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The seven dependable plots of highly successful barflies 

Wednesday, Jul 26 2006
Common wisdom holds that in fiction there are only seven basic plots that recur repeatedly. These story archetypes are all pretty much the same, really; only the specific casts of characters, place, and style change between works. This idea is also put forth by author Christopher Booker in his 700-page book The Seven Basic Plots. (He obviously never read The Eight Interesting Ways to Name a Book.)

The plots are as follows: "overcoming the monster," "rags to riches," "voyage and return," "comedy," "tragedy," and "rebirth." Yes, that is only six, but you try figuring out the seventh in a book that's 700 pages long. (I think the last one is a variation on one of the others, like "sleeping with the monster," or something like that.)

I couldn't help but wonder if looking at our own lives with these seven — er, six — basic ideas couldn't be helpful. I could sure use some "rags to riches," for example. A "voyage" would be nice, too. Which led me to wonder, does a "successful" night out on the town have to incorporate one of the above "plots"? Surely, I have spent many a night by myself at some skank-ass dive bar, nary a bowl of pretzels in sight nor a salacious conversation to overhear, only to return home alone to catch the last 20 minutes of Pants-Off Dance-Off. An evening like that, if I am correct in my reading of Booker's meisterwerk, would be called "Missing the Mark" (Part III: Chapter 21, page 347).

So let me introduce you to the tale that unfolded a week ago at Radio Bar in Downtown Oakland. I was contacted by a guitar player from a band that shall go unnamed. I had met him four years prior, briefly, at Radio, noted that he was handsome and interesting, and then I never saw him again. However, when he contacted me I remembered him. He had a new record coming out and he wanted some marketing advice. Could he ply me with drinks and bend my ear? As I saw it, the story could go a few ways: It could be the beginning of his "rags to riches" tale or it could be part of his "quest." As for me, like most things, I was sure the evening would end in either "comedy" or "tragedy."

I showed up a little early at Radio and had a PBR. The inside of the bar is one of my favorite saloon settings, as it is dark with red lighting and a great, long bar suitable for people-watching. It has mildly Oriental gimcrack here and there. Radio, like Ruby Room, is full of hipsters who haven't quite found themselves yet, which means that there are a lot of dipshits around, but for the most part the clientele is great. The bartenders are usually supernaturally attractive and male, which is another plus.

The bartender that night wasn't the former. He did, however, ask me if I wanted to pick a bunch of songs for the jukebox. "Oh goody!" I exclaimed. I jumped over to the machine and began to flip through the choices. Momentarily I heard the booming voice of the bartender yelling, as if to a child, "Pick. A. Song!" Hmm. Was he, perchance, being a dick? I began to push some numbers and he continued. "Pick. A. SONG! We aren't going to wait for you! You need to pick a song!"

"Jesus Christ, I just did!" I yelled back at him, somewhat regretting that the music I picked was a Big Star ballad and not something badass like Wolfmother. There was something anticlimactic about metaphorically fighting back to the strains of "Thirteen." I thought about telling him that I knew the owner, which I do, or worse, that I was going to be writing about my experience, so he better be nice to me. But every time I am tempted to do things like that, the voice of my old editor rings through my head: "Don't throw your weight around, girl." So instead, I am taking the low road and immortalizing my experience with David the Bartender in print. You could say that I am the media monster who he must overcome on his journey to not taking himself so goddamn seriously.

I was a little nervous to meet the guitar player and this wasn't helping. Yes, in the back of my head I had some big ideas — that we would hit it off and that this was really a date. I have been thinking that I would like to start dating again, and this was going to be good practice. In order to talk myself into the idea, I had worked a few things out in my head beforehand: He seemed to have read my column religiously, and he made comments about stuff we had in common; he remembered meeting me four whole years ago, and actually, now that I remembered, he had e-mailed me after our initial meeting to make smalltalk; he had been shy and somewhat awkward on the phone when we made plans to meet; and finally, his record wasn't coming out until October, so why would he need marketing advice right now?

I drank my PBR and shot daggers at the bartender, trying to relax and let myself have a good evening. "Just be yourself," I thought, that ol' salve that never really makes anyone feel better.

So this is the setup so far, the beginning of my story, which starts in Radio and ends up elsewhere. We have your lonely damsel, searching for love. We have the Radio setting that has been described as a "Chinese haunted house on cocaine." We have a dastardly bartender, and soon, according to my watch, Prince Charming would be arriving. I took a deep breath and waited.

End Part I. Next week: Part II.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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