“I Was Within and Without”

Standing at five feet, one inch tall, I can fit into many inconspicuous places, but this one is my favorite.  I live above Brenen’s on Court Street, and have a perfect people watching location. The windows aren’t sealed properly. Air escapes from under the frame of the window and chills my chicken legs. Luckily for me, I have fleece slippers and a warm blanket that never leaves my legs. The sun peaks in the window just right, lighting up the stage for the actors to take their places. I grab a mug of Hazelnut coffee or a full glass of white wine spritzer, depending on the time of day, and head to my little nook.

Me, sitting in my window nook with a cup of coffee
Me, sitting in my window nook with a cup of coffee

They say that introversion comes from the exhaustion of social interactions; I know this much is true. Talking to people in class, meetings, and in bars on the weekend is physically tiring for me. I crave space to recharge, spend some time on my own, but to feel socially connected, somehow. For two years I wished for a place that I could relax, but still feel involved with the campus I’m living in. Looking for a place to call my own, it was important to me I had a window that would allow me to live through the life of others, while allowing myself to spend time alone.

I captured this photo from my window of the snowstorm we had.
I captured this photo from my window on Court Street of the snowstorm we had.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in the Great Gatsby, “Yet high over the city, our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” It narrowly discusses how Nick is both a participant in social interactions and an observer.

I’ve spent hours in this window watching drunk girls cry over the ever-too-early closing time of Wendy’s, the slipping and sliding of students on their way to class, and waving to my sorority sisters as they walk by to check if I’m in the window. I’ve watched snow fall, rain cascade, sun shine, and leaves fall. I feel extremely connected to the people who frequently walk past my building, and I’ve lived the lives of thousands.

Smiling Skull Saloon a sanctuary for students and townies alike

The Skull is famous in Athens for its odd patrons and horrendous creation of "Skull Ale"
The Skull is famous in Athens for its odd patrons and horrendous creation of “Skull Ale”

If the 16 bars of Athens were people, the Smiling Skull Saloon would likely be the quintessential representation of Athens.

Affectionately referred to as “The Skull” by its loyal patrons, the dive bar represents the small, Southeastern Ohio town itself: the perfect fusion of faithful “townie” population and the transient students who call the city home for four years.

From its patrons to the decor covering the walls that pay homage to an interesting history of its owner and the bar itself, the Skull is the perfect mix of seedy dive bar and beloved hang out. Settled into its Union Street location in 2000, the Skull has spent 16 years acquiring character and meaning to its loyal customers. From old license plates and photos hanging on the wall to the tables defaced with carvings of people’s names, the saloon embodies a sense of tradition and home, even if it does smell a little and is in a desperate need of a powerwash. The 116 year old building housing the old watering hole only adds to the air of history.

Bargoers crowd around the Skull's bar, not to drink, but to stare intently at each other.
Bargoers crowd around the Skull’s bar, not to drink, but to stare intently at each other.

One does not have to order a drink to enjoy the Smiling Skull; one only needs a childlike sense of wonder and a natural affinity for people watching.

After walking the streets of uptown and peeking into bars like the Crystal or JBar, the world of bargoers begins to look monotonous. All the faces begin to blur together. It isn’t until one finds a biker-esque man dressed as Santa with a full, belly-lengthed beard perched on a stool at the Skull that that tedium is broken.

From the dogs often running around off-leash in the bar to the warbling of townies and students alike trying their hand at open mike night, the Skull exudes that feeling that just makes Athens Athens.