“April is the cruelest month…”
That would be my kid sister quoting T.S. Eliot in between her curses this spring. She lives north of New York City and received eight inches of snow on Easter Sunday. And that was after three epic snowstorms in a row. Talk about cruel… Of course Easter also coincided with April Fool’s Day this year, so it might just have been some sort of cosmic joke.
And speaking of jokes, I was born on Good Friday. I am not making this up because, all in all, this has not been a good thing. Good Friday, you may remember from Sunday School, was the day Jesus was crucified. I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or anything, but I’m guessing Jesus didn’t think it was a particularly Good Day. I’m not so sure that my first day was a good day, either. Unlike Jesus, however, I didn’t suffer way back then, as near as I can recall…which is not “near” at all because, you know, I was only just born. But I have been suffering ever since (get out your hankies). My sainted mother took some sort of strange pride in reminding me often that that was the day I was born. She also raised me to be a gentleman. This, it seems to me now, was a sort of double whammy of a curse: Good Friday plus gentleman. It is, pardon the expression, a heavy cross to bear.
Seriously, what good does being good actually get you? This has been a mystery to me. For example, back in high school the good girls always fell for the bad boys, like it was somehow ordained. It just didn’t seem fair. My childhood sweetheart (the first woman I got in trouble with, having been caught kissing her behind the tropical fish tank in kindergarten when it was supposed to be nap time) fell for a bad boy in high school. Well of course she did. He was, after all, handsome and sleekly Italian while I was almost six and a half feet tall and so skinny I could turn sideways and disappear. I’ve tried to put that all behind me (and she and I have been lifelong dear friends), but as I recall they were the King and the Queen of the Senior Prom (happily, years later, she married the most hopelessly good guy I’ve ever known and they’ve lived happily ever after).
So here we are today, many decades later, and the curse persists. See, if you still feel compelled to be a “good boy,” you tend to DO things for people. It’s like a reflex. It doesn’t even rise to conscious thought. But it is problematic. If, for example, you grew up in a New York apartment building with a building superintendent who got all the broken stuff fixed, you developed absolutely no useful skills of your own. None. So DOING things for others, especially women you may be trying to impress, almost always ends in humiliation. Fall off a ladder with a full can of paint in one hand while trying to look useful and you’ll know what I mean. Hopeless.
But not in fiction! In fiction, see, good guys sometimes win. Not often, I’ll grant you, but sometimes. I’ve received any number of letters from female readers of my more romantic novels that claim my male lead characters are “too good.” They pitch in when there is a problem or a crisis. They don’t give up. They take risks for love. They can be depended upon. And to be honest, I feel sorry for these readers, because there are real men out there you can count on. Maybe not a lot; I don’t know. But they’re genuine. Sometimes you have to look under a rock.
Ah, but there is a curse within the curse, and here I want to be serious for just a moment. This is important. What I’ve learned…and it’s taken a very long time…is that if you are a chronic helper, the guy who rides in on the white horse, what it really does is weaken, not save, the person you most want to help, often the person you most love. You are effectively sending a signal that the other person is somehow unable to get it done, or get it done right. Ultimately, this is crippling in a relationship.
So I am still hoping for someone to give me bad boy lessons…