Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reader's Digest and the Promise of a Brighter Tomorrow

I'm wondering if every family has its schemes for success. I know some who've started frozen yogurt businesses, some who sell handmade hunting arrows, some who play harp and violin and flute and perform at weddings. I've read about those who talk about starting egg farms (The Egg and I). I hear tell of those who record primary songs in foreign languages and sell the albums to members abroad. And I know of at least one that jokes about buying planes to live on islands and off their wealthy son-in-law (mostly, mostly in jest). My family--we, too, have our scheme. Schemes. Now we talk about making movies and writing television pilots and, actually, media production of all kinds. But before this, before all this, there was the First Scheme. And the First Scheme was Reader's Digest.

For instance, today my roommate Reija (a high school science teacher) had this as her gchat status:
Me (doing problems): Oh! There's a spider on my chalkboard! Kids: AAAAAAAAAHHHHH! Me (poking it with a pen): It's alive! Kids: AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! Me: Don't worry I'll just draw a circle around it and label it "spider". If it leaves the circle, the you can scream. (Three minutes later) Kids: AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!
My brother Peter, also friends with Reija via gchat, chatted me about it, saying this:
It is brilliant. It shines.
And then, whammo, he added:
I keep trying to think of how we can turn it into a Reader's Digest joke, but I'm having trouble.
It turns out, my parents--okay, mostly my mother--would and do often take advantage of family gatherings, even informal moments, to talk about ways we can make money, as a family or as individuals. "We're funny," someone says. And my mother pipes in: "You should write something for Reader's Digest." And someone usually adds, "We really should," shaking his/her head to show that yes, in fact, it's astonishing that, for whatever reason, our destiny with Reader's Digest has not yet been made.

This Reader's Digest moment arises, of course, because of the fine-print promise embedded in the front matter of the Reader's Digests that fossilize in our bathrooms and rest scattered from time immemorial throughout my grandparents' mountain cabin. The promise is something like this: Submit inane and mildly funny joke-meets-short-paragraph. Get paid $300. Lightning will strike.

To my family, this possibility that we could, with a minimum of effort and typing, cash in on the invariably small and funny moments of our life seemed/seems like the golden egg, the cash cow at the end of the rainbow, the promise of a new tomorrow. This is, after all, America.

That's it. That's the whole spiel. This is our original idea for making money, and it, despite its seeming out of sync with the times (doesn't Reader's Digest strike you as being anachronistic, even though it features hot commodities like Tina Fey?), it comes, it resurfaces, it haunts. You should know, though, that though we've done a lot of thinking about it (after Peter's comment, I'm realizing that my thinking times 9.5--one for each of my siblings, plus one for my mom, and .5 for my less-invested dad--is a lot of thinking), I don't think anyone in my family has ever submitted anything to Reader's Digest. Not to "Life in These United States," not to the general non-true joke column, certainly not to "Humor in Uniform. "

Yet, yet, faced with something true and short and funny (specifically, a pithy kind of funny), what does Peter do? He tries to turn it into a Reader's Digest bit--for the possibility of $300 and the satisfaction of fulfilling my family's long-held dream. Just a boy wanting to make his family, his mama, and America proud. Reader's Digest. America in your pocket.

1 comment:

brandonv said...

Was a great Reija-gchat-status-message day.
I remember it warmly and well.