Sansaku: Outside the Lines

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


Wendell had been given the title, El Senor Perezoso, on a sojourn in Costa Rica.   He was fond of being called Mr. Sloth and promptly named his wife the mosquito.   It was characteristic of his humor.   He didn’t really mean he was irritated by the way she buzzed around, he was proud of her artistic industry, but bums like to tease workers.

When I lived in Mexico, the word we used was flojo. It wasn’t really a compliment, but I didn’t feel that way and quickly appropriated the term.   Wendell and I are both flojo, Mary Ellen is not.

She’d done a slide show of Wendell’s life and it was going around in circles.   It was a collage of carefully sculpted images.   I saw it twice.

When my nephew was to be married at the posh Bel Air Hotel, I had to brag. I knew they knew it. Wendell talked about a date with Mary Ellen. He had taken her there when he could not afford to go.   “She meant that much to me.”   The last time he’d been there, Mitchell was playing.   He didn’t have to say.   I watched his eyes go moist.

Mary Ellen, in her understated way, said she thought she might have some art in the hotel.   I had no idea what to expect.

When we arrived, both Hillary Clinton and Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO, were staying there. The place is surprisingly intimate. It felt like a tropical paradise with quaint cottages, not an LA hotel.   Above the front desk in the lobby was a large collage.   It was obviously hers.

It wasn’t one of those works of art you could easily describe or understand.   The two women at the desk had theories about its history and they weren’t even close.

Sometimes a bird or mammal looks like the place it comes from.   When I say I grew up in Boulder during the sixties, people often say, “That explains it.”   Mary Ellen and Wendell are southern California at its best.   They even look the part.

Their old friend, Julie, spoke after Tom at the ceremony.

“It was 1971, and the two of them were the cutting edge of that era.   I still had a foot in the fifties.   And then they took me to hear Gloria Steinem speak, and my marriage began to crumble.”

“I don’t know how, but they were able to usher me into their way of experiencing the world.   Wendell had asked me to help with his chaotic creative writing class.   The stories those kids wrote were phenomenal, and because of his tenderness with them, it led straight to education.”

“I had learned to use a red pencil, but he taught me there were no mistakes in high school creative writing classes.   And where I stayed in the lines, he didn’t even see them.   No wonder the kids adored him.”

“I learned the same thing from Mary Ellen, and they made me feel smart. I didn’t know I was smart back then, but because of them, I guess I am.”

“He talked about his wife and kids so much it could be extremely annoying.   But he was a blessed man who loved his wife with great respect and raised two boys in a most thoughtful way.”

Julie confessed she had to distance herself after he became so vulnerable.   “I couldn’t listen to him cry as he faced this stage of life and the many medical challenges. But I liked how he said good-bye.”

“I’ve been waiting for a dream, but it just came on Tuesday.   He was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.   Mary Ellen said he wasn’t dressed appropriately, but he didn’t care and gave me a spectacular hug.”


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