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.

News of WALL STREET Sequel & When I Was Guilty of Insider Trading

When Steph dispatched me, shopping list in hand, to Giant Eagle last week, I indulged myself in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, and saw that Michael Douglas was on the cover.  There was a brief article about Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which is due out this summer, and which I may actually want to see first-run.

During the 1980s, a lot of yuppies and business school grads seemed to miss the point that Oliver Stone did not mean for Gordon Gekko to be a hero.  The fact that a gecko is a kind of lizard should have been a tip-off, the same way that the movie’s true protagonist’s name, Bud Fox, shows his conflicted nature.  (“Bud” is the type of name you associate with a kid who’s just hit the ball out of the park in Little League, and a fox is often portrayed as the slyest animal in the forest.)

That being said, I have to admit that my hands aren’t 100% clean when it comes to insider trading.  In my case, it didn’t happen on Wall Street, and seven-digit sums of money weren’t going from account to account at the click of a mouse due to a whispered rumor.  (I have never had access to the amount of money that would allow me to play in that league, and I’m happy for it.)

In the spring of 1983, while I was living in Boston, I realized I needed to find new living quarters.  The couple I was crashing with was on the verge of splitting up.  He was planning to move to India to study under a guru, she was moving to Western Massachusetts, and The Harvard Crimson did not pay well enough for me to pay rent and utilities on our apartment in Brighton (which was going to go condo in a year) on my own.

Tufts University’s paper, The Tufts Daily, printed at The CrimsonThe Daily did its layout and typesetting in-house, but did not have its own printing press.  (The Crimson was/is one of the few college newspapers in the U.S. that did its entire production in-house.)  So, one evening, the copy was slow in coming down, and my fellow typesetter and I went to work helping to get The Daily ready for printing.  I had learned the basics of shooting pages, making and developing plates, opaqueing negatives, etc.

I was at the sink developing the plate for the Classified Ads page, and I was checking to make sure the copies and pictures were legible.  My eye went down the column, and I saw there was an inexpensive sublet in Somerville, on a bus line from Harvard Square, but not so far away that walking was out of the question.  (That was important, since The Crimson often wasn’t printed and finished until after the subways and buses had stopped for the night.)  Also, the walk would be through a much more pleasant neighborhood.  When living in Brighton, I walked away from Harvard Square, across the Larz Anderson Bridge, past Soldiers’ Field and the Harvard Business School, and through a section of Allston that was rather ominous at night.

Anyway… (spoken in an exasperated tone) I re-read the ad, memorized the number, and put down my sponge.  I went upstairs to the business office and called the number and asked about the sublet.  Before the paper was printed, I had a sublet.  Once we were finished for the night, I went home, showered and changed clothes, and went to talk to the people and sign the paperwork.  The guy told me they had only dropped off the ad the morning before.

Overall, it was a good neighborhood, and I wish I could have stayed there longer, but it was a sublet.  Being a day sleeper, the most annoying thing for me was a little boy who rode his tricycle back and forth on the sidewalk in front of our house all morning.  His tricycle wheel squeaked annoyingly, very high-pitched, much like Robert Shaw in the blackboard scene in Jaws (great use of Sensurround).  I had enough of it, and one morning I ran after the toddler with an oiling can and oiled the wheels on his tricycle.  (His mother, I soon found out, was furious with me, because that was how she kept track of where he was.  Now that I’m a parent, I can see her point a little more.)