Self-as-Character Assignment: Eight Examples

What I Never Thought

Or Gotham

Everything worth knowing in life I learned sitting behind a bar. I go to a bar every night after work, or class just to wind down. It’s on the corner of 4th and 2nd. It’s not a nice bar, either. ‘Divey’ would be a euphemism. It always smells like old beer and rotting wood and inadvertently, a little like home. Time for a drink. I have a usual depending on the day of the week or time of the night I stroll in. The weekday bartender, Mark, greets me with a smile and a hug from across the bar. He generally has forgotten deodorant that day. He asks about life and school. Topics that are place holders till I have a husband and kids. “Makers, neat?” he asks. The answer is always “yes, sir.”

Maybe I’ll have just two for that night. If I don’t have much to do the next day, I’ll keep drinking until Mark stops offering. It’s always so hard for me to tell how drunk I am at this bar. They don’t have mirrors in the bathroom and looking at my sloppy ass in the mirror gives me a more accurate reading than a breathalyzer.

The first thing I’ve learned is that I look great in dim bar lighting. No mirrors in the bathroom, but plenty behind the bar. Counterintuitive, I know. I also understand that most people probably do look better in the absence of light, but I think I gain at least three points on the 1–10 scale of attractiveness. Maybe the average person gains only one or two. I don’t know what this says about me in full spectrum lighting, but you can’t win ’em all. I think I just called myself ugly. It took coming to this bar for a couple months to start to feel like I was at least over a 6. Having guys come up to me and want to buy me a drink is very validating. I generally don’t need the drink. (I have one in my hand.) And I certainly am not looking for someone to take me home. (I like my bed just fine.) But, I’m no stranger to the fact that having someone size you up really makes a night feel worth it. Makes the pleat in my pants worth my time, so to speak.

The second thing is everyone likes “Easy” by Lionel Richie. I always throw a buck in the jukebox and play this song. Even if all seven of the people in the bar decided to be a square that night, like most nights, people will start toe tapping, mouthing lyrics or even bobbing their head. Maybe they think it’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, which if you aren’t really paying attention sounds just like “Easy.”

Thirdly, the more people know your name at a bar, the more your life is like a movie. I once pulled out my ID at the door to show the bouncer as a mindless formality, even though he is the same bouncer that I deal with on a daily basis. He said “what the fuck do you want me to do with this?” It was awesome. I’ve made friends with the bartenders. We catch up on life between drinks as they mop the bar down with a rag. I know about their break ups, they know about mine. And if they have to step away to get someone a drink, they always remember were we dropped the pin in the conversation.

I never thought that I’d end up spending my nights at a shitty dive in the East Village. I never thought I would be one of those people who would “wind down” with a drink at the end of the night. Everyone needs their own way of healing. From an actual event or just from the long day. Everyone needs shelter. Some people go out and spend money they don’t have, or clench their fists and slam their silverware. I just have a drink. I let it bloom in my chest until it feels like I just put on a blanket. I also never thought I would be this much like my father. But, I also never thought I would enjoy it so much.

Discussion Questions

  • Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
  • Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
  • How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
  • Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
  • Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
  • Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
  • How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
  • Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
  • Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?


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