I’m not going to lie to you. Sometimes I pick a random spot downtown and just sit there watching. Skulking, you might call it, although I wish you wouldn’t.

I sit and watch and I note the manner in which the downtown behaves. It works in any city — choose a spot on the main drag and within five minutes, you will discern the character of that city; not the hifalutin stuff of newspaper headlines, but the prosaic parts that make up the sum. The gestalt, if you will, and I know you will.

On a recent bleak Wednesday, I found myself parked on Lisbon Street in front of the Chamber of Commerce, which used to be somewhere else, and not far from Oxford Networks, which wasn’t there at all.

In that spot, just next to the pawnshop, there used to be a shabby little variety store; a dusty place into which a young man could stumble with a jar of loose change, if he happened to live just a few buildings down and if he was currently between paychecks. The store was there one day and then gone the next, sucked into the commercial vortex that sweeps up and down Lisbon Street at irregular intervals.

The store vanished, but people still congregate on the sidewalk there as if drawn to the ghost of it. On this day, the stream of people was continuous; anonymous Lewiston people doing anonymous Lewiston things.

I started taking notes.

4:45 p.m. A pair of dog walkers cross paths on the sidewalk and, in accordance with Dog Law, one pooch stops to sniff the other’s behind. How awkward!

I have frequently wondered — more frequently, really, than would be considered healthy — if you’re the owner of a dog that pauses to sniff another dog in such an intimate way, what do you find to talk about with the other guy? Small talk seems necessary there, but how to go about it? “Nice dog you have, stranger. Her butt must smell terrific?”

On Lisbon Street, there was no conversation between the dog walkers. They simply paused on the sidewalk ignoring one another while they’re dogs did their business. One man scanned an empty parking lot with great interest. The other whistled and inspected the back of his own hand as if seeing it for the first time. The moment stretched unbearably long, uncomfortable even for the uninvolved bystander skulking in his truck.

When the sniff fest was over, the dogs moved along and their owners did as well. Is it possible that dogs do this just for laughs?

4:47 p.m. Immediately following the dogs came the Big Man in Shorts. Here is a fellow you can find in any city at any time of year. The temperature was just above freezing, but the big dude looks perfectly comfortable in his saggy shorts and a sleeveless shirt. More than comfortable, even. He almost seems to sweat as those around him shiver in their coats and hats. When a pair of men on scooters came buzzing up the sidewalk, the big guy didn’t so much as glance at them. He just continued on his path down the sidewalk as the scooters parted like waves around him.

4:52 p.m. A rangy man in a windbreaker mopes along the sidewalk, holding the hand of a squat and red-faced woman. You know this scene: the rangy fellow looks glum and defeated while the woman at the end of his arm is all narrow eyes and bulging jaw muscles. Yep. These two have been fighting hard and now are trying to put on appearances for the sake of their public reputations. But as with all couples who have survived for a time, the scrap continues telepathically.

“You promised you’d stay out of the bars, Louis. You promised!”

“Aw, it was just one beer with the guys …”

You hate to watch a couple engaged in voiceless bickering but you’ve just got to because it’s so familiar. Haven’t we all been there? Poor Louis. You just know she’s squeezing his hand hard enough to grind knuckles into dust and as soon as they’re out of public view the screeching will commence.

But let’s leave them to their business.

4:56 p.m. Here comes a young boy, stepping out of the pawnshop and swinging a skate lace. The kid looks exquisitely happy as he swings the lace at a street lamp and watches it coil around it like a snake. He slaps the lace against the ground a few times and appears absolutely delighted by the sound it makes. He swings it overhead like a helicopter blade and wraps it around his middle like a belt.

When his mother comes out of the shop and joins him on the sidewalk, the kid barely notices. Whatever treasure she has attained, it will never compete with the joys of that skate lace that was probably given to the boy for free.

4:59 p.m. On comes the young man in a hooded sweatshirt. He’s not just walking along the sidewalk, he’s swaggering. It is a well-known fact that hooded sweatshirts cause swagger. It is also well-known that hoods of any kind make a fellow look like he is up to something nefarious.

This dude might be a Boy Scout bringing canned goods to elderly shut-ins, but he looks like every police composite drawing you’ve ever seen. It would be best to lock my door as he passes just in case.

A woman in a snazzy business suit pulls up to the curb, jumps out of her car and nearly springs down the sidewalk, disappearing into the jungle of concrete and brick at the limits of my view. I wonder where she was going in such a rush and then forget about her entirely three seconds later.

A slow-moving fellow pauses to lean against a pole on the other side of Cedar Street. He leans and never moves again, unconsciously obeying the rule that demands that all city scenes such as this one feature at least one person leaning against a pole.

A handsome young man gazing intently at his cellphone brushes shoulders with a pretty lass walking the other way and doing the same. Neither of them looks up and I can’t help but wonder if true soul mates just missed a glorious meeting. Two ships passing on Lisbon Street.

On the street, two drivers are trying to get into the left lane at the same time. Physics don’t allow this. There’s a small squawk of rubber on road as the first driver hits his brakes. There’s a long wail of a car horn and then an angry shout that, to me, sounds like “Wallet tick fudge groaning, Eeyore!”

All of Lisbon Street seems to go quiet for several long seconds. People on the sidewalks turn to look. Faces appear in storefront windows. In other cars and trucks, men and women wait for the mobile brouhaha to be over so they can be on their way. The wallet tick fudge guy glowers at the other driver a moment longer and then squeals off, turning onto Cedar Street and vanishing from the narrative.

The city resumes its low buzz again as if nothing of note has happened. On the sidewalk in front of the pawnshop, a new cast of characters is falling in to replace the old. Another silently arguing couple will be along in no time. There will be more kids swinging rope and more swaggering dudes in hooded sweatshirts. These people are like blood flowing through the veins of the city, at once prosaic and fascinating.

And now it’s 5:04 p.m. and wouldn’t you know it? Now I’m late for the appointment I showed up for in the first place. Wallet tick fudge groaning, Eeyore!

And I mean that.


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