The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan

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

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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rhythmical promises

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Thinking it through, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The way that the human infestation hereabouts behaves and operates can be described, and made somewhat predictable, via the usage of branch logic. When presented with a decision, you can choose option A or option B – a binary decision. Both have logical next steps. These steps flow out of the original decision, form a branching tree of binary choices – a logical progression of decisions. “If” and “then” and “next” and so on are encountered.

A random factor – X – begins to creep into this process around five or six branches down from the original decision. As an example – I decide to punch a guy in the nose, or not. If I hit him, does he a) hit me back, or b) runs away. A, or B form logical progressions that branch out from their individual decision points. Let’s say that the guy hits me back, do I a) punch him again or b) run away crying? If I choose “B,” how far do I run and where do I go? What happens next? You can postulate a few likely, or highly probable steps, but “X” always rears its ugly head eventually.

“X” is also known as “unintended consequences,” which is the one predictable constant of every human decision.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m absolutely fascinated by the Carriage Horse story going on here in the City, wherein our current Mayor has vowed to eliminate the industry from area streets. Animal welfare activists have long opposed the continuing presence of horse drawn carriages on New York streets, citing that the animals are found commingling with automotive and truck traffic. Often, I have pointed out that human children mingle with the self same traffic which is meant to pose this existential threat, but no one seems to care about that. The Carriage industry has accused the Mayor of crass politicking on behalf of a campaign donor, and offers that theirs is a generational craft with long traditions and that their animals are in superb condition. Additionally, they attest that their animals are working creatures who essentially provide for their own needs by pulling these carriages. The NY Daily News is all over this story, and I’d suggest swinging over to their site to check their take out. I’ve no skin in this game, but for some reason I remain enthusiastically attentive to it.

Anyway, that’s the decision which faces the Big Little Mayor – eliminate the Carriage Horse industry or keep it around. A binary decision, ultimately, which will become diluted and colored Legislative Gray somewhere down the tree of “If’s” and “And’s.” As always, one such as myself has nothing but free time to worry about things that really don’t concern me, and a certain driving thought manifested while I was working down the logical tree.

It was a simple question that emerged behind my fevered brow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What about the Police Horses?

It occurs that I have never, not once, heard anyone complain or protest about the use of horses on NYC streets by NYPD. These are critically well trained animals, of course, conditioned to be non reactive to everything from parades and protesting crowds to gunfire and active duty situations. Arguably, these animals are subjected to greater stressors than their livery brethren working the relatively quiet streets around Central Park. Additionally, these critters are under the direct supervision of the Police departmental structure and by extension City Hall, which brings us back to the Mayor. The logical extension of banning the carriage horses from NYC streets, on the grounds of animal cruelty, would demand that all horses would need to be spared these conditions, no?

This is where the “X” factor mentioned above comes into play, when you’re thinking through the logic of eliminating an entire industry or just punching a guy in the nose it is wise to think about how your choice might play out.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 8, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in animals

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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

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