Good Narrative Principles

July 30, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Dawson’s Story: How to Become an Angry Man Pt 2

IMG_7665In this sophomore year, Dawson fell under the sway of the professor who taught a class in terrorism through the International Studies Department. He found the class by accident. It met at the right time (4pm Tuesday and Thursdays) and counted towards his humanities requirements.

Right from the beginning, the Professor had this way of making his students feel they were getting the real deal, information to which the average citizen didn’t have access. The feeling of being in the know was addictive. Dawson, in the spring of his sophomore year, declared his major in International Studies. His proud parents thought he was training for a career in Foreign Service, but Dawson was hoping to become a spy, which, he was told repeatedly, would not be a glamorous life but rather a noble one. In other words, he could die, which made it all the more exciting.

Proud that he was stepping out from the long shadow of his parents, his childhood and his thwarted love affair with sports, he left school for a summer internship in Washington D.C. He was there long enough to master the subway system and discover the best falafel joint in town.

At night, he was lonely. Eventually, he found the local batting cage. Regardless of when he arrived, there was always a long wait. When it was finally his turn, the heckling from the people behind him in line was well…intimidating, far worse than his two cousins yelling at him during their time together at the lake. So, Dawson trolled the books shops and read graduate level textbooks on Terrorism. He read weighted studies of common techniques employed by terrorism units in the field. He read about the best way to conduct an interview with a suspect. Determined to put what he had learned into practice, he headed to the best falafel joint in town to interview the owner, a young guy from Jordan. Dawson surveyed the place, charting the ebb and flow of customers and support staff. He kept fastidious notes in the style suggested by the textbooks. He also never jotted down a word when he was in the public eye. If he feared he might forget something, he headed to the men’s bathroom, which was at least twice an hour. By August, the charm of falafel and all the other offerings on the menu had long faded. But to keep up appearances, he ordered one of the five dinner options and nibbled at his meal just so he could blend in.

Dawson developed an allergy to chickpeas. At first it was just a modest rash. Soon the rash grew to cover half his face. Still, Dawson didn’t let up. Every night at around 8:42 or 8:46, a gentleman would arrive carrying a heavy grocery bag. The owner greeted him warmly and led his guest to the kitchen. They’d emerge ten to twelve minutes later, faces flushed. But the grocery bag was nowhere in sight.

Certain that he was onto something, Dawson phoned in a tip to Homeland Security. Since he wanted to be a player, he left his name. A few days later, an Agent from Homeland Security paid him a visit at work.

As he crossed the hallway of the Capital Building to meet with this Agent, Dawson was picturing home plate, his fingers wrapped around the neck of the bat and how good that felt. The Agent was a steel gray fellow. With no hint of a smile, or warmth, he lectured Dawson on the dangers of violating other citizens’ rights. He didn’t sit down on a bench or offer Dawson a cup of coffee, instead, he stood stern and locked eyes with Dawson, sounding very much like a disapproving judge. “When neighbors make a practice of spying on their neighbors, we, as a people, suffer.” Dawson tried explaining to the Agent that he was majoring in Terrorism at college, but this information did little to soften the Agent’s demeanor. Still dripping with disapproval, he told Dawson that mistakes have consequences. And now, thanks to his ill-considered espionage exercise, both Dawson and the proprietor of the falafel place were on “the list”.

Dawson, chastened by the experience, returned to school early the next fall and switched his major to business for which he had neither a flare for nor interest in. For a while, all Dawson wanted was to blend in, hoping eventually that his impeccable behavior would motivate the authorities to remove his name from “the list”.

July 29, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Dawson’s Story: How to Become an Angry Guy

IMG_1531If I really wanted to set this story up properly, I’d emphasize how Dawson once was the sweetest human being that walked the earth since Gandhi, or Santa Claus.

Absolutely, he was nice enough in the way regular kids are nice. He was also mischievous, moody and ambitious with a definite game plan — to play for the majors. Shortstop or third baseman, he wasn’t picky. After school, rain or shine, fall or spring, he’d head to the ratty baseball diamond near his home and knock off a game or two. In sixth grade, when other boys seemed to morph from scrawny to power hitters overnight, it became clear to Dawson that he had been outclassed. There was always basketball, until he broke his ring finger catching a rim shot. His mother insisted the swelling would subside on its own and felt terrible when the orthopedist told her otherwise.

By the dawn of eighth grade, Dawson had to face a harsh truth that would have crushed a lesser man. While he loved sports, he would never earn a living as an athlete. His parents gently tried to redirect his ambitions elsewhere, but nothing came along to replace the sheer joy, the grounded “all is right with the world” feeling he got when he toed in his cleats near home base and pointed his bat to heaven.

For two weeks every summer he stayed with his Grandmother at her lake house. His two older girl cousins were there as well. His Grandfather arrived most Friday nights. Dawson watched him lumber up the long set of stairs to the bungalow totting two six packs of chilled beer. Once, Dawson spotted the elastic in the back of his Grandfather’s underwear peaking from below his belt. To Dawson, this made his Grandfather look like a man who worked long and grueling hours at a job that didn’t involve sports or fun of any sort.

His two weeks at the lake were devoted to swimming and eating. Even during heat waves, he and his cousins baked a cake. That was their tradition. It was also their tradition to boss Dawson around. They’d gang up, directing their pointed will at him. “ Do it, Dawson!” Or, “don’t do it, Dawson!” He had to be careful not to become their puppet, which was hard given all the noise they generated. Every year it was a crash course in understanding what made his two cousins tick. And while he could be pissed off and judgmental, noting how they were different from his friends, he came to realize that they didn’t mean to be contrary. Girls were just born that way.

This hard won information came in handy in high school, when he applied what he had learned to get the pretty girls to laugh at his jokes. He tried out his patter. He updated routines, so that a funny rant about the leaking canoe, became one about the Bio teacher. With his arms windmilling overhead to no apparent beat, he’d say to his audience “picture Miss Simmons as a track coach”. It killed, but you had to be there to appreciate it.

Eventually, he preferred going out with girls who were on the rebound. Usually, they were no longer virgins. Nor were they eager to hook up in a serious way, which suited Dawson just fine.

That is until he met Jennifer, “Jen” in his freshman year of college. She lived on his floor. When she broke up with him, she shattered the comfort of his daily routine that was now, thanks to the threat of an ill-timed encounter, an unremitting source of not only heartbreak but dread.

You’d think that having a normal, happy childhood would immunize you against rage, but that’s not how it worked for Dawson.

During that bleak spring semester when Dawson was dodging Jen, his only release came in the batting cage. He’d set up multiple targets around the cage, then lose himself to the rhythm of the machine hurling a ball through the baseball chute. Later on, when he was an adult, he’d employ this system as a way to cope with the cruelty in the work place. He found that it worked great provided he had easy access to a batting cage and lots of quarters to slug into the machine.