I’ve never been one for trampolines. My father drilled it into his four boys that the acrobat’s terra not-so-firma ended up more often in compound fractures than the free feeling of being able to fly. Before we went to a friend’s whose parents were either too drunk or stupid to know the dangers of buying a springing platform, my dad would cite statistics, insurance premiums and gruesome personal anecdotes involving broken teeth and shattered femurs. So my adolescent experiences with trampolines were reduced to my friend Arnold fooling around with girls named Kim and Nikki on top of the bouncy canvas while I waited underneath.
As I grew older, my experiences at carnivals taught me that I needn’t worry about the dangers of the trampoline since I didn’t have the stomach for jumping and twirling anyhow. The cheap, traveling so-called amusement parks and their clunky, portable rides made me feel queasy and injured. I didn’t understand the thrill of throwing up your candy apple on the same girl you wanted to kiss, and I’d been in enough car accidents to resist handing some toothless grease monkey a string of tickets just to experience the same whiplash I got sliding in the backseat driving with my older brother on the Boston Post Road.
So you can imagination my hesitation when my son London and I joined my friend Edie and her two kids on a journey south to Albuquerque to try the new Xtreme Hang Time indoor trampoline park. I’d never heard of this concept, let alone the Duke City’s version. I try to avoid anything labeled “extreme” and, as an English teacher, cute misspellings simply annoy me, especially in a state like ours that already has notorious issues with literacy. During our ride down, I’d made up my mind that London needed a dad who participated in this kind of thing even if it seemed like a bad idea given my history of nausea. For most adults, such a decision would be no big deal. For me, it felt momentous, akin to what Christ must have wrestled with in the wilderness.
“Smells like gasoline,” London said when he stepped out of the car. Don’t ask me why but that’s when I recalled what I stupidly chose to have for breakfast: a salmon sandwich and a Caesar salad. Edie and her kids were already in the parking lot, having arrived early enough to fill out the liability waivers, but the Xtreme door was still extremely locked. While they’d waited, her daughter Tulah had discovered an impressive climbing gym across the street while her son Tate unearthed the place parents went to smoke while their kids got their spaz on inside.
At the Xtreme Hang Time indoor trampoline park, they give you nonslip socks to wear, and there’s a taped off area where parents like me would usually stand, but today I was determined to be another kind of parent, the kind who jumps high and runs around with glee, feverish not with a temperature but with the love of, well, jumping high and running around. London and I immediately went to the Xtreme basketball hoop and looked pathetic trying to sink at least one shot after jumping off a carpeted cube. According to a guy with a whistle whose name was STAFF, some of the counselors could actually dunk. Woo-hoo!
London couldn’t tell, but I felt ill immediately. I hid it well, trying to keep my legs steady as we ran to a series of foam pits, each equipped with its own—you guessed it—trampoline. London went first and did a nifty forward flip into the kiddie pool of blue cubes. I followed suit and landed on my head like a lawn dart. I could feel the fissure in a vertebra I broke in 1987 start to crack open, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Foam pits, at least deep ones, are their own sort of quicksand, and trying to crawl out of that spongy nightmare made me feel both awkward and obese.
“Dad, this place is so awesome,” London said, as I dragged myself from the geometric deep.
“I know, right?” I answered, recalling the neck brace I wore all that spring of ’87. I tried to cover the flesh-colored collar with scarves a friend bought at a Dead concert but that type of decorating drew even more of the kind of attention that rarely ends up in romance.
London led me to the dodge ball area, and I was happy enough throwing balls at small children, but all that tumbling and leaping started my salmon swimming upstream. Feeling queasy, I grabbed London and pulled him to the mat, trying to use him as a shield against all my pint-sized opponents who smelled weakness in the form of my fish-scented breath.
“Please try not to lie down for too long,” STAFF said, approaching us. “We don’t want anyone to step on you.”
I tried to say thanks but what came out was closer to a burp than gratitude.
At this point, I’d had enough, but we still had about twenty paid minutes left. London realized that running on a bed of trampolines made him faster, so he raced from one end of the warehouse-o-fun to the other. There was something beautiful about his motion as he extended his stride so his gait appeared almost gazelle-like.
My head ached and my stomach was not pleased, and London’s form started to blur either from his increasing speed or my first bedspins in years.
“Dad, want to race?” London asked.
“Dude,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder, “I might throw up if I do.”
Suddenly, STAFF was right behind us. “Throw up? Who said throw up?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I speak mostly in metaphor.”
The rest of our party arrived, seeing it was close to the end. We walked to the lobby and threw our moist socks in the hamper. Surprisingly, everyone seemed as exhausted as I was.
“A half hour would have been fine,” Tulah said.
“Dad, this place smells like feet,” London added, putting on his shoes.
“I know, buddy. And the gym is still pretty new, and it’s not yet summer.”
Out of the milling crowd, a flushed girl with dirty blonde hair approached me with a knowing smile. “I hit you in the face. A lot,” she said, far too pleased with herself.
“True, my little demon,” I answered nicely, “but I get to leave now and you, my dear, have to stay.”
Rob Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.