Good Narrative Principles

How Smell Works


I stole her story. I didn’t mean to. She was just so engrossed in the telling of it, that I helped myself to it. I don’t mean to offer it up as an excuse. But really, when it comes down to it, you’d have to agree it is pitiful. Indefensible. A sure sign of weak character.

I know what you’re thinking — get a life, girl. Write about your own life. Your own observations. The guy who harassed you in the parking lot and slammed his fist on the roof of your car as he walked past. The cancer that grew inside you and now is either gone or setting up light house-keeping in another organ. The girl who said hi in the subway, who looked so familiar and asked you if you had gone to Wesleyan. You could start there.


Write about that.

The plant with the droopy leaves. The marijuana plant with the droopy leaves. The guy who grows the marijuana plant in his basement, who fertilizes the plant in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep, including his fifteen-year old daughter. His precocious fifteen-year old daughter who started receiving calls from strange boys in her class asking her out when she was only eight, nine. Her exploits serving as a constant source of quasi-funny, quasi-embarrassing stories told at dinner parties. A highlight of the evening really, those stories. Like the one about the boy following her around for weeks when she was ten years old. His young daughter went from flattered to confused in a manner of days. Until finally the boy, a toe-head with eyes that wavered behind thick lenses, screwed up his courage, rang the doorbell and ran. At the door was a box of Lindt truffles. White chocolate, her favorite. No one in the family connected the dots between the boy’s strange behavior and February 14th until weeks later. Way after the Lindt truffles were gone.

So Dad has a right to feel protective of his daughter. But not so protective that he’ll give up his favorite Friday night ritual. Toking up in the garage, while everyone else tucks into a movie. A chick flick no doubt. One were the jokes fly past him and around him while he munches on an endless bag of chips and cream cheese. His favorite stoner snack. The endless jokes about guys and the complications of dating, not dating, stunted friendships that want to be more, leave him cold. In a houseful of girls that’s a big problem because it’s the central story being told. And basically he has ceased caring about all the preambles to sex.

Being a married man, he has a hard time remembering what it was like to jump through all those behavioral hoops to demonstrate that he is worthy. Now he just rolls into his garage come Friday night and lights up.

His daughter is dating a basketball player. Not the toe-head who grew up to be a fine, sturdy young man who got himself a pair of contact lenses, but his friend. And it’s Friday night. Dad drives his car directly into the garage. He used to take the time to change out of his suit and tie into sweats, but he lacks the patience. So he’s in the garage, sucking on a bong when his daughter and her new boyfriend stroll past. Did I mention that he’s a lettered player I think they call it? Not on JV, but Varsity. That’s what I mean by the lettered reference. The point is he’s tall. So as they were walking past, the 15-year old giant’s head swivels in Dad’s direction. And bingo! Dad is busted. So busted.

He does the first thing that comes to mind. Leave. He heads to the pizza place and orders a pie, thinking — I’ll bring it home. Make like I was being thoughtful. A good husband. “Here, honey. Here’s some dinner. You work so hard. Why not take it easy tonight.” Kiss. Kiss. Then I’ll change into my sweats.

Dad sees the scene playing out before him as he orders the pie. It’s warm. He’s cold. But instead of bringing it home and making nice with his wife and the girls and the super-tall boyfriend, he sits at a table and eats the whole thing. Nearly the whole thing. The rest he tosses out. On the way out the door he considers his options and realizes he’s still not in trouble yet.

I could call and say I got hung up at the office, but I don’t want to show my hand. I don’t know what the tall boyfriend will say. Did he say something to my daughter? Would I say something to my girlfriend if I was in his shoes? How discrete is he?

Maybe I can buy him off? Slip him some of my primo, perfect, extremely organic buds from the indica not the sativa blend. So it’s a heady high, I would tell him. But he’s a jock. Another generation. The whole drug thing is way more buttoned up now.

There’s nothing new or cool or rebellious about it. But maybe there is. How would he know?

He read some where that Duke Ellington or was it Satchmo got high every day of his life. Miles Davis too. Men he admires. So why not me, he wonders while marching home.  Just because I’m a media buyer and sit at a cubicle all day and dream?

Feeling righteous and a bit wobbly he turns the knob and enters through the front door. He calls out a low-key hello as if it’s just another night. And then he steps into the shower to wash away the pizza grease coating the edges of his mouth like a clown’s smile.


Like that. That’s a story I didn’t steal and didn’t finish either. That’s the difference between living a life and writing a story without a tidy ending wrapped in a bow.

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