• Dylan Charney

Spirit of a Man

The wall was much more effective than it seemed. Well, the physical wall itself was not overly impressive: merely a line where the rocks and vegetation slid into the urbanization of Isla Vista. Then again, urban is not a great description of Isla Vista, but it was still a contrast. There was a bleed of course, with palm trees and smooth grass on both sides of the weak wall that separated the soft, beige grains that made up the wide and bright beach from the solid compacted hardness known as sidewalk. From the light crash of the great white capped waves, brought down to barely rise above the water on approach of the shore, to the modern, clean cut lines of the housing down the road, built to contain the humans temporarily setting up shop to attend classes at the small California university.

Leaving the place where both the land and sea undulate is always a chore; abandoning the smoldering reflection of the sun in the sand in contrast to the cool bite of the ocean waves, it is like being pulled back from an escape, one that only southern California could offer on a campus of learning. He was dressed in only one would need on the beach, as if hoping to channel the soul-calming spirit of the ocean into himself by showing to the world only what was needed to enjoy that spirit. Floral swim trunks colored brightly, sagging a little, revealed the stretch band pulled taut of the black rashguard beneath. Flip flops making the noise so easily recognizable that tends to irritate, but he could not say he minded the smacks against what had turned to concrete. It was a sad transition from the soft sand, compact under the ocean or flowing under the sun, to the hard construction, man’s work laid bare in gray stones. The whitecaps and blue now lay behind him, however, and life lay ahead of him. The campus and school. The apartments and shops. Humanity and the future. Sometimes I wish I could live in the past, he thought. No use dwelling on it now though, and so he strolled on, one foot in front of the other, lighter in his hand, useless without its corresponding box of cigarettes, turned to nothing but a fidget dangling by the slightly sagging waistband.

The street was relatively unoccupied, the grainy black tar radiating the heat of the ball of light in the sky, the painted yellow lines feeling useless with no cars to take their orders and follow their lead. The houses to the left just sat. Squat, content with their wooden fences and quaint shrubs. He had walked past them so many times, he no longer paid those houses any mind. Those houses where students laughed and drank and ate and studied alongside their compatriots and those who had merely opted to split a little rent. Those houses where students were gauged and miserable, and where those students partied and found joy. A man caught his attention, though he was subtle about the recognition. Not dressed particularly nicely, he seemed in a hurry and looked both ways before crossing the bored, empty street, his paints and sport coat so stark against the spirit on display, the swimming shorts, the bare torso. He was on the phone, talking as if he was in control of whatever situation was unfolding. He could not make out the man’s words however. The wind continued to rustle the palm frawns over head, a gentle breeze blowing through the thick curl of the man’s hair. A dirty blond, kept ever from darkening further by the watchful gaze of the bright sun, it rested in swirls upon his head, it fell down below his ears in a combination of gentle curves and sharper circles, like a cap of spurned gold strings, made natural by the light.

The march continued, though it was not nearly a great trek through a wilderness. Just pavement and concrete, sharp edges and manufacturing, soft curves and green blades. Eyes lazily gazed from side to side, neck lulling with them as if it too wanted to truly absorb the architecture of man and nature just as the man’s eyes were. It was in this motion that the neck turned farther, the eyes gazed back. The man was much older, spirit much wiser and freer than those he saw. The flip and flop noise of his shoes did not mask the voices, slightly hushed, sprinkled with laughter: high octave, then low, then high again and another laugh. The silence was pierced yet again as the man walked on, carelessness still reverberating through his body, one foot in front of the other, still adjusting to humanity, the sharp lines, and the ever present noise. Eyes lazily gazed, sharp, observant, and the neck continued to accommodate. His fingers twirled and swirled, engulfing and releasing over and over the lighter in his hand, the lighter with no company, with no cigarette to lay claim to and no way to fulfill its purpose. The voices continued; the man kept walking.

The second scouting brought more information: the neck turned again, eyes darting back in expression of their curiosity, despite the mind’s intentions, and the glance was complete. Three pursued him. No, not pursued. Followed. They were young, and nothing struck the man as out of the ordinary; merely a boy and two girls. Well, nothing other than the notepads. The sun shed its light, provided its aid, and rays reflected off of the dull white. Unlike his lighter, the pencils in the young hands had found their purpose, constantly returning to paper and swirling, doting, drawing, creating, before rising again as the hands would go still, back to the motion of walking. Their shoes stamped on the testament of man’s creation, not in the carefree slaps of his own against the same material, marching rather than striding, intent rather than patient. The slaps went faster. Not significantly faster, but urged on by the mind suspicious of the unknown, of those three young ones chasing its knowledge, seeking its spirit. Ah, the arrogance of the mind, its love of itself and preservation. But the slaps proved the body’s willingness to obey, and the man walked on. The voices continued, a low octave whisper, then one jumped up, advancing up the scale, before falling to giggling and laughter. The man did not turn around again.

The mind was back in control, the spirit once again put back in its place. The joy of the beach, the place where both the land and sea undulate, was behind him once again, though he still reached for it, holding on through the symbolization he wore: those bright, floral shorts, colored and adorned; the dirty blond strands that fell to a body that had seen its fair share of the sun but still craved ever more, down to the sagging waistline of those flowers, revealing the tight rash guard that still resisted all light, content in the matte of it’s black; and the flip flops still slapped, a reminder of the freedom, of where the man could not wait to return. The voices continued in their hushed tones, their laughter and giggling, and began to be overcome. Overcome by the congregation in front of the man, of roads and vehicles and bicycles and people. He was back in Isla Vista, where a generation had come to study, to learn, to party.

A road now ran past him, cars crashing through with the roar of engines, the pounding of tires, and the stink of exhaust. Ironically it was the underpass that always drew his attention: not the dank and dreary of a usual underpass, that dark area beneath that roar of engines, the pounding of tires, and the stink of exhaust; no, this was different. Dim, yellow lights brought the sun’s grace down beneath a piece of stone, a piece of man that blocked yet another stone from ever seeing the rays of gold. And those lights brought that, as if the stone had a spirit like the man himself, and it relished the light that generation who had come to study had brought to it. The young ones veered off here, as the man crossed in front of the underpass, his stroll going from a lonely movement from the place he wished to be and the place he had to be, to being a jumble of feet and movement through a crowd of men and women, wheels and tires. They brought their hushed voices, their laughter and giggles, their disparity in octaves with them, whatever the pencils achieved on those notepads lost to the young ones and their minds. But the man walked on, his dirty blond hair falling, his floral swim shorts sagging, his flip flops smacking. The man walked on, away from the place where both the land and sea undulate, where his spirit was free, and on into the world, the world man crafted for itself with its sharp lines and meticulously formed structure. And so the spirit was put back to lie dormant, waiting again for its time to be free, as the mind once again seized control. So he walked on, disappearing into the sea of man and man made.