It was slipped through the mail slot one morning in a plain brown wrapper -- the words Reader's Digest on the cover.
It was small and glossy, the Norman Rockwell of periodicals, the Tupperware of magazines. It's the kind of magazine that makes you want to go out and do something bad. Really bad.
"Hey, look at this," my husband said, picking up the innocent looking book. "Look at how much they pay for these dumb little stories."
We checked the inside cover: $300 for a true-life never-before-published anecdote for "Life in These United States" or "All in a Day's Work."
"We could do that," I said, sitting down at the dining room table. My husband took a sheet of paper. "You go first," he said. "What's the funniest thing that ever happened to you?"
I smiled. Where to begin? In 29 years, there must be a flotilla of fun-filled stories worth $300.
"What about the time I made you coffee and put salt instead of sugar in it and you almost threw up?"
"Not funny," he said, puffing on his pipe.
"Well, there was the time I was swimming at the age of 13 with a pair of my mother's falsies in the bathing suit and the falsies fell out and floated on the top of the water."
He didn't laugh. It was his turn.
"Well," he started, "there was the time I took a girl out on a date in Florida and asked the waiter in my best French accent what the soup du jour was and he replied, 'Soup of the day.' Get it? Soup of the day?"
I didn't laugh. "Who was the girl?" I asked suspiciously.
"Well, then there was the time my brother and I went to a baseball game and the guy sitting behind us bet my brother that the batter wouldn't get a hit, wouldn't even get to first base."
"So then what happened?"
"Well," my husband laughed, anticipating the punch line, "the pitcher walked him. The guy turned to my brother and said, 'I won, but I lost.'"
I didn't laugh.
"You don't get it? I won but I lost? Jeez."
We sat there for three hours, smoking, drinking wine and scribbling. Bleary eyed, we finally gave up.
Between us, there were 64 years of wild and crazy living: shaving fights in the dorms, a wig falling off at the prom, sibling scraps, family feuds, strangers on airplanes, graffiti and bumper stickers, one-liners, knock-knock jokes, quips and comebacks. But still, no anecdote.
We decided to make one up.
"First we think of the punch line," my husband said one morning. "Then we weave a story around it." We were confident that the magazine did not require sworn affidavits.
For two weeks we saw a possible $300 in every situation. There was never an idle moment. We sat at restaurant tables, anxiously awaiting the bill. "May we have our check, please?" Where was the witty waiter who would answer, "And whom should I make it out to?"
We passed fender benders. "Have an accident? No thanks, I just had one."
We became obsessed.
"Let's face it," I said one night. "We're not funny."
Depression set in. People asked us what was wrong. How could we tell them? How could we face the ridicule? The sneers, the leering looks.
We decided to go straight. We threw out the copy of Reader's Digest and things began to return to normal.
Until one morning the mail slot opened and another brown-wrapped copy of the dreaded magazine invaded our living room. Instantly, we turned to the section of $300 anecdotes. The lead item looked familiar.
"One day last fall in the post office, a woman came in for stamps. She was looking for something appropriate to mail her wedding invitations," the story began. "She looked over the flowered ones, the commemorative ones and couldn't find one she liked."
"That's me!" I cried.
My husband kept reading: "Then, I pulled out a sheet of stamps with the face of John Paul Jones and the words, 'I have not yet begun to fight.' The woman cried with glee, 'That's it! I'll take 50.'"
My husband and I looked at each other. The story was about me. I was that woman. It happened at the local post office a few weeks before our wedding.
My husband began to scream. "Why didn't you think of that? We could have gotton $300. Why? Why?"
I gulped. "I didn't think it was so funny," I said.