The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Chinatown

unnumbered crimes

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

note: despite the title, this a “just the facts” brand posting

Cortlandt Alley is a vestigial connection between Franklin and Canal Streets in Manhattan, crossing White and Walker on its path. If it looks familiar, it should, as many commercial photographers utilize the location for its noir aesthetics and patois of urban decay. One may often observe a shoot going on here, a sharp contrast to the sort of lurid business which one might have seen on this street a mere twenty years ago (which discouraged the presence of cameras).

Today, my focus turns to an enigmatic structure on the corner of Walker Street and Cortlandt Alley.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to the best sources I could find, Walker Street was scratched onto the maps of New York sometime in 1810. Pavement came along in 1819, and by the 1870’s a street railway connected the area (via West Broadway) to the far distant East River. This was considered a near suburb in those hoary days of the early middle 19th century, and this was fairly close to if not the actual border of the Bloody Sixth Ward (I’ve seen conflicting accounts describing the borders of the 6th ward).

All accounts agree that this area, known as “Tribeca Historic District” in modernity, served the city as a mercantile center which took advantage of the ample docks on the nearby North (Hudson) River for the importation of foreign goods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The intriguing (and officially Landmarked) Latimer Building was raised sometime between 1860 and 1862 for developers Barret Ames and E.D. Hunter. Municipal sources indicate that it stands on land once occupied by a part of the legendary Florence’s Hotel, whose main address was on the confluence of the North side of Walker with Broadway. Supposition is also offered by these selfsame governmental entities that the “Latimer” indicated by the cornice art would have been a fellow named Edward Latimer, a SOHO merchant- although I haven’t been able to confirm this independently.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The modern occupants of the building follow a historical pattern of tenancy by garment manufacturers, book publishers, and building trade jobbers. A “jobber” is a company or individual who imports and resells manufactured goods, and offers installation and delivery services for the materials they handle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Occupying 72-76 Walker Street, the Latimer is a relict and vestige of New York’s industrial past. Single floor factory operations and garment assembly shops- sweat shops as they were and are known- once provided occupation and employment for large numbers of immigrant poor. In my own family, certain individuals who enjoyed an exalted peer status and exhibited financial success were “pattern cutters” and “dock foremen” and employed nearby, while others (like my own grandmother) were “sewers”. One of my Aunts actually worked at Triangle Shirtwaist.

Back then, this was an overwhelmingly jewish industry. Modern day economics seems to favor the presence of Asian and Latino work forces, as the earlier ethnic laborers have moved on to explore other synergies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Cortlandt Alley side of the Latimer exhibits the “fireproof window doors” once common in the days before sprinkler fire suppression systems became mandatory in such structures. Additionally, iron rails and reinforced concrete still extant point out that there was once a loading dock on the Alley side which has disappeared sometime in the intervening decades since the completion of the building in 1860. The fire escapes are a later addition, of course, which were mandated by the precursor of the FDNY sometime in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The grand appearance of the building is somewhat muted at street level, and it blends into the dark melange of relict buildings and ancient tenements which typify the parts of Manhattan just North and West of “Chinatown”. The age of Walker Street is betrayed by not just by its narrow bed, but by belgian blocks bursting through modern asphalt and the occasional stone curbs which still line it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The charming ambience of the “old days” has rendered many of these former industrial spaces into mixed use buildings- and  many of them are now the exclusive and dearly held apartments of millionaire dilettantes. According to one Forbes magazine report in 2006, this was the most expensive section of New York City in which one might seek domestic housing.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm

with palpitant heart

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Startlingly interesting is the only way to describe the experiences of the preceding year. Attempts have been made to cogently describe and colorfully illustrate the encounters your humble narrator has enjoyed in this 10th year of the millennium. For those of you who have just recently started to read this, your Newtown Pentacle, this is your chance to check out some of the highlights of 2010 (according to me), and for the veteran Lords and Ladies of the Pentacle an opportunity to review.

If you’ll indulge me…

January, 2010- The Abbot

The sort of posting which satisfies me deeply, “The Abbot” monument found at Calvary focused my attentions on certain realities of 19th century New York, and proved my theory that Calvary Cemetery is the single greatest historical resource in Queens. Obviation of my satisfaction with the posting is provided by the admission that I had noticed the stone peripherally, found it interesting, and started shooting it with no idea at all about its meaning. Only at home, when reviewing the photos did the whole story come together. Al Smith is buried at Calvary as well (he’s the fellow who built the skyscraper seen in the night shot at the head of this post) but this paragraph is about January 2010 and Governor Smith’s story was told in 2009.

January, 2010- The Great Machine

Also in January, a pet ideation was advanced, one not of theory but of perception. The notion of the megalopolis figures heavily in my thinking- a concept that sees the eastern seaboard of the United States not as a series of cities, but rather one vast urban zone of varying densities with New York City at the titular center of a web of industry, transport, and agricultural systems. The center of the web has a center itself, which is Manhattan- specifically where it connects to “the Great Machine” of the Queensboro bridge and it’s corollaries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

February 2010– Affordable Housing Development on Borden Avenue

This post, “Affordable Housing Development on Borden Avenue“,  is included in the year end wrap up simply because it ended up being one of the more widely read and commented upon endeavors presented in 2010. Most likely, it was the linking shout out from Queenscrap that made it so, rather than any subjective quality or incisive observation. Homeless camps abound in the Newtown Pentacle, hidden away on seldom trodden lanes and along backwater pathways- in this case it’s alongside the oft delayed construction project at the Borden Avenue Bridge which spans Dutch Kills.

February 2010– horrible and unearthly ululations…

A lot of time was spent in 2010 trying to wrap my head fully around the story of the Newtown Creek (which culminated ultimately in the late October release of the first Newtown Pentacle book- Newtown Creek for the vulgarly curious) and “horrible and unearthly ululations…” was the first of several posts which attempted to boil complicated and obscure snippets of historical lore into a cohesive and accessible form. So much is made of the Greenpoint Oil Spill and the Meeker Avenue Plumes by the legal community, whose hungry jowls slaver and shake at the financial possibilities offered by the EPA’s superfund designation and various court decisions, that the true and terrible wonder of the Newtown Creek is often overlooked. This post and several others of its ilk attempt to present a fuller version of things, and act as reminders that what was may once again be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

March 2010– The Shadow over Sunnyside

The St. Pat’s Day for All parade in Sunnyside is a yearly event which draws in a citywide coterie of political entities, all desperate for attention and attribution as being friendly to the GLTG members of the electorate. The parades origins are a reaction against the banning of outwardly gay marchers in the RC church’s own St. Patricks day parade in Manhattan. Despite its politically contentious birthing, the Sunnyside parade is actually a fun and light hearted event, and signals the coming of springtime in the Newtown Pentacle. While there principally to get shots of the political master race which rules over us, amongst the crowd I noticed small clots of dire intent armed with ugly signage. Research into this group, which was clearly coordinated and queerly ominous, revealed them to be adherents to a bastardized form of Catholic fundamentalism which has been outlawed and defined as a dangerous cult by several Nation-states. A shadow over Sunnyside indeed.

March 2010– Exhausted

A brighter experience for your humble narrator was the Manhattan Bridge Centennial Time Capsule event, on March 5. Interactions and conversations were enjoyed by the least of men with certain powers and potentates of the City of Greater New York and entry to the interior space of the Manhattan Bridge was obtained. One of the high points of my year, “Exhausted” detailed the embedding of a time capsule in the East River Bridge #2- aka the Manhattan Bridge. Remarkable self control was exercised when I met the DOT Commissioner, Jeanette Sadik-Khan. My sincerest desire was to bend her ear with my alleged wisdom about bike lanes and bridge safety- but self control was ascendent that day and only congratulations were offered to both her and the other staffers at DOT.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

April 2010– City of Marble and Beryl

Odd shenanigans were observed at St. Michael’s Cemetery here in Astoria, which were of a decidedly magickal nature. A ritual site that your humble narrator stumbled across was examined and evidentiary examination suggested that certain third world cults were extant here in the old village of Astoria, conducting midnight bacchanals concurrent with the lunar cycle. “City of Marble and Beryl” was but the first of many moons which witnessed a working of will amongst the desolations of our kind.

April 2010– Searching for Gilman

A good part of 2010 was spent “Searching for Gilman” at First Calvary Cemetery, which I am doing as you are reading this, assuming it’s the start of 2011 whenever you do. Gilman is the source of no small amount of pain and financial hardship around these parts, as your humble narrator has become dangerously obsessive and paranoid around the subject. A psychotic need to find Gilman’s grave torments me, coloring my days and painting my dreams a dull yellow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

May 2010– the king in yellow, brick

Remiss would be apparent were I to not mention the “Madison Avenue Bridge Centennial” but “the king in yellow, brick” advanced another of my pet theories and served up a fascinating (to me at least) sequence of events and relationships which attempts to explain why those yellow Kreischer bricks are all over the older sections of Queens.

May 2010– after cycles incalculable

After cycles incalculable” is another one of those perfect posts, from a personal perspective. Wandering around with a friend, which is a disturbing trend which developed over the course of 2010, at Skillman Avenue’s start we observed the Lemuria hatching in concordance with the anniversary of the Roman festival of Lemuralia in Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

June 2010– from Hells Gate, loosed upon the world

When I set out on my little walks, there is seldom a destination in mind. Literally wandering, obscure symbols and pseudo occultism guide my steps- I’ll follow a black cat, or merely adopt a roughly heliotropic path using my own shadow as compass. At the very end of May, my feet carried me toward Astoria Park and the notorious section of the East River known as Hells Gate. The odd craft, an “unidentified floating object” if you would, which sped past my lens required more than a small bit of detective work to identify- which was detailed in “from Hells Gate, loosed upon the world“.

June 2010– Gods Gift to Pain

English Kills, which is the logical and modern end of Newtown Creek, is a heavily industrialized and largely anaerobic tributary of the larger waterway and is seldom visited (by me, at least) at its extant. One fine day, while hanging out with another Creek enthusiast (you should not go to this place alone), we decided to enter the largely hidden urban foyer which leads here- despite the fact that we were most likely trespassing- which violates Newtown Pentacle policy. The title of the post- “Gods Gift to Pain” was lifted from an enigmatic and appropriate bit of graffiti observed in this forgotten pace of dissolution and poison.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason for Brooklyn, and Queens- why it was a viable alternative to living in Manhattan in the 19th century was defined by the horrors of tenement life. The grand old buildings with their high ceilings, thick plastered walls, convenient dumbwaiters, and incredibly ornate lobbies- the structures which distinguished and made life desirable in the incalculably distant boroughs, were built as an alternative to the crowded and dangerous tenements of “The City”- especially the warren which was known as the “Five Points“. Additionally, Calvary Cemetery (of particular interest to me, and perhaps, to you) was founded by the parishioners of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral which is smack dab in the middle of this ancient labyrinth of poverty, crime, and squalor. It was decided that to fully understand what one observes in the remains of the supposed “answer to the problem”, exploration of “the problem” itself is required.

July 2010– Bandits Roost, 2010

Ideal source material for the textural and societal milieu of the Five Points is the admittedly biased “How the Other Half Lives” by 19th century do-gooder Jacob Riis. Speaking the truth that power wants to hear is always a sound move if one considers fiscal realities and historical reputation. Attempts were made to find the modern locale in which Riis shot some of his more famous shots, such as this visit to “Bandits Roost 2010“.

July 2010– The house of Dagger John

Another critical visitation for me, as part of my larger education and study of the early development of the City of Greater New York was occasioned on the day when I went to “The house of Dagger John“. Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral satisfies both my continuing fascination with the counterpoint of sacred and profane in the story of the Megalopolis, and figures largely in the predictions of certain obscure lore which governs the schedule of my researches.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

August 2010– not to harsh anyone’s buzz… but…

August of 2010 brought a posting which garnered a lot of attention, due to noticing and linking to it. Simply noticing that a growing proliferation of small boats were berthing illegally at the Vernon Avenue street end, it would be irresponsible of me- given everything that I know about the location not to point out the mortal and existential danger that the operators of these boats were placing themselves in. It’s not even the water, really, its the high pressure natural gas line- the enormous CSO which drains LIC- the omnipresent heavy industrial maritime traffic- which makes the spot so hazardous. Mortal threats were received via email (which I’ve kept private), and the comments thread displayed an angry and accusatory tone. As is the case with all such critique, these comments were presented verbatim- here’s a taste: “i have red your article in which you show a great deal of unger towards me and my friends . i believe that you base your article on many misconceptions that are rooted in a lack of communication”, “Blogger or not, the prudent journalist would make an effort to uncover basic facts before publishing a story full of assumptions”, “are you just the type of little man that tells teacher when the cool kids make you feel inferior. The water is public domain! And according to maritime law it is not illegal to moor a boat as long as it safe and looked after.”, “They are not bothering anyone. And get sick from the canal, come on. They are not living down there as far as I know. Parking your boat in the canal is not going to get them sick! Stop over doing it.” Check out “not to harsh anyone’s buzz… but…“.

August 2010– lively antics

One of the greatest joys of living in Queens are the chance encounters you’ll have with people who hail from the furthest points of the compass, such as this Bouzouki player during another visit to Hells Gate. His “lively antics” added splendor to a brightly lit walk around Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

September 2010– Lucky Shot

Although veteran photographers caution me against use of this term, I call the photo above my “shot of the year”. The steel structure attached to the bottom of the Brooklyn Bridge was installed as part of a bridge painting and maintenance project, and I was luckily along on a Working Harbor trip just as the sun was setting. Right place, right time, it was a “Lucky Shot“.

September 2010– stronger than fear

The dynamic new Safeboats utilized by NYPD and other entities around the harbor were a frequent subject over several of the Working Harbor expeditions I was lucky enough to attend. The many shapes, colorways, and missions of these quick little patrol boats are a delight to observe- and to those who would work maritime malice upon the metropolis- they are the head of the spear. Check out “stronger than fear“.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A high of the year was the Newtown Creek Cruise which I had the honor of co-narrating with Bernard Ente on October 24th, of course, but the main topic of conversation amongst the antiquarian and environmental communities of the Newtown Pentacle in October revolved around the EPA’s superfund announcement about Newtown Creek at the very end of September. October is spooky time around these parts, and I spent a little time digging around the area for thrills and chills as well.

October 2010– blurred outlines

As part of series of postings detailing what might be seen in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint, “blurred outlines” discusses the alleged appearance of a pyrokinetic at 84 Guernsey Street in January of 1895.

October 2010– scenes familiar, and loved

One of my frequent walks through Calvary Cemetery took me to the curiously empty chapel which enjoys the paramount of Laurel Hill. I will admit that I came here this day seeking two things- one was a likely entrance to a vast subterranean structure which underlies the area- the other was a vain hope that the grave of Gilman might present itself in a section which was, at the time, not terribly familiar to me as I normally stay close to the fringes of the place where the whipporwills wail. I very well might have captured what mass media paranormal media sources describe as a ghost orb in “scenes familiar, and loved“.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

November 2010 peace rests nevermore

One of the goals of this, your Newtown Pentacle, is to provide some sort of documentation about this terrible and wonderful place called the Newtown Creek- and I’m happy to say that I was there when the then Attorney General and Governor Elect Andrew Cuomo announced the settlement of a lawsuit brought by his office on behalf of New York State against Exxon-Mobil which involved the Greenpoint Oil Spill. “Peace rests nevermore” indeed.

November 2010 shocking coruscations

Entertaining maritime folklore from past centuries was offered in “shocking coruscations“, which is told against a series of twilight photos from good old Hells Gate between the two great bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the cold, when inclement clime restricts my movements and the black dog nips at my heels, I tend toward shorter postings- and in December of 2010 there were two “Then and Now” postings that really took my fancy. These posts are difficult because of the scarce source material available in the public domain, but fun nevertheless. In my usual fashion “dumb idiot” fashion, I had shot the modern views completely unaware of the original photo. Our friends at the Greater Astoria Historic Society have recently released a book of similar historical views, which is worthy of consideration.

December 2010 Bowery Savings Bank 2010 and 1903

As the title states, this is the iconic shell of a once essential and awesomely powerful institution called the Bowery Savings Bank in Manhattan, with a 1903 photo from a similar perspective.

December 2010 Hunters Point Avenue Bridge Centennial

If you told me a year ago that I’d end up doing a press conference with a United States Congresswoman, I’d have hit you. That’s how I ended up at the Degnon Terminal’s own Sunshine Biscuits (LaGuardia Community College) building though, and by an odd coincidence- found myself standing in nearly the same spot as some unknown photographer did in 1921. This posting was built around the announcement of the “Hunters Point Avenue Bridge Centennial” event.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Overall, a positive and exciting year, despite the deaths of several members of my family.

For a while, I enjoyed a spot on the board of the nascent Newtown Historical Society as a trustee, which is a position that I’ve had to resign for a variety of personal reasons- but I’d like to thank fellow board members Kevin Walsh, Christina Wilkinson, Steve Garza, and Bob Singleton for an interesting and educational experience. Kevin Walsh of forgotten-ny gets a personal call out, as his support, knowledge, and encouragement has been invaluable. Special thanks also are extended toward Capt. John Doswell and Meg Black of the Working Harbor Committee, all the guys and gals aboard the John J. Harvey fireboat, and everybody else who allowed a piss poor specimen such as myself to come along on adventures. Bernard Ente of the Newtown Creek Alliance, Working Harbor, and others also receives a heartfelt gratitude and shout out from this humble mendicant. Standing on the shoulders of giants is difficult if you suffer from altitude related nosebleeds.

What’s next?

Tell you what, feel like taking a walk?

Meet me at the border of Brooklyn and Queens – bring a camera… and ID…  I’ll show you something cool…

torment of the Brachyura

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator is a carnivore, as mentioned in the past, despite a somewhat advanced state of understanding of the realities of feedlot and abattoir.

Human beings are ultimately predatory apes, and the greasy taste of flesh is prized by most. Displays of comestible items are commonly observed amongst the human hives, but when one is moving through a neighborhood whose residents enjoy exotic fare- like Manhattan’s famous Chinatown in this case – the careful observer might be rewarded with visions of the fanciful or alien.

from wikipedia

Homo Necans: the Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth is a book on ancient Greek religion and mythology by Walter Burkert, which won the Weaver Award for Scholarly Literature, awarded by the Ingersoll Foundation, in 1992. The book’s core thesis is that when paleolithic man became a hunter, in spite of the generally omnivorous orientation of the great apes, lack of a predator instinct was made up for by turning patterns of intra-species aggression against the prey: Homo necans means “man the killer”. Thus, the animal hunted by ancient man automatically acquired aspects of an equal, as if it were of one of the hunter’s relations. In a first attempt at applying ethology to religious history, Burkert confronts the power and effect of tradition in uncovering traces of ancient hunting rituals so motivated in historical animal sacrifice and human sacrifice (by his thesis unified as deriving from the same fundamental principle) in specific historical Greek rituals with relevance to human religious behaviour in general. Burkert admitted that a decisive impulse for the thesis of Homo Necans derived from Konrad Lorenz’ On Aggression (1963).

The thesis set out in the first chapter, “Sacrifice, hunting and funerary rituals”, is an extension of the hunting hypothesis, which states that hunting as a means of obtaining food was a dominant influence on human evolution and cultural development (as opposed to gathering vegetation or scavenging). The guilt incurred in the violence of the hunt was reflected in sacred crimes, which through rituals of cleansing and expiation served to unify communities.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A carnivorous glutton your humble narrator may be, but empathy and indignation arose in him when confronted with this display.

Sure that this is a time tested and necessary technique intended to display the freshness and nutritional validity of this cast of crustaceans, demanded by clientele, a certain bile nevertheless rises. Western prejudice no doubt colors my point of view, as the same overt revulsion does not rise at the sight of a counter of European butchers meat.

Paradoxical, but to my reasoning, there isn’t a display of crucified and disemboweled cows overhanging the refrigerated section at the supermarket. Vegan friends would disagree, but I guess it depends on your point of view, and “Krabs ain’t Kosher” either.

from wikipedia

Crabs make up 20% of all marine crustaceans caught, farmed, and consumed worldwide, amounting to 1½ million tonnes annually. One species accounts for one fifth of that total: Portunus trituberculatus. Other commercially important taxa include Portunus pelagicus, several species in the genus Chionoecetes, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), Charybdis spp., Cancer pagurus, the Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) and Scylla serrata, each of which yields more than 20,000 tonnes annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It really was just the simple fact that the Cast of Crabs in the bushel bucket beneath this macabre marquee were subtly scuttling which disturbed me and drew this comment.

I am also aware, of course, that given the chance- those in the basket would consume those above them with abandon.

from wikipedia

The problem of animal suffering, and animal consciousness in general, arises primarily because animals have no language, leading scientists to argue that it is impossible to know when an animal is suffering. This situation may change as increasing numbers of chimps are taught sign language, although skeptics question whether their use of it portrays real understanding. Singer writes that, following the argument that language is needed to communicate pain, it would often be impossible to know when humans are in pain. All we can do is observe pain behavior, he writes, and make a calculated guess based on it. As Ludwig Wittgenstein argued, if someone is screaming, clutching a part of their body, moaning quietly, or apparently unable to function, especially when followed by an event that we believe would cause pain in ourselves, that is in large measure what it means to be in pain.[98] Singer argues that there is no reason to suppose animal pain behavior would have a different meaning.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 30, 2010 at 7:57 am

Bottle Alley

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Baxter Street just past Leonard, I noticed this woman tending a little fire. She was part of a small group who were gathered at the Baxter Street side of the Mulberry Bend, where Jacob Riis described Bottle Alley. Getty Images has a watermarked preview image of the place, as photographed by Jacob Riis in 1901 here.

from wikipedia

In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in Spring) and Chung Yeung Festival (in Autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, on Ghost Day, the deceased are believed to visit the living.

On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Far eastern correspondent Armstrong happened to be with me this day, welcome company for my otherwise lonely walks, and informed me that this lady was burning “ghost items”- but that it was the wrong season for the Hungry Ghosts. Armstrong further iterated that someone dear to this lady had either died recently, or that it might be the anniversary of a death. Suddenly, your humble narrator remembered an enigmatic fixture observed within the section of St. Michael’s Cemetery in Astoria which is remarkable for the quantity of monuments which display asiatic scripts. Also, this is a photo of an offering of “ghost bucks“, also at St. Michael’s.

also from wikipedia

The Ghost Festival is celebrated during the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community. During this month, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died, or those who have suffered deaths and were never given a proper ritual for a send-off. They have long needle-thin necks because they have not been fed by their family, or it is a sign of punishment so they are unable to swallow. Family members offer prayers to their deceased relatives, offer food and drink and burn joss paper. Such paper items are only valid in the underworld, which is why they burn it as an offering to the ghosts that have come from the gates of hell. The afterlife is very similar in some aspects to the material world, and the paper effigies of material goods would provide comfort to in the afterlife. People would also burn other things such as paper houses, cars, servants and televisions to please the ghosts.[2] Families also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls do not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune and bad luck. A large feast is held for the ghosts on the fourteenth day of the seventh month, where everyone brings samplings of food and places them on the offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Photography makes you rude, exposing the nosey side of your personality- the “yenta”. You’re not just prying into someone else’s life, you are actually recording it and signing your name under their moment as “photgrapher”. Perhaps you really do steal a piece of someone’s soul when you take their picture… it would certainly explain why the politicians and Mel Gibson are the way they are.

Your humble narrator, who was once actually chased across Astoria by a crowd of old Greek ladies screaming “terrorist… camera… terrorist”, has learned the best thing to do is smile and feign genuine connection when they turn around and catch me. This is hard for me- a direct interaction with a stranger- but I’ve observed how humans act, and can create a convincing simulacra of the behavior set.

I’ve been told, though, that my attempt at acting nice is rather creepy- mainly this, but mixed with some of this and a smidge of that.

from wikipedia

There are many superstitions and taboos surrounding the Hungry Ghost Festival. Spirits are thought to be dangerous, and can take many forms, including snakes, moths, birds, foxes, wolves, and tigers. Some can even use the guise of a beautiful man or woman to seduce and possess. One story refers to a ghost who makes the form of a pretty girl and seduces a young man until a priest intervenes and sends the spirit back to hell. Possession can cause illness and/or mental disorders. During the 7th month children are advised (usually by an elder in the family) to be home before dark, and not to wander the streets at night for fear a ghost might possess them. Swimming is thought to be dangerous as well, as spirits are believed to have drowned people. People will generally avoid driving at night, for fear of a “collision”, or spiritual offence, which is any event leading to illness or misfortune. While “ghosts” is a common term used throughout the year, many people take on the phrase “backdoor god” or “good brother” instead so as not to anger the gods. Another thing to avoid is sampling any of the food placed on the offering table, as doing this can result in “mysterious illness”. Any person attending a show at an indoor entertainment venue (Getais) will notice the first row of chairs is left empty. These seats are reserved for the spirits, and it is considered bad form to sit in them. After an offering has been burnt to the spirits, stepping on or near the burnt area should be avoided, as it is considered an “opening” to the spirit world and touching it may cause the person to be possessed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The photo I’m not showing is the one after this, where this woman shot me a polite and slightly shy grin. I went on my way, hoping to minimize my intrusions, as she had ghosts that needed feeding.

from wikipedia

Yan Wang (traditional Chinese: 閻王), also called Yanluo (traditional Chinese: 閻羅) is the god of death and the sovereign of the underworld. He is also the judge of the underworld, and decides whether the dead will have good or miserable future lives. Although ultimately based on the god Yama of the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist Yan Wang has developed different myths and different functions from the Hindu deity. Yan Wang is normally depicted wearing a Chinese judge’s cap in Chinese and Japanese art. He sometimes appears on Chinese Hell Bank Notes.

Guǐ (鬼) is the general Chinese term for ghost, used in combination with other symbols to give related meanings such as gweilo (鬼佬), literally “ghost man”, used to refer to white people, and mogwai (魔鬼) meaning “devil”. Derived symbols such as 魇 (chui) meaning “nightmare” also carry related meanings. There are many types of Guǐ:

  • Diào Sǐ Guǐ (吊死鬼): The ghost of someone who has been hanged, either in execution or suicide
  • Yóu Hún Yě Guǐ (游魂野鬼):
  • The wandering ghost who has died far away from his/her hometown or family, especially when his/her body and spirit haven’t been sent back to home.
  • The wandering ghost of the dead, including vengeful spirits who take their revenge, hungry ghosts and playful spirits who may cause trouble during the Hungry Ghost Festival.
  • Guǐ Pó (鬼婆): A ghost that takes the form of a kind and friendly old woman. They may be the spirits of servants who used to work for rich families, and who have returned to help around the house.
  • Nǚ Guǐ (女鬼): The ghost of a woman who has committed suicide due to some injustice such as being wronged or sexually abused. She returns to take her revenge.
  • Yuān Guǐ (冤鬼): The ghost of someone who have died a wrongful death. They roam the world of the living, depressed and restless, seeking to have their grievances redressed.
  • Shuǐ Guǐ (水鬼): The spirit of someone who drowned and continues living in the water. They attack unsuspecting victims by dragging them underwater and drowning them to take possession of the victim’s body.
  • Wú Tóu Guǐ (无头鬼): A headless ghost who roams about aimlessly.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm

weird perfumes

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned earlier, my search for information on the questionable death of a merchant from Massachusetts named Gilman has led me to some of the stranger wards of our great city. On this day, a cursory questioning of caretakers at Old St. Patrick’s pointed me in the direction of a certain Chinese mystic who occupies a run down walk up flat some 4 stories above Henry Street in New York’s bustling Chinatown.

from wikipedia

Henry Street is a street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. It runs in a northeasterly direction one-way eastbound from Oliver Street in the south and west, passing underneath the Manhattan Bridge and on to Grand Street in the north and east. The poor condition of immigrants living in squalid tenements on Henry Street and the surrounding neighborhood in the late 19th century prompted nurses Lillian Wald and Mary Maud Brewster to found the Henry Street Settlement in 1893. In recent times, Henry Street continues to be an immigrant neighborhood and has been absorbed into an expanding Chinatown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A self described healer who claims mastery over the orgone, or Qi as the Chinese call it, he was a disagreeable fellow. Rebuffed in my attempts to gain any knowledge from him, the old man admonished me to stop looking for this Gilman, lest I find something out that I don’t want to know.

from wikipedia

Although the concept of qi has been very important within many Chinese philosophies, over the centuries their descriptions of qi have been varied and may seem to be in conflict with each other. Understanding of these disputes is complicated for people who did not grow up using the Chinese concept and its associated concepts. Until China came into contact with Western scientific and philosophical ideas (primarily by way of Catholic missionaries), they knew about things like stones and lightning, but they would not have categorized them in terms of matter and energy. Qi and li (理, li, pattern) are their fundamental categories much as matter and energy have been fundamental categories for people in the West. Their use of qi (lifebreath) and li (pattern, regularity, form, order) as their primary categories leaves in question how to account for liquids and solids, and, once the Western idea of energy came on the scene, how to relate it to the native idea of “qi”. If Chinese and Western concepts are mixed in an attempt to characterize some of the problems that arise with the Chinese conceptual system, then one might ask whether qi exists as a “force” separate from “matter”, whether qi arises from “matter”, or whether “matter” arises from qi.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

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