I stood in the lobby for ages, feeling like a spare part, waiting for her to arrive, tickets booked and paid for. The trailers had already started when she showed up. She looked like she was going to a premier or something, I felt very under dressed even though I was wearing new skinny jeans and fancy V neck tee-shirt that the salesman promised was all the rage. I was as nervous as a turkey at Christmas, so I made a joke about the traffic being murder which she didn't seem to get. By the time we had popcorn and drinks, the movie was started. Don't you hate that, the first few minutes set up the whole film.
The movie was good, but I had seen it before. She didn't try to grab me or anything, actually she hardly said a word through the whole thing, well it was a movie I guess. When the lights came up I suggested a beer in a trendy music club not far away so we could get to know each other better. Would you believe it cost a fiver to get in, each, on a Wednesday. She didn't even take her coat off. By the time I came back with the drinks her phone was suck to her ear, a flat mate apparently with some emergency or other, her cat I believe. Just like that she was gone leaving me sitting alone, thirty quid out of pocket on a movie I'd already seen, in the most uncomfortable jeans ever sown by the hand of man, with a drink I was never going to drink. Bloody typical.
One way or the other I was finishing my beer, along with a second, why the hell not. Two Heineken and a bucket of cola will not all fit in my bladder so before trudging home, alone as always, I decided a visit the loo was in order. Yet another massive mistake in a night of terrible decisions. The place stank to high heaven. The urinal trough was blocked with fag butts and half dissolved loo paper. It was full with strong smelling piss. One of the cubicle doors was missing, regardless of which a heavily tattooed biker was taking a dump. No door and not a damn given. Thankfully the other stall opened just in time, I barged in as soon as it was vacated only to be assaulted by a cloud of overpowering ass gas. Could this night get any worse? As I stood, peeing and holding my breath, I began admiring the hundreds of scribbles left by previous occupiers of this filthy space. Floating right in my eye line was a message, penned by some sadistic prophet, for this exact moment in time. "Love yourself, nobody else will." My life in a nutshell.
The next day started as always, far too early. The bus, too crowded and smelly, delivering me to a job I hate. Have you ever meet someone that actually wanted to be a telemarketer, I haven't and I'm one. When I took the job it was only while I figured out what I wanted to do in college. That was five years ago and I am still in this soul sucking hell hole. Five years and not even promoted to supervisor. Mind you I don't blame them for that. I have a habit of wearing my heart on my sleeve, and my annoyance in my voice, unfortunately. Tony is about the same age as me and has the cell, sorry, cubical next to mine. We've been lunch buddies since the first day I started here. Today we took our sandwiches outside to eat on the front steps of the building.
"How did the date go?" he asked between chomps of ham and cheese roll.
"She legged it as soon as the movie was over, didn't even finish her drink."
"Ah don't be, I should have expected it, shit like that is always happening to me. I am just never destined to find the one."
"Don't say that," he said after another bite. "The perfect girl might be waiting around the corner."
"Why's it rubbish?"
"Women don't want guys like me, they want Mr Flash, Mr Good time, not someone like me."
"You can't say that,"
"Why the hell not?"
"Because not all women are the same, at the very least they're not all as shallow and self-centered as you think they are."
"You could have fooled me," I said, feeling a little sneer creeping into my words. It was how I felt so why the hell should I hide it?
"Did you ever think you might be the problem, not them?" Tony asked his sandwich forgotten. He was getting angry and for no good reason.
"Hang on a minute, what the hell did I do?"
"Nothing , you did nothing," Tony said backing away from the argument. I wasn't having that.
"NO,no no, you started to say something, you should spit it out,"
"I don't want to get into this, I shouldn't have said anything. It's none of my business."
"I want to know what you were going to say, is that asking too much?"
"It's just you always expect so much and react so badly at every set back,"
"I do not,"
"Yes you do, Greg,"
"Fuck you," I said. I don't like being looked at too closely, my cracks were too jagged to withstand close inspection. When Tony exploded it took me by suprise.
"NO FUCK YOU, I've listened to your griping long enough. Everyone has shit days, everyone has disappointments, but we get on with things. We don't inflict our misery on everyone around us. Its no wonder women run a mile from you, who the hell wants to be around that kind of crap all the time. Relationships are meant to be fun, FUN! Try having some now and again." Tony stood up, glaring at me, his roll bunched in his fist, I actually thought he might hit me. As he walked away he threw his sandwich in a bin saying over his shoulder, "And you ruined my lunch."
I sat there for a long time feeling bad about what Tony had said, I was nothing like that. When I got back to my desk, a pink post-it was stuck on my computer screen.
"Sorry buddy, just having a bad day." Tony's chair was empty and remained so for the rest of the day. I worked through my list, saying the prepared lines of salesman gibberish without passion or care. What Tony said reverberated around my head again and again. No matter what way I looked at it, life is what makes a person happy or sad. Just because I smiled my biggest smile would not make Katie Perry appear in my bed. Mind you, that thought did make me smile a little bit. Actually what Tony had said proved he was wrong. Tony said I was miserable, which made me angry, resulting in my bad feeling. Stick that in your self-help pipe and smoke it, buddy, I thought as I heard my voice say, "Joining Group-Tricity Electric could cut your power bills by twenty five percent." The next thing I realised, I was talking to nobody. The person on the other end of the line had hung up and the phone was beeping into my ear. How did I miss that? Just as well it was nearly half four. Just an hour to go.
I tidied my desk for a bit, played snake on my phone and ran multiple colored highlighters through my caller list, speeding up the process for all involved. At five twenty nine my clock-in card was hovering over the machine waiting for the wonderful number thirty to arrive.
On the ride home I still couldn't get Tony's words out of my mind, knowing he thought I was miserable had upset me. I didn't what him or anyone thinking like that about me. Was I miserable? Sad sometimes, angry a lot of the time but miserable? There were no seats on the bus and I was standing with at least five more people when the driver pulled up at yet another stop. It had begun to rain and no one got off, only more people flooded the already over loaded coach. A little old woman with a shopping bag was trying to get on. I moved back a step and what came out of my mouth was an accident, some marketing Pavlovian response, "Hello."
She turned to look at me, "Do I know you?"
"But you just said Hello."
"Yes," I said not knowing how to explain that.
She smiled a lovely smile. "How very nice," she patted my arm and moved along the bus aisle, where she remained standing for three more stops.
Now there was two things running around inside my mind, all night in-fact, making sure I got very little sleep. That lady on the bus had made me happy, made me feel happy in a situation that would have normally driven me crazy. I disliked bus journeys, I hated standing on them, and shuffling old ladies normally made my blood boil because they jump in your way as soon as you're in a rush. The second thing was that Tony might not be as completely wrong as I had thought. I decided to try a little experiment when the opportunity arose. Take something bad and feel good about it.
The bus presented my opportunity sooner than I had expected. I rounded the corner as it was pulling away from the bus stop. I tried running and waving but it kept going. I felt my rage bubbling up inside and had to actually talk myself down.
"OK, that bus is gone. Getting annoyed at it won't bring it back. The next one will be along in twenty minutes and you will still be more or less on time for work, there is nothing you can do so just enjoy the wait." When I said talk, I was actually doing it out loud, not in my head. A woman passed me from behind looking back which a face that said, "Weirdo."
So I sat at the bus stop in the early morning sunshine, watching the birds flutter among the bushes. I watched the people rush by with steaming travel mugs and angry faces. I watched the cars inch along the road, everyone intently holding their wheels and going nowhere. When the bus turned up if felt like seconds had passed not minutes and I got on, happier than I could ever remember going to work before.
As the days passes I tried other things. I stood and gave people my seat on the bus, I let people on the lift before me, I held doors for people, I smiled, I said Hello to people in shops and supermarkets, I was nicer to tellers and they were much nicer to me, I made coffee for colleagues at work without being asked or expected, to customers I gave honest information about what was good or not about the service being offered, I asked if they wanted to talk to me or not before launching into a sales pitch and remarkably my sales figures went up. The biggest thing I learned was that even when someone refused my offered seat or did not want to hear about the benefits of changing power supplier I still felt better.
Just before lunch time today I went looking for Tony and found him finishing a call in his cubicle. I placed a ham and cheese roll on his desk along with a double chocolate muffin.
"Sorry I ruined your lunch," I said when he hung up the phone.
"I wanted to talk to you about that, I was having a bad day and I took it out on you, that wasn't fair."
"Fair or not Tony you were right about a lot of things, things that I'm sure a lot of people say behind my back but it takes a friend to say them to my face."
"I'm relieved you feel like that, I thought I might have broken us. Fancy eating this with me later,"
Tony said pointing at the muffin.
"That's a date, which reminds me, I have another one later."
"Your kidding with who?"
"Julie from accounts."
"Julie from our accounts? That Julie?"
"The one and only," I said with a beaming smile.
"So where are you taking her, not Transformers I hope."
I had to laugh at that. "No I've something else in mind."
What I actually had in mind was an early dinner in a cute little cafe on the banks of the river, which was going fantastic. Julie thought my slightly sarcastic wit was actually funny, now that the moodiness had been shined off of it. I have to say the world looked so different to me now and not just because I'm in the company of a fantastic, gorgeous lady. My days are flying by, full of tiny things I never saw before. I'm far from a reformed character but I like to think of myself as Greg mark two. After dinner I asked Julie if she fancied catching a gig in town, which she jumped at the idea. I knew just the place to take her.
This time the glass of wine was on the same side of the table as my bottle of Heineken. The middle of the table had several empties rubbing shoulders. As is natural, I had to excuse myself before long. I opened the door and the loo and it was just as bad as I remembered. The urinal had been unclogged but the door was still missing from the first cubicle. I tried the cubicle with a door and found it empty. I slipped inside and did what had to be done. There before my eyes was the quote which seemed to perfectly sum me up a few days ago. Reading it now, it seemed not quiet finished. I rummaged in my pockets and found a pen. A few minutes of scribbling later and I'd scored another victory for my new view of the world.
When I left the cubicle the message I'd left behind was one of hope to others which may walk in my foot steps. "Love yourself Or nobody else will," and of course the obligatory smiley face.