Post three on the Writer’s Blog Hop, and the assignment is to do a character sketch. There are, of course, numerous ways to do this, as evidenced by the variety of posts on this hop:
My technique is to drop my character (in this case based on a real life person as a example) into a scene and observe how he or she looks, and what they say and do in a given situation, allowing their words and actions to portray their character (or lack therof).
And while I don’t think I’m the pooper this week, I just may be the salmon, swimming valiantly (or is it foolishly?) against the flow. This time it’s not intentional, but the result of doing something I preach to my kids all the time about not doing: failing to completely read the instructions. I caught the fact that for the Writer’s Blog Hop today we were to do a character sketch, but somehow missed the stipulation that we were to do it of our hero, in real life or in our writing. Other bloggers on this hop have painted beautiful, vivid, moving portraits of their mothers, fathers, Jesus, formidable lead characters and other worthy heroes. Then there’s me. What follows here is a character sketch, to be sure. A sketch of a real character, without question. The hero part? Hmm, not so much.
I took a deep breath to calm my nerves then immediately wished I hadn’t. Failure and despair hung in the air of the bar as thickly as the stale cigarette smoke, and the acrid combination spewed into my lungs like powder released from an air bag. I pressed a fist to my mouth to suppress a cough.
In contrast to my discomfort, the squat man in the ill-fitting jacket who’d propped an elbow up on the counter to support his head, and who shot me a spare, red-rimmed glance when I slipped into the room, appeared perfectly at ease, like the place was a second home to him. Or maybe a first home.
I settled onto a stool three down from him where I could observe him discretely but not encourage conversation. Apparently the man didn’t require any encouragement. He lifted his head and swivelled on the seat to face me, one hand gripping a mug of beer wiped free of any condensation so long ago that fingerprints marred the smooth glass surface.
“How’s it going, eh?” He dipped rather substantial jowels slightly toward his chest.
“Fine.” With a forced nonchalance, I lifted a hand in the direction of the bartender like I’d seen people do in the movies.
A smile flitted across the man’s face. Like a native who could spot a tourist a mile away, he clearly had me pegged. I wasn’t surprised. In spite of my best efforts, I was painfully aware I wore my naiveté about this seedy, underground world like a camera around my neck.
The man down the bar from me wore his citizenship like a tailored suit. As opposed to the rumpled one that rode halfway up his broad back. Both sleeves had been pushed up to his elbows, giving his arms a vague, elephant-limbed look.
Loosening his already loosened striped tie even further, he ran his fingers over his blond crew-cut before resting his head back on his hand like it was too heavy for his neck to support. He made a valiant attempt to fix his bleary eyes on me again. “Ever wanted to be king of the bleeping world?”
Letting out a short laugh, I sanitized his speech in my head. “Can’t say I have, no.”
I nodded at the bartender who managed to set a cold mug squarely in the middle of the white cardboard coaster in front of me while simultaneously rolling his eyes.
“Schnot all itsh cracked up to be.” He lifted his mug in my direction and I obligingly tipped mine toward him before taking a swig.
“Is that who you are then?” I set the mug back down on the coaster. “The king of the world? I thought you looked familiar.”
His laugh was strangled. By booze or self-pity, I couldn’t quite tell. “I am. Or was, anyway. King of my world. Until those bleep bleeping bleep Nazi reporters decided to get all over my tail.”
Wow. I thought the air had been thick in here when I first arrived. The man had a way with words, that’s for sure. The kind my granny would have washed my mouth out with soap for, back in the day. “Why, what did you do?”
“Nothing!” Jumping off the stool, he paced back and forth in front of me, slashing his hands through the air like a taekwondo champion slicing through invisible boards. “All I do ish my job, for bleep’s shake. That’s all I want to do. What I do on my own time’s none of their bleeping bishnesh. It doeshn’t affect my work, so I don’t see why the bleep they should care.”
Well, they did elect you, I wanted to say. You do represent their city, and headlines like the kind you’ve been making do tarnish the reputation of the entire country, unfortunately. Which technically makes it the business of every law-abiding, tax-paying citizen, including those Nazi reporters.
I kept my mouth shut. Like the rest of the world, I’d seen this man on a drunken rampage, and had no desire to be the target of his next one.
I was a disappointment to him, I could tell. When he realized I wasn’t going to respond, he stopped mid-pace and spun on the balls of his feet to stare at me, his blue eyes clearly trying, if not to shoot daggers at me, at least to focus.
“Well? Is it their bishness or ishn’t it?”
I shrugged and took another bitter sip from my mug, working to keep the grimace from my face.
My silence poured gasoline on the burning flames of his unrighteous indignation. For fifteen minutes he paced and ranted, barely taking time to breathe. I had to admire his endurance, even as I began to fear for his health and well-being.
Finally he wound down. Swiping at the spittle that had formed in the corner of his mouth, he stopped and stared at me again, looking every bit a bear that had been poked by a stick.
I mentally scrambled for the response that would offer me the greatest chance of surviving the encounter. Problem was, I never could remember whether that was aggression or submission. Fifty-fifty chance, I thought, and ducked my head, rolling my eyeballs up to peer beneath my fringe of bangs to see if the predator in front of me would back down.
Wrong choice. His face contorting, the man—whose extra fifty pounds or so gave him a decided edge on me—took a menacing step forward. I braced myself then relaxed when his next step sent him stumbling into the bar. He grabbed the wooden counter with both hands to steady himself, nothing moving on his body for several seconds except for his eyelids, which he appeared to intentionally lift and lower until, presumably, the room stopped spinning around him. Then he reached out a hand and balanced himself on the seat of the red leather stool. The rest of his body followed until he was able to settle his bulk down again.
“It’s not their bleeping bishness.” He slammed a fist on the counter then lifted the mug to his mouth and drained it before setting it back down with a thud. “That’s why I’m not leaving. No matter what all those bleep bleeping bleepers shay about it.” He stared into his empty mug, his forehead wrinkling as though he wondered where the contents could have disappeared to.
I assumed he’d forgotten me until suddenly he whipped around in my direction. “Who are you, anyway?” he demanded. “Why do you want to know sho much?”
A vein throbbed in his forehead. Clearly his blood pressure was on the rise again. Time for me to go.
I pulled a ten from my pocket and tossed it onto the counter then swung my stool around and dropped lightly to my feet. “Just your basic bleep bleeping nightmare.”
I strode toward the door. I felt his bloodshot eyes following me and, one hand resting on the metal bar, twisted my head back around for one last glance. Lifting the object I’d cradled in my hand throughout our exchange, I tapped it to my forehead in mock salute.
The sight of it sobered him up and his eyes widened with sudden, furious clarity. Turning and pushing out into the cold, I slid the cell phone into my shirt pocket and headed for my car.
Press on, my friends. Press on,