Charlie: How about family, Barton? How're you fixed in that department?
Barton: My folks live in Brooklyn with my uncle.
Charlie: Mine have passed on. It's just the three of us now...what's the expression?...me, myself and I.
Barton: Sure, that's tough, but in a sense we're all alone in the world, aren't we Charlie? I'm often surrounded by family and friends, but...
Charlie: You're no stranger to loneliness, then?
Barton's second encounter with Charlie occurs after his initial meeting with Mayhew and, even more crucially, Mayhew's secretary Audrey, with whom Barton has attempted, unsuccessfully, to strike up a more intimate relationship. If his first encounter with Charlie served largely to establish what Barton, for all of his pretensions, really thinks of the common man that he purports to represent, here the emphasis leans more upon the extent to which Barton and Charlie are kindred spirits, connected by a mutual loneliness and both harrowed by their festering sexual frustrations. To say nothing of their shared compulsion to explore the inner workings of the human mind - in one case figuratively, the other much more literally.
Barton is very much an outsider to the world of sexual activity, but it fascinates him, as evidenced by his response when confronted with yet another of Hotel Earle's auditory disturbances, this time in the form of a couple who are apparently making love in the room next door. Overly-rambunctious neighbours are, like poor air conditioning and hungry mosquitos, another example of the kind of perfectly familiar intrusion one might expect to encounter on the most intensely mundane of vacations or business excursions. And yet there is immediately sinister quality to these noises, being as they are the only genuine evidence we get throughout the entirety of the film that the hotel has any tenants at all besides Charlie and Barton (and no, the numerous pairs of shoes we see lined up in the corridor to be shined by Chet are not in themselves "proof" that there are actually occupants in the adjacent rooms). The love-making couple feel somewhat out of place within the deadening, uncomfortably barten world of the Earle, but their intrusion comes as a welcome one to Barton, who obligingly presses his head against the wall for a further listen. A link between Barton's sexual energies, however vicariously satisfied, and his creative energies is heavily implied when he is suddenly compelled to head back toward his typewriter - now, tellingly, surrounded by crumpled up pieces of paper from various false starts and abandoned efforts. At this point, we see the camera zoom across the keys of the typewriter and into the blankness of the typing paper - as it does so, the screen is filled with a blinding light, which could be taken to signify the creative enlightenment that will finally enable Barton to move past his writer's block, only for Charlie to enter into the room and bring the process to an abrupt halt.
Ostensibly, Charlie's arrival represents a disruption - arguably, he has snapped Barton back into reality just as he was about to find escapism and creative expression in a fictional world of his own construction. Alternatively, the exact opposite is transpiring, and that preceding movement into a bright, empty space signifies Barton's "breaking through" into an altogether different reality, one in which Charlie is ready and waiting to greet him (a reading which could be taken to support the popular interpretation that Charlie does not actually exist, but is in fact a figment of Barton's own imagination). Either way, Barton does not seem at all put out to be interrupted by Charlie, whom he greets cordially as a friend. No longer the threatening stranger he appeared to be back when he and Barton first locked eyes, Charlie now wanders into Barton's room, sits himself upon the bed and converses with him freely.
It is during this encounter that we get our very first reference to Charlie's chronic ear infection, which will later develop into one of the film's most significant and unsettling motifs, although having acknowledged, forebodingly, that he cannot trade his head in for a new one, Charlie very quickly shifts matters on to inquiring about Barton's marital status. Barton establishes that he is neither married or in a relationship, which he attributes to his writing and to his tendency to "get so worked up over it", meaning that he doesn't have a lot of attention left over to spare. In other words, he is too self-absorbed to be capable of giving adequate consideration to the needs and desires of another individual - a point Barton duly demonstrates when, unable to resist going off on another of his egocentric little tangents, he immediately cuts Charlie off as he is about to bore him with the details of his own professional life. Barton's attention is what Charlie ultimately wants - he makes this clear at the end of the film when he berates Barton for his failure to listen - for he too is a lonely individual and, in spite of his playful heterosexual posturing (the reveal that the underside of his tie is adorned with the illustration of a near-naked female, his claim that he gets "opportunities galore" in his line of work as an insurance salesman) intimacy with Barton is what he seeks. Charlie informs Barton that, since the death of his parents, he is left with "just the three of us now...me, myself and I" (a nod toward Charlie's multiple conflicting identities), prompting Barton to imply that, despite often being surrounded by family and friends, he is seldom able to shake his own feelings of intense isolation. As Charlie deduces that Barton is "no stranger to loneliness", we witness a fleeting moment of genuine empathy between the two.
Charlie then presents Barton with a picture of himself on the job - like Charlie's ear infection, this will have relevance later on in the film, where particularly attentive viewers may notice that it comes to function as a sort of counterpoint to the picture of the sunbathing beauty (Barton places it in the corner of the same frame). Charlie is keen to establish himself as Barton's muse (we get our first real inkling of this at the end of this meeting when Charlie invites Barton to make use of his own expertise as a former wrestler by engaging with him in a bout of wrestling - see below). The picture he gives Barton, which depicts a smiling and well-presented Charlie in a white business suit, allegedly plying his trade as a traveling insurance salesman in Kansas City, comes with a story about one of Charlie's policy holders (one who was carrying fire and life, whose hubby was out of town and whose third quarter payment was way past due) although Barton declines to hear it, choosing instead to make his own typically condescending assumptions about the details of Charlie's life, largely as a means of overselling the importance of his own. Barton's assumptions about Charlie are of course false, but then so is the impression of Charlie's life given within the picture. At the very least it does not reveal the full story. Later in the film, when Barton runs into Mastrionatti and Deutsch, who present him with a picture of their own offering a very different representation of Charlie (or Karl Mundt, as they refer to him), they infer that Charlie's claims of being a traveling insurance salesman are a lie, calling into question the authenticity not only of the picture, but of just about anything that he may have disclosed to Barton about his work and his life. According to Mastrionatti and Deutsch, Charlie's mention of having been in Kansas City is at least true, although his interactions with the housewives he encountered there were none too savoury. (How does his anecdote about the female policy holder even end? Did she try to barter her way out of the third quarter payment by propositioning Charlie, as seems to be the implication, or did her husband being out of town leave her open to attack from Charlie's unique brand of chaos?)
Barton informs Charlie that he envies him for his daily routine, far removed from the pains and responsibilities of having to "plumb the depths" and "dredge something up from inside" that his own job as a writer entails. He does not realise just how closely he and Charlie are actually connected in this sense, for Charlie makes a habit of dredging things up from the inside on a more literal basis, and he is well-acquainted with the horrors that come with exploring the torturous territory of the human head. As Barton speaks of the kind of pain he experiences as a writer, a pain that he anticipates that anyone else would know little about, Charlie is seen pressing his fingers against his infected ear and wincing, signalling that pain is an all-too familiar aspect of his daily routine.
In a show of false modesty, Barton reveals that the screenplay he is working on is for a wrestling picture starring Wallace Beery, a detail which immediately piques Charlie's interest, for it turns out that he was an amateur wrestler back in school and is also a huge fan of Beery (although he prefers Jack Oakie). Barton admits that he himself knows little about wrestling and that he is actually not very interested in "the act itself" (a clear indication that he may be severely out of his depth in this particular assignment), but Charlie manages to persuade him, briefly, to participate in a demonstration of the wrestling basics, resulting in Charlie easily overpowering Barton and leaving him in a dazed and crumpled heap on the hotel room floor. Obviously, Barton is no match for this so-called Common Man when it comes to hands-on experience, but this scene has deeper significance, as many (including the Coens themselves, reportedly) perceive the act of wrestling between the two as having sexual undertones, an interpretation reinforced by Charlie's jovial comments about waking up the downstairs neighbours (if indeed there are any downstairs neighbours to be woken up within the Earle) and the obvious innuendo in his observation that there is "usually a lot more grunting and squirming before the pin". (This interpretation also shows up later within the context of the film during the final confrontation with Mastrionatti and Deutsch, who deduce that Charlie and Barton have engaged in some form of sexual activity, to which Barton naively responds, "He's a man. We wrestled.")
Before being persuaded by Charlie to get down on his hands and knees and wrestle, Barton signals his initial decline by swiveling his chair back in the direction of his desk and of the picture of the sunbathing beauty above it, only for Charlie to promptly and forcibly swivel him back. Once again, there is the suggestion of a rivalry between Charlie/the Earle and the picture of the bikini-clad woman - as with the previous encounter, when Charlie leaves the room, Barton's attentions once more return to that image of alluring beauty, only for his moment of peace to be cut short by a disturbance from elsewhere in the room. We saw this happen previously with the wallpaper peeling, but on this occasion the source of the disturbance is in the bathroom, in which Charlie had briefly entered before departing. Curiously, this particular moment is cut from the finished film (unfortunately so, because it disrupts an obvious pattern in Barton's three initial encounters with Charlie and how each of them concludes), but can be found among the deleted scenes on the DVD release, and will be explored in greater detail in the upcoming entry.