In 1982, Tommy Tutone came out with the song “867-5309/Jenny,” the music video of which you can watch above. (Doesn’t work? Click here.) The song is about a phone number written on a bathroom stall, instructing the passerby to call Jenny for a “good time.” Jenny, per the song lyrics and therefore, per the graffiti, can be reached at 867-5309. We know this because Tutone repeats the number at least a dozen and a half times during the four minute-long song.
The song was a surprise hit — it’s Tutone’s only real success — and, as one would expect, it turned the fictional Jenny’s fictional phone number into a real-life target for prank calls. People would call up 867-5309 in their area code, ask for Jenny, laugh, and hang up. And because of that, most people who happened to be reachable at 867-5309 asked their phone companies for new phone numbers.
Most, but not all. Some decided to capitalize on the opportunity — and sue to protect it.
The story begins at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1999. The university was given the entire block of phone numbers in the 867 exchange in area code 401, and, hopefully due to administrative oversight, assigned (401) 867-5309 to a student dormitory. (There’s an urban legend floating around out there that the school also assigned two freshman students named Jenny to the room with that number, but that is sadly unverifiable and likely false.) The students were flooded with prank calls so, in 2001, the school gave up the number and a regional plumbing company named Gem Plumbing and Heating, who in turn acquired the number in area code 617 as well (the greater Boston area) and trademarked the number in both regions. If you wanted a plumber in the Boston or Providence areas, you called Gem, not Jenny, but at Good Time Jenny’s well-known phone number.
But perhaps coincidentally, Gem wasn’t the only plumber who saw the obvious tie-in between bathroom stall scrawling and additional business. Florida-based Clockwork Home Services was the other plumber who wanted Jenny’s number, and, like Gem, they had acted on it. Clockwork, under the name Benjamin Franklin Franchising, acquired the toll-free number (866) 867-5309. (They marked it as “867-5309/Benny.”) Both numbers worked in Gem’s region, and Gem sued, asking the court to stop Clockwork from using its trademarked number in the 401 and 617 area codes. According to a 2007 article in USA Today, Gem, at least initially, won.
Since then, though, the two plumbers have apparently figured out a way to get along. In area codes 401 and 617, 867-5309 will give you the corporate offices of Gem. And if you dial 1-866-867-5309 in the Providence, Rhode Island area? You’ll be connected with Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.
From the Archives: The 411 on Area Codes: Why different cities have similar area codes, and vice versa.
Related: “867-5309 Jenny, The Song that Saved My Life” by Alex Call, one of the two writers of the song. (Yes, his name is “Call,” and yes, he wrote a song about a phone number.) It’s a memoir about 1980s-era rock music by someone who lived through it, which is probably why it has 4.9 stars on average.