Two of my friends want to live on a houseboat next year. The plan strikes me as an extreme reaction to housing costs in the District, but it also fits them. Two young Texas men who want to hold on to their mid-20s should live on a boat. Hanging off a pier in Southwest, their little floating place will represent the freedom that is theirs if they want it, and keep them close to the ground that provides employment and society. Some other landlubbers have frowned on their notion; not me. I say houseboat all the way.
But like Mr. Toad in The Wind In the Willows, neither friend is content to sit on a good impractical scheme. He must do something about it, and, by God, do it right away. So after telling me their plan, they took the Green Line to the waterfront and spent Sunday afternoon looking at boats. They were lucky enough to run into a couple who had just bought their boat. These kind people took my friends around the decks, showing them what is necessary and what is dispensible for running a good houseboat. The young men received so much education in so little time that they needed a break after that. They passed the next hours at Cantina Marina, gulping bottles of Shiner by the fistful.
At the same time that they were receiving their tour of a houseboat, I was about to receive my own sort of tour. At the laundromat up 11th Street SE from my house, a tiny room full of hand-lettered signs (“No Beer,” for instance), I prayed to my clothes to dry: If three quarters won’t do it, how about three more? Now? How about two after that? Two more? I can only give so much. The faithful can only give so much. Will you please hurry up please and get dry so I can join my friends at Cantina Marina? This was when the laundromat manager came in. His expression showed that I had offended someone in power, displeased the forces at work, or offered the wrong sacrifice.
He pointed to the dryer beside mine. “Next time,” he said, “Use that one. It’s the hottest one here.” Then he walked around the store, patting each dryer as if it were an old friend: “This one and this one are good. That one’s OK, sometimes. Never use this one. Something’s wrong with it.” With 15 years of experience, he was showing me how the place worked, and I absorbed these lessons with the same humility that my friends displayed as they learned about houseboats.
All of which calls to mind the words of Hung Tzu-ch’eng: “Straying from Enlightenment, a man finds a happy land to be a sea of suffering, as water is frozen into ice; but awakening to Enlightenment, he discovers a sea of suffering to be a happy land, as ice is melted into water.”