The Newtown Pentacle

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last straw

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Always surprising – Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle has been quite busy in her professional life of late, and she rang me up recently as she was leaving her offices to suggest that we visit our local Astoria pub to grab a late dinner. As the bride working late is a fairly normal occurrence, we shortly settled in at some familiar outdoor seating at our “local,” ordered ourselves a couple of pints and plates of food. While discussing our day, I noticed a truck full of port-a-potties speeding down Broadway, and splashing the “via publica” with those blue chemicals that are found in the portable commode’s septic tanks.

Lovely, thought I. After paying the bill, we went home and while sitting outside on our porch with my sleepy dog (named Zuzu), certain odd sounds woke up and drew the attentions of that ever vigilant canine guardian of the domestic portico. These emanations were coming from an alley separating my building from the next one to the north. Said alley contains my neighbor Mario’s collection of safety cones as well as a collection of junk which my landlord is holding on to until an opportune moment for bulk disposal presents itself.

From the dog’s reaction to these sounds, I figured “rat.” Maybe “cat.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

However, after having peered over the veritable edge of my leased domain and gazing into the alley with the aid of one of my trusty flashlights… It was then that I went inside and fetched my camera.

It seems that there is now an Opossum living in the aperture between the two buildings, which is something that one of my neighbors – a sturdy Croatian – finds quite amusing. I believe it’s a “Virginia Opossum,” specifically, but I’m from Brooklyn so at the time I was referring to it as a “some kinda friggin thing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Opossums are fairly harmless critters, apparently, despite packing some fifty teeth and a nifty set of claws. I freaked the thing out, not with the flashlight mind you, but with the sound of my camera shutter flipping. This friggin thing didn’t want to leave the alley after hearing the shutter sound and hunkered down. I had grown bored with it by this point, so I decided to do some Opossum research at two in the morning. They’re Marsupials, I’ve learned. I also learned that if you cook one, it’s best to serve these friggin things with sweet potatoes. They are virtually immune to rabies, and highly resistant to snake venom. Y’know – Possum research.

That’s the sort of thing that normal people do at two in the morning, right?

As an aside, since these photos were taken – another Possum was spotted just about a block away (Zuzu scared that one too) and another, distinctly juvenile version, of these friggin things was observed hanging out on my porch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a defense move that Opossum’s do, “playing possum” as its called. They simulate that they’re a rotting corpse by stiffening up, curling back their lips and foaming at the mouth, and these friggin things release a foul smelling liquid that they secrete from their butt glands which smells like putrefaction. The particular Astoria Opossum in the shot above decided to forgoe the stiffening and foaming, and instead went directly for the corpse smell.

Zuzu was fit to be tied over that.

The juvenile one I spotted a couple of days later did the whole stiffen up thing, complete with the curled up lips, especially when the dog charged at it. Friggin thing.

Zuzu completely bought the corpse act though. The dog danced around like she had just found the last dodo, so I shuttled her back inside before she decided to eat or hurt the friggin thing, and I gave her a dog cookie to commemorate her victory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, many sorts of critters seem to have have turned up on my porch. Birds of all sorts – including a seagull and a nest of sparrows, raccoons, rats, mice, squirrels, and just about every kind of insect you can think of from digger wasps to centipedes. Now we’ve got a possum. This is all above the ground, of course.

Makes me wonder, and more than wonder, what else there may be lurking around in the underworld of sewer and subway tunnels under Astoria. There has been a foul wind exhaling from the sewer grates of late, and DEP workers have been observed operating heavy equipment at access holes all along the avenue.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be hidden down there?

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

various stages

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Sangria law is coming.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ever since Marco Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos for Trump, laid out his dire warning that “you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner” I’ve been noticing that there already are – in fact, taco trucks on just about every corner. As with all things stupid, some clever quant out there on the web did a calculation regarding the claim, and it emerged that this would represent the creation of something like 15 million new jobs.

I can get behind this sort of capitalist activity, although most of the taco trucks here in Astoria are kind of gross, and offer a quality of foodstuff that’s mainly aimed at inebriates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I don’t like the “race stuff” and never have. I don’t like lumping groups of people together under a label, whether it be nationalist in nature, racial, or whatever. I don’t like the term “homeless” for instance, as it creates the impression of some homogenous population who all have the same set of problems. I don’t like the idea of calling a huge number of people who hail from widely disparate “south of the border” locales under the umbrella “Latino” either. Labels dehumanize, and once you’ve dehumanized a group…

Do people actually talk to each other anymore, or do they just make stuff up about strangers?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally speaking, as the grandson of members of one the groups who were reviled when they arrived in this country a century ago – in my case, Jews from the Pale – the whole taco truck thing is cast in a different sort of light. These are people who arrived here with nothing – like the Italians, Irish, and other Europeans who came in the 19th and early 20th centuries – and who have worked and clawed their way into the entrepreneurial space by the sweat of their brow. The “race stuff” precludes some from seeing what’s going on here, but a taco truck on every corner is actually not a good thing – it’s a great thing. These people are your grandparents, reborn.

I look forward to the introduction of Sangria Law into the United States, as it will be a delicious and refreshing reboot. Every twenty five to fifty years, you need to pull the plug on America, refresh its firmware and update its operating system – if I’m reading Thomas Jefferson’s meaning correctly, and using modern idiom, to paraphrase his “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

Upcoming tours and events:


“13 Steps around Dutch Kills” walking tour
with Atlas Obscura, Sunday, September 18th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 16, 2016 at 4:30 pm

dormant organs

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Sure is nice outside, except if you meet the Queens Cobbler.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The single shoe phenomena has recently kicked back into gear around Wetsern Queens, which suggests to me that the Queens Cobbler is again active. The “Queens Cobbler,” as I’ve christened this licentious stealer of souls (or soles), is the name I’ve assigned to a probable serial killer who leaves behind a single shoe – a calling card that has been plucked from his or her unfortunate victim. Above, a single shoe found displayed on Astoria’s Broadway, quite recently.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Flip or flop, or some combination thereof, the inefficiencies of this model of footwear are well known. It is virtually impossible to run when wearing these “pool” or “shower” shoes – if shoes they be and not sandals. This cerulean trimmed model was just left in the open on Austell Place in the fabulous Degnon Terminal section of Long Island City.

This Queens Cobbler really gets around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A break in the pattern, perhaps the work of a copy cat, was revealed back in Astoria near Steinway Street. Three matching pairs of shoes were observed in one spot. One hopes that the 114th precinct has assigned a squad of their crack Detectives to investigating this matter, and the killer(s) amongst us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself have learned to stoutly lock our windows and doors at night, and seldom venture out without exhibiting a quick pace and alert posture. Terrors such as only the mind can hold accompany thoughts of the Cobbler’s ghoulish activities. A palpable pall of pestilential fear lurks about Queens, and all watch their steps.

Hopefully, the Cobbler won’t join forces with the Sunnyside Slasher, Ridgewood Ripper, Woodside Whomper, or the Mad Gasser of Blissville and form so,emleague of evil. The streets would be littered with shoes.

Upcoming tours and events:


“Brooklyn Waterfront – Past & Present” boat tour
with Working Harbor Committee, Thursday, September 15th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“13 Steps around Dutch Kills” walking tour
with Atlas Obscura, Sunday, September 18th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

vague aura

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Wood, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, apologies for missing yesterday’s post, but frankly – a humble narrator was completely wiped out from the effort leading up to Wednesday evening’s Fireboat trip on Newtown Creek, which seems to have gone pretty well.

We had about 70 “influential” people onboard, served them BBQ and drinks, and discussed the future of things on the Creek. The Fireboat actually ran aground for a short interval nearby the intersection of the main stem of the Creek with English Kills, as it was low tide and a sediment mound was exposed, but what’s a night out on a historic Fireboat without a bit of adventure?

The shots in today’s post have nothing to do with the excursion, instead, they’re macro shots of parts of a decaying wooden fence which my landlord has decided to remove. The wood is so magnificently weathered, and ridden with wood lice, that I couldn’t resist setting up my “ghetto” lighting rig and doing a few macro shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ghetto lighting is one of terms, btw, for an improvisational setup that doesn’t use “proper” equipment like studio lights with diffuser umbrellas or anything like that. In fact, there’s only two light sources and a flash (set to its extreme low power setting) involved. The cool light comes from a flashlight taped to a small tabletop tripod that’s focused on a transluscent plastic place mat used as an ad hoc diffuser, and the warm one is a flashlight of the same model which has an amber colored pill bottle taped to it. The camera is my trusty old Canon G10, affixed to a magnetic tripod, and the flash was in the camera’s hot shoe.

There’s a reason I call it ghetto lighting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The funny thing is that these shots were captured while I was stuck at home, on the phone, making final arrangements for the Fireboat excursion. I was literally begging the Borough President of Queens’s office to send out a staffer to come along, but they weren’t terribly interested in attending. The Brooklyn Borough President’s office, on the other hand, wanted to send actual elected officials. I had established a rule on the trip that we didn’t want the actual elected officials onboard, as it would have stifled the conversation and diverted it to other issues, and it was difficult saying no to City Council and Assembly members who wanted to come onboard. Saying that, we had a Deputy Commisioner of the DEP, the show runner of Riverkeeper, and lots of other important folks onboard. I’m VERY happy to say that I actually managed to get representatives from Maspeth, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, LIC, and – of course – Greenpoint on the boat.

One of the failings of the political establishment here in Queens is a general disinterest in Newtown Creek, probably because they really don’t want to open up the whole “post industrial environmental issue” can of worms.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 9, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Astoria, Broadway

Tagged with , , , ,

hung about

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More experimentation with my new lens, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal, Jiminy the Parrot, is a ham. He’s also a great and cooperative subject when I’m trying to crack out some shots. Jiminy also hosts a wealth of fine detail in the green suit he always seems to be wearing, which makes him an excellent subject as far as testing out how a lens might perform as as far as rendering detail and color. It seems every piece of glass that you stick on your camera sees the world in its own way, and learning the way that my new Sigma 50-100 thinks and visualizes things is integral to the decision about whether or not it is a permanent addition to my kit.

At the moment, I’m loving the thing although it is damned heavy and there has been a bit of a learning curve as to how to best employ it. The lens itself weighs nearly four pounds, which is the equivalent of at least a couple of parrots. Add in the camera, and I’m waving about 5-6 pounds of gear around for hours at a pop. Doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of an average day – it adds up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned last week, the Sigma “art” series lenses have a real predilection towards rendering colors in a hyper saturated manner which can be somewhat reminiscent of the four color world of comic books. This fits my visual sensibility, but for those of you out there who prefer muted color and heavy saturated blacks in your shots, this might be a deal breaker. That’s Astoria’s Broadway in the shot above, just east of Steinway Street, if you’re curious. The lens isn’t “all the way” open, instead it’s at f2.8. I could have doubled the ISO and narrowed the lens down to f5.6 to create a bit more of an “infinite” hyper focal range, but wanted to see what a shallower depth of field would do.

Going back to the “heavy” issue, I had been carrying the thing around all day and noticed that a slight fatigue tremor was present in my right arm. The good news, of course, is that I can use the extra exercise. The bad news is that my right arm is going to tone up to accommodate the extra carry while my left hangs there uselessly and will end up looking like a little tyrannosaur limb in comparison. Guess I’ll have to just carry around a gallon of milk or something with the left as I wander about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The virtue of this device, of course, is in the wide open side of it for usage in low light situations. The shot above is handheld and captured at ISO 800 at f1.8. It’s also Broadway in Astoria, and depicts the corner that HQ is found on. Since the night shots are what I’m interesting in pursuing this fall and winter, rather than brightly lit daytime shots of Jiminy the Parrot, the shot above is pretty promising as far as what this piece of glass is capable of.

Weather permitting, I’m planning on making a late night pot of coffee pretty soon and putting on one of my orange safety vests in preparation for an “all nighter” wandering around the industrial zones and concrete devastations surrounding that legendary exemplar of Municpal neglect known as the Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 7, 2016 at 11:05 am

practical use

with one comment

Reading is fundamental.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, when my phone rings, it’s seldom a call I want to receive. Luckily, when the chime sounded the other day and the caller ID said “Jimmy Van Bramer,” it actually was a call I wanted to get.

It wasn’t “the man” himself, rather it was one of his staff members ringing me up, letting me know that they were going to be doing a press event just down the road from Newtown Pentacle HQ at the Broadway Branch of the Queens Library.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The point of the event was to announce that JVB and the council had secured several million dollars of funding for the libraries of Queens, which are VERY well used, to stay open six days a week as opposed to five.

As you can see, Jimmy Van Bramer brought a few of his colleagues out to the neighborhood, including the Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along with the Speaker, which is a singularly great title to have IMHO, Andy L. King of the Bronx – who is chair of the Council Subcommittee on Libraries – was present, as were the heads of the three systems – Dennis Walcott of the Queens library, Linda E. Johnson of Brooklyn system, and Tony Marx of the New York organization.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a gaggle of press there as well, from local and citywide news sites and papers and stations. As is my usual habit, I left the “press pit” to get some shots of the third estate as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

JVB’s neighboring Councilman, Costa Constantinides of Astoria, was also present as (previously mentioned) were the heads of the three library systems of the City (New York Public, Brooklyn, Queens) which will all receive funding to stay open for the extra day every week. The Council people present made a point of saying that this new funding will be permanent, but we’ll have to see if that one plays out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Queens library, which I seldom use – it should be mentioned, as I’m an “internet” guy – is well embraced by the neighbors hereabouts. Many, many people I see on the train are reading library books.

It’s great to see that it’s actually going to be open six days a week now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

acrid smoke

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Tremulous skies and clean underwear, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That crazy heat wave which we all suffered through last week produced a series of powerful afternoon and evening thunder storms here in Astoria. The skies were so interesting and dynamic that one felt compelled to record the scene.

Pictured above was a worrisome looking funnel cloud that formed up to the east, and on the right hand side of the shot you can see the wall of rain pushing in from the west.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another day (or night actually), and another thunderstorm formed up. For this one I was at home on my porch. Psyched to actually capture the bolt of lightning seen above (it’s harder than you would think to photograph lightning without certain specialized trigger devices) one suddenly realized that I was standing next to a chain link fence during a lightning storm and was in a particularly exposed position.

Suddenly, my underwear didn’t feel so clean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found myself a slightly safer spot, under something, and continued to crack out shots of the approaching deluge. Likely, I was deluding myself as to being safer, but regardless I felt a bit less exposed to the elemental fury that was approaching.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a completely different note, while in the financial district of lower Manhattan last week, the van pictured above was spotted.

Clean underwear on demand is its promise, which is something I think we should all aspire to, especially during stormy weather.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

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