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Volume xviii, Issue 6 ~ February 11 - February 17, 2010

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by Mark Burns

Carrie says it’s in the nose.

How else could I explain my luck with Becca? Carrie had tried for some five years to get me dating, with little to no success. Then Becca comes along, my drowsy mojo sparks to life and I actually initiate a date. A few, even. As of this lunchtime chat with Carrie, our relationship is months old, and my weird hasn’t scared my belle away. In fact, we’re thriving. This situation evidences a great leap from solitude to devotion.

Only the nose can explain it.


Becca’s nose is indeed lovely. But it seems unfair to lend it all gravity.

After all, just look at that face. She mesmerizes with her smile, high cheeks lifting blue-green eyes into radiant wink. Same eyes crackle above delighted gawk when stung by a zinger; strangely sear and shiver when lowered into glowering rebuttal. They’re addicting.

Her eyes first snared me in September 2006, when she picked up a job application from me during my shift at the bookstore. I flushed when the anonymous cutie glanced back at me on her way out the door. As friend and coworker, I discovered she was smart, plucky, witty, sincere and fun to boot. By December, I worked up the nerve to ask her out.

It didn’t work. Becca unwittingly shot down my are you going to Vanessa’s Christmas party premise. My second attempt a couple weeks later fared much better, and a couple weeks into the new year we enjoyed our first date with dinner in Annapolis and a captioned show of Children of Men.

On the third date, I fell in love. Our weekday tour of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore wrapped up with a visit to the outbuilding. There I discovered our shared enthusiasm for an aquatic, bicycle-based sculpture in the shape of a giant pink poodle, and we bonded over comical wooden automata sculptures. When you pushed the button, one depicted a man beating a dead horse. Her fun and inquisitive spirit won me over.

We strolled an empty Inner Harbor as light snow dusted the scene. We paused by the water, hand in hand, and I very nearly gave her a kiss for the ages.

Would have, but it was cold, and my nose had snotted up and I thought it might have been a bad kiss — one for the Dark Ages. Instead we ducked inside for heat and a meal. I kissed her later, though.


Stopped Up

Love’s nose had been stopped up for a long time.

In high school I developed a crush on one girl who was later rumored uninterested in the fellas.

A second twitterpation was cut short by the sight of my crush smoking a cigarette. From then on I couldn’t shake the Don’t be a dragon lady! anti-smoking jingle out of my head when I saw her.

College might have turned a page. By the second semester, I was shying away from my French class crush’s trilled praise songs during class and her talk of wanting troves of kids.

Down the line I was chided by friends and family for being blind to signals, though I did pick up on a few. There was the tough Alaska-bound chick who liked to flirt by jabbing me in the kidney, always the same one. Textbook flirtations and bear hugs from behind sometimes caught notice. And there was that one German gentleman on the DC Metro.

Occasionally overtures turned into dating. But ineptitude usually seeped in, whether it was absent-mindedly leaving my date to walk across an empty Arundel Mills parking lot at midnight or balking at the prompt of a tip-toed pucker.

Romance was hard.

Carrie’s Theory

Smell researchers Barbara Sommerville and David Gee of the University of Leeds in England observed that smelling one another’s hands or faces is a nearly universal human greeting. The Eskimo kiss is not just a rubbing of noses but a mutual sniffing. “Only in the Western world,” the researchers point out, “has it become modified to a kiss.”

–F. Bryant Furlow, “The Smell of Love,” Psychology Today, March 1 1996

So how did I get here?

My friends will tell you I’ve got a sensitive nose. Perhaps Carrie believed I’d achieved Scent of a Woman acuity, by which Al Pacino’s blind character zeroed in on the most radiant woman in the room by clue of aroma alone.

Perhaps not.

The theory in question is far from poetic. Some researchers have asserted that humans have several odor-producing mechanisms that produce olfactory clues to our immune systems. Not all smells register consciously, though it’s thought that people are attracted to people with different-smelling immune systems, an evolutionary mechanism for finding a viable genetic complement.

If your nose isn’t up to the task, at least two businesses out in the world are using science to help: Florida’s Scientific Match ( and Germany’s Basisnote ( Both offer to sniff out a match for you. They send members sterile cotton swab collection kits and analyze the returned samples to decode the fraction of DNA that defines your immune system.

This, says Carrie, would explain my sudden change of course. I was jolted into the zone by the olfactory lure of Becca’s immune system. Nobody else smelled right until then.

Ain’t that the truth.

Do You Wanna?

Two years after Becca first moved to town, we’re in Harper’s Ferry. We’re scrambling to the town’s heights when we pause for the view from a mountainside church’s small plaza. The thought that had been rattling around in my head comes to the fore, and I decide this beautiful summer scene will be the perfect backdrop. Clasping her hands, I look into her eyes and prepare to flex down upon a knee. “Will you …”

The knee locks up and I try to gobble up my preface with an overly saccharine “… be mine forever?”

Nearly a year later, Becca and I are lounging on the couch in our apartment. We’ve just finished watching a Venture Bros. episode, and the theme music is playing in the background as we discuss her friend’s wedding plans.

I ask, “Do you ever think about us getting married?”


“Do you wanna? Get married?”

She said yes.

The moment must’ve smelled right.

Becca Foster and Mark Burns were engaged in July of last year and will be married this September. Mark has been part of the Bay Weekly family since 1998, when he joined as an intern.

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