My students think it is hilarious to draw pictures of me.
It’s been a week since I’ve been back in Santa Cruz- the place that I loved to once call home. I’ve spent the last few days passing afternoon hours on the porch of a local coffee shop, basking under the beautiful sun that is so generous with California.
It’s good to be back in a place that I was never ready to leave, but had no reason to stay.
My life here is simple. I am spending my afternoons people watching.
I lean back in a chair that is too warm beneath my bare legs. My cut off jeans too short. A day for details, for recording single moments with too many words.
The table I sit at is all mine. It is pushed up against the red wooden railing that is slowly rotting in selected places. If I rub my arm against the grain the wood is sure to send little splinters lodging their way under my skin. Even though my back is to the Bagelry and it is over a block away I can not help noticing that the smell of fresh bread has drifted down to my spot at Pergolesi.
The people that are pulled here are always different, yet I am bound to see the same faces. The consistency of individuals who oppose the constant. The Regular.
From my spot that I alone occupy I watch those around me and separate them into the groups which I believe they belong in. It’s odd how our brains are always wanting to categorize. To label. To simplify.
The majority of the people filling the coffee house today are the students. The UCSC kids. With a week to go until finals, everyone is making a mad attempt at filling their heads with the information of a quarter in a weeks time. They lumber up the front patio steps, back packs and book bags thrown over their shoulders, the weight of the knowledge inside tugging against them with the force of gravity. Their arms are full of books, of overpriced readers, and they all have computers. Apple has successfully colonized the Slug population. Every single person that passes me has a MacBook. No other brand dares to infiltrate. Unlike the other guests here, they sit with their heads down, buried in their work, papers covering the table tops.
Leading up to finals week everyone enters a similar existence that I now find myself removed from. As I have left the bubble of academia last year, I am no longer part of this group experience. The experience of stress. Of knowing that everyone is running out of time to accomplish everything they have to do, just as quickly as you are. That your neighbor is most likely also sleep deprived from all the adderall they have been taking these past few days. Coffee binges, Pop Tart dinners, and pulling all nighters with friends and roommates. The weight of academia is closing in and everyone is gasping for air. For the first time in my life, I am just an observer.
Then there are the locals. The Punks. The Hipsters. The chains, patches and leather jackets. Tight jeans with stitching up the side. Holes in the back and on the knees. Combat boots and poka-dot mismatching socks. Outgrown hair that dangles in dreads. The resistance to look like a groomed member of society. The girls with the shaved heads and countless facial piercings. Tattoss documenting a wide varity of art styles, black and white/color, evidence of drunk impulsive nights, lyrics from favorite songs, skin that was used as a pracitice canvas for beginning artists. Hair in every color- more artificial than natuarl. Countless heads with beanies sagging off the back. Bags covered in pins sporting their favorite musicians or the faces of cats. Hole in ears, holes in lips, and just about every body altering look you can imagine. This is why I love this town. I am living in a book full of beautiful characters and they are better than any of the stupid people who occupy mainstream socity, which has become nothing more than reality TV.
A man a few feet from me laughs loud enough that he gets my attention. I look up and just at that moment catch eyes with the one I love. He is meeting me here. He is part of this academic bubble and is also under the weight of impending finals doom.
He grabs an iced coffee from inside and pulls up a chair across from me. We exchange a few words, then he opens his book on the politics of Brazil and begins to read, occasionally glancing around at those we share this space with. He and I know eachother well enough that silences are always comfortable. I don’t need to make small talk with him in order to pass the time. We are sharing one another’s company and today I enjoy it without words. I watch him and take in his face, his body. His feet are kicked up on the extra chair and he is leaning back just far enough from under the tree that half of his face is in the sun, while the rest is painted with a shadow.
He catches me looking at him. He stares at me and smiles, leans forward and comments on my Ray Bans, “The reflectivity of someone looking into your soul, only to be shown their own.”