If only foresight were clearer. I would have dropped that photo, distancing myself from what would become a journey of heartbreak, a digging up of bones that would bring ruin. I could have just walked away, leaving her lying there among discarded ephemera. But, unfortunately, that was not the choice I made.
A slate grey sky.
Low clouds veil the sun.
Cold hard winter.
For two days, I have wandered from town to town mentally recreating what was once thriving, now crumbling efforts of society suspended in a lifeless reality – empty shells void of commerce and growth – lay in decay and ruin.
I question my motives. My choices. The pursuit. The illusive purpose I attempt to find. The reason for me to be here. In a nowhere town full of emptiness.
I have a life, career, and family. What do I hope to find among these ruins? What purpose does this adventure hold?
I suppose I search for just that, purpose. Purpose beyond the Dogmatic residual ideas I was born into – the egocentric plight that masses give their lives and deaths for. Meaning beyond the neatly prescribed checklist that society has accepted.
I walk alone among empty storefronts. Vintage stamped on the cornerstones. Masonry monoliths whose layers of facade break away expose yesterday’s attempt at renewal. They rise like headstones – weathering in a forgotten field.
I enter the only store opened, a junk / antique store – more due to my need for respite from the weather rather than a genuine interest in investigating the establishment’s wares. The interior is as void of life as the town that surrounds it. A lonely greying lady greets me upon entering. I return the greeting. Preceding under her watchful eye.
The air is stagnant but warm. Asbestos ceiling tiles stained and missing – create interesting patterns above my head. The floor gives way to my foot – unwilling or unable to return the force needed to accomplish its purpose. Plaster peeling – a general sense of despair radiates from the walls.
A room repurposed to collect the unwanted. A covered collection of discarded wants – the sole purpose of America’s ideology.
Dust-covered doodads, bric-a-brac, and discarded trinkets litter the shelves. Each was positioned in its pose years ago, today sitting unaware of its uselessness. Piles of cloth, clothing, bedsheets, torn, mildewed, and molded scatter across the floor, falling from overflowing boxes.
I navigate through the labyrinth of curiosities, scanning each trinket, quickly determining treasure or trash. Then, pausing to pick through boxes or amuse myself with coffee cup wisdom.
A feeling of loneliness begins to work up from deep inside. I stand among the unwanted, items of no worth, a collection of meaningless creations.
I begin to prepare my mind for a return to the cold loneliness of the outside – a box far in the back corner of this wonderful world of waste finds my fancy. I kneel down and dig through a collection of cut-up magazines and newspapers from decades ago.
Carefully extracting the items, I study each with keen interest. Objects that, at one point in time, were a treasure to its possessor. Brown and browning scrapbook pages stacked without respect, the delicate pulp breaks at the slightest pressure. Hardened yellow residue from tape – evidence of lost memories or purposely trashed ones. I organize my position, to begin the excavation of the discarded artifacts of the early 20th century.
Minutes turn to hours as I rummage.
Stacks build up around me.
I study each clipped photo from a movie magazine or molested Elvis photo, yearbook, or newspaper clipping, with intensity. My nose is overwhelmed with the aged paper; there is a smell hard to describe that only aging paper presents to the olfactory.
I cringe at the folds, the tears, the faded ink and pencil marks. My eyes strain to make out names and notes. The frozen black and white smiles – the still life of yesterdays, clouded photo paper of precious moments. The moments lost to time. Discarded by those who possess no emotional response to the image.
My fingers expel poison oil to the paper with my manipulation and relocation of the lot fracturing the composting compositions. I sympathize with the frailness. Empathize with the realization of being lost.
I shuffle through postcards finding random five by seven-inch prints of forgettable faces. Then my fingertips feel the heavy white stock of the souvenir photo sleeve for the first time. The folder aged well. Corners right. Color faintly yellowed. My excitement piques. A memory from the Persian Room, a place unknown to me, a cocktail lounge at Hotel Sir Francis Drake, San Francisco, its cover corrects my ignorance.
Its existence here seems unexplainable -this item – out of place in a town as forgotten as the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Khmer Empire.
I open the fold.
The left, void of writing, the right, a photo, a couple at a cocktail table, Vintage World War II era. He sat to her left. An airman, bars across his chest below his left lapel – late into the war? A celebrated soldier who now wears his valor on his uniform? Stoic in his presence. Finely trimmed mustache, an homage to Erroll Flynn – a style that dates him, even in the late 1940s. The edges of his lips straight, smile pursed slightly – presenting an air of indifference. His face is intense yet forgettable.
She, to his right, radiating a bright glow, evident even in the black and white photo. Her smile, forced, visual tension in her cheeks, her jaw clenched, locking down a brilliant yet forced smile. Her head tilted toward the right, away from the soldier, increasing the distance between the couple. Her eyes cast down cut to the right – as if this were a candid shot – a random photo.
It was not – it was a keepsake that was kept. It was a moment in a cocktail lounge in San Francisco, while the world, at war, found time to revel in the peaceful moments that joyous camaraderie empowered by libations offered, a quick snap of the shutter, a burst of light, an image delivered in a quick-flash that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would change my life.
I close the folder and study the image on the front cover – Persian Room San Francisco – I peek again at the photo – ponder the couple’s situation; something has connected me to this baryta paper image.
The heater kicks on, pushing out stale, dry heat onto the fragile memories surrounding me – pulling from them the moisture of life – I rescue my photo from the Persian Room from becoming a mummified memory – collect my find. I purchase the picture with little small talk, pull up my collar, and exit into the cold February air.