At the moment, I was engaged in the titular activity. It had taken a fair while to walk there, and my presence was mostly out of boredom. I'd been there before.
The building itself, the school, was (in its current use) something of a clusterfuck. It was an elementary school, originally built as something almost entirely different and designed with the purpose of the latter in mind. Record players were built into the walls of the gymnasium, silently waiting in their metal cabinets. I doubt most people knew those even existed. There were more than a few rooms that now had absolutely no purpose, like the office in the other gymnasium with retractable bleachers erected in front of its door. I never found out what was in there; someone told me it was surplus paper but I had always wanted to see for myself. On a larger scale, the building itself was built in the shape of some austere molecular structure; two large aggregations separated by a slim blue-and-white stick that represented the nadir of architectural beauty. Conspicuously large rooms and offices stuck out from its side, but they weren't anywhere near the everyday classrooms, and couldn't be used for anything of real importance; even the Board of Education had trouble using it, as they had constructed a new building for themselves across the street a few years ago. But between the two angular blocks of what more than vaguely resembled a military facility was something that more than vaguely resembled an enclosure. It had a wooded area to one side, a decrepit baseball field to another, and the unforgiving brick of the school surrounding it on nearly 270 degrees of its perimeter. This was, of course, the playground.
As I walked around the building I looked through the slitted windows for the first time in a good number of years. They looked back at me disapprovingly. Some of the classrooms had hardly changed, while others were entirely different. But most rooms had their blinds closed, and hardly anything could be seen through those damned tiny windows if they didn't. The windows were just as small from the inside; in most rooms, the only physically possible way to exit was through the door. Presumably, if there was a fire and the hallway door was blocked you were just shit out of luck. I don't know why the windows were so small. I imagine they were designed to stop people from climbing out of the school; typical district design. I shook the idea out of my head. And then...
The woodchips were different. I could tell. It might have been their general shape, it might have been the visual texture of the grain and it might have been the angling of the cut but I could tell the woodchips had all been replaced without having to bend down and look. It was a bit unsettling, to be honest. But I ignored it, and looked ahead. I saw the tire swing. Fifth grade was really where the tire swings started to get hardcore, because everyone was slowly getting to that point where they could actually ruin someone’s shit if they weren't careful. I loved it. It was, of course, hard to get someone willing to push three people on the swing, and God knows I wasn't up to the task, but if you could find a good swing-pusher (someone who would probably go on to play football in high school) good times were almost guaranteed.
But the tire swings were a distraction now, and they were a distraction then. The "real" swing set, a little further down, was where we had the real fun. Not "we" as a community, or even as a large group - "we" as in me and anywhere between five and eight other guys. It depended on who was there. The game we played requires a bit of explanation; the swings were oriented so that when sitting, you either directly faced the bulk of the playground or were pointed in the exact opposite direction. And in the opposite direction lay a modestly-sized lawn. A short distance beyond the lawn crouched those goddamn creepy windows, but they were far enough away as not to pose a threat. So we would all sit on the swings, and loosen one shoe (it was always a tennis shoe, because we were ten). After pumping ourselves to an impressive-at-the-time height we'd kick as hard as we could and send the shoe flying into the field. Then, competitive bastards that we were, we'd go and see how far it went precisely. We didn't measure in any real units because it didn't matter, but we did mark our best distance with the non-kicking shoe. No points were awarded, because it would have been a pain in the ass to keep track of them, but we did vaguely remember who'd gotten the furthest kick that day. Until the next day, when we all conveniently forgot and had to find out again. The lawn was about forty meters deep, and the farthest kick we'd ever recorded was somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty - of course, the daily farthest was about fifteen.
Nobody had walked through that field in any recess of the year, but for reasons unknown the lunch aides insisted that we stop lest someone get hit with a shoe and die. Or lest someone break a window. Both of these things were blatantly prohibited by basic laws of physics and, indeed, common sense. But they didn't want us to take any risks - after all, someone once walked somewhere without shoes on and stepped on broken glass, which hurt. Similarly preposterous restrictions were attached to any given piece of playground equipment, up to and including a five-foot-tall debarked stump (the lonely remainder of a tree that had supposedly been cut down to prevent people from climbing it). At one point the after-school program workers forbade the kicking of soccer balls in the gymnasium.
Now I was alone on the woodchips, and the swing set lay dormant. I looked around a couple times, and grabbed the powder-coated chains with both hands. My wallet dug into my buttock as I eased myself into the strap of dull rubber, and I suddenly realized everything in my pockets was liable to fall out. Cautiously, I pumped a few times on the swing set and loosened my right shoe. Eyeballed some geometry and tried to get a 30-degree angle - due to the pumping, there was a certain flux in weight distribution and my path was never a perfect arc. But I got as close as I could, and whipped my leg forward. The tennis shoe sailed into the air silently and I felt the jerk of the chains tensing (I had nearly reached the zenith of my trajectory and momentum had offset the motion of my legs). It touched down with a dull thump, almost all the way to the window. I hobbled over and put my shoe back on, devoid of any feeling of accomplishment. It suddenly occurred to me that I had somewhere to be, and that all the quarters had fallen out of my pocket.
But as I walked out of the park, what really threw me off was the wheel thing. You know - the big metal disc on a vertical axle, with the railings on it to push and hold on to. It hadn't been repainted. It hadn't been replaced by something tamer, and it hadn't been replaced by a newer version. It was simply gone. In its place stood a flat, bare patch of unfamiliar woodchips. Those fucking bastards.