I had fallen on hard times. Al had left me for his twenty-five year old secretary. The kids were grown and all living on the West Coast and I had been laid off for a year and a half from the insurance company where I had worked since the break-up seven years ago. Sure, I had the house, but I couldn't pay the utility bills on the place. I had started to sell items I considered dispensable like antique furniture, gold rings and Al's woodworking equipment that he had left in the basement and never returned to collect.
I wasn't about to sit back and give up. I'm a fighter. You better believe it. I fought tooth and nail that ugly divorce. I could have tolerated the old coot and his girlfriend, but I didn't want him to get off Scot-free. I would have stayed married to him and let him have his old fling, but he insisted that he wanted out. Well, he got out without his shirt and barely with his pants on. I had a good lawyer. Now, the old fool has two young children by her and he was already a grandfather to boot from our two children. He'll never be able to retire at that rate. I hope he enjoys it.
I can't really sit here and gloat over that victory, because I had to go through everything I received from the settlement. When you're making a pittance at a lousy office job, eventually the income can't make up for the outgo. I admit I went a little bit wacko myself for about three years before I settled down with the job, what with the trips to Cancun and Paris, my fling with the porter on the cruise ship -- do you blame me? I needed some therapy. That was my therapy. I tell you, it did the trick. Now, I want to stay home and put my feet up on the coffee table and let the world leave me alone.
I knew I had to do something about the dire straits I was in, but I didn't know exactly what it was. I just knew something would come to me as it always did. I started playing the lottery a lot and allowed myself two nights of bingo at the veteran's hall out of my unemployment check, but when the unemployment check ran out, I was brought to my knees.
It was a Saturday morning. I had gotten up early. I was still in my nightgown, sitting with my cup of coffee, my feet propped up on the coffee table, trying to build up enough nerve to call my sister in Denver and ask her for a loan. I considered that option for a while. I knew she would lend me the money, but I didn't like the thought of her husband's response. I considered asking my brother. That was worse. He would lend me the money, but write out a contract with interest and a payment-in-full due date in the memo line of the check. I switched back to rehearsing my call to my sister -- rates were lower Saturday mornings. Did I dare call collect? Maybe. After I told her what a desperate situation I was in, she would understand. She was a saint. Saints sometimes got good husbands. She didn't. She had to be a saint to live with Milt. He was a Neanderthal.† She had to account for every penny she spent.
         I heard the newspaper plop against the screen door. I wished that boy would stop throwing it against the house, get off his bicycle, walk up and put it on the screened-in porch as he was supposed to do. I walked out on the porch, opened the screen door to a light drizzle of rain and retrieved it, somewhat damp, from the front step. He hadn't used a plastic bag again. Oh, well, it wasn't too bad. Only the front page. I walked to the kitchen with the idea I would use reading the paper as a stalling tactic to postpone the inevitable call I had to make to my sister that morning.
I started with the back page ads since the front was somewhat damp, heading straight for The Meeting Place section. They were my morning diversion. Man seeks woman; woman seeks man. The guys all wanted pretty, petite younger women. What a laugh! Women were more honest. One wrote: "King-size woman seeks large economy-size man."
I skimmed the garage sale ads, then hit seriously the help wanted ads. There were a few promising possibilities, which I jotted down for Monday morning. Then my eyes fell upon the room wanted ads. Why didn't I think of that before, I breathed aloud. Why that's the solution. I have this three bedroom house. All I needed to tide me over was a boarder. Push had come to shove. I wanted to be left alone, but a boarder was preferable to hitting my sister for money or listening to my brother lecture about poor money management and fiscal irresponsibility. One ad read:† "Quiet, polite, middle-aged oriental man desires room on northwest side of city."† Could I be that lucky? Just what I could tolerate and I'd still have my peace and quiet. Eagerly, I picked up the phone and dialed the number. It was the Motel 6 in town. I asked for the extension indicated in the ad. A soft-spoken man with an oriental accent answered. I described my home and neighborhood. He asked if he could come over right away and see the place. I agreed.
         I hurried to dress.† As soon as I was finished, I peered out the front window to watch for the visitor. Just as I did so, I saw a taxi pull up the driveway. I went to the front door. I opened the door to greet a short man, at least two feet shorter than me with a shaven head, large black-rimmed spectacles and wearing a long lavender-colored robe with a gold sash around the waist. On his bare feet he wore leather sandals and in his hand he carried a large leather satchel. In his other hand he extended a small bouquet of lilies of the valley. His face shone with the most beautiful smile I had ever seen in my life. "What good fortune," I thought to myself, "better than Bingo."
         "Come in, come in," I greeted him. "Let me show you around." He bowed royally, which inexplicably prompted me to do likewise.
"My name is Khan Tai. I am the Dalai Lama."
"Oh, sure," I thought, "and I'm the Princess of Monaco." Just as long as he's peaceful and quiet, he could be whomever he wanted to be. I showed him to the middle bedroom next to the second bath. The bedroom was simply but tastefully decorated in blue striped wallpaper and Berber carpeting, furnished with a single bed, dresser and one wing-backed chair.
"I like it, I like it," he said. "I'll take it," and he offered me an unheard of amount of money for one room.
"Yes, yes, you take it," he said, shoving the money back into my hand. "$800 a month. That's what I pay. I pay for quietness. It worth more than fancy hotel, with sauna, bar and jazz. Okay?"
I agreed, thanking my lucky stars for this good fortune. He plopped his satchel on the floor and began to empty its contents into the dresser drawers.
"Now, lady, if you excuse me, I must shower." From then on, he always addressed me as "lady." From then on, his showers began. He must have taken five complete showers a day. Soon it dawned on me why he thought he had to pay exorbitantly for one room. He had to cover the water bill too.
I have no idea where he ate, because he never was in my kitchen, although I offered the use of my cooking facilities. I began to wonder if he ate at all. One day when he went out, which wasn't very frequently, I searched his room for a stash of food, crackers, wafers, anything, but discovered not a trace of a crumb. The only personal belonging I found displayed in the room was an incense burner on the floor, the same one from which a rich aroma, which I learned later was ambrosia, always began to suffuse the house about two o'clock every morning. It was a bit annoying to be knocked out of sleep by this aroma in the wee hours of the morning, but I thought it was something I could put up with for the sake of my economic survival. Push had come to shove, you know. Other times in the early evenings, when I would pass his door, I heard the faint sound of chanting coming from inside the room, which continued without ceasing for several hours. I was curious about it, but not being nosey, prying of all kinds being reprehensible to me, I held my tongue. Besides, there was little opportunity to converse with the man at all because he holed himself up in his room whenever he was in. On his way in or out, he would bow graciously to me and say, "Peace upon you, lady, and the gentle sounds of the earth."
Several months after my boarder moved in, I did land a job as a receptionist in a real estate office, so I saw less and less of him. Being bone-tired most of the time, I slept soundly through the night, the incense no longer waking me in the early morning. Life went on predictably peacefully, until one day Al showed up at my doorstep. He looked like a living wreck. He was unshaven and hadn't slept for three days. My impeccable Al, who couldn't go to work without a perfectly pressed white shirt, designer tie and not a wrinkle in his suit.
"What the hell happened to you? You look like something the cat dragged in."† I couldn't be mad at the old guy. Look what a mess he had made of his life. I could only pity him. I invited him in for a cup of coffee.
         He sunk his head into his hands. "I made a mess of my life. I admit it. I'm not here for you to take me back. Just for some peace and quiet. Those kids are driving me nuts. Whine, whine, fight, fight, all the time. My wife doesn't know how to control them. I don't have the energy. I'm beat. They're spoiled brats. I admit it. I can't handle it anymore. And she's no picnic either. She got fatter than a rhino after the babies. She can eat a dozen doughnuts at one sitting. She has to have a bowl of ice cream every night before going to bed. Besides that, she's ruining me financially. I can't afford to buy all the things she demands, much less feed her and the kids. There's no hope of her running off with a younger man. Who would have her in the shape she's in? All I want is a little peace. If you'd let me spend the weekend, I'll pull myself together, get some rest and know better what to do."
I bit my tongue, but said anyhow, "I really feel like saying 'I told you so.' I guess I really want to tell you, you did me a favor by running off with the young chick. I have some peace and quiet without your buzz saw and hammering going on in the basement. By the way, when you didn't claim your jigsaw and junk, I sold the stuff to made ends meet when I met a tight spot."
"That's okay. Let's let bygones be bygones. I deserve it. Believe me, I've paid for my mistake."
"Well, the prodigal husband comes home . . . you can stay for a few days, but I'm not taking you back. By the way, I have a Dalai Lama living with me . . . "
"You what?" he looked up astonished from his cup of coffee.
"You heard me . . . the Dalai Lama, or at least that's what he thinks he is," and I proceeded to tell Al about the quaint little Oriental man I had under my roof.
"If that don't beat all," he sighed after I finished telling him about the habits of the little man who required no care or feeding.
"He's really quite better than any husband," I concluded, pleased as a peacock to inform him of my living arrangements.
"You can take the room at the end of the hall. You'll have to carefully schedule your showering with the Dalai. He tends to monopolize the second bath somewhat."
"Why can't I use the master bath?"
"Sorry . . . that one's my sole property."
If my new-found assertiveness was a surprise to Al, his first encounter with the Dalai Lama was even more so. He sat wide-eyed as the Dalai bowed as he was introduced to Al. As instinctively as I had done, Al arose and bowed in reciprocity to the little man. Al had more curiosity than I had, for from the moment he met the Dalai he pursued him. He listened at his door. When he emerged from his inner sanctum, Al cornered him for information, questioned him at length about his practices. After two days, Al was sitting cross-legged on the living room floor while the Dalai Lama instructed him in his meditative techniques. Soon plaintive "ohms" were ascending from both of the back bedrooms.
On Sunday night, Al came to me and said, "I have to have a heart-to-heart talk with you. I've imposed on your kindness for the last three days. But could you find it in your heart to let me stay until the end of this week. Something very important is happening to me. I must learn more about this strange man. Itís important to my mental health. You wouldn't want me to have a break up. If it means I can become a new man, I have to stay a little longer. Please?" He shoved five crisp one-hundred dollar bills in my hand. "I'm not a freeloader. Let me stay a little longer."
Imagine my position. I wasn't actually averse to his presence. At best, I was indifferent. Neither of my star boarders really got on my nerves. If they did, they would be out the door in a minute. I admit I was a bit shocked at Al's supplications. Such posturing was difficult to take from a man whom I once knew to be controlling and dictatorial. I could be magnanimous. After all, it was no skin off my teeth.
"Okay, Al.† Suit yourself. You haven't been any trouble. If you dig this guy and want to stay longer, it's all right by me."
         The two continued their daily study together. I wasn't snoopy, so I didn't try to overhear what they were whispering about as they sat huddled together on the living room floor, where I invariably found them as I left for work in the morning and when I returned in the evening. A few nights they went out together; the other evenings they each retreated to their own rooms where I detected faint chanting every time I passed in the hallway.
Al always did go off the deep end on things. I chalked it up to his long-standing tendency to get on a bandwagon and ride with it. He was born too soon to be a hippie, so now he was making a trip or too of his own off the edge, first with that young thing at work, now with this Dalai Lama from Tibet or God knows where. The two of them could do their thing, but all I wanted at the upper end of fifty was to sit in my easy chair before the big screen every night. So I minded my own business. When the week was up, Al would be on his way again or else he'd be paying his rent just like the Dalai Lama.
On Friday morning as I prepared to leave for work, the familiar sight of the two of them sitting on the living room floor was missing. At first I thought they were sleeping in for a change, which, if so, was a healthy sign in their nighthawk development. However, I was wrong. As I was about to leave, the two of them emerged from their rooms. Each were carrying leather satchels under one arm. Al, draped in a lavender robe with a gold sash around his waist, greeted me, "Peace to you, lady, and the blessings of the earth upon you." I squinted at first. His head was completely shaven and he wore black-rimmed glasses. He stood a few feet taller than the tiny, gentle man beaming like a full moon beside him.
"Thank you for your hospitality. You have been most gracious to us. We bid you a fond farewell. Our taxi is here."† At that, I heard a horn honk outside. They proceeded toward the front door.
         "Wait," I called in stunned disbelief. "Where are you going?"
Al turned and answered. "To a convention in San Francisco."
"When are you coming back?"
The Dalai replied. "Maybe soon, maybe later. But first we go on pilgrimage to the monastery of Kilgamesh north of the Valley of Nanjpuri in Nepal."
"What? You can't! You're my boarders!"
"Ah, so," the Dalai smiled, "we are all boarders. Good-bye, fair lady," at which he bowed beautifully in unison with Al. They boarded the yellow taxicab waiting in the driveway and I have seen neither of them since. It's just as peaceful here, but I miss the faint chanting and the scent of ambrosia in the mornings. I have purchased an incense burner; otherwise, life goes on and I have found no new boarders, although I scan the want ads from time to time.