The other day, I was at the Campus Recreation Center (the gym), and this cute-but-pimply, grinning, physically strong, confident, and presumably-straight freshman comes up to me and asks for a spot. So I spot him on the declined bench press, and of course, his shirt comes up a little bit, exposing his firm tummy and happy trail. I can't help but notice his exposed flesh, though I make a point of hiding the fact that I'm even looking.

That in itself is not so strange, although freshman college students are rarely confident enough at the gym to as much as look at other people, much less talk to them. (And then again, what the hell do I know? I still haven't totally grasped the rules of engagement for interacting with American college males).

But the conversation which followed came directly out of left field. I'm done spotting him, and usually, that's that. You're supposed to grunt a "Thanks" at each other, and then getting the hell away from each other as fast as possible, because spotting someone generally involves a severe temporary transgression of their personal space, (sometimes even sticking your nuts JUST above their forehead, just BARELY avoiding teabagging, an activity in which str8boys are none-too-eager to partake, at least not as the passive participant). Not only do American boys not like to touch each other in any way, they don't even like to get close -- spatially or otherwise.

Of course, these are slight exaggerations on my part. I'm describing a large portion of my own past experiences, but certainly not all of them. I have a lot of male friends who aren't uncomfortable with intimacy, so there are plenty of exceptions, indeed. But the stereotype of the American male is based on a real paradigm of awkwardness that permeates masculinity in American culture.

So back to my story: I finish spotting this kid and he just looks at me and keeps grinning. Very cute. Now wait. I know what you're thinking. But you're wrong. He's NOT gay. Not that the word "gay" has any reliable meaning anyway. But even if it did, he wouldn't be it. You'll just have to trust my gaydar on that one, OK? I can just tell. (Well, in America I can, anyway -- Europe has other rules).

He goes on to start asking me personal questions, mostly relating to my body and workout regimen. (I'm very muscular). Then, he tells me how nice my body is -- as if he were informing me that he is a Criminology major or something -- and returns to his workout! Basically, he acted out about as much of the first few minutes of a gay porn film as he could without taking off his clothes.

I don't get it.

I started off planning to write about a figment of old memory that came back to me today morning, but it soon got out of hand, and stumbled into a full-fledged rambling on what remains of my memories of Bhutan.

This, to the memory of a land that is much more a part of me than I'll ever realise.

It's strange how old memories are triggered by environmental stimuli. Like this morning, when I got off the bus to work, the smell of diesel fumes and smoke, and the light rain and cloudy sky together conspired to take me back, quite a long way, to Bhutan. An incident from my childhood there, that I seem to still have in my memory. It's not a moving or shocking or even particularly significant remembrance, just a picture that came back to me all of a sudden, crystal clear.

The day was similar, it was more like in the evening, with similar conditions. It was colder, though, and the rain felt more biting on the skin. I think it was my second year or so in Bhutan, in a place called Dremthse. It was an out-and-out primitive village - no electricity(i swear i'm not making this up), no real roads, and no vehicles save a rare sighting of a supplies-laden truck which would bring a noisy congregation of children and adults flocking to the village square whenever it came - winding up the torturous mountain dirt-trail - once every month. This day, the truck had come, and the village bore a look of festivities, with people bustling all around the steaming vehicle and children staring at the brute machine with wide-eyed admiration. The people there were a simple lot - living off the land, slogging most of the day in the farms and orchards, and tobogganing down the lush slopes or carving little fiery-eyed dragons from wood in their leisure. The truck, gleaming red and orange and brown in the setting sun, rain steaming off the hot surface - and producing seemingly endless and magical supplies of rice and corn and sugary chewing gum from its bowels to fill the two shops in the village - was always a bewitching sight there, especially to the kids.

The cold was clogging the fuel in the tanks, and they couldn't start the truck. It was a common thing, according to the exasperated driver. The usual solution was to light a fire(!) right next to the fuel tank, and wait for the heat to thaw into the sluggish fuel inside. Hairy as it is, the crowd always considered this the most exciting part of the whole 'truck-in-town(sic)' experience. Besides, the people there always made it a point to gather around a fire, if one was available.

Fires were valuable resources there, much like public telephones or Coke machines elsewhere. I remember making miniature fires in a tin can filled with charcoal and fire-wood. These cans were perforated, so the air could enter from the sides, and stoke the gloomy embers. These fire-cans were to be swung around in the wind for hours, till all the wood caught fire and burned down to nothing but glowing embers, and then taken indoors, or to the courtyard, where people would huddle around it, warming their palms and sharing an old yarn or two.

So these kids were crowding around the fire, at the fuel tank of the truck. One of them must have gotten too close to the fire. Or the fuel must have leaked out, already warmed and ready to flow. I wasn't anywhere near, but suddenly someone was screaming - it sounded very faint, as from a long distance, barely audible against the thunder rumbling in the distant hills. There was a lot of confusion, as these things go, and I ran across to the truck, to find someone rolling a child around on the ground, his clothes ablaze. The flames were put out soon, but he'd sustained some burns, and his Gho was in tatters.

The Gho is like a cloak of sorts, only it is worn raised high at the waist and fastened with a cloth belt, and looks much like a Scottish kilt when worn. In full 'formal' attire, there are also some kind of wrist bands, called Lageys, worn over the sleeve. The front of the Gho folds into a large and comfortable pouch, which can be used to store anything from cracked walnuts - we kids used to carry walnut pieces to class, cracked on the courtyard floor with heavy stones covered on one side with soft green moss, and pick on the delicious nut inside using pins stolen from Mother's cupboard, whenever the teacher looked away - to scrap books and strange and beautiful flowers or leaves discovered on many a lazy stroll into the forested hillside and kept aside with unencumbered wonder and curiosity(how i miss that kid..). I had two, if I remember correctly, one slightly battered, the other ship-shape.

The rescuers brought the kid down to the shop, near which I lived. Urgent summons were sent to the HA, the Health Assistant. I am not aware of the reasons behind the nomenclature, but this HA person was supposed to be the general "Medicine Man" of the village, curing maladies with his small white tablets and weird potions. My memory of the HA is one of a smart and prim young man, who talked very briskly and smiled brightly if you asked him anything. Later, he figured in village-talk for a while, when he ran away with the Headmaster's daughter, a pretty little thing with large, liquid eyes and a sweet voice. So anyway, the HA asked for the child to be brought to the hospital. And people were looking around for a spare Gho for him. I don't remember who, Mother or Dad, someone took out my old one, and gave it to them. The child was wrapped around in it, and carried off to the hospital, to be tended to. To cut things short, the boy had a speedy recovery, and I never saw my Gho again.

And that was how it came about that I lost my beloved Gho, the one in which I slid down grassy slopes, screaming, on wooden roof-planks stolen from our neighbour's cattle-shed and polished on grass till they shone like knife-blades, and pulled down heavily laden tree branches in hillside orange orchards to taste the season's first fruit, and picked ripe strawberries for Mother - who'd make sweet jam from them - in summer when whole hills would be coloured red from the berries, and best of all, the one in which me, as a scraggly ten year old growing up in a huge mountainous land surrounded on all sides by fatherly hills and pine trees and sky, took to heart the stories of dragons and gods, and one summer day, swirled round and round in the sun, beating a makeshift drum, mimicking the soaring masked dancers in the monastery, cymbals crashing and horns blaring in my mind, going on till I dropped down spent on the soft grass, and then lay there smelling kind summer smells and freshly cut grass, as the sun shone pink and warm through my palm, slowly drifting away to sweet slumber, filled with unknowing gratitude, and satisfaction.

Postscript: I got a new Gho the next school-year, when I entered high school, at a different place, an almost-town entirely unlike Dremthse. I still miss everything about that place.

She came back. Technically, she came back last night, but it's not like I was going to update the daylog to reflect that.

She didn't tell me where she went, and I was alright with that. Can't pry too much into someone's life. Especially if you have to share your headspace with them.

I did write some poetry. And I talked with my girl. I love her so much. That may have spurred Her return, as well. I had my subject back. I had my heart.

I spent some time thinking, too. About my life. My mind is a mansion. Well furnished, well stocked. But lonely.

Hundreds of seats, but no one to sup with. Hundreds of channels, but no one to veg out with. Hundreds of bedrooms, but no one to play the under the sheets game with.

Maybe I'll find someone.

"So, you come here often?!"

"Very funny!" Osiris yelled to his friend Jim as the two of them continued to plunge through the brisk morning air.

"I figured I'd try some humor for a while!" Jim said as the wind tussled up his air and flared his huge nostrils. "It sure beats screaming!"

"The screaming was very cathartic, but yeah, you have a point!" Osiris replied as he looked down. The multi-colored farm fields below were growing larger, like a monumental, warm-hued checkerboard of death.

"What do you think the actual odds are for two skydivers such as ourselves, in the same jump, to both have malfunctioning parachutes -- and the parachutes are made from two different manufacturers?!" Jim asked.

"Pretty high!" Osiris said. "You forgot to mention that we both also had back up parachutes that failed!"

"Somebody could get rich betting on that in Vegas!" Jim exclaimed.

"D'ya think somebody was trying to kill us?!" Osiris asked as they zoomed toward a flock of geese. As they passed it they scattered about like a hunter had shot at them. Their plucky yelling at the two hapless skydivers for almost running into them quickly faded out of earshot.

"That would certainly make sense, dude!" Jim said. "But who'd wanna kill us?! Well...there is Melvin. We did that Dutch oven thing to him last week!"

"It's possible!" Osiris said. "He did have that shifty look about him!"

"This is so weird!" Jim said, looking down. "The way the ground's rushing towards us. It feels like my balls are in my throat! D'ya think those fields below are soft enough to give us a chance?!"

"Doubtful!" Osiris said. "Do you realize how fast we're probably falling by now?! Dude, we are sooo going to splat!"

Then he made a splatting noise with his tongue and cheeks to illustrate his point.

"It'll be messy I guess!" Jim replied. "D'ya think it'll hurt?!"

"They say most people who fall off buildings and stuff, like, die of a heart attack before they hit the ground, y'know! Like, uhh, they get so scared from hitting the ground they die before they do it!"

"Maybe there's something to that! I mean, this is intense! My ticker's racin'! I don't know how much more it can take!"

"I hear ya!" Osiris agreed. "Hey, I see some people down there! I hope none of them are kids. This should be traumatizing to see!"

"We'll probably bounce!" Jim said. "I've heard that if you hit hard enough, you bounce, maybe several times!"

"Really!?" Osiris said, his voice cracking as if he were a teenager again. The ground was so close he could make more detail, like the probable gender of the half dozen people walking about. It wouldn't be long.

"I guess this is as good of a time as any to tell you that I slept with your wife last year!" Jim said. "It was after that Christmas party!"

"WHAT?!" Osiris yelled. "Aw, man! That slut! Oh well. I have a confession to make, too. I was the mastermind behind that prank on your car two years ago!"

"Oh, with the duct tape, rotten eggs, and fart spray?!" Jim said. "That was you, huh?! You rotten dirty bastard! I never got the smell totally out of it!"

Osiris laughed. Then Jim laughed, too. The ground was rapidly approaching.

"I also videotaped us having sex and uploaded it to the internet!" Jim said. He was going to hit near where a fat blonde woman was standing.

"WHAT?!" Osiris yelled. "You motherf--!"

Jim was indeed right about the bouncing.

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