It was summer. I packed up the double stroller with toys, sunscreen, snacks and lunches. I loaded the kids in and walked over to the playground.
Babysitters were there with their charges. One of them always brought a creative project for the kids to work on. While helping the kids with crafts she would talk with the adults about what she made for dinner the night before, or the dinner she as planning to make, in mouth-watering detail.
Another sitter was impressively fastidious. She cleaned every grain of sand off of everything before leaving the playground.
Moms showed up. Some friends of mine were there with kids for my children to play with. I probably wouldn't be able to have a conversation but it was nice to see some friendly faces anyway.
There was a mom there who brought her kids but then ignored them. We watch our kids while God watches hers one mom liked to say.
There was an energetic stay at home dad who wouldn't be there long because he was always taking the kids on urban adventures all over NYC.
There were two other stay at home dads who were friends with one another but never spoke to anyone else. There was something lackluster about them. I guessed that they were stay at home dads by default rather than design.
Their kids played with one another, doing whatever they wanted. They may have had depressed dads, but they sure were having a great time.
I kept an eye on my kids, especially my son, who needed a little extra minding. When he was absorbed and playing nicely, I hung back, encouraging his independence. When he needed some light spotting on the equipment, I provided that. While he ran around I followed him around the perimeter of the playground so he wouldn't get hit with the swing while the big kids were there.
A man entered the playground. I recognized him as a police officer and husband of one of the moms. He wasn't working, so he was out of uniform. He was wearing shorts and a neatly ironed tee shirt.
After a brief hello to his family, the man began working out using the playground equipment.
He used the monkey bars do some chin-ups. He then employed the padded surface over the pavement to do some push-ups. He started with the regular, male kind. Then he challenged himself with clapping in the middle. He did an impossible number of sit-ups.
The kids gave him a wide berth. Even the littlest ones knew to leave him alone.
A hush fell over the playground. Even the stay at home dads grew quiet and watchful. They knew that this man was a different animal from them.
There was an attempt by the moms and sitters to pretend that nothing unusual was going on. A masculine man was working on his already muscular physique. He was perspiring and took off his shirt and threw it off to the side.
I was suddenly very aware of my skin. It was tingling. There was a subtle and unexpected change in the air. If it weren't for the planes and the sirens and the sound of children playing you could have heard a pin drop.
It was impossible to deny the sight of a peacock strutting through the henhouse.
Several of the moms and sitters gave up the charade. They sat down on some benches and openly watched him. I did the same. In my case, my attention was divided. It was mostly on him, with breaks to intervene with one of the kids or help them with snacks.
The man finished his playground workout. He grabbed his shirt and left as unceremoniously as he arrived.
Eventually, the playground recovered. Conversations were resumed. I could ignore my skin.
But just for that day, it was like an invisible residue was left behind. It wasn't the scent of after-shave, cigarettes or beer. It wasn't the din of a televised football game in the next room. It was a feeling.
The feeling we had was bigger than anyone gathered at the playground. It was bigger than anyone who had ever been there. It started before people. And there was nothing our big brains could do about it.
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