One morning last week I was in a terrible mood. Oh, it doesn’t matter why. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure I really remember. But it was only nine in the morning and already I’d boarded the commuter train to Grumpytown and was chugging full-steam ahead to Peevish Junction.
There are two ways that a day like this can go. Either I can wallow in my cantankerousness and stay inside my head all day, reliving whatever petty slight has chucked me on the jaw. (And to be honest, sometimes this is the path I choose.) Or else I can get out of that truculent mental space and back on a more normal track. Last week, I decided consciously to attempt the latter.
Over the years, I’ve found the most effective way to lift my mood in these situations is simply to do something kind for someone else. It can be something as simple as buying a gift for a loved one, doing an unexpected good turn for a neighbor, or going out of one’s way for a total stranger. I can't claim it's unadulterated altruism, but hey, I’m totally okay with having selfish motivations mixed up in doing something nice for someone. The other person still gets something good and unexpected and kind that they wouldn't have otherwise. And even if I don’t get my bad mood erased, at least I get to think about someone else other than myself for a change.
So there I was last week, trying to think of something to do that could benefit someone else. I did a little extra housework at home so that my other half wouldn’t have to. I called up a friend I know who doesn’t have a car and asked if there were anywhere he needed to go that morning. Then I sat down in front of the computer, logged onto my Facebook account, and a perfect opportunity dropped into my lap.
I thought I’d written about this long-past encounter at some point in my blog, but I can’t find a record of it. Years ago in college, there was a cruisy men’s room in the campus center. The library used to get a lot more traffic from men and boys looking for quick sex, but the campus center had a large restroom with a creaky door and a convoluted layout that was perfect for cruisers. Even better, next door to the restroom was the television room—which back in the early nineteen-eighties was only ever tuned to MTV. In those days, the network only played music videos. Many were the happy afternoons that I’d spend in that room watching Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the Thompson Twins and listening for the creak of the restroom door to tell me that a potential cock to suck had arrived.
There was one summer in which I was working in Williamsburg and living in an apartment with two other students. I didn’t like either of my roommates. It was the year in which another former roommate had spread false rumors that I’d raped him (which I've written about before, here and here), so I’d had a fucking miserable two semesters and spent most of that summer feeling friendless and alone. I spent a lot of solitary time in that MTV room, over those hot months.
One day another student strolled by the open doorway of the TV room and stared in at me. I recognized him from around campus. He was one of those guys known as a total jock, the sort of dark-haired, dark-eyed prep who strolled around campus perpetually wearing sweatpants and a well-worn rugby short with fraternity letters over the nipple. Not only was he a frat boy, but he was the president of his chapter. And he had a rockin’ porn stache that approached the magnificence of that worn by John Oates during his heyday. Considering that we Southern boys were all clean-shaven and baby-faced in those days and only had about three people in the entire undergraduate population who had grown any sort of facial hair, this guy was an exotic.
I stared back at him. He lingered in the doorway for a moment, then disappeared. I heard the creak of the door, and seconds later, I followed.
I met him in the toilets. He stood up and stroked his cock for me and checked me out over the top of the marble partition. I opened his stall door, got on my knees, and sucked his fat cock for him. He grunted in appreciation, and riffled his fingers through my hair. All I could think at the time was Damn, a frat president likes me being his cocksucker! So when the guy yanked my face off of his dick, tilted my head back, and asked if I wanted to take a drive with him, of course I said yes.
He took me out to his truck and drove me down Jamestown Road in the direction of the lake that lay at the back of the campus. Decades before, the drama department had put on a historical pageant for tourists every summer at an amphitheater by the lakeside. Goldie Hawn had been in it—Linda Lavin, too. The pageant was long-gone, but the amphitheater was still there, overgrown and disused. The guy stopped his truck, led me to one of the old dressing rooms, yanked down my pants, and bent me over. Then he used spit to lube up his cock and he shoved himself in me.
The fuck was hot. I had a lot of fucking in college and I remember this one better than just about any of the others. It wasn’t romantic, or particularly passionate, but in sheer animalistic sex it was tops. The frat boy grabbed my hips and let me fucking have it. There were dressing room mirrors on the floor that reflected our copulation twice, four times, eight times, dozens of times over. As I braced myself against an old dressing table and let my head hang while he banged me like I was a bitch in heat, I could see our images over and over, in every direction.
After he shot his load in me, he knelt down and helped me draw up my pants. Then he indicated I should follow him back to the truck, so he could drive me back to the campus center. He didn’t say a word to me on the drive back, but as we drove, he steered with his left hand and put his right on my knee, and held it there the entire time. I think it was this part of the encounter that made me remember it so vividly in the years after. I’d spent months feeling shunned and ignored and shunted to the margins by just about everyone, but here was a total (and handsome) stranger who not only found me suitable to fuck, but who made me feel human again simply by putting his hand on my leg.
I never saw him again. But I never forgot it.
Back to last week, and my bad mood. I turned on my computer and was looking through my college’s gay and lesbian alumni page, only to see the frat boy’s name there. He’d just joined the group. And I thought to myself, You know, one of the nicest things I could do today is to let this guy know he made a difference to me, one hot summer afternoon. It seemed as if the universe was wanting me to make that right, to settle that debt with thanks. So I did.
I wrote him and explained that we hadn’t been social in college, but that I’d been an admirer of his and that he’d given me one of the best afternoons of my life, and that even if he didn’t remember me, I owed him a great deal of thanks. I didn’t go into detail.
I was surprised when he wrote back. I’d expected the thanks to be another that went floating into a great unacknowledged void. I was a little surprised, though, when he instantly suggested that we’d perhaps met in the campus center restroom. I don’t think he recalled the incident at all, or me, when I described it to him in a follow-up note. But I was able to let him know that no matter what he thought about himself back in those college days, or no matter what had happened to him since, I remembered him with fondness and gratitude, and immeasurable affection.
God damn, he wrote back. You were worried I wouldn’t respond. But you made my day. He told me that I humbled him with how deeply our simple encounter affected me. Then he wondered how many people he and I—and everyone, really—affected without really ever knowing about it.
And you know, after that, my bad mood evaporated. How could it not?
I know so many people who never speak of their affection for someone; we should be telling them when they’re in our lives. We should cherish people and mark the moments of grace they provide with thanks and praise and gratitude. Instead, we let these important moments pass and vanish unremarked. Sometimes the universe drops opportunities in our path to rectify the situation months, years, or even decades later. You need to repay this debt, it tells us, and provides us the means and the happenstance to bring it to fruition.
We hang back and balk, though. Sometimes it’s from fear. Sometimes it’s from stupid pride. But our time on this earth is limited; we none of us have unlimited chances. Sometimes, without knowing, we have remarkably few left.
I don’t care what your mood is today. Tell someone—someone other than myself—what a tangible difference he or she has made in your life. Let someone from your past know how much he meant to you, and how glowingly you honor his memory. Apologize to the person you’ve forgiven and never let know; forgive the person who needs it. Reach out to someone who hasn’t heard from you in a long time, if ever.
Let people know they’ve made a difference.
Make your time here worthwhile.