as a water-related disease. The disease may be transmitted from objects, but is most often transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact, with a higher risk with prolonged contact. Initial infections require four to six weeks to become symptomatic. Reinfection, however, may manifest symptoms within as few as 24 hours. Because the symptoms are allergic, their delay in onset is often mirrored by a significant delay in relief after the parasites have been eradicated. Crusted scabies, formerly known as Norwegian scabies, is a more severe form of the infection often associated with immunosuppression.

Scabies is one of the three most common skin disorders in children, along with tinea and pyoderma. As of 2010 it affects approximately 100 million people (1.5% of the world population) and is equally common in both sexes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Realization that what I’m scared of the most is actually all of you torments and informs. One of my nightmares involves a packed train and some corpulent fellow whose skin is covered in bursting pustules whose yellowed issuance is tinted with tiny ribbons of blood. In my frenzied nocturnal hallucination, this citizen of the realm is infected with every possible disease of the dermis. A bit of his infectious spatter lands on my left hand, which I watch turn red, then yellow, then black as scarlet spider webs begin spreading up into my sleeve just as the train enters the tunnels which carry it beneath the river. Just at that moment when your ears pop due to the pressure of the water above, a brownish red liquid begins to drip out of my pants leg and a fever overcomes me. By the time the train arrives at my destination in the Shining City, there’s naught but a filthy black raincoat and a camera found sitting on a puddle of purplish goo upon the septic linoleum of the E train. Commuters just step over this liquefied but still humble narrator, of course, because no matter what obstacle New York City throws at you – you’ve still got to get to work.

from wikipedia

Leprosy is primarily a granulomatous disease of the peripheral nerves and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract; skin lesions are the primary external sign. Left untreated, leprosy can be progressive, causing permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. Contrary to folklore, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off, although they can become numb or diseased as a result of secondary infections; these occur as a result of the body’s defenses being compromised by the primary disease. Secondary infections, in turn, can result in tissue loss causing fingers and toes to become shortened and deformed, as cartilage is absorbed into the body.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 13, 2015 at 11:30 am

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