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Swinging Abby Part 5: I'm Swiiinging in the Rain…Just Deeealing With the Pain!

A common question I'm asked whenever I mention my swinging saga is "Didn't your butt get sore?" While it's true that the majority of my time was spent sitting, oddly enough the answer to that question is "No". Really, it didn't. However, just about every other part of my body did. And as each new group of muscles protested, it created a dilemma that required a little creativity to solve.
The initial alteration to the swing was made the very first evening. While strap swings are comfortable for the normal amount of time one might enjoy swinging in them, they're decidedly not meant for the long haul. It took only a couple hours for me to discover that if something wasn't done quickly, my legs would never be useful as anything besides rather large, gangly appendages to keep my feet attached to my body. They ached so badly I could barely stand, much less walk, when my five-minute break rolled around. So my father, Bob, took a large piece of wood and jammed it between the chains, topped by two pieces of foam egg-crate packing, covered with a towel. Voilà: a cushioned seat that didn't compress my legs together, rendering them useless.
By day three a new problem presented itself. No, not blisters on my hands as I had feared. Rather, the insides of my elbows were black-n-blue all up and down the veins from holding onto the chains by simply wrapping my arms around them to keep from falling backwards.  So, out came the egg crate foam once more, wrapped around the chains and tied on with clothesline. Problem solved, Abby doesn't look like a heroin junkie anymore!
Unfortunately, my legs must have been feeling neglected because they came back to haunt me again. While I could now sit more comfortably, it was realized that the constant dangling was still making walking quite an endeavor whenever the swing stopped. Out came a piece of rope and a small board, creating a footrest (remember my remark about needing only a footstool? Well, there ya go!). Last but not least, a beach towel was tied between the chains to form a backrest. By day five my swing-contraption looked like this:

The Contraption

Comfy as a La-Z-Boy recliner!

La-Z-boy swing.

So with my enemy Pain soundly defeated, the next thing to endure was…Rain. And rain it did. Sometimes all day long, and despite the tarp-tent, it was often pretty miserable. My knees would get wet on the forward swing so I had to either cover them with the ever-present yellow raincoat (seen on the bench in the picture above) or swing lower, which I didn't like doing for fear of falling asleep (oh yes, more about that later). Additionally, the water would pool into small ponds beneath the tarp, making it difficult to get on or off the swing without getting my feet wet. During those two weeks I also weathered a major thunderstorm with high winds, making it nearly impossible to stay dry. I was just glad at some points that it didn't snow.
But no matter how bad it got, I refused to stop, and someone was always there with me. Even visitors came in the rain. Some even came to entertain! The moral support coming from all sides, friends, family and strangers alike was amazing. Next time, we'll take a look at some of the people who kept me going when the going got tough.

Swinging Abby Part 4: Home, Home on the Swing

Day three of the swinging saga proved to be a very busy one indeed. Besides the excitement of people bringing me newspapers to show me the articles that had been printed and various restaurants (McDonalds, Friant's, Pudgies and Park Bakery) offering in one fell swoop to completely undo my precious dieting efforts by offering fast-food heaven for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the park I had already come to think of as "home" was about to become so for real: a camper was being donated by Jim's Marine.
Yes, you read that right - a camper, for myself and my family to live in rather than waste valuable time driving to our home several miles away. And it had a toilet! You mean you didn't wonder yet where I was peeing all this time? Fortunately the Spencers, who lived across the street, had been letting me use their bathroom. It was convenient, but time consuming, even to be driven there during my breaks (because walking I was not so good at during this point in time) and I tell ya, you learn to pee REALLY FAST when every second counts! Well, none of that any more. Here's a picture of our temporary home-away-from-home. Note the sign leaning against it, just behind the bicycle - an advertisement for the business who donated.

Our cars and camper.

So now I had a place to potty and sleep just a few dozen yards from my swing. If only the weather would continue to cooperate all would be well. Honestly I had not given much thought as to what I would do if it rained. Use an umbrella? Wrap myself in plastic? Quit? When you're living in the strange reality of setting an endurance record, you don't think much about such things, just trying to make it from one five-minute break 'til the next. Here I am, doing just that on day three, swinging freely in the sun with my mom Carolyn (and apparently unable to flash a peace-sign with only one hand).

Mom and me.

But fortunately other people whose thoughts weren't so micro-focused did think about it, and shortly after the camper arrived, the second life-saver was donated by the Athens Volunteer Fire Department: a big green tarp tenting over the swing set to keep the rain off my parade. Here I am with Mom inside my little domain.

Swing tent.

At first it felt strange to be boxed in by a tarp. It was like swinging in a closet. I had to get used to my vision being so limited. If someone came in a car, I couldn't tell who it was until they were standing right in front of me. Eventually though, the tarp-covered swing became a small home. No wonder, I was in it often enough!
Whenever I remember this crazy two-week event, it's the view from inside my tent-home that I see. No, I couldn't swing as high as I had been, but that didn't matter so long as the swing was moving. What it really did was delineate where my space was and what was allowed to go on within it, something I didn't realize at first but which became very obvious as time went on and delirium set in. In the meantime, did it work? I got my answer that very evening when a storm moved in. I wrote:
About 1:00am I had the opportunity to see how well that tarp really worked: so-so was the answer. The water on the ground kept running in and forming a pond under me! The first experience of a rain storm was fun though. Something different, anyway.
Fun. That was a word to be used with caution. I would soon find out that many things about this endeavor were decidedly not going to be fun. I had already met my enemies Cold and Damp. The next two were just around the corner.

Swinging Abby Part 3: Fame and Freebies

There are some things for which you make plans then don't do, then there are things you do without a plan. How much planning is needed, after all, to sit on a swing? You just do it, right? Well, no you don't. But we didn't realize that when my teen angst-filled whines of "But you never let me do anything!" caused my mom to give into my crazy idea (or so she tells me - so now you know the rest of that story!) Fortunately, others did realize it. Especially once word got out.
And word got out pretty darn quickly. We had contacted one local newspaper, The Evening Times, the day I began (mainly to have an official witness) and in no time the battle among the press to get the scoop began. Next thing I know, I'm being interviewed by people from no less than three newspapers, with updates published almost daily. Here's the first two installments of the breaking news (they both kind of say the same thing so I won't repeat the text).

The Evening Times, front page August 22, 1979

The Evening Times Aug 22 1979

The Star Gazette, front page August 23, 1979

The Star Gazette Aug 23 1979

The effect was immediate. On day three, people began coming to the park in car-loads, and what had been a concern that there would not be enough witnesses to keep the log book properly updated turned into a concern that they would get tired of waiting in line and leave before signing. (While Guinness was then very tight-lipped about their requirements and would not send a representative, they did say we needed an ongoing record of witnesses. I racked up 2,493 signatures before it was over.)
Additionally, it seemed every business in town wanted to get in on the game by offering freebies. I would gain some new t-shirts and never have to worry where my next meal was coming from. Everyone wanted to be the first to feed me, and make sure the fact that they had done so was mentioned in my interviews.
So, the game was on. I was holding up well, still raring to go, and the entire Susquehanna Valley was rallying behind me. There was no turning back. But some of the biggest and best was yet to come!

Swinging Abby Part 2: The Beginning, Revisited

"What's it like to sit on a swing for two weeks? I'm not sure I can really say. It all seems like a dream now. The events of the days and nights, whether big or insignificant, all seem to run together like watercolors on a wet canvas. Each day seemed the same, yet in its own way each day was very different. Every few days the park seemed to change and look different. The wind blew from a different direction. The people looked different. Even I felt different. Only one thing remained the same: that constant back and forth, back and forth, back and forth motion that soon became a habit. A way of life. The only thing in the world that was real…"
I wrote the above shortly after the end of the saga, and it's as true today as it was then. When you're trapped in a device and your entire world shrinks to about twelve square feet (no, I'm not going to bother with that pesky 3rd dimension - you know what I mean) your outlook on your place within it and that of those around you changes drastically. Adapting to strange, new and sometimes unexpected circumstances was the only way to survive and stay sane. Well, as sane as one can be while doing a pretty insane thing.

Shortly into the wee hours of the endeavor I met my first two enemies. They were named Cold and Damp. Here I am warding them off the next morning with three sweaters, a knit hat, jeans and a blanket. I guessed this was what it felt like to swing in the 1800's wearing big dresses and petticoats, but obviously I'm pretty comfortable with it. Note the crossed feet. All I needed was a footstool and an endtable.

Keeping warm in the morning chill.

Pretty early on I also met my first new friends. They were named Policemen and Reporters. They would visit every day, not always in conjunction with Cold and Damp, but nevertheless they cheered me up despite Cold and Damp's attempts to depress me into giving up. It's fun having people interested in what you're doing, and I could not have imagined the attention with which I was about to be showered. Pretty heady stuff for a kid who turns fifteen today.
Oh yes, did I mention I spent my 15th birthday on a swing? Yeah. That's a party you don't get to throw every day. Just be careful you don't drop the cake!

Cake break!

"That whole afternoon now seems like a blurred mixture of strawberry bubblegum, cramped legs and warm sun. It felt like an all-day picnic, with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends there constantly."

Or so I wrote in my little memoirs. Ah, the simple things. They were about to change forever.

Swinging Abby Part 1: The Lightbulb Moment

Whenever I regale someone with the story of two weeks living on a swing set in a public park, it's inevitable that I will be asked "why in the world would you do that?" or "what gave you the idea?" These are actually two different questions with two very different answers. I'll begin with the second one.
The summer of 1979 was a good one for me. I had lost 20 lbs. on my first ever self-imposed diet, had attended and learned a lot from my art teacher's summer class, was regularly adding new items to my Beatles collection and had pen-pals far and wide who shared my interest in that hobby. One afternoon in August I was reading the latest issue of Seventeen magazine and looking at all the fashionable clothes I wanted to wear when a silly little article caught my eye about how summer was almost over and how to enjoy what was left of it. One of the suggestions under "do something crazy" (I'm paraphrasing - I don't actually have the article anymore) was the suggestion "try to break a world record". Now I had always loved reading the Guinness Book of World Records. I also loved swing sets (and roller coasters, but you can't put those in the back yard). A little kernel of an idea began to form and it percolated for several days before I said something to my mom. Honestly? I don't remember how I convinced her to let me go through with it. But I did. Next thing I know, I'm in a small park in Athens Pennsylvania on the evening of August 21st with my family, my aunt Mary Lou and Glenn Rolfe, reporter for the local newspaper, to cover me jumping onto a swing and starting…NOW. Here I am that evening, both before and long after sunset, all fresh-faced and full of energy!

Abby, day one.    Abby, day one evening.

 As to the question of "why?" I could write a bunch of clichés like you only live once or he who hesitates is lost, which are both very true, but the answer is "why not?" Once I get an idea into my head, I'm pretty darned determined to make it happen. Even as a child my response to the word "no" was "don't tell me that", and unless you have a more logical response to my "why not" than "because I said so", rest assured you've wasted your breath with the "no". The bottom line was that I wanted to end the summer with a bang by doing something "wowza" that no one I knew had ever done before**. Something that would be fun, attention-getting, and leave a mark in history. How to do that all in one fell swoop?
Try to break the world's swinging record, of course. Aaaaand here we go!
**Note: my maternal grandfather, John "Freddy" Rumpff, beat me to it. Unbeknownst to me until this saga began, he, his brother, and two friends tried to set a record in 1931 for keeping a bicycle going. Here they are in a newspaper article. The things you learn when you set a strange goal!

Grandpa John Rumpff, 1931 bike record.

Abby of The Sign (or How Come I Never Wrote This Down Before?)

For vacation this summer I took a drive that came to be known as the Reminisce Road Trip. Visiting my hometown of Sayre PA, and friends in both Rochester NY and Kitchener ON, I had plenty of time to talk about the "good ol' days" with friends and family alike that I'd not seen in years, or in some cases, decades. The trip alone created topics of conversation as it progressed, and a curious thing happened during one. In telling about how the current owners of the house my father built had kept something for me for seventeen years awaiting my return to claim it, the listeners became more interested in the story about the item rather than the fact that these wonderfully patient people had held onto it for so long. What was the item? This:

Abby of The Sign

That green and red sign beside me says on it "Swinging Abby's Progress". I've had it since I was fifteen years old and am thrilled it still exists, although how to get it home is a problem I've not quite solved yet. Anyway, I mentioned the sign and explained what it was created for, and the conversation then went something like this:
Friends: "Excuse me? Wai-wai-wait…you did what?"
Me: "I sat on a swing for two weeks."
Friends: O.O "Why?"
Me: "Trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records."
Friends: "And you never thought to mention this to us before?"
Me: o_o "No, I guess not. It's such an old story I assume everyone's heard it by now."
Friends: "Oh no, this is news to us! Please, do tell!"
So I did. And like every time I tell it, the bottom-line question is "why would you do such a thing?" To which I shrug and say "why not?" And then they say "you should write a story about that."
Yes. I should. It's something I should have done long ago. Well, it's never too late!
Stay tuned…

Protagonists vs. Antagonists

I wanted to write about something I've thought about many times as I work my way through writing my book. That is: one must be careful not to make the antagonists more fun and interesting than the protagonists. Why? Because if they are, you're writing the wrong story. And I've sometimes worried about this.

I guess my main example/concern is that my protagonists (the good guys) almost never make me laugh. That's not to say they don't say funny things, and they certainly do make each other laugh in the story. But when I read their scenes, I don't laugh. I fret, cringe, sigh, empathize, and cheer...but never laugh.

On the other hand, I have scenes with my antagonists (two of them, especially) whose bicker-bantering will actually make me honest-to-god el-oh-el, even though I am the one who put the words in their mouths! I always consider that a good thing - that no matter how many times I read a funny scene between my two , it will at least make me chuckle. It's meant to. They are funny people, especially when they're stressed and taking it out on each other.

But they are also wicked people with few redeeming qualities. For this reason, I find that although they make me laugh, I would never turn my back on them. Share a whiskey at some seedy bar? Sure. But I wouldn't take my eyes off my drink, give them my phone number or, heaven forbid, my address. And I think that's why even though I love my villains, I don't root for them. It's also why even though my heros don't make me say "you so funny!", I love them as well and enjoy writing their scenes the most. They aren't comediens, but they triumph in the face of conflict and adversary, and not just between themselves and the antagonists but also between each other. They don't make me laugh. Instead, they make me wish I was them. They are who I should aspire to be.

I hope for my someday readers, they will do the same. Laughs are fun, but triumph is inspiration.

Dreams of the Dead

I woke up this morning in a pretty good mood. An old friend paid me a visit last night. No, he didn't call to say he was in town, nor did he ring the doorbell. Although even if he could, he wouldn't have called and he wouldn't have rung. He would've knocked. And when I answered the door, he would've been looking around like he hadn't really meant to be caught actually standing on my doorstep; more like he just happened to be near the door, and acting like "Oh hey, 'sup?..." you know? I know Rick just well enough to envision such things. And now I have to envision them, because that's all I have. Rick is dead.
I don't believe in ghosts and I've never seen an image of him hanging out around his grave, but every now and then he stops by and haunts my dreams. It's been a while since Rick paid me a visit. Maybe it happened because another old friend from the days I used to know him recently found me on Facebook, combined with the reading of a Beginning of Line story this week in which someone long dead was brought back among the living. I don't believe dreams have hidden reasons, messages or weird interpretations, but I do like to try and pinpoint the trigger for some of them. Regardless of what it was, I like when Rick visits. He died suddenly and tragically. I can't remember the last time I saw him alive, and I wasn't even able to go to the funeral and say goodbye. But when he comes back, it's always the same. I'm like "Oh hey, is it really you??" and he's like "Yeah". Very nonchalant, not making a fuss. Rick was like that.
Whenever this happens, I go looking. I look for the one photo I have of him and always think I won't find it because I assume I took it out of the scrapbook and put it somewhere safe. But I didn't, because I realize if I move it, I'll lose it. So it's still there, where it's been for the past 20-odd years, along with the news article about the accident and his obituary, yellowed with age and stained with scotch tape. The photo is a color Polaroid. Rick sits on an old couch, relaxed but unsmiling, gazing up at the photographer with that look he often had: thoughtful, reserved, and somewhat perturbed. Even from behind his aviator-frame glasses, you can tell he has vivid blue eyes. I still remember the first time I saw them. I wonder what they'd be looking at right now if he was still around. I wonder if he'd be on my Facebook friend list. I think yeah, he would. And that makes me happy. Knowing Rick made me happy. I wish I could've told him that. Then again, I think he already knew.

 Richard "Rick" Fiske
06/18/62 - 01/28/84

The House on the Edge of Life

I always look. It's gray, clapboard, two-storey and probably built sometime in the early 1900's. By the 40's for sure. It sits close to the road on the very edge of a little Vermont town I visit regularly, like a tired sentinel waiting for a reprieve. Perhaps one day, one will come. But not today. It's still there, unable to gaze out over the farmland to the west for the scrub growing up around it, its mouth permanently closed by a collapsed porch roof. The front door is gone; leaving one to peer in where there is a window on the other side of the darkness, one that I imagine is in a tiny kitchen, where someone long ago gazed towards the mountains as they scrubbed utensils dirtied from an evening meal.

I don't know who this crumbling, dilapidated house belongs to. I usually assume the folks who live in the somewhat run-down trailer that sits a ways behind it, on what is likely the same lot. They don't tear it down because, by the look of it, they can barely afford to keep their own tired little abode in working order. And why spend money to do what time, gravity and nature will gladly take care of for free? It's not taking long. I first saw the old house ten years ago. At that time it still had a smile, its porch roof just beginning to sag on the northern corner. An old fridge with the door still on it, one of those deathtraps for children playing hide-n-seek they warned you about in the 70's, sat on it, rust chewing at the corners. Spindly trees had not yet hidden its windows, waiting to play camouflage games when the leaves sprout. I wanted to go inside and smell the old. I wondered if someone would buy it and try to fix it up.

No one did. So it sits, falling into itself little by little, disappearing into the foliage ever more every summer. I wonder who built it. Who lived there and what did they do? When did they leave? Are they still around? Do their great-great-grandchildren live in that trailer out back? Do they care that a structure that once must have been full of life, love, hopes and dreams is groaning under its own weight of neglect, slowly sinking into an unrecognizable pile of rubble? I still want to go inside and look around, find a newspaper, or hairpin, or forgotten mousetrap in the cupboard. I want to know its story. I wish the porch hadn't collapsed so it could talk.

I'll bet most people who live in this little town, and those who pass through, think it an eyesore that should be razed. They probably wince and wonder why the town leaders haven't "done something about that ugly old house". And they probably will one day. But in the meantime, I slow down and look, noting the latest point of deterioration, wondering when the roof will cave, wondering if anyone besides me cares, and wishing I had the courage just once to stop and peek in the window.

Maybe next time, I will.

Go For It

 Well, just when I thought things were going to calm down a bit and I would have more time to get caught up on some stuff around here (photos, comments for music, links to other web sites, etc.), it happened. No, I didn't get sick or have some other crazy crisis arise to keep me occupied. Another project pounced from behind, where I of course was not looking. This one is going to create many deadlines before it's over, and I'm kinda starting to get used to that feeling of sliding into home with the bases loaded. Or something.

The project is called Beginning of Line, a completely fan-created continuation of the story of Caprica, a wonderful scifi drama that unfortunately saw only one season of airtime. Check it out here. No, this is not my web site - it's far too regularly updated and busy for that! But in answering a simple question posed by its creator (the fabulous and talented Teresa Jusino!) on a Facebook page a couple of months ago, I've been drawn into contributing to it and I have to say it's probably the coolest thing that's happened to me in a while. It has challenged me to do things I didn't know I was capable of, such as writing an original short fan fiction in less than a week and creating an actual illustration, which is quite different from a mere portrait. It's been an opportunity to not only get some of my work out there, but to learn to improve upon my technique and work within deadlines, something I was never very good at in art and had never needed or even tried to do in writing. The first art piece will be up on Tuesday February 8th, accompanying what I KNOW will be a wonderful story penned by Teresa. My own story with another accompanying portrait is to run on March 15th. In the meantime, with many weeks worth of other talented contributors' stories awaiting publishing and art still needed, I already have more drawing ideas lined up for the site. And who knows - maybe I'll even write another story for it.

So with that said, did I accomplish everything I wrote about last month? Yes, yes, and then some! How? I have no idea. I really don't. Because just when I think I simply don't have any more time to spare and I should start saying "no" to people and projects, and that that's somehow a GOOD thing, I actually manage to find it within myself and my day to do the exact opposite. Moral of the story? Sometimes, when opportunities pose questions on Facebook, you just gotta say what the frak, and go for it!

UPDATE: Due to some rescheduling, my story on the Beginning Of Line web site will now run in April. The illustration for "Hypatian's Bluff" can be seen in the fan art gallery here.

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