The Newtown Pentacle

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Thunderstorm action, and the Boss of The Tacos, in Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You might recall that on the afternoon of Thursday, the 14th of July, a crazy powerful thunderstorm washed through the City. It happened that one was out and about, running errands, and as always I had my camera with me when the skies grew dark. What was weird about this storm was that it presented a nearly vertical line, and that to the east – skies were blue and the sun shining.

This created some VERY interesting lighting effects. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The whole neighborhood here in Astoria knew that there was a deluge coming, and everybody was scurrying around trying to accomplish one last thing before sheltering from the coming storm. Personally, knowing that I’d never get back to HQ before the rain hit, a quick visit to my local bar allowed me a bit of cover and had the corollary benefit of allowing a pint of beer to be poured in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rain blew in along a wall shaped vector, and the air was suddenly filled with what had to be hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in a few seconds. As is typical of thunderstorms, however, the event only lasted for around twenty minutes or so. That’s about how long it took me to quaff my pint of beer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As there is no better moment, air quality wise, in NYC than the half hour or so following a storm like this, I decided to order a second pint and settle alongside a familiar table outside. That’s when this enigmatic food truck rolled by, which was emblazoned with a screed reading “The Boss of The Tacos.”

There is a reason, after all, that I carry a camera with me everywhere I go. Astoria Queens rules.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details

Cancelled due to extreme weather, will be rescheduled.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 30, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
DUPBO Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

explosive circumstance

with 3 comments

Who can guess, all there is… BOOOOOMF… Holy Crap!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My plan for today’s post was originally going to involve fireworks, of the 4th of July variety. Wednesday night at about Midnight, however, my corner suddenly exploded. It seems that the patch job Consoldiated Edison performed in Astoria after the Great Astoria Blackout of 2006 is beginning to get a bit long in the tooth.

After a blast of bluish flame, yellow brown smoke and orange fire began to shoot out of the manhole.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in another post earlier this week, I’m the one who – when he “sees something,” then “says something” so I called 911 with one hand while reaching for my DSLR camera with the other.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This all happened right around midnight, and at about five minutes past, the next block – specifically 44th street between Broadway and 34th avenue – went dark. Even the street lights went out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In NYC, when an emergency strikes, you want God on your side. When the FDNY gets there, God can move on to other things – as they can handle most things. Several FDNY units arrived, and set up a cordon around the burning transformer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fire guys began knocking on doors and inspecting basements for carbon dioxide build ups, and there were a bunch of them sticking probes into the sewers and unaffected manholes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Safety tape went up just as NYPD arrived, who took charge of redirecting traffic from FDNY and began answering questions from the residents of the affected block. Before you ask, I wasn’t affected, which was very lucky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After about an hour and a half, a Con Ed Emergency truck arrived with two guys in it. They began to assess things and the fire guys started getting ready to leave the scene. The manhole was still smoldering, but it was only emanating a trickle of white vapor by now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Con Ed guys opened the street, and then more of them began to arrive.

When I woke up Thursday morning, there was an army of them at work down there, rewiring and rekajiggering. There was also a giant pile of media trucks. WABC was here, so was NY1, and Channel 11 too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is actually the sort of thing which was intended for today, but… as I often say…

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

Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. –
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
DUPBO Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 8, 2016 at 11:00 am

tried every

with one comment

I mentioned this over the weekend to my Facebook peeps, now it’s your turn…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An old friend of mine recently hit a bit of a health crisis. Surgery ensued, and she’s having a bit of trouble with the purely existential part of her life during recovery – food shopping, laundry, the lifting and carrying sort of stuff. Our Lady of the Pentacle and I volunteered to help her out, and last Saturday our plan involved an afternoon trip to Hunters Point to help out with “whatever.” Before you ask: a) my old friend doesn’t live in one of the new buildings (it’s one of those century old and quite rickety walk up jobs on Jackson where she has lived for literally decades), and b) there was no connection between Court Square and the IND station at Queens Plaza due to maintenance work so we took the R from Astoria and hoofed it the rest of the way.

That’s not the story, though, that’s just the setup.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, this was Fourth of July weekend, of course. The news was abuzz with the news that NYPD was operating a full scale and City wide security operation, and that Hunters Point in particular was going to be focused on due to the gathering at the waterfront to watch the fireworks. I call it the Homeland Security Kabuki show, for various reasons. Pretty standard stuff, in the age of the Terror Wars.

What wasn’t standard was the steel cylinder, which appeared to be some sort of garbage can, sitting on the 46th street subway platform. Having “seen something” a humble narrator thereupon went over to the MTA Station Agent housed in the booth and let her know that the incongruous item was there. She indicated that the authorities would be alerted, and I boarded the incoming R train having “said something.”

As a note, when I arrived at Queens Plaza, I walked over to the NYPD office at the end of the platform and informed the on duty officer of the situation – and also showed him the picture positioned above. He seemed concerned about it.

I was thanked and told that it would be investigated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the 114th precinct being what it is, when Our Lady of the Pentacle and I returned to the 46th street station some three and change hours later… the curious cylinder was still there and clearly unmolested or investigated. That’s when I posted about my experience, and made sure that our local Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer was tagged in my missive. He let me know that he had contacted the precinct and that it would be dealt with. In my neighborhood, JVB is the motive force of all things, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, the council member has a unique ability to twist the dials and move the levers of the municipal machinery.

The thing about Queens which drives me absolutely mad is why it is that when someone “sees something” and “says something,” you still need a high government official to cajole the freaking cops into doing their damn jobs. As far as the MTA station agent goes, she probably didn’t have the union certifications for dialing the phone.

I think it’s the International Brotherhood of Button Pushers, Local 5, who does that. You also need three Union carpenters on duty, but you always need three carpenters for some reason.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. –
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

came from without

with one comment

You can tell from the way this song is, Astoria Queens rules.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The quotation above is from the Murphys Law song “A day in the life” which pretty much sums up life around these parts. Pictured above is the assortment of safety equipment which my upstairs neighbor Mario keeps at the ready for situations which might present trip hazards.

My landlord recently received notice from the City that his sidewalk concrete required replacement, and his crew of noise makers got busy demolishing the old pavement and replacing it with fresher stuff. Mario got busy with the cones and barriers after they left, in the hope that he could divert the footsteps of the neighbors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted this fellow on 43rd street at the borders of Sunnside and Astoria recently. He was a delivery guy, and in the frames not presented above, was draining a can of “cerveza.” The presence of someone who was likely Mexican or Ecuadorian in front of a wall with the LIC skyline behind him made me think of Donald Trump for some reason. Something about luxury towers, and a wall.

As a note – like the villain from Harry Potter, if you stop saying Donald Trump’s name, he’ll lose his powers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fellow pictured above was grifting on Astoria’s Broadway recently, claiming that he had tripped and gotten hurt on a sidewalk grate in front of one of the multitudes of “nail and pedi” shops hereabouts. Since the “nail and pedi” shops are part of the same Asian slave labor industry as the local massage parlors – rub and tugs, as they’re known – the grifter knew that the owners would pay him off in cash. The cops in the shot above realized this too, of course, and the kabuki show of Queens just continues.

Someday, a real rain will fall, but Astoria Queens does – indeed – rule.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 18, 2016 at 11:00 am

loaded tolerance

leave a comment »

Old things! In today’s post, with a tour announcement at the end!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So… Our Lady of the Pentacle announced that an inspection of a storage room we maintain would be enacted one rainy and quite recent Saturday. We entered the warehouse facility where our storage room is, which is a void mainly filled with the remnants of my career as a comic artist, and rummaged about. She was after a few garments of a certain vintage which were kept therein, and while she was searching for the items, I poked around in a cardboard box full of my Dad’s “things” which I kept after he passed on.

I brought home some of his vintage camera gear, which was fairly well preserved and which I thought some of you Lords and Ladies of the Pentacle might enjoy checking out for their retro design goodness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The gizmo above is a light meter. The thing sticking out of the top right is a spring load button, and pushing it flips up a lid revealing a glass photo cell or sensor. It’s make is a Sekonic Type L – VI “Leader.”

There’s a fellow named M. Butkus over in New Jersey who has actually made the original instruction manual for the Sekonic available as a PDF, click here for the link. According to the various sources I checked, this little gizmo dates back to about 1954. Amazingly, the thing still works. Sekonic is a Japanese company, one which is still around today, and they’re still making light meters.

Before you ask – I checked and the thing would be worth eight bucks on eBay, were it still housed in its original packaging and in pristine condition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The old man always inferred that his “Revere 8 Model 40” 8mm movie camera was purchased at the same time as the Sekonic light meter, both transactions having occurred when he was “in da soyviss” during the late 1950’s. Given the proclivity towards games of chance that Dad and his Brothers all displayed well into the 1980’s, I always presumed he rooked somebody in a card game and received the movie kit in lieu of cash. This unit would have cost about a hundred smackers when it first went on sale in 1955.

My Dad would have become physically ill if you asked him to spend $100 on a camera in 1985, let alone 1955.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Take note of the fact that this camera was spring wound! You’d twist that big key at the bottom of the thing and then it makes a “whirrrrr” sound as the spring returns the mechanical energy to its internal mechanisms, driving both film path and shutter. The thing still works, incidentally.

Revere was a Chicago based auto outfit formed in 1920 that originally manufactured radiators for cars. In 1939 Revere started making 8mm cameras, and then 8mm cameras and lenses in the 1950’s. By the middle 50’s, they were the second largest manufacturer of consumer movie cameras in the country. They also manufactured projectors, tape recorders, and a very popular rotary shop tool. Revere was acquired by 3M in 1960 after the company’s founder grew ill.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The interesting thing about the Revere 8 Model 40 is that it takes cartridge film. Kodak used to manufacture this sort of thing and kept the prices low enough on the film for the developing to be kind of expensive. Kodak made its money on the developing, don’t forget, and they had a Standard Oil type of monopoly on the photography business before digital cameras and environmental laws annihilated their business model.

One of my cousins digitized the old family 8mm home movies a few years ago, most of which were shot with this camera, which Dad would lend out occasionally. My Uncle Irving took his side of the family to the World’s Fair in 1964, and I uploaded what he shot to my flickr account – click here for a brief and somewhat blurry glimpse into the past, as captured by the Revere 8 Model 40.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the subject of my “depression era kid” Dad not wasting his money, one of the items present in his “box of things” was a sample of the aforementioned cartridge film. What cartridge means – for you youngins – is that the film was entirely contained in a plastic shell that had mechanical plug in spots which allowed the camera mechanism to smoothly drive the film past the shutter. The film was entirely contained within this plastic shell, which allowed one to safely load or unload the device sans dark room or light fast bag.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The amazing thing – well there’s two amazing things – one is that this box of film was meant to processed by February of 1966, which actually makes it older than me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other is that it’s still unopened and factory sealed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Less remarkable, but still old timey cool, is the Waxman family Kodak Instamatic 104 camera. A still camera, the Instamatic also used cartridge film. Manufactured in England, of all places, the Instamatic is likely one of the most popular cameras ever produced and something like fifty million of them were shipped out to customers.

The Instamatic 104 hasn’t held up that well over the years – its shutter no longer pops, and there’s a lot of corrosion on the coatings of its plastic surfaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The scrolls of Eibon, the Dread Necronomicon, the lost ark of the Hebrews – all must be waiting for some unlucky or intrepid soul to find them within the hundreds of thousands of cubic acres utilized as the anonymous storage rooms which are spread about in New York City.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be locked up in there?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Walking Tour – Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

First Calvary Cemetery Walk.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman at First Calvary Cemetery, found in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood along Newtown Creek. Attendance limited to 15 people.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 18, 2016 at 11:00 am

anytime, anywhere

with 7 comments

A few shots from last week’s blizzard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given a humble narrator’s legendary vulnerability to cold, as you might have guessed, I spent most of the blizzard last Saturday firmly ensconced in the steam heated walls of Newtown Pentacle HQ in Astoria. I did venture outside during the afternoon to visit the bodega across the street for breakfast cereals, I like a bowl of Cheerios with a banana cut into it, and to vouchsafe a bar of chocolate for Our Lady of the Pentacle.

When venturing into the cold waste, I discovered that at least one Chinese restaurant was open, and offering delivery services. Early bird gets the worm and all that, but… Jaysis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were those who had decided to try and motor about, this was before the Mayor banned automotive traffic, but they were soundly rebuffed by road conditions. It was actually kind of difficult just to crack out a couple of exposures due to wind blown snow, which tended to “spot” the lens, let alone cross the street.

Luckily, most of the neighbors didn’t attempt to drive, and the streets were eerily quiet hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The only thing you saw much of were Municipal vehicles like the ambulance pictured above. One neat thing was that everyone in the neighborhood was given the opportunity to recognize the undercover vehicles which the 114th pct utilizes after the Mayor’s ban on travel was enacted.

After 2:30 p.m., anything you saw on Broadway was basically “blue” or “red.” Or Green, Orange, and a White in the case of the sanitation guys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having purchased my Cheerios and Chocolate, I began to scuttle back towards home, and one of the hundreds of plow trucks operated by DSNY rolled by. The annual Astoria problem has begun again, incidentally. As happened last year, and the year before – recycling pickup was cancelled due to Martin Luther King day. Recycling in my neighborhood is Sunday night’s problem, so it is up to us to store the stuff in anticipation of the following weekend. Now, we’ve got a blizzard’s worth of snow, so recycling pickup is again postponed till next week.

Last year, a series of similar cold weather events and legal holidays pushed the storage of the entire month of January’s recycling trash until well past President’s day in February.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in HQ, and with no intentions of leaving the place, one nevertheless used the fortuitous positioning of the building relative to the prevailing wind in pursuance of a few shots in the evening. As you’ll recall, this is when the storm really got rolling. I set up a tripod and all my night shooting gear, but in the end elected to use low light techniques for the shots.

The long exposure methodology effectively eliminated the falling snow from the shots, and since I wanted to have a “truer” record of the event – I went for high ISO and a faster shutter speed to capture the drifting snowflakes. As is always the case, getting the color temperature of the light was critical, and for the new LED street lights that’s 4300 Kelvin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Got to hand it to the neighbors, they were fighting this storm while it was at full force and attempting to keep their cars from being completely buried in the drifts. The different technologies of street lighting which were discussed a couple of weeks ago – the old school orange yellow sodium lights versus the new school led blue colored lights can be discerned in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new school LED’s actually performed quite well during the storm, I would add.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The buildup of a shelf of snow on my window sill while shooting inspired me to shove a couple of flashlights into it and get a macro shot of the translucent accumulation. These lights are part of what I call my “ghetto lighting” rig. Ghetto as in I have zero funds for real lighting and therefore have been forced to jury rig a set, which given my normal shooting habits – needs to easily portable. The warm light and blue light are formed by identical and quite powerful LED flash lights which can pump out an amazing 300 Lumens and are powered by just 3 AAA batteries each. That’s actually kind of amazing, but I’m a flashlight geek, and will jump up and down if you say “Cree.”

The warmer light is created by the flashlight having an old pill bottle gaff taped to its head.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

sun choked

with 2 comments

Consarned and new fangled gizmos – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY is the lamp post guy. You will tremble in your boots when he begins discussing “luminaires” and other mechanistic implementations designed to light the streets of the City of Greater New York. Saying that, here on Broadway in Astoria (and along 34th avenue) between Steinway and 48th street, the inestimable NYC DOT has recently installed the latest generation of street lighting – which are LED fixtures that replace the familiar sodium lighting which has long punctured the sepulchral darkness of Gotham.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the start of December, work crews from Weisbach – DOT’s contractor for all things electrical – were observed on the throroughfare in a “cherry picker” truck swapping out the old school sodium lights for the new LED ones. According to official sources “NYC DOT operates the largest municipal street-lighting system in the country, with 262,000 lights on City streets, bridges and underpasses, 12,000 in parks and 26,000 on highways,” and the City plans on replacing every single one of them with the new LED lights.

The effort is expected to reduce the amount (and cost) of electricity consumed in pursuit of lighting the streets by a significant amount, as well as reforming the “carbon footprint” of the municipality. It’s costing us tax payers about $75 million smackers to change out every light, but is expected to save about $6 million a year in energy costs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you’d imagine, the gentry here in Astoria have been busy debating the relative merits of the new lighting. On the plus side, the LED’s produce a brighter light which is quite a bit “whiter” than the old sodium lamps. The actual color of the light is 4300 Kelvin, which is quite a bit “bluer” than the sodium lamps which produced the familiar (and warmer) orange yellow light that all New Yorkers are used to suffering in. The LED light is quite a bit better focused on the street itself, and from a photographic point of view – has brightened things up by around two stops.

Observation and conversation, however, have revealed that the new lights create quite a bit of glare. I wear glasses, so… bother.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Non empirically speaking, the sodium lamps scattered their light in a globe of illumination whereas the newer lights are a bit more like a reading lamp in design. Drivers have reported to me that on rainy nights the new lights create a problem for them, windshield glare wise, but nothing insurmountable. There’s also people who just don’t like the new color.

Most of Astoria’s Broadway community seems fairly ambivalent/positive about the change, as a note, offering “why would I care, what can you do about it?” as a response to queries such as “what do you think about the new street lights?”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are all sorts of theories on the effects which LED lighting on human perception. Like the shutter of a motion picture projector, the LED’s flicker at a rate which is just outside of normal human perception. Some say that the flicker induces a state of anxiety to the sensitive, but truth be told, I’ve tried to capture it using video capture and have been unable to perceive anything other than steady illumination – no strobing, in other words.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the plus side, the directed light is no longer illuminating the residential windows along Broadway, and since I live along the street – I can report that at night my windows are considerably darker than they used to be under the old sodium lights. Additionally, the streets and particularly the sidewalks seem considerably and perceptually brighter.

Everything you could possibly want to know about the new LED lights is answered by this PDF at NYC.gov.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can discern the different temperatures of the two lighting systems in the shot above. The avenue (Broadway) is lit by the new and bluish LED’s and the street (44th) by the older and orange sodium light system.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

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