Last week I wrote about all the clippings I found in my files that I will never – sadly – be able to use in my own stories. They range from sweet to ironic to … well, weird.
- An April 11, 1982 San Francisco Chronicle story which discussed, among other attempts at the U.S. Post Office to make money, its launching of Electronic Computer Originated Mail (E-COM), a service that “allows customers to transmit bills, company messages or accounting information for delivery anywhere in the continental U.S. within 48 hours.” As this description from the USPS’s own historical site reveals, it was pretty clear why the service failed within three years: “E-COM service was introduced at a rate of 26 cents for the first page, and 5 cents for the second. In addition, there was an annual $50 fee for the service.”
- The September 14, 1988 San Francisco Chronicle column Steve Rubinstein wrote about calling his sister’s answering machine just to hear it pick up. No one’s home “because a fire is a mile or so down the road. The firefighters told her to scram. … So I place calls to her house, knowing she’s not home. … If the machine answers, the machine is still there and so, therefore, is the house.” (Remember answering machines?)
- A photocopy of a memo that I’m positive is a joke (well, almost positive): “To All Personnel From Management: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.”
- An undated (though probably early 80s), unsourced clipping quoting a glum state of affairs: “It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Not in the lifetime of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension. Never has the future seemed so incalculable as at this time. The domestic situation is in chaos … Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible. The political cauldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. Russia hangs, as usual, like a cloud, dark and silent upon the horizon. It is a solemn moment … of our troubles, no man can see the end.” Turns out it’s from Harper’s Weekly, the Life magazine of its day, in October 1857.
- A cartoon of two men standing in a cornfield, their arms outstretched as if acting as scarecrows. The caption – one man apparently answering a question of the other – reads: “English lit – how about you?” (This isn’t funny if you actually have a degree in English literature, as I do.)
- A June 30, 1989 New York Times article about a lawyer jokes that opens with the story about the man who inquired about a lawyer’s fee and was told it was $50 for three questions. “Isn’t that awfully steep?” asked the man. “Yes,” replied the lawyer. “What’s your last question?”
- A very sad Deutsche Presse-Agentur article, published in the San Jose Mercury-News in 1983, about German shepherds replacing St. Bernards as rescue dogs in the Alps, because “their compact bodies make it easier for them to fit into helicopters” than the up-to-200-pound St. Bernards.
- An undated Seattle Times clipping in which a telecom executive revealed one of the more bizarre uses of its pagers: a farmer came in with a dirt-encrusted pager he wanted to replace. The farmer explained that instead of going and finding his herd of cows at the end of the day and leading them to the barn, all he had to do was hang a pager on the lead cow, send a page, and the herd would come in by itself. I’m still trying to figure out why the heck the farmer hung the pager on the cow in the first place.
- A June 25, 1983 San Jose Mercury-News story about two doctors who saved the life of the attorney who was suing them for malpractice, with the help of a surgeon who was testifying against the doctors. The attorney, John Crisman, collapsed in the courtroom form an apparent heart attack, and was revived seven minutes later via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As one of the defendants told him, “It’s a good thing you sued good doctors.”
- An Associated Press story about how New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz once helped a man propose to his girlfriend by creating a puzzle that include her name and his request among the clues. Oh, and her response was there too: yes.
- But my absolute favorite is the undated letter to Dear Abby, in response to a girl who cried because she lived in a dump. It was written by a coal miner’s daughter who was so ashamed of the house she lived in that she gave her dates the address of a friend’s house and met them there. The ruse worked until one night when her date drove her back to her actual house and said, “I’ve always known where you live but it doesn’t make any difference in the way I feel about you. Your father is a decent, hard-working man who’s giving his family the best he can afford.” She closed her letter: “I’ve never forgotten those words, nor the beautiful college boy who spoke them. He died last year, after giving me four wonderful children and 49 of the happiest years of my life.”