December 14, 1984. It was a Friday. I was 24, younger than my daughter is today. It was that long ago. My commute to work that day, like most days, was about seven minutes, and about half that time was spent trying to start my 1977 Pinto – so, a small window of opportunity.
We were living in Camden, South Carolina, Jane and I, newlyweds, married less than two months.
There was hardly ever time to hear an entire song on the way to work. My car radio was always tuned to a rock station out of Columbia, and if I hadn’t been in the car at that exact moment, for that tiny commute to the Chronicle-Independent, where I was the sports editor, I wouldn’t have in my possession one of the great journalism keepsakes of all-time. I wouldn’t have the proof, and the urban legend would be just that, rather than the undisputed, absolute truth, black ink on a browned, 30-year-old newsprint. Remember newsprint? And oil-based ink?
The radio DJ was laughing about something he’d read in that morning’s edition of The State, the daily newspaper in Columbia. The guy said something like, “I can’t say it on the air, but take a look at page 9-C, the classifieds … oh, and please let me know if you plan to apply for the job advertised near the bottom, right-hand corner of the page, because I might have some other leads …”
He said, “you’ve got to see it” so many times, that when I got into our little newsroom, I had to see it. So I grabbed the paper, flipped through, and my eyes popped out of my head. Our publisher nearly tripped over my jaw on the floor and wondered what the hell I was laughing at. I made him promise I could keep the newspaper before showing him the classified ad (see below):
Everyone at the paper had a good look, and a big laugh, and wondered who was responsible. The story I’ve heard is, there were two people, and this was a gag on their last day of work. The next day, there was a front-page apology in the paper, and an announcement that they were looking for a typesetter.
Since then, I’ve read a little bit about the infamous typo online. Very little. It’s a legend that has receded past rumor to the point of being almost forgotten. Even Snopes mentioned something inconclusive about it. They didn’t have any proof.
I’ve found and lost so many treasures through the years, that I’m surprised this one remains — found it while digging through some old files, and immediately remembered what it was like to be 24 again, but then I pulled a muscle laughing and was thrown roughly to the present with mortality’s reminder throbbing in my ribs.
I wish I knew what happened to everyone involved in this ad – the typesetter, his/her boss. Maybe it was a joke, but it feels like it might be the most honest classified ad of all time. And it got me thinking that we really should really strive for better copy editing, lest truth in advertising become the norm.