Black and white photo of high school students in the 1940s

There is a box in my apartment labeled “Old Not Good Photos.” This is an understatement. Most of the photos are two-and-a-half-inch squares, showing little blurred black-and-white images, taken from too far away of people whose features you can barely make out, standing or sitting alone or in groups, against backgrounds of gray uninterestingness. They are like the barely flickering dreams that dissipate as we awaken, rather than the self-important ones that follow us into the day and seem to be crying out for interpretation. However, as psychoanalysis has taught us, it is the least prepossessing dreams, disguised as such to put us off the scent, that sometimes bear the most important messages from inner life. So too, some of the drab little photographs, if stared at long enough, begin to speak to us.

A picture of seventeen high school boys and girls, sitting on the grass and mugging at the camera, takes me to a deep blue sky punctuated by the silhouettes of minarets. I have never been to the Middle East. The memory of the minaret-studded sky comes from a movie house called Loew’s 72nd Street, where I saw many movies in my childhood and youth and where one of the boys in the picture, Jimmy Scovotti, worked as an usher on weekends. Before the house darkened and the movie came on, one sat in a kind of Orientalist dream. The interior had been done up as an Arabian Nights palace. I don’t remember being especially thrilled by it—Loew’s 72nd Street was not the only movie house where this sort of entertainment was added to the celluloid entertainment—but I enjoyed it as I enjoyed the other now preposterous-seeming amenities of the 1940s. It was my first encounter with the clichés that Edward Said’s great book held up to view.

I don’t recognize any other boy in the photograph. I only recognize a girl named Natalie Gudkov and myself. I know the picture was taken at an outing to a place in Yonkers called Tibbetts Brook Park, but I remember nothing about the outing itself, or why I was there. I know these were kids I did not have much to do with in high school. None of the boys were the ones I was in love with during those years. As I write the words “in love,” the picture—I was about to say dream—begins to speak, a bit too fast, about the habit of love we form in childhood, the virus of lovesickness that lodges itself within us, for which there is no vaccine. We never rid ourselves of the disease. We move in and out of states of chronic longing. When we look at our lives and notice what we are consistently, helplessly gripped by, what else can we say but “me too”?

In “Observations on…

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