That’s my sister, Betsy Jones – on a good day. She’s 52 years old, but on most days acts 24: carefree, fun-loving.  But on a bad day, stay away from her because she is cursed with absolutely the worst luck of anybody I know. Take a good close look at this photo. You may think she’s on the verge of snapping – about to lose it and leap over the wall, with a one-way ticket to Crazy Town. And you would be correct.

You see, Betsy has had, well, a rather challenging life, to put it mildly. Imagine Winnie the Pooh going on an “explore”.  He comes upon a sign that says “This way to ‘Honey, Goodness, and Nice People’, that way to ‘Hell’s Burning Dungeons of Despair.’” Of course Pooh follows the sign toward ‘Honey’. Problem is, by the time Betsy gets there, the wind blew the signs around. Uh oh. That’s the story of Betsy’s life – “Blown by the wind.”

You know how some people lead a charmed life? Well, I think Betsy was put on this planet to balance out the scales – singlehandedly. It’s like Betsy has a sign on her back that reads “Go ahead, kick me again – but could you kindly do it before I get back up? – it will save me another trip down.”

You see, Betsy is not a bad person. She doesn’t have a death wish. She just has the world’s worst luck. Whether dealing with an agency bureaucrat or the cable repairman, the common refrain she hears almost daily is, “Well, that’s a first” or “I’ve never seen anyone’s appliance do that before,” to which Betsy calmly replies, “That’s my life.” Here is a sampling of just a few of her mishaps (and I swear I’m not making any of these up):

There was the time she hired a plumber to fix the clogged bathroom sink. She paid him. He left. The next day the bathroom floor was flooded. “Well, at least the sink isn’t clogged anymore,” remarked Betsy. Turns out a pipe cracked under the sink during the repairs. By some miracle, the plumber did not charge Betsy for the return visit – must be the exception that proves the rule.

Or the time she was living in France and signed a Driver’s Test application as “Elizabeth” (with a z), only to later find her signature on the application had been changed to “Elisabeth” (with an s – the French spelling) by a DMV bureaucrat. Betsy was denied entry to the driving test because the name on her passport (“Elizabeth”) did not match the name on the DMV application (“Elisabeth”).  The clerk insisted the mistake was with Betsy’s passport, not with the “corrected” application.

In the end, the spelling of her name was not the only problem confronting her. The bigger problem was that Betsy had written on the application that she was born in Albany, New York.  Although she was finally allowed to take the test (and passed it), she was denied her license because, as the clerk patiently explained to this dumb American, “You could not be born in two cities: Albany and New York (City).  You have put false information on the form. License DENIED!” Apparently DMV clerks in France go through the same rigorous selection process for incompetence as they do in the USA. I never knew.

Or the time she was baking potatoes in a toaster oven and opened the glass door to check on them. She poked the potatoes, closed the door, turned, and…  KABOOM! The glass door shattered all over the kitchen. As she explained the incident to the manufacturer, the representative asked “Did it IMPLODE or EXPLODE?” Betsy replied, “What difference does it make! It PLODED!” They concluded that indeed it had exploded, to which the representative then said, “Well, that’s a first. Usually our defective toaster ovens implode.” So her defective toaster oven was even defective in the way that it was defective.

Or take the time her furnace was cleaned by the furnace company.  The worker cleaned, he left, Betsy left …. hours passed, smoke began billowing from the chimney, two fire companies came, police broke into Betsy’ house ….Betsy came home to a very official-looking red notice posted on her door from the town building inspector that read “Your furnace has been turned off.  You may not turn it on until the furnace company checks on it.” Take a guess who the town building inspector sent to inspect the furnace. Yup, the same worker who had almost burnt Betsy’s house down.

Or the time she returned from Germany and was detained by US Customs officials at JFK International. They interrogated her for two hours with questions like “Have you ever traveled to Turkey?” and “Do you go by any other names?” Betsy answered “In France I sometimes go by ‘Elisabeth’” Undeterred, the officials asked, “Do you ever go by the name …Christine???” Turns out Betsy closely matched the profile of a notorious international fugitive from Germany named Christine Jones. Go figure. My baby sister, Jihad Jane.

Or the time she got the recall notice about defective hub caps falling off her make of car. Must be why Betsy’s hub cap was gone. With recall notice in hand, Betsy went to the dealership to get the non-defective replacement hub caps. “We’ll be needing that defective hubcap” said the dealer.  “I don’t have It,” said Betsy. “Well, we have to have it if we’re going to replace it,” insisted the dealer. “But it was defective – that’s why it’s gone – that’s why I don’t have it,” explained Betsy.  “Do you know where it is?” asked the dealer, straight-faced. Betsy never did get the replacement.

Or the time she asked the post office to hold her mail while she was away for three weeks. When Betsy returned, she collected her mail from the post office. In the pile was a notice to pick up a package that was being held at the post office since she was away.  There was also a second notice reminding her about the package. And a final notice explaining that the post office would have to “return the package to sender” since Betsy had failed to pick it up. (Did I mention that she was away and the post office was holding her mail?)  Betsy rushed to the post office in hopes of retrieving her package. As she struggled to reason with the by-the-book postal clerk, she spotted the package perched in plain view on the clerk’s desk, on the other side of the window from Betsy. “That’s my package!” Betsy exclaimed, to which the clerk replied “I’m sorry, you are too late.  You should have picked it up when we sent you the notices.” That’s when Betsy went, ahem, postal.

The list of these sorts of miscommunications and misfortunes is longer than the line at the post office the week before Christmas. But that’s the way Betsy’s life has gone – for as long as I can remember. Of course some of her bad luck stories are a bit more dramatic than others. Like the time back in college in Ohio, when she was dating a charming International Exchange student – who had inadvertently forgotten to mention one small detail about the fact that he was married… and had a kid … living in Minnesota. Oops! Small oversight.

Or the time in her twenties, when she was traveling alone in Communist Czechoslovakia and got kidney stones. She was rushed to the hospital, and questioned in Czech, Russian, and myriad languages other than English about her symptoms and identity.  While a doctor was poised with a hypodermic needle, a nurse took Betsy’s passport.  Siberia loomed just around the corner….Fortunately, Betsy somehow survived, retrieved her passport, and finally made it home to America, if for no other reason than to provide more fodder for this week’s blog.

How is it that all of these unfortunate things – and too many more to list here – happen to one person – one quasi-normal, very patient, VERY kind person?  Here’s my theory: My sister Betsy must have been a bad person… a very bad person…. a very, very, VERY bad person …. in a previous life. What other explanation is there?  She did her chores and homework as a child, adopts stray animals, remembers everyone’s birthday, and is an excellent mom.  The only explanation I can conceive of is that she was Attila the Hun in a previous life.

I’m guessing she was the miserly, alcoholic owner of a 19th century sweat shop that forced Russian refugees to sew dresses for 18 hours a day and then fed them a potato and water – perhaps a turnip if they surpassed quota. That’s her factory on the left.   Maybe she was the bitter hag of a headmistress of an over-crowded orphanage who delighted in torching young children’s teddy bears. Or perhaps she was a frog. Who knows? The point is, I’m pretty certain my sister was bad news in a previous life.

Clearly Betsy is doing penance for having been a vile, depraved, demoness for most of the past millennium, (or perhaps she was a frog – let’s keep that possibility on the table).  The amazing thing is that Betsy does not complain about her endless cycle of misfortunes. She actually laughs about them and is one of the funniest, most jovial people I’ve ever known.  Her mantra is “It makes for a good story,” which is why I decided to tell her story today.

One burning question remains: Having dealt with such adversity in her present lifetime with tremendous grace and humor, what will Betsy come back as in the next life? Impossible to say. I’m guessing a beautiful princess or perhaps a postal worker.

Still, we can’t exclude the possibility of a frog.

Well, that’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2010 – 2011

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