One For the Road

Smoking lounges have a way of making you feel much cooler than you actually are, for good or ill. The European sort are especially misleading, because they tend to be set up in such a way that it becomes easy to fancy yourself a rakish and worldly young globetrotter, puffing carelessly away among fellow reckless individuals displaying seemingly endless style and brio. When in fact the only thing you can definably have in common with these people is an insane affinity for the act of incremental suicide.

I smell stale in the way you can only do after having spent eight and some change hours in an enormous airborne submarine, sharing breath, bread and diseases with a diverse crowd of 300+ who all want nothing more than to be free of something they cannot be free of. My hair is dirty and unkempt, but it still looks alright. My body and mind are tired from the sustained effort of doing literally nothing for such an unbearably long period of time. The sleeping pills made the flight go by mercifully quickly, but now I’m very much awake and restless, confined to a seven hour layover in the airport of a city where if you don’t do something wrong, you’re doing something wrong.

I write to you from Amsterdam.

The lounge offers complimentary coffee and beer, so I’m drinking both. I have no desire to sleep any longer or shop duty-free, so it’s seven hours of smoking, drinking and wordplay for me. I count among my shared company an array of businessmen who are all either working diligently on their business using laptops, or discussing said business with each other using practiced and rehearsed multilingual vagueness. I don’t speak French, German or Dutch, but it’s easy to imagine their conversations revolving around ROI and the implications of oil’s diminishing value. One of these men is audibly Texan — he’s loudly bitching about the lounge’s neglect to “show some real fuckin’ football on the goddamned television”– and wears his black Stetson with a brown suit, which offends me in just all sorts of unspeakable ways.

Across from me is a couple making liberal use of the champagne and wine selection. They are smoking and drinking and kissing in a way that suggests the world as we know it could end right now and they’d be nothing less than utterly blissful to have been resigned to such a fate. They are speaking Portuguese, and I envy them with equal parts pettiness and purity. To my left is a middle aged Asian man who is pulling off the impressive feat of having a cigarette while wearing a surgical mask (some stereotypes hold true even in their defiance). There is also a man who I can only assume is an airport employee, because he is sporting his cigar with an outrageous elf costume. I feel compelled to tell him that Christmas was yesterday, and that he needn’t wear it, but something tells me he wouldn’t appreciate the sentiment.

And, of course, there is a girl.

Or a woman, I ought say. She is, first and foremost, Spanish (from Catalonia, by the sound of her). I should explain that these women have claimed a pretty undeviating hold over me since a raven haired Madrileña did the same in late adolescence by rocking my world such that no one had before and few have since. She dresses, as my favorite women always do, the way that a rockstar might if she moonlighted as the curator of a fine art museum. To say that she is well proportioned would be a grievous understatement, so instead I’ll say that hers are the sort of curves one could readily imagine being on God’s favorite mistress, viz., sinfully divine and youthful in a way that suggests He might just keep her so forever for fear of depriving himself and humanity of her artistry.

She is also on the phone, and judging by her tone/face/body language, it’s with someone she claims a romantic interest in. This is bad news for me, because the appeal of a woman who is spoken for just so happens to be another spell which has claimed hold over me for as long as my libido has dictated the direction of an already lacking sense of moral propriety. Worse news yet is that she seems to have noticed me — in all my dirty, stale, and unkempt dishevelment — falling something short of conventionally attractive. Her eyes meet mine from just far enough away for me to know that there’s a great deal of trouble and magic living behind them.

“Use Me” by Bill Withers, just came on the speakers overhead, believe it or not.

Some Italian men are eyeing her hungrily, and she knows it. There’s also a collection of older French gentlemen who are sitting around a table together just being French; they cast her the occasional glance, knowing just as well as she does that it won’t get them anywhere. She goes on chatting over the phone in that endless and fluid Catalan way they make sound totally effortless but remains completely impossible to replicate, nonetheless. My Spanish is so broken at this point that any attempts to advance would be silly and (obviously) ill-advised, but after all, that is how it starts.

This is a woman who has grown used to being the center of attention in every room that she graces, after years of being ogled and sought after in every conceivable sense. I find it hard to believe that she was ever the ugly duckling who blossomed into a swan. More likely, she was the little girl everyone always found adorable, then the young girl that all dirty old men found shame and indecency in coveting. Now, she is the force of nature who has surely been the death of at least a handful of men from all nations, breeds and walks of life. This woman is clearly the sort that wars were once started over.

I think I’ll have another beer.

We keep making eye contact and it’s not incidental. She looks Audrey Hepburn cool smoking a cigarette, and the tactful impatience she is speaking with indicates that her conversation is coming to an end. My ability to write and not act is doing the same. I am bound to relative decency by traveling with family this time around, but they’re asleep in some cold, forsaken corner of this airport; and besides, I can’t in good conscience say that will stop me. So if you’ll excuse me, my flight boards in a few hours, and I’ve got some trouble to see about.

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