Laundromat Surprises

At 6am yesterday on a snowy Sunday morning the attendant and I are the only two people in the local laundromat. Then a little middle-aged Hispanic lady arrives. She heads for the change machine to convert paper money into quarters for her washing. I've seen her there often over the years, but aside from generic greetings we've scarcely spoken. Out of nowhere she turns and asks me, "Are you a practicing Buddhist?"

I'm floored. She explains that I have a cheerful, peaceful demeanor when I'm folding clothes. (Ha! Do I have her fooled?) I confess to having started to read about and attempt a little mindfulness. She chats with me, goes out to her car, and returns with a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power. I show her the library copy of Breath Sweeps Mind that I'm halfway through. At intervals during the next couple of hours, as our clothes cycle through the washers and dryers, she tells me about growing up Catholic and turning to Buddhism, about working on her anger issues (though she seems quite pacific to me), about the Zen temple down the road in DC where she does sitting and walking meditation and participates in discussions on Sunday nights, etc. Her name is America. "God bless me—and the rest of you too!" she jokes.

America introduces me to a tall lanky African-American man who arrives a bit later to do his laundry on this late-wintery morning. He's a jazz musician and has a new CD that she recommends. His job is at the Federal Communications Commission downtown. He remembers meeting my sons some time ago when they got up early enough to accompany me to the laundromat. A little later, after some gentle questioning, he confesses to having a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia and a daughter who's a freshman at Pitzer College in California. We chat about energy policy and microeconomic theory (I exhaust my knowledge in a few seconds) and he recommends readings for me by Kenneth Arrow and Gerard Debreu. I warn him that my book queue is already overflowing.

America finishes doing her clothes and prepares to leave. We take turns accusing one another of being the Buddha in disguise. "That's what you are, but what am I?" we laugh. The snow keeps falling.

(cf. UnseenUniversity (1999-08-07), Bringing the Mind Home (2009-02-26), ...) - ^z - 2009-03-02