Good Narrative Principles

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)

February 28, 2017
by Lee Eiferman

The New New

Jake made sure everyone knew what was at stake. He’d been doing it for weeks on the advice of the midwife who couldn’t guarantee his wife Betts would carry their baby to term. Every day, as he was boarding the skiff that took him to the jobsite at the base of the New New York Bridge (New New for short) he’d remind his team captain that when he got the call, he’d need a ride back double time. It was the weather that screwed him over. While Betts pushed, Jake, stuck on the skiff tethered to the base of the bridge, played endless rounds of gin rummy. The river roiled and heaved and only grew still the following morning, at which point, Jake was hardly in a position to take issue with the ridiculous name Betts had chosen for their son ‑ Albert. On the list of boy’s names, it didn’t even crack the top one hundred.

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).

June 12, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Dig the Chroma

IMG_7280Mom is never in the picture. Literally. The reason is not dark or obscure. You see Mom wields the camera. Mom takes the pictures. While Dad knows all about the perils of back lighting, shooting into the sun and is quick to suggest that if everyone moves just slightly to their left, their right or pivot sideways the lighting would be better, he never does pick up the camera. Mom is always hoping to catch that moment of carefree fun when Dad is teaching the youngest to swim or the oldest to ride a bike. Invariably, a lecture about lighting ensues and the kids grow twitchy and self-conscious.

Every couple has their own black hole where the same argument spirals around a dark center and is never resolved. No light escapes. The gravitational force of this familiar argument sucks all the energy in its path. For Mom and Dad, evidence of their failure to arrive at a good playbook for documenting the growing family (“just shut up and don’t blink when the shutter falls”) is evidenced in the countless pictures of staged smile where the family (sans Mom) line up perfectly and shout “cheese”.

Sometimes, Mom squeezes the color from her pictures. In the winter months for instance, especially in the rush to get to school, the pictures appear to her as black and white. Maybe there’s a splotch of color, like red mittens, but in the grim rush of events to catch the bus, it’s as if the urgency to keep things moving forward kills any hope of color bleeding through.

Despite the calendar being stuck in the endless loop that is March, lately, Mom has been experiencing the world as radiant. It started with the toilet backing up (clearly, a situation rendered in black and white). The Plumber was booked solid for the next three weeks and so Mom agreed that the Plumber should send his Son whom he has been mentoring. The Son walked in on that cold black and white morning dressed in canary yellow and a purple that brought to mind Welch’s grape jam. The Son was competent and way easier on the eyes than his grisly Dad.

Pretty soon, Mom was having the Son by once a week to address all the pesky plumbing issues — the clogged kitchen sink, the illegal washing machine’s tendency to stall right after the spin cycle and the shower that kept leaking on the sweet neighbor downstairs. Eventually, Mom ran out of plumbing problems. But by then, spring had arrived with its parade of acid yellows and pure blues.

At the beach that summer, Mom handed the camera to a stranger and asked her to fire away. Dad didn’t say boo about the lighting and the resulting pictures were framed in the hallway — evidence that Mom really was part of the family.

May 18, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?

FullSizeRenderLooking back on it, Marlene was clearly a poor choice for PTA treasurer. But in her defense, she never wanted the job in the first place. At the yearly kick off meeting, Sue Ellen, after being voted President, outlined the tasks of the treasurer and asked someone to volunteer. Then she begged. When no one stepped up, she tapped her good friend Marlene for the job. Marlene grimaced, being treasurer sounded like a drag, one that didn’t play to her strengths. But over coffee the next day, Sue Ellen pointed out that after dropping the kids off at school, Marlene’s days were free, and so she could easily deposit and withdraw funds as needed.

Marlene was also meticulous, another trait Sue Ellen valued in her friend. In the fall, Marlene’s job as treasurer served as an able excuse for the two friends to have lunch together on the PTA’s dime. But on the Monday following the highly successful Swingin’ Soiree fundraiser, Albert, Marlene’s unreliable husband, texted his wife to say he had filed for divorce. Marlene was happy to see him go. The fact that he busted up their marriage via text was par for the course. Financially speaking, however, Marlene was screwed. She took a part-time job at Town Hall processing building permits. But despite economizing, her bank account rapidly dwindled.

Still she held out hope that they’d be able to squeak by. It was the fender bender on the icy corner of Pine and Tanglewood that tipped the balance. Too proud to ask family or friends for a loan, she borrowed money from the PTA, but not before taking a solemn oath, alone in the bathroom, that she’d make it right on the fifteenth after getting paid. Despite her best intentions, “things” like groceries and utility bills got in the way. One miserable rainy night in April she didn’t feel like cooking and the thought of Chinese take out made her cry, so she took the kids out to a Pizza n’ Brew, reasoning that if Sue Ellen could do it so could she.

In this fashion, the boundary between her bank account and the PTA’s blurred. By the end of May she had lost track of exactly how much she had owed which made closing the books for the year tricky.

Fabricating numbers, covering up her crime, though she never called it that, was the roughest patch in a very tough year.

In July, while Sue Ellen was on vacation with her family in Nova Scotia, Marlene rented a U-Haul and moved her family back to Minnesota. Convinced that eventually the next PTA treasurer would find her out, Marlene left no forwarding address. (Photo: Tim Duch)

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 30, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Our Avó

TheIMG_6845 rule was that the must story be told before the checks were distributed. In this way, the squabbling grand children and the aging nieces and nephews might be inspired by the legacy of their stern, stubborn Avó.

Way back when, before fishing villages became playgrounds for the idle rich, back when this country was brought to its knees by the Great Depression, before Avó was a Grandmother and was simply Cecília, the no-nonsense lady behind the counter of the local bakery, people were going to bed hungry. This hunger wasn’t the sort you kids might feel today where its just a question of waiting for the microwave to ding, rather, it was a bone gnawingly empty grind day after day.

The Mayor and Town Elders decided something must be done. They approached two businesses in the town; the bakery and the fisherman and asked them to offer the starving local residents some bread, some fish in exchange for whatever the town could pay. The man Avó was married to at the time, the no good Fausto (spit, spit) a sad excuse for a grandfather, slammed his formidable fist on the table and told his wife that they were not running a charity.

Yet, at the end of each day, both the register and the shelves were strangely empty, a fact that continued to infuriate Fausto. On the very day that Fausto marched to the hardware store to buy thick penny nails, even while he was hammering them into the dry wood of the front door with the intention of shutting his business down, who should stroll by, but the Mayor, who invited Fausto for a ride on his motor boat — still a novelty in these parts.

Avó confessed with a wink and giggle that she never did properly mourn her husband’s strange and tragic disappearance. Nor did she keep a record of how many loaves of bread, cookies and wedding cakes she gave away during those hard years. Eventually, the war started and money began to flow again.

With the crisis behind them, the grateful town gave Avó the keys to all the empty houses lining the rocky shoreline. She was not pleased. The houses were dirty. The roofs leaked. Windows needed replacing. And where would the money to fix them up come from?

Stubborn, hard working to a fault, Avó was not about to let mere brick and mortar defeat her. She scrubbed and polished and hammered and bartered this for that until the houses could be lived in again. And when her time was up, she distributed what she thought was a modest inheritance among her relations.

Alert to the cue, the family now stood up as one, raised their glass of Ginjinha and sang out in gratitude “To Avó”. Then they collected their ample cut of the growing estate and headed home to spend it.

March 5, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

How to Color Within the Lines

IMG_6513Roy did not take kindly to being ordered home. He was on a tear, a winning streak, he tried to explain to his parents, who, oddly enough, were home in the middle of the day. Camped out at the kitchen table, dwarfed by a mountain of notes and printed matter spilling onto the floor, his parents attacked each paper methodically, ripping and shredding, then mixing each bit into a large bag as if following an obscure recipe. Roy noticed that there was no PP&J on white toast waiting for him. No snacks of any kind. Instead, there was a crazed look in his Dad’s eyes, something he had never seen before.

His Mom’s instructions were clear — get moving. Still he stood transfixed. Again, his Mother coaxed him to action, yelling, this is time WE DO NOT HAVE!

The steady ripping of paper, the occasional passing of significant items from Mom to Dad or vice versa followed by a rueful laugh, baffled Roy. His legs twitched with energy as he plucked his first piece of paper and ripped it in half which, as it turns out, wasn’t enough. Four rips was minimum, eight was better. And don’t fold and rip, Mom cautioned.

An hour passed in this fashion. Roy knew better than to ask what prompted this crisis. His parents talked about McCarthy’s rise to power in hushed tones. An informer had just named his Uncle Charlie and Aunt Rose, who were not really family, but rather close friends. Roy interrupted the silence that was thick with worry and sang or hummed the songs that bounced around the radio forming the soundtrack of his young life. Mr. Sandman bring me a dream…Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen…Or I said shake, rattle and roll which had the added bonus of annoying his parents.

While he sang, Roy played out the following scenarios in his head: his teammates, annoyed that he didn’t show up for practice, kick off him off the team while Betty, his secret girlfriend, watches the moments tick by at the candy store and drafts her break up speech. The pressure of disappointing his teammates and losing the love of a hot girl he had fought so hard to win over, worked on Roy in rhythm with the sounds of ripping paper. The final straw was reheated chow mein his Mom served up for dinner. Convinced his life was falling apart, Roy told his parents that they had no right to drag him into their mess and stormed out.

Of course he came home hours later and slipped into bed without a word. But the lessons from that long day stuck with him and were codified into the tough calculus of self-preservation that he then drilled home with each of his kids.

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.

June 10, 2014
by Lee Eiferman

How About Now?

Mphotoy Dad was on a campaign to drum the dream out of me. He was sure that two weeks on the job would make me buckle. He knew a friend of a friend who owned a restaurant, a BYO type of joint. Food was meh and so was the weekend crowd. When I arrived, guitar and amp in hand, he positioned me right by the door, handed me an extension chord that invited a lawsuit and shrugged as if to say “knock yourself out”. Even though I was having a hard time tuning above the roar of the crowd waiting to be seated (someone had managed to break not one but two bottles of wine) I kept at it. Vacillating between anxiety and dread, I dipped into my archive of soft rock hits and played. A few older folks caught my eye and nodded in approval. I drifted away. Thought about my share of the tip pool, about whether or not my car would start after tonight’s deluge and the gun show that my Dad would drag me to tomorrow morning at nine a.m. sharp. But nothing, not the indifferent crowd, nor the worn down tunes that are the perfect sound track for a root canal, could dim the crazy ass joy of being paid to play for a crowd. Here I am. I’m on my way.