Nice No More 

The end of an era

I was kidding. Me? Nice? Hah!

Here's the real skinny. I was killing time with that Nice Bill stuff, waiting for something to happen. The news has been sooooo monotonous, hasn't it? Barack said this—yeah, yeah, yeah—and Hillary said that—yeah, yeah, yeah. Tornadoes in the Midwest—yeah, yeah, didn't that happen last year, too? Idaho Republican candidates won't debate unless it's on Mark Johnson's featherbed with Dee Sarton tucking them in—yeah, what's new? The river is running high and a rich guy died in Boise—yaaaawwwwwn.

And it's been like that since the primary season started in January, yes? Iraq's on simmer instead of boil, Afghanistan is returning to the way it's been for 1,500 years, and it feels like the rest of the world is just hanging out on the porch, waiting to see what America comes up with next.

OK, the killer typhoon in Myanmar and the killer earthquake in China rattled some fixtures, but what can you say 'bout typhoons and earthquakes? You're either fer 'em, or agin 'em, so there's little wiggle room for nuanced opinions. (For the record, I am agin 'em.)

I think we all sense it's going to be like this until Inauguration Day, at least, when Earth can start to recover from the George Bush bug. So—like when Chris Matthews brings on Pat Buchanan to blab about one thing or another until the clock runs out—I invented Nice Bill to fill time. Hope you didn't get too excited about me turning over a new leaf, because I didn't.

I had another reason to pretend to be nice. Family was coming. Two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law and a stepson. It was a side effect of my daughter graduating from high school (see last week's column, but check your blood sugar level first to make sure your system can handle that much concentrated saccharine) and they were all staying at our place.

Which was fine by me because I love them all. Every one of them is a splendid representative of the human race. (I may have my faults, but one of them isn't to marry into crappy families.) In fact, every person that came to stay in our house is a much nicer person than I could ever hope to be, no matter how hard I pretend. So whatever problems that might have arisen with seven people living in a three-person house, even for a few days, would not have come from them. Such a problem could only have come from me, as I am often the problem that arises when even three people are living in a three-person house. Ask the other two if you don't believe me. I don't know when I started thinking this, but in my present incarnation, I believe the recipe for a perfect family relationship is one part us being together, and four parts me hanging out in the basement by myself. Any more than a 20 percent interaction, even with people I love, and I find myself thinking, "That's as much cordiality as I got. Time to go downstairs now."

Trouble is, you can't do that when family has come to visit from far away places. If they live around the corner, no problem. There will always come another opportunity to redeem yourself. But when they're coming from such exotic locales as Tampa, Fla., Knoxville, Tenn., and New Orleans, you may not have that many more chances. However I behaved this time would be locked in their memories like the cream filling in a Ding Dong until whenever we see one another again, and who knows when that'll be?

Besides, my daughter gave me fair warning. "Dad, if you embarrass me in front of them ... well, just don't !"

My wife was even more direct: "Bill ... Honey ... unless you want to dine on fish sticks and tapioca for the rest of your life, I suggest you not be your normal butthead self while they're here."

So as you can you see, I had good reason to pretend to be nice. But I couldn't just jump into it the day we picked them up at the airport, could I? Nope, I had to practice. That's where you came in, dear readers. A few weeks ago, I made up that stuff about going on a vision quest and becoming a swell fella as a result. It must have worked, because even Badger Bob believed me. And the night the last relative left, my wife fixed me a fine, tasty dinner. Not a fish stick or tub of tapioca in sight.

But I must warn you, even though I'm mostly back to being me, there are some lingering after-effects of my six weeks pretending to be nice. For example, on Monday we drove up to Idaho City to show a brother-in-law and his wife something they'd never seen before—e.g. a quaint ex-mining town in the Idaho hills that now makes its living off Boise valley people driving their out-of-state relatives up to see something they've never seen before.

Now, the last time I did that (about three years ago, with a different brother-in-law), I couldn't resist writing a column on what a dump Idaho City is. And need I add that column raised some hackles? Some of the responses from Idaho City residents (who objected to me calling their town a dump ... go figure) were angry enough that come Monday, my wife suggested I avoid saying my own name out loud while we were there. She had nothing to worry about. I hardly ever say my own name out loud, anyway.

Beyond that, though, I could feel from deep within my soul that I was done with writing columns about what a dump Idaho City is. I have changed. The weeks of pretending to be nice have rubbed off on me, and I believe I can prove it. On Idaho City's main street, there's an itsy-bitsy fake jail cell recessed into the front of one of the buildings. They keep a mannequin of Bill Clinton in it, holding a mannequin of the infamous cigar. I suppose the whole thing reflects the prevailing attitude in Idaho City that Clinton is a low-down, dirty dog.

I assure you, the pre-pretending-to-be-nice me would have raced back to Meridian and whipped out a column on how someone should break into that fake jail, put a rubber George Bush mask on the Clinton mannequin, and replace the cigar with Scott McClellan's new book. Or possibly a G.I. Joe doll with a brain injury. Or maybe a copy of the Constitution being fired up with a Bic lighter.

But listen, it didn't even cross my mind to make an issue of it. If the citizens of Idaho City don't mind being thought of as backward hilljacks who can't grasp the qualitative difference between an illicit sexual affair and lying our nation into war, I'm fine with that. No problem-o. To each ignoramus his own.

So see? I'm a better person now. I may actually have to pretend to be nastier than I am. At least, until this niceness crud wears off.

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