Dangerous Vaults

Posted by jdg | Friday, September 28, 2007

My wife is a pretty cool chick. She's not overly trendy or indentured to some "look" or into that whole byzantine hipster highwire act of what's slipped in and out of irony the right number of times to be acceptable this week. She's never read Vice Magazine. She thinks Pitchforks are for angry villagers. She knows she likes songs but rarely concerns herself about the bands. She just finds her own strange clothes here and there and wears them well, even while gaining thirteen pounds in this hump-month of pregnancy. I admire her. She's smart and confident and cool. She seems very comfortable with who she is.

The thing is, you wouldn't know it, but part of who she is also happens to be a total gymnastics nerd. And I don't mean that in a post-1989 "nerds are cool" kind of way; I'm talking about a "please don't make me sit in a room anymore with this freak" kind of way. If the world gymnastics semifinals are on ABC Sports, she's automatically on the phone with one of her old gymnastics teammates like characters in a Bruce Springsteen song talking about their beam performances at the 1993 Buckeye Invitational or else expressing scorn at whatever is going on with Amanda Borden's hair. Sometimes they discuss the elite prepubescent athletes they once followed during their own prepubescence, much like male dorks discuss their favorite episodes of Robotech or share laughs over allusions to MST3K jokes. Most of the gymnasts they talk about seem to have been named deep behind the iron curtain: "Ohmigod remember Svetlana Boginskaya's second vault at the 1990 world championships? I still can't believe that French judge gave her a 9.73."

I know what you're thinking, that there must be certain advantages to being married to a gymnast. Well, it's true. Wood was once a very great gymnast, a two-time high school state champion and a Midwest regional club champion on the vault. To this day, she can really stick a landing, if you know what I mean.

But it's pretty much inevitable that when the kid gets old enough she's going to want to do gymnastics, too, and even though I have a wife who can treat me like a pommel horse at the end of the day, I'm still going to spend all my weekends driving all over the state so I can sit around in pole-barn gymnasiums out in industrial parks with a bunch of women wearing windbreakers and big buttons with their daughter's picture on them. Man is that ever going to suck.

Wood currently teaches gymnastics one night a week at a local community center. It's not the cutthroat helicopter-parent environment you find at a gyms in the suburbs or large cities where white people live. It doesn't even have any real equipment. The kids have fun, they learn some tricks, they lose some hairclips on the mats. Juniper and I usually sit and watch. I spend the time writing an imaginary screenplay about a feisty redheaded lawyer who volunteers her time teaching gymnastics to a group of troubled street-wise minorities who don't trust her at first but gradually warm to her after she wears her "hoodie" leotard and performs a special "rap" with lyrics that finally help them understand toe placement on a back handspring; eventually that ragtag group of socially-challenged but extremely-talented African American middleschoolers will take on the evil club gymnastics squad from the "Cobra Cartwheel" gym in suburban Grosse Pointe. At that meet, the team will do their best but suffer a series of seemingly devastating setbacks until finally the one introverted girl who narrowly lost the spelling bee at school that day and didn't think her alcoholic mother would make it to watch her perform gymnastics will see her mom's face in the crowd just as she's about to make her last tumbling pass, and she'll stick a perfect dive roll front handspring rebound for the win and her mother will cry and give up drinking and the feisty redheaded lawyer will rush out to hug the little girl but then she'll get fired by the community center for her unconventional coaching methods and on her last day of class all the students will stand up on the beam and light candles and sing her a elegiac rendition of the Pink/Kayne West duet that was used in all the trailers. I need to write a role for Tone Loc, too. So underutilized in Hollywood, that Tone Loc. So while I sit there wondering if Jennifer Garner would be interested in my script, Juniper sits there pretending to do all the gymnastics moves that the big girls are doing.

Juniper's still as petite as a Dominique Moceanu. Size is what really makes the difference between a talented gymnast and a virtuoso. This morning I heard her talking to herself and doing gymnastics moves on the rug: "Pike! Straddle! Now point your toes!" I think the other day I heard her say "Nadia Comaneci." Man, I sure do hope she inherits some Greek mythology nerdiness, too, so I have something to talk to her about when she's twelve. Either that, or my general clumsiness.

I can't even turn a proper cartwheel.