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Bah Humbug To Tacky Guests

I invited an uncle, an aunt, a cousin, and the cousin’s son plus his girlfriend for a Christmas Eve family dinner. I had never met Sonny or Girlfriend, but, since he was past 21, I figured he’d be an adult.

In the midst of our repast, Uncle mentioned a lady (in her 80’s) to whom he was once engaged and who is still aunt’s best friend.  Sonny growled, “I wish she was dead, with a stake through her heart!”  He has never met or spoken to the lady.  As he was a guest in my home, I said nothing.

Later, we were opening Christmas gifts and I gave my uncle a hat with my university’s logo on it.  As my school is nationally known and my uncle collects baseball caps, I thought this a good gift.  Sonny did not.  He yelled, “Get another one and you’ll have one to s**t on and one to cover it up!” He did not know I had the exact same gift for him, but at least I knew what he thought of my kindness.

Cousin was shocked, amazed, and highly insulted when she invited Sonny to Thanksgiving dinner at my home and I told her I did not intend to invite him back.  I am a Southern lady and our first rule of hospitality is that we do not allow anyone to insult a guest under our roof.  We certainly don’t allow anyone to insult us under our own roof.  I expected she would phone her son, explain that his rudeness was unacceptable, and that, as a man, he would apologize for his behavior.  I would then have invited him.

I have not heard from her or from him again.   0817-08

And some people wonder why they are lonely and left out of family celebrations.

{ 73 comments… add one }
  • portianay December 7, 2010, 6:17 am

    You know, here’s the thing: one of the functions of the practice of etiquette is to make those around us comfortable. No doubt someone will post here defending Sonny or his mother, the Cousin; I have no idea why anyone would, but I have read some shockers here! Part of maintaining a standard of etiquette is the necessity of firmly drawing a line in the sand. Otherwise, the Machiavellian manipulators of this world take over, and the mistakenly “kind” Greathearts cringe too often for comfort. OP was absolutely correct to act as she did, and Cousin was presumptuous, at best, and controlling, at worst, to think her Sonny would automatically be included again. I hope OP writes this off with a pleasant, “good riddance,” and enjoys her holidays. My sympathy to Cousin for having such a buffoon for a son. It happens. I admit curiosity as to whether Sonny still has a girlfriend. If so, I hope she is thick-skinned.

  • Tarina December 7, 2010, 6:33 am

    I love the “since he was past 21, I figured he’d be an adult.” part. Honestly, that was pure gold!

  • Jolie_kitten December 7, 2010, 7:09 am

    I doubt Sonny is mentally sane. Really

  • samihami December 7, 2010, 8:00 am

    No doubt the cousin was “shocked, amazed, and highly insulted” because she is the one who raised that mannerless boor. By stating that he was unwelcome because of his rude behavior, the cousin probably took it as a direct insult of her parenting skills. Sometimes the truth hurts. I don’t think the OP is losing anything of value by no longer having contact with these people.

  • MamaToreen December 7, 2010, 8:26 am

    It’s cousin’s fault, if you ask me. Sonny is over 21 and innocent of all manners? Someone didn’t do the parent’s job of taking the little baby barbarian and turning him into a civilized adult.

  • Ali December 7, 2010, 8:40 am

    How did this guy get a girlfriend?

    I’m only 22 and wouldn’t have acted like this when I was 12, or even 5. His age is NO excuse. That’s not acting like a child or acting immaturely, that’s acting like a jerk.

  • Sandy December 7, 2010, 8:43 am

    Bravo. Eliminating contact with unpleasant people from your life takes backbone but is worth it.

    Making it clear to my brother-in-law that a mutual acquaintance would no longer be welcome in our home after he relieved himself in a flowerbed as he departed a gathering to which he had been a tag-a-long invitee earned us the title of ‘Judgmental’ from the BIL. Contrary to my assumption of the BIL’s intent in that statement, I heard his comment as meaning ‘having the ability to appropriately judge inappropriate behavior’ I continue to apply standards to those I allow into my home.

  • Harley Granny December 7, 2010, 8:52 am

    Good for you OP for being honest with your cousin as to why the “boy” won’t be invited back.

    So many people dance around the issue. Hopefully this will give the boy’s parents an opening to discuss manners.

    And I grew up in the North…this is a steadfast Hospitality rule there too.

    Like Tarina, I like the “since he was past 21, I figured he’d be an adult.” part also! Priceless!

  • Chocobo December 7, 2010, 9:07 am

    I know too many people like this. Good on you for sticking to your guns and removing the unpleasantness from your next family gathering.

  • badkitty December 7, 2010, 9:13 am

    Cousin is doubtless the same person who wondered why nobody wanted to be around Sonny when he was younger. He didn’t just start this, I can almost guarantee that he was – if anything – WORSE when he was younger. Parents who take no steps to correct their children’s atrocious manners and then complain that nobody will let them bring the kids are my particular holiday peeve. And yes, you should have been able to assume that, at 21 years old, Sonny would at least be adult enough not to suggest that someone defecate on their gift.

  • Xtina December 7, 2010, 9:20 am

    What is Sonny’s problem? How could anyone–especially his mother–find those kinds of comments acceptable or sweep them under the rug as being humorous? I am quite surprised that Cousin was surprised that her son would not be welcome back at the OP’s house (and I commend you, OP, for sticking to your guns and refusing admittance to him) after such rude comments.

    I do feel for the girlfriend, but she might be as rude as Sonny.

  • Just Laura December 7, 2010, 9:43 am

    Everyone can’t understand why Cousin would think that her son’s behavior is acceptable. To me, it looked as if the son was trying (feebly) to make jokes. Cousin is probably used to his poor sense of humor. I wouldn’t be surprised if both of them would have said, “that was just a joke!” if the OP had called them out on it.
    Some people think that putting a rude comment into the “humor” category makes it okay. I’m glad the OP has made it clear that such nasty comments aren’t allowed at her house, but that is probably the reason why Cousin is “shocked and amazed.” How could anyone not agree that her little darling is funny?

  • DGS December 7, 2010, 10:06 am

    Good job, OP, for sticking to your guns! The relatives sound awful; I say, good riddance, and how wonderful that you are rid of them to no longer spoil your holiday fun or behave in tacky and rude way in your house. I’m not surprised that Cousin didn’t “get” why Sonny wasn’t invited; like other posters here, I think that since she’s his mother, she took offense to your just judgment of her parenting skills (or lack thereof). Lastly, I hope that Sonny’s girlfriend is no longer his girlfriend after witnessing him behave in such a manner!

  • Renee December 7, 2010, 10:06 am

    Sandy, I *LOVE* your take on “judgmental”! Bravo!

  • Lizajane December 7, 2010, 10:18 am

    Social anxiety disorder/asperger’s/adhd defense in 3. 2. 1…

  • Louise December 7, 2010, 10:20 am

    All I can think of is that Sonny was trying to be funny. But, he wasn’t, and I don’t blame the OP for not inviting him or the cousin back.

    I’d also like to know what his girlfriend sees in him….

  • Sarah Peart December 7, 2010, 10:23 am

    That was just plain weird. What kind of person mentions defecation in mixed company? And on a present? No I do not know where to start but I would have had the same reaction as the person posting. That is to say – not say anything at the time but make your feelings clear privately and state what needs to be changed for you to accept. Sometimes we have to stamp out rude behaviour one person at a time.

  • Alexis December 7, 2010, 10:36 am

    So cousin was shocked that she couldn’t just invite her son someone else’s house without asking AND after he behaved rudely? I see she taught him everything she knows about manners. I agree with badkitty. Cousin likely never disciplined her son when he was a kid and was repeatedly shocked, just SHOCKED, that people didn’t want him around. The pattern continues.

  • thisisnotmyusername December 7, 2010, 11:03 am

    Wow. That’s the only thing I can think of to say. Who in their right mind would say things like that?!

  • AS December 7, 2010, 11:28 am

    Good for you that cousin did not contact you anymore. If she cannot accept, or even see it for herself that her darling “little boy” is rude, she is better off not being invited to gatherings. My mother would not have tolerated such a behavior from me even when I was 5 years old. She’d have taken me to a different room, and given me an earful and/or a spanking.

    It doesn’t matter whether you are from the south or anywhere else. Guests are treated with curtsey everywhere. I am not even from USA, but we too have the “no one insults anyone under my roof” rule when we have guests. Kind of hard to implement sometimes, I guess?.

  • alli_wan December 7, 2010, 12:00 pm

    Am I the only one who thinks perhaps the OP should have spoke to Sonny directly? Perhaps even made a comment that he was getting out of line at the time? Clearly his own mother thinks his behavior is acceptable, so we can assume that he’s not entirely at fault for his own upbringing in that if he is never told his behavior is rude, he will not know it?

    It seems to me much of this nonsense could have been avoided and relations improved if the OP spoke up at the time of offense instead of being bitter and banning the offender for life until he met up with her uncommunicated standards. Sending a message of exclusion by way of his equally boorish mother seems passive-aggressive and utterly ineffective.

  • Elizabeth December 7, 2010, 12:12 pm

    I am truly surprised Sonny’s mother didn’t nip the rudeness in the bud the moment it started that day. My mother would have shut me up, no matter what my age. I get that his mother was hurt that she was invited to a family member’s holiday celebration and her child wasn’t. Even as an adult, it is still her child and she would want to be with him on the holidays. At the same time, I would have made him apologize long before the next invite so the whole “he isn’t invited” part would hopefully not occurred. Good for you for not tolerating such behavior from guests.

  • David December 7, 2010, 12:51 pm

    I think after the “I wish she was dead with a stake through her heart” comment, I might have taken him aside to explain the dictionary definition of the word “inappropriate”.

    I’m floored that his mother thought that this was appropriate behavior for her son and expected him to be invited back.

  • LovleAnjel December 7, 2010, 1:28 pm


    It is not the OP’s job to discipline other peoples children, adults or not. No longer inviting an insulting person to your home is not nonsense, it is a perfectly acceptable response under the circumstances. I’m pretty sure other people have told him his “jokes” were inappropriate, and he and his mother labor under the assumption that every one else just has thin skin and no sense of humor.

    The motehr called to ask why he wasn’t invited, not Sonny. That is why she was told and not him. That is not passive-aggressive, that is answering a direct question truthfully.

  • boxy December 7, 2010, 1:32 pm

    I’m confused, it was your house and you allowed him to be insulting or later did you say it’s your house and people are not allowed to be insulting? It’s a little contradictory or I’m not getting it.

    Regardless, something similar has happened to me and I addressed it, alone, with the offender. Nothing major, just a quick conversation that went something like, “I hope you’re having a really good time here. I want you to be here but you need to know my house rules are that you don’t bust on Sister (the offendee). Good enough? Great, let’s get back to the party.”

    Surprisingly it worked and I’m really glad I didn’t just roll over and live with wishful thinking that Offender would straighten up.

  • Goldie December 7, 2010, 1:39 pm

    This behavior does NOT sound normal. There’s rude, and then there’s talking about fecal matter at Christmas dinner. I suspect either mental illness or a drug problem. Because the mother doesn’t seem to have a clue that there’s something wrong with her son, my money’s on the drug problem.

  • Adica December 7, 2010, 1:43 pm

    I’m not sure which part of the story I find most mind-boggling: Sonny’s behavior, Cousin’s shock, or that Sonny has a girlfriend.

  • Kat December 7, 2010, 2:43 pm

    Good grief, really? If an eight year old behaved like that, I’d have him tested for a behavioral disorder.

  • Simone December 7, 2010, 2:54 pm

    @Alli-wan – Why? This is an adult in her home for a social occasion. Why on earth would it be the OPs responsibility to communicate her standards? They are not unreasonable or uncommon standards. It is not at all her responsibility to change this boor’s manners.

    And her response was entirely effective – she is no longer in any danger of being offended by this behaviour in her own home.

  • Calliope December 7, 2010, 3:47 pm

    @Lizajane, I was thinking the same thing! Just skimming the comments, when I got to yours and saw the words “Social anxiety disorder,” I thought, “Oh, here we go again,” but then I actually read what you’d written and had a chuckle.

  • Allie December 7, 2010, 3:58 pm

    I am continually amazed by people who react in such ways to a gift. What kind of person criticizes a gift, and especially one that has been given to somebody else. Some of us take great care in selecting gifts for our friends and family, and it is incredibly hurtful for someone to dismiss them like that. The is one and only one correct response to a gift, and that is “thank you”.

  • Ali December 7, 2010, 4:44 pm

    Goldie – Sometimes people are just ill-mannered bores. Saying that no one could say such things without being victim to a mental illness or drug problem is just making excuses for poor behavior. I have a good friend with Tourette’s who would never have behaved so rudely and is quite abashed when inappropriate things slip out of her mouth.

  • Gloria Shiner December 7, 2010, 4:48 pm

    So, Alli-wan, do you think the OP should have chastised the second cousin publicly? Or do you think she should have taken him aside to give him a lesson in manners? Neither is especially polite considering he is over 21. Given his behavior, I would be concerned that he would mis-interpret being addressed in private.

    Also, to what “nonsense” are you referring? It is certainly sensible to decide that one does not want boorish people in one’s home, especially for a holiday celebration.

    Finally, the OP’s “uncommunicated standards” are simply standards for reasonable behavior given the company that was present. Why do consider her solution ineffective? She doesn’t have to spend time with this person; sounds effective to me!

  • Louise December 7, 2010, 5:26 pm


    I see what you’re saying, but that sort of straightforwardness doesn’t always work. I think pointing out that someone has crossed the line can lead to defensiveness and drama, and sometimes it’s easier just to cross the offender off the guest list. I would have done the same thing in the OP’s position; Sonny was boorish, but he didn’t cross the line into outright offensive, in my opinion (I can understand if others feel differently). I wouldn’t want to make a scene, even in my own home; I’d just make sure he didn’t come back.

  • The Cat Whisperer December 7, 2010, 5:43 pm

    I think OP handled the situation admirably. It is no loss to OP to not have these people as guests.

    I just hope she told her cousin explicitly why her son was not welcome in her home. It sounds like this cousin might possibly be completely clueless, so it shouldn’t be assumed that she understood how unacceptable her son’s behavior was. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” He son had to learn this kind of boorishness from someone, and his parents are the most likely source.

  • Lizajane December 7, 2010, 5:55 pm

    Glad you liked it.

    Yup, some people *are* just rude.

  • alli_wan December 7, 2010, 6:31 pm

    Well, apparently none of you agree with me, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an offended party to politely make their hurt known. It may also have saved the OP a lot of unpleasantness to simply state the first time it happened that the behavior was not acceptable. It would have then been Sonny’s choice to either behave or not.

    Instead, the OP chose the passive aggressive route, which was to punish Sonny and his mother for not reading her mind and knowing she was offended until they had reached the point of no return. (That she said nothing at any point indicates she was in fact hiding her disapproval. Humans are not psychic, despite popular opinion, and we can assume Sonny is not the most socially aware person). Many of you argue that the OP has a reasonable expectation of behavior. Perhaps she does, perhaps she doesn’t, we only know her side. The issue I have is that she expects everyone else automatically knows her standard of behavior and knowingly trods upon her standards out of intentional rudeness as opposed to ignorance. If Sonny’s mother condones his behavior, I would assume he is working on ignorance here.

    Finally, there are two aspects to being adult, both of which the OP is failing at. Firstly, as an adult, you should recognize that everyone is not like you, everyone is not raised as you are raised and other people may have different norms and standards of behavior that differ from yours. Secondly, as an adult, you have a certain responsibility in how others treat you and in communicating how you expect to be treated. That the OP took no action in expressing how she should be treated, nor in communicating her standards, but instead chose to punitively cut off her relative as the first and only course of action is immature, and would be expected of a girl in junior high, not an adult. A simple “Sonny, please don’t use that language in my home,” could have set and clarified her standards. Expecting Sonny to instead read her mind, guess her standards and rise to her level of politeness (with the admitted handicap of his upbringing) seems equally boorish to me. To punish him for not reading her mind seems even more so in that the OP’s hurtful actions are indeed intended.

  • Me December 7, 2010, 6:47 pm

    OP, I think the university logo cap is a great gift idea and I would have been thrilled to receive one!

  • Sharon December 7, 2010, 7:58 pm

    Gloria Shiner and Louise make good sense to me.

  • gramma dishes December 7, 2010, 8:03 pm

    alli_wan ~~

    No, I don’t think the host should have spoken to him directly. It is not her place to chastize and ‘correct’ the behavior of another adult (who had not actually been invited in the first place), even in her own home. Even if he had been six years old rather than an adult, it would have been his Mother’s responsibility to correct him, not his host’s.

    Hopefully, even though she apparently doesn’t understand why her son is no longer welcome, she will plant the seed in his brain that there ARE consequences to behaving abominably in public. Not being invited back is simply a matter of natural consequences.

    I think the OP did the right thing by simply crossing him off the list. And if the mother found that offensive to her personally, so be it. At least the OP won’t have to put up with such silliness again and that was her goal. I see it as “mission accomplished”.

  • Anne December 7, 2010, 8:57 pm

    Would it have been poor manners to follow the stake comment with “Would that be t-bone, rib-eye, or new york strip?”

  • SJ December 7, 2010, 11:04 pm

    Sometimes it’s difficult to make the right decision in the heat of the moment. I often find myself so shocked by rudeness and so worried about having too strong a reaction that I end up doing nothing.

    From the extreme of his behavior, I would guess that anything the OP said to him would have no affect at all except perhaps to exacerbate the problem.

  • The Cat Whisperer December 8, 2010, 12:56 am

    alli_wan, I think there are standards of behavior that it is reasonable to expect from an adult who is not the subject of a conservatorship or an order of commitment. You really shouldn’t have to tell an adult who isn’t suffering from mental issues that the only acceptable response to a gift is “thank you,” and that making crude toilet-humor derogatory comments about a gift your hostess has given someone is unacceptable. No mind-reading is necessary: most people are taught as children to observe these kinds of civilities.

    If you want to demand explanations, then don’t you think that “Sonny” owes his hostess and the others present an explanation of why he wished someone he didn’t know was “dead, with a stake through her heart”? Or an explanation of why he urged someone to defecate on a gift that the hostess had given? After all, OP isn’t a mind-reader. If he didn’t intend those things as insults, shouldn’t he have explained himself?

    I think OP handled the situation exactly right: she avoided turning a festive occasion into a confrontation, which would have been very awkward for all the other guests. She carried on through the occasion and just decided that “Sonny” will be dropped from the future guest list. Which is her right: a hostess has a right to decide who she wants to entertain. Clearly “Sonny” isn’t her kind of guest and she’s not his kind of hostess. He’ll be happier at something more like a kegger with people who enjoy his brand of “humor,” and OP will be happier with guests who understand the basics of civil behavior. Everyone wins!

  • Elizabeth December 8, 2010, 1:43 am

    Sweet evil angels! I’ve known some rude people in my time (trust me; I’ve just graduated from college) but insulting a gift using commentary on bodily functions? I suppose I wouldn’t be too shocked to hear this sort of thing being said, say, among Sonny and his drinking buddies (though I still would not find it at all humorous), but the OP and her cousin are at least in their forties at this event, and the aunt and uncle are perhaps in their seventies. I’ve always been taught that many things that are acceptable among members of your own age group may be highly offensive to those of older generations. I guess Sonny missed that day of elementary-age tips from his mother . . . Seriously, what a rotten-sounding little brat, and I hope he would understand the significance of being called such a thing from a person only three years older than he at the time of this party!

    In defense of the OP, I can fully understand why she would not confront this boy or his mother. A dinner party can be irreversibly disrupted by an altercation between host and guest, especially when it seems unlikely that the guest will take the criticism or reminder to behave appropriately very badly. From what I know of Southern hospitality, here in my little Virginian body (we barely count, heh), the goal of the host/hostess is to make sure the gathering goes smoothly and the guests are happy. The OP probably wanted to avoid causing a bigger upset than that caused by Sonny’s comments. I think the way the OP acted was impressive, and I can only hope to behave with similar grace should I ever be in a similar situation.

  • Lynda December 8, 2010, 4:04 am

    I think making a comment at the time could have polarized the situation and involved everyone there unecessarily. I don’t understand where alli_wan get the idea that standards of behavior vary and the aunt and cousin couldn’t know what was expected of them.
    Since they do seem to be clueless as to what is expected of them–and probably all other situations where their behavior would deviate from generally accepted standards of behavior, and since it appears that they both lack any measure of empathy, I think they should become mind readers so they would possibly gain an understanding of what is expected of them—
    From the way the cousin put down the former girlfriend of his father and then disparaged the gift to him as well, I think the father is probably demanding the boy shape up and the mother is defending him, so the dynamics get played out whenever they’re out in public.
    P prescribe divorce for the father so he can get away from these two losers and the mother and son (aunt & cousin) can live happily ever after in their co-dependent neurotic world.
    I think the OP was remarkably self-controlled. I think I would have lost it and offered to try it on the cousin myself to see if it worked (the stake through the heart). But then, I’ve decided I don’t have to put up with people like that, relatives or not, anymore….I’ve paid enough dues and I’ve resigned from the union of unpaid family sufferers…I won’t picket outcast members, I won’t boycott their events and I won’t show up at meeting unless I want to…and if I’m not missed, so much the better. Lets other people get on with their lives.

  • lkb December 8, 2010, 6:25 am

    @alli_wan: I agree with Gramma Dishes’ response to your response. In addition, as it was Christmas Eve, which many consider to be the most important night of year, it is quite possible that the OP did not want to make a scene. Sometimes the best one can do in the face of boorish behavior at the time is silence.

  • MamaToreen December 8, 2010, 8:16 am

    Asperger’s and Autism are no excuse. My 38 year old brother is Autistic and my 8 year old son is Asperger’s. Both have exemplary manners. My botrhter’s sense of humor is veering, but not scataological

  • Goldie December 8, 2010, 10:36 am

    My 17yo has Aspergers. He’d never act like Sonny did. I was thinking along the lines of “voices in Sonny’s head telling him what to do”, not Aspergers. Not using this as an excuse at all, just saying that Sonny comes across as completely unhinged, and, if he were my relative’s son, I would at least ask the relative if the kid was OK, to make sure whatever he’s got is being taken care of and there wouldn’t be worse things happening down the road. That said, I would not invite Sonny back either (or allow his mom to bring him along). After this incident, I would never again unleash Sonny on my other guests, so he wouldn’t be welcome in my house, mental illness or not.

  • Caitlin December 8, 2010, 10:57 am

    Those are such bizarre things to say, without provocation, that I thought perhaps he may have Tourettes. Of course, even if that was the case a simple ‘I’m sorry, I have tourettes and sometimes foul things come out of my mouth- I don’t mean them’ would have saved the issue.

    Pretty much everywhere has the same ‘standards’ that threats of violence against people you don’t know and who aren’t present aren’t appropriate and that insultingf a gift in a scatological way also isn’t appropraite. It is not expecting mind-reading to expect a 21 year old to know that.

    However, I would have mentioned something to him at the time myself, to give him a chance to explain himself ‘Are you feeling OK? I was wondering if something was bothering you’

  • AS December 8, 2010, 11:53 am

    @ali_wan – I repeat what many others said, it is not OP’s responsibility to correct an adult who lacks basic social grace. I have seen lot of stories on this site where the LW is setting up standards not taking into consideration the cultural differences of the offender. But this is not such a case. In every culture, the only accepted response to a gift is appreciation, and not telling a person to defecate in it. Gosh! That is so offensive, especially when the gift-giver is around. One does not need to be clairvoyant to know basic human decency. Haven’t we sent lot of brides/grooms, small children and people to e-hell for criticizing a gift (that too chosen with so much care)? How would it be if a bridesmaid had said something like this when the couple is opening gifts?

    Secondly, OP already said that one of her rules is that she does not allow anyone to insult a guest under her roof. I can understand that, because my parents had the same idea. Though my mother would sometimes scold some of my close cousins if they did something wrong, but she would never say anything about basic social norms to a guest – they are supposed to have learnt that by then. My cousins were close to us, and she was like a mother to them too; so that was a different case (also, they were in their pre-teens then!). OP is meeting this boy for the first time, and hence obviously not close to him. It would be one thing if he had said something about her beliefs or religion. Something in the lines of a polite “please don’t talk about that here because it affects our sentiments” would have sufficed. But this boy’s comments were downright rude and he should have learnt not to that when young. Saying “that is not an appropriate thing to say about a gift”, that too for the gift she (OP) gave, might not be as pleasant. Also, it would make the other guests more uncomfortable if the cousin (sonny’s mom) and/or sonny had started a confrontation with the host (OP). It was the holiday season. I think the OP got her priorities right and did a good job to keep the peace and say nothing at that time, and just mentally striking him off her guests list for future get-togethers.

    Like many others, I too wonder how he got a girlfriend. Did she stick with him after this incident? My sympathies to her if she did (unless she is just as bad).

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