Sansaku:  Gravitas

from a series of posts by Colin on Best Slowly. Each posting is a walk, a sansaku, about 500 words long


I read somewhere that the words at death are usually good.   And a eulogy literally means, the good words. I’ve also heard it said that some of the Zen and haiku masters composed poems just before they died.   In fact, I have a book of them.

I’m still thinking about Wendell and what I’m going to say tomorrow.

Wendell died like a haiku and I can hear a few of them.   He died, not with a bang but a smooch.   It was that last kiss that killed him.

Wendell taught creative writing and poetry; he knew how to end a story and rhymed the final couplet.

If it’s true that our whole life flashes in front of our eyes before we go, I can guarantee Wendell’s got a good review.   There was that time in Denver.   His son with playing at a downtown club with one of the great old jazz and blues musicians.

At the break, he came over to meet the parents, and asked Wendell what he had done.   Wendell explained he’d retired early, and his wife was a very successful artist.   “Oh, I get it,” he said, “You’ve been pimping.”   I wasn’t there, but I can see his face.   It was one time when Wendell didn’t have a come-back line.

When my time comes and the big book Bible opens, I’m sure there’s a chapter called Wendell.   Our good friends and family become the prophets and the saints.   Saint Wendell has a certain ring to it.

The ring rhymes with ping, which is the kind of putter he used.   I think I’ll bring my old ping to the ceremony and use it as a prop and a stand-in.   It was a gift from my friend, Larry Goff, who often played with us.

The first time I introduced him to Wendell, he earned a nickname that stuck.   On the first tee he asked if Wendell wanted to ride in the cart he’d rented.   Wendell wasn’t the kind to refuse a free meal.

But he wasn’t halfway in before Larry took off.   Wendell made a big deal of it, as was his wont, and called him Whiplash.   It fit.   Larry even hung up the phone before you could say good-bye.

Then, on the third hole, Larry shanked a shot and it hit Wendell in the chest, who now acted mortally wounded.   From then on, whenever Larry teed off, Wendell made a big deal out of saying, “Wait until I get behind you.”

Larry, who also had a mouth, never backed down and usually hit it straight down the middle.   Without turning around, he’d say, “Any questions.”

“Yeah,” said Wendell.   “Have you always been this cocky?”

A few holes later, Wendell made a long birdie putt, and using his putter as a dance cane, did an extremely lame moonwalk across the green.   Larry shook his head and said, “You’d better not think about taking that dance to town.”

“Too late,” said Wendell.   “I already have.”

And not to change the subject, but you should have seen him in his tidy-whities, he looked like an underwear model for Penney’s.  Eighty years old and still a show-off.   But as the man says, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

One last taste of Wendell.   When he heard a wine snob say of a particular vintage that it lacked gravitas, he stole the word.  His One-Liner Red, which could be a zinger, often got him in trouble. “I can’t help it, I lack gravitas.”



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