Nice Guys Finish Last
Nice Guys Finish Last
Jason A. Feingold
The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air. It was also, Jim noted, enough to dilute the gas if the pilot light on the ancient stove went out in the middle of the night. Seeing as how the window had no bars, he had to weigh the relative merits of getting a good night’s sleep in the stifling apartment, suffocating, or possibly being murdered in his sleep. After considering the alternatives, he left the window open.
Jim’s efficiency apartment was small, even by New York standards, and he shared about half the space with the appliances. It was, however, what he could afford after Laura had thrown him out. She was the one who made the real money. Losing his meager salary had not affected her standard of living one iota. Losing hers, however, had tossed him from the heaven that was Manhattan into the pit of despair that was Long Island City, three stops and under the Hudson on the N train to the real city.
Perversely, it was money that had precipitated his departure from the Upper East Side and his marriage—or, more exactly, the fact that he didn’t make enough of it. Laura had said he wasn’t contributing enough and, worse, he wasn’t even trying to contribute more. He’d been a lowly administrative assistant in the same job for the seven years of their marriage and the three years before that, and he hadn’t been trying to get anything better. In the meantime, Laura had been shooting up the corporate ladder at Morgan Stanley, doing things with money and spreadsheets Jim barely understood.
He couldn’t deny her accusation. He completely lacked ambition. He didn’t understand why it had suddenly become an issue. He’d lacked ambition when they met, and he’d lacked it when they married. It was the thing she said she’d loved about him the most—that he had no killer instinct, unlike everyone around her. He was calm. He was free of ulterior motives.
She was the one who had changed. Her accumulation of status had been accompanied by a directly proportional rise in hostility. She began to seek out conflict, and he did his very best to avoid it. He became the very picture of acquiescence.
Laura had come to hate him for it. Jim realized too late that if he had fought back, just once, they’d still be together.
Thursday evening found him in a bar. He didn’t used to go to bars. One Friday, a few months into his exile, though, he’d had an idea that he’d stop for a beer on his way home. After doing that for a couple of weeks, he wondered if he’d enjoy it on Thursdays. He did. What the hell. Thursday was close enough to the weekend, and no real work got done on Fridays anyway.
There was an increasing amount of effort not to try it on Wednesdays too.
The crowd at the bar was too thick, so Jim was sitting by himself at a table for two, nursing his third beer as an alternative to gulping it and staring at the television. There was a Yankees game on, and he suspected he was the only one watching it. He didn’t like baseball, but it was the most interesting thing going on.
His eyes were drawn to the motion of a woman seating herself a few tables down with some kind of green drink. He was sure the name of it must have ended with tini. He looked up to her face and their eyes met. Her gaze was intent. Jim dropped his eyes down to his beer and, after a few moments, looked back up at the TV. When he stole a glance back at her, she was still looking at him, so he picked up his phone and toyed with it.
The next thing he knew, there was a hand on the back of the chair across the table from him.
“Is this seat taken?” the woman asked, her green drink in her other hand. Close up, Jim could see that she was on the chubby side, but she had a very pretty face. He could tell by her clothes that she was a professional. She was probably stopping for a drink with friends who hadn’t shown up yet.
“Um, no,” Jim said. “You can take the chair.”
“That’s very generous of you,” she said, sitting in it.
“I thought you just needed the chair for your friends or something,” Jim said lamely.
“Nope. Just me,” she said. “I’m Janet.”
“Uh, hi, Janet.”
“And you are?”
“You seem like a nice guy, Jim. Are you a nice guy?”
“Yeah,” he said as if admitting to something shameful.
“I like nice guys,” Janet said.
Jim said nothing.
“Tell me, Jim, have you ever picked someone up in a bar before?” Janet asked.
“No,” he said.
“I can tell. I think it’s because you can’t take a hint,” Janet said. “Well, here’s a secret. When a woman makes prolonged eye contact, it’s because she’s interested. That’s when you walk over and say hello. Or is it because I’m fat?”
“No,” Jim said. He thought about what he’d said, panicked briefly, and then added, “You’re not fat.”
“I am,” Janet said, “but it’s very nice of you not to agree with me.”
“There’s that word again,” Jim said ruefully.
“Nice?” Janet asked.
“Uh huh. Would you believe that my wife threw me out because I was too nice?” Jim said.
“I’m not sure I believe you had a wife,” Janet said. “How did you meet her?”
“At Starbucks. She dumped a cup of hot coffee on me by accident.”
“And you were nice about it, weren’t you?” Janet asked.
“I think we’ve established that I’m a nice guy,” Jim said.
“So, Jim, what’s it going to be?”
“Are you going to pick me up?”
“Look,” Jim said. “I would, but I really don’t have anything to offer. I don’t have any money. I live in a tiny shitbox in Queens.”
“It’s nice of you to warn me,” she said, smiling, “but I’m not looking for a life partner. I’m looking to get laid with someone who will nicely and politely leave when we’re done.”
“I can do polite,” Jim said. “In fact, I think it’s all I can do.”
“You know what else I like about nice guys?” Janet asked.
“Nice guys finish last.” !