The Oxygen Bar

Someone set our oxygen bar on fire, probably for insurance, probably because an oxygen bar was a stupid fucking idea, probably my dad.

“Don’t worry,” he tells me, “we’re fully covered.”

We sit on the hood of our car while the firemen turn their hoses on what’s left. My dad’s last business, Gary’s Party Superstore, went up in flames too. At least this fire is burning cleaner, fueled by flavored oxygen and dark oak, not party favors and mylar balloons.

“Not too worried,” I say.

The roof collapses and smoke spirals into the night sky. I can’t help but wonder what lessons other fathers teach their sons. What I’ve learned from my dad is that if you’re careful you can make an act of man look like an act of God. What I’ve learned from him is that you can be a really shitty businessman as long as you’re an excellent arsonist.

My father opens his trunk and takes a couple bottles of beer from his cooler. It’s two weeks before my sixteenth birthday, but he spins the top off one and hands it to me.

“Don’t tell anybody,” he winks.

I take a swallow from my beer, and then one of the flavored oxygen tanks explodes inside and the air around us suddenly smells like piña colada. Another one explodes and everything smells like mint.

“Don’t tell anyone what?” I ask.

We drink until there are only cinders and charred cement and then we drive back home. On the way, my dad listens to his police scanner. I’m guessing he’s trying to see if there’s any chatter about the fire, but instead he hears there’s a roadside DWI checkpoint up ahead. He makes a sudden U-turn.

“I’d pass the breathalyzer, but why chance it?” he tells me.

I remember the last breathalyzer he passed, how he got back inside our car and spit out two pennies into his change cup in between the seats.

“Works every time,” he said.

To avoid the checkpoint, my father turns off his headlights and drives down a bike trail and then bumps across a softball field. We tumble over a curb and he flips the headlights back on and we’re riding down our street, three blocks away from home.

“Safe and sound,” he says. “Like always.”

We can’t park inside our garage because it’s still filled with leftover crap from the party supply store. Boxes and boxes of colored wigs, paper hats and noisemakers that my father had the foresight to lug home the day before everything went up in flames.

“Wanna bash in a couple of piñatas before we go to bed?” he asks.

“Why not?” I say.

I grab another beer and my dad snakes a rope across the garage joist. He yanks a dolphin piñata above our heads. When he was at work at the oxygen bar, I used to come out here with my friends and huff off the leftover helium tanks. For a while, my friends and I thought it was hilarious to say very serious things in very high voices, things like “Drop the fucking gun bitch” or “I am going to eat your children,” but even that got old after a while.

“Aren’t you going to blindfold me and spin me around?” I ask.

My father grabs an old dishtowel from his tool bench. He wraps it over my eyes, waves his hand in front of my face.

“How many fingers?” he asks.

“No idea,” I tell him, even though I can clearly see two.

I take a couple of practice swings with the broom handle and then my father takes me by the shoulders and spins me around.

No matter how dizzy he gets me, I know what the next few months will look like. The insurance investigators will determine that the fire was a gas leak or a wiring problem and they’ll cut us a check. Then my dad will start a new and dumber business, a fancy peanut butter store or motor scooter rental place, and he’ll make me dress up in some goddamn costume and stand on the sidewalk and press coupons into people’s chests.

“You ready?” he asks.

I stare at the piñata through the dishtowel. I know it’s just paper filled with air, that when I bury the broom handle in its belly nothing good will fall out, that there will be no surprises, no candy.

“I’m good,” I tell my dad and then instead of whacking the piñata, I swing the broom handle and whack my dad in the gut. I watch as he crumples to his knees in front of me, gasping for breath. I keep the blindfold on. I pretend I’m still dizzy, grab the garage wall to steady myself.

“What happened? Are you okay?” I yell out to him, like I can’t see what I’ve done, like none of this is my fault.

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