It ought to be illegal to have this much fun. I’m deliriously happy, and delirious might be exactly the right word, but I don’t care. Happy works for me. Today I’ve cleaned five bathrooms with toilets, assisted at two meals and washed dishes, nursed a very sick Humaya (vomiting, headache, fever–but she’s better now after rosemary tea, peppermint tea, and a long time breathing with Kendall’s cold hands on her head: “Your hands so cool, they feel like water, Ma.”), and what else. Meditated twice so far; second time it was just Dawa and me. Oh yeah, best of all, cleaned up after lunch and then swept and mopped the kitchen and serving room floor with Soham, the coolest guy I’ve met yet. My altitude issues have passed, and I feel terrific. Want to hear more about all of this?
Let me tell you about Soham. I’m guessing twenty-something, maybe thirty. Tall, shaved head, gorgeous looking, but until you talk to him you get the feeling he’s pissed off about something. Reminds me of Seth. But then it turns out he just has a sharp sense of irony, a wonderful sarcastic sense of humor, and he doesn’t go for the fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden shit. He used to live in Portland and loves it. I told him about the three choices I can see right now. He said, “Portland, hell. It gives you the most freedom. Save yourself a lot of time. Just go there.”
I said but I want to deepen my spiritual practice, so I thought it would help to live in a community. “Well,” he said, with a wry smile, “I’ve lived in both communities, and from what I’ve seen, they don’t have a lot to teach you. I mean, you noticed the leaf-patterns on the concrete floor. You passed the test right there. And then you realized that when you’re on the housekeeping crew, you don’t do kitchen work, and vice versa. So you’ve got the turf thing nailed. What else do you need to know? And there’s lots of sitting groups in Portland.” He told me a little about his life in Portland, where he was, in his words, “A sitting-group whore, going around to all of them for purely selfish reasons, networking, you know.” I muttered, “When are any of us anything but purely selfish?”
Still wanting to know more about this place, I said, “But I understand you’re doing work with prisoners here. What’s that about?” He’s just started. Last week in fact. There are others here that have been in the jails for a while. One teaches ESL; he’s going to be her assistant. He says it’s not a passion for him, but maybe it will be. He’s so new at it.
I said it’s definitely a passion for me: you get a group of murderers, rapists, burglars, dope fiends, alcoholics, and child molesters in a room together, with no distractions, none of their old addictions, no pretenses, no posing. Just human beings who have fucked up and had to face it, and are eager to learn something better than what they’ve had. They’re all cons, but you get them to the point that they lay down their games for a couple of hours to work with you, and it’s incredible. It’s humanity stripped raw. They’re willing to learn something and teach you what their lives have been. And they all have stories to tell that are not the kind of thing you hear in the average college classroom. It’s the greatest high I’ve ever known.
“No shit,” grunted Soham as he lugged away the big yellow mop bucket and squeezed out our mops. “Glad I’m about to check this out.” And then he smiled a totally unguarded, unmitigated smile.
The kitchen maven had to take a sick day today. A doctor changed his dressing, and he looked at his tipless finger, and he passed out. Poor guy. I hear he’s recovering, though the emotional thing is harder than the physical thing. It’s what’s in your head that gets you.
So now there’s this to report, about cleaning toilets. It’s covered in greater depth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed
(great book, if you haven’t read it, you need to) but here’s my observation: men’s bathrooms have cleaner mirrors. I guess they don’t pop as many zits as women do, and they must brush their teeth further away from the sink, which may explain all the dried up toothpaste dribbles on the side of the sink. Then when you get to the actual toilet, there’s almost always a little brown rim of shit around the back side of the seat. I can’t figure out how that gets there. I guess it has to be messy ass-wiping. And then the women’s toilets have the brown rim at the back, and some little brown drips in the front, menstrual blood. All of this is made bearable by that cool citrus-smelling cleaning agent. And by the fact that I’m doing this for a WEEK, not for a lifetime. I don’t know how long I could maintain my deliriously happy frame of mind if I had to do this endlessly. So anyway, let me take this opportunity to encourage everyone to be a little more careful with what you do with the toilet paper. That’s my Buddhist thought for the day.
Thunder rolled over us as Dawa and I meditated in the otherwise empty meditation hall in the hour before lunch. It rumbled in my bones, and I found it thrilling. Just in case any of us ever thinks we’re running it, sit and really listen to the thunder. It shrinks you down to size. Wonderful. Now I think I’ll go fold some rags that just finished in the dryer, and then think I’ll go lie on my fluffy comforter for a while and smell the wild juniper outside the window.
Tags: Buddhism, New Mexico, Prisons and Prisoners, Upaya