The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for March 2017

narrow slits

leave a comment »

It’s National Black Forest Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst shlepping about in Astoria, Queens – one often encounters cool cars. The one pictured above was a highly customized Chevy pickup which drew more than one admiring glance from both myself and some other bloke who was dressed as a butcher. I’m pretty sure he actually was a butcher, as after we compared notes on our admiration for the thing, he went into the butcher shop on the corner of 38th street. That would also explain the giant clots of blood I observed on the apron he was wearing, but you don’t ask too many questions about blood stains in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over by the NYCHA Astoria Houses, found to the north and west of that cool car mentioned above, one observed a group of workers building a dock to accommodate the Citywide Ferry service which is meant to be kicking into gear this summer. One advised everyone that would listen not to put it here, but nobody ever listens to little old me.

When a ferry leaves its dock in NY Harbor, regulation and custom demands that it signal its departure via the usage of a particularly loud foghorn. These horn toots are a regular complaint offered by the Manhattan people, who have docks near their homes along the Hudson, in the tony section called Battery Park City. Wonder how the Latin Kings of the Astoria Houses will react to it blowing outside their windows at seven in the morning.

It should have been placed to the south, at the Costco bulkheads where it would have become a viable transportation option for shoppers from Manhattan which would have made it an economically feasible stop and wouldn’t wake up anybody at seven in the morning, but as mentioned – nobody listens to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Traipsing down Jackson Avenue, one discovered that a Union protest of some sort (electricians, I think) was being aimed at the so called “5Ptz Towers” construction site. Personally, I’ve always believed there to be enough rodents of the home grown variety here in Long Island City, but there you go. One of these days, I’ve got to investigate where one would proceed to shop in pursuance of purchasing inflatable rodents. As you can see, there’s a regular and a family size model.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

other callers

with 2 comments

It’s International Whiskey Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is normal, right? Everybody wanders around in industrial neighborhoods at night taking pictures of highly polluted waterways, right? It’s not just me… right?

At this time of the year – when it’s neither hot nor cold, but instead lukewarm – the Dutch Kills tributary of the inconceivable Newtown Creek always displays a layer of filmy “goo,” which is at its most observable during the interval when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has dipped behind New Jersey. Not sure if the “goo” is just road salt and snow pellet residues, nor some sort of oil or grease, some effluent introduced by the multiple sewer outlets on Dutch Kills which are offered by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or perhaps it’s just the mucoid castings of some hidden water dwelling leviathan.

Me, I lean towards the leviathan theory, because it involves both mucous and a giant monster. Mucous is cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to tend to a bit of business in Greenpoint last week, and since it was decent out – weather wise – decided to walk home to Astoria. It’s a walk that sounds longer than it is, you just need to take advantage of fact that since the street grid here about is divided and subdivided by highways and rail infrastructure which creates a series of triangles – walk the legs of the triangle and not the hypotenuse until it’s advantageous.

Cutting through the streets around Dutch Kills leads me to that advantageous hypotenuse (which would make a great band name, incidentally) which is Skillman Avenue. A century ago, I would have been able to shortcut on Old Dutch Kills Road from there, but all that’s left of that is a stubby block following the rail tracks near Home Depot which the City calls 37th avenue. You have to work with what you’ve got, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is engaged, at the moment, with drawing up a schedule for this year’s walking and boat tours. A recently announced Newtown Creek Alliance tour – the 100% Toxic All Day Newtown Creekathon on April 9th – filled up in about half a day and I didn’t even have time to let everyone here know before it did. I have a feeling we will be repeating this one sometime in the fall, but there’s a lot of neat stuff coming this summer.

On the tours subject – Working Harbor Committee met the other night, and there are several water tours in the offing with that group of maritime educators and enthusiasts. We, as in Newtown Creek Alliance, are going to be announcing several opportunities to visit the Creek by water and on land shortly. Additionally, I’ve got a couple of things cooking with Atlas Obscura that are mighty cool. I’ll be letting everyone know about these and other excursions as soon as I’ve got all the dates etched in stone.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

peculiar precaution

with 2 comments

It’s National Tortilla Chip Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finishing off my week of non ugly subject matter, here’s a few shots of delicious things shot close up, and I’ll talk about ugly things instead. Regarding these shots, you’ve seen them before, just about a year ago. One of the interesting things about my little world is that my photos serve as bookmark reminders for what I was thinking and experiencing while shooting them. In the case of today’s shots, it was searing pain and an incapacitating shoulder injury. Pain is an odd thing, something which the brain… well, my brain at least… tries to forget.

Think about it – if I say warm summer day, or allude to some pleasure of a sexual nature, or mention fresh bread coming out of the oven – your mind will begin to ruminate on the sensations described by those circumstances. If instead it’s “burned by an oven” or “cut by a knife” or “punched in the nose” you’ve got a vague idea of that as being unpleasant, but the actual memory of it is fairly well buried. It is for me, at least. I remember that it sucked, but can’t summon up a memory of the actual feeling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every now and then, one will allow himself to fully experience the full coterie of nervous signals which my conscious mind filters out. All of the minor injuries and day to day pathologies are allowed to signal their intent, and for a minute or two I get in touch with a lifetime of injuries. The vague numbness in my left thumb from that time in high school, or the disconcerting clicking that’s been present in my knee since that time I fell out of a moving car in college? Yup. The “turf toe” pain in my foot which is always there, a consequence of doing all the walking across miles of concrete that I engage in? Um hum. The evolving issues with and constant discomfort emanating from my always crappy teeth? Yessir. The list goes on and on – the weird pain in my left neck, right side lower back, left hip… Essentially, if I was to allow myself to fully experience all of these things all of the time, I’d fall over and writhe.

Then I tune it back out. I figure the only difference between me and someone 15-20 years older than I am is that you lose the ability to filter out the pain.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, whereas I have a distinct memory of the last time that I had a tooth go bad enough on me that it needed to be pulled, one finds it difficult to precisely remember the actual sensation. I can describe positive sensations in excruciating detail, conversely, but the things from my personal history that I remember are all decidedly negative in nature. The sound of a breaking bone, the feeling of a razor knife lacerating the skinvelope, the impact of a booted foot on my teeth – all that I’ve got. The smell of a newborn baby, or the aforementioned fresh loaf of bread? Not so much.

How about you? Do you remember the taste of vomit, or do you just remember puking?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What do you want me to say, I’m all ‘effed up.

Back Monday with something completely different, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

haughty hermit

with 5 comments

It’s National Chips and Dip Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An acquaintance of mine, an immigrant frenchman that works at Delmonicos as a butcher (that’s him, all blurred up in the long exposure above) whom I know from the local saloon asked me just the other night “do you always hold meetings in the bar”? The answer is “yes.” If I have to sit down and chat with someone about work and there’s an opportunity to do it over a pint rather than in some banal office, I take it. One has always favored the “Irish Bar” variant of watering hole. One of the first times that I reveled in the glorious and often forgotten history of NYC was back in college whilst wondering about why Third Avenue in Manhattan seemed to host a group of Irish bars at seemingly regular geographic intervals (14th, 23rd, 34th etc.), and that’s when I learned about the former existence of the Third Avenue Elevated. The Irish bars agglutinate do around its no longer extant exit stairwells, and provided a clue as to “what used to be.”

Back when I was still doing comics, and doing promotional appearances at conventions around the country, I’d often find myself in some strange city or town all by myself after the show and would wander into the local licensed establishments for diversion. That’s when I discovered that there were ethnic influences in the set up of various regions – the “Slavic” style bars of the Midwest (a central island with low slung counters built around it, where shots of clear liquor are favored over tap beer) or the restaurant style setups of the American Southeast – where the bar itself is not meant for sitting at, and the patrons gather around tables and chairs set up in the manner of a coffee shop or diner. Further, you can tie the presence of the Northeastern style Irish bar, in say… Pittsburgh or Nashville, directly to the presence of a railroad line that connected to New England or New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In political circles, they’ll call a working guy “Joe Six Pack,” which was distinctly the sort of drinking that was favored in my old neighborhood back in Canarsie. Going to a bar was largely precluded for my cohort, as the law kept on changing and the level for legal drinking age was constantly being raised as I approached it. When I was 17 turning 18, they made it 19, and then again it was raised to 21 just as I was turning 19. Never stopped us from buying a bottle of suds at some bodega, but the bodega owners would only sell us the crap that no one else wanted like Meister Brau Light (shudders). There were bars in my neighborhood that looked the other way at your fake ID, of course. Famously, one of them in nearby Sheepshead Bay employed a bouncer who was a young Andrew Dice Clay. Dice didn’t care about ID if your face was familiar to him, and his parents lived a block away from mine, so…

The cool thing about my old neighborhood, right on the edge of an increasingly Caribbean Flatbush, was that the beers that nobody else in my social circle wanted to drink but were abundantly available included Red Stripe and Mackeson’s Triple Stout. Back in the 80’s, everyone was still salivating for Bud, Heineken, or Corona, and Coors was still a newly introduced brand in NYC, so… more of the “off the radar” stuff for me. I still like keeping a six pack of Red Stripe in the fridge during the summer, as the Jamaicans really have something going with their national lager as far as hot weather is concerned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has never embraced the high end beers which began to proliferate in recent years as part of the “microbrew” revolution. IPA just causes heartburn to blossom in my skinvelope, and a “flight of beers” as pictured above is just such a  “fancy shmancy” and “hoitie toitie” way to suck back a cold one that my inner “Joe Six Pack” just can’t help going all sarcastic.

The thing one finds disturbing about the Irish Bars which I love hanging out at – these days – are the sudden proliferation of the “sore winner” Trump guys who get angry when they overhear a humble narrator, or anyone else for that matter, using multi syllabic words whilst discussing the news of the day with the other “alta cockers.” Whatcha want from me, bro, you’re the one who voted for a walking trash fire to become President. Can’t we just argue about the relative valuations of the Rangers or the Mets like the good old days?

Just last week, a drunk gym teacher from some charter school comes up behind me and… well, that’s another story.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 23, 2017 at 11:30 am

finally shunned

with 2 comments

It’s National Water Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing my week of presenting photos of non horrible subjects, today here’s a few shots of the moon. One will state this unequivocally – getting an ok shot of the moon is hard. The thing is moving across the sky a lot faster than you think it is, and from an exposure triangle point of view – it’s about half as bright as the sun and set against a background that’s darker than Satan’s beard. You need to account for the rotation of the earth, as well as the orbital pathway which the satellite itself is racing through. Then… you’ve also got the issue of trying to fill the frame.

I like a challenge, of course, but lining up all the gear you need to accomplish the shot (tripods, lenses etc.) and doing the exposure math first is a real bugger. It ain’t exactly “click” and then I got it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The moon without environmental context is challenging, and if you’ve got it once you’ve pretty much conquered that mountain. Setting exposure for the moon posed against the landscape is another bannana entirely. The “proper” way to do it, and the manner in which a lot of those shots you see from Jersey City showing the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline with a perfect looking moon and sky behind them is basically “exposure stacking,” meaning you do two or more shots and then combine them in photoshop. It’s a variation of the technique which is used for product and macro shots where you move the point of focus around in the frame across multiple exposures to compensate for depth of field blurriness and then combine them into one super sharp image.

Without exposure stacking, you get something like what you see above, with the moon taking on the appearance of a dim midnight sun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Getting the moon’s aura is one of the hardest things to capture, at least for me. The light frequencies of the aura are operating at the very edge of human visual perception as it is, and you need to catch just the right weather conditions for it to be visible to the camera. Were the moon static… you’d be able to just do a long exposure and institute the exposure stacking technique, but with my equipment catalog there’s just a few seconds available to me before the motion of the planet and the satellite “smears” the shot.

There’s a relationship – mathematically – between focal length, aperture, and sensor size. If you were to google the term “astrophotography” you’d find that it’s quite a speciality and there’s all sorts of techniques and specialized gear involved. Intriguingly, there’s actually mechanical tripod heads which can track the movement of your celestial target and keep the camera aimed at it, but that’s not the sort of thing I can justify investing time and treasure in.

As it turns out, in the midst of writing this post, a nicely written and quite descriptive piece – discussing astrophotography related technical matters, techniques, and device settings – from lonelyspeck.com, appeared in one of my RSS feeds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If anyone reading this is interested in diving into trying to photograph the night sky, and you’re on the eastern coast of North America or in particular New York City, the disadvantages are both anthropogenic and naturally generated environmental in nature. “Dark sky” as it’s known, doesn’t exist here due to light pollution. There’s all sorts of vibration in the ground from traffic and subways, and the oceanic influence on the air means that there’s always a certain amount of humidity creating atmospheric diffusion. The best nights for shooting the moon in NYC are the worst ones to be outside – when it’s wicked cold and utterly clear.

You’ll need a “bright lens” and a sturdy tripod, and I’d recommend a shutter release cable of some kind so you don’t have to touch the camera which causes shake and vibration. Additionally, autofocus should be avoided, do it manually. The moon isn’t terribly contrasted, color wise, and your camera’s autofocus will just hunt back and forth seeking something to lock onto.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

whisper more

with one comment

It’s National Crunchy Taco Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has two surviving memories from early childhood. The first involves being imprisoned in a playpen while my mother vacuumed the garishly colored (typical of the early 1970’s) carpet of my parent’s bedroom, and I must have been two or three years old. The other is sitting on my grandfather’s lap at the conclusion of a family dinner during the Nixon administration, an era when the family meal typically concluded with coffee and cake. I remember Grandpa grabbing my little kid hand, which was grasping a cookie, and then helping me dip it into his black coffee.

To this day, I’m still a black coffee guy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The aforementioned cookie wasn’t oatmeal raisin, instead it was something which members of my family refer to as an “Ida Cookie.” My Dad’s oldest sister, and the de facto matriarch of clan Waxman, was named Ida and she was a well practiced baker. Aunt Ida would routinely show up at everyone’s house with pounds and pounds of baked goods. Nearly everything she baked was designed to be quaffed with hot caffeinated beverages, and for one reason or another, if she had overlooked something to the point of it nearly becoming charcoal, we would all fight over possession of that particular cookie. “Char” was big with the family.

Ida also made amazing apple cakes, pies, and especially variants on the cookies. The most highly prized item she offered was something called a “raisin rock,” which was often shattered by knives rather than sliced.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle has been sharpening her baking skills in recent years. It started out when one of her advertising clients, a nationally known brand, required the production of example foodstuffs for marketing purposes but had no budget for doing it “the right way,” which in advertising speak means hiring a chef and a food stylist. Accordingly, Our Lady built up her skill set and began manufacturing items such as the spread seen above. I’d occasionally wave the camera around at her creations, although she did most of the photography, and we puchased a few low end umbrella lights to augment the process.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

noncommittal way

leave a comment »

It’s National Ravioli Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been so gray and cold for the last few weeks, I think it’s time for an injection of warm colors, and a break from the photos of intensely ugly things which a humble narrator normally presents. Don’t worry, next week this – your Newtown Pentacle – will dive back into the hellish reality which we’ve created for ourselves, but for right now… flowers, and puppies, y’know – the good things.

That’s a happy, busy, and quite buzzy bee above, whose countenance was recorded on the north – or Greek – side of Astoria last summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Greek, that’s what a certain part of Greece looked like the last time I was there. Specifically, it’s a village house in Crete, during the early spring. The problem with waving a camera around in that part of the world is that there’s just too much light. Controlling the amount of information hitting the camera sensor is quite an endeavor at that latitude.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Closer to home, specifically my own porch, and an example of the domestic bounty which Our Lady of the Pentacle promulgates. Similar issues with an abundance of light are encountered in the shot above. Heavily saturated images like the one above are difficult to develop. The original raw shot was just a blob of brick red, and it took a bit of kajiggering to arrive at something that more closely resembled reality.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunflowers terrified me as a small child. My next door neighbor, a Polish holocaust survivor named Mr. Klein, was a prolific gardener who used his back yard plot to grow vegetables and fruit. To keep pesky kids like myself from jumping his fence in pursuit of an errant baseball, Mr. Klein planted an impenetrable hedge of sunflowers along his fence.

Cannot tell you how many times a young but already humble narrator stood there in terror, transfixed with loathing, staring at the wall of rotting sunflower heads swarming with bees. One still has dreams and night terrors related to this.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

%d bloggers like this: