nudity and sex
"I am leaving. The Sangha has no place for me, and I don't intend to camp under torrential rains." Dave briskly told Armand, a few days later. Building proper accommodations, no matter how rudimentary, was taking longer than expected, and the monks could not host the novice Surfer Monk -- who confessed to having left another Sangha farther South, where the Rains Season lasted even longer, when mould started growing on his feet.
Nor shall they host me, Armand concluded, at his colleague's announcement, glad to be able to pay for the house on the lake, indefinitely.
"Come stay with me, Brother Dave!" Armand mouthed, from within a thick, confusing haze of lust and romantic expectations that blinded him. Longing for another relationship that would make him forget Carlo, and too eager to please ever evading Dave, Armand believed to be thus giving them a chance. Becoming roommates, their friendship should deepen, and expand its limits, and meanings --for it had, with Carlo, and in the isolation of the forest, he hoped it also would, with Dave.
Without formally accepting Armand's offer, ever, Dave was instantly throwing a list of urgent practical measures to face the Rains Season. After inquiring around, they found a native who, having a pile of unused wooden planks, willingly sold them at Armand's generous offer.
In silent agreement -- Dave being very strong and skilled with tools, while Armand held the know-how -- they formed a team that worked magically smooth. Without any discussions, tasks were naturally divided according to their own talents, while any cooperation was a happy occasion for harmonizing and leveling their efforts, so that they progressed efficiently. Always implying in more sweat and sore muscles from one, and more concerns, calculations and sleepless nights from the other, together they built a reinforced roof, properly inclined towards the lake to drain the rain. Firm, windowless walls followed, to close a corner of the floating platform. They were invaded by a sense of great accomplishment at every step they concluded, and the physical work bonded them way stronger than the spiritual practice ever had. In less than a week, walls facing three directions -- the fourth was left open to be sheltered by curtains, that would be open whenever possible to welcome the sun and try to combat the mould --, two bedrooms of humble proportions had been erected. They called these -- that, in their bare simplicity, did resemble monastic cells --, their 'private monastery'.
Armand counted the roll films he had already used, photographing the plants and flowers in the nearby grove, wondering when -- and if -- he would ever have them developed. To see their outcome, or to renew the stock, he would have to go to Bangkok someday -- and the perspective did not thrill him. Maybe he would become a monk after all, and the rolls he now stored in a protective plastic bag might be forgotten or trashed when he finally, and definitely, robed. Maybe he should send them to Paris, to Monsieur de Montbelle, as a farewell gift -- and in an impulse, he wrote his father's Parisian address and labeled the bag before storing it.
He had enough rolls to go through the Rains Season and, most important, to document the undergoing transformation of the house on the lake. A register for posterity, was what Armand kept telling himself -- but in the back of his mind, he kept thinking of Carlo, and how he wished to have bought that camera and have it on the Île du Blanchomme already, where he could have photographed his Italian ex-roommate. He owned but a single self-portrait by Carlo, now safely stored in Paris, and olny a couple of Polaroids, made by a colleague at the École, kept inside a book he no longer remembered which, to remind him of the beautiful Roman profile of his lost love.
This time, though, he would not miss the opportunity of photographing his new roommate and newfound love, the Super Surfer Monk.
"Smile!" he said, before snapping the first picture of Dave, feeling goose bumps as the other man's rough beauty, his chiseled profile enhanced by the frame of the visor, was supposedly captured in a click. Armand quickly readjusted the focus, when Dave turned to face him, and it was through the lens that he watched rage petrify his friend's face who, letting a roar -- that sent in flight a pair of birds that had built a nest on the awnings of their rooms --, leaped across the bridge towards Armand.
"What the fuck are you doing?!" He yelled.
The bridge trembled when Dave landed at Armand's side, at once colliding with him like a well trained quarterback would. Trying to snatch the camera from Armand's hand, who had instinctively lowered the expensive object to protect it from the collision, Dave instead hit Armand in the face. The punch was strong enough to make the smaller man swirl on his feet, and lose balance. He was about to tumble overboard into the lake when Dave pulled him -- not so much to keep Armand from hitting the water, but to snatch the camera from his hand.
"Fucking give me that!" The bigger man cried, at that same moment taking possession of the equipment with a firm grip.
"Non! What are you doing?" Armand whined, when he saw Dave was about to throw the camera into the lake. "What is wrong with you? Arrêt!" He had been screaming in French, and the command in a foreign idiom seemed to make Dave hesitate for a moment, and finally detain him.
Dave let the camera fall to the floor. With a metallic bang, it kicked on the wooden planks, rolling away. Making the whole bridge shake, Dave dropped noisily onto his knees, a short and dangerous distance from where Armand had fallen, coiling.
Armand's legs trembled uncontrollably. He observed how his hands shook while he checked his face -- still hot and stinging, the cheek reddened from the blow --, for any more signs of blood, other than what he felt filling his mouth.
"I'm sorry, man." Dave said, placing a sweaty hand on Armand's shoulder, who actually shook it off, dragging his body away. "I don't like being in pictures." He hissed.
"You don't like it?" Armand retorted, incredulous. His voice sounded groggy. The blood made a thick paste in his mouth, while he tried to check with his tongue for any broken tooth. Cautiously, he glanced at the capsized camera, sitting next to a column, many feet away. Like himself, its exterior looked intact. The lens had not broken. But was it functioning still? The matter now was not how expensive it had been. Had it been damaged, Armand doubted he would find someone to fix it, even in Bangkok. He wanted to crawl towards it, but suddenly aware of the novice monk's menacing strength, Armand was afraid at Dave's next violent reaction. What if he tried to retrieve the camera? How would the man try to stop him, this time? "But why?"
"I fucked it up, man!" Dave cried. Aggressiveness giving way to sadness, his jaw relaxed as tears welled up in his eyes. "I fucked up my life, that's why!"
Seeing the other man's aggressive posture start to loosen, though his swollen muscles -- which Armand had gladly admired during their labor -- had acquired a menacing quality that was, from then on, impossible to dissociate from their sculptural aspect, Armand relaxed too. He decided to sit closer to the novice monk who, despite a certain feverish glow in his blue eyes, that indicated he was not quite lucid and at peace yet, embarked on a story murmured at a low voice that, aimed at justifying his impulse of violence, complemented and clarified his testimony at breakfast, just a few days ago.
The money not being that good, and having never settled with the many oddities of the lumberjack's community, nor ever finding a proper, fixed work post, after many months of trying to fit in, loosing his wages in gambling and drinking and with prostitutes, Dave had decided to venture in another direction. With little money left, he boarded a bus headed to California. He was convinced that he would become an actor, having been convinced that he could become an actor. Before embarking, he had phoned that one film crew member, who had not only given him Kerouac's book -- with his home telephone inscribed on the first page --, but also waved with the possibility of inserting Dave in the movies industry, that he called 'the entertainment industry', to be more specific -- or perhaps more generic? Hosting him in California for a modest fee and some personal favors, the guy -- who had taken Dave's virginity back at the farm -- did just as promised. A few days only after his arrival in Los Angeles, Dave was filming already.
"With Jack Wrangler!" Dave stated proudly, a smile -- that still held a sinister quality to it -- contorting his mouth. "It was my first scene, and I was with The Man, already!"
Armand tried to recall all B or independent directors from the American movies he had ever watched, at the Cinématèque Française, and even some lesser known actor thus named -- and he blushed when he finally understood Dave was speaking of a whole other kind of movie. Armand had been only twice to porn theaters in Paris, and he could not claim to have watched the movies, for they were more a bait to gather the crowd who actually wanted only to find sexual release in the audience. Armand recalled the ambient of abundant, anonymous, affectionless sex sessions in the dark, to access his own guilt, trying to empathize with Dave's.
Oscillating between pity and perplexity, Armand listened to Dave's confession, as it oscillated too, between pride and shame.
No longer a newcomer, but still bearing his ways in the porn industry, he had quickly fallen from a promising act and a prodigy to making just enough money to survive, shooting less scenes each month as he became less of a novelty. Though hung and more handsome than most actors, he had proven exceedingly histrionic -- and worse, unworthy of trust. Substituting him soon proved easier than waiting for him, who was never punctual, and often quarreled, and twice abandoned the set. He was also considered too dry for the money shots, since he never spared his semen in his other professional encounters -- for he was kept busier and earned much more in prostituting himself on the boulevards.
To bear the doubts and torments of his new, unwanted life, he soon was doing drugs -- and next selling them, as another means of making money. In his first year in town, he'd been to jail several times, but luckily, nearly got killed just once. When he almost died from overdoses, having been saved just because a bunch of guys had dragged and deposited him in front of a hospital, he finally quit everything to come to Thailand, a little after having been kicked out by his host, who had concluded he was more trouble than fun. Why Thailand, Dave never clarified.
"I've never been happier than here, you know." David confessed, not without losing the inward, overcast look his eyes had kept while he recollected, seemingly blind to his present moment.
Was here Thailand in general, or the Sangha, or the house on the lake?, Armand asked himself.
"Never happier than as a monk." Dave complemented. "Because I know I cannot go back."
"To the US?" Armand asked shyly, still feeling defensive, his voice thinner than usual, despite the thick paste of blood circulating in his mouth, that he dare not spit out.
"Yeah, also." Dave glanced towards Armand, without really seeing him. "But I cannot go back to normal life. You see, my movies -- they are all out there. I met this guy, once, who immediately recognized me, from a scene where a played a cowboy who is tied down by three Indians and..." Dave nodded gravely, at what seemed unpleasant recollections. "He had only watched it, and yet thought he knew me. He thought I was that guy from the screen, and that he really, really knew me, though he'd seen only the worst of me. I had to drink and drug and drag myself into that scene, you know, brother. And do you think I was paid well for taking three..." Dave spit far into the lake, when Armand had just decided to swallow the blood. "Shit man, that guy made me feel like crap, when he wanted to buy me so cheap. He offered so little, that night in Long Beach, that I..."
For a moment, Armand observed Dave tensing again, the muscles of the Surfer Monk readying for the violence his repugnant memories seemed to inspire him, the already impressive bulk bulging aggressively, as his irritation and outrage grew. But the shrill cry of a bird -- maybe one of those who left the nest at Dave's roar --, coming from the shores of the lake, seemed to awaken the novice monk, and bring him back to Armand's inoffensive company.
"But that is not me. You know me better, don't you, brother?" He asked, with a force not yet destitute of threat, that allowed no room for a confronting answer. For he did not want an answer from Armand, not even for his next questions. "Will you forgive me?" he asked, and "Will you still have me here on our private monastery?" he next said. But what he really meant was that there was nothing to forgive, and no other chance for Armand but to house Dave for as long as he wanted to stay -- unless, of course, Armand would himself leave first.
It was irreversible. Like Dave had stated himself, after all the heavy work done in preparation for the Rains Season, the house on the lake had become their private monastery, and not just Armand's. He could not send Dave away, and in fact, strongly believed -- or was led to believe -- there was no reason to do so.
The Surfer Monk had been valiant in confessing a past he hated with all his might, and another part of which he was ashamed of. Yet, no matter how painful or sinful, they lent force for Dave's sincere conversion to monasticism, leading Armand to admire his brother in the practice even more. His love grew with the novice monk's emotional confession. Having understood a bit more of his modest, miserable background and troubled upbringing, Armand started looking at Dave with new eyes, turning the simpleton of a cowboy into a spiritual hero.
Having seen Dave denude his soul, Armand shouldn't have been ashamed when, on a hot morning, the novice took all his clothes off to bathe in the nude. They hadn't really discussed the matter, but both tacitly agreed on leaving the Sangha and practicing on their own -- and when they disrobed, too, the moment they left the forest groove, was to never go back.
Armand regretted that it seemed much easier for Dave to undress from his secular clothes, and remain naked even after he had finished washing himself in the lake, to then swim and sun bathe. Armand wanted to think it was his concern for the locals, whose modesty would never accept nudity, that made him shudder at the vision of his nude friend. Though a mighty, glorious vision it was, for him alone to appreciate! Armand thought it improbable that the owner would request the house back based on moral grounds, but Dave's nudity would certainly shock and drive the locals away, for yet another reason. He had already realized they never came close to the haunted lake -- except on full moon nights, for the offerings laid at the drowned boy's memorial --, making those placid waters practically private while standing in the openness of Nature.
It was that insincere argument, though, that he tried with Dave, who did not fall for it.
"I see you blushing, brother, I see you lower your eyes." Dave smiled when Armand again blushed and lowered his eyes, like he had just said, while being disarmed in his argumentation. "Don't blame it on the locals. It's all the Puritan's shit for me, and the Catholic's for you, that shames nudity, when it is no more than natural. To all of mankind, no exceptions made. Or do you think pastors and priests shit and shower in their robes?" Dave laughed out loud, beckoning Armand. "Come on, undress yourself, and get in the water with me. Come, brother!"
They had been taking refuge in the haunted grove, during the hottest hours of the afternoon -- and there, they were certain to find no other living person. Still, Armand opposed to the idea of such forced intimacy, for he heard in each of Dave's invitations the voice of a cheesy actor, trying to recite the script, and miserably failing to sound natural.
Truth is -- a porn actor he had been, and still was, utterly conscious of the physical attraction he wielded on Armand. Yet, Dave tried to convince his friend with another original, insincere argument, to counter Armand's own, but which did not sound as bad.
"I've lived through a Rains Season, brother Armand, and you still haven't. Mould will grow and multiply on everything around you... The walls, the books, the candles, the food... It will grow even around your nostrils, for breathing the humid air day after day. And on your fingernails, and making in between your toes turn a greenish blue... It's despairing, believe me! And we will need all the sun and warmth we can get now, as a reserve of health for the months that lie ahead. Please believe me, brother, and burn or bury that shame, along with your underwear. Come sun bathe in the nude with me."
Armand knew feeling shame not to be the problem, but controlling his lust, in front of Dave, who now insisted that they meditate without any clothes on, too.
Despite all the fantasies inspired by Dave's past performances, as a cowboy raped by Indians or a prisoner having to service the guards, and having renewed, daily chances to check the novice ex-monk's sizeable talents, that had made him instantly famous on the sidewalks of L.A., if not in the 'entertainment industry', in the couple of weeks proceeding the Rains Season's arrival nothing between Armand and his colleague in the practice ever happened -- nothing that could be called erotic, other than that nudity that soon lost all its eroticism, with the continued meditation sessions.
Though Armand's goal in coming to Thailand had been becoming a monk, thus leading a pious life, following the Buddha's path to see himself free of suffering -- and at some point, for his heartfelt discipline and sincere commitment seemed to entitle him to, even attain enlightenment -- he was now confronted with his own hypocrisy. Trying to forget Raymond and Carlo, he saw himself now infatuated for yet another handsome, masculine man -- supposedly, his companion on the Buddha's path. Not that they weren't on it anymore, but theirs was rather different from the life and practice of a monastery.
Dave's suggestion of meditating in the nude, though apparently no more than a plot from a porn movie to quicken sensual fantasies and lead into sex, had indeed turned their nakedness into something less of a fantasy, less sexually appealing, less driving. If any of them saw their organs inflate during a meditation, the engorged meat standing up as a proud reminder of the mundane desires they were trying to overcome, it would simply, naturally deflate during their long sitting sessions of concentrating on their breathing. The mounting tension of unconfessed feelings and desires, that Armand had experienced before with his former lovers -- who had never actually been it --, gradually dissolved. It was indeed a victory, that of not being dominated by lust or craving, nor feel the need to act to satisfy those maddening impulses -- but Armand was not quite sure about his newly found sanctity, when before him was seated a newly found love.
That's what occupied his mind -- until they arrived.