Squeaky Wheels and Swings

It looks like the vernal equinox may finally be settling in for the long haul here in Central Ohio.  Temperatures during the days since spring officially began have been so erratic that I have not delivered on my plan to ride the trike to and from work at least twice a week, but it looks like we’re finally turning the corner.

There are some things you never outgrow.  When Susie was a toddler, and finally too big for the “baby swings” on playgrounds, I was very glad that she loved the swings, because it gave me the excuse of swinging with her.  I restrained myself and never showed her the playground practice of “bailing out,” which I learned in elementary school, miraculously escaping any type of injury from it–even a skinned knee.

Susie retains her love of swinging.  Her favorite head-clearing, by-herself activity is swinging, which means that if I come home and she is not home, as long as it’s still light outside, I can rest assured that she is at the Maynard and Summit Park, the little pocket park less than a block from our place.  If I turn off all music and TV, and listen carefully, I can be doubly assured that she is there.

Entrance to Maynard and Summit Park.

I will never call 311, the City of Columbus Call Center, to ask them to oil the swings in the park.  However, I am the first to admit that their squeak is gratingly annoying.  It is very similar to fingernails down a blackboard.  (I remember seeing Jaws in a theater equipped with Dolby surround sound, and the scene where Robert Shaw drags his fingernails down the blackboard creeped me out more than any scene involving the Great White.)  But, I do not want the City to correct this, because if the house is quiet when I come home, or on a weekend or holiday where I’m sleeping in, if I hear the rhythmic squeak of the swing, I know that’s where Susie is.

Part of me hopes that my down-the-street neighbor in Somerville, Mass. reads this blog.  I don’t remember her name, and I doubt that she knows or remembers mine, but she would be quite pleased at my change in attitude about the sound of squeaking.  I sublet part of a house from some students at Tufts during the summer of 1983, since I was part of the skeleton crew at The Harvard Crimson putting out the newspaper (publishing twice weekly during the summer) and working on The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe, 1983-1984.  It was a two-mile walk from The Crimson‘s headquarters on Plympton St., which was a godsend to me, since I frequently left work after public transit had stopped for the night.

There was a family with a young boy, a toddler, who lived on my street.  During the day, the street was almost deserted, because all the residents were either at school or work.  (I was one of the exceptions.  Since I worked a graveyard-shift job, the exact opposite was true for me.  I would be gone most of the night, and sleeping for much of the day.)  The little boy could easily spend all morning racing back and forth in the street on his tricycle.  Had he been my child, I would have required him to use the sidewalks.  This street was no turnpike, but there was still some vehicle traffic during the day, such as utility people, UPS delivery drivers, etc.

Usually, I was comatose much of the morning.  And I usually slept the sleep of the dead once I fell asleep.  However, the squeaking of the kid’s tricycle never failed to awaken me, whether he was pedaling toward or away from my place.  There was also no rhythm or pattern to it, so waiting for him to make the next lap was a lot like waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I tried waiting for the squeak’s Doppler effect as he went past the house, but it was futile.

One morning, I reached my limit.  I was both frustrated and exhausted (a very unpleasant combination with me!), and decided to be proactive.  I found an oil can in my basement, and when the kid pedaled by, I ran after him and oiled the wheels on his little tricycle.  Very silently, he pedaled away.

A few minutes later, his mother came marching up to my porch, where I was going through the mail.  She was not a happy woman.  This surprised me, because I thought the squeaking drove her out of her skull as well.

Quite the contrary.  The squeak was how she kept track of where he was.  He was restricted to going back and forth on the one-block stretch of our street, but she still wanted to know his exact location.  This was in the era before parents believed that pedophiles and rapists hid behind every car antenna and fire hydrant a child might pass, but she still wanted to have a bead on his whereabouts.

It took parenthood for me to realize the reason she was so unhappy with me.  When Susie was younger, and playing in the yard (or in the house) with kids in the neighborhood, I managed to bite my lip and refrain from chastising them about being too loud.  The only thing worse than a group of kids that are too loud, I realized, was a group of kids that was too quiet.

"Death is the Only Excuse!"

I first heard this line over the P.A. system in high school, when a teacher was announcing an after-school club’s meeting where attendance was mandatory.  I did not care for it much at the time, but I’m finding it applicable to my current situation–my delinquency in posting to this blog.

My longtime friend Scott Robinson died unexpectedly last month, aged 49.  He had been a friend since shortly after my 1995 move to Columbus.  We knew each other mainly through Unitarian Universalism, and various political and social activities and organizations.  (I mention him several times in this blog, particularly our long walks.)  He died early on a Sunday morning, and I went to a packed memorial service for him at church the following Thursday.  (Scott took the picture of me that is at the title page of this blog.)

His death triggered a heavy, but barely functional depression.  I was able to keep going to work, although I’m sure my production was sub-par; I am not looking forward to my next quarterly evaluation.  After coming home from work daily, about all I wanted to do was sleep, so while Susie and I spent evenings in the living room, either watching DVDs of House or while she was online with her friends, I often slept for much of the evening stretched out (as best I could) on the love seat.

The downward spiral stopped because of something you would not associate with curing (or at least arresting) depression.  Even though it was the first day of the vernal equinox here in Columbus, the mercury was below freezing, and the heavy winds made it feel even colder.  Our furnace picked that night to conk out on us.  I had it up to 85 degrees at one point, and the furnace made all the knocking and whooshing sounds, but there was no heat coming up from the registers.  So, Susie and I sat around in sweatshirts and coats, and she kept a space heater close to her.  With my fingers turning blue and bent from the cold (okay, this is a little hyperbolic), I texted the property manager, and we made plans about his going in to look at the furnace.  All the while, I was hoping that the problem was relatively simple.  I was simultaneously expecting and hoping that the property manager would give me hell for calling him in to relight the pilot light.

As it turned out, this furnace uses no pilot light.  The manager said the furnace had a bad igniter, but he repaired it and we once again had heat.

I think the reason my depression lifted was because, once the furnace stopped working, I knew that it was from no ineptitude of my own.  Too many times in the past, if I came home to a house where the electricity didn’t work or there was no heat, it would be because I had neglected to pay a bill, and the service was discontinued.  This time, I knew I was solvent with rent, that my payments to Columbia Gas were current, and so the lack of heat’s cause was mechanical, not financial.

Susie is not looking forward to the end of spring break Monday.  She is back from a week in Florida with Steph, where they went clothes-shopping, and visited the zoo and bookstores.  Sometime in May, her drama class at The Charles School is performing Twelfth Night, so three afternoons a week she is at rehearsal.

During her week in Florida, I “indulged” in a “wild bachelor weekend.”  The definition of “wild weekend” varies as you get older, or when you discard various pharmacological forms of entertainment.  When Susie was a toddler, she and Steph went for a week to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.  I had used up all my paid leave because of Steph’s first heart surgery and recovery, so I stayed behind in Columbus.  My “wild weekend” involved ordering in from Donato’s and watching all three Godfather movies in a row.

So, what did I do this time, besides neglect the blog?  I laid out my fledgling collection of 78 RPM records on the living room floor and love seat, and did something a little OCD.  I made sure that Vocalion records were in Vocalion sleeves, that RCA Victor records were in RCA Victor sleeves, etc.  I had my laptop switched on, and the had the Online 78 RPM Discographical Project on the screen, but I didn’t check my collection against this vast and exhaustive database.  In the case of my Columbia LPs, there were more records than sleeves, so–against the advice of the owner and proprietor of Vintage Fountain Pens here in town (also a vinyl salesman)–I put them in the binder albums that a record store owner gave me.

Just your typical Saturday night in my house when Susie is out of town–sorting out 78 RPM albums and putting them in the proper sleeves.

 Not the most fascinating way to spend the weekend, but the solitude made it easier.  Laying the records on the floor when there were two of us in the house risked someone stepping on them (I confess I lost two records this way.  It may be sour grapes, but judging from the titles, they probably sounded better being stepped on than played), so this was a project best done alone.

Once the weather is consistently in the 60s, trike rides are going to be the norm, and not the exception.  Even after a decent night’s sleep, I am very slow in getting out of bed in the morning (a lifelong habit), so I really need to pre-plan when I would ride the trike in to work.  I restarted taking lithium this winter, but have stopped because it’s causing me to gain too much weight, and regular trike rides should help bring down the excess poundage.

On the 29th of this month, I turn 50 years old.  I received an AARP card in the mail earlier this week, amist the other unasked-for mail, such as the MicroCenter catalog and an invitation to join AAA (as a non-driver, I have no need for it).