Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Murphy on Double-Entry Bookkeeping

The Murphys never encountered any difficulty balancing their checkbook, since they’d never kept one. At the rare times when they were in funds, they paid in full, in cash. Any necessary record-keeping was handled by their pawnbroker, Solly, who has a head for figures.

But one day Joey got to thinking back and reminiscing, and tried to kind of tote things up. It was difficult to do.

“Hey Murphy, how much you reckon we made out of this P.I. racket?”

“What, all told?”

“Yeh like, over the years.”

“WEH-helll Joey baby, that’d be a record as long as your arm! Just one famous case after another.”

“Yeh but, in dollars.”


“You know -- simoleons; smackers; long green.”

“Oh yeh… that stuff. Well, it isn’t something you can quantify.”

“Murphy, that’s exactly what you can quantify! That’s kind of what dollars are there for! Heck, even wampum you can quantify.” Which was a more acute and cutting remark, than might appear superficially; since, often and again, the Murphys had effectively been paid in wampum, for their pains. Wampum from before the war.

“OK OK, lemme see…you add up… carry the nine…comes to… hmm…” Murphy was lost in a brown study for a time, then looked up satisfied. “All told, over the years, I’d say we are getting well up into the triple figures.”

Joey nodded thoughtfully, taking this in. “OK and, how much would it come to, after expenses?”

Murphy stared indignantly. “After… expenses! After we spent all those years working our way into the triples?! You’re gonna subtract that? Joey, that’s just cruel!”

Joey shrugged. “’At’s the way the bankers do it, Murphy.”

Murphy steamed. “Yeh, remind me why I got a beef with bankers. That’s like, the right hand giveth and the left hand taketh away.”

Joey remained silent, allowing Murphy the last word.

After a pause, Murphy perked up in a new mood. “Say Joey…J’evver hear about double-entry bookkeeping?”

“Reckon I’ve heard the phrase. Is that where you keep one set of books for your investors, and a different one for the taxman?”

“No no, it’s more like a science thing. Two different perspectives on the same reality. Helps you to see clearly; keeps you sane.”

Joey was intrigued.

“See: you got your basic banker-style bookkeeping. A number goes here, a record goes there, things tally, things cancel, you’re good to go. Or, in our case, you’re broke.

“But see there’s another kind of bookkeeping, it’s a lot like the other one, you got a debit column and a credit column, but instead of numbers, it’s stuff we did.”

Now Joey was really interested.

“So like: Our life. On the debit side, you got, well, a lot of overdue borrowed cars, a lot of broken china, some ethical grey areas, plus that time in Chicago, a dead mobster or two… well, really, a lot of stuff, you can read all about in this series that old Dr. Massey has been editing (My Sins, by Michael X. Murphy; Lingua Sacra Publishing, thirty-seven volumes to date). Painful to tote up, but you get the idea.

“But now see, on the other side of the ledger, the credit side -- well I mean we’ve done some good stuff here and there, you’n me, but I mean just in our P.I. business. Like, there’s Mrs. Bosworth(**): we did a good turn by her. And Timmy -- managed to give that young man a nice assist. And a few other things like that.”

“So-o…” Joey was a little confused. “How do they balance out?”

“But that’s just it, Joey!” Murphy leaning forward now, his eyes alight. “In this book, things don’t balance -- they bloom! Like, you got that Desert of Sin, just like it says in the book: a blasted wasteland stretching from East Horror to West Hell. Parched since the evil primeval. What could ever water that? And yet, one day, some where in the world, there is an act of kindness; and (can we detect it?) a tiny tear of gratitude. That tear smites the parched sands like a sledgehammer --: clouds of shrieking steam rise roiling into the sky. And there where it lay, a rose-bush blooms; and then a babbling brook; and the sounds of children playing.

“So -- that’s the book that I believe in, Joey. The banker types can keep the other kind.”

[(**) Editorial note: The reference is to the celebrated case, chronicled in the narrative known as “Don’t Mention It”, which you can read here.]

No comments: