Mind you, I’m not confessing to anything. But many years ago, I knew a boy who bruised himself up real good by falling out of a tree while trying to spy on a classmate. The poor scamp. All he was trying to do was get a close look at a pretty girl who had just moved to town. Instead, he ended up with busted binoculars, burdocks in places where burdocks don’t belong, and a family of outraged squirrels screaming at him.

Traumatizing, all of it. It’s a wonder the lad turned out to be the upstanding man of high moral character I know him to be today.

As a kid, the art of voyeurism is a mild indiscretion that can lead to cheap thrills or a bruised tailbone. In the adult world, it’s either a sociological experiment or a misdemeanor.

In my defense, I was only obeying orders.

It was Friday afternoon and perhaps the first real day of spring. Everybody seemed to be outside. At Kennedy Park in downtown Lewiston, the vista I was sent to survey, there were many on which to spy. Kids riding bikes or working the ramps on skateboards. Boys flirting with girls, girls ignoring boys, a few teenagers leaning against posts and trying to look like they might be up to something.

But no one was up to anything. I bunked out behind a window and watched these people at play because I had been told that violence stalks the skateboard park. Gangs of goons, they say, roll over the park like a cloud of predatory insects. They descend on smaller children and commence to bullying. Cell phones and iPods are stolen, shoulders are punched, kids are shoved from their skateboards to the elbow-gnawing concrete below.

I witnessed none of that on this day. What I spied were private moments among people who did not suspect that eyes fell upon them from the dark windows across the street.

A boy stealing away from the pack to sneak in a stealthy nose-pick. A girl poking a boy in the ribs and then trying to blame another. A skater trying to spit impressively, catching a string of saliva on his chin instead, looking around wildly to see if the pathetic act had been witnessed.

There is something smugly satisfying about watching people who do not know they are being watched. And before you get all high and mighty about that idea, Mr. Constantly Aghast, I will suggest that you suffer a touch of the voyeur bug yourself.

You linger in the Wal-Mart parking lot just to watch people come and go. Some of them amuse you, some disgust you, still others instill a crawling sense of fear, like a low growl heard in the dark. You watch them, assess them, judge your own worth against what you perceive them to be. You watch people all the time, everywhere you go, because you are constantly trying to get a grasp of your own place in the world. That pretty lady gliding across the parking lot: Would she give you a second look? That hulking dude manhandling bags of mulch into the back of a truck: Could you take him in a cage match if it meant your life?

You watch and I watch, but I occasionally get paid for it.

Years ago, when Lewiston was allegedly crawling with gang members, I banked out in an abandoned building on the hottest corner in the city. For hours, a photographer and I watched like proverbial flies on metaphorical walls as the people of the nighttime streets came out to indulge in their rituals. Young men with dark eyes exchanging exotic handshakes, trading plastic bags for fistfuls of cash, walking fighter dogs and taking narrow glances at suspect strangers.

Thrilling is the clandestine observation of that segment of the Lewiston wildlife. It was like our own episode of “Cops,” only one where there are no cops in sight. For hours, we beheld the tribal habits of street-level criminals and those who walk among them. It was like “Wild Kingdom,” where you never offer a morsel of meat to a creature even if it is dying. You don’t try to keep the tiger from the gazelle and you make your presence known to the young lions only at your peril.

Or some damn thing. Most of us have it, you know; a healthy or not-so-healthy fascination with the private moments of others. Networks make millions of dollars by setting up cameras in houses full of people because they know viewers will tune in. Men quit jobs and leave their families so they can spend long hours in front of their computers, watching strangers across the world through the magic of Web cams. Real peeping toms wander through backyards and not all of them are curious youngsters with no malice in mind.

Not that I’m justifying the actions of that long-ago boy who got an up-close look at an anthill, but not a single glimpse of his comely classmate. He was a dirty little boy, though he meant no harm. A filthy, invasive boy who ought to be punished. But let’s not, what do you say? That tailbone injury still pains him on rainy days – and by God, isn’t that punishment enough?

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal crime reporter. He may be watching you at this very moment.

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