Good Narrative Principles

January 15, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Who’s To Say?

IMG_4737I could be the Devil. I could be God, or at the very least an Angel.

I go door-to-door selling cable service contracts. Mostly, I like the job. The benefits are great and, no small thing, I get free cable. I couldn’t ask for a better Boss; he’s warm and always shoots me a thumbs up, particularly when I’m below quota, like now. Despite what they tell us at our weekly meetings, that January is meant for nesting, I find it the toughest month of the year. People are reeling from the extravagances of the holiday season, what with the extra pounds and extra fat credit card statements. They’re in no mood to sign up for anything that requires them to dig into their wallets. Also, it’s beyond cold. Not as bad as last year (touch wood) but still, it’s cold.

Even though my voice is high and clear (I’ve always earned high marks for my superb enunciation) it’s hard to sound friendly when you’re screaming and folks won’t even open up the door to say “thanks, but no thanks”. What’s even worse are the long stretches between bathroom breaks. I’m not about to drop my drawers on a lonely stretch of road between here and there. Knowing my luck, a car’s headlights will hit me just when I let loose and then I’d be out of a job.

Instead, from the other side of a locked door, I have to skillfully navigate the discussion from sales to their higher nature. It’s not an easy transition. When they say “no, sorry, you can’t use my bathroom, even though it’s clear to me that you’re not a criminal” I have to remember to smile and wrestle with my need to get in the last word when I could just as well be on my way to the next house, where a “yes” is waiting for me.

As the long day turns towards night, I like to imagine that I’m a supernatural being bearing gifts. All they have to do at the next house to demonstrate their fidelity is sign on the dotted line and then maybe slaughter a lamb or wash my feet. I’ll tell the barren wife that she’s in fact pregnant. And while the husband cracks open his fine rum, the wife will laugh with delight behind the bathroom door. Maybe I’ll even move in for a spell so that we can all watch free cable TV together.

January 12, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Job Secuirty

IMG_5279Despite the frigid cold, the line stretches out the door and spills into the parking lot where people wait for hours in the hopes of securing an appointment. The perennially unemployed flock to her doorstep, inspired in part by the rumor of Henny the Hairless landing a job at the Quik Mart after submitting her handiwork. She excels at writing effective complaint letters. They’re pointed, without giving offense and seem to inspire disaffected administrators to action. Witness the street lamps that now illuminate the former creepy, predatory intersection of Johnson Avenue and West.

Ever since the quest for “likes” have come to dominate the landscape, her workload has nearly tripled. Though she has no time to track statistics, she’s told that the posts she drafts on behalf of clients are invariably retweeted. She writes on demand so that her clients leave happy with assignment in hand. For her, this means no homework. No looming deadlines. At night she’s free to hang out at her favorite joint imbibing scotch and live music.

But last night her tidy world tilted on its axis. She overheard an argument between former lovers. How could she not? It was clear that there was still love there, not in the harsh words they exchanged, but in the weighted silences that bloomed between verbal jabs. She was sure that one thoughtful communication could fix all that. A letter perhaps, sent in the mail. Maybe two, so that both sides could speak from their heart. She offered them her services for free knowing full well that her other clients would suffer. She was certain that if given a chance, she’d be able to knock a love letter out of the park. She could imagine her words inspiring deep emotions. Hearts would open. Long held enemyships would dissolve. She’s read somewhere that love letters require an unusual degree of delicacy and care, a skill not commonly called for in, say, a resume or a letter of complaint. Now all she needs is for the quarreling lovers to like each other sufficiently to come to her office, because home visits are verboten, out of bounds and the hallmark of amateurs.

October 27, 2014
by Lee Eiferman

Women Rule the Reading World

IMG_6131I was at Notre Dame the same time as Nicholas Sparks. And while I didn’t break any track records nor receive a full ride based on my ability to outrun or out jump others as he had, we did attend a handful of classes together. I mention this because every night between the hours of nine and midnight, I hammer out three pages minimum of an historical romance set during the tempestuous and stormy years of the Wild West. It was to my mind, a great time to be a woman with a bent towards adventure.

Just like Nicholas Sparks, I don’t believe in outlines or too much research. It can bog you down. But I do believe in ritual as a way to coax the forces, or whatever you want to call it, to favor me. For instance, whenever I start a new chapter I wear my lucky underwear and socks. Don’t know how these articles of clothes became imbued with the aura of luck but there you have it. I’m stuck with it. I used to go to the gym after dinner and work up a sweat between the hours of nine and ten. Since I’ve taken up writing, I’ve packed on a few pounds and so my lucky underwear pinches my man parts. The socks are red wool — great in the winter but a source of blisters come summer. I could use another lucky object, preferably something a bit more comfortable to help me steer this unwieldy novel safely to harbor.

My wife believes that I should consider writing in another genre, say detective novels or fantasy. But if, like they say, fiction is a supermarket, then I want to be in the aisle with the most shoppers. (Title provided by: Tim Duch)

October 21, 2014
by Lee Eiferman


IMG_5921The original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the car with the big red wheels, the long silver nose and shinny front bumper that was used in the beloved film is buried in the lawn behind Dumbo the Elephant’s Tent in the Magic Kingdom. Philip first heard about this little known fact while on vacation with his young family at Disney World. He and his wife Eileen had saved for two years for this trip. They had done without for so long that Philip grew deaf to the pleasures of sharing an occasional lunch with colleagues at the local TGI Friday. But, when he watched the faces of his two children fill with wonder he knew the sacrifice was worth it. And while this might seem trite to you, my hardened and sophisticated Readers, Philip was overcome. He well remembered the tingly feeling in the bottom of his feet standing where his two pumpkins now stood, gob-smacked by all the beauty and sheer magic that surrounded them.

That the final resting place for the car that he had spent his life dreaming about was below ground, hidden from fans and future fans was a wrong that Philip knew was within his power to address. He was now a man with a mission. And so he started a petition to get the Disney folks to dig up the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car, shine it up just as Caractus Potts had done and let it be magnificent. He dreamt about it at night. He pictured the Gen 11 plates slowly rising upwards, the dirt spilling from the front doors and the “boot” as they called it in England. He imagined Ian Fleming’s spirit hovering above the raucous horn, pleased that his greatest creation, this car, not James Bond, was being honored. At first Philip’s petition gained traction. He was even featured on the local news at the end of the broadcast, in the comedic eccentric slot. And while the Disney organization hasn’t responded to the petition as of yet, Philip’s commitment is undiminished. He’s in it for the long haul.

October 18, 2014
by Lee Eiferman


Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 11.29.36 AMTurns out that a good hazmat suit, with attached booties, gloves and zipper front closure can be purchased on Amazon for $799.95. Size medium and large were in stock. Craig promptly ordered one for himself and his wife, Eleanor. But finding two small sized “bunny” suits for his daughters was proving difficult. Instead, Walter White cooking meth in his lab costume, kept popping up. Craig’s anxiety ratcheted up two notches and so he stood, paced the room and nearly ran into Eleanor bringing him a soothing mug of hot chamomile tea. Craig, feeling ambushed, jumped. It wasn’t Eleanor’s fault. Her soft woolen booties, a prized possession from her years in the Peace Corps, enabled her to move about the house at night like a silent ghost.

Eleanor glanced at the computer screen and scoffed. Craig knew she would. But before she could launch into her litany of “Exhibit A” as she liked to call it; the jugs of water and cans of tuna from Y2K gathering dust in the garage, the moldy Tamiflu supply in the back of the medicine chest to combat the H1N1 pandemic that never happened, or the stack of mail that was never opened during the Anthrax scare, Craig held up his hand. “What if this is the one?” he pleaded. Eleanor held her tongue, not because she agreed, but because she knew that there was no arguing with him once he decided it was time to head to the bunkers.

September 26, 2014
by Lee Eiferman

What’s in the Basement?

IMG_4807Rufus has no business squandering his time waiting for the dentist, reading magazines as if he were a la-de-dah woman of leisure. The site is due to go live in four days, that’s ninety six hours and change assuming he can program around the last few hurdles. The stress is mounting. Rufus’ girlfriend, tired of accommodating Mr. Lumpy Grumpy and sore from sleeping on the couch (according to her he’s been grinding his teeth), is drafting a list of demands. It’s not looking good. Then yesterday, his back left molar cracked while he was wolfing down chocolate pretzels and popcorn. Rufus was quite willing to soldier on, but the pain blocked his ability to write code and so he knuckled under and made an emergency appointment at the Dentist whose shingle he passed everyday on the way to the train.

It’s now late afternoon. “Dr. Sahadi is running behind schedule”, the Receptionist purrs as she returns to typing. Her long fingernails hit the keyboards with an irritating click that makes Rufus’ jaw ache. Bored, he tracks a young guy, dressed like a bike messenger, enter the waiting room and walk into what Rufus assumed was the closet. A few minutes later, a young woman, dressed in yoga pants, follows. By the time three Wall Street types disappear into the mysterious closet Rufus can’t longer ignore the mystery. Heart pounding, he opens the closet door and descends a steep, rickety staircase into a musty basement. In the dim light he sees the Bike Messenger, Yoga Pants and the Wall Streeters inching their way over and around a series of pink/gray boulders. For the first time in days, the pain and stress take a back seat as the world cracks open a bit. Who is this Dentist, he wonders as he dimly hears the Receptionist call his name from above.

September 2, 2014
by Lee Eiferman

Writers Block

IMG_5770Used to be Harry’s favorite thing was to head to the bar right after work, order himself a tall one, take out his notebook and start writing. He liked sitting at the end of the bar, at the periphery of the action. That was his sweet spot. There was enough conversation and general noise to work against, but not so much that it drowned out his thoughts.

When he first adopted this habit, he’d bring along his computer, but the possibility of spilled drinks ruined his concentration. The bar was nothing special. They brought out a chafing dish brimming with greasy chicken wings at 5:30 pm that served as dinner. Ten pounds later, he limited himself to beer and chewing gum.

Harry was productive. Everything he saw, thought or felt went into his notebooks. At first, he wrote down daily musings, but gradually his writing took shape. One day, shortly after he swore off chicken wings, Harry realized he was writing a novel. He spent the next few nights chasing the structure as it unfolded before him like a catcher’s mitt. It was joyous. He couldn’t wait until his writing time at night.

Halfway through the novel, the bar closed and was replaced by a nail salon of all things. And just like that, Harry’s muse abandoned him. While he never believed in such seemingly flighty notions as “muse” or “inspiration”, Harry was stuck. He shoved his notebooks into the back of his sock drawer where they would no longer torment him. With his newfound freedom, Harry planned his upcoming vacation to the minute and then started trolling real estate sites to see what was out there. In short, he made mischief until his wife found him a nondescript bar nearby their home that just might do.

August 26, 2014
by Lee Eiferman

Dent In the Wall

IMG_0590Eduardo and his boss Larry, had, what might diplomatically be described as a tempestuous relationship. Tempers flared. Ashtrays, coffee mugs or whatever was at hand were hurled across the room as arguments sparked white hot. Mostly, it was the rosewood paneling that took a beating.

Despite the fact that Eduardo attended first Trinity, then Harvard on a scholarship, and furthermore, majored in Medieval literature, he insisted he had a feel for what the “common man” would stop to watch in terms of ads. Larry had time and wisdom on his side. They argued about taglines, consumer insights and what was funny, cheesy or passé. Just when it seemed that one or the other would end up strapped to a gurney headed to the ER, Eduardo emerged with a clear vision of what needed to be done. Though the drama took its toll on the staff, the combustible duo boasted a winning streak that was unparalleled.

On the night of the industry awards ceremony, Eduardo had a strange twinkle in his eye, which made Larry uncomfortable. He’d seen that look before and it generally heralded a stinko idea — one that was so far “beyond the Pale” as Larry liked to say, that it gobbled up hours of heated discussion. Sure enough, when Eduardo and Larry’s names were announced as winners of this year’s coveted prize, Eduardo was no where to be found. Instead, a sexy Latina stripper clutched Larry’s arm and directed him to the stage. She stepped towards the mic, introduced herself as Sofia, formally Eduardo, and asked Larry sweetly if he would unzip her dress so that the audience could see what a magnificent body she now had.

Eduardo thought this was hysterical. Larry was humiliated and fired Eduardo on the spot. Eduardo got a job flipping burgers that he kept for two months before heading back home to find his inner muse.

(Photo and Sculpture by Tim Duch)

August 20, 2014
by Lee Eiferman

Letters of Transit

EIMG_5303very day Monsieur K makes the trek across town to the Embassy office, arriving promptly at eight am so that he’ll be the first in line when the doors open. He walks with a loping limp, but is too proud to use a cane let alone a walker. Despite his advanced age, and the rough neighborhood he transverses slowly, painfully, deliberately, he is never late.

In the first few months of his daily trek, the rough kids, gathered by the abandoned shoe shine stand of all places, would harass him, throw garbage in his path just to see if he’d trip or fall. He would. Soon, the game lost its entertainment value and now they confine themselves to taunts and a jeering chorus or two of La Marseillaise.

Monsieur K’s persistence has paid off in so far as his application for a visa sits at the top of the pile. At first his case seemed hopeless. But he’s come to realize that the seemingly stone-faced Bureaucrats he faces every day, while tightly wound, see him not exactly as a friend but neither a supplicant either. Monsieur K gathers jokes with single-minded vigilance that he shares with Lex, the man behind the counter, who wields the stamp. His future has come down to this — telling a good joke and gently but persistently pushing his case forward.

July 31, 2014
by Lee Eiferman

Tree Comes Down

IMG_5709He was a tall man once who stood with shoulders thrust back as he was taught in the Army. Now, stooped, curling inwards, he looks out at the play of light on the Hudson and tries to remember all that he’s forgotten. His resting face settles into a frown as he studies his weekly pillbox. Realities that anchored him to his daily life like time and logic have become surprisingly elusive and slippery. How can he be sure what day it is? What should he use to jot down a note? Is it a napkin, toilet paper or notebook? For weeks now, he’s dismissed one able helper after another. Mysteriously, a plump woman shows up and asks him as clear as day “Would you like to go down to lunch?” But she asks him in Ukrainian, the language of his childhood. The fog that weighs him down lifts briefly as familiar words flood through him like lemonade on a hot day. The phrase “might oak”, something his Mother called him, filters up from somewhere inside and he smiles. Not outwardly. He keeps that to himself, secrets it away, a sweet memory to gnaw on in the long stretch of late afternoon.