downwind of a traffic light


A lumbering man. Middle-aged. He plods down the street at an easy but determined pace. Unassuming, with a slight belly that bespoke too much beer and not enough cardio.

It’s not 8 o’clock yet, but it’s that time of year when the sun sets sooner than what you’d like, and you know that in a little while you’ll be driving home from work in the dark. He’s bundled up against the chill in a vain attempt to fight off the cold, when he suddenly stops. He looks up. And he doesn’t move.

A minute passes.

His head moves to face a new direction, and I can only assume his eyes follow. Stars. Clouds. An eternal blackness, sans the glow of the traffic light serving generously as his backdrop.

His mind is not here. I don’t want to know where it is. This moment is his, and my disturbance would be akin to taking a paddle to the back of a meditating monk’s head – he might have achieved a form of nirvana, or a semblance of inner peace that many of us can only hope to attain, save for my interference.

I sit in my parked car, fully intending to drive somewhere but, not wanting to disturb his reverie, I sit and I watch, hearing but not listening to the sibilance coming from the radio. The engine hums.

I feel somewhat like an intruder, but the phrase “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind and so I stay.

Another minute passes.

The traffic light changes. Aside from adjusting his feet farther apart to maintain a degree of comfort, he stays motionless. White tennis shoes. Worn bluejeans. A fall jacket and a Cleveland Browns snow cap. His breath mists.

He comes back to the moment, looks around briefly as if he had forgotten where he was, and continues on down the street. Then he stops again. His eyes go skyward again. He stands motionless. Again.

I’m not sure why it occurs to me at that moment, but I know that for some reason the still frame of a middle-aged, pot-bellied man standing on a suburban sidewalk gazing at the sky, backlit by a traffic light I hate to get caught at, will forever stick in my mind.

He lumbers on.


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