It was hard times down at the Bismarck chapter of The National Organization for Women. The girls were tired of playing “Old Maid” and “Hangman” all day, and to some of them even the prospect of a date with a fascist warmonger executive was beginning to look good. Something had to be done, and fast.

So the chapter leaders were grateful to learn that Jim Gatlin of Morrison, Colorado, had placed an ad in a Denver newspaper offering to trade his wife, Sharon, for a Super Bowl ticket. (The Lord, She will provide.)

“Bounder! Cad! Nazi!” they must have murmured happily among themselves when that familiar, gratifying little tingle told them they had fallen into Meaningful Work. “A wife is not a personal possession. A wife is a woman who is unlucky enough to be married, you imperialist swine,” they must have chanted.

To make matters worse, they found out that Jim Gatlin’s ad had netted him more than 700 inquiries. That he might actually get what he wanted and that 700 other men thought that they could so easily get what they wanted was enough to drive even the most hardened pacifist to extreme action.

So the girls came up with an idea that state economic development commissions might do well to look into: they wrote a letter offering to foot the bill for Sharon’s divorce if she would move to North Dakota and establish residence here.

Actually, the letter never got sent, but the chapter’s vice president thought it had been sent and told the story to a radio newsman, who told it to a local newspaper reporter before the group could get out a news release on it. The newspaper reporter called the Gatlins in Colorado, and they didn’t know anything, and the story ran the next morning, to NOW’s surprise. “If I’d known that that man was from a Christian radio station I would have been a lot more cautious about what I told him,” the sadder-but-wiser NOW chapter vice president admitted to me in a telephone interview.

“One of our members works in the media, and she said that stories about this Jim Gatlin in Colorado kept popping up, and no one seemed to be doing anything about it,” the vice president explained. “We were pretty sure it was meant as a joke, but, frankly, we didn’t think it was funny. If he’d advertised that he was giving his kids away, people would have jumped all over him, but somehow society thinks it’s okay to say things like that about your wife. Well, when our group finds something that we think is offensive to women, we let the people who did it know, and usually, if we’re reasonable, they see things our way. So we thought about what we could do to get our point across, and we finally decided that we’d offer to pay for his wife’s divorce if she wanted to move here and get one. We didn’t think she’d take us up on it, but we were prepared to help her if she did.”

Now, I think they knew precisely what they were doing, those wily Amazons. (“Hey, we’re just not as extreme as our reputation makes us out to be,” the vice president complained to me.) I think they understood that their offer epitomized, in a way no rhetoric could, the essential tenets of feminism, namely:

1. Nothing is funny, at least not very.

2. Men stink.

3. Marriage is hell.

4. Most women have no brains.

5. Hardly anything is funny.

And that all of this could have gotten wrapped up in one little letter that didn’t even get mailed and still became a media event blows me away. This isn’t politics, it’s art.

But, alas, not all careful planning comes to fruition, and the story of the Gatlins has a dismal ending from all perspectives. Jim eventually got a couple of front-row tickets on the five-yard line, and we’ll never know whom he took. Sharon was too far gone for anyone to help. Explaining why she’d have to turn down NOW’s generous offer if she ever got their letter, she told the newspaper reporter, “I like it here in Colorado, and I love my Broncos.” (“You notice she didn’t say anything about her husband,” the NOW chapter vice president added pointedly.) And the Broncos lost.