As I sat down to write this I realized I feel conflicted about this week’s topic, Naughty and/or Nice. Actually, I think it’s nice I’m mostly conflicted about.
When I was growing up, little girls were supposed to be nice and I was. My mother’s little helper. Always polite. Always smiling. Eager to please. I danced on cue for the relatives. Hardly ever complained. I was The Nice One. Until I turned 12 and my life as I knew it disintegrated and I turned surly and eager to tell all the grown-ups the way I thought things should be. By then my little sister was 6 and she was The Nice One. She danced for the relatives and curtsied on command. And I slunk my Not So Nice Self away.
I didn’t really think about nice much in college (except that people out east assumed I was nice because I was from the Midwest and I have a large smile/mouth). My surliness was nothing compared to the surliness of my more sophisticated world weary peers. But to be fair, I told them my sister was nicer. Nobody believed me.
Even in NYC, at my first job at the television rep firm, Harrington, Righter and Parsons, people assumed I was nice. The nicest!
Until Patrice walked in. I should probably say skimpered (is that even a word?) or skipped. Yes, let’s say she skipped into the office wearing a full, pleated skirt and a ruffly high-necked white blouse, a little wicker purse dangling off her wrist. We all stared at her as she made her way past our cubicles smiling and saying hello and smiling and prancing. Yes, now she was prancing. I kid you not. She took the desk right next to mine which had been vacated by a girl who just stopped showing up at work one day (the rumor was she’d had some kind of breakdown after her boyfriend was sent to rehab). So Patrice plopped herself and her straw purse and a large stack of Bride magazines on the desk next to mine.
“I’m engaged,” she said and flashed her ring at all of us. “His name is Michael and we were high school sweethearts in New Jersey.”
This was the early eighties. NOBODY wore white blouses in NYC unless they were in a play about Amish people. Everyone wore black. All black. The blacker the better. And Bride Magazines? That meant marriage and kids and station wagons. NOBODY wanted that. We were all just out of college and eager to explore. There were too many places to go and people to see. Every night a rep party where we ate free appetizers for “dinner” and then out to The Bottom Line or The Comedy Cellar or The Blue Note and or some new and happening place and then out to an all-night diner for omelettes and French fries. We wanted to be wild and crazy and free for as long as possible.
But Patrice wasn’t like us. Patrice lead a different sort of life. She pranced in every morning with a new stack of magazines and sat perched at her desk, thumbing through glossy pictures of fluffy white dresses and pale bouquets and talking to Michael on the phone. “No I love you more, Smoochy Woochy.” And then home to New Jersey every night to babysit Michael’s little sisters. Everyone agreed she was the nicest girl any of us had ever known.
One night, on a whim, we invited her out with us to The Pyramid Club on Avenue A, a very edgy club in a very edgy neighborhood. I think we all thought she’d say no. But she nodded and we dragged her downtown. She looked shocked when we walked in to transvestites already dancing on the bar, but then she skipped up to the bar with the rest of us and ordered two shots of tequila and then the punk rock band started playing and she popped off her bar stool and onto the dance floor. We all followed, frozen in fascination. Her dancing grew looser and wilder and every once in a while she let out a guttural yelp and when the band took a break she saddled back up to the bar and crawled on the stool and climbed right up next to the transvestites. We all sat huddled together uncertain what to do, worried we had corrupted her, and she gyrated by and we glanced up and couldn’t help but see that she wasn’t wearing any underwear.
Patrice left Harrington, Righter and Parsons soon after that and I’m not sure what happened to her. And I met my husband a couple of short years later and not long after that, I ended up with marriage and kids and a minivan. Yes, a minivan. So much for wild and free.
But I guess the thing I’m saying is, I don’t believe in nice. In fact when my daughters were little and the other mothers would say, “be nice,” to their daughters, I didn’t. I’d say, “be kind,” because nice was a girl from New Jersey in a high-necked blouse dancing on a bar with no underwear.
And now that I think about it, when I look back on my younger years, it’s the naughty memories I covet most.