A newspaper with an unlisted telephone number is like a cleanup hitter without a bat, like an aviator without a plane.
Uh uh. No way. Can't be.
How can a newspaper slay dragons if its tipsters don't have a quick and easy way to get in touch?
Except that, out at the Reston Times, it happened.
The Times is a weekly that covers Fairfax and Loudoun counties. If you look in the white pages of the Northern Virginia phone book, you will find its office listing right where you'd expect -- below the Reston Television Center and above the Reston Town and Country Day School. The number given is the correct one: 437-5400.
But if you look in the Northern Virginia Yellow Pages, you will find two Reston Times listings.
The second is the same as the listing in the white pages. But the first insists that there is a Reston Times at 4100 Chain Bridge Rd. in Fairfax, with a phone number of 491-7491.
Incredibly, until last week, if you dialed 591-7491, you would get a recording telling you that the number had been changed to an unlisted one.
This has now all been mended. A call to 591-7491 this morning will fetch you a recording telling you to dial 437-5400.
But how could an unlisted number have been assigned to an organization which is as public as it gets -- and want to be?
"Believe me, I don't have the faintest idea," said Pat Ford, general manager of the Times.
"It would be funny if it weren't so sad. The only thing I can't figure out is why this hasn't come up before. After all, the listing has been wrong for eight months."
Ford explained that 591-7491 was the number of a phone the Times had installed in the press room of the Fairfax County office building. It was used by the Times reporter who covered the meetings of the county Board of Supervisors.
But the Times decided to have the phone removed around Christmas, Ford said. Until The District Line began its investigative reporting, she thought the phonectomy had been completely successful.
Webb Chamberlain, a spokesman for C&P Telephone, said the mystery was really just "an error, a plain old printer's error."
Chamberlain explained that the Times ordered 591-7491 cancelled just as the most recent Northern Virginia Yellow Pages (dated January, 1979) was closing."In this particular case, notification simply didn't get to where it was supposed to get in time," Chamberlain said.
But no sooner have peace, good will and single listinghood returned to the Times than another problem cropped up.
It seems that, like many business numbers that are often busy, 437-5400 "rings over" onto 5401, and 02, and 03, and 04 -- and 06.
What happened to 5405? Did it get the hiccups? "I have no idea," said Ford.
I do. I looked up 5405 in the criss-cross phone directory. It has been assigned to a Thomas R. Schuler, of 1760 Ivy Oaks Square, Reston.
He apparently has nothing to do with the Times. He doesn't answer, either, and he hasn't for several days.
All I can conclude is that he is sick of people who want to advertise their goldfish.
More likely, he's about to go the unlisted route.
I wish him luck. He may need it.
After all the recent dire warnings in this space about death-threat chain letters, Israel Shulman, of Washington, has sent me one that's a little easier to take.
It's a chain letter for married men only which is supposed to provide 16,487 women to the top name on the list.
"This chain letter started with the hope of bringing relief to tired and unhappy husbands," the letter begins.
"Bundle your wife up and send her to the man on the top of this list, adding your name to the bottom of the list."
The letter warns against those who would break the chain. One man did, "and he got his wife back. Don't let this happen to you."
The P.S. is the best part. It reports that one "top-of-the-lister" had received 365 women.
"They buried him yesterday and it took seven undertakers 36 hours to get the smile off his face."
Uncle Irving says there are three phases of life:
Then middle age.
Then, "Gee, you look wonderful."
Thanks to Joseph Switkes, of Bethesda, for a clipping from an Ocean City newspaper.
It's an advertisement for a restaurant that is evidently very chi-chi -- or would like to be. The ad rambles on for several paragraphs about the shrimp, the lobster, the generous cocktails, the "overstuffed sandwiches."
Finally, it warns: "Members and Non-Members Only."