How Long Is the Queen Mary?

Working on the Press-Gazette switchboard, I soon learned that many people, in those pre-Google days, thought of their local newspaper as a kind of public reference source, and they called in with all kinds of random questions. "How long is the Queen Mary?" "What's the next planet after Mars? Is it Saturn or Jupiter or one of them others?" I eventually bought a World Almanac and kept it handy.

But the World Almanac couldn't answer all of the questions. One day, I plugged a cord into an incoming socket where the light was flashing and said, cheerily, as I had been taught, "Press-Gazette, how can I help you?" and a woman frantically asked, "What does it mean if a bird flies into your house?"

"It means you've probably got a window open," I replied.

"No, I mean, is it good luck or bad luck? I can't remember."

Stalling for time, I asked, "What kind of bird is it?"

"I don't know. It's small…and it's brown…"

"Is it a wren?"


"It sounds like a wren, and that's good luck," I said.

"Oh, thank you so much!" She was clearly relieved and I was proud of myself for easing her mind.

The World Almanac was also not much help with some of the dreaded bar bet calls. I discovered that some people actually got drunk before 6 pm and had arguments, usually about sports, that often ended in a bet. And then I was called upon to settle the bet.

A typical bar bet conversation:

"Say, who won the World Series in 1934?"

After a slight pause while I looked it up: "The Cardinals, four games to three over Detroit."

"Yeah, that's what I said. Look, I got five bucks riding on this. Now tell this guy."

Another voice from the bar: "Who did you say?"

"The Cardinals won the 1934 World Series over the Tigers."

"Nah, that's wrong! Detroit won it. I know, because I saw the deciding game."

"That was in 1935. The Tigers beat the Cubs, four games to two, in 1935."

"Nah, you don't know what you're talking about!"

The first voice again: "Where'd you look it up?"

"The 1952 World Almanac."

"Say, could you bring that book over to the Midtown Bar and Grille and show it to this other guy?"

Needless to say, I couldn't do that. I suspect most of those arguments were never really settled and the bets were never paid off.

Saturday afternoons on the switchboard could be interesting.