Saturday, December 22, 2007

Secret Nice Guy™ Business

Nicky'n'Alex were two people I used to know way back when - in the early eighties, when I'd just finished my completely worthless first degree (it took me six years, with leaves of absence and repeated years, but I finally got there). They had been a Nitem for quite a while and it was generally assumed that they were going to stay a Nitem for life. Of the two I was closer to Alex than to Nicky.

Alex was a third generation Irish Aussie, Nicky a second generation Greek Aussie. They went well together, were very obviously in lerv, and though I'd once had designs on Alex myself I was more or less resigned to being her Nice Guy™ friend who didn't quite get what Nicky had that I didn't have but sort of hung around, willing to be a repository of confidences, in the vague hope that they'd stop being a Nitem. Then, after a suitably decent interval, I'd get to invite her out and try my chances myself. Bacause, in my Nice Guy™ way, I respected her personal autonomy too much to try to score at a time when she was feeling hurt and vulnerable. Nice Guys™ don't exploit their friends like that.

Nicky'n'Alex stopped being a Nitem in 1982. While on vacation from uni, Nicky took a three-month overseas trip - to Europe of course. When the two of them parted at the airport there was much sadness. Nicky told Alex how much he was going to miss her, she told him that she would miss him too, they hugged, promised to write each other regularly - a promise Nicky was to keep scrupulously - and finally we managed to force a crow bar between them and prised them apart so that Nicky could actually get away to catch his flight. He winged away, those of us who'd come to the airport hung around looking sheepish because we didn't quite know what how to prop up Alex's mood - nor indeed how much propping up was required.

Over the next two months, Nicky wrote regularly to Alex, as promised, with news of the sights he'd seen,the adventures he'd had, and wishing very much that Alex could be there to share it with him but of course one day, they would have the chance to go to Europe together and he would show her such fabulous things. Then he went to Athens, for the last part of his trip, an extended visit with his extended family in Greece - and his brains went South into his underpants. I got a call from Alex asking me if I could go over for a visit because she'd just had an upseeting letter from Nicky. She sounded like she had been crying. My Nice Guy™ moment had finally arrived.

The full story, though it was drawn out in the telling, was a short one - Nicky's letter had told her that he had met someone else and, much as he had struggled with his feelings, he couldn't help himself - the new woman he had met in Athens, Eleni, was the woman for him. From what Alex told me of the letter, it revealed a sentimental "romantic" side to Nicky that I'd never suspected before. We had coffee together, we went for a walk in the local park, keeping away from the lighted paths and staying in the shadows under the trees to avoid any chance that a passing stranger might gawk at her tears and I kept my hands stuffed in my pockets, walking close but not too close beside her, as a proper Nice Guy™ should. Then I accompanied her home, we had another coffee and she said "Gummo, I'm glad that at least you're not the kind of bastard Nicky turned out to be." and that was that - all my Nice Guy™ dreams scuttled in a single sentence.

As I said at the outset, the story's been fictionalised - name changes to protect the privacy of old friends with whom I've lost contact, and such. I also swapped the gender of my two main protagonists - Alex was actually a man, Nicky a woman.

Alex and I did take that walk in the park, and while we did, we talked about how he was going to deal with the news and Nicky's inevitable wish, in the letter that she had written that they could somehow find a way to remain friends. Once we'd sorted that one out - I can't remember the details of how - we had a bit of fun inventing imaginary misfortunes that would fall on Nicky from a great height if there was any such thing as poetic justice. In the secret darkness under the trees in the park, we indulged the misogynist that lurks at the heart of every Nice Guy™ with fantasies of Nicky married, up the duff, and abandoned, because the man of her dreams was only after permanent residency. But of course as we were both Nice Guys™, we couldn't really wish that on her, pleasing as the imagining was.

What happened between them next was inevitable - Alex became Nicky's Nice Guy™ and her source of consolation and advice when she had troubles with her Greek boyfriend. He was the one who got her through the lonely months of waiting for him to come to Australia. In a purely platonic, Nice Guy™ way, of course. She had hide enough to ask that, and he was mug enough to give it.

If you find that last sentence a touch misogynistic, I suggest you just swap the genders back to where they were at the beginning of the story and see if you like that any better.