This week’s piece was inspired by all of the articles I’ve been reading about the new Beach Bounce place opening this weekend in West Ocean City. It seems that everywhere I look, there’s another article about it, and I for one couldn’t be more excited about its opening. My exuberance is for a multitude of reasons, none of which will land me on some kind of watch list. It’s no secret that I live in a house with four children 10 or under, three of which 4 or under. That being said, between the fruits of my own loins, and the birthday parties of their collective friends, you can just imagine how many Saturday and Sunday afternoons I’ve spent at Coco’s Funhouse in Salisbury over the past several years.

Let me start by saying I have nothing but fond memories from Coco’s, it’s just that West O.C. is a whole lot closer to home than Salisbury. So we’ve covered the first two reasons for my enthusiasm. The third is basically a byproduct of my neurological idiosyncrasies that border in some ways on psychosis. I reside metaphorically speaking in the vestibule of O.C.D. like a resourceful homeless person in winter. I’ve come a long way now that I’m up to child number five, but I’m still a bit of a germaphobe. So to me, a children’s inflatable play facility may as well be a giant petri dish. There have been times while visiting these type of places that I’ve stood there watching my kids fantasizing that I were wearing a Hazmat suit. As recently as eight years ago, I feared other people’s boogers more than I fear venomous snakes and Keanu Reeves movies. I’m still not a fan of any bodily discharge, but I’ve reached a point of complacency if it at least has my DNA in it.

The point being, I get a little grossed out by the concept of these places, so in my head I can convince myself that if it’s brand new, it can’t be so bad. I am however fully aware that these places are very well maintained, kept clean and sanitized, and are sternly regulated. Sometimes the voices in my head get together and hash things out on their own and I just have to sit idly by and wait. I’m pretty certain though that I will soon be logging some frequent flyer miles at Beach Bounce.

As I mentioned already, I have nothing but fond memories of my many trips to Coco’s Funhouse. Which brings us to a story that I had once promised I was never going to write, but I now feel inexplicably obligated. It was May of this year, and my third child was about to turn 4-years-old. My wife and I asked her what she wanted to do for for her birthday. She of course being a very bright little girl started the bidding at Disney World while I initially countered with Papa John’s delivery. It didn’t take long at all for her to decide on Coco’s Funhouse as her second choice. You can’t blame the kid for aiming high right out of the gate. We looked into the cost of a party versus just taking our kids on their own with a friend or 2. It was kind of a no brainer. She was turning 4 and hadn’t attended school yet. How many friends and acquaintances could she have? Her cousins were either 1500 miles away or 20 years her senior. And I’ve always thought that people who try to elevate their social status vicariously through their children’s birthday parties should be forced to braid my armpit hair on a hot summer day. It was her day, not ours.

So we loaded up our three little girls and two of their friends and began the sojourn to Salisbury. I’ll skip over the in between to get to the heart of the story. Suffice to say though that for the next 3-4 hours, these five little girls had a blast. My wife and I had just as much fun watching them. We were nearing the end of our play day, and it was time to start gathering the troops. This essentially was like herding a litter of kittens who had been born in a meth lab and just escaped. I’ll admit unabashedly that at times like this I am not above resorting to bribery. I glanced over at the snack bar and noticed that they had for sale stuffed animal versions of Coco the monkey/ mascot of this establishment. They came in several different colors, and were only about $5 each. Even if it wound up costing me two monkeys per kid to get them in the van it would still be money well spent. I was tired, hungry, cranky, and out of hand sanitizer. So five cherubic little girls lined up at the counter with great enthusiasm to choose their Coco with the birthday girl of course going first. They didn’t have purple, so she went with red, and was elated with her new stuffed friend.

I watched as the girls each chose one at a time feeling a little like a hero of sorts. By the time it was my oldest daughter’s turn to choose, I felt a gentle tugging on the back of my pant leg. I turned to see my beautiful angelic little birthday girl empty handed with her bottom lip out and quivering and her big hazel eyes welling up with tears. She simply said; “Daddy, little help please.”

I looked beyond her to see a little boy about 6-years-old walking briskly away. He was at least a full head taller than her and about 30 pounds heavier. His face was smeared with snot and pizza sauce and under his arm was a freshly pilfered red Coco monkey. Oh HELL NO!!!! Nobody robs my little angel and gets away with it! I was livid and my paternal instinct kicked in. Briefly. I took one step after him and the common sense portion of my brain took over the operation. The message it was sending the rest of my body was this; “Nobody saw THAT, but everyone is going to see THIS.” My body stopped and my brain started processing the situation and how best to deal with it. Even though there were about 50 people in proximity, only me, my daughter, and this little future felon were privy to what had just happened. Or so I thought.

Just above my right knee, I felt a gentle push. I looked down to see my 2-year-old daughter pressing the back of her forearm against me to move me out of her path. She glanced up at me only briefly as if to say; “I got this.” She then fixed her fierce blue eyed gaze on her target and set off. She didn’t run, but she was most assuredly striding forth with purpose as she nudged me and her older sister out of the way.

I was frozen solid with stunned anticipation. I had no idea what was about to transpire but something told me it was going to be worthy of my full attention. She caught up to the Artful Dodger about 15 feet away in full stride. She never stopped, nor did he as she reached up with her left hand. She grabbed his right shoulder and swung him around to face her. As she did, in one fluid motion she caught this little bastard with the most prolific right hook I’ve ever seen. It was as if she were a seasoned champion boxer or in a perfectly choreographed Hollywood fight scene. Both Evander Holyfield and Jackie Chan would have been impressed. She did it like she had been a professional pugilist for 20 years.

She hit this little boy (who was nearly twice her size) so hard that he actually left his feet. The first thing to hit the floor was the back of his head. It was almost surreal as I watched the rest of his limp body join his skull on the germ covered floor as if in slow motion. The monkey landed by his side as he let out a squeal that not only woke the dead, but made Helen Keller twitch. He immediately started crying hysterically and all of a sudden from out of nowhere he had guardians. My little flower very casually bent down and picked up Coco without ever breaking eye contact with her victim. She actually stood over him for a second or two staring down at him as if to say; “stay down bitch!” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t quickly turn my back to the situation with a grin from ear to ear. She walked back to us completely void of any expression or emotion, handed the stuffed monkey to her sister saying; “here ya go Bug (her nickname for her)” and kept on walking. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen!

I looked around and realized how many surveillance cameras were in this place. I started walking towards the front desk where the owner of this place was. We’re in there enough that he knows us by face. I was about to say; “I will give you any amount of money for the past 2 minutes of footage” when once again the smarter portion of my brain took over. I suddenly remembered where I was and realized how incredibly creepy that would come off. Yeah, something tells me that a 45 year old man willing to pay top dollar for surveillance footage from a children’s indoor play area most definitely WOULD land me on a watch list of some type. I couldn’t have my kids growing up with the onus of having a sign in our front yard and me having to go door to door with flyers periodically, so I had to lock in the mental image of what I had just witnessed.

I had previously vowed to never write this story in the Swill, but it just had to be shared. Say what you will about me, but watching my 2-year-old daughter get her first one-punch knock out defending both her sibling and what is right was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Thanks for playing along. Until next week, Syd Nichols