My mother believes that if she utters her phone number in public, something bad will happen. What, no one knows. But something very bad. This makes certain tasks — going to the dry cleaner’s, for instance — a bit challenging.
The dry cleaner asks for her number innocently enough.
My mother, a.k.a. Jan, looks to her left, and then to her right, then to her left again. Everyone is suspect. The skinny guy on line in back of her — clad in dorky white Reeboks and a Members Only windbreaker, holding his toddler’s hand — could very well be the Upper East Side’s most cunning burglar. How does he find his next victims? Naturally, he waits at the dry cleaner’s for some poor, naive customer stupid enough to reveal his or her phone number; can tell from the two sevens that the customer hides cash under his or her bed; looks up the phone number in his handy criss-cross, reverse directory; then gets ready to pounce.
And who’s to say that 90-year-old Sylvia Schwartzbaum, leaning on her walker while she pretends to wait for her freshly starched housecoats, isn’t really an al-Qaeda operative who just needs ONE American phone number to carry out the group’s latest attack? I shudder to think of the death and destruction those two could wreak if only they had Jan’s digits.
So understandably, my mother looks right again, in case anything has changed. Reluctantly, she then starts to provide her number in a barely audible whisper.
“Seven five thr…” She stops herself. Perhaps she has revealed too much. She scans the store again, noting the pizza-faced teen who has just come in to pick up his mother’s clothes. Boy does he look unsavory. She leans in closer, whispering so softly now that the dry cleaner would have to read lips in order to understand.
The dry cleaner indicates that she does not hear my mother.
Sweat is forming on Jan’s brow as she eyeballs the teen she’s sure she’ll be picking out of a line-up soon. Now she mouths the numbers entirely: Seven five three …
By now all three of the perps are staring at her intently, not because they’re waiting to steal her identity, but because they want their damn khakis.
The kindly dry cleaner, unaware of how dangerous her other customers are, decides to help my mother by reciting the number back to her at what seems like the top of her lungs.
“SEVEN FIVE THREE, ZERO SEVEN NINE ZERO!”
The dry cleaner smiles proudly, glad she could assist her customer, who obviously had laryngitis. With her phone number echoing in the air, Jan — horrified by this breach of security — races home to change the locks and cancel her credit cards. You can’t be too careful “in this day and age.”