An illustration from a story by Fred Griffin about passers-by helping a lady recover the beads from her necklace that broke.
Category: Miscellaneous Page 1 of 12
By Gregory Clark, February 17, 1923
Training 3,000 Really Human Girls Not To Talk Back When They Are Barked at – a Triumph of Feminine Psychology.
What is your favorite telephone hate?
Wrong number? Line busy? Cut off? Delay in getting central?
All old stuff. We’ve heard a good deal about YOUR hates.
What about the girl at the other end of the wire? What is central’s favorite hate?
Without exception, the hello girl gives it to the tired business man who roars, snarls, swears, growls, groans and yells.
It all the assorted sounds that are sent in over the wires in one day to a downtown central office of the telephone company were saved and set loose at once, it would sound very much like Ringling’s Circus at feeding time in the big tent.
Men are the worst offenders in rattling the nerves of the swift fingered girls who handle the delicate nerve-system of the telephone exchange. But there are women offenders, too. There is a sweet, meowing kind of lady who can say the cattiest things–
How few wrong numbers you get, how astoundingly few errors you are served with in your daily use of your telephone you will never know, you can’t know, until you have seen the system, have a faint, superficial idea of this miracle of wire and buttons which, in the city of Toronto alone, handles from one million and a quarter to one million and a half telephone calls every twenty-four hours.
Errors occur – in which it has been fairly estimated that YOU are in perhaps half the cases partly to blame.
Delays occur – many of which are caused by YOU taking the time to express your opinion of the girl at central.
And in at least half the errors that do occur the central girl on whom you pour out the vials of your wrath has no more to do with the error than the lady in the moon.
Let’s take a case in point.
Suppose you are phoning from your home in a Parkdale number to another Parkdale number.
The central to whom you give your number reaches with the plug from your phone direct to the hole under the number you have asked for.
Now suppose the lady you are calling is upstairs and is slow answering her phone. You get impatient. You can hear it ringing all right, but you begin to think something is wrong. So you start rapidly clicking your receiver hook up and down.
This causes something strange to happen on central’s board in front of her. When you first took your receiver down, a light lit in front of central. When she plugged in to answer you that little light went out. As soon as you hang up your receiver, that light comes on again, as a sign that you are through. Central promptly switches the cord out of your number and you are disconnected.
Now, when you begin jiggling your hook up and down, that light comes off and on, off and on, but so rapidly that it appears to be on. That is central’s sign to disconnect. She does so. It is your fault.
If you want central, move that hook slowly up and down, to the beat of a grandfather’s clock.
Have you ever been called out of bed to answer the phone, only to find when you get there that there is nobody on the line, and central asks politely: “Number?”
Say your phone is in the Hillcrest exchange. Somebody in the North exchange has decided to call you up. The North person gives his central your number. That central does not, cannot give him the number direct. She presses a button on her board which automatically connects her with the Hillcrest exchange, and a girl in the Hillcrest building, miles away, takes the number, gives the North girl the number of a “trunk line” to put your friend through, and then your phone starts ringing.
In the meantime the North girl and the Hillcrest “trunk line” girl go on with their automatic labor of answering other little lights and switching thirty-four plugs and cords about their board.
Your friend listens to your phone ringing. He wonders at the delay. He looks at his watch and discover it is much later than he had thought. He doesn’t want to get you out of bed. So he hangs up the receiver.
On come the lights in his central’s office. His central promptly pulls out the plug. The light comes on in the Hillcrest “trunk line” girl’s board, and out comes her plug.
By this time you are at the phone and are prayerfully yelling “hello, hello,” and variations thereof.
Suddenly you hear central’s quiet voice say “number,” just as if nothing was amiss.
You roar. You rave.
“I’m sorry,” says central, “there is no one on your line now.”
“Well, what do you mean dragging me out of bed?”
And the fact is, of course, this little girl yon are speaking to doesn’t know any more about your mysterious call than you do. The call had been handled by two switchboards that she didn’t see, one miles away, the other in a different part of the building. In fact, until your friend’s plugs were pulled out after he had hung up, and until you lifted the receiver off, no light came on the board of this central of yours.
She is no more to blame than the lady in the moon. And if she cuts you off in the middle of your abuse you have a hemorrhage.
When you are cut off in the middle of a conversation, be sure of several things before you raise your voice. If you are talking from an office where there is a private switchboard, the cutting may have been done by the fair lady who presides at this board, for in most offices she is not only switchboard operator, but office boy, stenographer, private secretary to the head clerk and several other things. Then if you are speaking to someone outside your own exchange, as from Main to Junction, it may not be the central you can speak to at all, but the girl away out in West Toronto.
So don’t blame the only girl you can speak to.
The telephone company is listening in all the time for the purpose of checking their staff, a whole platoon of supervisors and instructors being employed in every exchange for this purpose every hour of the day. These experts declare that at least half the wrong numbers are due to the indistinct speaking of the person asking for the number, or to the defective memory of the customer, who asks for Main 6017 when the number he wants to Main 6107 – and when he gets what he asks for, Main 6017, says to the party at the other end:
“Oh. I’m sorry, central gave me the wrong number.”
Only the rules of the company prevent the supervisors who overhear such conversations as that from taking their revenge and yelling over the phone a triumphant –
The telephone is a miraculous development of a thousand frail things into a substantial and ever-ready service to mankind. Back of that box on your wall is a mechanism so intricate as to stun a layman.
It is also a triumph of psychology. To take three thousand girls, feminine to their fingertips every one, and train them not to talk back – what more profound reform of feminine nature than that? Yet despite the blame and the bullying they are subjected to (a thing which is decreasing every year in marked degree), they must not talk back, however innocent they are, however in the wrong the bully is. Speed is the watchword! Service! And to every irate subscriber they must be polite, lest they prolong the argument, and delay the service with its million and a half calls a day!
But it is not merely mechanical after all. The girls are human. Many of them are strained and unnerved by the grumblers and barkers. The girls get to know the plug holes or “jacks” of the chronic grouses. They come to detest that man – unseen, but visualized as a fat, mottled-faced crank – oh, they are human enough to fancy the faces behind those little plugs, behind those voices kind or rough, quiet or petulant, smiling or snarling.
Human! You ought to see the long distance office. Girls on roller skates! Yes, sir! Young girl messengers whizzing about that big room from board to board, carrying the memos of calls from one town to another by means of one roller skate, propelling themselves with one foot and scooting like streaks on the ether, from Toronto to North Bay or Belleville, that is to say, the boards representing those towns. It looks like great fun. But it’s work – for you, that you might be served with speed. Some time when you are in Eaton’s, drop into the Grill Room at 10.30 a.m. or 3 p.m. and see the demonstration the telephone company is putting on there in connection with the Made-in-Canada exhibit all the month of February. They have the switchboards up, and girls demonstrating the entire process, with all the points referred to in this article graphically explained by means of little dramatic skits.
Editor’s Note: The early days of phones usually required the need to talk to an operator and give the number, which could include the name of the exchange you were calling. Toronto had a 2-letter, 4-number system until 1957 when it switched to a 2-letter, 5-number system to meet new North American standards. The letters could be converted to numbers seen on the dial, which could also accommodate direct dialing without the need of an operator. The letter system was dropped from directories in 1966 when the conversion to 7 numbers was completed.
Jim illustrated this article by Stephen Leacock. It is about “Blue Laws” that were popular at the time to restrict any non-religious activity on Sundays. In Ontario, the Lord’s Day Act was passed in 1906, which prevented all sorts of activities including shopping, on Sundays. It was not repealed until 1985. I’m guessing there was more enforcement at the time, giving rise to article. The illustration is from this passage:
“Just to take a simple example: they say that under the Blue Laws the cigar counter in the rotunda of the hotel will be shut on Sunday. I am sorry, sorry over that. It was my wont always after breakfast at my hotel to stroll over to this counter and buy a two-for-a-quarter cigar from the Girl with the Golden Hair who stood behind it. She would smile at me over the purchase of a twelve-and-a-half-cent cigar in a way that made the place feel like home. It was my custom of a Sunday to talk to her, while I bought that cigar, of the kind of weather that we had been having in my home town. I suppose a hundred men a day told her about it.”
This is a very early illustration by Jim for an article about psychics. This time would be at the very tail end of the popularity of spiritualism the reached prominence in the Victorian era.
Ink blotters were an absorbent paper used to blot the excess ink off paper and prevent smearing when using fountain pens. On the opposite side would be a picture or advertisement. Businesses gave them away to customers as free promotional items. The blank space on the front would be for the local shop to stamp their name and address. Advertising ink blotters were used from the 1900s through the 1940s until the ballpoint pen was invented.
Osgoode Hall Continues to Belch Forth Young Barristers at a Furious Rate – Devious are the Devices Used to Decoy Possible Clients to the Doors of the Ambitious Young Legal Lights.
By Gregory Clark, January 22, 1921
There is a plague of young lawyers in Toronto.
It to estimated that there are now three lawyers for every criminal in this city.
That is a terrible state of affairs.
Osgoode Hall is belching forth raw barristers at a furious rate. Bay street, Yonge street and the other solicitor-laden thoroughfares are crowded at all hours of the day with grim, judicial appearing young men in search of junior partnerships. Several of Toronto’s leading barristers have given up their lucrative practices altogether in order to devote all their time to refusing jobs to the hordes of young lawyers who lay siege to their offices.
Many of the young lawyers have in consequence been forced to accept poor but honest situations as salesmen, insurance agents and office clerks.
But a few of them have courageously extracted a few hundred dollars from their parents and have opened up offices.
Most of the law business goes, naturally, to the old established law firms with six or more names on their office doors. The humble citizen loves to refer to his lawyers in names covering from fifteen to twenty syllables, although the actual work is done by the office boys and students while the numerous senior partners play “Ricketty Aunt” at the club, or shoot birdies in Bermuda.
The young lawyers who set up offices, therefore, have to do some real work in securing clients.
Clients are like pickles. The first pickle out of the bottle is hard to get. After that, they come easy.
It is that elusive first client that is the difficulty.
For the first week, the young lawyers sit in their offices and place huge volume of the law open before them on their desks. They walk out frequently, briskly, for the double purpose of looking again at the fine shiny new name plate on the door, and of creating an impression of traffic. To the same end the new barrister has his father, uncles, friends call on him as many times a day as possible. These know their part. They must walk anxiously, eagerly along the corridor to the law office; worried expressions on their faces; and come out smiling, as if all their anxieties were laid aside.
The young lawyer, for the first few days, has the stenographer copy yards and yards of egregious bunk out of fat law books so that the office will be filled with the comforting, prosperous music of the typewriter.
Some little genius is also displayed in the pursuit of clients. One young barrister, who is bound to be heard from, by the name of Torts, went forth as soon as he had hung his shingle and made the acquaintance of one of the most notorious bad-eggs in the city.
The barrister and vagrant were closeted together for over two hours. Presently the vagrant, well-known to every policeman appeared on the streets in a highly intoxicated and belligerent condition. He was, of course, promptly arrested and locked up.
In the morning, when he was brought to court with nearly a hundred other prisoners of all kinds, the rascal began to shout out to the guards:
“Send for Mr. Torts! I want Mr. Torts! There’s only one real lawyer in this town! I want Mr. Torts!”
Half a hundred prisoners heard this significant praise from one who apparently should know one lawyer from another.
Mr. Torts was, indeed, waiting in the Court. He defended very ably the vociferous scalawag who had called for him and got him off with a $10 fine, which was promptly paid.
Thereupon at least a dozen prisoners in the dock called upon Mr. Torts to defend them. Three of these cases were remanded and went before juries. The ingenious Mr. Torts practice was founded.
Still another inventive young solicitor named, shall we say, Mr. Repleven, hired the hardest looking man he could find in the unemployment line-up. And all this hired man has to do, for $25 a week, is to ride up and down elevators, hang around restaurants and repeat in a challenging fierce voice:
“That’s all right! Mr. Repleven will get me off, he will! If any lawyer in the world can get me off, it’s Mr. Repleven. See if he don’t!”
Repetition! That’s the secret of publicity! Look at Beecham’s Pills and Mayor Church! Repetition. So by hiring this conspicuous and desperate-looking character to go about at random repeating that liturgy, Mr. Repleven has succeeded in drawing his first client out of the bottle.
He is expecting another any day.
Editor’s Note: Osgoode Hall was originally founded by the Law Society of Upper Canada and where one would go to become a lawyer in Ontario. It is now affiliated with York University.
By Gregory Clark, January 17, 1920
Major-General G. B. Tallowhead, C.B., C.M.C., Outlines His Ideas as to How Canada May Profit as a Result of the Late Lamented War and Be Ready For Another at a Moment’s Notice.
It was with the greatest difficulty and only, through the efforts of certain personages in high political and diplomatic circles, that we secured the following interview with Major-General G. B. Tallowhead, C.B., C.M.C., etc, on the subject of universal military service for Canada.
General Tallowhead, it will be recalled, was an international authority, during the late war, on the subject of the tactical employment of field-kitchens. And his work in the salvage of bully-beef tins, wastepaper, and beef-dripping in the battle zone, with the enormous saving in money and material, was one of the factors in the ultimate success of the allies.
After a great deal of circumlocution and circumnavigation, we were admitted to a secret interview with the General in the rotunda of the King Edward Hotel.
Safely secluded behind a pillar, we opened the interview, as is well to do with distinguished personages, with a challenge.
“Is it not, sir,” we asked, “an historically typical thing that we British having fought Germany on the grounds of freedom and democracy, should now propose to adopt some of Germany’s most offensive principles? We refer, sir, to Brig.-General A. W Griesbach’s plan for compulsory military service in Canada, which was recently exploited in the Canadian newspapers.”
General Tallowhead’s face became purple with earnestness as he said:
“Not at all, sir, not at all! We British learn the secrets of civil government only in war. In the late war, we have taken far more than cash indemnities from Germany. We have taken the secret of her civil success. Not only do I believe in compulsory military training. I stand for compulsory social training, and a compulsory national organization for both peace and war!
“General Griesbach,” said General Tallowhead, “is a distinguished Canadian soldier. But I am deeply disappointed that he promotes such a half-measure as he outlined recently. His plan, in a word, is to take boys at the age of twelve and carry them through a period of compulsory military training until they are twenty-three, whereupon they enter a military reserve and are held in various reserves until they are sixty.
“Very elementary!” declared General Tallowhead. “After the lesson of the late bloody war, surely Canada is prepared to go further than that feeble compromise.
“My plan,” said the General in a loud voice, “is national civil service!
“To describe it briefly, it is as follows:
“On reaching the age of twelve years, all children, male and female, will come before a tribunal, which I will be appointed in each municipality and township.
“This tribunal will investigate the physical condition, parentage, mental force and general tendency of each child and then will decide for it what its trade, occupation or profession will be. Each calling will be known by a number. And this number will then be painlessly branded in small neat figures on the left ear-lobe of each child. I have myself, just patented a small branding device on the principle of the electric toaster and the rubber stamp.
“That, then, is the basic principle of my plan. As you can see, it will do away once and for all with the absolutely crazy irresponsibility of our present national life. Instead of leaving the future of a man or woman to mere chance, life will be consciously directed by the State. To an extent, it will do away with personal ambition. For instance, the son of a plumber whom our tribunal decides is to be a plumber cannot become a captain of industry or a lawyer. But there nothing to prevent him becoming a great plumber!
“In a word,” said the General, “it will do away with the ridiculous case of a golf professional masquerading in his spare time as a lawyer or a banker The State will consciously direct its citizenship. We will know where we are at.
“Upon being branded, these children will then be separated into their respective groups. Instead of our present absurd educational system, where we have twenty schools in a city all teaching the same generalities to children as a whole and leaving their futures in their own hands, we will institute specialized State education. These children will be wards of the State. Those who are labelled as artisans will go to the school of artisanry, and there learn nothing but what they require to know. So with all grades – lawyers, doctors, dentists and so on.
“The girls will each be taught a useful occupation. And all the while, military training will be going on in an intensive manner. The boys will be graded into the different arms of the service and thoroughly drilled and trained. The girls will be trained as nurses, munition-makers, conductorettes, postwomen, clothing makers, in addition to being taught a few of the lighter military subjects, such as the machine gun, anti-aircraft defence, and sniping from attic windows; these for home defence.
“Now,” said General Tallowhead, enthusiastically, “picture Canada on the hour of the declaration of war!
“The State, owning all the citizens, owns all property as well. Word goes out, and every man reports to his military headquarters. Every woman leaves her home and goes to the factory, munition works, car-barn or office to which she has been allotted as her reserve.
“The State, owning all money, would promptly institute military rates of pay for everyone; and having charge of all industries, would control all prices.
“Not weeks and months, but only hours would elapse before this country would be established on a war footing. The slacker and profiteer would be eliminated. War would become, not a monstrous burden of debt, but a paying enterprise for the State.
“Aside from war altogether,” said General Tallowhead, you can see clearly how this organization would benefit the nation in times of peace. Canada would be like a huge regiment, with each member doing his or her allotted task. State discipline I would be modelled on army discipline, and our laws, instead of being hazy concoctions from out of the ages, would be smartly designed on the Manual of Military Law. Elections of our Governors would be done away with, and our Governors, etc., trained as such from boyhood, would be promoted from alderman, to mayor, premier, etc., as officers and N.C.O.s are promoted in the army.
And as soldiers are happier than civilians, so would the nation be happier, under compulsory national control than they are now under the present reign of casual, drifting, undirected indifference.
“It is going to take time,” concluded General Tallowhead, “to educate the public to this plan of mine. But I am assured that it has a big appeal to all thinking men.”
Editor’s Note: There was no doubt some recent discussion on national military service which prompted this tongue-in-cheek response.
By Gregory Clark, January 9, 1926
“What is a snake for?” asked the heir to my millions.
There are some things a child of four cannot solve by reasoning. A snake is one of them.
“What a question!” I parried. “What a question!”
And I attempted to change the subject by introducing a little wrestling bout. But it was no use.
“Now tell me what a snake is for?” he asked, after wrestling had been carried to its furthest usefulness.
“Well, sir, snake is a very useful little creature. It eats mice and wicked insects.”
“Are mice wicked?”
“Well, you know what they did to your little mattress up at the summer cottage.”
“Did God make snakes?”
“To eat mice and insecks?”
“And did He make mice and insecks too?”
“Now, son, theology is no subject for little boys.”
We have a private understanding that when I put on certain grave and solemn air and screw my face up horribly, he does not ask the obvious and next question, which, in this case, as you can see, would have been – “What is theology?” It is a cowardly device, but I can’t help it.
“Well,” said he, “why didn’t God make snakes pretty?”
“I think,” I said, “that he made them pretty to begin with, but after they had been eating mice and wicked insects for a long time, they turned into the sort of looking things they are now.”
The boy’s grandmother, who has already commenced teaching him a few Bible stories, went –
“Ahem!” She signalled me, sternly, for this tale of mine would be sure to conflict with the Adam and Eve story, to which she would be coming one of these days. She finds it hard enough, as it is.
“Did God make everything pretty?”
“I am sure He did.”
The boy sat studying the problem earnestly.
“What,” he asked, “does Mrs. Tootum eat?”
Mrs. Tootum is an elderly friend of his grandmother’s, who has the misfortune to be somewhat unprepossessing in her later years because of an absence of teeth.
In the silence that followed the question, Grandmother got up and left the room. We could bear her crying as she walked up stairs. At least, we thought it was crying. Her face was very red.
The boy came over to me with a rather horrified air.
“What does Mrs. Tootum eat, Daddie?” he whispered, confidentially. “Does she…. does she eat……?”
And be nodded his head suggestively.
“My boy,” said I, “what might be true of snakes is not true of men and women. Some of the nicest people in the world God made – well, not pretty.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, God made birds pretty, because they sing. He made chocolate eclairs pretty because they taste nice, He made Mamma pretty because she is my Mamma, and He made snakes ugly because they eat mice and insecks, and toads ugly because they hop, and motor trucks ugly because they run over. That’s what God does.”
“It doesn’t always work,” I said, profoundly.
Pondering the question, he went upstairs, and I heard him say to his grandmother very sweetly.
“When is Mrs. Tootum coming to dinner again?”
Jim provided this illustration to a story on horse racing by Ernest Hemingway. The famous author worked as a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star and Star Weekly in the early 1920s as he was starting out. Because he was fond of the outdoors (hunting and fishing), he became good friends with Greg and Jim. During his time in Paris, Hemingway still filed stories with the Toronto Star. When his third son was born in 1931, he named him Gregory after Greg Clark.