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Nice Guys Finish First
2007-11-22 04:49
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I'm a nice guy. Ask anyone who knows me. It's true. I'm the kind of guy who'll hold the door of a store open for a woman with a stroller, even if I'm just passing by, with no intention of going into the place myself. It's a reflex, not even something I think about. I'm pathological about helping tourists with directions--I have to force myself not to ask it they need any help. When I see a guy with a fat wallet in his back pocket, I discreetly mention to him that the wallet is practically an invitation for a pick-pocket.

I've been consumed with being nice since I was a kid, because I come from a family of nice guys. The first time I became aware of this was in high school. I thought my friend Phil Provost's older brother, who was two years older than us, was cooler than cool. One day a friend of mine, some fink, I can't remember who, reported back to me that Phil's brother complained about me, "All he ever says about people is, 'Is he nice?, Are they nice?'" I felt humiliated. As if I was so shallow, so desperate for approval, that being nice was the ultimate characteristic a person could have.

The problem I've had with being nice is separating my true nice guy self from the one that is put-on. What I mean by that is that from a young age, I bought into the fantasy that if I'm nice enough to people, I will get my needs met. It's a classic passive-aggressive stance--the futile attempt to get from the outside world what you can only do for yourself. So I would be extra nice, extra good, and when it wasn't reciprocated, I would then allow myself to fly into a rage. It didn't matter if I directed that rage at someone or, more often, at myself. I was being nice only to treated nicely in return.

Now that I'm on my way to being grown, I've come to recognize the difference between my genuine niceness and the kind that is a set-up. When I'm nice because it makes me feel good, no more, no less than that, then I'm being myself. When I'm being nice to get something back, I get in trouble. When I held the door open for the woman with the stroller yesterday, I did it without thinking, just as, without thinking, I immediately focused on her response. She didn't say "Thank you." But instead of being angry, unappreciated, snubbed, I was just happy that I did something nice that I wanted to do.

I got out of work early yesterday and decided to go to the movies. I saw a mid-afternoon matinee of "Dan in Real Life." I'm generally not keen on chick flicks though I've had my moments. In high school, I remember going to see "Roxanne" (not really a chick flick but a light romantic comedy) by myself at the Ziegfield. I sat next to a strikingly beautiful woman and gawked at her as I fell for the charming story on-screen. When the movie was over, I started up a conversation with this woman, who must have been in her mid-twenties. We walked uptown about twenty blocks together--she stopped to buy cigarettes at one point and offered to buy me a pack, assuming that I smoked (I didn't). She worked in production for MTV, said maybe she could used me for a job, and gave me her number. I remember meeting up with my father and his friends for dinner thinking I was a big shot. I never called her.

When I broke up with college girlfriend and was at the height of my suffering, my angst, I actually convinced a friend of mine to go see "Sleepless in Seattle" with me. Now, I was passionate about movies at the time, and took my opinons very seriously. Normally, I would never go see such a movie, but in my dramatic state of mascochism, I just had to suffer through a weepy. (The movie was awful, but strangely satisfying at the time, even if my friend would never forgive me for dragging him into such a mess.)

I had no such reasons to see "Dan in Real Life." Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche, two favorites, they were enough. There were about 30 people in theater. I counted six men, including myself--a silver-haired gentleman on a date with his wife; a teenager, and another guy in his twenties, also on dates; a young black kid, the MAC, wearing an oversized NBA varisty jacket, sitting with six girls, must have been 12 or 13-years old; and a big, burly guy around my age, with a beard and a clean bald head.

Estrogen filled the room during the commercials and coming attractions, all of which featured soft-strumming guitar soundtracks. Then there was "Dan in Real Life," (which had a precious, quasi Wes Anderson soundtrack) a movie about a man without any balls who is alternately bossed around by self-satisfied and superior women, from his preciocious daughters to his mother, who punishes him after acting-out at the family dinner table by making him do the dishes. There are no real characters in the movie, just two-demensional character-types, and so a fine cast, including Dianne Weist, John Mahoney, and even an aimable Dane Cook, is wasted. The movie talks about life being messy, but there is nothing surprising or real about anything that transpires--in fact, it is a strange (and very white), fantasy of family-life.

I kept waiting for Dan to grow a pair and stand-up for himself, like the Seth Rogan character did at the end of "Knocked Up," when he stands up to his girlfriend, and, later, a doctor, and then his girlfriend's sister. But it doesn't happen. Dan just keeps taking a beating. And in the end, he has to realize what a shmuck he's been. Oh, man, it was enough to drive me nuts.

The basic story is that Dan, a widower, with three girls, has not been able to meet a woman since his wife died four years ealier. He's a nice guy, who tries to do the right thing, and it's not getting him anywhere. While at a family reunion he has a chance meeting with Binocche at a used bookstore. They have coffee together and he falls for her. Trouble is, she's in a relationship. Even worse, she's going out with Dane Cook, Dan's younger, playboy brother.

Dan takes beating after beating, watching his stud muffin brother with the love of his life. When it comes time for the family talent show--and there are a string of unbelievable activities the entire family enjoys, from a boys vs girls crossword puzzle competition (guess who wins?), touch football game, aerobics--Cook goes last and sings "Let My Love Open the Door." The trouble is, he's terribly nervous. (Cook is appealing enough, but he falls flat in this scene. I just didn't buy him as someone so overhwhelmed with nerves that he could not perform--he is nothing if not a natural ham.) So Dan gets out his guitar and helps his brother out. "He hasn't played since she died," gasps one of the relatives (BANG, right in the kisser).

You can imagine how the scene unfolds. As Cook stumbles his way through the song trying to look awkward, Dan becomes increasingly vigorous and passionate. They are both singing for Binoche. It's sappy and predictable but you never can underestimate the emotional pull of pop music. Unfortunately, the director, who has no feel for physical comedy or how to set up a scene (he botches a dance sequence in a bar, and the aerobics scene with too many edits and no clear idea of choreography), blows it. There is one two-shot of Cook and Carell singing, that immediately brought to mind that wonderful scene from "Nashville" where Keith Carridine is singing "I'm Easy," and there are about three or four woman in the audience who believe that he is singing to them. But he is really singing to Lily Tomlin, the one woman who turns him down. When Altman cuts to Tomlin, the camera moves in on her slowly and it's just a beautifully realized moment.

They could have directly ripped off that scene in "Dan in Real Life" and it would have worked, even if it was copied. But they didn't. And still, as Dan begins to sing with conviction, after repressing his feelings for what seems like forever, I had tears rolling down the side of my face. I shit you not. Even as I was aware that the director was botching the whole thing up, Carell got to me. (I've cried a lot more easily at movies, even TV shows this year than ever before, which probably has something to do with the fact that my dad died earlier this year.)

Funny, how those things work, huh?

By the end of the movie, I had practically grown a vagina and was happy to get back to the real world. It was unseasonably balmy in New York, and the streets were already crowded with the holiday traffic. I decided to go to Fairway, which is like hitting Grand Central Station during rush hour. The day before Thanksgiving, no less. As I approached the store, an old woman, dressed nicely in a winter coat, and using a walker, was in front of me. The pedestrain traffic was logjammed, as a man with a stroller, coming from the opposite direction, tried to move passed us. As he did, a little Asian boy scooted in front of the old woman and just passed the man with the stroller. The man had to stop short. He rolled his eyes, as he balanced a bag of groceries on the stoller, as he moved passed me. I also had to stop short and I almost fell into the old lady. I touched her gently on the back to catch my balance and immediately apologized. A reflex. Being extra nice.

"What are you sorry for?" she said matter-of-factly. "You didn't do anything wrong."

Come Back, Andy

The Yankees have Mo and Jorge back, and are working on the Alex Rodriguez contract. We'd all love to see Andy Pettitte return as well. Steve Lombardi has a plan of action for Yankee fans as far as Pettite is concerned. Check it out.

In the meantime, here's wishing you and yours a safe and happy (and satiating) bird day.

Comments
2007-11-22 06:40:21
1.   Chyll Will
You've got a way with words, kid. Funny, I saw Roxanne with my girl in the theatre and came out feeling all warm-and-fuzzy inside. Certain movies have a really strong effect on me (I collapsed in an uncontrollable fit of tears in front of her again after watching Boyz In The Hood) and I like it. That's entertainment. Good stuff gets inside you and builds you or effs you up.

Keep being a nice guy and you'll inherit the world. That's all I have to say. Peace (but not yet) >;)

2007-11-22 06:44:26
2.   mehmattski
A great story to start Thanksgiving! Thanks, Alex.

That last part reminded me of something that was noted on Canyon of Heroes back in spring, 2006. There's an entirely different culture in Japan, such that Hideki Matsui feels obligated to apologize to his fans for getting hurt (which was obviously not his fault), but on the Tokyo subway, accidental touchings are not met with the same apology. It's just accepted as something that's gonna happen in crowds.

Ah, reciprocal altruism: tricking folks into believing that people are basically good since 6000 BC.

2007-11-22 07:06:08
3.   jaffe
I too come from a family of nice guys, in fact, ultra nice guys. Sometimes, it was difficult to live up to how nice they are other times as you say it is just natural. I have pretty much lived my life as a nice guy and would not change it for the world. I like that people love me not from any insecurity -- it's just being a nice guy.
2007-11-22 07:50:04
4.   williamnyy23
Is anyone else shocked that Hunter was able to get $18mn? That's Torii Hunter, who has an OPS+ of 104 for his career. What makes it even more shocking is that the Angels were the team that signed him, basically repeating the same mistake they made last year by signing Matthews for $10mn. Combined, both Hunter and Matthews will be making more than Arod, which I think indicates that the Angels very well could have been a team capable and willing to approach Boras' $30-35mn price tag. Clearly, I think the Angels would be much better off with Arod and Mr. X in the lineup than Matthews and Hunter.

Happy Thanksgiving

2007-11-22 08:38:38
5.   wsporter
My Grandfather, my Father and my Son, each one of them, was or is a "nice guy" We all share a love of the Yankees no matter what; win loose or draw we have always known that being a Yankees fan could not be beat. It always gave us something to share and something that brought us together even in the hardest of times and it still does. I'm always thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving to one all whether you're truly a "nice guy", simply desire to be one or haven't found out about that yet.

2007-11-22 08:41:19
6.   Rich Lederer
That was a "nice" story, Alex. Happy Thanksgiving!
2007-11-22 09:03:35
7.   JeremyM
Good stuff, Alex--I always get ticked off when people don't thank me for holding a door open, or give me a wave when I let them through on the road. This kind of gives me a new way to look at it. Anyway, I'm going to share this piece with my wife, as I think it will apply to her. First Banter stuff she'll ever read!
2007-11-22 09:12:59
8.   51cq24
walking past fairway is the worst. so many people, and the workers just make it so much harder by standing in everyone's way even when they aren't doing anything. i tend to try to weave in and out of traffic but sometimes you have to realize you can't. the people who push their way through those situations are worse than the ones who just stop right in front of you or drift into you as they look at something across the street. but what bugs me the most is that when you're in these situations where everyone is slowly passing through a small corridor, the smokers don't think twice about blowing smoke in everyone's face. there are kids, old people, pregnant women. smokers seem to just not think that the smoke they exhale is actually affecting other people, even outside. especially on narrow sidewalks.
2007-11-22 09:40:59
9.   Alex Belth
It's a jungle out there. Even though there are unwritten rules of ediquette in NYC pedestrain life that doesn't mean people don't also ignore it on the reg. Stay to the right is right! Don't walk three-in-a-row down the block. Don't have a conversation SMACK DAB in the middle of the block. Don't block the subway doors. You know, the social contract of good will.

A lady cut me off in line at Fairway. I said, "I think you cut me in line." And she goes, in a real fed-up voice, "Well, if that's what you think." And she moved behind me. And that was the end of it. I was prepared if she was going to get into it but I didn't incite her either. Now my father would have jumped all over her, "That's EXACTLY what I think," he would have said raising his voice. The gloves were thrown down and he'd been ready to duke it out with this pain in the ass lady. I don't have the same kind of anger in me so I can let it go without the need to explode on a situation. But I can still enjoy thinking of how my dad would react in a loving way.

I left Fairway with two heavy ass bags of treats I spoiled myself with--a bottle of Fairway olive oil (even though I already have four bottles of olive oil at home), cans of San Marzano tomatoes, a four-pack of pretentious soda (Boiland's ginger ale, which is slammin'), California apricots, a bagette.

I walked to 79th street to catch the 1 train uptown. It was shortly after 5:00 in the evening. Getting dark even though it's unseasonably warm. When I reach the station, floods of people are coming up from the ground. The entrance is narrow--good for one row going up, one row going down, single-file, you know.

But now it was filled with people coming up on both sides, with even more people still waiting at the bottom of the steps still waiting to come up. I said, "Screw this, I'm not going to fight with this." And just waited at the top for the people to come out. But you know what? After about 30 seconds, I lost my patience and decided to brave the masses. And so I did, I moved down the stairs, as it was my given right. And I encountered nothing but dumbasses who couldn't believe that I expected by right to have the right of way. At one point, I reached a bumbling kid who was in my way and I said, sotto voice, "Watch out now, son." I heard his friend laugh. When I got to the bottom of the stairs I had to snake around the crowd and the booth in order to reach the turnstiles.

As far as getting pissed when people don't say "thank you" when you hold the door for them, well I'm with you on that. I struggle with it most of the time, to be honest. I'm brass enough to just say "Your welcome" to most people. And I know that's me being a dick. But what can you do? Sometimes old habits die hard.

2007-11-22 10:04:29
10.   weeping for brunnhilde
Happy Thanksgiving, Alex, and everyone at BB!

"I struggle with it most of the time, to be honest. I'm brass enough to just say "Your welcome" to most people. And I know that's me being a dick. But what can you do? Sometimes old habits die hard."

I do the same thing. It makes me indignant that people mistake me for a doorman. It's not my job, I'm being civil! And even if it were my job, you still say, "Thank you!" you classless schlub!

I'm really impressed about your picking up such a babe in high school, Alex. Smooth.

Once, the day after I returned from living in Berlin for six months, I struck up a conversation with my waitress at a cafe on Macdougal St. (I think it was). She was so charming, so easy to talk to, so attractive.

My plan was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge as a kind of homecoming ritual and wanted very much to ask her what time she got off and would she come with me. I was feeling pretty empowered after my odyssey in Berlin (I was squatting there) and really meant to ask her.

But in the end, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I couldn't get the voice out of my head that said it would have been too presumptuous, too smarmy, too typical. A breech of etiquette.

She was so sweet, though, and a great conversationalist. The kind of person it'd be great to walk from Macdougal St. across the Brooklyn Bridge with. I remember talking about culture shock with her, as it was my first trip overseas.

What if...? :)

2007-11-22 10:29:28
11.   bobtaco
I just went to see 'I'm Not There," the new Todd Haynes Dylan Biopic fantasy film last night. I really enjoyed it.

Cate Blanchett is amazing. David Cross does a great Allen Ginsburg.

Any of the big Banter music and film buffs see it yet?

2007-11-22 10:33:30
12.   SF Yanks
Ugh, the old, not getting a "Thank you" when holding the door open for someone routine. I hate that. How hard is it to say "Thank you"? "Thank you", "I'm sorry", and "Your welcome" are so much a part of my vocabulary that I say it even when it's not warranted; however, that's not necessarily a good thing. I wouldn't be caught dead not saying thank you if someone held a door open for me. I'll never understand why people just can't say it. And I'm a big believer in saying "Your welcome" when they don't say "thank you" just to be an ass.

Or in other words, I agree with it all Alex.

2007-11-22 10:41:37
13.   joe in boston
Beautiful writing Alex, what a treat on Thanksgiving day - a new post on BB !

As I enter my late 40s, I realize that I'm basically a nice guy too. The world, as I age, is NOT as nice as I remember it....of course, I'm north of Boston - and a Yankee fan, not safely "cocooned" in the Upstate NY of my youth ....

I recently walked out of gymnastics (where my 2 and 4 year old basically tear the place apart) and held the door open for 4 young moms, their kids, and an elderly woman (obviously a grandmother) .... only one said "thank you" - yes, of course it was the grandmother. Strangly enough, I was very sad about that and let it bother me.

Oh well, happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks for your great reading/ posting/ and writing !

2007-11-22 10:55:24
14.   ms october
Great post. Happy Thanksgiving all. And here's to all the "nice" people in the world. Thank you (it really is just that easy).
2007-11-22 12:25:08
15.   Jeb
I hate it when I'm driving in traffic and let someone cut over in front of me and don't get my "thank you wave"...

Happy Thanksgiving Banterers. May we all wear pinstripes to hide our overeating today!

Did anyone see the Babe Ruth statue that popped out of the float in the parade today?

2007-11-22 13:24:32
16.   BklynBmr
9 Had to laugh. I first learned the 'You're welcome' when I was knee-high to my Mom, being tugged around the throughfares of Flatbush. And she delivered it loud. I do it to this day. Even the nice guy that I am...

Happy Thanksgiving wishes to all, and let's go J-E-T-S (for the Jints sake, that is).

2007-11-22 15:27:31
17.   OldYanksFan
"The Yankees signed C.J. Henry to a minor league deal after their No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft asked for and was granted his release by the Phillies. He was dealt to Philly in 2006 as part of the Bobby Abreu deal."

My kind of trade.
Happy Thanksgiving!

2007-11-22 15:28:49
18.   OldYanksFan
"Cashman acknowledged the 28-year-old Duncan was no longer in the hospital but wouldn't shed any additional light on the reason he was hospitalized, the severity of the problem or the long-range diagnosis.

The Yankees asked Duncan's family not to comment publicly on the matter."

This can't be a very good sign.

2007-11-22 20:40:37
19.   Peter
I met up with a friend last night after she had just finished some pre-Thanksgiving shopping at Fairway. She said people were actually hitting each other. I can't even imagine that sort of insanity...
2007-11-23 06:19:46
20.   nemecizer
Alex, great story. I know what you mean about etiquette in NYC. It's something that you just learn. I'd add "crossing the street slowly while on your cell phone" as another no-no, along with walking three-abrest on the sidewalk.

As I prepare to move from New York City for northern Virginia this weekend (new job) I reflect upon a quote that I read from P. J. O'Rourke, which sums up my feelings as a life-long New Yorker now leaving the city: "I'd rather be a junkie in a New York City jail than King, Queen, or Jack of all the Europeans".

I'll still have my Yankees tickets and come up often, but I am really going to miss the City. At least I have the banter to read every day.

Anyone want to buy an apartment on Bleecker Street?

2007-11-23 06:59:52
21.   wsporter
20 Nemecizer, Welcome to our little cultural backwater. The only 24 hour resteraunts are McDonald's, there is exactly one place where you can get a reasonable facsimile of decent deli, there's a height restriction on buildings so you have to go to the mountains for a decent view and just try living here without a car. But on the good side, the traffic, smog and heat will seem very much like home.

Welcome aboard!

2007-11-23 07:29:59
22.   Raf
20 I'd like to think I'm a nice guy too. Sometimes I don't get the "please" "thank you" or "you're welcome," response but it doesn't really bother me. I am admittedly more indifferent than most.

Having said that, I noticed that people are often in "a zone" and are unaware of their surroundings; they don't realize that people are holding the door for them. I'm sure if you make eye contact with them while "being nice," I'm sure you'll get an appreciative response.

2007-11-23 07:38:04
23.   ny2ca2dc
Great writing Alex, always a treat.

21 You found a decent deli? WHERE?!

2007-11-23 10:48:25
24.   wsporter
23 Try the Celebrity Deli at Lohman's Plaza just off Route 50 between Falls Church and Fairfax. Their brisket is amazing and they make a decent corned beef. It's about a 20 minute drive from the Roosevelt Bridge. It ain't the Stage Door but then again what is?

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