Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

Play, rewind, play, rewind.

Originally posted to blockquote.org on in Woodstock, Illinois


Behind their house a half acre of lawn pushes the sky, the blades lazy and flapping over each other, half-drunk with rain. Maybe tonight or maybe tomorrow dad will mow it to keep from the double work of mowing an overgrown lawn. Keeping a lawn at a manageable length is important, as school work and other work is important, if one wants to keep the work manageable.

We bounce in the deck chairs under the shade of the eave. I explain that the lager in my hand is almost identical to the lager in his hand, the one coming to exist when the other was bought out and reformulated, and then not long ago restored. So now there are two. This is how it was explained to me. He empties his bottle and opens a full bottle of the other kind of beer that I bought him. It’s smooth, he says. I add that it’s faintly sweet, and he agrees, it is.

At dinner my parents update me on our relatives. We relish the dysfunction because it is normalcy; it means all is well. The dishes come. They’re the same dishes we always order. The waiter spoons bean curd onto a hot plate. It sizzles. Mom asks for the mushrooms that I won’t eat, and I am happy to oblige. Dad is happy with lo mein. I tell them which of the animals on the placemat I’ve seen in the last month. The ones I haven’t seen are the snake, the boar, the horse, and the dragon. On the ride back to the city I will see a horse.

After dinner we drive around looking for somewhere to rent a movie. From the road our eyes strain to locate the red kiosks that are all that remain since the rental chains that forced the local shops out of business also closed. Dad and I touch through a few menus on the first kiosk without finding Up or anything interesting. The selection seems to cater to people who are not us but who we know live nearby. Choices reinforce choices, I think; companies want to know what customers want so they can sell them more of what they want, shaping taste into a hall of mirrors, or something like Narcissus’s pool. The second kiosk doesn’t have the one we want to see but it has Where the Wild Things Are, which we can live with.

We sleep. When we wake, we watch a trio of goldfinches scold the gopher dangling from the bird feeder. He heeds them, grudgingly, and before long a shadow shows him bouncing in the gutter that overhangs where we sat the last afternoon. Then he’s circling the potted plants — inside the pots — then back up the downspout to the roof, screeching his sovereignty, and then the bird feeder shimmies on its hook. The finches leave, the finches fly back.