The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for December 2015

thousand faced

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And here we are, Christmas.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I like a good religious tableau, which is odd, as I believe in nothing. Literally, “nothing.” As in the void, emptiness, and entropy. Call me a nihilist if you will, or a strict materialist – but if I can’t burn it, break it, or prove it empirically – it ain’t. Others cling to their own beliefs, and luckily many are inspired to create art to express these ideations and fantasies. Pictured above, a carved wooden nativity display observed at a church on Manhattan’s Houston Street shortly following a tense discussion with my landlord last year.

I may not believe in anything beyond dissolution (and Superman, of course), but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate someone else’s set of ideas made manifest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saint Irene’s in Astoria displays the Orthodox splendors for which the Greek church is renowned. As the perennial outsider, I’ve always observed that a primary difference in the graphic stylings of Orthodox and Catholic Churches is in the depiction of the god head itself. The Latins prefer to focus on the final stages of the passion, depicting the Christ during or after the scourging offered by the Romans. Catholic Jesus is moments away from death, covered in wounds, and suffering. The Greeks seem to focus in on Christ in the mold of a “hero” in the classical sense – well muscled, tough and triumphant, a spiritual Spartan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan, which is one of the most glorious interior spaces to be found anywhere on that accursed island. This shot is actually from their Irish language St. Patrick’s Day mass, which I’m mentioning simply because anyone who grew up Catholic will be able to spot the costuming on their prelates as being seasonably inappropriate. I get in trouble with the religious types all the time when I refer to the pulpit as the stage, the robes as costumes, and ask about what the script calls for.

This betrays me, as it becomes fairly obvious to all that I regard visiting a church in the same manner as I do a theater. Saying that, just because I don’t believe in what you do doesn’t make me right and you wrong, it just means we differ. I’d like to believe that everybody else out there would afford others the same courtesy, but the front pages of newspapers and the interiors of history books indicate that such a belief is a foolish but inherently American sort of idea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

St. Andrew’s at Printers Square in Lower Manhattan, just behind the courthouse, has a spectacular pieta on display in its dimly lit chapel. This is an example of what I was saying about the “suffering Christ” iconography which seems to be preferred by the Catholic side of the great schism.

I really enjoy photographing churches and ritual spaces, incidentally, and should anyone reading this be in a position to invite me in to one for a couple of hours – I’d love to come by with the tripod and my other gear and record the scene if you can “get me in.”

As always, however, like a Vampire I need to be invited in to do my work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, what do Jews, Mohammadans, Buddhists, Daoists, Agnostics, Atheists, Nihilists, and the Hindus do on Christmas Eve? Short answer involves Chinese food, and bars. There’ll be someplace open to go tilt back a few and play some pool, discuss the issues of the day, and avoid the seasonal holidays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Merry Christmas, from this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

systemic horror

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An altar to Lord Dattatreya, at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, which was the only day in Decemeber that has actually felt – climatologically – like December, one found himself in the company of a couple of my Creek chums in a small boat on Newtown Creek. We saw something odd while out on the poison waters.

Our excursion was launched in pursuance of surveying certain bulkheads in an area defined by the former Penny Bridge and the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. We were literally studying the Creek, and I was along to gather photographs for further inspection at a later date – this is the sort of sinister stuff we get up, in Newtown Creek Alliance. Our survey of the study area was completed, a loop through the East Branch tributary was enacted, and we were headed west towards a dock at North Brooklyn Boat Club nearby the Pulaski Bridge in Greenpoint.

That’s when one of my companions asked if I’d seen “the statue.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Restaurant Depot company, a wholesaler which supplies commercial food establishments, sits on part of the former Phelps Dodge property in Maspeth. Their property is lined with industrial piers which have seen better days, but which were stoutly constructed and you can still observe rail tracks adorning them. In a couple of spots, the piers have decayed or collapsed, and there are little wooden bays amongst the piles.

That’s where the statue is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The style of the thing is clearly southeast Asian, and specifically subcontinental. Given the reach and spread of Indian culture, which is far flung, it’s often difficult to say “Indian” as opposed to “South East Asian.” The statue, however, displayed certain details which betrayed its stylistic and ritual origins, and after a bit of research – the specifics of its representation.

How it ended up in the littoral zone at the former Phelps Dodge property on Newtown Creek in Maspeth is anyone’s guess. I’ve long stopped asking these sort of questions on the Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The statuary was around three to four feet in height, and seemed to be made from molded concrete. It depicts Lord Dattatreya, who is a well known member of the Hindu Pantheon. The particulars of the statue are that it represents the Hindu trinity of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva – which members of the faith refer to as the Trimurti.

Note – if I get something wrong here, my Hindu friends, please offer correction in the comments section: 

Dattatreya is a primordial figure in Indian culture, and is mentioned in the Mahabharata – an epic holy text whose origins are nearly prehistoric. Mahabharata scholars believe its texts were originally written between 800 and one thousand BCE, making it a 2.5-3,000 year old holy book which is coincidentally the longest epic poem ever written at nearly two million words. Mahabharata is as culturally significant a text as the Christian Bible or the Quran, and offers spiritual guidance to what probably boils down to as much as a quarter of all living humans.

Dattatreya veneration was ancient when the Mahabharata was written, and the deity was originally represented with one head. Dattatreya came from the Deccan Plains in South Eastern India, which is one of the cradles of human civilization. The Trimurti version of the deity, seen above, has six arms and three heads. That’s Brahma on the statue’s left, Vishnu in the center, and Shiva on the statue’s right. The hands are all meant to be holding symbolic weapons and icons of these deities. The cow is sacred to Vishnu, and although it’s not terribly clear in the representation above, there are traditionally four dogs on a Dattatreya statue. Hindu scholars debate the meaning of the dogs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the Vedic religious traditions began, Dattatreya was reconsidered as an avatar of the Trimurti. About a thousand years ago, it became common practice to represent the deity as three headed. Certain Hindu sects revere Dattatreya as a supreme being singularly, with others placing him near the top of the food chain in the pantheon, but still subordinate to Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. His sister is Chandra, who is the moon goddess.

One can merely speculate as to the presence of the statue in the tidal zone of Newtown Creek, and as to what sort of congregants might rise from the water to worship before it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, our party was out on the water performing a bulkhead survey, and we were in search of something far more modern and mundane than an ancient Indian God. Controversy in the Superfund community has recently involved discussion of “Manufactured Gas” and the ebullition (reverse dripping) of coal tar sludge from subaqueous pockets in the sediment up to the surface. This has resulted in a humble narrator “getting smart” about the waste materials which the manufactured gas industry spewed out. Coal tar, and coal tar sludge, were – by far – the most abundant material that arose from the retorts and distillation equipment of the industry, but were hardly the only noxious material produced.

We were searching for “blue billy” amongst the rip rap shorelines of the lugubrious Newtown Creek, which is “spent lime” that had become infiltrated by ferrocyanide compounds during the industrial gasification of coal. There was no aftermarket for this material, and more often than not it was just dumped. Examining photographs of “blue billy,” my cohorts in NCA and I all remarked on how familiar it seemed, and set out to find some.

Instead, we found an Indian God.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2015 at 11:30 am

stertorous inflection

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I like me a good truck photo, I does.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself has never experienced full throttle happiness, as there is always a shadow that looms. I point out the cloud in an otherwise clear sky to the non observant, remind people of the constant presence of existential mortality, and in general – be a sour sort of fellow. This is why it’s preferable for me to spend much of his time alone, and spare others the misery of my company. Soliloquy and a camera are my only companions when wandering about the City of Greater New York, and for one reason or another – I notice and photograph a lot of trucks – all different kinds of trucks.

The ones above are heavy duty.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s lots of private carting companies around the Newtown Pentacle, and accordingly, lots of waste transfer stations for them to bring their collections of refuse to. The sort of truck you see above is called a “packer,” but most of us just call it a garbage truck. Spotted in DUKBO, on the Brooklyn side of Newtown Creek, before the Kosciuszko Bridge project got rolling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a thoroughly burned up ex truck and trailer, on used to be Cherry Street in Greenpoint, before the Kosciuszko Bridge project got going. Lots of odd things used to occur in DUKBO, and it was a fantastic place to dump a vehicle – especially in the six months or so before the bridge project got rolling. At the time, I was told by one of my neighborhood informants that the truck ignited up on the BQE and that the FDNY towed it off the highway while still aflame.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In Queens, over in DUGABO, at the Sims Metal dock. That’s a DSNY packer dropping off its charge of recyclables for the global recycling conglomerate to process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In Queensican Maspeth, the massive lot of the Ferrara Brothers Concrete company is found, and their distinctive orange and white concrete trucks are lined up and ready for duty. I’ve also remarked to myself about how finely detailed and clean the Ferrara trucks are – their fleet maintenance crews obviously give a lot of love to these machines.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Five Star Carting on Greenpoint Avenue in DUGABO and across the street from the sewer plant in Greenpoint, where one of their “roll on’s” is delivering a bin. The recycling company that the bin was being dropped off at burned down In a spectacular fire a couple of years back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The very best kind of truck, the kind that reduces me to running behind it yelling “fireman, fireman” in the same manner that I did as a child in Brooklyn. The FDNY Hazardous Materials Unit 1 is found up the hill in Maspeth, just off Grand’s intersection with the Long Island Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A tanker truck on Railroad Avenue over on the Blissville side of DUGABO in Queens. Based on the signage adorning its bumper, my bet is that it’s carrying gasoline or heating oil. By tanker standards, this is a fairly low capacity vehicle, and it’s used for “last mile” deliveries to residential and small business customers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can find the big boys of the fuel tanker world back in Brooklyn’s DUKBO, just off Meeker Avenue, where Island Fuel maintains an enormous property. These tankers do commercial work, filling up apartment house oil tanks and supplying gas stations with fuel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Greenpoint, a truck which simply sucks. When things go badly for a tanker truck, or a leak develops in some underground doohickey, you call in a vacuum truck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Northern Boulevard in Queens, at the border of Woodside and Astoria, a truck which is in the process of delivering trucks. Kind of like a mama turtle giving a ride to her babies, ain’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Betts Avenue, at Woodside’s border with Maspeth, you’ll notice a series of trucks fresh off the production line and awaiting adoption parked along the fence lines of Mount Zion cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In Maspeth proper, near Grand Avenue’s intersection with Rust Street, a crimson battalion of semi rigs is often observed. The military precision of their formation is worth noting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The worst fate that can befall a truck, I believe, is to end up in the hands of one of NYC’s “lesser” agencies – as is the case with these NYCHA trucks arranged in a midden alongside the Queensboro houses in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A medium sized tanker, this Colony fuel oil truck was making a home heating oil delivery in Astoria. I love the color way, or paint job, that the home heating oil industry lavishes on their rigs. Exquisite business graphics often adorn their fleets, and are worthy of notice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was a kid, my dream was to either drive a dump truck or a bull dozer for a living. For some lucky employee of the Corzo construction company, the latter had become a manifest reality on Astoria’s Broadway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The vast majority of NYC’s trucking companies – despite being based in Brooklyn, and Queens, and the Bronx, exist to service Manhattan’s needs. The locus point of the megalopolis, vast numbers of trucks converge on Manhattan at all hours of the day and night, choking their streets and disturbing the slumbering bourgeoise.

Of course, the Manhattan people give nary a thought as to where all these trucks go, and how they transit back and forth to their unsustainable island city.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2015 at 1:30 pm

limned orb

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Seasons Greetings, indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first electric Christmas tree lights were displayed back in 1882, by Edward Hibberd Johnson. It just so happened that Johnson was a partner in the Edison Illuminating Company, incidentally. In 1903, commercially available Christmas lights went on the market, and America has been gaga for the decorations ever since. Pictured above is Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, which like many commercial strips in NYC, has a merchants association that strings lights over the thoroughfare to bring the cheer. Closer to home, the merchants association on Steinway Street here in Astoria, Queens, actually pipes Christmas music onto the commercial strip through speakers. I cannot imagine anything more horrible than living on Steinway Street and having Christmas music playing in a continuous loop outside my window.

Factor in the fact that the vast majority of people who live on Steinway are observationally religious Muslims, and it gets that much more macabre. The neighbors from the Levant seem to tolerate it pretty well, but still…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself would do away with all of these winter holidays and instead create a custom of serious self reflection and ascetic study. I think Voltaire had it right when he suggested that we should all spend more time pursuing our studies, but to each his own. Giant inflatable puppets it is.

Idiots and demagogues claim that there is a “war on Christmas” underway in our society, which causes me to retort that Christmas is a actually illegal in the nation of Brunei, and that the Sultan who rules that country was a dear and personal friend of Ronald Reagan.

This usually rubs those idiots and demagogues the wrong way, which is my intention.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For myself, when I want to see red and green lights, I head over to the Sunnyside Yards. You don’t have to wait for December, which is a plus.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 21, 2015 at 11:00 am

unutterable aeries

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Tekelele, indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, a sexual display committed by two monkeys at the Central Park Zoo scared me, so a retreat to the “safe space” of the Penguin house was enacted. It should be pointed out that the lighting in this section of Manhattan’s premier animal penitentiary is rather dim, which I suspect is for the comfort of the captive birds contained therein. It took every trick I know, as far as the subject of low light photography goes, to capture the images in today’s post. You can actually discern the sensor grid of my camera in a few of these shots, as it was pretty darned dark in this safe space and the exposure triangle required for hand held shots (through glass) leaned toward staggeringly high sensitivities. Also, a significant amount of condensation and moisture was observed on the barrier glass of the bird prison, which actually created some interesting visual effects, imho.

Whilst concentrating on my task, errant thoughts kept intruding, and one couldn’t help but think about H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.” Actually, since I was listening to an unabridged reading of the novella (Audiorealms, Wayne June reading) it was extremely difficult not to think about the star crossed Elder things and their shoggoth problems. Tekelele, tekelele.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, given the largely useless amount of trivial information which populates my thoughts, a secondary narrative began to intrude. The Mountains of Madness tells the story of a fairly inaccessible Antarctic region which holds the remains of an alien city whose inhabitants were exterminated by a certain biological technology which ran amok, which Lovecraft called “shoggoths.” Good book, this, and Lovecraft makes a good case for letting “sleeping dogs lie.”

The ends of the earth, and the so called “poles of inaccessibility” began to come to mind. Anything, anything to erase the micro aggressions suffered at the Snow Monkey enclosure, was a welcome reprieve.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oodap Qeqert is a bank of gravel and rock which is found off the northwest coast of Greenland, and is possibly the most northern point of land one might find before the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean obliviates terrestial life forms. Geologists don’t consider a gravel bank to be actual land, per se, and Kaffeklubben Island (also off the coast of Greenland) is officially the northernmost point of dry land you can get to if you’re on the way to the North Pole. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, and headed for the antipode, the most remote island on Earth warrants a visit. It’s a Norwegian territory, believe it or not, called Bouvetøya Island.

Unless a Penguin got seriously lost like Topper (the scarf wearing Penguin from the Rankin Bass “Santa Claus is coming to town” animated television program), you won’t find any in Greenland. You’ll find lots of Penguins on Bouvetøya Island, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The chilly waters of the antipode are actually quite mysterious. Lots of interesting and fairly undocumented things happen down there, like the so called Vela Incident back in 1979. The Antarctic Continent is literally the last terrestrial frontier for mankind, and was a focal point for the Super Power competitions of the Cold War era. The Soviets established Vostok Station nearby the Southern “Pole of Inaccessibility” on the continent. What that “POI” term means is that it is situated as far away from a coastline in every direction as you can get on Antarctica.

Famously, the Russians who now inhabit Vostok Station have been involved in a deep drilling experiment to access the unfrozen fresh waters of Lake Vostok, which lies some 13,000 feet beneath the glacial surface that Vostok Station sits upon. Speculations about what sorts of primeval life – the lake has been sealed off from the rest of the planet for fifteen million years – might inhabit the lake cause one to shake and quiver with horror.

Truly – who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Soviets were goofy for drilling deep holes into the Earth, it should be mentioned.

Their “Kolskaya sverkhglubokaya skvazhina,” or Kola Superdeep Borehole, not too far from their border with Finland on the Barents Sea, managed to penetrate down better than 40,000 feet. The rocks and geological layers that their drills reached to date back to the Archaen Age, which are about two and a half billion years old. The Kola project was abandoned in 2008, and the Russian Federation made it a point of not just destroying the facility and equipment, but capping the hole with reinforced concrete and steel. They likely had their reasons. What is held in the deep earth is not something that mankind truly wishes cognizance of, and were its contents to become widely known… Incidentally, Kola is the supposed location where that “well dug to hell” recording was captured, but that’s just an Internet meme, right?

Deeper holes have been drilled since Kola, in pursuance of hydrocarbon deposits nearby Russia’s Sakhalin Island in the Northern Pacific Ocean, and in the Persian Gulf by Qatar.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My recovery from the startling and outré Monkey incident accomplished, a humble narrator decided it was time to return to Queens, where my delicate sensibilities might be better coddled, cultivated, and wrapped in vibrant diversity than here in Manhattan’s Central Park Zoo.

On the whole “poles of inaccessibility” thing, I’d suggest study of the village of Suluk in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is one of the so called “cradles of nations” and likely the most inaccessible place in Eurasia. Closer to home, the United States’s “POI” is called Corn Creek, and it’s in Allen, South Dakota. Allen is, coincidentally, the poorest county in the entire United States and the median family income thereabouts is $3,819 per annum, and that is all the justification you’ll ever need to hear for the importance of loving someplace with a harbor or port nearby.

Hell, $3,800 won’t even get you one month in a closet sized studio in Williamsburg.

The geographic center of New York State is in Madison County, and is around a half hour drive from Utica.

The geographic center of NYC is on the “Boulevard of Death” – the middle of Queens Blvd. at 58th street – according to the NYC Dept. of City Planning. There’s a brass plaque and everything on the spot, and it’s one of the places where a humble narrator likes to shout out “Tekelele, Tekelele” at passing traffic.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 18, 2015 at 11:00 am

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