One day, fifteen years ago, I was walking south on 3rd Avenue in New York City and, through the window of a beautiful 19th-century building, saw a man flying through the air. I had walked past Sal Anthony’s Movement Salon, a weird community center type thing for pilates, “gyrotonics,” and trampoline classes. I was floored and then, not so long after, very unfloored. I went in and, based on my qualifications as a dancer and a person with a face, scored an internship working the front desk in exchange for as many trampoline classes as I could handle. I could handle a lot.
This wasn’t my first bounce. When I was an early teen, I spent my summers with my father in San Diego. Without school and with a weird personality, I didn’t have many friends. What I did have was a boombox, a lab coat, and a large trampoline set up in the yard, a few feet from Carmel Valley Road. My main memories of that time involved flying through the air to Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier with the tails of the lab coat flying like a cape behind me. I bounced for honks.
At Sal Anthony’s, my tramping took on a more serious and social component. We were a strange little crew who bounced in the back room, a bi-level space with a stained glass ceiling. Unlike the trampoline of my lonely tween years, this one was made of mesh and had more give, therefore the bounces were higher than before. It wasn’t uncommon for a bouncer to soar 20 feet in the air, garnering appreciative claps from the rest of us who stood around the edge. I was young and fearless and soon mastered front tucks and back tucks, front layouts which moved in loopy slow motion, as well as classic tramping moves like 180s and 360s. Afterwards, we’d all go to the apartment of Sal Anthony’s son, whose name I seem to remember was also Sal, and smoke weed.
It was, as you might expect, a very satisfying experience. Unfortunately, all that trampolining came to an inevitable end. I don’t, to be honest, recall exactly how or why, but I imagine it had to do with a general need for money.
One day, about a month ago, I was in Brazil with my two sons and their mother, who is Brazilian. One of her many cousins lives outside of Rio de Janeiro. His job is to pilot huge container ships into a tricky port deep in the Amazon. He works two weeks on and two weeks off and gets paid a ton of money. One result of this is he has a pool that goes into a sauna, an awesome outdoor kitchen with a grill on which he cooked us picanha, and, more relevantly, a trampoline for his two daughters.
My sons, having been exposed to birthday parties of their peers and the block party bouncy castles, know how to bounce. But a large trampoline like this was something else. Additionally, it is generally frowned upon for a grown-ass man to bounce with kids because it is unsafe. And, yes, it is unsafe. I’m not arguing that it isn’t. Still, it was a moment. I had a chance to bounce with my boys.
We all clambered on. The kids marveled at the height they achieved and I did too but in a more worried way. We decided to take turns bouncing. My oldest shrieked and jumped up and down. My youngest did the same. Then it was my turn. “OK, boys,” I said, “Get ready for this.” My kids have not yet mastered their gross motor skills or their fine motor skills, but they have perfected their eye-rolls. “Okay, Dad.” they said.
I took a few warm-up bounces to get a feel for the trampoline. Now it was time to show off a little. One…two..three… I tucked my body into a tight ball and did a front tuck. Releasing my legs according to near-forgotten timer, I unfurled to nail the landing, bouncing straight back up into the air. The eyes of my boys grew wide. “Oh my God, Oh my God!” cried Tony. “Look what Daddy did!” It was probably the first time this was meant to draw attention to an achievement. Usually, I get “look what Daddy did” after I’ve done something like befoul the fish tank or put a sweater on backward. I could the little ticker of DAD stock surging in their heads. They demanded I do it again. I did it again. I flipped. I flopped. I spun. I twirled. My boys cheered like fans, which is not really their default mode.
On one particularly high bounce, I had time to reflect. Long had I judged peacocking fathers at playgrounds. With Protestant scorn, I had dismissed them for showing off in front of their children. Handstanding grandstanders. Somersaulting narcissists. I had no time for all that. But here I was, high above the earth and high in the esteem of my sons, bouncing like a man much younger than I am now. And I suddenly got it. It wasn’t that I enjoyed the adoration — though, of course, I did — but that I enjoyed giving my children something to admire. All those classes had finally, unexpectedly, paid off.