I haven't really been reading the letters of Thomas Hardy. Linus quotes him in a Peanuts cartoon.
And I have the answer: we all know them. They are our friends and lovers, but familiarity has eroded the rush of awe we felt on first sight. A few farts, sniffles, and complaints about the guy at work, and they are no longer creatures of supernatural beauty. They're just plain Stan or Rick or David.
The fleeting glimpse of supreme beauty always happens when there's no way possible for you to ever meet. You're far from home, so you won't be passing that way again, there's not enough time to strike up a conversation, or the press of the crowd makes it impossible to reach him (try tracking a stranger across a crowded room).
On your death bed you'll remember these faces and physiques. You won't regret that you never met them, never became friends or lovers, maybe didn't even make eye contact. You'll be grateful that you were lucky enough to get a glimpse of heaven.
1. At Augustana, I was walking through the library. On a couch below a Spanish language encyclopedia, he had fallen asleep, legs splayed out on the floor in front of him. His shirt was unbuttoned an extra button, revealing a v of bare chest.
2. In Barcelona, I looked out my hotel room at the hotel across the street, where some athletes had a room. He was still wearing blue bikini briefs as he pushed the window open to greet the world.
4. We were driving through Rock Island on Christmas Day. It was unseasonably warm, in the 60s, and he was on the roof of his house, doing something with shingles, shirtless, pale, hardbodied.
5. At the airport in London, everyone gets off the plane and heads straight for the rest room, so they get crowded. I saw him next to me at the urinal, wearing a backpack, yellow shirt, buffed, intent on his business.
6. At a hotel in Indianapolis where I was staying while visiting my parents: he was eating breakfast with two other guys. Short, well-groomed, smiling. They were all wearing suits and talking about the project.
8. He was sitting on the Paris metro, wearing a grey coat, reading a book. I couldn't make out the title.
10. At Harvard University, he was walking briskly across the quad, carrying a cup of coffee, his breath smoky in the early morning cold.
11. He was at LAX, waiting for the same flight that I was, muscular in a grey t-shirt, big hands with a class ring. I prayed for us to be seated together or across the aisle from each other, but no.
13. I was at a small diner in Baltimore with just a counter. He was next to me, eating waffles and texting on his cell phone, wearing a cal poly tshirt. I tried to make eye contact, but no.
The full list, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.