Don't Be Nice

My mother raised me to be nice.

Rules: Don't act smarter than a boy. Don't speak too loud. Listen to others. Never interrupt. Keep your hands folded neatly in your lap. Always offer the postal carrier a cold beverage. Don't swear. Never air your dirty laundry. Never complain...the list of nice rules were pretty extensive. They were supposed to prepare me for life, and I lived by them for many years.

At 23, I was putting my first husband through dental school. I worked every Sunday for the weekend pay. It was a union job, so males and females were paid equally.

On weekends, the manager or assistant manager typically got off early, and what was referred to as the "third man'' would close. One night I was asked to close. I counted the money, rang out the tills, had keys to the safe, turned on the alarm and locked the front door when the crew left. It was not hard. (My father owned a small chain of grocery stores and I'd worked in them my entire life. I knew retail.)

The following Monday, my manager called to say I'd done a great job. If I'd like to do the job every Sunday there would be a few more dollars added to my check. I said, "Yes, sure."

I never got the raise or the job. Two men I worked with protested my promotion because I was a girl, and I didn't "need" the money. They had families to support.

I didn't complain.

When I was 27 and selling real estate, my father was my broker. He was one of the most honest people I've ever known. He believed in the truth. Truth tellers drove my mother crazy. "Oh Johnnie, do you have to say that? It sounds terrible."

He taught me real estate. He said it was an honor to help anyone buy their home. Owning a home made better citizens. Every Sunday in his backyard he'd grill a butterflied leg of lamb for Sunday dinner and tell me how grateful he was that he came back. That so many young men hadn't come back. I knew what he meant. He'd been in the Army Air Corps. A bombardier.

When my father died, a new broker approached me. He was rich, married and almost my father's age. He was a developer as well. Beautiful, big homes dotting the green grassy hills of Novato, California.

I remember thinking his teeth were too white, but off to a fancy restaurant we went in his bright red Jaguar. It was hard to get in and worse to get out. I regretted wearing a skirt. He offered me big money, a leased Mercedes and vacation getaways "anytime WE want.'' I knew at that moment. He wasn't after my newly achieved Million Dollar Club Award. He was after my pussy.

It hurt my feelings. All I could think about was my father saying to my mother, "My girls are smart, they won't have to make their living on their backs.'' I acted nice when I saw him around town, but I did not take the job. When I told my mother, she said, "I'm sure you misunderstood him. He's married."


My first day as an intern, a baby chef, was on the hot line of the U.S. Constitution. I found out I was the first woman to work in the kitchen. Ever. I guess I should have been afraid, but I was so excited to work the line and have my own pair of tongs. I forgot to be afraid. Besides, I can cook.

The executive chef of the ship was a tall, handsome black man. He was kind and regal, and he liked to talk in cowboy lingo. He would call me Little Missy or Partner, and said things like, "If anyone tries to touch you, Little Missy, get on your pony and ride."

I was so grateful for his encouragement, but I was concerned. I didn't think there could possibly be a pony in the walk-in. It's much too cold.

When the first guy pinched me so hard on my butt that he left a twisted, ugly bruise and tried to whisper in my ear, I turned to yell and my big 12-inch chef's knife nicked his hand. It was wondrous. He screamed.

I wasn't scared. My pony had arrived. It was my time to be nasty. Still is.

Denise Vivaldo is the author of eight cookbooks. All available on Amazon. And she's with her.