Having a Hillcrest moment

Yippee! We’re in the money, as the old song goes. Just minutes ago I received an email. It’s informal, starts only with “Hi” and its brief message is: “A Payment may have been sent to you.” The amount: $4,392.81. The status is marked as “Approved.”

The final sentence says, “If this email was sent to you by mistake, please ignore it.” And it ends with “Good luck.” The typed name is simply Richard L. I thank Richard for the familiarity and applaud the casual tone of somehow sending by mistake an email that promises a financial reward.

Ah, shucks! Easy come — easy go. And thanks for getting my hopes up. Thanks for symbolically ripping that check out of my cold, shaking, 77-year-old hands.

I’d grown almost to miss such missives. We have a brief history of “pie in the sky.” When my mother, Marie, was alive, she called me excitedly with the “news” that she was about to receive a check for $1,000.

Please note that a check of almost any amount, received serendipitously, would be welcome. People lived much more frugally in those days. Mom and Dad bought the house they lived and died in for $2,000. And the seller, a close relative, let them pay it off in $10 chunks, whenever they could.

Even though I was at work when Mom called with the “news,” I told her, “Mom, this looks like a Hillcrest Moment.” And accordingly, I drove her and Dad a couple of blocks from their house, and she bought me “cafecito” at the Hillcrest, the place we called “the haunt of the geriatric set.”

Before discussing my Mom further, let me explain how she became well-known at the Grand Avenue eatery. As Mom and Dad aged, they began using diminutives for most nouns.

Accordingly, tamales became tamalitos, posole was renamed posolito, chile was renamed chilito, tacos became taquitos. And of course, our parents’ offspring continued to be referred at hijitos and hijitas, even after we’d applied for Social Security benefits.

One time at the Hillcrest, Mom and Dad ordered taquitos — and they got just that: tiny, rolled corn tortillas (er — tortillitas) with meat inside. When the order came, both of them noticed not the tightly rolled item wrapped around meat, but three folded-over tacos with salsa, lettuce and tomatoes.

“But we ordered TACOS,” Mom insisted. “No, Mrs. Trujillo, you said “TAQUITOS.” Mom and Dad’s weekly visits to the Hillcrest continued, and each time they ordered taquitos — and got tacos — by agreement.

Finally getting the order straight, we visited over Mom’s assumed windfall. She noticed I was not enthusiastic. She said I was over-cautious. And I think she was bugged because her mind was set on a vacation flight to San Diego with Dad to visit my sister, Dorothy, or a bit of remodeling, or a car. In those days, four-thou-plus would buy a decent car.

Still not persuaded, Mom asked me to phone my brother, Severino, “for an expert opinion.” I used him for “bah-que,” a local Spanglish word that we often used for “backing” or “backup.” Severino often provided some “bah-que” when he sensed I was about to enter into a fight. And vice-versa.

I believe Severino soothed Mom’s anxiety and explained it best when he said, “Mom, people don’t just send free money to strangers.” And I think he even invoked the saying that, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

So Mom didn’t get to enjoy the windfall, and we sensed her disappointment. But why blame family? If she’d tried to cash the check, she’d soon discover the bogusness or bogusity of the con game. I believe Mom still expected to enrich herself after that experience but changed her tone when a close friend, a coffee partner told her the same thing had happened to her.

I sensed disappointment in Mom’s tone, even as she agreed, “You’re probably right, Hijito. The offer wasn’t real.”

But it still bothers me that the unscrupulous continue to prey mostly on the elderly, who 1) usually could use the money, 2) who are no longer in the groove of day-to-day finances, and 3) who, being in Mom’s age group, tend to be gullible.

Like my parents, 20 years ago, I too was surprised at the email I received this week. The casualness of the greeting and the “Oops, I’m sorry if we sent this to you in error.” The tone spelled SCAM.

When I began writing this column, my go-to man on such scams was the late Ray Litherland, with the First National Bank, who provided me with reams of material describing the get-rich-quick approach some people use.

My biggest surprise is the nonchalant tone of the email, supposedly signed by a Richard whose last name is simply “L.” In fact, I do know at least three people called Richard L. Their last names are Lindeborg, Lucero and Lovato. I’ve known Lindeborg for years, from our days at Highlands; Lucero was a childhood playmate; and Lovato was my student in Cuba, N.M.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll give each one a call to find out whether they have something for me, containing a “1,” with several zeroes following closely.

• • •

Trivia question: Was there a slightly overweight male present at the nativity in Bethlehem? If so, please name him.

• • •

Last week’s weight: 227.

This week’s weight: 226

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