Norma and Mike Mayo run Le Vagabond Restaurant in Bethesda, and if there's one thing they make it a point to do, it's to get to know their regular customers. Thus, they exposed a scam last week that deserves an A for imagination, if not for results.
Normally, Norma and Mike go home for a few hours after lunch before returning to Le Vagabond to oversee happy hour and dinner. So they were surprised to get a call from the dayside manager as they walked in their front door. Would you please come back right away? There was a man to see them. Said he has urgent business.
"So we went right back and there was this man standing in the entranceway," Norma Mayo recalled. He was 5-feet-8, about 140 pounds, with blondish curly hair and fair complexion. He was in his late 20s. He was in tears.
"He almost threw himself on me," Norma said. "Oh, Norma, Norma, I'm Tom Stone and I think you remember my father, Colonel Stone! He had a stroke and died this morning! I need $46. My mother told me my father used to come here all the time. She told me to come to you, that you'd help. Please, please; my flight's in an hour!'
"He even showed me a snapshot of Mom and Pop together that he had in his wallet. He was crying the whole time.
"I told him I was sorry, but I didn't know any Colonel Stone who was a regular. So he kind of slunk away, looking very discouraged. I felt like the biggest heel on the face of the earth."
Until she went into the bar and saw two regulars at the far end, laughing and shaking their heads.
They had been in another nearby lounge two nights before, and had witnesed the same performance. "They said the only difference was that he wanted $200 that time," Norma Mayo said.
"Bob Leavey speaking."
"This is John Montgomery, Bob. I'm calling from the rattiest bar on Capitol Hill. You know which one it is?"
"Doesn't matter. I've probably closed it at some time or another. What can I do for you?"
"Bunch of your readers are sitting around having an argument, and we wonder if you can settle it for us. How do you spell the red tomato sauce you put on hamburgers?"
Well, a flip through Webster settled it. Catsup is preferred; ketchup is tolerated. But John's call got me to reminiscing with the guy who has settled more telephone barroom bets than any man I know: Ben Gieser of our sports department.
Ben is the author of Gieser's Law: Settle one telephone bet, and your caller will forever call with another question at exactly the moment you have no time to talk. Having been burned by his own law many times, Ben places great stock in clever ways of discouraging bet-settling calls.
"We had a copy boy once who would take a call from, let's say, a guy who wanted to know if Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs," Ben said.
"The copy boy would say, 'Yup, 714,' and hang up before the caller's friend could get on the phone to hear '714' for himself.
"Of course, the friend would call back a minute later. And just to be sure that this pair of callers never came back for more, the copy boy would tell the friend: 'Babe Ruth hit 713 home runs.'
"Then he'd hang up."
For John Montgomery and me, the catsup controversy ended more cheerfully.
"Bob," he said, "I sure appreciate your help."
"John," I said, "drink a catsup or two for me."
Thanks to Ron Nessen and several others for tipping me to the existence of a hardy patch of corn and tomatoes growing in the 1600 block of H Street NW, less than a block from Lafayette Square.
A garden in the middle of the city? You wouldn't think anybody sensible would try it, much less succeed. But they are: 11 stalks of corn and two of tomatoes, carefully tied up, staked and even watered.
None of the corn has reached elephant's-eye proportions yet, and the tomatoes are still green. Still, both strains look healthier than my front-yard zucchini and beans, and mine don't have to put up with Metrobus fumes.
One question: whose plot is this? Ron didn't know. Passersby didn't know. Staff at the nearby Naval Museum didn't know. Does anyone?