Monday, March 16, 2009

NYC09: Finding Spider-man

So you want to see where Spider-Man grew up? You want to know where Peter Parker lived all those years? Well – if you're in New York City, you're almost there. But you can't find Aunt May's house in Manhattan. No, you'll have to go to Queens.

Stepping out into the sun from the trademarked green staircase, I could immediately tell that I was no longer in “the city”. Still part of New York City, Queens has a very different feel. Where Manhattan is an all night party where anything can, and does, happen Queen's is the New York I had been prepared to expect from 1980s movies.

Forest Hills
But I was not here to chase boxcars, or industrial warehouses. No, I was here – in Forest Hills – with a far more literary purpose. I was off to find Spider-man.

Having grown up without parents, Peter Parker lived with his Aunt May in Forest Hills, Queens. I was on a mission to track him down, walk the same streets that he walked – perhaps even visit the high school where so much of his development transpired.

Movie Spider-man
To get to Forest Hills one must take the R train all the way to the end, at 71st ave. From there, it's a little bit of a walk south to Harrow Street. Make a right and head to 70th ave. It is here that the movie version of Spider-man grew up.

A, sometimes, gated community one wonders just how posh Peter's aunt truly was. These are not the houses of people struggling to get by. This is not the area for a troubled youth to be raised. With BMWs lining the street, Peter would never have had to work three jobs, had his aunt owned a home here.

However, the movie version is not the same as the Marvel Comic's Peter Parker. Aside from the lack of organic webshooters, the Spider-man I grew up with, lived just a little bit north of here.

Comic's Spider-man
Walk eight more blocks south along 70th ave. to Metropolitan, hang a right, walk one block to 69th road (where you will notice a McDonalds, currently giving away appropriate Spider-man toys with their happy meals, and hand a left, crossing heading down 69th road.

This is where my Spider-man grew up.

It's easy to imagine Peter talking, across the chain-link fenced driveways, to Mary-Jane as she sought a moments peace from her alcoholic family feuds inside. This is the type of neighbourhood where houses can fall into disrepair, due to the lack of funds to constantly repaint, or repair. This is an area with character, passion, and life.

Looking down the street, towards the McDonald's, one thing became apparently obvious. There were no tall buildings in this part of Queens. There were no skyscrapers to swing from, or raised towers to use for course alterations. It seemed that for fifteen blocks in all directions, Peter Parker would have had to walk, run, or jump – just like everybody else.

I like to imagine he was walk, run, and jumping on rooftops though.

Having now visited the places of his upbringing, I wanted to view the school that caused him so much pain in the form of bullying, and ostracism. I was off to find Forest Hills High School located at the north end of 67th ave where it meets 110th street.

Spider-man's High School
Starting back from the 71st subway station, head north west along Queens Blvd. until you reach the 67th station. From there, follow North East up and down some slight hills, passing at least one more fallout shelter. When you can see no more road in front of you, you will notice a spier raising up in front of you. This, along with the numerous high school students sitting on the school's steps, or gawking at you from the local bus stops.

So there I was, looking at the school that so many of my pre-teen fears were based off of. After all, if someone like my hero Spider-man had such a hard time in school, how would I ever manage.

For some it might be enough to simply look ahead, and appreciate the building for what it was. For me though? I needed more. I needed to step inside, and walk those hallowed halls. This experience would be a lesson in the American education system.

Wandering the Hallways
As a teacher, I had been told that New York was looking to hire out of state, or even out of country teachers. Well, here I was at an actual high school. Who would know more about this than the administration? Armed with this excuse of seeking knowledge I approached the school.

Stepping through the door, the first thing I noticed were the three police officers standing by entrance booth. Now I don't know much about American schools, but in Toronto, we have sixteen schools with one police officer in the building. All the rest have none. Here were three all in one place, all at one time.

Had I not come prepared I would have been turned around at best, or prosecuted for trespassing – as the sign on the door warned about – at worst. A moment later, I had been issued a visitors pass, and directed to the principals office.

The hallways were covered in artwork, and pictures. A winding staircase led straight ahead to upper floor – a place that I was tempted to view, however the risk / reward ration didn't seem to make it a worthwhile.

The administrative team was all in a meeting, and I was told to contact them via e-mail. My mission accomplished, I was fine with the lack of an immediate interview and left the building, once again passing the police booth – now equipped with six officers, three of which I would have met upstairs had I chosen unwisely.

Spider-man's hometown, the houses of his various incarnations, and his high school explored: All in all, a productive two hours.

Still – an hour from the city via the metro, I have no idea how Peter Parker ever managed to make his way in or out of downtown on his own. That is a serious sense of commitment. With great power comes great responsibility – and all that – I guess.

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