Our sand castles were crudely formed mounds. His were finely crafted temples, impregnable fortresses, gilded mansions.
We called him Mr. Tiki because he always sculpted a large tiki head in the middle of whatever sand creation he was working on. His medieval castle surrounded a tiki, his ziggurat was the pedestal for a tiki, his New York City skyline included a tiki.
Working on our feeble sand creations next to Mr. Tiki, we felt like peasants building mud huts next to Versailles.
Mr. Tiki would work for hours. He never looked up or talked to anyone. Afterwards, he'd leave and we'd walk over and marvel at what one man could create with just sand, water, a bucket, a tube and a stick.
We had to get our marveling done quickly before the boogie boys arrived.
They were a feral pack of pre-teen boys who, when they weren't surfing shore breakers on boogie boards, avidly pursued small-time mischief-making. Towels would mysteriously fill with sand, turning them into unwelcome loofahs when the swimmers returned. Drinks left unattended would be seasoned with a little sea water. Beach umbrellas would be surreptitiously pulled up just enough so that the next wind gust carried them away. A woman trying to get a strapless tan on her back would just happen to get hit with a beach ball in the hopes that she would sit up and forget her top. You get the idea.
The boogie boys reacted to Mr. Tiki's creations like the Taliban reacted to ancient Buddhist shrines.
As Mr. Tiki walked away from his creation of the day, the boogie boys would begin sidling over to it. When he made it to the boardwalk, they would be next to it. The minute he entered the hotel, they were all over it, kicking down the towers, pushing each other into the walls and generally ensuring that no grain of sand was left unturned. Destruction was their game, and they played it well.
Anyways, one morning we arrived at our usual beach spot and, to our suprise, beheld Mr. Tiki's finest creation yet. He must have started much earlier than usual that morning, for by the time we got there he'd completed an incredibly accurate replica of our resort in the sand, from the orientation of the wings to the shape of the pool. Being Mr. Tiki, of course, he'd added a large tiki head in the center of the resort.
There was no sign of Mr. Tiki. Maybe today was his last day at the resort, so he got up especially early to complete his final masterpiece before his departure time.
The boogie boys were not early risers, so we had over an hour to enjoy Mr. Tiki's creation. The boys must have spotted Mr. Tiki's masterpiece the minute they arrived, for I first noticed them when I heard their whoops of delight as they came running down the beach, heading straight for Mr. Tiki's sand resort. I quickly backed away as they gained speed. The leader zeroed in on the large tiki head, coming in at full speed, timing his steps just right to kick that tiki head as far as he could.
I looked away, dreading the destruction of yet another piece of Mr. Tiki's sand art, only to hear the whoops of delight drowned out by a scream of pain. I turned back to see the leader bent over, holding his bleeding foot over an intact tiki head. Looking closer, I noticed that the features of the head had been, in fact, obliterated by the kick. What remained was a cinder block that Mr. Tiki had hidden under the tiki head.
We never saw Mr. Tiki again. I guess he built the last one to last.