At first, or even second, third or fourth glance, they don’t look like the sort of people who might be a couple.
However, in a world where the unhealthy and socially unacceptable habit of cigarette smoking has been restricted to the spaces just outside restaurants, bars and office buildings, you can see all sorts of odd smoker pairings. A young woman with a fashion sense more K-Mart than Michael Kors sharing a lighter with an older man who, probably being a lawyer pulling in a high six-figure income, could easily afford lighters for himself and all of his sidewalk smoking companions. An older woman who looks as if she spends her free time watching reruns of “The Golden Girls” and knitting sweaters laughing loudly with a young man clad mostly in black who will be in one of the city’s more advanced dance clubs within hours of leaving work. Most of these people standing outside furtively puffing their smokes in frigid cold, suffocating heat, or even pouring rain, probably could care less about any connection beyond nicotine consumed in a criticism-free atmosphere.
But once in a while you see people who, perhaps without knowing it or seeking it, might have found something else along with their shared love of (and/or) addiction to cigarettes.
I live in Minneapolis and am often downtown at lunchtime during the work week. Yes, I walk past the store where Mary Tyler Moore threw her blue beret up in the air ALL the time. Anyway, it was during this past winter that I started noticing one seemingly incongruous smoking couple, inhaling away just outside the doors of one of the city’s swanker office complexes at about the same hour each time I came their way.
He is probably 27 or 28 and is often dressed in what appears to be Armani Collezioni, with a well sculpted body that looks absolutely marvelous in suits with a drop of seven inches or so. His face and smooth, longish (but still passably corporate) hair are that of a model who could be featured in Men’s Health, excepting the fact that he retains a boyish and athletic Midwestern wholesomeness in his mannerisms, despite his fabulous trappings. I often wonder how long his complexion and still dazzling white teeth will defy the fact that he smokes.
She looks to be about the same age and she’s beautiful too. If her hair is colored, then she has one of the planet’s best colorists, so she could be an actual natural blonde. With all of the people of Scandinavian descent who live in Minnesota, finding a natural blonde is a lot easier here than it might be in most other parts of the world. She’s well dressed too, although not quite as expensively as he, but she clearly knows how to do makeup worthy of a magazine cover. If she didn’t look about 60 or 70 pounds overweight, one would never think of them as any sort of unusual couple. Her weight is not a real issue with me (although combining smoking with obesity is not a terrific way to achieve good health). It’s just that in our weight-and-appearance obsessed society, one would almost never expect to see a guy who looks like this young man being remotely interested in a woman of her size.
Anyway, I’ve noticed these devotees of smoke probably a dozen times. Unlike some of their colleague smokers, these two talk while they smoke. Their level of comfort with each other seemed to increase each time I saw them together. I listened to her a bit more closely than I should have on one occasion early in the winter and she was asking him, in an awkward fashion not unlike what many would employ on a first date, as to whether he played hockey in high school or not. The last few times I saw them they had advanced to the point where they were sitting down while smoking, although they maintained a proper work environment distance.
That is, until last week. I was meeting a friend for lunch and who should be sitting outside of the restaurant I was about to enter, ice teas in hand yet cigarettes nowhere to be seen, but this young couple. Given the stifling humidity that has plagued this area for the last several weeks, I questioned their desire to sit outside but mostly I was just struck by the fact that the cigarettes had moved on to lunch on a Friday. They were still well dressed but given the heat, and the fact that it was Friday, they were in picnic appropriate clothing. I liked them better in more casual attire.
They were still sitting in the sun when I left the restaurant, although by this time, they were sharing what looked to be a most exquisite piece of strawberry-topped cheesecake. At the moment I saw them, he was touching, no, he was caressing her hand as she put her fork into a berry. Both of their faces were radiant and I knew it wasn’t due to the sunshine. Not wanting to be a voyeur too much longer, I moved along. But the smile on my face must have been quite wide as a man who was walking past me said geez, glad someone is happy today. He didn’t sound sarcastic.
I’m still against smoking and am not sad that public smoking has been mostly exiled to outdoor spaces. But I just wonder how many other couples who might not have given each other the time of day in any other setting have been able to find commonality, and even romance, in the ashes of cigarettes.
We can talk about the idea of having a cigarette after sex at another time.