'See this, can you believe this shit? Five bucks was all the guy wanted, five bucks!'
I'd read about this in the travel guide – don't be alarmed when random strangers, not just homeless people, address you like they know you. He put the shoe box down on the table and pulled up a seat.
'Lemme tell you pal, it's my lucky day. There must be a thousand pictures in here. A thousand!'
He opened the shoe box and rummaged through photographs. Taking a handful, he emptied them into the lid. Then, one at a time, he started to hold them up for inspection.
An hour before, Andrea and I had checked into a hotel on Cyril Maginin. She opted for a bath and shut-eye after the long flight, but my feet were itching for San Francisco.
'Don't talk to any strange men,' she said, 'and bring me back a blueberry muffin.' Blueberry muffins are hard to come by in Europe.
I got all of two blocks before I stopped for coffee. And now this, my first authentic American, with a shoe-box full of a stranger's photographs.
'Will you look at the hair on these broads? That's exactly how my aunty Pattie used to wear hers, you know, up like that. Jeez, this takes me back. Hey, look, writing, what's that say?' He squinted and held the photo close.
'Can't see a goddamn thing, I know - wait till you see this,' he said, and pulled a pair of glasses from the shoe box. They had a purple, butterfly frame and one lens was missing. 'The guy threw them in for free,' he said. 'I didn't buy them or nothing.'
'I believe you,' I said, noting the exits.
'There you go,' he said, balancing the glasses on the end of his nose, and read,
''Catherine, Charlie, Sol.' Will you look at these guys, flyers for sure.' Charlie and Sol were in uniform. 'Don't you love black and white? My money says Cathy and Sol are an item, as are Charlie and the lady who took this shot. In fact, maybe she took all these shots. Whaddaya say?'
'Could be,' said I, 'could be.'
'What about these uniforms? Korea maybe? Or World War 2?
'World War 2,' I said.
'Yeah, I think you're right pal, good call.'
'Hey! Here she is, – me and Charlie, Atlantic City '58, that's my girl. Look at her, isn't she the looker?'
'The studious type, and not many broads took an interest in photography back then, goes to show you. Hey – the glasses! She's wearing my goddamn glasses!' he threw his head back and laughed, 'what the fuck!'
'I wonder what her name was?' I said.
'Well, keep on looking, we'll find it, you wait and see.'
We trawled through pictures but didn't find a name. There were lots of the two of them together, from 'Charlie and me – young love,' to 'Me and Charlie at the condo.' On the back of the wedding photograph, 'Mr and Mrs King,' but no first name, down all the years, to 'Charlie's retirement party.'
'No first name. And look at those eyes, those eyes spell p-a-i-n.'
It was true, she did look sad. 'How about a coffee?' I said.
'No, I gave up, bad for you. You go ahead though.'
'I didn't catch your name,' I said.
'Because I didn't I tell you. Theo Doyle, nice to meet you. Where you from, kid?'
'Ireland,' said I.
'Holy shit,' said Theo Doyle, 'me too man, the old country.'
Again, the travel guide had warned me - nobody is just American, they're Irish American, African American, ad infinitum-American.
'You been to Ireland?' I asked.
'Hell, no,' said Theo, 'but maybe one day. Good y'all finally got your shit together over there - the war's over, right?'
'You tried the bacon and cabbage at O'Reilly's? Lemme tell ya kid, it's out of this fucking world. Hey, look here, Geraldine. Isn't she the cutest baby you ever seen?'
She was adorable.
'See that? Cloth diapers, it wasn't easy back then.'
'What do you do with them all, Theo?' I asked.
'The pictures?' said Theo, looking at me like he felt sorry for me, 'well, I look at them.' He turned half away and crossed his legs, 'what's wrong, you think that's weird, or something?'
'No! I was just curious if you were an artist or something. I thought maybe you made collages or something,' I said, regretting I hadn't held my tongue.
'Collages?' said Theo, looking more disturbed by the second.
'Ehh, yeah, when you cut stuff up and-'
'I know what a collage is,' said Theo. 'Cut them? Cut up these beautiful photographs? What kind of weirdo would do such a thing?' All of a sudden, now that his eyes had narrowed and he was wringing his hands, Theo Doyle looked quite menacing.
'Hey, listen, I'm sorry man, really, I wasn't trying to- shit, I don't know. It's just, I've never met anyone who, well, buys shoe-boxes full of strangers' photographs.' Shut up, I was saying to myself. This guy is going to lose it any second.
Theo made a fist and held it up for inspection. He turned it around and looked at it from all sides.
'I should be going,' I said.
Theo slapped his thigh and laughed. 'Ha! Irish! Had you going there, huh? You should see the look on your face, hahahahahaha. Boy, like I was gonna pull a knife or something. Priceless.'
'Yeah,' I said, 'but really, it's time I was-'
'Jesus!' shouted Theo Doyle and slapped his forehead.
'What? What is it?'
'Help me here, kid.' He dropped a handful of pictures in front of me.
'What are we looking for?'
'Geraldine, that's what, the baby. Here's one, baby's first step, keep on looking.'
'Theo, there are tons of babysnaps.'
We laid them all to one side, fifty, maybe more.
'See what I mean?' said Theo.
'Only baby pictures,' I said.
'You're a bright kid,' said Theo. 'No first day at school, no birthdays, no First Communion. Baby Geraldine never made it.'
'It looks that way.'
Polio, that's what I reckon, maybe TB.'
'Poor thing,' I said.
'Yeah,' said Theo Doyle, 'tough break for Mrs King. So much for three-score-years-and-ten.'
'Yeah,' I said, ' we don't all get it.'
'I gotta go,' said Theo, and gathered up the shoe-box and its contents. 'Here, keep this one, a souvenir.' He handed me a picture of a young Charlie at the wheel of an Buick. 'Enjoy the city,' he said, 'and say hello to the Old Country, say hello from Theo Doyle.'
About the author:
Kevin comes from Dublin. You can mail him at kquinner, yahoo.com. He has a blog -- www.kevsville.blogspot.com -- where you'll find links and 564 Unfinished Strories.
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