Yesterday I had a long talk another Zen teacher. We talked of street retreats and the Zen Peacemaker Order, whose members work in the cracks of society. And early this morning I had a dream.
In the dream Bernie and I are homeless on the streets of New York City. We’ve just come out of a shelter where we spent the night and he looks like he did before his stroke. Slowly we walk the pavement. I’m aware that while Bernie can’t work, I can still go and get a job, perhaps some temp or proofreading work I used to do so long ago, on weekends, when I needed some extra money. After all, that would get us off the streets. Only I didn’t want to do those things anymore.
Finally I say that it would be nice to wash up. We pass a very fancy apartment building in mid-town. The doors are open to let in construction workers, and I say, “Let’s go in there.”
We find an apartment on an upper floor where a cleaning crew is going in, so we mix in with them and get inside. I tell Bernie to go and wash up, do what he needs to do. Then it’s time for me to do the same, and it occurs to me that what I really want to do is wash my hair. Why? Because it’s Wednesday, and on Wednesdays I almost always wash my hair.
I go to a small bedroom to undress, and the housekeeper comes in. “What are you doing?” She’s a Latina with a kind face and curly hair.
“Look,” I say, “we’re not thinking of staying here. All I want to do is wash my hair.”
“You have to leave,” she says.
“I will,” I assure her, “just let me wash my hair and I’ll get out.”
She leaves the room and I could hear her calling the apartment owners, loud voices on the other end getting upset even as she says, “The woman is saying that all she wants to do is wash her hair.”
Should I leave, I wonder. Are they calling the cops? Maybe we should go right now before things get complicated. But I remain unruffled. I could do this really quickly before anybody comes, I figure, and walk into an adjoining enormous bathroom, with an equally enormous tub half-sunken in the floor. I take my clothes off and go down the few steps to the bottom of the tub, which has a European-style hand hose one uses to wash oneself with.
I’m down inside the tub, but every time I try to use the hose to wash my hair someone else comes in to talk to me. Then a line of people forms behind me; they also want to wash. They want to wash different things: their legs, their dirty hands, their necks. Laughing, they give one another the hose to wash their backs and get into long conversations. This becomes a very friendly scene even as I wonder why it’s taking me so long to just wash my hair and leave.
Finally the man of the house arrives. I’m still on line. The housekeeper points me out—by then there’s a whole party going on—and he approaches me, a moustache version of John Cleese, only not as tall, glowers like Cleese, and says: “What are you doing here? You have to get out! Out, out!”
I say, “I will get out, I promise, I just want to wash my hair.”
He gets angry. “So you’re going to shampoo, and then you’re going to condition, and then—“
“No,” I tell him, “I don’t like conditioner. In the effort to untangle, it leaves the hair so limp and wimpy, I try never to use it.”
He calls his wife, who’s in a meeting. “She’s just going to wash her hair and then she’s going to leave. Not even using a conditioner.”