Fink Murphy

Fink Murphy

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

“Fink” is a name that most people would prefer not to be known by. It would be strange, to say the least, that any parent would name his/her child “Fink”. There is a bit of shadiness or suspiciousness attached to the moniker, regardless of the actual character to whom it is attached. A very upright, law-abiding person may go by the name “Fink”.

Such was the case years ago in a Midwest city, a medium-sized urban area, with the usual amenities of urban life such as it was fifty or so years ago. These included the electrical grid that empowered the then expected amenities of life, such as a phone system that connected every business operation and household in the vicinity, or at least the vast majority of them. At that time, there was a common, and less expensive, arrangement known as “a party line”, which enabled several parties, usually neighbors to one another, to use the same phone line, that is, the same phone number. The only way of knowing when an incoming call was for one’s own family rather than another party on the same line, was in the distinctive “ring” of an incoming call. This enabled a particular customer on a three or four party-line, to know that the call was for his/her family rather than another party on the line. For example, two long and one short ring indicated one party, rather than another party whose distinctive ring might have been one long and two short rings. This meant everyone on that line had to listen carefully to incoming calls to make sure that they were for someone else, not for him or herself. Of course, mistakes were made, especially by children, who would mistakenly answer a phone call meant for another party on the line which, when this occurred frequently, agitated the other parties on that line.

Such was the arrangement in the case at hand, involving a party line, one of whom was a bookie named Fink Murphy (this surname is fictitious). He was the recipient of many calls because this city featured a famous racehorse track, attracting bettors from across the area, and Fink was quite busy accommodating their desires. Understandably, the other parties on this party line were fed up with Fink, since most of the incoming calls were for Fink, and he was occupying the line on his own initiative the remainder of the time. There was one young single woman in particular who was agitated at his constant presence on the phone line, especially on weekends, as she awaited phone calls from her boyfriends inviting her out on a date.

Now there are obvious lessons to glean from this example. One, for those who could afford it, was to avoid securing a party line for their use, and procure their own private line.   The other, less charitable than this, was for those sharing the party line with Fink, to sit close to the phone and repeatedly interrupt Fink as he conversed with another party on the line. Or, in much the same fashion, was to try beating Fink to the phone when it first rang, and proceed to announce that Fink was unavailable. Or yet another strategy, more charitable in nature, was to bear this cross patiently and suffer this inconvenience in silence.

But every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, it was a daughter of Fink, who could not bear this Incessant warfare, but who happily met a young man whose family was also on this party line, eager to avoid the rancor accompanying this situation.   It was out of this situation that a Romeo and Juliet situation developed that more than compensated for their grievances. Each of them was privy to this internecine conflict, and brought their mutual interests to bear upon it, to the relief of all.

For us, living in a less tension-filled situation than just described, an incident such as this helps us appreciate that there are advantages living in a more technologically advanced society where we do not have to put up with such an upsetting scenario, since we now carry about our cell phones or I-phones or smart-phones, whereby we can achieve instant communication with our friends and family, without fear of interference from unfriendly, intrusive or belligerent neighbors.   And while even these devices can occasion ugly scenarios, such as the recent standoff between the FBI and the Apple Inc organization, they are relatively infrequent, providing more privacy and less rancor than the party-line arrangement. We need not worry about Fink Murphys dominating a party-line system. This occasions a sense of gratitude for the benefits we enjoy (not taking them for granted), of seeing the silver lining around the inevitable clouds overshadowing us, and of providing better ways for a Romeo and Juliet to meet.


One thought on “Fink Murphy

  1. Thanks for your post Father. Wonder what folks would do today if subjected to “party” line communication! Perish the thought for sure.

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