Swinging

Copyright (c) 2003 J.D. Chapman All Rights Reserved

I sit on the rubberized slab that bends to fit my rear, chain links connecting down to triangular frames of tube steel on each edge of a board of cheddar cheese. The chains (smooth iron ellipses) rise up and up to about there, clearly too distant to jump up and reach (even with a monumental leap); the crossbar must be twice my standing height. Oh, I’ve been on these things before — I remember my mom pushing me on something similar when I was but a toddler (I remember the thrill of the ride) — and yet I am hazy on how to initiate its motion. This seems somewhat peculiar for I don’t think that I am a child, although as my age eludes me I guess that it’s irrelevant, especially if I am right and I am in my dream.

A young boy, maybe six or seven, smiles as he sits in the seat and scrutinizes me as he moves his legs and commences, smaller arcs to start, and then gradually becoming medium arcs. But when he sees me frown and struggle, swinging my legs in vain rounded crescents, he purses his lips and drags his feet, once on the ground, a second time on the ground, the third time coming to a complete stop. He sticks his legs straight out and raises his eyebrows, showing the tiniest bit of tongue between his lips (so that it looks like he has three lips, reminding me of a salami sandwich) and then he drops his legs and tilts way forward, pushing and leaning into the chains. His seat moves backward a couple of feet and he makes small cycles to and fro while sitting still to watch me.

I give it a try: I lean forward and push, but harmonizing the feet with the arms is tricky. I try a couple of things, my frustration ebbing and flowing like waves on the shore, and now I seem to have figured it out — the push goes with the legs back, the pull goes with the legs forward (that’s all there is to it really). After a couple of minutes I realize that the legs more follow along, that the trick is pulling the chains at the auspicious point in the swing: when your stomach rises up slightly into your heart, then pull. And then no, it is just a fraction of a second later than that, and now I am concentrating on when to push, and I let the swing decide at first; I’m noticing the pressure in my hands, and when it disappears (no maybe a second later) I push for headway. The cheddar cheese swing seems to periodically nudge its approval and the rhythm locks me in with a comfort that is enveloping and reassuring.

I am in my mother’s arms and she is humming a peculiar melody, although I recognize it because she hums it to me all the time, honey with lemon, and as she purrs she is shifting me in her arms, almost forward and back, a little side to side, not an uncomfortable feeling, rather soothing, honey with lemon, and as my eyes drift slowly shut and open again my seat is moving, scenery is definitely passing and changing, the ground getting close and now sliding away, the boy next to me smiling broader now, and I am happy too. My ears register that familiar sensation caused by motion: a faint whooshing sound from the air passing my head, cycle whoosh quiet, air over the hair on the rims of my ears whoosh backward quiet, and it seems to bring back a familiar sensation — it is enrapturing and entertaining.

I lie on the grass noting the two occupied swings while another kid with red hair is contemplating getting on; he is evaluating what might be the best way to obtain a swing — “do I grab the chain, do I grab the feet, should I choose the 3-year old on the left or the smaller 4-year old on the right,” and he is wobbly about the protocol, “should I be a gazelle or should I be a rhinoceros,” unsure how to approach them. He is maybe four himself (although a big lad for his age) and now he has made up his mind and is walking quite decidedly up to the 3-year old on the left; the determined redhead kid craving a swing chooses rhinoceros with his horn down.

His mom is chatting with a friend on a park bench maybe twenty feet away and as the scene unfolds in click-stop-action, the mom rises from the bench and calls out her son’s name at the precise instant that the 3-year old comes barreling legs first smack into the approaching redhead, knocking him flat onto his butt and down onto his back (with a slight thump of his head on the sand). Dust clouds rising, tears and crying yelps, as the two moms rush over to the scene the swinging 3-year old continues back and forth as though nothing changed (with the slightest perplexed look on his face).

I’m in the finals — after hours of swinging only four of us remain. When the fellow on the left poops out he topples from his swing like an ice cream cone with an overpiled scoop. Three of us are now swinging and the other two kids, both a bit older than me, start a mini-competition with their egos battling one another: swords clanking and tank cannon firing, challenging each other higher and higher. One of them propels himself up and up, oh no — he passes that point where gravity balances, his centripetal force crosses the “bump zone,” he is tumbling straight down toward the crossbar in a neck-cracking death drop. He barely misses it by jerking his head back, but his gyration dethrones him from his swing and he smacks onto the ground.

Now it’s just me and the other fellow and we sneer at each other (his turret swung around to engage) even as I make up my mind to ignore him: I will pace myself and simply outlast him. The hours wear on and his taunting continues, laser eye tag and tongue waggling and fire spitting; after another half hour we are both drooping with our ordeal when the crowd starts cheering. We battle the pain in our hands and our legs, but he is paying the price for his taunts and is losing his energy. He slows and slows some more while I keep on my constant rhythm — meanwhile the crowd is rooting for their favorite. I take a hand off one of the chains and wave to the roaring in my ears; he stops now and I am the winner.

I am floating through space with the music and the rhythm, a Disneyland ride that is heartlifting and serene (gentle enough for the small kids) and after a while I am done with my thinking and I am just swinging, and I can hear the occasional passing bug and the wind through the trees, leaves rattling or rubbing against one another, and the thoughts of nearby neighbors disturb what would otherwise be the white-noise perfect silence. It could be a yellow space or a purple space (as I close my eyes and drift into an imaginary ether) it could be the deepest blackest emptiness with pinpricks of starlight, I change to a bird and then to a frog and then to a deer, and then what I am doesn’t matter as I am a brain inside of an animal’s head, hurtling aimlessly through space but not going anywhere really, just romancing my motion and the world moving around me.

In my dream I am sucking on a lollipop in a new neighborhood along a sidewalk with tidy houses set back all the same, and most of them have a verdant lawn bordered with resplendent flowers. It is curious how this lollipop tastes, sticky and tangy and juicy and as arid as the Mojave, and when I pull it out of my mouth it is red raspberry the first time, blue grape the second time, and then the houses turn into mansions. The gardens become elaborate as they try to outdo one another, large fronds of curious ferns, layers of color terraces, birds of paradise, fountains and sculptured waterfalls. Then I am walking on the sidewalk in front of a chic business district where the windows are all squeaky clean with embossed gold lettering; small redwood boxes flaunt purple heliotrope and a variety of marigolds, yet nobody is around and the streets are quiet. Then I am walking in the forest — I pull out my lollipop but it is a white cardboard stick; the sun filters through the dusky trees and I’ve outrun what my destination was to begin with, yet now that I am walking again in front of my own house the walking was the same as if I had been swinging.

For some reason I am borrowing things — I turn to my friend: can I use your swing? He nods and gestures with his hand, sure, as if he were offering me his dinner, his automobile, his house, or maybe his wife. I am swinging for a couple of hours upon a jumble of bummed equipment, plastic trucks, teeter-totters, sliders, retreads, driftwood, and then I am at the park. A man dressed in a chestnut-brown park service uniform wanders by, his uniform worn into lighter-toned patches and darker sap stains (as comfortable as old shoes), sweeping up small papers and leaves into a fold-down metal tray — he smiles at me and nods. I am swinging on borrowed equipment, on borrowed time, and everyone is being kind to me because they are happy to offer what they can — they are happy just to be able to help.

The small swing is unacceptable, not because it hurts my butt but also because it feels awkward and clumsy — its oscillations are too quick and unsatisfying in a herky jerky sort of way, like riding a toy truck around a bumpy dirt driveway. I put my feet down to stop, get onto the swing next to it which is standard fare (that is to say considerably better) and I swing on that for ten minutes or so. It is okay but not exceptional: like riding your bicycle repeatedly around the block on the sidewalk — it helps me think a little but is otherwise uninspiring. I let it come to rest and get into the seat next to that. I walk my feet all the way back and as I lift my legs to release it seems as though I permeate the horizon of a slow-motion life; the swing is smooth and gentle and lazy, the ground actually flowing by like molasses, and I push on the chains and press back with my legs and move a bit higher, and over and over and over again, twelve times, fifteen times, twenty times, and now I am starting to reach the maximum of my swing. Now as I pass near the nadir the ground goes whooshing by at high speed (so fast that it blurs) and the wind bristles my ears and my eyes start to draw tears, like wearing my swim trunks while zooming on a motorcycle down Topanga Canyon.

Although sometimes it’s a chore, I do get the vicarious sensation of what the person on the seat is feeling, so I stand behind the small kid, lean down, and give him a launch (just a gentle push) as I want to avoid alarming him or shoving him off his seat. He rocks his feet back and forth, not like he’s helping, but as he has seen from other kids (and partly for fun). I give him another push a bit harder this time, like I’m pushing off from the side of the pool, and now I have to take a couple of strides rearward to sidestep getting smacked by his increased backward speed. Now he rises right up to my shoulder level making the push easy and straightforward. “Higher” he says and so I shove a bit harder, stepping back again, and now his seat goes up to my head and then above my head, and I can barely reach it to push him. “Higher” he says, and I can only reach his feet, so I give them a push and the soles of his shoes cover my hands in grime, each push becoming another dirtying experience, the filth from his shoes now spattering my face and getting in my hair, the burbling of his joy just balancing the accumulating grit of my sacrifice.

Now I am little again, I must be six or seven — I can tell because this is a modest swingset, probably one in my neighbor’s yard, and yet the ground seems to rise and fall to quite some distance. Ah but this will be fun, this will be a piece of cake, and as I wind back farther and higher I project the path of my self out past the shadow of the topbar, out past the sprinkler in the lawn, all the way within the last yard of the edging where I will jump. Ready (and I push and squeeze my legs with all my might) and Set (and I snap my legs forward and pull back on the chains with all of my weight) and Go (and I need to wait half-a-swing as I am on the backward path).

I strategically let go of my hands and circle my arms to the insides of the chain, then down to the seat, and as I crest to the front I push the seat down and jerk up my hips and I am airborne. Behind me I hear the rattle of the chains from the abandoned seat and in front of me I predict on the ground where I intend to land. I’m going for style and distance; I think of myself as the Olympic long jump champion in a solo practice with nobody to beat but my ghosts. I am an astronaut floating through space, out past the nighttime vacuum of darkness on a tetherless slow-motion walkabout. The ground rises to meet me, it becomes lawn, it becomes the force upon my feet and my knees, and I make a practiced daredevil deflect-and-roll and escape unharmed.

As I approach a rather tall swing it blossoms upon me that nobody else is around — I somehow know that I am an adult and yet I am rapt to attempt an experiment. The swingset has a hard plastic seat; yes I know that standing on the seat will imply assuming some risk, but I will be especially careful and grip the chains tightly paying close attention at all times to my center of gravity and to being under control, in control.

I pull a bit on the chains and push with my feet and the seat glides rather easily out to my front with my rear hanging out back, yet unfortunately the swing as a whole refuses to start any pendular motion. I try it the other way, pushing the chains and leaning forward, and to my dismay the seat skims rather easily behind me causing my back to arch (painfully so) and yet again I fail to gain any kind of oscillation. I am trying to use a saw as a dental instrument. It is rather peculiar and frustrating so I settle into the seat for a moment and ponder the mechanics (my mind drawing arrows and lines of force) and I reach a subliminal conclusion that naturally, swinging while standing is impossible.

And yet I am somewhat frustrated in thinking that while seated the mechanics and the lines of force can’t be that much different than while standing, so my brain empties rapidly. Now I am flying above the playground with a jetpack (yes it is only a dream and yet I am still having fun) and as I twist my legs about in the air I recognize the same situation as while I was standing on the swing — it neither affects my general motion nor does it set me oscillating.

I lie down on a small squat swing, stomach on the seat, and my feet conveniently hang down so that my knees are almost touching the ground. I wind, wind, wind, wind… as the chains tightly corkscrew the seat slowly and magically rises until I’m struggling against the torque with my toes barely touching the ground. Finally I can push no more so I lift up my feet, and at first I am just slowly touring in a comfortable lazy circle, an eagle on an updraft, but then the speed gradually increases and I get a little dizzy, I’ve managed to place myself inside the clothes dryer, and then as I near the ground awhump and suddenly I’m flung around in a fast spin, my ear canals screaming whooya!

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