Half an hour to kill in Providence, R.I., near the campus of Brown University, so what else to do but eat? I found my way to Geoff's, one of those sandwich shops that seem to sprout in college neighborhoods.
The menu was written on a blackboard in many shades of chalk. Approximately 47 varieties of Nantucket Nectar sat in the cooler. All the sandwiches had whimsical names. There wasn't the slightest trace of McDonaldism -- no french fries, no fluorescent lights, no table tents featuring red-nosed clowns.
I ordered a roast beef on rye. The counterman asked if I'd like mustard.
"Yes, please, and make it serious mustard," I told him. "The punchier the better."
He produced a large white plastic jar from a cooler beneath his work space. Obviously, this was the mustard trotted out only for mavens like me.
It was nearly the shade of blackberry jam. The counterman tapped the side of the jar. "Ser-r-r-ious," he intoned, seriously. I told him I couldn't be happier.
But then came a question that I didn't expect.
"Would you like mustard on one piece of bread or both?" the counterman asked.
Never one to play along meekly, I said I'd like mustard on both pieces, please, and on the mound of roast beef, too. He nodded and began to comply.
I couldn't help but ask how most people answer The Mustard Question.
"On one piece of bread for most people, and most of them want it on the bottom piece, not the top piece," the counterman said. "They want mustard, but not too much."
"Ah, but there's no such thing as too much mustard," I soliloquized, half hoping the guy would think I was some demented literature professor.
"Mustard is the nectar of the gods -- nuts to that Nantucket stuff. Besides, if you put mustard on both pieces of bread and also on the sandwich meat, you run no risk of missing mustard at any time during the sandwich. I mean, I just hate it when I take a bite and get no mustard at all, because it's all stacked at the opposite end."
The counterman gave me an even look. Then he volunteered a piece of information that I've been thinking about ever since.
"Seems like men like mustard on both slices. Women like it on one. Must mean something," he said.
But by now, he had wrapped my mustardized lunch in aluminum foil and had handed it over. Philosophizing was done. Munching could begin.
So can generalizing.
Levey's new favorite theory:
Massive mustardization is a "guy thing," because eating all that spiciness requires reckless bravado.
Please, please, don't bother to call me if you're female and you like mustard. I know there are thousands of you.
But I also know that the last 17 times the Providence counterman has pulled that jar of serious mustard out of his cooler, the requester was male.
Women want mustard as decoration on their sandwiches, I have decided. Men want mustard to (somehow) prove their manhood. They want to be able to say that they asked the counterman to put mustard on both pieces of rye bread, and on the roast beef, and lived to tell about it.
Is Levey brain-addled by mustard? Anyone have a countertheory? I'll take 'em bland, spicy, whatever.
I'm reachable via e-mail at email@example.com, by fax at 202-334-5150 and by regular mail at Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
If you choose either of the latter two methods, I promise not to dribble mustard on your pearls of wisdom.
Dan New always has a hearty hello, and almost as often, a story that makes me cluck. The one Dan told me the other day was a clucker-and-a-half.
Dan works as a special police officer at an office building on the corner of 16th and L streets NW. He often sees car accidents in front of his perch. But he had never seen one like this.
A woman ran a red light because she was putting on makeup while driving, Dan says. She "T-boned" a car coming in the other direction. That car spun around and hit a third car. Everyone and everything came to rest in one of those smoking, gnarled messes that we've all seen so often.
Dan ran out to see if everyone was all right. Everyone was. But he will never recover from what he saw when he glanced into the woman's car.
"She was finishing with her makeup," Dan told me. "Here this woman had just been in an accident -- had just caused an accident -- and she was doing the eyeliner and the lipstick and the blush. Unbelievable."
A man goes through three phases in life, reports R.B. Moore.
First, he believes in Santa. Then, he doesn't believe in Santa. Then, he's asked to play Santa.