People Watching in Crazy-Town

When I go people watching, I tell myself stories.

Like the one about the little man with his ice cream cone sitting on the bench near the front door of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I tell myself he's remembering the sugared ice he ate as a small boy on a muggy, dusty daya continent and a lifetime away.

Forty feet from the little man, a woman sits motionless for the full hour it takes me to walk around inside the museum. When I come back out I take another picture and compare it with the first, confirming that she hasn't moved or changed position. Nor has the little man on the bench, although his ice cream is long gone and the pigeons have become less interested.

This man and woman are married to each other, I decide, their distance speaking perhaps not of alienation, but of a comfort and security that does not demand proximity.

Who are they? What worlds have they seen? Who are they waiting for outside the museum, and why do they not enter, themselves? Smithsonian museums are free, but perhaps they do not know that and their decision to wait was born of a wise frugality. Or perhaps there is something in their belief system that prevents them from staring at the preserved carcasses of animals.

Maybe they're just tired.

Another couple, vastly different, takes in the sights. The young man wears a "Hobo Jack" t-shirt. It's a London-based clothing company, so perhaps these tourists are British. Or maybe they just popped into the shops of England on their way from some even more progressive country, like Denmark.

Perhaps these Danes are here to gawk at the madness before it all comes apart. They've read about the war of 1812 and wonder if the Canadians might be on their way, even now, to once again burn the White House to the ground.

Do they see me, watching them? Do they wonder who I am? Do they assume I'm an American, and partially responsible for the coming conflagration?

We pass each other, sparks of energy both seen and unseen. Flitting through each other's consciousness and then gone, again, forever. Entire human worlds colliding, just glancing off each other and back into the vacuum of our own spaces.

Do they see each other?

Does anyone?

Are all the stories we tell about each other nothing more than fabrications?


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