When it was Dad’s weekend I’d find him at the end of the block with that week’s bike, usually pegged so I could hang on the back, or if I was lucky he’d be one-handing an old BMX next to him, my ride for the next three days till we had to dump it so the cops wouldn’t catch on. If Mom asked, he called us a cab. Mom never asked. Mom told me to have a good time over the forced dialogue of her soaps.
Most weekends we’d hit up the payphones en route to the mall, scooping out abandoned coins from slots and putting them in my Mickey Mouse wallet which was in fact a backpack for an impossibly tiny person. We’d need most of our change for food, so we rationed out one prank call each. Mine revolved around running refrigerators at first, but Dad set me straight. He once convinced an elderly lady he was her long lost son back from the war. Evacuated a department store based on “reports” of a bomb threat. Dad was a real pro.
When we made it to the mall, first thing we’d do was swap our inner tube caps with the coolest ones we could find in the parking lot; let a little air out first if we got them from a Jag or Beemer. It was important that we ride in style, even if the bikes weren’t permanent.
There’s a way of hyper-extending your arm to the point of possible breakage to reach in the hole where the claw game’s prizes go and pry numb fingers around whatever you find there. I was lookout till Dad showed me how, then we swapped roles. If the stretch hurt my elbow, Dad would snatch a to-go bag from the food court’s Taco Bell, load it up with ice and tie it around my arm like some demented pool floatie. The TB had an old Polaroid of Dad tacked to the wall, but we always seemed to make it out okay.
For Pokémon card machines he’d pull out his special quarters. Special quarters were regular quarters with five-pound test tied to them, the fishing line thin and strong enough to regurgitate the coin once I got my Blastoise, or Mewtwo, or (let’s be honest) Rattata. Every damn time, Dad would ask if I got the right Pokey-mon. Like that, too. Pokey. I’d nod and smile even if it was like a water energy, because if I didn’t, he’d pull the same con twice. Even at seven I knew you didn’t pull the same con twice.
We’d stop for lunch at this Chinese restaurant, one of the few places still willing to accept loose change as payment. I stacked my water chestnuts as I ate, same as the coins stacked after our meal: towers of quarters, nickels, dimes, and the way they’d count them in silence.
After that we’d stop at Blockbuster to undertake Dad’s life’s work. Every week he’d take a video and pile it in the hotel bathtub with the rest, bathroom tile as cutting room floor as he unspooled film from one tape, cut and spliced it with film from another, checked the edit with liberated reading glasses, assembled the master tape one frame at a time. Dad said it’d be the greatest film ever made once it was finished. He’d been working on it ever since he and Mom got divorced, three years of tapes, garbage-bagging them whenever a hotel kicked him out so he could continue his life’s work somewhere else.
Every weekend would end with him pouring tiny liquor bottles he swiped that week into an old Jim Beam, an alcoholic mad scientist fumbling with his beakers, and me peeking through door’s crack, strictly off limits, trying to catch a glimpse of a cell whenever Dad held his work up to the light. And the way the tiny bottles would scatter on the tile, plastic and so shatterproof, and at most he’d get another two seconds of his masterpiece done. And how we’d dump our bike(s) in a new spot each time, Dad insisting they’d end up in the right hands, whatever that meant, and us walking alongside the railroad tracks, Dad leaving a trail of tiny bottles behind us in case we got lost on the way, though we never once did.