SOME DAYS it's just like that: You're reading your paper, sailing along peacefully, when suddenly you go aground. You have hit one of those imponderable, half-submerged rocks, just a little something sticking out of the newsprint that doesn't make sense, and you are finished -- as a thinker about anything else -- for at least the rest of the day. Our last major running aground of this kind took place in 1973, when Anthony Ulasewicz, the Nixon White House operative, told the world how, fearing he might be overheard on an open phone line, he put it in code to Nixon lawyer Herbert Kalmbach that a money arrangement had been made. "The laundry is in the icebox," Mr. Ulasewicz said he had told Mr. Kalmbach.
The laundry? Why the laundry -- especially if you fear you're being overheard and are trying to sound "normal"? What is the laundry doing in the icebox? We can see why the "lettuce" would be unfortunate, but why not, say, the carrots? Or the tomato juice or the Spam mousse? And what earthly response could the fellow on the other end of the line have made that wouldn't have made the whole thing sound even more fishy: "The laundry is in the icebox, you say? Oh, wonderful. And how are the children?"
We were, in some recess of our mind, still working over that one the other day, when we encountered, in the middle of the Daniel Flood trial story, something else that is likely to occupy us unproductively for years to come. It concerned the testimony of Rabbi Leib Pinter, a man described as wearing a full beard and a skull cap, who said he had paid Rep. Flood a thousand dollars for help in getting some federal grants for his organizations.Then we read this:
"After he began making payments, Pinter said he recalled Flood passing him in the hallway of a House office building, patting him on the back and saying 'Keep up the good work, Murphy.'
"Pinter said later in the trial that he did not know why Flood had called him Murphy."
Why had Mr. Flood called him Murphy? Did he mix him up with some other rabbi he knew? Rabbi Murphy? Was it, as some sinister souls suppose, merely a mishearing on the part of Rabbi Pinter? That is, was the locution in question not "Murphy" at all but rather "More fee"? Has Mr. Flood merely transposed two acquaintances, as sometimes happens, so that there is a Catholic priest wandering around somewhere whom he introduces as Father Leib Pinter? Does it come from some raucous old drinking song that no one has sung right since Honey Fitz went on to his reward? ("From the boys in the bar/Wherever ya' are:/KEEP US THE GOOD WORK, MURRHY!")
Did any of this actually happen? Being good civil libertarians and, as is well known, rights-of-the-accused junkies, we, of course, await the outcome of the trial before we pronounce on any of it. But in the meanwhile, we do solicit your informed and intelligent help on this one. What could it have meant -- "Keep up the good work, Murphy"?