Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kindness and Compassion Over Breakfast and a Pizza Hut Express

Following an early morning trip to Agape to hear a performance from the great Niki Harris, a wonderful soul, jazz and pop singer, who spent many years as Madonna's backup singer, starving, I wandered into a diner off Venice Boulevard between Mar Vista and Venice. Still high from Niki's rousing numbers and from spending a few minutes chatting with her and other friends, I didn't notice the sign on the door of Pepy's Galley. Only after I sat at the counter next to the cash register and ordered two scrambled eggs, sausage and hashbrowns, did I turn and see the greasy "Cash Only" piece of paper taped to the door that headed into the bowling alley, which shared space with Pepy's Galley. I informed the older, cordial man who was collecting money from the patrons that I needed to find an ATM machine. He patted my hand and shook his head. "No. No. You pay me next time you come." "Are you sure?" I asked, adding, "I think there's a money machine down the street." He smiled, and, with a hint of an indistinguishable accent, said, "You don't make me upset." The young Costa Rican waitress came back over to the counter. "Tell him that I am nice, but he better not make me mad." Smiling, the waitress playfully contradicted him by stating, "Pepy's killed so many people. Killed them with sweetness." I laughed. "So where are you from originally?" I asked Pepy. "Italy. South part. I've been in L.A. since I was 12. I'm 70, so you do the math."

An older man sat down beside me, and the waitress and Pepy both said, "Good morning, Lollipop." The slightly deaf Lollipop yelled back, "Good morning!" Lollipop looked at my food and said to the waitress, "Give me what he's having." Pepy smiled at me. "Your food good?" I nodded. "Very. Thanks." Lollipop pointed toward Pepy. "That's the nicest man in Los Angeles right there. He's got a lot of money, too. I'm 86, and I've known Pepy for a lot of those years." The waitress brought Lollipop's food and sat it down on the counter. She opened up the ketchup bottle and began pouring it over his eggs and hasbrowns. "Tell me when, Lollipop," she said. He waited until you could barely see the yellow of the eggs and the hashbrowns were unrecognizable, and then said, "That's good, Pretty One."

Once I'd finished eating, Pepy took my ticket and folded it up. Placing it under the corner of my plate, he said, "Here. Put this in your pocket." I extended my hand to him. "Thank you. I'm from Atlanta, and it's so nice to meet good people in L.A." He gripped my hand firmly, "Welcome to L.A. Pepy's place is now your home whenever you want to come."

On a hunt for the bathroom, I made my way into the bowling alley. Next to the Men's room was an ATM. I retrieved cash and returned to pay Pepy. "Oh, you make me mad. But I love you," he said. "Pepy's home is your home. Okay?" "I'll see you soon," I said, knowing that I would. Even though Pepy's Galley is 11 miles from where I live, distance can't keep me from my new home.

A block down the street from Pepy's Galley, in a small strip mall with five stores, I went to the final day of my weekend meditation workshop. Climbing the stairs to the nice spacious room above the Pizza Hut Express, which was next door to a Vietnamese nail salon and a Mexican Deli, I chuckled at the thought of Buddha meditating here. Visualizing Buddha rubbing his round belly as he finished up the chips and salsa, and then seeing him happily consume the last Veggie Lover's slice while getting a pedicure made me giddy. Of course the more I contemplated this, the more I realized that if Buddha were alive today, this is exactly where he'd be meditating, too. There's no better place to cultivate inner peace than in a busy area where most of the people are not at all connected. And surrounded by compassionate people and a wise teacher, cultivate is what I did.

To find such kindness and compassion in a diner situated in a corner of a bowling alley, and again on the second floor of a strip mall, I am grateful. All I had to do was stay open.

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