I have always been a bit of a Goody Two Shoes, both as a kid and as an adult.
The simple definition of Goody Two Shoes describes someone who always behaves well and does the right thing. But that’s not quite right. We often use that name as a negative expression, a way of describing a person who tries too hard to always be “the good one,” the perfect example of proper behavior. Surely you recall that in grade school, no one had too many kind things to say about an “in your face” kind of Goody Two Shoes.
I, of course, was the more subtle version.
But perfection has never actually been my goal. Perspective allows me to understand that my behavior always has been more about an ever-present awareness that God is watching, more about doing the right thing because I don’t want to do the wrong thing, even when no one else (other than the Almighty) appears to be paying attention.
My mother always instilled in me — and I actually believed her — the importance of being a good person, of following the rules, both the secular rules and the Jewish ones. “Prayer,” said Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, “is rooted in the idea that man belongs, not to himself, but to God, whose claim to man is not partial but total.” I belong to Him. He watches over me and He watches me. Add to that my perpetual angst of never wanting to do the wrong thing or the inappropriate thing, a perspective on life that infuses my thinking even at the ripe old age of 76.
Perhaps Goody Two Shoes Scaredy-Cat describes me better.
I chuckle describing myself because my late husband, on the other side of the spectrum, was an out-of-the-box, rule-bending, risk-taking kind of guy. He found my opposite modus operandi charming, and somehow our oppositeness was rarely a negative in the greater scheme of married life.
Like the time we were visiting friends one Saturday night in the late 1970s and they excitedly brought out some weed for the four of us to smoke. I have no memory of what my husband did, though it is likely he thought about joining the fun and then passed. But I can state unequivocally that I didn’t touch the stuff. Me? Break the law and do something illegal? Impossible!
Perhaps you remember that during the worst months of covid, supermarkets marked the aisles with large arrows showing which way you should walk. On one of those days, I was pushing my cart in a frozen food aisle in ShopRite when my cell phone rang. Stopping to chat with my son, I watched with horror as a couple was about to enter my aisle, an aisle where the arrow was clearly facing the other direction. Interrupting my phone conversation, I turned to the people and called out: “Excuse me, but do you see the arrow on the floor? You cannot walk into the aisle from that direction!” They seemed perfectly fine with my unsolicited, assertive, somewhat pushy instructions, but I heard my son groan on the other end of the phone and say: “So you’re one of THOSE people!”
Then there was the time I was meeting a friend for lunch in Teaneck. Driving slowly up the block as I searched for a parking space on West Englewood Avenue, I watched — again with a mixture of horror and indignation — as a man walked across the street toward his car with a Styrofoam cup in his hand. As he opened the car door, he finished his coffee, threw the cup on the ground, kicked it under his car, and sat down nonchalantly in the driver’s seat. His car bore a New York license plate.
Now if my son had been in the car with me at that moment, he would most likely have strongly advised me to stay out of it because if I continued NOT minding my own business, someday someone might take out a gun and shoot me. My retired policeman brother has often given me the same advice. But I was alone in the car — indignant — and I absolutely could not allow this New York intruder to think that what he did was in any way OK. So I quickly drove my car parallel with the offender. I motioned for him to roll down his window, but he thought I was asking him if he was pulling out of the space and simply shook his head no. I continued to make dramatic, slightly unladylike motions asking him to roll down his window; he simply pointed to other places for me to park. I could not be dissuaded and eventually he rolled down the window. “I don’t know where you live in New York,” I called out in loud defiance, “but in this town, we don’t throw our garbage on the ground and kick it under our cars.”
I felt gloriously and justifiably vindicated; he rolled up his window and proceeded to ignore me.
And yet, from these two episodes I realize that my Goody Two Shoes Scaredy-Cat approach is less an individual perspective and more a world view. A view of being put on earth not randomly but rather purposefully by the grace of the Almighty. Therefore, I better behave the best I can. Rav Soloveitchik was correct in reminding us we belong to God.
But occasionally there are exceptions to the rule. One day, many years ago, I unintentionally did the wrong thing; my sense of somehow being right even though I was wrong unleashed all of those Goody Two Shoes qualities. Scaredy-Cat behavior slowly melted away.
When I began working in New York City, I organized a carpool in which five other adults and I drove together to and from our jobs in various offices in midtown Manhattan. I was generally the driver, and all six of us shared the expense of the twice-a-day drive. I always used the carpool lane to get over the George Washington Bridge — that was a wonderful lane designated for those cars carrying three passengers or more between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m. The carpool lane always moved quickly and led us to a staffed toll booth where someone who worked for the Port Authority would press a little button. And, voila, the cost of driving over the bridge was reduced by about $8.
But one day, as it happened, four of my passengers were not in the car. As I drove that morning, I was having a serious discussion with the one woman in the car with me, who also happened to be a colleague. Driving a bit on autopilot while we talked, I happily used the carpool lane. It was only when my peripheral vision noticed a police car with siren sounding and lights flashing heading my way did I quite suddenly realize — yes, in horror — that I absolutely should NOT be in the carpool lane. Being a Goody Two Shoes Scaredy-Cat, someone who always obeys the rules of the road, my heart went into overdrive, and acknowledging my mistake sent me into a cold sweat. The cop pulled me over, showed no interest in hearing my explanation, and promptly handed me a ticket.
As the policeman drove away, it took me a minute to gather myself together. Then some kind of righteous indignation kicked in and I announced to my friend, “I’m going to fight this ticket.” With some surprise and the suggestion that I give myself a reality check, she responded, “And how do you plan to do that? You did break the law!” “I know I broke the law, but it wasn’t intentional. I’m going to fight it; I do not deserve to be punished!” (A perfect Goody Two Shoes remark, and a scenario, you might agree, that God would understand.)
So I pleaded “not guilty,” mailed the ticket in, and in due course I received my court date.
The rain was pounding the sidewalk the night of my court appearance, and I had no idea exactly where the Fort Lee courthouse was located. No iPhones or Waze apps existed, so I printed out the directions. Still, I was quite nervous about finding the building and a parking space. I tried to recall the last time I had been in a courtroom. A courtroom? For something I did? Never.
But when my late husband and I were dating in 1966, he decided an evening in Night Court would be a fun date. Always creative, that man. Well sure, it was fun for me, the innocent bystander who had nothing to lose, but definitely it was not fun for the participants.
This night, about 40 years later, was a whole other ballgame.
I was nervous but somehow confident that I would be vindicated. “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities . . . and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” (Shoftim 16:18) My strength came from believing in the system — and from God understanding the full picture. Righteous judgment — that was going to work for me.
I brought two documents with me: my husband’s death certificate and my E-ZPass bill. When I shared this plan with friends before the court date, they laughed at me, but I was not dissuaded. My E-ZPass bill confirmed what I told the judge and the policeman, who actually showed up in court that night. I always use the carpool lane when my friends and I drive to work. I know and respect the rules. My husband’s death certificate confirmed another truth. I was a widow, the sole breadwinner for my household. I told the judge that I was very much aware that if I receive a moving violation, it would likely cause my automobile insurance to be increased, something I did not want to happen. I pay enough bills; decreasing rather than increasing costs is always the goal.
The room was quiet. OK, the courtroom is usually quiet. And my heart was racing. But then the judge turned to the policeman and asked: “Want to give her a pass?” Taking a little time to think about it, the policeman responded: “Sure.”
And there you have it! No fine, no court costs, no points, and no heart attack. A refreshed faith in the court system. A slight adjustment to my mother’s valuable teachings that we must always follow the rules. The kindness of the Almighty in perhaps guiding the judge to forgive my human and unintentional error. Confirmation of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s belief that I belong to God, in a very positive sense.
And the approval of my husband all the way from heaven, who was smiling with pride at my creativity and the fact that at this point in my life, I wasn’t such a Scaredy-Cat or a Goody Two Shoes after all.
Tzivia Bieler and her late husband, Bruno, moved to Teaneck in January 1974. Retirement five years ago brought her greater freedom; covid brought her back to her love of writing.