Couldn't get this 80s or 90s Reader's Digest joke

I see. I was born in 1987.

Oh, they paid much better than that. My story, which was just used as filler at the bottom of an article – paid $150.

I was paid $200 (Canadian) for a Campus Comedy quip in 1986. I split it with my brother, who came up with the joke; I wrote it up and sent it in and talked to the fact-checker who called to verify it was a true story. I lied.

I have a (possibly false) memory that the Reader’s Digest long ago stopped being only a digest of articles taken and abridged from other magazines and commissioned many of its articles and accepted articles from professional writers. My great aunt, for example, was a professional writer and had something published in the Digest. They rejected the poignant “true story” that I made up entirely in high school. Penthouse rejected a submission, but the editor wrote a very nice note with suggestions on how to improve future submissions, but I ran out of erotic imagination.

It surprised me when I first realized that there are people who didn’t think that writing notes was a difficult and demanding thing to do. ‘Writers’ as distinct from people like me – ‘readers’.

I realize my error: The Reader’s digests I read were my grandmothers. When I was a kid on the farm they were a goldmine for a bored 12 year old. She kept every one and arranged them on bookshelves. The ones I read, and saw the prices for, would have dated from the 1960’s and earlier. Time does go on.

A better candidate for fake copy would be the letters to Penthouse in the 1970’s.

"Dear Penthouse,

I read your letters all the time, but none of those things ever happened to me. I thought maybe they were fake, but then two days ago, I was just minding my own business when suddenly two naked co-eds burst out of the bushes…"

During the 1970’s my mother told me that a neighbor’s submitted story / joke made into RD: “A mother boiled some eggs, and after they were cool, she asked her son to write on the eggs before they got put into the refrigerator. After a long time, she went to see what was taking so long, and saw that he had written the word hardboiled on each egg.”

Would a professional writer come up with that?

As ever, to explain a joke is to kill it.

I’m pretty sure that most, if not all of the anecdotes were rewritten in the “house style”. Even as a young kid, I started noticing that they all sounded like they were being spoken by the same person. As a young adult, I noticed the same thing in the various Penthouse reader-submitted publications. In that instance, I think what clued me in was encountering the euphemism “rosebud” (for “asshole”) for the fifth or sixth time in as many different stories. Those “letters” are still literally the only place I’ve ever seen that particular euphemism.

So that’s what Orson Welles was talking about.

A friend who wrote ‘readers letters’ for ‘magazines like Penthouse’ told me that they did get letters from readers, but they were semi-literate at best, and mostly ‘written with crayons’.

On the other hand, I have long suspected (and sometimes observed) that there are sections of the community that don’t quite as limited a sex life as I do. Even if thay do rite wid kraons.

I delivered pizzas in the mid-80s and tips were indeed scarce. Hardly anybody tipped the delivery guy back in those days. I’d be lucky to get a total of a few bucks in tips out of a 4-6 hour shift, barely enough to cover the cost of gas.

(And as I side note, I once had the exact same thing happen to me as described in the OP. I delivered a $15-ish pizza to an older lady who paid with a $20 and told me to keep the change. My first thought was “Wow, really?” but quickly realized she meant just the coins.)

In this case it was a mercy that spared us all so much suffering.

My interpretation of the joke was that it was confusion of the subject of the sentence. The woman said “keep the change” and the delivery guy assumed she was saying “you keep the change”. But what she meant was “I keep the change”.

Yeah, but that’s anecdotal.


As to the first part, it’s also a little hard for younger folks to recognize how much tipping has increased in percentage and expanded in coverage since 50 years ago.

Back in the 1950s nobody except restaurant waitstaff got tipped. And 10% of the pre-tax total was normal, with 15% for truly exceptional stand-out service.

Fast forward to now and it’s a whole different world of expectation on both sides of the transaction.

The 80s when this joke (and your experiences) were set was somewhere in the middle. 15% was common for typical sit-down service but delivery drivers were assumed to be working for wages, not tips.

I delivered pizzas in student village in 1980. Modal prices were $3.80 for medium 3-item or $4.95 for large.

About half the time, they’d let me keep the nickel from a large; 90%+ wanted the 20 cents back.

But I did get tipped with beer several times a night.

Coincidentally, I think that’s how most letters to Penthouse started.

What was the anecdote? Is it re-tellable or readable online? By the way, very cool that you got it published.

Hah! Nice.

Not for me, alas. Most “exciting” moment was coming around a corner in a dorm and there’s a guy in full combat gear with a [fake, it turns out] M-16. Since this was (a) 1980 and (b) in Canada, I was very confused and startled, not actually scared!

I don’t find that surprising at all. Years back, I made something of a minor name for myself in writing a particular niche genre of erotic fiction, and being part of the community, I ended up reading a lot of other people’s writing. And yeah, most of it was complete crap.