Jul 26th, 2006, 06:14 PM
GET THE MONKS CLOTHES
This story is titled:
GET THE MONKS CLOTHES
Dedicated to: John Sheck, who smiled slightly as I told him the premise of my story, looked slightly confused, and then agree'd to get drunk with me after work.
My flashlight danced off of jagged rocks as I craned my neck to see a few more inches beyond my feet; I was hoping to see what, exactly, was about five to ten meters below me and if I could ease myself down there. Water was splashing over from the small stream, my thigh was getting progressively wet. I felt the warm body of my friend behind me.
"Here, take the flashlight and see if we can get down there," I said, "I think this will save us time."
Lee Yongjun and myself had been traveling in the forest for the better half of an hour on a mission we had planned for the last month. We were going to steal from a Buddhist monastery. We had always wanted to dress up like monks for Holloween, or even on a rainy day, and being skinheads we were already bald and fit the right description. The problem was was that we did not know where we could get real monk clothes -- monk beeds, check; a hollowed out gourd to hit with a stick? Check, you can get those to practice your chanting... But the only place you can get the gray robes of a monk is, well, at a monastery.
"I don't see anything... Let's just go our usual route." I knew we should not deviate after we had traced the path through the hills to the monastery a few days prior. It was a rough path -- too much of that dharma and have not, want not bullshit got on their brains so they thought it was cool to live somewhere where we had to walk for a few miles over rocks and up the foot-hills. My clothes were now wet as we began walking. I had already decided that I would put on the monk's clothes immediately -- not only had I desired to wear some homemade clothes, but these Levi 501s were soaked.
We walked a few more minutes -- I looked at my watch, 2 AM. These guys would be getting up at four or five to meditate or chant or prostrate themselves in front of a statue in search of answers concerning suffering & penis size, why things have to die and why they didn't have enough money to go to college. They might complain a lot and see the world for a bad place, but they would never expect to wake up without clothes -- who steals from a monk? I smiled to myself and thought of Yongjun and I. We had done low things in our lives, but this was a new low -- stealing from a fucking aesthetic with a vow of poverty. I remembered the time that we spiked Jongmin's sister's drink so she passed out and we took turns with her, now that was pretty low (and even criminal) but I think that there is a certain poetry to stealing from a monk, far more than boffing a passed out chick.
A few twigs were breaking -- I was disappointed we weren't more silent, but it made no difference. Monks do not have pets and I doubt they could hear us a few hundred meters out, stepping on a few sticks. I fantasized we were sneaking up on a North Korean guardpost and about to kick off the reunification (or whatever it would be), but a bunch of 40 to 60 year old men chanting in the woods is less dramatic.
We chose this specific night so we could see the little temple under the moonlight; a very small pagoda stood next to a house made of paper where we knew 3 to 5 old monks lived, next to this rice paddy that they tended daily, chanted at, hoped at, wanted at, desired at, but secretly pretended they did not. The old fuckers just wake up and chant all day, every day, and now they are going to do it naked and I would be drinking and smoking dressed as a monk this 31 October -- I laughed to myself. There is no greater justice than for a man who has nothing to have what he has taken away, and for a man who has everything to receive more -- it is inscribed in the cosmos. I think these monks knew this, and somewhere deep down as they woke with their anteaters on their thighs, wanting a little warmth from the October morning, would have to freeze a bit longer.
If you are such a Buddhist, why even want clothes? I almost laughed aloud as we got closer and closer, it was too much to see the features of the pagoda outside their little temple and their fat, gold Buddha sitting, elevated on a platform in a little hut off from their Monk-house. They get up and praise a statue made of gold while hating the riches of the world.
One of these monks was a snorer -- I was relieved, to hear him stop snoring would be our signal to start running. I do not know why, precisely, we would run -- we were the ones with the telephones that call police officers, and they were the ones who had nothing but the clothes we were about to steal.
Yongjun turned and looked at me; we had killed our flashlights a while back and now he placed a single finger over his lips before he entered their house on his hands and knees. I had to cover my mouth to keep from laughing. Their temple smelt like the incense that was burning... I wish I knew the names of smells better. After a few moments a neat, small stack of gray robes plopped down beside me. A few moments later another and then another, then Yongjun looked out at me.
"Let's change into these... And leave them our clothes," Yongjun laughed.
"Hahaha yeah but let's get going..."
We started walking away and Yongjun tripped, stumbling forward slightly he dragged a foot that scraped loudly up against a rock. Suddenly the snoring stopped and we looked at each other motionless. A man cleared his throat and then we smiled at each other very wide, toothy grins -- we began walking by raising our feet up in high, comical, cartoonish tip-toes that made me think of Disney films.
Suddenly my laughing was interrupted by a sharp scream. Yongjun fell to the ground and began writhing. I backed away and started breathing heavy and I heard a rumbling coming from the monk's house.
"Snake, snake, snake!" Yongjun shouted and grabbed down at his foot as another sharp scream came through the air. I started breathing heavy and began muttering curses. What fucking idiot wears shorts out to the mountains in October? What kind of skinhead wears shorts... I felt almost bad that my thoughts were so superficial in a moment of terror, shouldn't I be thinking something more profound? Shouldn't I be struck with the meaning of life?
"What, what, what!" A monk yelled as they began pouring out of the house. The cat was out of the bag and I reached for my flashlight, dropping the clothes and shining it on my friend, and yelling snake. A brown snake sure enough was just slithering off towards the mountains behind us. A torrent of curse words began pouring out of my mouth as I stood staring at four naked monks with three pairs of their clothes scattered around me, all of them just as bald as me and just as concerned, looking on in shock.
In shame, I wanted to explain myself, but they began looking at Yongjun's bites and talking about treatment.
"Shouldn't we suck it out?"
"What herbs do we need?"
"Do we have a bandage?"
They paid no attention to me, one monk ran back to the hut to fetch whatever he would, I backed up slowly from the scene, my light shining on them. Yongjun was more calm, and none of the monks paid me any attention.
Minutes passed as I watched the orchestra unfold. Still, no questions, no looks; chattering amongst themselves about the wound one massaged the leg above the wound while another bandaged it tightly.
"We need to get him out of here," the oldest monk said.
"Yes, yes, let's get our clothes on and get out of here." One of the monks looked at me for a second as he took both stacks of clothes laying at my feet. I was dumbfounded and overcome for a few moments as I watched them dress and bring Yongjun to his feet. Yongjun rested an arm on each shoulder -- he was now just as silent as me, he had a very ungrateful and angry look on his face, slightly annoyed by pain but not enough to conceal his anger. He looked ready to explode as these monks carried him.
We walked over the rough hills in this bizarre formation: a monk in front holding the legs up around his waist, Yongjun with both his arms putting all his weight on the shoulders of two tall, healthy 40-something monks holding him up, as the oldest monk walked behind him carrying a small basket of herbs and a gourd of water. I walked a few paces behind the last monk, wanting to be invisible and to somehow fade into the mountains, become part of this nature rather than wait for what came next.
I walked silently looking at the ground, the monks became silent. Occasionally Yongjun would whince and they would ask him if he was okay. My life was adjusting itself into a weird perspective. Part of me wanted to admit my wrong, to accuse these monks of being the real wrong-doers by not selling their gray robes on every street corner or putting their temples so close to hospitals. Part of me wanted to re-evaluate where I stood and just why, on Earth, I was trying to steal from men with vows of poverty. They served the ideals of the sacred heart of Buddha Amida, and I served the high priorities of my liver & penis.
An hour passed before we made it to a small street. The monks did not ask if I had a phone but instinctively traveled down the road with the intent to find a taxi. I hoped we'd never find a taxi and that I could spend the rest of my days wandering this Earth with a silent and angry Yongjun being carried by three monks while I walk, head hung, brooding over the situation. I preferred to broad as an anonymous figure for as long as possible on this, before it would be published in the paper that WON JEONGSU and LEE YONGJUN were planning on stealing the clothes of monks living in an isolated temple when they were attacked by a noble serpent who protected these monks from crime much the same way as the Cobra extended his hood to protect him from rain.
Before I knew it I was in a brightly lit hospital looking at my boots. The monks had explained they found us hiking near their temple when he was bit, and omitted the details of us running off with their clothes. They explained it matter of factly and took great pains in the details; they touched Yongjun's shoulder, he was still burning with anger, comforting him, speaking kindly of him:
"He is a real soldier, not crying out except for when he was bit -- a silent warrior!"
"He is very brave!"
The head monk had a small smirk on his face. I looked up towards them and the old fellow looked back at me, his smirk was one of comedy and not of righteous vindication when he remarked:
"It is at least good to see boys in the wilderness hiking for pleasure at any hour of the night while their peers are smoking and drinking in clubs, looking for the pleasures of the world."
All of the monks nodded with eerily natural smiles.
I looked away suddenly and wanted to laugh and vomit at the same time. Yongjun even smirked at the monk's wit. It was nearing five AM on a friday and Yongjun's mother was notified and coming as fast as she could, in a few hours she would be gossiping to my mother. She knew who we were and knew that if we were out in the middle of the woods it would be for no good reason. By noon my mother would search my room for some kind of herb, asking other mothers if there is a new kind of drug you can grow in the mountains.
I looked back at Yongjun and we made eye contact; he shaked his head and we both knew that in roughly 12 hours we would be sitting in a bar, his foot bandaged and probably breaking his doctor's orders by drinking, both looking at each other this same way, dumbfounded.
We were 23, living with our mothers, and incapable of properly stealing a monk's robes, and being wittily insulted by fucking aesthetics in a hospital room. Over the years we may grow apart but I will never forget the ridiculousness and a new found respect I suddenly had for the monks in their mountain temples.
Honestly, I wanted to go back to that temple another night and burn it to the ground with the monks in it; I wanted to finally get those robes and spend this Halloween as a bald monk, and if I could I would see if we could get Jongmin's sister drunk again and take pictures of us fucking her in monk clothes.
I rubbed my bald head, stressed out. Suddenly a hand was on my own and I looked up to see a middle-aged monk with deep-set eyes, skinny as a skeleton looking at me with a surprised smile.
"You guys are pretty nuts trying to steal our clothes like that... I do not know why you want them but that was some crazy stuff..." He laughed for a moment and kept looking into my eyes. I managed a polite nod, not as amused as he. We were silent for a while.
"Well... I guess you expect me to say something Buddhist, but I am all tapped out. There is nothing to say to people who try to steal your clothes... The general premise is that our clothes are so lame that no one wants to steal them... We have nothing so we will never be victimized by thieves... But... I am just confused." He laughed to himself. "I would ask you but..."
"We wanted them for Holloween," I frankly remarked. He chuckled. I chuckled. Yongjun still looked bitter as three smiling monks stood around him chattering under the bright lights.
"Well... Live long and prosper." The monk tapped my shoulder, went over to the others and they talked for a bit. Soon they left and the doctor provided some sort of instructions to Yongjun.
"I'm leaving." I said. Yongjun nodded. I left. By now it was a rainy. I lit a cigarette. I walked slowly in a morning drizzle running my hand over random objects on the streets.
Life is like trying to steal a monk's clothes. Monks clothes are so simple, so gray and normal, something that once you have them you wear them once, enjoy them for an hour or two then want to change into something else, and forget about. But it is hard to get these clothes -- they don't sell monk clothes on the streets, you can't get them just anywhere, you can only get them from a monk, and when you do, a fucking snake bites you.
A monk was on his deathbed once, and he was asked, "What instructions do you leave for us?" The old man looked at them in the eye and said:
"Go to the door and touch the doorknob."
He then died.
It was at that point that I knew at a later date I would go by myself to that templte without the extra baggage and steal two pairs of their clothes once a year for the rest of my life so I could wear them around for a few glorious hours, touching people's doorknobs and smoking cigarettes, drinking liquor, and pissing on doorsteps.