There’s a man here at the park, smoking without his hands.
He’s probably about seventy, and a thin white mustache covers his top lip. It looks well-loved, that mustache. Groomed into a neat, fine line. I haven’t seen his mouth without that cigarette yet, and I’ve been at this park an hour. Has it taken him an hour to smoke just the one? Or maybe he lit another when I was over by the metal slides, helping my son and his friend climb to the top.
He reminds me of the dashing fellow in a famous Dorothea Lange photo. You probably know the one: In the foreground is a young, devilishly handsome lumber worker. His social security number is tattooed on one of his muscular arms; a pipe dangles jauntily out of the corner of his grinning mouth. His thin black mustache gives him a Clark Gable air, and you get the feeling that he’s thinking something quite naughty. In the background, on a thin and worn cot, is his wife. A little smile plays on her lips; she’s pretty. Her eyes are clear and her hair is smooth. They’re facing the same situation millions faced during the Great Depression: no work, will travel. Only they don’t look like migrant workers, they look like movie stars. Neither the shabbiness of their clothes, nor the rough appearance of their burlap and canvas tent doesn’t diminish their beauty.
I get the feeling once Dorothea got the shot she wanted, the handsome lumber worker pulled the tent flap closed and sat down next to his wife. Maybe they spoke in low tones so no one would hear. Maybe her dress buttoned up the front. Maybe she still wore perfume. Who knows? Maybe Dorothea stuck around. Maybe there was room for three on the thin cot.