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Good Narrative Principles

May 17, 2018
by Lee Eiferman
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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.

July 10, 2017
by Lee Eiferman
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Solace

The Prisoner stands barefoot in the courtyard watching the sun, the glorious sun slide towards the horizon, staining the sky a purple pink. The temperature inches towards freezing. Minutes pass. The silence is broken by the crunch of the Guard’s heels as he circles our Man and jabs him with the barrel of his rifle as if checking to see if he’s fully cooked. The Prisoner, no hero, is on the cusp of talking. He’s almost ready to plead for mercy. But first there’s the matter of today’s setting sun and its power to bring him back to himself, reminding him that once upon a time he parked his car in the driveway and his only thought was: what’s for dinner.

June 1, 2017
by Lee Eiferman
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The Queen of Fringe

Back in the ‘80’s, when fringe was in fashion, I was it. I dominated the market. I sewed fringe to the outer seams of sleeves, the edge of a fetching clutch bag or the hem of a dress with padded shoulders. They say it’s coming back, but I’ve moved on to the next big thing in my life – stemming the tide of chaos. Rain pours in through the top of closed windows. A boil has erupted on my back. My new lettuce spinner is broken. My days are like that now, an endless stream of pesky chores with no end in sight. Hands down, my brief reign as the Queen of Fringe was way more fun.

May 30, 2017
by Lee Eiferman
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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 23, 2017
by Lee Eiferman
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One Step at a Time

Winter was the worst. We were always on the move, camping out in barns, huddling for warmth against the restless cows and calves unaccustomed to strangers. Despite the endless hunger and dirt, I couldn’t keep my hands off of Sabeen. She’s just so beautiful, you see. She could have been the wife of a sultan, or a tech wizard and yet she chose me. She whispers words of caution, telling me to wait until we’re settled before we start a family. I don’t want a family. I just want her. Yesterday, we passed by a luminous lake in the late afternoon. I took a deep breath and let the anxiety subside. Eventually, we’ll end up somewhere. And yet, right now, we’re between here and nowhere.

May 15, 2017
by Lee Eiferman
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The Way He Did What He Did

Maybe the thing I’ll miss most about him is the way he cut the strawberries. Using a simple paring knife, he’d carve out the calyx, alias the green stem, with a minimum loss of sweet fruit, leaving behind a hole that was exquisitely small and symmetrical. Only a surgeon would approach the task of preparing strawberries with such precision. True, it took him forever. While he was engaged in this task, he wouldn’t tolerate “chit chat” as he called it. As you can imagine, he wasn’t the easiest of men to live with. Since he’s been gone, I’ve switched to bananas.

February 27, 2017
by Lee Eiferman
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DYI Casket

I joined the local Build Your Own Casket Club at the urging of my dear wife, Michelle. When she first mentioned it, I barely responded. It sounded like a terrible idea for all the obvious reasons. So, the question is, what am I doing here sawing, chiseling out dovetails and gluing this to that? Turns out, once you get over the ghoulish, macabre factor, it can be kind of fun. Must be something about preparing your final resting place that frees people up. I’ve gone three times and not once has anyone bragged about their kids, their grand kids and all the super places they’ve visited. Instead, we talk about the little stuff — best friends we’ve lost track of, the first kiss and peaches. Is there anything better than a perfect peach? After I finish building my casket, I’m thinking about branching out to bird houses.  Conversation might not be as lively, but heck, it sure fills up the time.

September 10, 2015
by Lee Eiferman
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Shakira’s Stories: Wild Woman

IMG_7809On the way to Uncle Pete’s, the self-storage place, Shakira sits in the U-Haul up front with her best friend since forever Trey and says not a word. Trey assumes she will vent, rant, maybe cry a bit like when they were younger. But Shakira doesn’t want to cry, instead she wants to hide. As the events of the past few hours sink in, as she switches from survival/action mode to one of reflection, she wonders what’s the point of knowing that something is coming if you don’t act on that insight?

Her cheeks grow hot.

When that feeling subsides, she pauses, remembers to force gratitude into her emotional landscape. It’s a willful thought, the deliberate habit of a recovering alcoholic. Gratitude? Hmm…there is the fact that her friends came through. That everyone responded. Big time.

There’s that. What else? That she didn’t have to deal with her Father’s hyperbolic response to this emergency. Had she stayed in Maine, had this happened in her hometown, she could easily imagine her Father insisting that she and Ben, her soon to be ex-lover join him in his overcrowded study to talk it out. They would have stood there waiting, like she had with previous soon to be ex’s, as he carved out two canyons among his piles of important reading material covering the couch. Despite Dad’s vague awareness of his daughter’s embarrassment and her ex-lovers increasing discomfort, he’d spend too long deciding where to temporarily place for instance his dusty poetry journals from 1978. Irritated at his own indecision, he’d lash out at Ben and Shakira for putting him in this bind.

Then he’d launch into the interview, which had a way of making things worse. While his questions might start off with the notable aim of brokering a truce, inevitably, his greed for new material colored the tenor of his questions, turning the meeting confrontational. Ben would have surely stormed out.

If it were summer, Shakira would then retreat to the screened in porch to join her Mom as she taught herself to play another obscure instrument like the zither. From her vantage point on the porch, she’d watch Ben, like all her previous ex-lovers, exit the house distracted and a bit unhinged. Her father had that effect on most people. She would have watched with a mixture of dread and delight, Ben backing down the long, narrow driveway. Too eager to leave, it was anyone’s guess as to whether or not he’d notice the oncoming cars barreling straight towards him.

Shakira feels both the burden and the freedom of being on her own now. It’s different than the freedom of say freshman year. Saying goodbye to her parents who looked both proud and confused as they drove away. Different than moving to her first apartment in downtown Augusta and the delight in cooking her meals on a hot plate, thinking all the while, so this is what it’s like to be on my own. But now, that initial rush of freedom has given way to a dawning realization that she’s playing for keeps. And the weight she feels assuming responsibility for herself without the sweet cushion of a drink or a pill pulls her down.

There’s that wildness inside her that grows more pointed, more agitated as she attempts to cope with the latest curve ball that life has thrown at her. When she quiets long enough to realize that she’s been spinning among rage, fear and nausea, she generally calls her Dad. Listening to him blather on about the problems he’s having with his publisher or his indolent agent, Shakira is finally able to take a breath. One of them mentions the last agitated lover backing out of their driveway and being rear-ended. They share a chuckle and say goodbye.

At the traffic light, Trey notices a smile spread across Shakira’s face. They’ve known each other long enough so that when Shakira says “what he needed was a long ride down my parent’s driveway” Trey gets it. Relieved that his friend seems to be taking this latest break up in stride, Trey rubs Shakira’s nest of unruly hair as he turns into Uncle Pete’s parking lot.

August 25, 2015
by Lee Eiferman
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Shakira’s Stories: Break Up

Shakira cIMG_6967omes home dog tired, having worked both the breakfast and lunch shift at the corner diner and finds a “Dear Shakira” letter waiting for her on the counter.

She knew it was coming and so places her rising panic in the next room. Then she peels off her calamine pink waitress uniform slowly, parks her feet on the table, and balances the unread letter on her skinny knees.

She took the waitress job on a dare, and that remained the official story. Secretly, she hoped it might expose her to new material. She always felt a yearning to write songs about them — the working class. Rubbing shoulders with plumbers, drivers, health care workers she reasoned, might be just the thing. And while her songs sound nothing like Bruce’s, she feels an obligation, in much the same way that actors seek out Shakespeare, to write at least twelve songs — twelve profiles of the people who sit at her counter.

Absolutely, she complains to friends about her work. It’s become her schtick. Friends linger, once she gets on a roll. “First, there’s the feet. My feet. I watch them morph into super feet. Super bad feet.” Then they laugh and it all seems worthwhile.

Initially, she coped with the early morning hours by staying up all nigh. It worked out great. She’d wash down a greasy breakfast with a hit of black coffee, which buoyed her until ten-ish. And then, with two hours remaining on her shift, she’d crash hopelessly. So, she got her act together, renounced her nightlife for what she told herself was a handful of months (surely, you can do that much, Shakira) and went to bed at a reasonable hour. Her bleary party girl routine earned her big tips and granted her free license to chat up her customers. She’d jot down notes, lines of dialogue, story starters on the cardboard back of her checkbook, then tuck it neatly inside her apron.

Her life was purposeful and yet random. During her sober sojourn into the life of the working class, Sharkira and her live-in boyfriend Benjamin, drifted apart. I’m guessing that the glue that held them together was music and the wild freedom that comes with the night. Had they had to work to be together, had he pursued her or she him, they might have stood a chance.

They met through an ad on Craig’s List. He had a spare bedroom in a low rent district, and she was new to the city. First time they slept together was magic. It was a summer of sweat, slippery bodies, the unexpected collision of desire and novelty. Ben didn’t believe in AC.

But now, with Shakira no longer his playmate, Ben thinks hard about ambiguity. Not necessarily the ambiguity of his feelings regarding Shakira, but rather ambiguity in general. Ben is on the look out for themes on which to base new songs. He and his band have booked a regular gig at the new bar down the street and are churning through songs at a stiff pace. Ben has had to up his game, increase his output, get serious about the life he had chosen. The problem is that he and his band mates have renounced songs about love, coupling, uncoupling. He’s bored with the subject. Even though Shakira had once upon a time set his heart on fire and he had walked around feeling like the luckiest guy in the world, he didn’t write songs about that. Instead, he wrote songs about the abuse of irony, the loss of authenticity. And now ambiguity.

In the letter Ben talks about “disambiguation”, removing ambiguity by making things clear. Basically, Ben has been sleeping with someone else, someone special, someone who fills him up, inspiring him to write his first love songs. The guy, the special someone, is moving in tomorrow and so, Ben concludes, Shakira has to be out before midnight.

Shakira changes into civilian clothes and then deliberately connects with the panic she placed in the next room.

Her gut goes into overdrive, alternating between rage and fury, fury and nausea. The friends, from college, from the music scene, rally around her. Someone knows of a self-storage place nearby where the night guard, a woman named Ena, would cut her a deal.

August 14, 2015
by Lee Eiferman
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Momo’s Stories: I Own It

IMG_2085_2Based on the events clouding Momo’s childhood and the way I described her tendency to cling to objects, you might get the impression that she was shy, retiring, sweet. A woman who, though she didn’t have any children of her own, (surely you noticed that) made her campers feel safe and secure. Maybe you picture her with a large cushiony bosom and a halo of tight gray curls. In the deep of winter, she’d drink chamomile tea while knitting a chenille scarf.

If childhood events dictate personality then you’d be right, in which case we’re all slave to the past. What if how we respond to a flat tire, a sale on brown diamond stud earrings or whether or not we can tell a good joke, or even remember the punch line to it, is pre-wired? What if at all your hand-wringing about not being breast fed as a baby, loved sufficiently as a child, encouraged and bathed shaped your personality the same way that icing determines the taste, texture and relative deliciousness of a cake? To put it another way, what if we’re all born the way we are regardless of say the toxic atmosphere in which we’re raised?

Consider Momo. While she does know how to knit and happens to fit snugly into a full D-sized bra, Momo could best be described as a balls to the walls type of gal. At camp or in the hallways of her apartment building on the Upper West side, Momo can be seen sauntering around in her robe. If it’s past nine pm or anytime prior to eleven the next morning, Momo delights in shocking her neighbors or campers with a flash of her long thigh otherwise hidden inside the folds of her red flannel robe. She laughs then with delight as you cringe or look away. Sometimes she wears bright red lipstick and might remind the casual observer of a cross between Rosaline Russell circa “His Girl Friday” and Sharon Stone slowly uncrossing her legs in “Basic Instinct.” And yet she runs a sleep away camp. She’s single, in her late ‘50’s and aging well.

At camp she’s instituted a bi-weekly tradition of Wild Wednesdays, were anything goes, within reason. She grants herself the same latitude. On Wednesdays, Khalid brings over a dinner of mansaf or some other Jordanian delicacy. He tries to get her to eat halva but she’ll have none of it. Though Khalid commits adultery every Wednesday night, with his wife’s blessing (she’s happy to be rid of him) he’ll never violate his religion’s injunction against drinking alcohol. Momo loves drinking a fine scotch, neat (why dilute it?) at the end of the day. She firmly believes in the evils of high-heels. Nonetheless, she kicks off her shoes as if her Tom’s or Merrills where squeezing her toes blue, plops down on whatever flat surface will support her and sips a jigger’s worth of top shelf scotch. It is her way of saying “day is done”. At first, Khalid tried to change her ways. He was appalled that she would allow scotch to touch her lips, let alone swallow it. He was appalled that he’d sleep with such a woman. Resigned, he now insists that she brush her teeth before they have sex.

When they first met, Momo made it a habit of accompanying her campers on the toe path that led to the new deli sitting on the intersection of Route 109 and Youngstown Road. She’d drink a frozen mug of root beer with her charges and rant about this or that. Drawn to the dark, mysterious stranger behind the counter who had a family of wide-eyed children bustling in the back room, she lingered. Gradually, the two became friendly. His children grew up and left home long before Khalid and Momo exchanged anything more than pleasantries.

In the first flush of love, Momo had a hard time restraining herself. She looked for any excuse to swing by for an emergency this or that. During the year, she stopped dating, stopped accepting new invitations on Match.com. After all, she had Khalid. At long last, here was a man who didn’t run from her, who loved that she towered over him and completed his sentences (even if she was generally wrong). Gradually, she came to realize that Khalid would never leave his silent brooding wife and that her mother, in particular, would never, ever accept her dating a Muslim man.

She had no choice but to own it.

(Photo: Tim Duch)