In honor of this new school year, and in my gallant effort to bridge the gap between South Central and Westwood, between these two fine institutions of higher learning in our fair city, I offer you the story of the most interesting Bruin I have ever met.

The man was bald; the only color on his head coming from pink scars that ran from the crown of his head down to his neck, lower maybe, maybe down his back all the way to his buttocks, but it was impossible to tell under his soaked T-shirt that hung off his bones just like his skin hung off his bones. Chemotherapy, I guessed.

His essence and his presence there, in the cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica, screamed Make-A-Wish, but that’s cruel. I don’t doubt that wish fulfillment had something to do with it, whether his or someone else’s – the hospital, the overburdened family – because nobody finds there way there with no reason to be there. It’s not the final frontier, but it’s a frontier – a barrier to be reached and crossed, perhaps, when the spirit is willing.

“Will you take a picture of us?” I asked.

Fellow Trojan Kate and I are drenched from the torrential rain and covered in sprayed mud from the cords of the ziplines that run high over the canopies of the trees.

“Aw, well,” he said slowly, with a palsy, his body wheeling around to face us on the steep incline of the hill. “Yeah, it takes me a bit, but OK.”

I handed him the camera, and he struggled. Struggled to pick it up, struggled to locate the button to press, struggled to lower himself – or raise up the camera – to eye level to see.

The picture wasn’t much better. It was our faces, mostly obscured by the shadow of his finger that was darker than the dark clouds that had formed behind us, the same clouds that had down-chucked rain on us for the last hour. It was a crap picture in that way that will always be better than a good picture because it reminds me not just of us and the scenery, but of the person who took it and the taste of that moment.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Can you take one with my camera?” Kate asked.

I flashed with anger for a moment. Couldn’t she see how he struggled with it? But he seemed pleased to do it.

“Where are you from?” I asked, offering up the politeness now required of someone burdened to take more than one picture.

“L.A.,” he said, stooping down again behind the camera. “Los Angeles,” he added, if L.A. also commonly stood for Lower Angleton or Lesser Antigua.

“Ah, we went to school there,” I responded.

He clicked the camera.

“Where?” he said, handing over the camera.

Kate squinted at the picture. Her disgust was, for her, relatively disguised.

“USC,” I said. “University of Southern California.”

“Ah!” he said, loudly, with a burst of energy out of lethargy that will come to characterize his streaky personality for the remaining time we will know him: across the last zipline over the cloud forest, then waiting, soaked, in the café for our van to take us back to Santa Elena, then in the van back to Santa Elena.

“I went to UCLA … long time ago. Don’t get too caught up in that rivalry thing, life’s too short for that, I’m telling you. Trojans, man, Trojans … gotta hate ’em, gotta love ’em.”

He shambled up to the ledge, got attached into his crotch-sling for the zipline and made his way across. Kate and I remained there, thinking of the terribleness of the pictures and the wonderfulness of the sentiment and the view.

“He’s gotta have like cancer or something,” I said.

“Yeah,” Kate said. “Did you see his head and neck? The scars?”


“Is he by himself?”

“I think so.”

“All the Costa Rican guides think he’s crazy.”

“He probably is. But not too crazy.”

Soon, we too were zipping across the forest, at 300-feet high, as close as you can get to flying. Costa Rica was below us, and below us, and below us, until it stopped in the water that we could just see from the top of the hill. The bald man smiled at us when we arrived on the other side of the valley, and together the three of us talked all the way back to Santa Elena.

It was a wonderful day. Life’s too short for anything else.