Memoirs from the foothills of Nepal to the streets of America.
Trade Secrets by J.P. Tamang
On the Oral Tradition
Once I acquired a taste for blowjobs they became the wheelhouse of my eight-year stint as a hustler. I gave my first one at the age of fourteen to my American high school boyfriend. Two years later I’d be deepthroating popsicles in the cafeteria, reveling in the fascination and disgust this garnered from girls and boys alike. Other hustlers I’d meet had opinions on how to give the best head. One used to say “the key is enjoying it.” Another claimed that the key was knowing when to gag. By the time I heard these speculations I already had my own style, but had I been told earlier in life I might’ve appreciated the pointers.
Throughout my childhood oral sex was mystified. My parents, a pious Buddhist couple that lived in the suburbs of Oregon, went to great lengths to keep sexuality a secret. Even masturbation was taboo; I remember believing that I could overcome bodily desire through the recitation of prayer. That all changed when, at the age of eleven, my parents sent me to live in a monastery on the border of Nepal and India. I thought I was headed into a utopic community of people who always followed the rules, but when hundreds of teenage boys gather under one roof it doesn’t matter the pretense, someone’s going to talk about getting off.
At first, my Nepali, Hindi, and Tibetan were too elementary to follow the boyish banter of the other monks’ locker room talk. I’d see them make lewd gestures behind the disciplinarian’s back and I’d turn a cheek. For a while, I could compartmentalize the “bad” monks from the “good” ones. One night, after I accidentally ate some moldy chapati, I climbed up to the temple roof to get some air. I could see down into the courtyard outside the schoolhouse, where several monks a few years older than I were huddled in the darkness, giggling. From my spot on the roof I could hear them clearly. I watched one of them gesture to his crotch as if he were holding someone’s head there. Then he stroked an invisible cock in the air, levitating around his face. He licked it and gobbled up the drippings. Scandalized, I rushed down the temple stairs and latched myself shut in my room.
Waves of nausea passed over me as I pieced together what I’d seen. I understood the functional components of penetrative vaginal sex, the mechanics of erection, ejaculation, and conception, but I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to put a dick in their mouth. Unless it ... felt good? The cum, did one swallow it? Why? What did it taste like? I pondered these questions as my bowels churned. I walked out to the kitchens to grab a bucket to puke in, some boiled water, a few washcloths. Shut in my room, alone and sick, I tried to block out the images of lips splotchy with semen. I tried to focus on mantras, on texts, on my stomach, on sleeping, but I kept tossing, turning, fixed on the idea of a dick in the mouth. I began sweating, my head rested on the edge of the mattress as I drooled into my vomit bucket. I’d tossed my robes in the corner and they’d landed coiled at the foot of my shrine. In a moment, I thought to fold them, but when I sat up, a sharp pain pinned me back down to the mattress. All I could do was watch the light shapes from a butter lamp undulate on the walls, anything to keep my mind off the obscenities attempting to consume me. My eyelids grew heavier until they finally sealed and the fever drew me into sleep.
I dreamt of the other monks standing around me, speaking in unintelligible aphorisms, laughing, disrobing. I was between them all, unable to move, frozen in a contorted shape on the ground. I felt an unseen hand on me, caressing my temples and ribs. A light began to grow from a pinpoint to a glowing orb in my pelvis. I awoke suddenly and violently, aspirated. It was still dark outside. The moonlight cast figures into the wisps of mist. A draft had ushered in the cold through my window. I noticed that my briefs felt wet. I peered down and saw patchy marks on them. I wondered if I had wet the bed, but they didn’t seem damp enough. Thinking I must have sweated through them, I slipped them off. Then I noticed it, between the folds of the fabric.
I lit a candle on my bedstand to examine it. At that point in my life, I had only seen cum twice before. Both times, I had been woken up in the night by the thought of someone I knew. Both times I’d ripped the drawers from my body in disgust; I’d never taken the time to examine their contents. That night I peered into my underwear for the first time, balled in my hands like a toad. I read the stains like tea leaves, mapping their pearlescent curves. I clutched the briefs to my chest. I put my finger in them, drawing up a solitary, oozy strand. I drew it to my mouth and touched my lips. The smell from the vomit found me again and my body crumpled in on itself. I threw the briefs under my bed and grabbed a washcloth from my stand. I began vigorously wiping my crotch, legs, and lips. As I wiped, I wept. I felt as though I’d broken a promise I never made. I began to say a prayer, despondent, muttering, until I curled up on the floor and slept.
When I awoke, my head was in Karma’s lap. He was the abbot’s personal cook, seventeen, with a tea colored complexion and cheekbones that held up a pair of small, green eyes. We shared a room, but he’d spent most of the night helping the main kitchen prepare for a festival. He was feeding me yogurt from an earthen pot with his fingers. He hummed something, a song I almost recognized. “You must get up,” he said. “You will be late.” He placed a hand on my forehead and said a medicine prayer. As he did I felt the pit of my stomach. I was completely empty. Karma wiped my face with a handkerchief, stood me up and helped me put on my robes. I drank water as he handed me my notebook, my pencils, and said “Go, quickly.” We walked through the corridor and up a set of stairs to a small wooden door, latched shut. Outside, it was chilly. Karma wrapped a shawl around his head, covering his arms. “Go,” he said, gesturing. I ran down a set of stone steps, scaling the height of the temple.
The young monks were already belting prayers to the wisdom gods in the courtyard outside the schoolhouse. They’d lined up facing the horizon and a statue of a deer and a wheel. I went to my spot among their ranks. It is said that deer were present at the Buddha’s first teaching and were the first in a lineage to receive his oral transmission. No written biography of the Buddha appeared until nearly 500 years after his death. By then, he’d become a collective memory of the miraculous, a speculation, passed down through stories and flashbacks.
As I stood in the courtyard, looking at the deer statue and listening to the monks around me, I tried to forget my nocturnal emission. I remembered my underwear underneath the bed, stained and hidden. I prayed that Karma would not feel compelled to tidy our room. I scratched my shaved head, worrying. By the time the sun rose over the hills I found it blinding. I wrapped my robes over my head. I didn’t realize I wasn’t saying my prayers until the disciplinarian, pacing through the rows, gave me a light tap on the ass with his cane. By that point I was lost, so I mumbled nonsensical syllables in the air, to look like I was saying something. The other kids were half awake anyway.