Opening Activity

In groups of three, carry out the following exercise:

Think of someone you interact with regularly but in a perfunctory way. What keeps your interaction at the perfunctory level? Should it stay there? Why or why not? What, if anything, could you do to deepen the interaction?

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you characterize the narrator's interactions with the doorman?
  2. Why are the doorman's actions in the early stanzas a "pet peeve" of the narrator?
  3. Why might the doorman have "demanded" the "grudging courtesy" the narrator feels was asked of her? Why does she compare her interactions with the doorman with paying a toll to Charon--the ferryman who shuttled souls of the dead in Greek mythology from one world to the next?
  4. What impacts do the doorman's behaviors have on the tenants?
  5. Why does the narrator say "so much depended on" the doorman's "baritone duets and small talk"?
  6. Why does the narrator feel her former interactions with the doorman now "seem so heartless"?
  7. If you see the narrator's view of the doorman's actions changing over the course of the poem, how and why do they do so?
  8. Why does the poem end with the narrator's rememberance of having meant to teach her daughter "how to say 'Muy bien'?"
  9. How much do you feel like you know the people who surround your everyday actions? How much do you want to know those around you?
  10. What value do deep connections have in your life? What value do non-deep connections have in your life?
  11. What importance, or lack of importance, does building connections/relationships with those around you hold for you?

Closing Activity

Think back to the perfunctory relationship you discussed in your opening groups. Share with the large group whether, after this discussion, you imagine wanting or not wanting to deepen your connection with this person and why you feel that way.

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