Moving through the cool basement air, I pass a crate filled with folders of utility bills and embarrassing credit card statements and then clamber over our plastic Christmas tree bulging in its box. Iím slowly working my way towards the basementís core: the hot water heater and electrical panel back in the far corner.
Iím looking for a cardboard box that originally held diapers, but which now contains the tools I need to dismantle our patio swing. I spot a set of adjustable wrenches, but these wrenches, still wrapped up in their original packaging, arenít the tools Iím looking for. The adjustable wrenches are among the broken badminton rackets and sand pails. I couldnít bring myself to place these wrenches with my real tools. An adjustable wrench is an inelegant, despicable tool that damages everything it touches. Past generations have told me this. The wrenches were an impulse buy for which I am now ashamed. Turning my back on the adjustable wrenches, I continue searching for my cardboard tool box.
After a few more minutes of searching, I spot the box behind a bin of winter clothes. Floating around inside the box are screws, complimentary Allen keys, a small hammer with a wooden handle, drill bits, and a set of screwdrivers of inferior quality. I admit to myself that I donít own any real tools. Not like my father or my grandfathers.
I need the stamped metal wrench that came with the swing. After a bit of rooting around, I find the thin wrench lying on the bottom of the box and put it in my pocket.
The basement is quiet and comfortable but I canít stay down here. I pass through an invisible membrane when I leave the basement and enter the warmer air of the first floor.
I encounter my wife as Iím heading outside.
ďI found the wrench that came with the swing.Ē My voice resonates too strongly of victory.
ďWhat about those wrenches you bought?ď Sheís talking about the adjustable wrenches.
ďTheyíre not the right tools for this job.Ē My impressive answer only receives a slight nod in response. I want to add that an adjustable wrench is a despicable tool, but then sheíd want to know why I bought them in the first place.
I head outside and stand before the swing one, looking at it for the last time. Iím not taking the swing apart because itís winter; in fact itís mid-July. Iím doing it because the property manager told us we had to, which I later confirmed after I re-read the rental agreement. The clause regarding swings was on at the bottom of page seven. I had placed my initials right beside the clause in question to acknowledge I had read and understood everything on the page.
I wish I didnít have to take the swing apart. I enjoyed laying out there on the swing with my feet sticking out the end, reading a book. The swing had a canopy that kept the sun out of my eyes. Sometimes in the evening my wife and I would go out and sit on the swing before heading to bed. She would place her head on my shoulder and weíd gently swing back and forth.
After we bought the swing, most of our leisure time was spent in the backyard. We bought a small barbeque and cooked up lots of food. My wife would let the meat marinate during the day and I would cook when I got home from work. I got pretty good at cooking steaks. Not too charred on the outside, not too bloody on the inside.
There is no point delaying this any longer. I take the wrench out of my pocket and begin to remove the first of several bolts holding the swing together. I do this very carefully to avoid scratching the paint. Although itís been a few months since I bought the swing, my wife wants me to take it back to the store to see if theyíll give us a refund.
I feel like a soldier dismantling a trebuchet after a failed siege. I want to drag the swing inside immediately, but I have to stand out there in full view of the whole neighborhood as I take it apart.
The screen door clicks open. My wife approaches as I removed the bolts securing the top cross-bar of the swing. She doesnít say anything at first, just folds her arms and watches as I remove the bolts.
ďI donít even think we have pictures of us on this swing.Ē she says.
ďWhat are you talking about? I took some a few weeks ago when my parents came over for the barbeque.Ē
ďTheyíre all blurry.Ē
ďYou guys were swinging too fast.Ē
After standing around for a bit while I ignore her, she goes back into the house.
I continue dismantling the swing. The bolts donít come off easily. The wrench is too thin and the bolts are lined with nylon to lock them in place. The swing isnít really designed to be disassembled. The manufacturers assume you will find a nice spot for the swing, put it together, and just leave it there.
One bolt is fastened tighter than the others and I canít get if off with the short, thin disposable wrench. I need a proper wrench, size nine-sixteenth Iím guessing, but I donít have one. I try again with the thin wrench, really pushing. The wrench digs painfully into my palm as I let out a melancholy grunt. The only thing I have that will take this bolt off is one of my despised adjustable wrenches.
I wipe the sweat from my forehead with my shirt sleeve and head down to the basement again. The basement feels even cooler now that Iím covered in sweat. For the first time, I open the box the adjustable wrenches came in. Since the five adjustable wrenches are nearly identical, I choose one at random. I carry the remaining wrenches over and place them by my box of tools. None of the tools I have are so good that they would be tainted by the presence of adjustable wrenches. Sadly, the adjustable wrenches are probably the best tools I own.
Back outside, I squeeze the stuck bolt with the adjustable wrench. The bolt comes off easily but the head is now closer to being circular that hexagonal. I donít care that the bolt is useless now. One end of the top crossbar is now detached from the side support. I try to hold the crossbar while slowly lowering the side support, but the support slips out of my hand and falls to the ground with the resonating clang of a faulty tuning fork.
Using the adjustable wrench is much quicker than using the thin disposable wrench that came with the swing. I use the adjustable wrench to start removing the bolts on the other end of the crossbar when my neighbour appears. Heís a tall blonde-haired guy, a bit younger than me, who lives in the end unit with his wife and daughter.
ďTaking your swing down?Ē
I just smile sheepishly and nod.
ďYou know, you shouldnít be using an adjustable wrench on those boltsĒ.
ďYou sound like my wifeĒ.
I immediately wish I hadnít said this. Of course what I meant to say was that he was being a nagging pain in the ass like my wife. But it probably sounded like my wife had already given me this sound piece of tool advice but I had chosen to ignore it. I want to clarify what I meant but I donít even know where to begin.
ďWhen I first saw your swing, I didnít think theyíd let you keep it up. Swings arenít allowed.Ē
He means swing sets are not allowed, the kind for kids. I donít bother to correct him. This was a patio swing with a seat suspended by a frame that swung. I already tried explaining to the property manager how this isnít a swing set. The rental agreement only says swing sets are not permitted, it doesnít say anything about patio swings. But they can interpret their rules however they want. Iím the only one who understands this. Even my wife doesnít understand this.
My neighbour just stands there watching while I take apart the swing. Heís really enjoying himself. I donít look at him but I can tell heís feeling smug. For all I know, heís the one who contacted the property manager about the swing.
I never cared much for this guy. He had wandered over to our yard once before, as far as I knew anyway. My wife and I were outside enjoying the fresh air at the time when he walked by our yard. I said hi just to be friendly, but he came right into our yard for a chat.
We made a bit of small talk and before long, he and my wife got talking about fashion. He was really interested in it apparently. When he was going to school he worked at Henry Rosen. Or was it Harry Rosen? He got to appreciate the feel of the different fabrics he said, the weaves, all kinds of bullshit. My wife was really into it though. I could only stand there saying nothing, wallowing in my marriage to a woman much better looking than myself.
I wish my wife was here to talk about fashion now because I donít know what to talk to this guy about. As Iím down removing the lower bolts, I see his shiny shoes reflecting the sunlight. I want to ask sarcastically if he bought his shoes at Henry/Harry Rosen. What would that even mean? I donít know if they even sell shoes there.
I feel uncomfortable silently taking apart the swing while he stands over me. I want him to lose interest and walk away, although I know it means he will think Iím a boring person. Itís a sacrifice Iím willing to make.
I start to imagine Iím an artist disassembling an art installation and I feel a soothing calm wash over me. Iím able to completely ignore my neighbour. Relaxed and unhurried, I focus on my art. I could spend my whole day out here taking apart my art installation.
After a few minutes pass without conversation, my neighbor says see you later and walks inside his home. I donít care if he thinks Iím boring. Artists are rarely understood.
After a bit more work, all the pieces of the swing are disassembled and lying on the ground. I was wrong before. The swing wasnít the art installation, itís this pile of metal and canvas. If I were to take a picture of the disassembled swing, not blurry but crystal clear, and share it with friends and family, I know my marriage would be over.
I go back into the house to get the box the swing came in. My wife speaks to me from the couch in the living room. ďWe wouldnít have to take the swing down if we had our own place, you know. Why canít we buy our own home?Ē
Invest in real estate. Another commandment handed down by past generations that I hadnít obeyed.
I set the box down and grab the dog-eared copy of the amortization tables off the top of the TV stand and toss it to her.
ďFigure it out yourself. Iím tired of explaining it.Ē
She glares at me. ďAssholeĒ.
I walk to the car with the long cardboard box. A sudden gust of wind catches the long cardboard box and Iím almost blown off the sidewalk. If Iím not careful, I might be blown away.
Once I get to the car, I fold down all the passenger seats and slide the box inside. After a few quick trips to our backyard, all the pieces of the swing are in the box. I get in the car and start heading to the store to see what luck Iíll have returning the swing.
Besides the commute to work, I canít remember the last time I drove without anyone else in the car. Without my family in the car and with light traffic in the streets, I drive faster than usual, with the windows down and the music up. Feeling the cool evening air in my face, I could drive for hours. I see the store approaching but I donít want to stop, not yet.
Leaning back in the driverís seat, I drive away from the store, away from my wife, away from my neighbour, and away from the four perfect circles of dead grass where the swing used to be.