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.