Good Narrative Principles

May 24, 2019
by Lee Eiferman

The Scent of Foul Play

Peach vape smell, mingled with wet cash and rancid perfume. Can’t wash the smell off, I tried. We found the sodden large leather tote in the park this morning while walking the dog. Her driver’s license states that today is her birthday. Wet keys. No phone. Stray credit cards next to a swollen notebook filled with neat handwriting. Brought the bag to the cops. Could be foul. I’ll never know.

May 16, 2017
by Lee Eiferman

In the Old Days

The slightest thing used to unhinge me. Like, picture the loop on a strap of a watch that keeps it from flapping around once it’s secured inside the tongue of the buckle. Yeah, it’s a little thing and sometimes it breaks. In the bad old days, if the littlest thing went awry, I’d be paralyzed, unable to do anything, I mean anything, like focus on work or even a stupid conversation about the weather, until I made it right. Once, when the loop on my watch broke, I camped out in front of a jewelry store waiting for it to open. The owner, afraid that I was about to rob him, called the cops. Since then, I’ve developed coping mechanisms to address my slight OCD tendencies. Most of them involve clever solutions, like, returning to the example of the broken loop, I’ll simple take off the watch. Sometimes, if I can’t get past it, I pop a little pink pill, which generally does the trick.

(Photo: Tim Duch)

September 10, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

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 18, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Momo’s Stories: My Cat Elaine

IMG_7771Meredith, Momo’s Mom now lives with her daughter year round. It happened this way: after Walter, Momo’s Dad died, Meredith couldn’t get her bearings. Stumbling through widowhood, Meredith was repeatedly hijacked by vivid memories triggered by random shops or street corners. Sometimes even a tree sent her spiraling. It felt to Meredith like she was being mugged repeatedly by the past. She tried cultivating a forward-looking attitude. She tried without much success to bring a sense of zeal or at the very least, neutral anticipation to her daily life.

A change of venue was in order and so Meredith showed up at Momo’s doorstep with no advanced warning. To be fair, she had tried alerting Momo that she was on her way, but her daughter never seemed to have time to take her calls. Luckily, Meredith traveled light and so Momo was able to accommodate her mother for what she assumed was a brief stay. When it became clear to both mother and daughter that this arrangement was for keeps, the two went shopping for a two-bedroom condo on the Upper West Side that was pet friendly.

Back in time, while Meredith and Walter were running the camp and living a full life in their tidy suburbs, Momo, in New York City, had become a cat person. She happily embraced all breeds save for Persians, which were too vocal for her taste. Until her mother arrived, Momo named each of her cats Elaine in honor of her sister who died before Momo could form memories. On the first night that mother and daughter shared a meal in Momo’s studio apartment, Momo called her cat by a new name. Elaine the cat, failed to respond. Momo tried keeping the name under wraps but eventually she slipped up. Meredith looked as Momo had expected, shocked. Deeply shocked.

Elaine, the cat, was no mental giant. So Momo had no choice but to call her Elaine. She whispered her name. Used it sparingly. But still it was there — forming a wedge between the two.

Another issue was Khalid who called reliably every Wednesday evening throughout the winter. If by some chance Meredith answered the call, she’d tell Khalid that Momo wasn’t at home and hang up. It was her way of thwarting the budding romance.

At Khalid’s urging, Momo considered converting. But six months into studying the Koran she admitted first to herself and then to her lover that she wasn’t a woman of faith. Lacking a clear path forward, the lovers settled into a fuzzy gray area where affections and intimacy were exchanged freely but the future was off limits.

In the summer, Meredith held her position as founder and director, which essentially meant she faded into the background, except for visiting day when former campers now grown, held her in a warm embrace. They talked about the past, a game of nostalgia that Meredith played well.

Momo, now in her early ‘60s, continued the peculiar and divided life of a camp director. On weekends in the winter she traveled the tri-state area, meeting with potential camp families and sleeping when necessary at the closest Hampton Inn. She stored her camp supplies at the self-storage so that the mice wouldn’t steal the construction paper and use it for their bedding. There was also the inevitable law suit from a dissatisfied family upset over some mishap. If asked, Momo would say that things are “ducky” but a fine web of lines now etch the sides of her mouth and eyes.

Last winter, during a recruitment drive through Waltham, Mass., a wealthy couple, former campers as a matter of fact, approached Momo about the possibility of buying Camp Walmer. Momo blanched when they made their preliminary sales pitch. It happened moments after she left the stage in a Karaoke Slam. With the final notes of “Summer Nights” originally sung by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta in “Grease” still reverberating, Momo was asked to consider a future that didn’t revolve around the rhythm of the summer.

It was an offer she mulled over for a year and half. Alone. It remained her special secret.

August 13, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Momo’s Stories: Those Summer Days

MIMG_7668omo’s given name, the name that appears on her birth certificate is Miriam. But no one calls her that save for the government and those kind folks running security at the airport.

She was given the name by her older sister, Elaine, who, at the time, was a toddler and couldn’t wrap her mouth around the complexity of sounds contained in the word “Miriam”. Elaine shortened her new sister’s name to “Momo” and it stuck. I’m sorry to report that Elaine didn’t stick around long enough to enjoy the permanence of her youthful declaration. She died around the time Momo was mastering her first steps. Motoring around the coffee table, shoving stray curiosities into her mouth to see how they tasted, Momo was left pretty much alone as her parents grieved the loss of their first born. So deep was their grief, that her parents couldn’t bring themselves to share the actual story of Elaine’s death with Momo. The specifics remained a mystery cloaked in an unremitting silence that both Momo’s parents took to their grave.

Momo treasured the only physical object she found that belonged to Elaine, proving that once upon a time she had an older sister. It was a lenticular of the Cracker Jack sailor winking. She’d spend hours in her bedroom conducting imaginary conversations with Elaine, who was always, in Momo’s imagination, fearless and wise. The Cracker Jack sailor served as silent witness to each of these lengthy one-sided conversations.

Had Elaine survived, Momo wouldn’t have had to bear the burden of maintaining the family business long after it ceased turning a profit. If a family’s soul could be said to reside in a location, theirs would be the entrance gate to Camp Walmer, named after Walter and Meredith, Momo’s parents. Camp Walmer flourished in the great era of sleep away camps, the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Back then, summer camps were designed to keep their charges safe, entertained and out of their parents’ hair for two months. Successful sleep away camps offered their campers a well-rounded experience, where arts and crafts, sports and a bit of theater filled up the days and nights in a fun yet leisurely manner.

Momo lived for the summer. As a camper, she squeezed a year’s worth of drama, intrigue and romance into a brief seven weeks. She expected that the friendships formed in the back of the cabin, playing a forbidden game of jacks after lights out would last her a lifetime.

They didn’t. The lenticular Cracker Jack sailor’s face faded. The habit of sending your kids to sleep away camp fell out of fashion. Momo hung on. By virtue of being raised in a home where loss, mystery and denial were the norm, Momo clung to the stability of time-honored traditions, be it those at camp or throughout the year. She had trouble throwing away anything that suggested the past, especially prior to her birth.

This tendency to hold onto things, to reuse materials, to cobble together art projects from remnants of the past, made Camp Walmer, under Momo’s leadership, a safe and special sanctuary. Kids loved it because they are innately conservative. When you’re young, change happens at a furious and unremitting pace. Third graders for instance, pine for the seeming security of second grade when lunch was served at 11:30am and homework wasn’t so demanding. Momo understood this mindset and shaped her camp experience so that all campers felt they belonged. If tennis wasn’t your thing, then so be it. Parents, fully expecting their campers to return home having mastered a fluent backhand or powerful serve, were disappointed. Enrollment plummeted.

Momo plowed on. The rhythm of her life remained remarkably consistent; two months were spent either anticipating or reflecting on those glorious summer days and the rest of the year waiting for it to start up again.

As a child, it was impossible for her to parse out the specifics that made summer time so special. As an adult, she understood it all too well. It was in part the reality and the smell of just being at camp. But it was also the allure of the mysterious swarthy man behind the counter at the deli that sat on the intersection of Route 109 and Youngstown Rd.

August 4, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Dawson’s Story: How to Become an Angry Man Pt 3

IMG_2077If its one thing Dawson discovered in his years of employment following college, was that he didn’t have a problem taking on jobs in which no one else was interested. He’d shrug, then shuffle off to figure out a solution, implying through action and attitude that it was all the same to him. You’d think that would make him a highly valued employee. Instead, each one of Dawson’s bosses zeroed in on his lack of passion and zeal. They seemed to prefer big drama, fireworks and hissy fits to a shrug and getting on with it.

Here’s what he saw on a daily basis; people jockeying for praise, recognition, striving while subtly pointing fingers at the guy in the next cubicle. It left Dawson feeling dispirited. He had passion for sure, passion for aim his bat at his office computer. Then he’d smash the goofy bobble head his neighbor invariably seemed to treasure regardless of where he worked. Ditto for the Mr. Coffee machine, that spit out the same tepid coffee at nine a.m. sharp every Monday morning without fail.

At night, he’d head to one of many batting cages around town and work through his rage, reflecting on the series of stupid decisions that had brought him to now, this moment, this point in his life.

While helping to move his parents from his childhood home to a shack in the woods of northern New Hampshire, he unearthed his college notebooks. Each was filled with earnest notes that just about broke his heart. It read like a recipe for a future that was never quite realized. He saved the Ten Commandments of running a successful business from his Financial Planning and Management class and tossed out the rest.

That night, he taped the Ten Commandments his refrigerator, so that every time he went to get a chilled Gatorade or beer, he’d be reminded of his ambition to be a somebody. Eventually, all that quiet needling worked its way through his system. He found a thriving custom metal fabricator specializing in “swag”, an industry he knew nothing about. According to commandment number six that wasn’t a serious obstacle. “Never let your fear of not knowing an industry keep you from jumping in feet first.”

With money saved, he purchased the business located in the marginal lands of the outer boroughs. At first, he was delighted that there was no Mr. Coffee Machine, no company picnic, no need to evaluate workers on their passion, enthusiasm and zeal. Instead, there were visits to potential clients, tracking jobs and fielding complaints from irate customers. He needed to staff up, but he also needed to run to the next client meeting.

It took awhile before his old buddy rage resurfaced. By then, he had been running after dwindling business opportunities for a few years. Turns out his steady clients were at first intrigued and then smitten by the possibilities of custom apps. No longer did they have to ship, lug and disperse the metal cups, key chains and coasters they had formerly employed to promote their brand. No longer did they have to design and pay for shipping and handling for all these give-aways. Now, a brand could be promoted with a discrete tap on a screen.

Business was drying up faster than a puddle on the hot highway. Dawson, who hadn’t thought about batting cages for a good five years, began revisiting old haunts. For Christmas, his wife and kids bought him a portable battling cage that they had hoped he would install in the just finished basement of their split-level. But the ceilings were too low and Dawson didn’t feel at liberty to bellow out one curse after another that had become part of his routine.

He set up the batting cage at work. In lieu of balls he used the cups, key chains and coasters created for orders that were then canceled. After hours, he’d wallop the bits of metal that his workers created so perfectly during the day. But this killed morale.

Now, Dawson rents a unit at the local self storage. Most nights, he’ll drag cartons of the abandoned swag to his unit and wallop the metal trinkets and junk it into one corner or other until he feels some measure of relief.

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 26, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Erika & Trudy Stories: Epilogue

IMG_4593On the night in question, Trudy and Erika were unloading the first samples from a new line, a new material, a new market. Make that sub-market. Knits. They were trying out knits. Erika had an idea for knit sweaters woven with shiny, sparkly threads of icy, neon colors. She’d flutter her fingers in the air as she described the effect she was going for. Trudy, a quick study, was beginning to recognize the signs of an expensive to produce item that wouldn’t yield a profit and frowned ever so slightly.

Erika knew the frown. Read it instantly and began ruminating on a plan b, a big idea that could buoy the business. Move it forward. She leaned back and thought of knits. It was winter after all and she was perpetually surrounded by knits as their new office was underheated.

The shipment of samples arrived on a Tuesday, but it took them till Thursday to carve out the time to drop it off at the self storage. Until then, they climbed around boxes. Gradually, their office morphed into a climbing gym, which Erika rather liked.

July 23, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Erika & Trudy Stories: What Could Go Wrong?

AIMG_1347t the end of August, the staff at The Gap shrank by three-quarters, seventy-five percent, a whole lot. For nearly all the kids it was back to school time, either high school or college. If you weren’t paying attention, which Erika wasn’t, it seemed to happen all at once. One day she was hanging out with the kid with the tattooed ring in front of the fitting room, the best place to park yourself on a rainy weekend afternoon. He told good jokes and time passed quickly. And then, like that, he was gone, as were most of the other cool kids.

Trudy was sorry to see the other kids go, but it meant that college was starting up, the first step in her real life. She had her eye on one of the boys from back in her library days who was attending a local school. He grew up to be cute and clueless, a tough combination.

Trudy wanted to clearly signal that she too had grown up and so purchased a pair of bright red thigh high stockings that she wore to work before heading out on their date. He was a big walker. She could tell that despite the stockings she wore, he still saw her as a chum, a buddy. She was stuck in friend jail. Period. It was a depressing truth which made Trudy feel like more of an adult.

It was now fall. At work, Trudy and Erika started hanging out near the fitting room. And while Trudy wasn’t as much fun as the guy with the tattooed ring threaded round his index finger like a salamander, she did have her fun side. Trudy didn’t mind when Erika wandered away to sketch this or that idea.

One night after work the two new friends made plans to catch a movie, but Erika canceled at the last minute explaining she had to finish a dress. Trudy, curious, visited Erika for the first time and saw a studio apartment crowded with glittery night dresses — the kind you wear when you want to make an entrance.

Trudy, expecting nothing at all, was blown away. They started talking.

Erika half listened but Trudy, for the first time, felt like a switch had been thrown inside her. Click. It all made sense. Since she was a toddler varooming through the living room, Trudy had been exposed to the ins and outs, the nuances of building of a business. She knew that this was something that people did and that it was no big deal.

The two friends went for a hike one day in October. The leaves were turning. It seemed a shame to miss it. On the hike, Trudy tried to keep a lid on her bubbling enthusiasm. Erika weighed her options. No one had ever approached Erika before about her building a business based on her designs. But still she listened, all the while noticing the way Trudy’s hair caught the sunlight, the sway of her back as she struggled up the steep slope.

On the way down, Trudy slid and hurt her ankle. Certain it was broken, Trudy waved her phone in the air searching for a signal and found none. Now it was officially a tragedy. But Erika said nothing. No words of comfort. Instead, she scanned the landscape until she found two sturdy tree limbs. She laced them around Trudy’s ankle using the oversized scarf that she had compulsively knit last winter. Before they stood up, Erika leaned in and kissed Trudy. Caught unaware, Trudy pulled away.

It took them a few months before they talked about the kiss. By then, Trudy and Erika were incorporated and running a small apparel business with start up funds from Trudy’s 529.

July 20, 2015
by Lee Eiferman

Erika & Trudy Stories: Trudy Chooses Awe

DSC03936Trudy’s earliest memory is of strangers sitting on her couch or the winged-back chairs, waiting. Silently waiting. Sometimes, when it got bad, her parents had to break out the rusty folding chairs. No one had any interest in playing with her. As she varoomed past, they reached for their piles of papers and thick files and shooed her away.

Trudy was raised in a house driven by rules and “shoulds”. Every day she was told she should read more. Every night her head had to be on the pillow by eight p.m. sharp. But, every year, at around the time the crocuses peaked through the snow, her parent’s close supervision, their rules and tight schedules, went out the window. They went AWOL.

Tax season lasted about three months. During that time, Trudy was free.

Of course, it took her awhile to understand the benefits of her family’s arrangement. When she was young, Trudy felt abandoned. She grew bored of pizza or macaroni and cheese for dinner. But gradually, she came to appreciate the beauty of her parents’ distracted attention.

Trudy joined up with a pack of boys. They’d roam the streets until someone got cold or hot then they’d head to the library. A cranky video game console stationed in the basement held the boys attention, leaving Trudy free to wander the aisles and aisles of books without being made to feel uncool. She plowed through books detailing life stories; women mavericks were her favorites. She also loved reading about daring feats of escape, the more improbable the better.

In the last two weeks of the summer, Trudy and her parents headed to a resort in the mountains. Her parents hunkered down to endless games of bridge with their friends. Intent on pursing adult fun, they shuffled her off to the day camp run by the hotel. There, she learned how to mix a mean gin fizz, smoke cigarettes and trace the major constellations and planets in the August sky.

On the cusp of high school, Trudy had to choose a “track” as they called it. Her choices where limited to the humanities, math and science or the dummy classes. A life of reading books and learning about awe and wonder appealed to her, so she signed up for the humanities. But, on her first day of class, her schedule was mysteriously devoid of poetry, music or art.

Her parents listened patiently to her complaints but refused to sign the transfer request. It was then that Trudy understood the role her parents had played in this alleged “mix up”. Her Mom pointed out that math came easily to her. When Trudy explained what she was looking for, with words too feeble to convey the severed connection she felt between emotions and their natural expression, her Mom looked away and sighed. It was clear she didn’t agree with her daughter. Trudy tried another set of words, a different tactic, metaphors, no metaphors, but still she couldn’t get her point across.

She graduated high school with high honors in science and math and was accepted to a big name university. Some might argue that her Mom was right. When she announced she was delaying college for a year everyone was surprised, baffled. “I’m taking a gap year” she explained. She now spoke without apology about her need to find awe and wonder.

To pay for all this awe and wonder she took a job at The Gap and learned how to fold clothes just as Erika had, by watching a corporate video.