The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for December 2017

archaic chirography

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It’s National Pepper Pot day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I was hanging out with a friend over in the City, and we decided to hit the eastern side of Chinatown for a wee photo walk. This is the Manhattan side definition of “DUMBO,” which is an area still defined by the presence of late 19th century tenement buildings and narrow streets. Chatham Square, the Five Points, and Paradise Alley aren’t too far away, and it’s one of the few spots on the island which haven’t been ruined by the real estate industrial complex in recent decades. Off in the distance, a municipal complex of government buildings and courthouses positively looms.

We were wandering about, my friend and I, and decided to grab some lunch at a Chinese bakery before heading south and east. After a super hot cup of coffee and a couple of roast pork buns (Bao) we fired up the cameras and started marching about in an area which has apparently been called “Two Bridges” since 1955. I think the Two Bridges thing, since I’ve never actually heard it before, is real estate industrial complex propaganda being specifically disseminated by the Extell corporation which happens to be building a 68 story market rate tower nearby. Just a hunch there, by the way.

Saying that, as of 2003 there’s been a Two Bridges Historic District on the national list of such things, so…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This part of Manhattan Island has been occupied for longer than the United States has existed, and was part of the exurbs of the New Amsterdam colony. During the “Gangs of New York” era, Chatham Square was a central market place and meeting point where foodstuffs, farm goods, and often less than salubrious goods and services were offered for sale. The tenement dwellers in this area, who were those “huddled masses” mentioned by the screed on the Statue of Liberty, were largely destitute and lived in conditions which modernity would perceive as squalor. Jakob Riis and other contemporaries described it as squalor, it should be mentioned, so maybe…

from wikipedia

Up until about 1820, the square was used as a large open air market for goods and livestock, mainly horses. By the mid-19th century, it became a center for tattoo parlors, flophouses and saloons, as a seedy section of the old Five Points neighborhood. In the 20th century, after The Great Depression and Prohibition, the area was reformed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I always try to analogize the era of early to mid 19th century New York City to people by reminding them that this was the same age as when Cowboys were riding horses about the west, and that folks in Europe were still fighting each other with swords, spears, and arrows. They had cannons and firearms over in Europe, of course, but these early weapons were pretty clumsy, prone to misfires, and inaccurate. There’s a reason that they used to affix those long bayonets on muskets back then, y’know.

Guns were practically a brand new commodity, with Mr. Remington having begun the democratization of rifle firearms only in 1816. It wasn’t until 1852 that Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson incorporated, becoming the Henry Fords of firearms. In NYC, a pistol was a fairly uncommon and expensive commodity, as I understand things. Rifles and shot guns were more common but still relatively rare amongst the tenement crowd.

It would be far more likely, were you to invent time travel and visit this section of Manhattan in the 1850’s, that you would be beaten to death or fatally stabbed shortly after stepping out of your time machine. They were big on blades back then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can’t walk through Chinatown and not grab some shots of the foodstuffs being offered for sale on the sidewalks in front of shops. Thing is, these fish may or may not be considered “food” per se. A lot of what’s on sale in this eastern section of Chinatown is actually medicinal in nature, which my ignorant and dross western eyes cannot discern. Have to admit, I’m pretty ignorant about the nuances of the Chinese culture(s)…

from wikipedia

Manhattan’s Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 曼哈顿华埠; traditional Chinese: 曼哈頓華埠; pinyin: Mànhādùn huábù; juytping: Maan6haa1deon6 waa1bou6) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, bordering the Lower East Side to its east, Little Italy to its north, Civic Center to its south, and Tribeca to its west. Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I love the fact that there are still junkie squats and homeless camps found in and amongst the streets/alleys of this area. It’s good to know that there are still some parts of Manhattan that have been resistant to the high fructose financial syrup that has decimated the East and West Village, turned the Lower East Side into bro-hipster Disneyland, and rendered the neighborhood around Port Authority into a grotesque.

I miss the old days, when Manhattan was ecstatic and predatory all at the same time…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friend and I continued south and east, into the boring Battery section. We had a quick refreshment at a local watering hole, used the facilities, and got the hell out of dodge before rush hour started. A quick trip on the 5 line got us to 59/Lex, where a transfer was enacted to the IND R line which carried us beneath the river and back to the almond eyed milieu known as Astoria. As is always the case, a warm feeling erupted in my chest upon returning to Queens.

Might have been indigestion though, from eating those two roast pork buns. Probably should have had just one…


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 29, 2017 at 1:30 pm

peeling coats

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It’s National Chocolate Candy Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s amazing, the way people can find a way to form up battle lines around just about anything these days. At the moment, I’m really enjoying the farcical arguments playing out in NYC regarding bicycling. How, on earth, anything as simple and wholesome as riding a bike has became so politicized is symptomatic of everything wrong with us as a society. A) Bikes aren’t the answer to everything transit, and B) Bikes aren’t the reason that were all going to hell in a handbasket. This one, it ain’t that complicated.

It vexes, you’ll have to understand.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First, everybody in NYC orders in food periodically – Pizza, Chinese, whatever. Generally speaking, the person doing the delivery will likely arrive at your house on a two wheeled vehicle of some kind. Might be one of those newfangled electric jobs, or it could be a human powered bicycle. Could even be a velocipede, depending on whether or not you live in a hipster neighborhood. Let’s refer to the delivery people, the messengers and so on as “working bike riders.”

There’s a place which the politicians have been leading the vociferous and quite vocal “bicycle lobby” towards for several years now, by the way, and the working bicyclists are going to get there first.

Inevitably – there will be a municipal requirement for every bike and bike rider to be able to produce an operators permit, insurance, and display tags (license plates) – just like every other vehicle in NYC – when they interact with the NYPD. The politicians will eventually be setting up a fee based regulatory environment around bike riders soon enough, and it’s just a matter of time before they start hitting bicyclists with the sort of parking tickets and fines they do motorists to pay for the regulatory system.

Ten years at the most, in my opinion, before you need a drivers license to ride a bike in NYC. The Mayor is currently having the NYPD blitz the delivery riders with tickets as you read this, and a scheduled period of confiscation for the electric bikes is coming in the New Year. It’s already begun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Secondly, bikes are a pretty good choice to get around in fair weather, if you’re young and healthy enough to use one. Part of the argument which biking proponents miss is that for some of our neighbors, the only way to get around is by automobile. Your walking or stair climbing abilities may be compromised by any number of random medical factors, after all, and it’s not appropriate for many of us to show up at work slaked with sweat after a summertime commute.

You miss that sort of detail if you’re a member of the landed gentry who has decided to do a course of “public service” at City Hall, where the taxpayers maintain shower stalls for you to rinse off with before sitting down in front of your mahogany desk. Speaking of – I haven’t observed many of the City Hall people riding bikes to work, they use the train or drive City vehicles.

Practice what you preach, I always say, and as to that time I saw a former DOT Commisioner ask a limo driver to pull her bike out of the trunk a few blocks away from a press event (she wanted to be seen riding a bike to it) still ticks me off.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Third – the anti bike people would point out the sort of dumbass behavior on display in the shot above as being emblematic of all bicycle enthusiasts. Bicycle proponents will describe stories of automobiles running roughshod throughout the City, purposely squishing and fracturing the populace. Both of these narratives have truth to them, but are overstated.

Why do we always jump to absolutes, and proclaim the impending arrival of the apocalypse over every little issue?

The “protected bike lanes” which the NYC DOT are pushing on us all are another one of those political terms, as they are not at all protected from other vehicles and still spit naked bike riders out into heavily travelled intersections. Given that bicyclists generally ignore traffic signals…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These days, I’m a dedicated pedestrian, but I used to ride my bike all over the City just like any other Brooklyn kid. I was the worst kind of biker, incidentally, riding at speed both on and off the sidewalks and blowing through lights. Saying that, one was always fully in control of the thing, and never found myself in “trouble” with other moving objects on the road. That’s because, just as I do when I’m walking around, attention is paid to my surroundings. This is what is known as confirmation bias, incidentally. Just because you’ve done something risky once – or a hundred times – and gotten away with it, doesn’t mean your luck will continue.

You don’t want to be shooting selfies while riding along a busy street in LIC, as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you are indeed hell bent on selfie shots, I’d point out the hundreds of so called “ghost bikes” which the Bicycling advocates have installed along our city streets, which are meant to memorialize those who have lost their lives in collisions with motor vehicles and chide the populace. The one above is on Rust Street in Maspeth nearby the Newtown Creek industrial zone, which is notorious for heavy trucking and is a poor choice to ride a bike through. It’s one of the few places in the City that I literally beg people to use the sidewalk when riding their bikes.

Thing is, a lot of these new bike lanes are actually accelerating the amount of interaction between human powered and motor vehicles – especially around the industrial areas. As a note, I’ve observed that a LOT of the lower pay scale laborers in these areas ride their bikes to work. Bosses drive, workers pedal, it would seem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In western Queens, the ghost bikes aren’t even safe on the sidewalk, nor is the signage admonishing vehicular operators to slow down or obey some of the rules of the road. This particular one sat alongside a “protected bike lane” sited on the LIE overpass at Greenpoint Avenue in Blissville. The turn lane for westbound traffic exiting the highway, as well as the turning lane for entering the east bound section, exists on this short block. It’s always a nightmare spot for traffic with 24/7 congestion, but despite this, the DOT decided to delete a traffic lane for bike usage. Bikes don’t actually use the lane, they wisely utilize the sidewalk instead, and there’s ghost bikes on both the north and south corners.

An anecdote: A few years ago, when a party of NY State environmental officials were queried as to why there weren’t any “No Fishing” signs along Newtown Creek, they said “well, you can’t fish there without a license, that would be illegal.” I asked them how the war on drugs was going, and reminded them that literally everything is legal in NYC if there aren’t any cops hanging around. The Albany people were aghast.

This sort of narrow bureaucratic thinking is precisely how we’ve found ourselves in the societal spot we’re in, arguing about everything in apocalyptic tone, because there aren’t gray areas anymore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’d point to the very expensive solution DOT installed on the Pulaski Bridge as being what a protected bike lane should look like. Concrete barriers were set up to keep bikes, pedestrians, and trucks away from each other in distinct lanes. Thing is, just like every other half hearted process undertaken by officialdom, these “jersey barriers” end where the bridge ends in bothe LIC and Greenpoint, where turn lanes for vehicular traffic leaving the span cross right through the bike lanes and the helter skelter rules of NYC traffic begin. I guess this is the NYC way, however, lulling you into a false sense of security before dropping an air conditioner out of an eighth story window on you.

I’m also a fan of the experiments in Manhattan, along Broadway in the 30’s and 20’s, where the parking lane has been relocated to about 15-20 feet from the curb and the parked cars serve the purpose of protecting the bike lane. This particular plan has not been popular with drivers, however, who have lost a lane of travel and gained even more congestion at what has always been a traffic choke point between Herald Square and the Flatiron district.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was a kid in Canarsie, one of the neighbors was an old sailor (part of the fishing fleet at Sheepshead Bay) named Joe who had one of the most well developed Brooklyn accents I’ve ever encountered. Now, my Dad’s mutterings often included “terlet,” “icewhole,” “boid,” and “glass a whatah,” but this old Irish guy named Joe next door was just magic. Joe would often opine “dat opinyeons ahrr likes iceholes, evrie botties gots one’s.” Personally, a humble narrator has little skin in this particular bicycle game, and as my old neighbor would have said – “koodint gives toose chits, one ways orz da uthher.”

Be like Old Joe, and share what ya got in the comments? What’s the way forward on this bike argument? Want to argue with other Newtown Pentacle readers? Click the comments link below and spout off.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 28, 2017 at 11:00 am

only briefly

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

With one foot in Queens’s Flushing, and the other in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, this NYC street endlessly fascinates. It’s called Roosevelt Avenue east of 48th street and Queens Blvd., and to the west it’s called Greenpoint Avenue. The elevated IRT Flushing line has been lurking above the street since 1917, meaning that the Roosevelt Avenue section has been shielded from the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself for a century now.

Funny thing is, as far as I’ve been able to discern, Roosevelt Avenue isn’t all that much older than the elevated tracks. Here’s a NY Times article from 1910 which discusses the great haste undertaken by the newly consolidated City of New York in creating the road. Back then – Roosevelt Avenue was considered a highway, apparently, and it was designed to parallel (and create a secondary path for Queensboro Bridge bound traffic) Jackson Avenue (Northern Blvd.) for its three mile route from Woodside to Flushing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The elevated subway along the street (to Corona, Flushing happened a bit later) opened in April of 1917, but it had only been proposed in 1911. This is one of the many reasons which should keep the managers of the MTA up at night, as a note, for the actual agreement to build the thing didn’t happen for another two years in 1913. Imagine the modern incarnation of the organization being able to get literally anything done, let alone monumental capital construction, in just four years.

Them’s was giants in those days, I tells ya.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been led to believe that there are a significant number of “quality of life” issues suffered by the folks who frequent Roosevelt Avenue due to the presence of the elevated tracks. Bird droppings, toxic lead paint flaking from the steel, omnipresent heavy vehicle traffic, a suffocating amount of noise. There’s meant to be a significant footprint of the underworld along Roosevelt Avenue as well, and Ive been told tales of all levels of prostitution (street to Madame run apartment Boudoirs), gangsters, and gambling dens.

Funny thing is, all of these things don’t slow things down along the street one little bit. The shops are all occupied, and commercial businesses thrive, even on the third floors of walk up buildings. Compared to other commercial strips in Western Queens – Steinway Street in Astoria comes to mind – every kind of business seems to be booming along Roosevelt Avenue.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

evidence itself

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It’s National Candy Cane Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Things have gotten a bit weirder than usual here in Astoria, as will be elucidated upon in today’s post. Pictured above, and submitted for you consideration is a single shoe whose sudden appearance thrust a cold dagger of latent terror and existential dread into the holiday season for Our Lady of the Pentacle and a humble narrator.

Even our little dog Zuzu has been displaying apprehension and nervous tics…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, upon exiting the domicile, a single shoe bearing a hand drawn scrawl was observed on the ornamental fence which defines my landlord’s property line. The message on the shoe, which was of the “Oxford” style and manufactured by a company called “Ecco” read “Season’s Greetings Mitch!” and continued on with “The Queens Cobbler, Ho Ho Ho.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been talking about the Queens Cobbler for several years at this point in time.

The first time I used the term was way back in 2014, and there have been posts mentioning the monster since then. Halloween of 2014, this one from March of 2015, another from April of 2015, and from the same month – the appearance of a potential copycat Cobbler was mentioned in this one. June of 2015 saw more evidence appear, and shoes continued to drop right on through 2016. 2017 brought more macabre trophies to the fore, and it seemed like the Queens Cobbler began to grow haughty. All through the summer of 2017, single shoe sightings began to grow in frequency. Even children aren’t safe from the Cobbler, and I should have taken the message when a singular shoe was found at my local saloon in October. Halloween of 2017? As late as middle December of 2017? Yep.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the name of creating some sort of evidentiary documentation for local, State, and possibly Federal authorities to analyze – the shoe was carefully transported upstairs where “studio shots” of the thing could be created. Additionally, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself activated all of our passive and active household defense systems and spent Christmas in the apocalypse bunker which we’ve been scratching deep into the loam of Western Queens for quite some time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One should have realized that the shoe pictured above, which was observed in October of this year at the neighborhood saloon I frequent, was a warning to not inquire too deeply into the Queens Cobbler’s nefarious purpose.

Should I disappear one day whilst scuttling along the bulkheads, I’d ask for all of you to search for a size 11 Merrel hiking boot at Newtown Creek, as that’ll be all that’s left of me to bury.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

mock fireplace

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It’s National Pumpkin Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Merry Christmas to all.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 25, 2017 at 2:30 pm

seasonal tiding

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It’s National Date Nut Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Holiday greetings and salutations to all of you lords and ladies who ascribe to the particular sort of iconography pictured above.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

hidden picture

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If my plans work out properly, while you’re reading this post, I’ve actually managed to drag myself away from the slothful indifference to all things which have distinguished the last couple of weeks and I’m somewhere in Manhattan pointing my camera at things and humans. The shots in today’s post are from the archives.

That’s a juvenile Red Tail Hawk at Calvary Cemetery in LIC, as seen on a wintry morning a few years back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I like all the seabirds, but will be damned if I can tell you with certainty what speciation they are. Everytime I try, I’m wrong, which somebody gleefully points out and then all my credibility is shot. It’s like that game “Jenga,” pull out the wrong brick and the whole tower crashes down, credibility is. It’s best to say “I don’t know” and muster up my Brooklyn accent for “Issa Boid.”

I enjoy taking pictures of birds, it’s rather challenging. The ones above and below are from this past summer, at Hallets Cove in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Actually… come to think of it, the one above of the murmurating flock was gathered on 48th street in Sunnyside, nearby that shopping center off of Northern Blvd. There’s always a lot of seabirds thereabouts for some reason. Maybe the birds are passing on some genetic or inherited memory of where there used to be water to their kids. Maybe they’re just hanging around the Stop and Shop parking lot because they’re in a gang. Who knows?

That whole zone used to be quite swampy, as a note, prior to the whole Sunnyside Yards happening.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This little war monster decided to die on my porch in Astoria. It still had a little life left in it when I found it, so I scooped it up on a piece of paper and let it die while lying on soil in the shade offered by a potted plant. What can I tell you, I’m a giant softie for well armored pollinators. I also didn’t want the dog to get too interested in it either.

The next morning, after having poked at it with a pencil to assure that it had met its demise and wouldn’t vaingloriously sting me as part of some futile last stand, I had my way with its corpse. Photographically, I mean… sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that Red Tail Hawk was hanging around Calvary Cemetery in the first shot is exemplified by the subject of the one above. There’s a population of these groundling burrowers which exist in the loam at the polyandrion. Groundling Burrowers is what I call ’em, of course, but the kids all just say “Bunny!”

I’ve seen what happens when the aforementioned birds of prey achieve their intentions, regarding these burrowers, and it ain’t a pretty sight – I’ll tell ya.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is actually a fairly old photo, depicting one of the yellow eyed black cats which manifest sometimes as I scuttle along and around the Borough. The one above used to live on 29th street in LIC, and I often saw it hunting along the bulkheads of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. When I see one of these golden eyed swivel eared shadow beasts, I know it’s going to be a productive day photographically, and Queens has something special in store for me.

I just have to keep walking and find it. Queens is coy like that.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

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