My uncle is always nice.
Sometimes, he was probably too nice.
Mama’s nice, too; she’s always told me to start with nice first, then see what needs to be done after that.
I’ve followed her heeding of being nice but, sometimes, you just can’t be nice. Nice doesn’t
“I need your advice,” was how she started the conversation.
Ten minutes later, it was evident that my mama and uncle were being grossly and unfairly taken advantage of – something I had cautioned her about the week earlier, but to her, I am still a child so I don’t know anything.
“I don’t know what to do, and your uncle is being his usual too nice self,” she said.
I knew that side of my uncle too well. He sees the good in everybody and takes in all the strays, four and two-legged.
“Let me handle it,” I said and hung up.
And I did.
It was not pretty, but it was handled.
I started off being polite but firm.
That didn’t work, because unfortunately, the man on the other end of the phone thought he was talking to some girl who didn’t know anything.
I gave him enough rope to hang himself with, and then told him what the real facts were.
“This will be taken care of,” I told him. “My uncle is nice, my mother is nice; I, however, am not.”
A few days later, the situation was resolved, hopefully for good.
“What did you do?” Mama asked.
“Don’t worry, Mama, I didn’t do anything wrong, I just was willing to do what y’all didn’t want to.”
“I wasn’t nice.”
Mama always put a premium on niceness. She always felt like being nice and kind would get you further in life. “Please and thank you still go a long way,” she would remind me as I grew up.
Maybe it would – if everyone else played by those rules.
But everyone else was given a different playbook and usually, it is some sort of warped Darwinism where instead of the weak, the mean ones went after the nice ones. Or the ones they thought were least likely to make a scene or stir the pot.
Now, Mama has made a scene a time or two, once in Macy’s and once in Belk, but it was after she had exhausted her nice.
But that was centuries ago and growing older seems to just knock a little bit of the wind out of your sails sometimes.
I knew the incident occurred largely because my uncle stutters some and people think that means he’s slow; he’s not slow but a communication barrier can make for an easy target when someone wants to be underhanded.
I was assured by the man I spoke with this was not the case.
But, he said, part of the fault was how my uncle had described the problem.
“For $1,300, I think you could have figured out the problem without my uncle saying a word,” I replied.
I had that tone, the tone my grandmother could get that probably scared the devil to the far corners.
It used to send chills down my spine when she used it. I remember her once telling someone on the phone she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt they were trying to cheat her because my grandfather was in the hospital with Alzheimer’s.
“Just so you know, Robert was the nice one,” she said. “I’m not.”
Dear Lord have mercy – my grandfather had been the nice one?
I think I hid for two days after that. Granny unleashed locusts and probably some flying monkeys. It was scary.
Lamar is the nice one in our marriage, and I have heard him tell someone on the phone before, “Please don’t make me get my wife; you really don’t want to have to deal with her.”
They didn’t heed his warning, and regretted it.
He had a recent situation where someone was jerking him around but this time, he said he didn’t want me to unleash my monkeys.
“Let’s keep them in reserve for when it’s really important,” he said gently.
The people didn’t do what they were supposed to and lied about it to boot; I know if I had gotten involved, it would have turned out OK. But I said nothing and let him handle it nicely.
“You weren’t ugly, were you?” Mama asked.
I am not unreasonable; typically, when I have to be un-nice, it is when someone is taking unjust and gross advantage of someone I happen to care about.
When they are being unethical and inherently wrong – then, my monkeys come out.
So why is it someone can take advantage of someone and try to rip them off, and when they are called out on it, the person – usually me – is considered to be “ugly?”
To borrow a line from kindergarten – they started it.
“Mama, I wasn’t ugly per se, but I wasn’t nice, either,” I began. “If they had done what was right to begin with, none of this would have happened. I am only not nice when people are trying to rip off customers and do things that are shady. It’s not right. People want to complain about things causing them to lose business but never stop to think, hey, maybe, if we had treated folks fairly and did the right thing that would go further than cheating someone. You were in the right; I was in the right when I took care of it. I don’t like being ugly, but sometimes, that’s what people respond to.”
“I don’t like that,” she said quietly.
Yeah, I didn’t either.
But sometimes, nice just didn’t get the job done.