writing exercise: character

What follows is a piece I wrote for my creative writing workshop, an exercise on describing a character. The original draft of this appears in my journal several years ago; it has been only slightly modified.

Mr. Personality is my favorite library patron, by far. I am convinced he is an alien being. His features are the epitome of “chiseled”, refusing to move but for a small curling of his upper lip, Elvis-like, when he is tired and Needs Stuff Now. He is nearly seven feet tall, arms thinly muscled, bound to his sides like jungle vines stiffening from lack of use. If he could be bothered to hurry, he would lope on his long wolf legs. Tiny wire-rimmed glasses are stapled in place by his furrowed brow. I would not know the color of his eyes because they are always averted, scanning objects with his cybernetic implants, assessing the terrain, ever avoiding human warmth.

Mr. Personality got his name upon first meeting while I was still a student assistant at the library. His tone of voice – although pleasant, even soothing – does not change levels; he has said the phrase “I need $5 on my copy card” maybe a hundred times to me, and I have never noticed any change in tone or enunciation. Our first meeting was dramatic: he handed me his copy card and asked for 50 copies. I put 50 copies on his card, and handed it back to him. He handed me a starched ten-dollar bill – I swear, he must iron them – and I gave him back his change. “Thanks,” he said, in the most thankless, empty tone of voice I’ve ever heard. And then he left.

“God, he’s just Mr. Personality, isn’t he,” I remarked to a co-worker, who promptly laughed, said he was always like that, he’s always been like that. And so he was named.

Mr. Personality is my exact emotional opposite. Whereas I feel everything, and so acutely, Mr. Personality seems to feel nothing at all. He does not dawdle, or daydream; watching him make copies, one would think his muscles had computed the most precise movements that arms and upper body could make while efficiently and consistently expending energy. His money is always crisp, smells brightly of the bank, and payday, and sometimes I catch myself plucking out the less-withered bills from the register for his change.

Here exists a person I have almost daily, face-to-face contact with, whom I know nothing about, who knows nothing about me, and it fascinates me to no end that I have left not one impression on him in the past three years. Not a tendency to nod to me, give a curt wave, an extra “thanks,” nothing. I wonder if anyone has ever left an impression on him at all. And here I am, all impressions, all indentations, like gull prints in wet sand.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.