I’m a nice guy. Just ask the folks at work, or my neighbors, or the clerks at the stores. They’ll all tell you I’m a nice guy. Even my wife, in a pinch, tells me I’m a nice guy. She knew I was a nice guy the first time she saw me. That’s just the way I am. It’s not easy being a nice guy. It takes a lot of give-and-take. A lot of people think nice guys are wimps or fools, but it’s not like that. Nice guys choose to be nice. It’s hard to understand that, I guess. Why choose to be nice? It’s just how I want it.
It didn’t bother me much this morning when my wife summoned me to the front porch. I wasn’t really doing anything. Just shooting the breeze, you know, chewing the fat, with my neighbor Lonnie. Just doing the usual things all us nice guys do on a Saturday morning before we start our chores. And it didn’t bother me much to learn that she had volunteered me to replace the clown who couldn’t show up for her nephew’s birthday party this afternoon. It was okay with me since I had always considered myself an amateur virtuoso of magic tricks and balloon sculpting. I had even envisioned a special costume for such an occasion. It would be a scientific nerd look with baggy flannel pants, a white dress shirt and narrow tie, a pocket protector, and topping it all off with horn-rimmed glasses and my hair greased back with a cowlick. I have to admit I was a little disappointed later on when my wife came back from her shopping trip and showed me what she’d bought. She pulled out of her bag a flimsy jumpsuit with orange and blue polka dots, a huge frizzy-haired wig with rainbow-colored stripes, and a huge round rubber nose with the elastic band to keep it on. It’s adorable, she insisted. She had made a special trip to the store to buy it for me. I told her I would be more comfortable in my nerdy getup, but she insisted that the children would love the clown outfit she picked out and that’s what she wanted me to wear.
I finished off my other chores for the day and in the afternoon went into the house to get ready for the party. My wife had already gone ahead to help her sister get everything ready and I was supposed to walk down at three and surprise everyone. I put on the outfit my wife had gotten me and even put some of her rouge on my cheeks to complete the look. In the mirror, I looked silly for a grown man, but for my nephew’s birthday I will play the part. After all, it was an emergency that needed my help. My wife had told me that her sister had a slight, little tiff with the real clown this morning and the clown backed out at the last moment and I was needed to help her out of a terrible jam. I adjusted the red nose and wig and headed off to the party.
The party went off nicely. I made sure of that. I always like to make everything I do special. When I first got there, the children were all sitting quietly on the floor, watching television. There was some commercial on where a wife was telling her dim-witted husband what brand of paper towel was best. When the children saw me, they all jumped up in glee and cheered and shouted, and the party was on. I did my tricks for them and made familiar animals from balloons as I “worked the crowd” so to speak, which really livened up the party. During the cake and ice cream, I acted as an emcee and got the kids talking and joking over silly kid stuff. When my nephew opened his presents, I stood behind him and pantomimed excitement and astonishment with each and every gift so that all the kids were joyous and happy to see the gifts unwrapped.
It was awkward when my beautiful little daughter saw me in my costume. At first she was delighted to see a clown, and then she stared up at me for the longest time with that puzzled look on her face then asked “Daddy?” She told me I looked silly, so I sang a silly little tune and did a silly little dance for her and she giggled and went on her way.
I guess the day got irksome when Jake came home and went into the kitchen. Jake is my wife’s sister’s husband and quite foppish and, I think, full of himself. He is always immaculately groomed and seems to always be wearing gabardine slacks, tight knit sweaters, and newly polished shiny shoes. He has neatly trimmed blond hair, tanned even in winter, and always smells of cologne. I don’t know why I always find him sort of phony. I guess there was that one time a few years back when the street was flooded and all he did was pop his head out of his front door to see what all the neighbors were doing with the sandbags, and then ducked back into the house. Anyhow, he’d just gotten back from playing golf and wanted to wish his big boy, Jonathan, a big happy birthday before he had to go off and meet some business associates or what have you. He gave his wife a quick peck on her cheek, told her he’d be home late, and off he went.
I suppose being in my clown suit and all must have camouflaged me from the girls’ conversation that followed. You see, both my wife’s sister and my dearest wife immediately began to swoon over Jake’s whirlwind appearance. My wife’s sister boasted about how Jake was her Mr. Wonderful and that he was always her Mr. Wonderful from the day she first laid eyes on him. What hurt me was my wife agreeing and adding that he was such a hunk. When the two girls came back to their senses and noticed my presence, my dearest gave her usual exclamation of “Oh Brother!” and quickly changed the subject by asking me if I could be a dear and take the garbage out to the back.
So now I’m here in my clown suit sitting on the back stoop that is flanked by trashcans, recyclable bins full of bottles and papers, and a discarded baby carriage awaiting Goodwill. It is quiet and cool out here on the stoop and curiously enough the concrete step seems almost cushy. I have time to think a bit and go over the events of the day, which is always good to do, to work things out, that is. I’m happy the children had a good time, but I haven’t heard my dearest say she loved me for the longest time and I suppose I shouldn’t expect it now. I’m tired, I guess, it’s been a long day and I feel as though I’ve been pulling a heavy cart about aimlessly now for the longest time. What really gets me, though, is that I’ve never ever graduated from being just a nice guy to being Mr. Wonderful to my wife. And lord knows I’ve tried. I guess that is just the way it is.
Across the alley, Ned is in his backyard watering his garden with a hose. Ned is a nice guy too. He has a golden retriever, Clapper, that he has had for sometime now and who always follows Ned around most lovingly and complaisantly while Ned does his chores. Dogs are like that; they really like nice guys.
“What are you doing out there?” my dearest asks through the screen door.
“Oh, I’m just sitting a spell and getting some fresh air.”
“Well, come on in. I told Jane you’d help with the cleanup.”
“You know, I was thinking about getting a dog.”
“A dog?! You have plenty of other things to do than to take care of a dog. Now come on in and help us cleanup this mess.”
“Yes dear, I’ll help you with the mess.”