Months pass, and the photo, sits on the shelf. Sometimes I find it beneath random papers, books, or magazines – I quickly remedy the situation – rewarding myself with a momentary study of the photo.
Her eyes – still down.
His demeanor – arrogant as always.
I create stories in my mind to explain the couple’s situation. Initially, a random pastime – playfully interacting with the photo creating harmless discourse – a practice I would regret. My interest manifests into juvenile infatuation – driven by far more than the usual suspects of this type of emotional compulsion – aware only intangible outcomes can only be found. Her voice I will not hear, her story I will not know, her hand I will not hold – what will be the illusive end to this calling?
I suppose obsession should be avoided – the downward spiral hyper-emotion can bring is nauseating – heartbreaking. If only my questions could be answered – with my curiosity satisfied, I know I could move on.
Why were her eyes down?
Her head tilted away from this hero? His ego tacked to his chest.
What is her name?
In dreams, convoluted thoughts mix with her position, exhaustive sleep where I am shaken from slumber with cognizance of her distress.
I feel her restless spirit lingering. I am sickened with his arrogance juxtaposed to her melancholy.
I have relocated the photo to my mantle, along with other proud pieces and personal prizes. I welcome inquiry – sharing the photo with others.
Their lack of engagement is frustrating.
Their indifference is offensive.
How do they not see?
How do they not hear her calling?
Who are these two that have cemented their moment into my every thought?
I have no names or dates, only a souvenir photo from the Persian Room. A soldier in a uniform with an Arrol Flinn mustache, a female, forcing a smile through a heart of anguish.
I know the location – San Francisco.
Date mid -1940’s.
Overtaken by transcendent energy I search online photos and websites, incorporating keywords in as many random orders as possible – quotations and commas in various locations – “World War 2 photo”, “Persian Room,” “Persian Room World War II,” “”Persian Room”, San Francisco,”” and every combination – finding links to websites dedicated to war, cocktails, nightlife, and San Francisco.
The Persian Room was one of many establishments that populated San Francisco’s Union Square during the 1940s, one of many night-spots offering music and mood that could temporarily transport an individual from realizations of world war to the escapism of gayety.
Clubs such as the “Smartly Sophisticated” -Lido, or the “Aristocrat of San Francisco” – Bal Tabarin.
Techau Cocktails on Powell Street at the streetcar turntable.
Others such as –
Ernie’s “In the heart of San Francisco’s Bohemia”, and Charlie Low’s “Forbidden City”, each luring patrons into a unique world of nightlife and each offering souvenir photos.
My mind is a jumbled mess – losing focus. I revisit the photograph. I long for her to look up.
Although, if her look was anything other than frozen suffering, I would have not found it intriguing. I would not be here, and she would not be here with me. There would be no questions to answer – no calling.
Has this fascination pushed me too far into a situation? My thoughts focus on – a still-life photo of unknown individuals – who have taken over my life, my thoughts. Her image has created fissures in my current relationships, real-life relationships.
Each passing day, I lose connection with reality – to pursue the answers to questions that those in my current reality believe to be contrived.
If I cast my eyes toward the corner of the room, I find her image lingering in the shadow – if I close my eyes, I see her in the darkness – my mind is a-washed by the image – I relent this is no purpose – this is possession.
I turn to the cover of the souvenir photo, running my finger over the embossed expression of the establishment. My finger rises and falls over the image’s texture — did she hold this photo in her hand? I visualize the situation -listening intently through the years to hear her voice -see her response- understand her emotion- – she must have been disappointed in the photo.
Why was it kept?
Why was it purchased?
Why are her eyes down?
Why is she glowing?
I ponder with amazement how unique this item is to survive so many years, to end up in a desolate town buried in a box of rubbish.
To finds its way to me.
With sudden realization, I search “San Fransisco Souvenir Photo World War 2” – finding its survival not that unique after all.
New searches uncover page after page of photos of soldiers with females grouped around cocktail tables scattered with lowballs and ashtrays. Casual embraces, temporary friendships. Frozen moments of joy while the world was torn apart by war. High-back horseshoe booths packed with the nation’s expendable youth, soon to be deployed to the Pacific Theatre many to perish on the stage of the war – the opposing fold littered with a faint scribble. Meaningful words that for that moment held a world of emotion, now faded, meaning lost to time.
I discover many souvenir photos from the same time as my photo. Filled with the same type of couples as my couple. Hundreds of images survived, just like my photo from the Persian Room but non as exciting or captivating as mine. No frozen faces calling out for help, no damsels in distress.
I open a photo from the Techau Cocktail lounge, 247 Powell Street, San Francisco – the cover depicting an Artdeco facade, streetcar, fonts of red and blue against an off-white background, and the photo inside –
a deluge of emotion runs through me. A rush akin to the most significant celebrations of life as my eyes scans the photo. The faces of one male and three females. Each deeply engaged within the moment- a familiar face – top left – partially hidden. The same chin and cheeks, nose and mouth, eyebrows and eyes – only this time – looking up.
I stare in awe before quickly comparing my photo to this new discovery. The resemblance is uncanny, and I quickly accept the two as one.
I have found her – and now I know her name.