Good Narrative Principles

May 17, 2018
by Lee Eiferman

Holding Hands

I do this thing every week: I go hear (and see) my friend improvise on the piano for forty minutes or so. He’s pretty amazing and astonishing, playing on a Steinway with its original sound board. The kick of it is witnessing him leap from one style to the next as the spirit takes him. I always leave feeling blessed, lucky to have fallen into this weekly ritual.

Sometimes my husband comes with me, sometimes not. It all depends on whether or not he’s at home or at some far-flung place. My husband is what you’d call “an important man”. It’s lonely work for both of us.

The weekly musical event takes place in his living room where there’s a deep couch, the sort which is easy for a short-legged person like myself to slide ever so gradually to the floor. The couch is not my favorite spot to listen. But last week I arrived late, without my husband, and so, had to squeeze onto the couch between a friend and a stranger name “Jerry” who seemed pleasant enough.

As I slipped into the music, I absentmindedly extended my hand closer to Jerry seated to my right, I suppose to brace myself. Halfway through a tender melodic piece, Jerry cradled my hand in his. I didn’t move it away. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because his hand was warm, dry to the touch, a bit naked.

The memory of his touch lingered through the week, flavoring my nightly routine, when work and the press of the to do list wasn’t generating the necessary distraction. I wondered why Jerry held my hand. I wondered who he was. I could have asked my friends, the host of the weekly piano recital, but the thought of bringing it up made me blush. Even if I were to text my friend the question, shot him an email or call, I could well imagine the blush, creeping from my neck, coloring my face to a deep strawberry glaze. I suppose you’d think it was guilt expressing itself, the dead weight of conflicting emotions, though honestly, I don’t feel guilty.

I’m very conscious of what I’ll wear tonight. It’s Wednesday after all. Jerry isn’t a regular. There’s a good chance that he won’t be there. I tell myself this, that he probably won’t come, using the same line of logic as when I prep myself for life’s little disappointments, an example of which I can’t think of right now, though, as soon as I sign off, a list of disappointments will readily spring to mind.

September 14, 2017
by Lee Eiferman

Window Display

For as long as he can remember, Johnny has been vacationing in Upstate New York. He owns a window shop and has found out the hard way that setting up an eye-catching display is vital to his business. It’s a window shop, after all. His latest purchase was an American flag hanging from the extended ladder off a toy fire truck, an appropriate 9/11 marker. Luckily his wife Nancy has the patience of a saint, except when she’s around a fresh water lake. She gets mean when the temperature slides past 80.

June 21, 2017
by Lee Eiferman


When asked if he actually liked his job, Jake mentions that he always suffered from a bad case of Sunday night anxiety. Heading to the office Monday morning never felt good, but, with his wife due any day, Jake was in no position to consider a change or even a lateral shift in his work life. Yesterday, on the street outside the office, Jake collided with two sweaty guys hauling away the state of the art copier and the new editing equipment from the office. Upstairs, everything in his cubicle, including his flowering orchids, his books on fonts and basics of print design were gone. Later, at home, in a heightened state of confusion, Jake tackled the room that was designated to become the nursery. His glove ripped midway through spackling the wall. Jake felt a warm rush of air along the fleshy base of his thumb. Feeling simultaneously frightened and set free, he cupped the air as his new complex reality began to take hold, like Jello starting to congeal.  (Photo: Tim Duch)

May 30, 2017
by Lee Eiferman

Not So Nice

You’d think that a doctor would have an easier time than the rest of us mere mortals finding someone with whom he could spend the balance of his days. Lonely, the Doctor took the advice of his ninety-year-old Mother and posted his profile on one of those dating apps. Unlike at work where everything was tidy and his staff anticipated his unspoken requests, he was, after hours, lost in a sea of potential mates parading on his screen. He struggled to imagine any one of them as a person with thoughts, feelings and most important of all, political affiliation. So, he hired a matchmaker, someone who boasted that she could find him a suitable wife in under a month.   She was expensive enough. He calculated that each of the twelve dates he went on cost him on average $237 factoring in the matchmaker’s fee amortized over the course of the contract. Inevitably, even before the appetizer arrived, he was ready to kick his date to the proverbial curb. (Photo: Tim Duch)

May 25, 2017
by Lee Eiferman

He’s a Nice Guy

You don’t even have to say it. The “but” is implied, as in, “he’s a nice guy but…” But, he chews with his mouth open. He’s a sentence completer. He’ll throw you under the bus or steal from his own mother. So, what makes him such a nice guy? Maybe, he tells a good joke. Maybe we’re “nice” until we prove ourselves otherwise.

June 19, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

23 & Me

IMG_6445I love my parents. Those guys are so awesome. For my Sweet Sixteen they bought me a “thing” — dunno what to call it, a screening (?) a service (?) for 23andMe. I learned about it in Bio this year. My teacher, Ms. Jimenez, told us that now you can take a bit of saliva and use it to decode your genetic makeup and that just “blew her mind”.

You know, how some things can become catch phrases? Well, “blow your mind” had a good run for a few weeks. Like, “ooh, this soggy burger blew my mind” or “the soda machine ate my dollar, which just about blew my mind.” (Maybe I’m confusing “blow my mind” with “bummed me out”?) But at night, at home, I started digging around on the Internet and though I didn’t say anything about it to my crew, like how genuinely awesome it would be to have a report on my genetic self, I was intrigued.

(Note to self: “intrigued” is a good word to use in my college essay).

I bugged my parents and eventually they caved. It’s not cheap, this service, this “thing”. But then again, neither is a reading with a good astrologer. My parents don’t think it’s a fair comparison. But, consider this: both astrology and genetics tap into your curiosity about the future. And both offer you a script, which may or may not come true. Just like genetics isn’t destiny, neither is the arrangement of stars in our galaxy. Sure they both tug at you and influence/limit who you might become, but I like to think that there’s a higher self running the show.

What I really want to know is who am I? My Mom grew up in a crazy cultured house where it was the norm to learn Swahili when her Dad (my Grandpa, the love bug) was stationed in Kenya. Will that flair for language show up in my 23andMe report? Or would it be better suited to my astrological forecast? Maybe I didn’t inherit that “whatever” (gift), (flair), (wiring). My Dad makes awesome pancakes for us every Saturday or Sunday (depending on whether or not one of us has a soccer game or swim meet). Again, that’s probably not a trait that’ll appear in either the genetic report or star chart but maybe is the key to my character.

School’s out (finally!). The last few nights, me and my crew have been lighting bonfires at the beach. There’s a wildness that comes over me when we’re sitting around the fire with the ‘smores and peach schnapps. I look at the stars. I’m not thinking about astrology or genetics, instead, I’m just feeling that strong pull, that tug towards freedom. I go skinny-dipping. I kiss the boys, the girls. I’m not drunk (honest). I’m not high (okay, maybe a little).

I wish that moment could last forever. I keep thinking that if I stare at one star long enough (I can always find it using my Star Chart app) maybe I can project this wildness into energy that I can then tap into it when needed, like in the winter when the world goes glum.

And say I’m successful at pushing this essence of me towards a star (let’s just say). Is that essence the real me? More real than my genetic makeup or that I was born under the influence of Uranus (that’s a joke).

May 18, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

The Art of Gentrification

IMG_4222Ten years after the official beginning of climate change, Pat and Anise were still trying to get pregnant. They now lived, to their great delight, at a beach house abandoned after the great floods of last fall. The house was quite a find. It had everything; a generous second floor patio, rosewood detailing and working solar panels to heat the house and power the downstairs sauna. Best of all, the house sat on stilts.

They purchased a dependable sea kayak (just in case) and tucked into their next adventure. At first they were the only ones on the block. No one in their right mind would go near this stretch of infamous devastation; the pictures of bedframes and lawn furniture floating out to sea were still too raw and vivid. But gradually, word of Pat and Anise’s sweet setup proved irresistible and friends showed up to claim the houses nearby. Planning and hosting dinner parties and communal art projects occupied their vacant days while the threat of the rising ocean added a spice of immediacy. It was, in short, a perfect time to be full of ideas and daring.

Despite the comforting sounds of the pebble beach, now feet from their bedroom, Anise’s insomnia came roaring back to life. Her stomach was in turmoil. Anise was secretly convinced that she was being punished in some fashion for not making more of her life or not following the trend to migrate north. After a particularly tough breakfast where she fought the urge to puke, Anise realized she was pregnant. The fact that she and Pat would soon be parents set into motion the next chain of events.

May 18, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

When Did You…?

IMG_1966When did you first feel yourself? I’m not referring to your first memory, but rather the first memory of you connecting with your power, your might, your sense of self. What was that moment?

Was it hugging the curve of the highway as it dipped below the river? You, on your motorbike, mulling over the events that were your first real date and choosing to shut up the chatter and just drive. Was it stealing two bazooka bubble gums from the corner candy store and chewing both pieces till your jaws ached while the winter sun slipped behind the playground robbing you of that last vestige of warmth? Chewing the now rubberized gum, you were comfortable in your skin and wondered why you didn’t feel any sense of guilt or remorse. Was it then?

Or was it waking up in the middle of the night to grab for your son crawling dangerously close to an open outlet near your bed only to realize that it was an illusion? Maybe it happened while mucking around with your first iPhone, or iPad and tapping this icon or that until something cool happened. Since then you’ve never been without it. You charge your device religiously. You take it with you to the game. And when your team scores, you check the screen rather than the face of your son who looks to you to amplify his joy. Maybe that’s wrong, you mutter to yourself, but that’s who I am. And you’re okay with that.

Or maybe (surprise) it’s when you hear the same son now a man muttering in your left ear “let go”. You feel his sure grip and try to squeeze his hand to simply let him know you’re still here but your muscles no longer do your biding.

Maybe that’s when you sense yourself most clearly.

April 6, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Tyranny of Freedom

photoHerb is a master at tabletop photography. He rules his studio alternately with wit and ease or heavy, judgmental silence interrupted by a grunt or a gesture. Herb loves his studio — the warren of small rooms, the clips, the hardened play-do lumps that angle the jewelry just so. It is his kingdom.

Clients turn to Herb for dependable results. His work is neither super arty nor precious, it simply sells the goods. He’s meticulous when it comes to lighting the background. The steam always rises from the hot bread, the curl of ice cream (made from his secret recipe of mashed potatoes and wax) looks like the ice cream you’ve been chasing since childhood. And that’s what the clients want.

Then he met Molly through JDate. They hit it off. Then they went out again, without waiting the obligatory two to three days and nights. Molly was thrilled to learn that Herb was a photographer — “the real deal” she repeated with admiration. She explained that she was launching a new business and needed a perfect image to convey freedom. She had in mind a shot of a hot air balloon against a crystalline blue sky. Though he cringed inwardly at the hackneyed image, he decided to try something new and keep his thoughts and harsh opinions to himself, figuring, quite correctly, that his fine-tuned sensibility was getting him nowhere in the love department.

So the two set out for the local balloon ride fields. Molly was breathless with anticipation mingled with joy. “This is exactly what I had in mind” she squealed as he raised his camera and focused. It had been a while since Herb actually shot anything outside his studio. Rather than feel the rush of freedom that he so wanted to share with Molly, instead, he bristled at the willfulness of a subject moving through space of its own volition. There was no way to correct the lighting or fix the awkward sway of the balloon as it lofted out of frame. Herb sent Molly an array of shots that were merely adequate. A week later, unable to chase away the thought of her, he started building a tabletop model of the balloon ride so that he could reproduce the fleeting jazz riff, but shape it into perfection. Two years later, the model balloon ride was finished and ready to be photographed. By then Molly had cultivated another business venture, one that called for an image of a adaptability, like that of flowing water. For Molly, freedom, as a metaphor for all things valuable and useful, had become a distant memory.

January 24, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Boom or Bust

IMG_6265Albert arrived in America with his fine degree in Chemistry, an address of a distant relative and a bad head cold. Over the course of the next fifteen years, he acquired a wife, beautiful but a bit distant, a cast iron factory and a raging allergy to the ocean, which is what the head cold turned out to be. The cast iron he produced in his factory was rumored to be the strongest and was purchased by bridge builders, railway and shipping magnets. Soon Albert was a wealthy man.

He was proud of all he had accomplished. His beautiful wife spent her days with other equally wealthy women sipping tea and petting their Pekingese dogs just like Queen Victoria. As the heat of summer descended on the city, Albert’s wife ordered her husband to buy a “camp” up in the Adirondacks, as was the fashion at that time. He hesitated before closing the deal, but his wife’s eyebrows furrowed as his pen hovered above the contract and so he signed despite his misgivings.

She assured him that he would never regret this purchase. At first he had to admit his wife was right. He enjoyed himself beyond measure. He took up canoeing, fishing and a new sport they called tennis. At night, Albert and his wife visited other camps where he closed extravagant deals. All was perfect save for the fact that at night his beautiful wife rebuffed his advances.

His new friends, his neighbors up in the Adirondacks, seemed fond of Albert and for a while he almost believed he had found his place in the world. After Christmas, he and his new friends headed back to the mountains to hunt for game. Albert discovered that he had a talent for shooting guns. But on December 28th he heard news of a terrible accident involving a cast iron bridge in Scotland and knew instantly that his life was ruined. He bade a hasty goodbye, made his way back to the city where he signed over his now failing business to his wife. On New Year’s he set sail for England where rumor had it an engineer had cracked the code for steel.

Despite a roaring head cold, which he now knew was actually allergies, Albert reflected on his time in America. His wealth, his wife, his new taste for guns seemed to slip into a void as the harbor faded from view. With little in his pocket, Albert mood swung between panic and excitement. The only thing he knew for certain was that boredom wouldn’t be one of the challenges he’d be facing in the next few years.