Irrelevant Troubadour


Laurel Hill: a Semi-Serious Post Preceded by a Very Stupid Joke
November 25, 2010, 11:53 pm
Filed under: occurances

It’s a bright morning in Ms. Pasternak’s freshman homeroom class.  As she’s taking attendance, a boy runs in with his hair and clothes dishevelled.  Ms. Pasternak questions the boy.  “Young man, why are you late?”

“Miss, I was on top of Laurel Hill!”

Sighing, Ms. Pasternak returns to attendance when another boy runs in in a similar state of dress.  “Now why are you late, young man?”

“Miss, I was on top of Laurel Hill!”

Ms. Pasternak is getting quite perturbed by this point, but not wanting to make a scene she simply shakes her head and goes back to the attendance.  Then yet another boy with his hair and clothes in disarray runs in, huffing and puffing.  “And what excuse do you have for yourself, young man?”

“Miss, I was on top of Laurel Hill!”

Ms. Pasternak can barely contain her rage at this point, but manages to muster her considerable reserve of will and calm herself down a bit.  However, just as she finally gets ahold of herself, in runs a girl, her dress ripped and covered in mud, her face flushed, her hair a wild bird’s nest.  Ms. Pasternak has reached the breaking point.  “And I suppose you’re going to tell me you were on top of Laurel Hill too, young lady!”

The girl looks at her quizzically.  “Miss, I am Laurel Hill.”

Okay, that was incredibly silly.  I’m really hoping that this blog doesn’t devolve into “post jokes you thought were funny in middle school”, but this is the second post and it’s not looking good.  But it actually ties into what this post is actually about, because I actually was in Laurel Hill today.

I am of course talking about the obscure neighborhood of Queens.  It is a real place (although when visiting it you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise).  It’s one that’s almost been forgotten, eaten up by Maspeth–and believe me, there are few fates more ignominious than being eaten up by Maspeth.  Laurel Hill, like most neightborhoods of New York City, used to be small town before urban sprawl caused it to be subsumed into the greater New York behemoth.  Nowadays, it’s barely a few blocks.

The first thing one notices about Laurel Hill is its manner of entrance.  The neighborhood is situated on the border of Queens’ gigantic Calvary Cemetery and some oppressive Robert Moses highway that I don’t care to know the name of, effectively blocking out traffic through it except for one freeway offshoot.  This offshoot is bridged by an elaborate, spiralling walkway of concrete and chain link, which for pedestrians like myself is the only way into the neighborhood.  This bridge is almost ostentatiously useless; the road it bridges is barely trafficked and could have been easily served by a simple crosswalk, and furthermore the bridge meanders in such a way that it’s clear some serious graft was involved in its construction.  But political kickbacks are, I think, only part of the story; I have reason to believe that, has I simply rushed across the street at surface level, I would never been able to get Laurel Hill.  It simply would not have existed.

The most noticeable thing about Laurel Hill is how self-contained it feels.  In New York City, nowhere feels self-contained.  Everything is part of a larger grid, and everyone travels from everywhere to everywhere.  Not so in Laurel Hill.  Laurel Hill feels like a pocket dimension within New York City that can only be accessed under certain opportune conditions.  Indeed, I feel as if I tried to go back now I wouldn’t be able to find it.

Part of this impression is gained from the odd state of stasis the neighborhood seems to be in.  Most places in New York are in a constant state of revision, demolition, and regeneration, but not Laurel Hill.  I’m not sure a single new building has been built there since the 1950s.  Furthermore, while many of these old buildings were in quite a state of disrepair, some were in surprisingly good condition.

Adding to the eldritch air of the place was the lack of people on the streets, although in these industrial areas of Queens that isn’t all that unusual.  And an industrial area this was, although there was precious little industry occurring.  The main economic activity of Laurel Hill seems to be the storing of great construction machines: rusted cherrypickers, cranes like tottering ruins, piledrivers like dinosaurs slowly sinking into tar pits.  Everything in the neighborhood seemed to be slowly sinking, in fact–the sidewalks, the houses, the power lines (that last one very troublingly).

I eventually got out of Laurel Hill and walked back up to the familiar environment of Sunnyside.  I feel as though, had I stayed longer, I may have been sucked into the neighborhood’s strange world and never again emerged.

And then I would’ve been late for class!  Ba-zing!

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