She graduated from Florida Atlantic University with her MFA in fiction. She is currently teaching at Miami Dade College. Her book Dead Ends is available on Amazon. Her story “The Old Freak is Dead” is featured in the Rozlyn Press Anthology for Women Writers. Her nonfiction piece “Cats and Drag Queens” is featured in The Gravel, and “Secret Agent Man” is in Sliver of Stone. Her story “South Beach Die—It” is in If and Only If, and “River Monsters” is in The Chaffin Journal.
Spider-Man and the Old Man by Christina Fulton
In 1962 Spider-Man swung into the sticky pop-culture Terro trap in Amazing Fantasy # 15. He was the fantastic, ultimate, spectacular, and amazing love child of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Even though my father was young enough to get lost in all the web slinging and wall crawling whimsy, I do not know if the eight year old version of my father partook in Peter Parker’s often cathartic escapades in thwarting the criminal/superhuman underworld.
However, I do know that this particular character and some of his associates scurried into his life towards the very last panel. I think my father first became truly aware of Spider-Man when Toby Maguire crawled out of the Hollywood drain pipe in 2002 and into America’s post 9/11 grief stricken psyche. I remember my father watching the first movie late one night on HBO and being completely in awe and ensnared by that final image of Spider-Man stuck heroically to the side of a pole proudly brandishing a never faltering and always fluttering American flag.
“That was a great movie and what an ending,” he said, while skimming through the TV guide looking for another nocturnal distraction. My father suffered from insomnia his whole life and would dart back in forward during the night between binge eating and watching way too much porn. My parents had stopped sleeping in the same bed when I was very little. At first the excuses ranged from his earsplitting snoring to his late work hours, but after I discovered his propensity for marital infidelity in high school, I did not blame my mother for wanting to sleep with no one but The Sandman.
On this occasion, I had gotten up to get something to drink, and I was shocked to find him actually watching something on our premium channels besides his usual titty titty bang bang skin flicks. I had found him on many occasions passed out to them come early morning, and would promptly shut them off before making my way to the bus stop. My mother didn’t need to see that. Nobody needed to see that, especially before breakfast.
“You like Spider-Man?” I said, while pouring myself some soda.
“Yeah, it has a really deep message to it,” he laughed, getting up and foraging in the freezer. At the time I believed my father was about as deep as an ice cube tray, so I ignored him and went back to my room. I just figured it was more of his American grandstanding. My father would often express his love for America by sporadically saying,
“Great country, America!” Then, he would follow that up with a thirty minute speech on how lucky we were to live in this country or a sixty minute tirade on what factors/ethnicities/political parties were destroying this country. I just figured he was picking up on the overwhelmingly symbolic patriotism and the thinly veiled 9/11 allusions that were strung up all over the script. Yes, the ending flag scene was extremely patriotic, but there was more. There was a symbolic large scale attack on New York City during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by a “seemingly” new threat. Then, there is the scene when New York symbolically stands up to evil during the fight on the bridge by having various city residences, of all races and classes, stand up to The Green Goblin, by saying,
“You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.” This one line alone was spot on for all the sentiments being pumped out by the media machine. Also, let’s not forget Uncle Ben’s death and Peter’s overwhelming guilt that would follow him through the next two sequels. He could have stopped the mugger outside of the office at the wrestling ring, but chose to do nothing. This alludes nicely to the interagency government slap fight on whose lack of action/intelligence left the rest of us citizens holding the bag of debris. In addition, to how the news outlets made finger pointing look like a high endurance Olympic sport in the months and years to come.
It was not until graduate school did I realize that my father was not picking up on the patriotic undertones of that movie at all. It was on our last father/daughter trip to Islands of Adventure, in Orlando that Spider-Man’s mask came off and Peter Parker had a mirror for a face.
My father had just passed one of the signs for the park that included everyone’s favorite web head, and he suddenly grabbed his cellphone and said,
“Oh, that reminds me! I better call, Alfonso, before he screws up.” He dialed the number to his office and commenced ripping my second cousin five extra assholes for something he hadn’t even done yet, but my father most assuredly thought that he would do if he wasn’t around to save the day. Alfonso had been with my father’s home improvement company on and off throughout the years and worshipped my father. My cousin often told me how much he wanted to be like him. I would cringe and tell him psychically to aim a little higher than a man with a mistress, wild mood swings, multiple heart surgeries, and the ability to startle every dog in a three mile radius when he took to Man-Wolf howling at his employees. Unfortunately, I don’t think my cousin realized that if he was going to be truly like my father he would have to acquire superpowers.
“Spider-Man and I have a lot common,” he growled, after angrily clicking off his cellphone.
“Yeah, we both have the power to feel bad things coming,” he suddenly laughed,
signaling one of his dramatic shifts in personality. These moments had become normal to me.
“Do you mean spider sense?” I said, recalling my Marvel trivia.
“Yeah, that! I always know when someone is about to screw up or something bad is about to happen. I am always on my toes, just like Spidey.”
“Um, are you sure you’re not confusing that with real world paranoia?” He ignored my comment and moved on to his next comparison point.
“Also, didn’t his father tell him with great power comes great responsibility?”
“No, his Uncle, Ben, told him that. He lived with his aunt and uncle. His parents were CIA agents and died in a plane crash.”
“Whatever, the point is that it is my responsibility to use this power for good,” he laughed taking one hand off the wheel and pretending to shoot me with an invisible web shooter.
“By constantly yelling at your employees and causing years of emotional damage?”
“If that’s what it takes. I remember at the end of the movie he said, ‘This is my gift, my curse.’ If a few feelings get hurt in the process that is the curse part.”
“Okay, but to me, you’re more like J. Jonah Jameson than Spider-Man.”
“Peter Parker’s boss!” In reality, I wasn’t too shocked that he didn’t know about J.J., as my favorite version of Spider-Man use to call him in the cartoon series that aired from 1994-1998. However, Mister Jameson had been around for much longer.
He first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 back in 1963. He has been both the editor-in-chief and publisher of The Daily Bugle, and along with being associated with variety of other presses, he even managed to become The Mayor of New York in a 2009 storyline.
However, no matter his accomplishments, generations of children will always remember him as the loud, obnoxious, and mustached “hater” who wanted Spider-Man brought to justice for his vigilantism. Yes, this sliver-topped and cigar chomping man was actually, in my mind, more of my father’s Marvel totem than Spider-Man. The fact that you could hear J.J. screaming through the door when he was on the phone across The Daily Bugle’s bullpen of most cartoon and comic book depictions was enough. My father was famous for that exact same thing around his office. In fact, my father could be heard from outside the building. What is even more surprising is that both these men did that well into their AARP years, while smoking, and suffering from multiple heart episodes.
I also discovered another similarity between them years after my version of J.J. died. It turns out both of them suffered from emotionally detrimental daddy issues. Jameson’s father was a famous war hero, but at home he would abuse his wife and son. Thus, some people speculate this childhood trauma led to his initial distrust of everyone’s favorite neighborhood web slinger. I found a quote of this character saying,
“Even the real heroes can't keep it up all the time.” I do not know if my grandfather hit my father, but I know my grandfather suffered from schizophrenia and left his family for a life of being in and out of mental institutions and half-way homes. My father was very young and believed, up until the day he died, that my grandfather had abandoned him. Many people, including myself, tried to explain to him that he didn’t “abandon” him, but he was mentally ill. It is my personal theory that this is why my father had the overwhelming need to be liked and to be constantly around other people. He would go to great lengths to have the most opulent house and the most tricked out boat that everyone wanted to visit or go out on. He once told me that he hated when it was quiet. I responded by saying,
“Are you afraid of being alone with your own thoughts?”
“No, Dr. Freud, it just gets boring!” He laughed wildly.
When we reached Marvel Super Hero Island he was meth head level excited to go on the 3-D Spider-Man ride. While waiting in line, I pointed out J.J. to him on the pre-ride entertainment monitors above our heads.
“Oh, yeah… that guy,” my father laughed. He then spent the rest of our time in line perfecting a spot on Jameson impersonation that made everyone around us laugh. After the ride, my father admitted that he may be a little like Jameson after all, but he still had Spider-Man’s sixth sense.
“The best of both worlds!” He exclaimed, as we exited into the gift shop. He then went on to explain that he was tough like J.J. and quick thinking like Spidey. Except, he had one piece of sharp criticism for both characters,
“How can a guy who has been in the newspaper business that long not know Peter Parker is Spider-Man? I mean didn’t he think it was kind of suspicious that only this one photographer could get these great shots of Spider-Man. And how big are Parker’s balls to even think of pulling off a scam like that! He could have been caught at any time. I like to think I am little smarter than both of them,” he laughed.
I would like, no, love to think that my father was smarter than that. However, one to two years later, time and its twisted origami sense of humor created a final panel that may have been cruel, but true to comic book form ironic. My father thought he could scam the IRS, which is run by a whole rabid heard of J. Jonah Jamesons that could yell louder and threaten people better than my father ever could. He managed to keep the gritty details about it hidden, but we did find out that part of it had to do with cashing checks illegally. When he told my mother and I that he was facing jail time, I wasn’t shocked, but I still had to ask,
“What were you thinking?” He didn’t say anything, or maybe he couldn’t say anything. Maybe coming to terms with the fact that he wasn’t a superhero and couldn’t outmaneuver and foresee everything had squished all those Spider-Man-esque witticisms. He just looked at me like a little kid who just found out that superheroes aren’t real, and you can’t crawl your way out of everything with a joke and a smile.