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Nasty old lady kills swap box

Yesterday I watched a nasty old lady beat my swap box to death with her cane.

Rosie and I were out for an afternoon walk in the Enchanted Forest. As we rounded the curve in the path, I saw the tree upon which the swap box lives. And there was an old lady viciously smashing the swap box with her cane while her little dog waited patiently nearby. Even after the swap box was on the ground in pieces, she continued to smash it, and as I got closer I could hear her cursing “Goddamn idiots!”

My first thought was that this was most fortuitous from a blogging perspective. We all knew the swap box wouldn’t last; it was just a matter of time until someone destroyed it. But who could have imagined I’d actually get to see who it was and witness her doing it and talk to her about it?  In the twelve days since we installed it, I’ve probably spent an average of a minute a day at the swap box. What were the odds that I would just happen to be there at the very same minute she just happened to be there destroying it?

If I’d come along five minutes later, I’d have found the swap box smashed on the ground. I’d have probably guessed it was kids, or maybe an angry young man. Never in a hundred years would I have suspected a little old dog-walking lady of destroying my swap box.

As I approached, she looked up from beating the swap box and our eyes met.

“Is something the matter?” I asked.

“It’s just stupid goddamn kids and — never mind, nothing’s the matter,” she muttered.

“Why did you wreck it?” I asked.

“Stupid kids believe in fairies,” she said. “This is is one of the last stands of red pines in Canada, and they put metal screws in this tree because they believe in fairies and magic. They have no respect for Mother Nature!”

And then she shuffled off with her little dog.

One thing about me is I always consider the possibility that the other person might be right. Could it be true that this was one of the last stands of red pine trees, and that putting screws in a tree would kill it? Even if there were lots of red pines, I’d feel terrible about killing one.

GC and I  had briefly discussed, immediately before installing the swap box, whether it could harm the tree. My thinking was that people put screws in trees all the time – for birdhouses, bird feeders, hammocks, etc. Trees are big and strong and hardy and they can handle it.

But still. What if she was right?

I took a picture of the swap box’s corpse. And I took a couple of pictures of the old lady and her dog, walking away. She turned around.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Taking a picture,” I said.

“You have no right to take a picture of me without my permission,” she said. “I could have you charged.”

We argued about that for a couple of minutes, and ended up within conversational distance of each other again.

“I bet you didn’t know that about the trees, did you?” she asked.

“No,” I admitted. “And maybe the person who put up that box didn’t know either.”

“Stupid children,” she spat. “They believe in goddamn fairies and think they can do whatever they want.”

“What makes you think they believe in fairies?” I asked.

“I asked the children, the ones who put up that stupid box. I was here when they were putting it up. They said fairies left stuff in the box for them. Goddamn idiots.”

“Actually,” I said, “I put up the box.”

She looked startled.

“You lied about the children, and you lied about the fairies,” I said. “So maybe you’re lying about the trees, too.”

“I didn’t lie,” she said, “I never said the children put up the box. I just saw them looking in it, and they told me it was fairies.”

“You’re still lying,” I said.

“I’ve had enough,” she said, and turned to walk away.

“You’re just a nasty old lady,” I called after her.

Which, as we both knew, was true, although I admit it wasn’t very nice of me to point it out.

Anyway. The first thing I did when I got home was google  the number of red pines in Canada, and if screws damage trees. Apparently there are lots of red pines. And screws damage future lumber, by altering the grain, but a healthy tree can easily withstand a few screws.

I’m happy I got to witness the entire life cycle of a swap box, from creation to installation to destruction. Elmaks would have liked that. And I’m glad I saw her destroying it. This way I know it was just one miserable old lady doing it for an odd combination of reasons that included loving trees and hating children. Hundreds of other people saw the swap box and either ignored it or had some fun with it, so my faith in human nature was bolstered overall by the whole experience.

(But isn’t it interesting that she and I shared the same instinct to blame children? She blamed children for putting up the box until I told her it was me, and I would have blamed children for destroying it if I hadn’t seen her doing it. I bet kids get blamed for all kinds of things they didn’t do, because adults can’t imagine other adults doing these things.)



27 comments to Nasty old lady kills swap box

  • gc

    When I got home last night I heard about the demise of the swap box. Rosie and I had been visiting it daily on our morning walk and this morning we stopped to pick up the pieces. The contents, as I remembered them from yesterday morning, were still there… one of Oboe’s feathers, a bus ticket, a plastic batman accessory, a quilting pin, two candies… it made me very sad to see them all strewn about the ground.

  • Awww. It’s okay, gc. We knew it couldn’t last forever. It’s the swap box concept that matters, not the individual swap boxes. We’ll make another one, and put those things in it!

  • future landfill

    I think I might have shouted at her and told her that the City or the Farm had put it up there for kids to leave things for the fairies. Or maybe said nothing and just followed her home thinking up mean destructive things I would do to her, which of course I wouldn’t. But maybe turn up at her house on Halloween dressed as a fairy, or a Swapbox.
    If I’m not mistaken, every tree in the Arboretum has a metal ID tag secured with, – hey look! a metal screw!!

    • I’m going to keep an eye open for her and her little dog, and if I see her again I’m going to do exactly what you suggested! I’m going to follow her home, get her address, and show up on Halloween dressed as a swap box!

  • Sid

    I’m glad you called her a nasty old lady to her face. There is something seriously wrong with a person who destroys something so obviously innocent and fun like a swap box. Especially since she thought was linked to children and a belief in fairies. I bet she hangs out in malls at Christmas attempting to de-beard Santa in front of all the kids. I would have called her far worse.

  • This is the best story I’ve read in a long time. I went back and read all the links, too. I’m so sad that the swap box is gone before I even knew it was there, but I’m delighted to live in a city where people would think to create something like this. Thank you for that.

    • Thanks Dani. I can’t take credit for the idea, because it was the street artist Elmaks who first conceived of swap boxes, and he put up lots of them around the city. He hoped that the concept would spread far and wide. Anybody can be part of the swap box movement – just make or decorate a box, stick it up, and wait to see what happens!

  • Wow…. Documentary proof that ogresses exist. Hope none of the faeries were hurt.

  • Chris

    I’m a little disconcerted because one of my first thoughts when I read about you putting up the swap box was how the screws might be damaging the trees. Because growing up on a fruit farm I knew that the bark of a tree is like our skin — it protects from disease and insects (in the case of the tree). Once our skin is breached we are open to infection. Fortunately, we have an immune system that will do its best to protect the wound. Trees don’t have that same protection, so once the bark is breached, insects and disease can infest it. Of course the bigger the tree, the less likely it is that one small hole will make a difference. But one small hole in a fruit tree can destroy it. Ten holes in a big tree may also destroy it – not instantly. Talk to a Maple tree tapper and have him tell you everything they go through to ensure minimum stress and damage on the tree.

    • From what I’ve read, this tree will be okay, especially if the screws aren’t removed (they plug the wound and the tree will form a protective seal around them). But your point is well-taken, as is the nasty old lady’s, and I will no longer attach things to trees with screws.

  • Chris

    Oh, and I was disconcerted because now I identify with a nasty old lady with a cane.

  • Gilles Seguin

    Sorry to hear about the demise of your swapbox, Zoom. Coincidentally, I was walking back home an hour ago from the Metro near Island Park when I thought of you and your swap box fetish (!?!). Y’see, right on the picket fence in front of the house that’s kitty-corner to the Metro (at Carleton and Garrison), the owner JUST installed a wood-and-glass cabinet filled with about two dozen books and a hand-painted sign that said something like “FREE Mini-Library. Take one, leave one.”
    [Homage to Elmaks and Zoom?]
    (Sorry I didn’t have my camera with me; I can take a photo of it * send it to you for your fetish collection if you wish…)

  • Carmen

    I’m glad you told her that she was a nasty old lady. She needed to know that. And it is indeed a good thing that you saw her do it…I, too, would have thought “children” or “teens”….well, there we go….perhaps there are no fairies, but nasty old birds do exist!!!!!! And they can be distructive.

    • Yeah, I don’t really regret calling her a nasty old lady and a liar. But I’d love to sit down with her and have a long conversation and find out what her story is.

  • Carmen

    …and actually, Zoom…. I sorta like Chris’s post…. Perhaps it would be better not to put screws and nails in trees… We need all the trees we can save…..

  • Gilles Seguin, the mini-library you saw, while in some ways similar to Elmaks’ swap boxes, is actually a whole other movement. Explanatory link here.

  • missed this post somehow in the excitement of pretty socks.

    wow, you got to see the whole cycle. you have nerve to talk to her and challenge her. I need to work on my courage.

    • I find it’s not hard to summon up the courage to confront someone if you don’t think very highly of them. It’s much harder to confront someone you respect.

  • Ray

    I love the idea of a magic fairy box – i’ll bet there really are kids who thought this was what they found.