by Michael Ryerson

Saw a strikingly pretty young woman yesterday sitting in a newish SUV at a red light take the opportunity to light a cigarette. She was slim, well dressed, wearing some jewelry, understated make-up and a tasteful, vaguely athletic hair cut. She handled the cigarette and little plastic lighter with a dexterity which bespoke years in the habit. She turned her head slightly and exhaled a cloud of blue smoke out her window and glanced my way. There was the glimmer of intelligence in her eyes. I got to thinking about how we make snap judgments about strangers we see in our everyday lives. Guy on a street corner, apparently homeless, carrying a black plastic bag over his shoulder. I always look to see how old these guys are, to see if they’re contemporaries of mine, wonder what happened in their lives to put them on that street corner. Couple of young guys striding down the street, from the back their trousers baggy, walking nearly in step with each other. Bangers? Or poseurs? Or just a couple of young guys who I can’t really measure across the cultural abyss? On their way to a drug buy or late for school? Last night, saw a young oriental guy in a white shirt and tie eating alone in a slightly upscale restaurant. Where’s his family? Are they out of town? Or is he in town on business? Or is he just alone? Stops here on his way home to have a quiet dinner and look over his notes from the day. Going home to an empty house. Apartment? Funny thing, looking at strangers. I’ve never smoked in my life. No big deal, just never happened. I wonder what smokers think when they see an otherwise healthy young person lighting up. Do they wish they could warn them of what’s almost inevitably going to happen? Would they try to talk some sense into them? Or do they still think it looks stylish, don’t see the harm in it and besides who’s business is it anyway?

Michael Ryerson