Remember MC Hammer’s parachute pants and gloriously 90s dance moves? When Hammer rose to pop culture stardom, my father seized the opportunity to capitalize on the phenomenon. In the early 90s, my sister and I were tweens, that particularly obnoxious phase between “sweet, innocent child” and “angsty, hormonal teenager”. There is nothing a parent can do that won’t either set a tween off or embarrass them for life, sometimes concurrently. It was at this point in our little lives that my father invented the “cool walk”.
The cool walk was, obviously, the most ridiculous-looking walk my father could have possibly thought up. Claiming to have been inspired by Mister Hammer, my father would keep one leg functioning normally, while heavily limping with the other, as though he’d busted a kneecap. He kept his arms rigid with an exaggerated swing as he moved. It is difficult to put into words, but not enough time has passed for me to have developed enough nerve to perform it, myself. Perhaps it’s because I never had children.
My father was still bigger and stronger than each of us, which meant that he had an iron grip that we could not overcome. This was advantageous for him, as he often enjoyed performing his “cool walk” while holding one of our hands. It was a catch-22 situation for us. If we struggled to free ourselves from him, it would draw attention to the fact that my father was doing the cool walk. If we did not struggle, then people would know we were related. My father is a smart guy. My only hope to avoid Embarrassment For Life was to ensure my sister was always nearer to him than I was.
However, I was not always so fortunate. One summer, my family had taken a vacation to one of the many tourist traps Florida has to offer. We were on the sidewalk when my father reached out. My sister’s reflexes were quicker than mine, and, with a shot of fear-induced adrenaline fueling her little legs, she shot about 50 feet in front of my father and me. My sister and I were like Laurel and Hardy, respectively, so once my wits failed me, I did not stand a chance. My stomach sank as I felt my father link his arm with mine. And then I saw it – an open-air trolley filled with tourists ambling at a steady 5 MPH from behind us. I had to make a decision: Do I bring attention to myself by trying in vain to break free, or endure the humiliation in silence and hope nobody saw me? I had no choice but the latter. Once the trolley was squarely beside us, my father broke into the cool walk with as much cool swagger as he could muster. My face burning with an embarrassment only a parent could impose upon their tween, I struggled to hide myself from the dozens of eyes that I was certain were upon us, some behind cameras. If this incident took place today, I would have assumed the video ended up on YouTube.
In reality, I’m sure nobody noticed my father’s cool walk, and, if they did, they probably assumed my father had some sort of leg injury, and I was helping him walk down the street. Although it was only beside us for a few seconds, the trolley seemed to slow down to an agonizing crawl. I thought it would never pass us by! My sister, now safely walking alongside our mother, stole a quick glance over her shoulder to assess the situation, but she dared not look too long lest people realize she knew who we were.
Once the trolley was out of sight, my father loosened his grip, and I was free at last.
My dad and me, before I understood what this “walking” business was all about.