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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I’m Not One Of Those Who Can Easily Hide

My uncle married his girlfriend after they had known each other for just a few months. A week or so after their wedding, he went into their bedroom with one arm behind his back. “How well do you know me?” he asked his new bride, all fluffed up with their new bedding and pillows. “Excuse me?” she might have said it a tad distracted by the thread count and down. “How well do you know me?” His voice now tinged with just a hint of menace. “What? Honey?”  Again, he repeated the question, “How well do you know me?” only this time brought his arm out from behind his back to show her the large kitchen knife he had been hiding. She screamed until he could finally calm her down. And the story lived in family lore as evidence of my uncle’s twisted humor.

How well do you know me? Or anyone?

52 Responses

  1. I just told my son that he has a shitty science teacher after reviewing her assessment of his science fair project. It’s a qualifier I don’t give willy-nilly, but all anecdotal evidence suggests that his science teacher is, indeed, shitty. I don’t even really know if the science teacher is male or female. Don’t know the background. Don’t know much at all. But after 50 years on the planet and three kids I’m a pretty good discerner of shittiness given scant evidence.

    My husband of five years, who is also a science teacher, trotted down to my office just now to lambaste me for the “shitty teacher” remark. I know him well enough to know he’s projecting. I know our relationship well enough to say to him, “Yes, you’re right, true or not, I shouldn’t have given the kid that sort of ammunition. So, can you coach him on how to be diplomatic with his science teacher given the shittiness factor?”

    It’s the only thing I love about being 50 – this, oh, let’s just call it an understanding, a shoulder shrug, and the ability to pick my battles wisely.

    • I taught high school for twenty years. Call it like you see it. Your son will respect you later because he already knows. The science teacher is shitty.

      I hope your husband can coach him through it.

      • Is your name really Elisabeth Crisp? That’s the coolest name ever! (Except, maybe Vivian Swift)

        • Thanks. Yeah, before I got married it was. My legal married name is so common, I double check my prescriptions at the pharmacy. It’s also the name of both a prominent book blogger and an inspirational romance writer. I really wouldn’t want anyone to confuse my work with theirs.

          I was teased a lot about Crisp in school. Now, unique is good.

  2. people have agendas. people have to be right. all the fucking time.

    ps. i have just returned from a board meeting.

    pps. there is no scotch in the cupboard.

  3. Gawd, Betsy, between this tale and the electrical storm raging outside, I won’t get my miserly 6 hours of sleep tonight!

    On the other hand, that story reminds me of a lovely conversation between me and my now ex-husband:
    “Know what would be the first thing I’d do if I were king of the world?” he coyly asked one evening.
    “No, what?” I replied happily, expecting an answer that would launch us into some romantic escapade.
    “I’d have my guards chop off your head” he merrily exclaimed.

    Why I remained married to that dolt for several more years is still a mystery to me.

  4. You’re unpredictable in your finest hour and resent anyone who treats you less than an equal. Those who think they know you might intuit a few truths, but no one really knows anyone else.
    On one side of my family, your uncle would be mourned after his unfortunate joke and family legend would be about an aunt nicknamed Shooter.

  5. Are you familiar…maybe, given the context, that’s the wrong word choice… Are you acquainted with Bartok’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle? Your uncle’s scenario might be redeemed by the right music.

  6. Nice Uncle. My ex was exactly like that, except he intended to use the knife he didn’t bother to hide which clearly wasn’t for the purpose of hilarity. Music choice hmm ~ It’s The Final Countdown followed by Stairway to Heaven

  7. That story belongs in a book.

  8. When I worked in the jewelry business I learned that the embezzlers were always the people who you’d least expect. It’s always the guy that everybody likes, the friendly old grandpa who brings pound cake for everyone on Fridays, who is skimming a few emeralds and spare diamonds off of each shipment of gems.

    When Tiffany prosecuted one of its managers, a sweet petite bonde with blue eyes (who built a house in the Hamptons on the profits of her theft), her defense lawyer brought in a psychiatrist who testified that the former employee stole to gain the approval of her mother.

    This is why you have to be suspicious of nice people.

    • Although this is not on the same level, I once worked in a cheap department store, prior to the megastore invasion, and a security guard and one clerk spent hours tailing my long haired leather jacket clad cousin as he walked around the store waiting for me to finish my shift. At the same time, a nice old man was busily pocketing items from the plumbing department. Me, I’m not innocent in all this, for I was marking down select toys and crafts that I deemed educational in hopes that parents on a budget would see painting sets, learn to read items and the child looms at a lower price than most of the cheap plastic crap and buy the former to place under the Christmas tree. It was stealing, but somehow I felt it was justifiable. Such is the mind of an improper thief. At no point did I blame my mother, who probably would have been proud of me.

      • Mike, you weren’t stealing. You were making front-line marketing decisions, displaying initiative and taking the moral high ground.

        That is, unless you were directing your friends to the marked-down items on the sly and making sure only they reaped the benefits. Then you’ve got a conflict of interest and could be said to be aiding and abetting theft.

        Which I guess is what you were doing ether way. Fuck it, don’t listen to me, I’m no attorney. And whatever I’ve stolen, I’ve taken it strictly for myself, so what do I know and who am I to say.

      • My first move to Finland landed me in a small town where anyone not third generation or more was deemed outsider. Add foreigner with no language skills, dark hair and eyes, and I was doomed. There was always someone watching when I went shopping. People parted like the Red Sea and stared after me. The cashier at the KKK (yes, that’s the name) always reweighed my produce in case I stole a potato, slammed my stuff and muttered when I put my stuff on the belt. It sucked.

      • Maybe I can use the word stuff a few more times if I try really hard.

  9. The group I work with went in on lottery tickets. I only play when the group goes in not because I have any illusion about winning, but the idea of being left iff they were to all quit simultaneously terrifies me.
    The others were discussing what they’d do with their winnings and one of the men, after calculation exactly how much we’d take home said, “…divided by two.” “Why?” “I think if I gave her half, she’d divorce me without a hassle.” He paused. “God, you don’t think she’d expect alimony too??” He was serious.
    I do not believe his wife of four years is aware that the first dream of his lottery winnings would be to divorce her

    • Please disregard the twelve typos in the above comment. My thumbs and this phone keyboard are warring again.
      Back to you.

    • did you let him in on the big secret? He can actually get a divorce with our WITHOUT winning the lottery. who knew!?

      my mom and dad bought lottery tickets weekly when i was growing up. so many conversations were started with the lines, “when we win the lottery…” that my little brother–who was very little at the time, like 4–would say things like, “when i win the lottery, i’m going outside to play” or “when i win the lottery, i’m going to get an ice cream at the berry twist.”

      (berry twist = mom and pop ice cream shop about a mile from our house that was owned by my best friend’s mom and pop.)

      • Ha! What a funny little guy.

        As for the coworker, no, he’s a cruel douchebag. I say things, “Man, my friend just got divorced and she is taking him to the cleaners! Did you know that wives can get upwards of 90% of your salary? Damn.”

        Fucker deserves to sweat.

    • The typos in this post make me feel infinitely better about meeting Cheryl Strayed last night and not being able to speak like a human. “Me like books yours lots” — yes, that.

      Your coworker’s wife is so lucky! Who needs the lottery when you have that sweet cuddle-bug at home.

      • Looking forward to reading Cheryl Strayed’s book. But then I wondered, How well do we know her? Something about it smacks of James Frey.

        This is based on the review in the NYTimes.

      • Hope, she’s been writing about her life for a couple of decades. Read the BAE winners “The Love of My Life,” “Heroin/Heroine.” And she’s been writing the Dear Sugar column at The Rumpus for the past two years. She and James Frey aren’t even on the same planet.

      • I MUST chime in. ‘Cause I do know her! I think I know her really well, too, and the thing I know most about Cheryl is she takes smart and sweet to a whole new level — but she’s also so ridiculously honest! I remember when she was writing WILD, she brought some pages into workshop and the conundrum was — it would have been so convenient to fudge some of the details of a given scene, but she absolutely refused. Even when several of the members were like, “C’mon, so what if your second toenail came off before your big toenail,” or something like that, and she was like, “It’s documented in my journal. I can’t lie.”

      • Glad to know it was just a moment of unjustified paranoia. Will be buying her book.

  10. Orwell’s whole 1984 thing; do we even know ourselves. Any of us could be holding the knife, any of us could be the babe on the bed, any of us could be carved and wrapped in black plastic bags. Value and foundation are out the window, circumstances rule.

    There is an edge to the mind who thinks up situations like your uncles, there is an edge to the person who relates it to outsiders of her family; the family who considers it humorous.

    I know a lot about you…creepy music plays…the shower curtain wafts from the steam…eeek eeek eeek.
    “Norman put down that knife.”
    “Only kidding, sweetie.”
    Nice family Betsy I think I’d fit ‘write’ in.

  11. Knives and bedrooms don’t mix in my mind. Not much is left on my boudoir bucket list and sharp objects are nowhere to be found. Not to mention that my lovely wife would not get the joke. Neither do I, I’m too missionary; I can’t see this as just wry humor.

  12. Well, Betsy, you let some of it hang out, so you seem comparatively easy to get a handle on. Yet every day, both in my psychotherapy office and out of it, I listen hard. And I become more convinced that most people, in their regular lives, are hiding, ducking, running. I’m always trying to figure out the interior monologue. Hmmm. What does that say about me?

  13. Great family story, Betsy, and I keep thinking that Lola would have kicked my ass.

    I don’t know you at all, except from book and blog, and what I infer from those sources I like a great deal. But that’s a mask over a mask, and not the person behind it.

    I know a handful of people who have long since unmasked. I’ve encountered others who have in one quick glimpse shown enough to take me aback, or have me move out smartly. It’s the peek that keeps me wondering….or sends me running.

    I’m still peeking, Betsy.

  14. Well… after a creepy story like that, I know to watch my back.

  15. You must have just read a submission from someone you thought you’d pegged but no here they are surprising you. Or your best friend betrayed you. Though I don’t know you at all, I hope it’s the former.

  16. “How well do you know me? Or anyone?”

    Fuck all, I don’t even know myself. Everyone’s an iceberg, ten percent showing and ninety percent under the surface.

    There may be some consolation in believing that since we’re all people, there’s no one of us who’s truly a stranger. Any one of us could be the killer in the home or the one who rescues the family from the inferno. Or just a shmoe. “And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born.” (Ecclesiasticus XLIV)

    But sailing back to the iceberg metaphor, we’re all of us ice, hidden or visible. And no one can see the jagged portions under the surface until they strike and slash.

    I think about things like this when I’m sleeping with a stranger in a cold bed .

    • There’s this too, although it’s not always comfortable to think about: everything changes. The bed gets colder, the captured glances are sadder and it feels like everyone knows how bad you feel. But we can’t really tell. Let it all out? I don’t know. Maybe a place in the desert to yell your sorrows to the wind. I feel like maybe you’re not at the start of something anymore, but in the middle with the end a long way in the distance. Peace, Tetman.

  17. I don’t know you at all. You’ve provided a trail of breadcrumbs over the life of this blog that led me to some assumptions. Assumptions I skew to fit what I want you to be. If I took out “over the life of this blog,” I could be talking about anyone I know. Noel Coward wrote a whole play about it.

    • “Assumptions I skew to fit what I want you to be.”
      I do this all the time and then end in a fit of despair when I am disappointed. Only hindsight allows me to see I made up the person to begin with.

    • Best way to realize you don’t know anyone? Start writing a memoir. Talk about skewing assumptions.

      • I started a memoir after my mother and father passed away and I realized I met my parents for the first time after they died.

        I found 125 love letters they wrote to each other while separated during WWII. They were younger than my own kids are now. What’s funny is that even though I discovered them young, a lot of what they wrote about followed them through life.

        The best part…every dream my father wrote about in 1945 came true.
        I hope my kids can say the same thing about me when I’m gone…ah…I think it’s time to cull through some of my old stuff.

      • @Wry — that is such a nice story. Love it.

      • Oh Wry Writer, that’s so lovely. The dreams of that WWII generation, most of us are the living result of that in one way or another. That’s a real gift they left you. Were they tied up in a satin ribbon?

  18. Hell, I don’t even know me that well and we’ve been frenemies for almost forty years.

  19. People can’t really know each other, the burden of that knowledge would be too great. We can only hope to approach some degree of self-awareness, and even then we’ve got to creep up on it over a span of decades.

    Your uncle sounds exactly like my husband, who likes to poke his head in my office door like Jack in The Shining, and if he gets a butcher’s knife from the block he always wields it like Psycho. Other times he’ll get right up close to me, nose to nose, and say, Where have you been, little girl. Tell me your secrets . . .

    I don’t know whether he’s the sicko or I am, for marrying him.

  20. I know ME well enough to know that if Uncle whoever had pulled that shit one me, it would have been a short marriage, or a long appointment with one of those fluffy pillows until he stopped wiggling. Gee-SUS!

  21. I think I’ll try the uncle trick on my 16yr old son who grew ten feet and turned into an asshole overnight.

  22. It matters less how well you know someone than how much of yourself you’ve surrendered to them. Or rather, to what degree you’ve abdicated responsibility for yourself.

  23. I don’t know. I was pretty surprised when my husband started listening to country music. The knife would have been more humane. At least I could have stabbed myself in the ear.

  24. I know my kids like the back of my hand.

  25. I have put myself on a task. I have a folder in my email called “Lerner Words” and I have saved every post for the past many months.

    I sent in the book I wrote for publication, but was told you were too busy to do anything with it. I’m not exactly sure if that’s just a blow-off or true or both, but I created a Kicksarter account to publish it.

    See – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1822966921/ministry-of-love-initial-publishing

    By the way, I knew my ex-wife for a day and a half and it was eight years of abuse. The book I wrote is fiction, but you have to say “fiction” with a “question mark?” on the end of it.

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