The cellphone rang while we were driving and someone said, “Would you like to make arrangements for your delivery of mustard?”
“Mustard?” asked Wink, my wife, answering while I was behind the wheel.
“Yes, would you like to make arrangements for the 10,000 pounds of mustard that will be delivered on Wednesday?”
Wink turned to me with a look that said, OK, pal, I don’t mind if you buy another cellphone charging station, mini-flashlight, Fats Domino CD, Brooklyn Bridge coffee cup, tire pressure gauge or fourth pair of gray corduroys, but, a truckload of mustard?
I quickly entered a plea of not guilty and heard Wink return to the caller. “Who is this?”
The phone went dead.
Wink does not panic at such moments. I grow faint.
We have been slammed so often — ripped off via credit card, debit card, phone scam and just plain old-fashioned dead-of-night burglary — that I expect the worst. If someone asked with what animal I most identify, I would say, Sitting Duck.
On this occasion, then, my instinct was not to laugh — 10,000 pounds of mustard! — but wonder if delivery would be in jars or squeeze bottles or bulk — a mountain of dry mustard powder offloaded like mulch into the pachysandra and ivy.
Paranoid, I know, but I’m easily rattled these days.
It now is routine to pick up the phone and hear some rascal claiming — falsely — that the Internal Revenue Service is on the way and that I best sign up for legal assistance before a SWAT team arrives.
Or lately, we get hustlers who say a back brace awaits shipment, just provide credit card info, please. (FYI: Sometimes my shoulder aches, but so far, the back’s OK.)
Aside from all that, we are awash in “alternative facts,” “fake news” and made-up stuff of all description and, all in all, it is easy to lose perspective.
If some VIP on television is claiming no, this is not an orange I am holding but an official NBA basketball, reality begins to wobble. “Gee,” you may say to yourself, “from a certain angle, the orange does look bigger than I first thought. I’ll be darned. It’s a basketball.”
Under such circumstances, one does not dismiss out of hand information regarding 10,000 pounds of mustard.
As I wondered if our online banking ledger already would show a disastrous overdraft from some shady spice and condiment company, the phone rang again and from the same unidentified number.
Once more, the person on the other end of the line inquired as to the Wednesday delivery — now so insistent I could hear clearly as Wink held the receiver away from her ear.
“What are you talking about?” said Wink, a gentle person but not one to cross. “We don’t want any mustard. We didn’t order any mustard. Keep your mustard and cut this out!”
When the line went dead, Wink said:
“You know, I think someone was laughing in the background — someone young.”
“Phew,” I said, relieved. “Kids, today, huh?”
And just then arrived call No. 3.
I could hear the voice, different from before — familiar and adolescent.
“Hi,” said our 13-year-old grandson, Jack. “Have you been getting phone calls about 10,000 pounds of mustard?”
“Yes,” said Wink. “Very mysterious.”
“Isn’t that something,” said Jack-be-nimble. “I’ve been getting calls about a big delivery of ketchup.”
“Oh, yes. That’s something, all right.”
Wink then instructed Jack that, while the mustard gambit had a certain measure of wackadoodle humor, if he pulled a stunt of that sort again there would be little reason for him to attend a reading of our wills when the time came.
“You know what I mean?” said Wink.
“No question,” said the insightful Jack.
A couple of weeks later it was Valentine’s Day. Each year, we give the kids little bags of candy and surprises.
In Jack’s this year, Wink placed a heart-shaped box of chocolates and, at the bottom, a 16-ounce jar of Nathan’s 100th Anniversary Original Coney Island Deli Style Mustard
When Jack called to say thanks, he did not mention the surprise.
Did, heh-heh, you enjoy the mustard? we asked.
Jack seemed perplexed.
“Thanks for the candy,” he said, “but I don’t really like mustard.”
He didn’t get the joke and evidently had forgotten the cellphone gambit of a couple weeks earlier. So much else demands attention in the life of a 13-year-old — things like the appropriate height and color of your socks and prospects for a backyard trampoline — that you can understand how tormenting the grandparents might get overlooked.
Worse, it appears that Jack began to suspect our mental state.
Jack’s mom, our daughter, reported that upon finding the mustard at the bottom of his Valentine gift bag, Jack did not mention the phone episode, but, in bafflement, only asked: “Are Grandma and Pop-Pop all right?”
Note to Jack: As of this writing, we are just fine.
Anything else is fake news.