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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 57




In one of our late night sessions I persuaded Koji to grant me a wish.  He would let me clean the kitchen on the following day.  There were surfaces that had been neglected.  The walls were sticky with an oily soot.  The windows had lost their transparency.  There were untended areas that called for organization.

I had tried to persuade Shuko that I could be spared from the all important morning path sweeping and weeding.

"We sweep the paths every day," I'd told him.

"Even in the spring the wind blows and leaves fall," he answered.

"Can't you just let me give the kitchen a thorough cleaning once?"

"The kitchen is cleaned three times a day," he said.

But as senior monk, all Koji had to do was to say the word and I could finally do the job I had been dying to do.  I used the argument with him that there was a big ceremony coming up and lots of guests would be there.  Like Shuko he didn't see the problem but he welcomed the company, as he was tenzo that day.

I heated water on the stove.  Koji couldn't understand why I wanted to do that.  He said I could just wipe the surfaces with a rag and cold water but I told him that hot water and soap would help cut the oils.

I started just below the beams that were about six feet up.  I got the windows, inside and out.  Koji thought it was interesting that I used newspaper.  He said that Norman also used newspaper to clean glass.  "It's 'cause it does a better job," I said but he didn't look like he believed it.

The cabinets were next, even the tops.  When I opened the cupboard I found the eggs sitting in cups, Maku's handiwork I guessed.  Carefully I placed these contents on the table and attacked the bare inside.  It was exhilarating to transfer the smudge to rags, paper and water.

"Why are you changing the water again," asked Koji.  He was so curious at my methods.

"Because it's getting black."

"You're doing a very good job David.  Why do you want to clean so much?"

"This is a true joy.  Joy - usually it's just an empty word, something we strive for and talk about."  I stuck my head inside the cabinet which was illuminated by the flashlight in my hand.

"Looking for something?"  It was Norman.

"Grime."  My voice echoed from inside.

"David is cleaning fanatically," said Koji.  "Was he like this in America?"

"David has a cleaning gene," said Norman.  "It helps to balance his generally sloppy appearance."  He went around the room checking my work and tsk-tsking.  "Centuries of layering of oil and soot gave this room a subtle patina, a finish with character - a finish that you have destroyed in a single morning."  He shook his head and walked out.