Under Philosophers
Entry for 2017-07-23

I was thinking about what to do for a second career when a call came in from a lady who wanted me to advertise my first career in the Yellow Pages.

She suggested that my company take a boldface listing under Advertising Agencies. Boldface type costs more, she told me, but it's more noticeable, thus more likely to attract business.

I said that we're not an advertising agency and that we didn't want to attract more business, because it's too hard. But if she thought we belonged under agencies, why was she explaining about boldface type attracting more business? Wouldn't we already know that?

We agreed to do it her way. She was very nice—the kind of person you can trust—so I decided to confide in her on my second career and to see if that could be listed, too. She thought it was a wonderful idea and asked under what heading I wanted to list. I told her, "Under Philosophers," and there was a long pause.

"Are you a philosopher?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," I said. "I'm not a very good one, but I notice you list a dentist in there who isn't very good and at least one plumber who is downright incompetent."

When she still seemed uncertain, I tried to win her confidence with the hint that I might consider boldface type, but that didn't seem to do the trick. She asked me to hold the line, and I was left to doodle, jotting down notes for my first ad under the heading of Philosophers.

I thought I might use the name Aristotle, which has a certain something that my own name lacks. Other successful businessmen have used the names of dead people to good advantage—Pontiac, for example—so I was sure it would be all right for my ad in the Yellow Pages:

A trusted name
in philosophy
for over 2,000 years

Rates reasonable

The lady came back on the line and said that they didn't have a category for philosophers. Would they start one for Aristotle? Well, that would depend. If the heading is in use in at least three other cities, then her agency would put through a routine request to the telephone company to start it in this city.

"But I just checked the Philadelphia directory," she warned. "They don't have any philosophers either."

Aristotle needed help from Socrates. "Do you mean that if there aren't any philosophers now, there can never be any philosophers?"

No, that wasn't right. She said the telephone company understands that new products and services have to get their start somewhere. If the heading isn't in use in three other cities, her agency can put in a special request to the phone company for a new heading. If they feel there would be sufficient public demand for philosophers, then they might approve the request. Short of that, they might consent to a cross-reference listing (but not in boldface) in the index.

That way, if you were looking for a philosopher, your fingers would walk through Packing Materials—Excelsior, Pails, Pallets & Skids, Pamphlet Preparation, Paraffin, Pastors, Pastries, Pattern Perforators, Peanut Oil, Pet Insurance, Pews, and Philatelists; then you would come to the entry:

I know how that works, because I already have at least one cross-reference listing from my first career. If you're looking for a penman, you find the listing: Penmen—See WRITERS. Writers are listed after Wrecking Contractors. There are fewer of them, and the listing is incomplete: Norman Mailer is missing, for one.

I've since learned that to use the name Aristotle, I'll have to pay eleven dollars to register it under the Fictitious Names Act, even if that was his real name. You pay the eleven dollars because they say so.

Well, no one ever said that starting a second career is easy or that it's cheap. This week I'm filing my application for a new heading—Philosophers—in the Yellow Pages. There may be trouble. The phone company will probably turn it down, and it's very hard to get them to change their minds. You have to keep pestering them, and you need important friends.

There's no boldface listing for Important Friends, but I've found one anyway, under Attorneys.
Saturday Review, (1972)