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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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Hope You Guess My Name


Today, a box of jellybeans arrived for me with an unsigned card. The card had a menacing message, equating the junk inside the box with the junk of publishing. And the jellybeans themselves boasted unusual flavors: vomit, pencil shavings, ear wax, and the like. Unsigned notes are always a little frightening, as are snot-flavored jellybeans. As it is, I don’t sleep well and often wake up screaming. Sometimes, while walking down the street, I imagine a car jumping the curb to take me down, or a bicycle messenger’s bag somehow catching my coat and taking me down where I am then run over by a taxi cab. Every morning when I turn the key in the ignition, I am ready to meet my maker a la Michael Corleone’s first beautiful wife. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just didn’t like your book. But hey, I turned down The Liar’s Club so what the fuck do I know. Please don’t mow me down in a Best Buy, please don’t spit in my kasha, and please don’t send poison jellybeans because you know I’ll eat them some late night when I’m reading someone else’s submission and wishing I were dead.

What’s the worse gift you’ve ever received?

73 Responses

  1. I know it’s wrong that I’m laughing at the jellybeans, since I do love you so and hate to think of the evil bean-sender, but dear lord . . . I’m about to pee myself . . . It was the messenger bag line that did it . . . Oh holy fuck.

  2. That’s psycho. All of us slush pilers aren’t like that. I promise. The worst present I ever received– a gift certificate to Chico’s. When I was 23.

  3. A framed glamour-shot of my sister-in-law as a Christmas gift. Everyone in the family got one. It makes a chia-pet look good. I mean really if you put lipstick on a chia-pet, it would look better than her picture.

  4. Oh this is not good. Creepy indeed. Betsy, how do you cope with this foolishness? I’ve never received a gift I didn’t like.

  5. Jesus, Betsy, I’m glad I’m not an agent. I work in a law office, though, and when I see a news report of someone going off on their attorney and gunning down half the staff, I do get a passing fit of heebie-jeebies. I must admit I have sat on the crapper in the office john and wondered if someone came into the office to gun down my boss, would they know I was in there. I have sat at my desk, which is by the front door, and wondered if I would have time to defend myself with my stapler or my two-hole punch when the gunman came in, or if diving beneath my desk would do any good. Probably none of the above. Just a couple months ago, while my boss and I were at my desk discussing some arcana of white-collar crime, one of the downtown crazies (every city has ’em) walked right in and right around my desk beside me, said something unintelligible ending in “…God bless you,” turned right around and walked back out. She wasn’t in the office more than ten seconds. I said to my boss, “She could’ve shot me.” He said, “Well, she didn’t.” He was right, of course, but that’s why he’s the boss.

    Tell me you tossed the jellybeans. Even if you tell me you didn’t, I won’t believe you. But it’s none of my business.

    Say, isn’t it a federal crime, terrorism ‘er somethin’, to send someone threatening jellybeans? Hell, I dunno. Jess askin’.

    The worst gift I ever received may have been the Saturday Night Special I was given by a loved one. It was a cunning little piece of cheap death, snubby of nose and of caliber .22. I took it to a gun shop and asked the guy there what he thought of it. He said, “You can probably stop someone with it if you hit ’em with all six bullets. In the same spot.” I never fired it, I was afraid it might misfire and cause me grave bodily harm. Lucky me, it got stolen before I could, in a dark winter’s moment of despair, stick it to my temple and see if it really worked. I prefer rifles, anyway.

    • a cunning little piece of cheap death

      Sorry, I really was listening, but this line won’t let me go.

    • Tetman, we used to see a lot of those, and we called them vampire guns, because you’d need silver bullets and a lot of luck to keep someone from killing you, so you might be better off trying to drive a stake through their heart. Star and Astra were popular brands.

    • Hey, man — Don’t put anything up to your temple except an ice cube on a sweltering day. Dig?

      • Don’t worry, I’m fine. Sometimes I get a little blue, and I hit a rough patch this past winter, but I am fine. Hey, I got my first published book published! And my marriage survived and recovered and has even taken up ballroom dancing (that’s a metaphor, peeps, that ballroom dancing reference). And I lost twenty pounds–well, didn’t so much lose them as shooed them away. And… (biggest And of all, with roll of drums, waving of banners and shrilling of fifes)… I have stopped smoking.

      • You’re on a seriously good roll, Tetman. I admire your perseverence and tenacity.

        Even after being out & about all day, I’m still a bit freaked over this jelly bean incident. Why do some people have to be so mean & weird. Just move on, or something.

      • congrats on all your news, tetman. especially the bit about your marriage.

  6. The jelly bean thing is disturbing.

    I can’t remember receiving a bad gift.

    The most thoughtful gifts were from my grandmother. She lived on a not very prosperous farm in a poor rural town. Every Christmas, she crocheted lace around the edges of handkerchiefs and tied a dollar bill inside each one for the girls/women of the family. The boys/men got plain handkerchiefs with dollars inside. She was a tiny woman with white hair and she smelled like sugar cookies.

  7. Please tell us you called the creepy mail police because that just sucks. I get really great presents all the time. But once a friend brought a necklace back from Paris with a tag on it that said, “made by retarded children” and I just couldn’t bring myself to wear it.

  8. My former MIL, an artist in the medium of nastiness, once sent me an elaborately wrapped box containing The Ugliest blouse that could possibly be sold by a well-known east coast department store. I then mailed the blouse directly to the store’s buyer with a note asking for some help in exchanging it. The buyer actually called me and agreed that it was not one of their best-selling items and was quite sympathetic to my plight with the MIL. She sent me a lovely silk blouse I wore for years until I lost it to ‘Katrina.

    But seriously: please DO take a moment to be more aware of your surroundings if you are getting such notes and strange “gifts”. As someone who was, literally, grabbed off a busy street corner I can attest that kidnapping is everything (and more) that you can imagine. I’ll trade my PTS-laced nightmares with reading the bottom of your slush pile every day.

  9. I think you should send those jelly beans back to J.K. Rowling with a signed note. I imagine her reading your blog every day and wishing she could start over with a new pen name to see if lightening would strike twice for her.

  10. They are Harry Potter jelly beans. Maybe a joke?

  11. Betsy, I’m sorry you don’t sleep well. I wish I could give you some of my sleep superpowers. I’m too good at it.

    The worst gift I got were $20 cubic zirconia earrings from a guy I thought I wanted to marry.

    What I want to know is, why did you turn down Liars’ Club? I’m curious to know if we have a similar feeling about it.

    • Could you share those superpowers with me, too, Tulasi-Priya, once you figure out how? I’d really appreciate it!

    • She just didn’t believe her.

      https://betsylerner.wordpress.com/2009/09/19/the-one-that-got-away/

      Is memorizing every one of Betsy’s posts more or less freakish than sending menacing jellybeans?

      • August, I’m so glad you found that link. That post makes me feel vindicated for kvetching I did while reading Liars’ Club.

        RE: your question, sounds dead center on the freakish scale. At least memorizing Betsy’s posts won’t poison her. Could also be construed as a compliment.

      • So it goes, I guess. Mary Karr has now taken to writing songs with Rodney Crowell, and they have an album coming out called “KIN”, which will involve a bunch of Nashville people. Rodney is sort of Nashville royalty, having been married to Johnny Cash’s daughter, and he’s a prolific songwriter. Fate’s Right Hand and Pancho and Lefty are a couple of my favorites..

      • Plus Till I Gain Control Again, Song for a Life, Earthbound.. amazing songwriter and I’m not eeven a country fan.

      • Rodney Crowell is very good, but Pancho and Lefty is one of Townes Van Zant’s songs “… She began to cry when you said good bye/ And fell into a dream…” A poet, singer and songwriter, one of the best ever.

      • Nanci Griffith is a big Townes V D fan. She’s Nashville-gone-folk, too. We’re seeing her in Boston tonight! Rock on!

      • I have mixed feelings about Liars’ Club, but I’ve watched Karr in interview, and she is such a glamor-puss, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she got into movies along with a singing career.

        Auggie: not freakish, just devoted.

        lisahgolden: what were you kvetching about, exactly?

      • TP – The intense amount of detail. I couldn’t believe that a child had noted and remembered the exact color of the sky or the detailed dialog between the adults, the fact that she was getting a specific drink from a a cooler. I may have been too literal, but there was no happy medium as I read that memoir. It was just too much. Great storytelling, but I couldn’t swallow it as non-fiction.

  12. Worst gift? Once, for Christmas, my husband (that would be my second husband, not the current one) gave me a canvas slipcover for a 5-gallon bucket. It had slots for paintbrushes and screwdrivers. He also gave me a dayglo Virgin Mary. Those were my gifts. A “Bucketeer” and a gag gift from Spencer’s. I had a total meltdown hissy fit, of the embarrassing variety I’d seen performed throughout my childhood by the matriarch of our family when her expectations were dashed.

    My husband picked the dayglo Virgin Mary off of the floor where I’d hurled it, and buried it in the back forty. He probably said some sort of pagan curse while he did it (at least that’s what I’ll write in my memoir).

    I still have the canvas bucket-condom though. It actually came in quite handy down the road.

  13. One time my father gave me a television.

    A very cheap and tacky remote rural motel was doing a long-overdue update and had torn out all the obsolete 100 lb mammoths (remember manual dials?) and left them in the back alley. My father found the pile and brought one home for me. Actually, he brought it home for him but then when his girlfriend whined about what a monumental piece of crap it was, he passed it along to me for my birthday.

  14. It’s a toss up between the floral polyester blouse when I was about 23 and the waffle iron for my first married Christmas. “Well, I like waffles.” I want a Glock 27 for mother’s day. You would too.

  15. Are you serious? My worst gift has to be a huge green fake marble pendant with a dirty brass chain, plus leather straps, with matching earrings. I think my brother recycled it and I am still horrified.

  16. Yuck. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how many messed up people there are in the world. One day they’ll make a fingerprinting kit for every household, with dust even a child can use. Then people like this will be exposed. They’ll be forced to look you in the eye and tell you precisely how they feel and not hide behind a tainted bag of jellybeans which, in itself, is so perverse. My own children would spit on the effort.

    Worst gift: my clueless grandmother toured The Orient in the 1980’s and brought me back a Members Only jacket. I wish I had had one of those vomit jelly beans. I would upchucked all over it. And her.

  17. Did you offer to represent your Secret Admirer? If you ask me, anyone who can menace with jellybeans is a genius.

    Bar-mitzvah gift from my parents: a shofar.

  18. worse gift? this posting. i LOVE getting these blog postings from you, they are such treat, real gifts, but i am horrified of the news contained in this one, that someone would do that to our Betsy.
    a chef and cookbook author i know here in JP was just door’d by a car and fell off her bike right in front of a moving bus…just last week. but the bus stopped before running her over.
    another chef i know, who used to live here in boston but now lives in SF, received, in the mail, a cow’s tongue from a woman who had just gotten out of jail and was upset that the chef had gossiped about her.

    • A chef in a French restaurant in Key West I once worked in went out with one of the waitresses. No chemistry, bad date, etc. The dumb shit later gave her a carrot wrapped in a newspaper so she could have something to read while pleasuring herself.

    • So now “door” joins the list of transformed nouns. Was the chef tongued? Was Betsy jelly-beaned?

  19. Worst gift . . . .a six-pack of slim fast from a cousin who “just wanted to help.”

  20. Seriously. Who have you rejected lately?

    Worst gift: A knock-off Cabbage Patch doll from my loser father. He bragged about his “deal” downtown, from some street vendor. It smelled like smoke and was filthy. Had a scary face, too. I had the same feeling when I read about these jelly beans. Creepy.

  21. Jellybeans…I thought Easter was a few weeks ago.

    After Christmas one year I heard two women talking about the gifts their husbands gave them. One woman said the only gift she got from her husband was a teeth whitening kit. Nice guy.

    One year my kids got back the sweaters they had outgrown, which we had donated to the church rummage sale. My husband’s aunt, a very sweet lady, was a church member and didn’t have much money.

  22. I was given an office birthday party. I had only been there a couple of weeks and didn’t know anybody. I wasn’t real happy about turning 50 and I wasn’t real happy with their rude gag gifts, although I’m sure I laughed it off successfully. I was laid off a few months later and left all the gifts behind in my cubby.

  23. The mil gave me a silk scarf for Christmas after bragging how the sil had bought a suitcase full in China for 50 cents each. It might not be the worst, but representative of her disdain for me. She’s big on favorites with the grandkids too. My one daughter got a gold necklace and a bicycle for her birthday. The other got a 2-pack of flocked ponies with glued on googly eyes which the mil proceeded to rip open and divide between the two sisters.

  24. There are some sick fuckers out there, not just the person who lacks wit and grace and sent you the present, but I’m also thinking what kid out there wouldn’t see jelly beans and think oooh, then eat a pencil shaved vomit one or two and never trust a brightly colored bean again. I mean, that’s hijacking childhood bad. Perhaps not as bad as garlic asparagus ice cream, but shit, is nothing sacred?

    I’m thinking and thinking, but can’t come up with any bad gifts, the thought mattering more than the gift and all like that. Someone did give my scientist wife, as a joke, some sugar coated larvae. Still uneaten.

    Anyhow, peace and Godiva chocolates to get the bad taste out of your mouth.

  25. The gifts were during a six week period. At Christmas, nothing, and, during Tet, hunkered behind the wire and claymores, with rounds dinging here and there- most were strays, but you never know- a Dear John letter. I read it, looked around, and started laughing, and couldn’t stop. My buddies got a laugh out of it, too.

    The events of the next six weeks, outside the wire, took those gifts far from my mind, and when I think of all that, the nothing and the letter are the best of it, and I smile.

    As for revenge, I’ve been downrange of someone else’s payback several times, and while I’ve never liked it, it’s usually shrugable. As far as dealing revenge myself, it has never eased my pain or anger, so I haven’t been vengeful in a long, long time. I just go away.

    Be careful out there, Betsy. Need a food taster?

  26. I know those are Harry Potter Jelly Beans but Jelly Beans always make me think of Ronald Reagan and how he made ketchup a vegetable. I wonder if that idea to send you the beans started with a late night conversation “Hey dude, you know what would be really cool?” Sorry. It is a bit funny from the distance of a computer screen. But your anxiety isn’t. That’s an uncomfortable state to bear. Probably you know but meds like lorazapam help with that. Worst gift in recent memory? A wreath of dried red chili peppers. Not bad in and of themselves. Just they were infested. Still gives me the chills.

  27. When I was 14 my grandma gave me something wrapped up with a decorative pink lace rose attached to it. It was lovely…until it was revealed to be “Pantyrose,” and Grandma insisted I unravel it. It was a pink lace thong. Which I unfurled in front of the entire family. At age 14. Yeesh.

    My aunt says her mil hates her…for one Christmas the mil gave out presents and said to Christine, “Oh, wait, I’ll get yours” and went into the kitchen and brought out a cherry pitter.

  28. Nothing so bad as your jelly beans and note. I feel like I should say something quippy, but this is where I lose my sense of humor. I’m too freaked out that this is the kind of thing a person does, scaring a person like that.

  29. An interview suit from my mom: sky-blue polyester, 1/4″ brass grommets up the sides of the skirt and jacket.

  30. I would have been all, “Hey, free jelly beans” and posted photos of me eating them while sitting on all the piles of money from the books I did take on and sell.

    But, you know. That’s just me.

  31. I’m with Teri here. This is serious stuff. Damn all the sickos out there. Walk next to the buildings, won’t you, Betsy? Not out by the curb?

  32. Be safe, Betsy. That one’s a real freak.

    One time my FIL had to fire a patient from his practice because she peed in his overstuffed waiting room chair while she was waiting to see him. That’s what I want to do to this asshole. Pee in his chair.

  33. What an asshole. Especially because I am sure you rejected them sweetly and more generously than they obviously deserved.

  34. Take care, be safe, Betsy. Very sick behavior.

  35. Mike, you are right. I knew that, but was HUA, I guess. TVZ is indeed one of the all time greats.

    • I hear you, Frank — I’m having a few more lapses as I close in on 60. I’ve been playing Pancho and Lefty for awhile and wanted to try some alternate tunings, so I checked out what’s on YouTube. There goes an afternoon. An interesting one is Townes Van Zandt on Austin Pickers, a 9 minute long interview and performance, partially with Van Zandt on guitar and another guy playing the flute. Very interesting — a Mexican bandit meeting Jethro Tull. Also has a nice little story you might enjoy about two police officers nicknamed Pancho and Lefty who pull the band over and can’t believe they’re talking to the man who wrote the tune that inspired their nicknames.

  36. Scented candles.

    From my SO’s saintly stepmother.

    Who knew I had allergies.

  37. From mother-in-law as my only Christmas gift one year: “Queen size” pantyhose.

  38. That is terrifying. I thought that I was the only one who pictured cars jumping the curb and mowing me over. Phew.

  39. A girlfriend I had gave me two gifts for my birthday when it fell during the short time we were dating. She gave me “The Tao of Pooh”, which I liked and appreciated, and a Stussy baseball hat, which confused and slightly angered me. I had a beautiful pompadour. Why would I want to cover it? Why would I want to cover it with a baseball hat? a Stussy hat?
    _

    Readers of this blog, don’t pass up the opportunity to help get my first book published. It’s good. It should be published. Help if you want to or can.

  40. You do not have to send a link to a main competitor but look for a site that fits your general category.
    http://www.christianeshop.co.uk/

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