The first time I ran a personal ad, this is what it said: "21, Cal Berkeley student, brown/brown, seeks tattooed proletarian man age 21-31. Ideally, a cross between Chet Baker and Mike Ness. Bonus points for knowing who those guys are."
I don't need to point out how shallow this is. I mean, a personal ad is superficial by design, but, to my credit, I didn't go as far as those charmers who say "No Fat Chicks" or an equivalently smarmy statement. I did include a reference to a humble career choice and knowledge of musical trivia, and ain't no shame in my game when I say that when I was 21, all I wanted was a hot tattooed guy. Color me pleasantly surprised to find that my personal ad proved effective.
I carefully screened the voice-mail messages provided to me by the San Francisco Bay Guardian service. Anyone who sounded like a loose cannon or a Muppet, I deleted. It was difficult without a picture to go on, in those ancient pre-Match.com days, but back then I would have willingly dated any number of Muppets if they were rockin' the Tres Flores and a vintage guayabera. And Lord knows I found my fair share of loose cannons without any assistance, thank you very much.
My first date was with a guy called George, on the day that Bill Clinton became president. Incidentally, that was also the last time I voted in any sort of election. I wonder if my later disillusionment with politics had anything to do with my disappointment with personal ads. George was thin and pale and wore a leather jacket over his tattooed arms. Not only was he my favorite kind of proletarian (a carpenter), but he was in a workers' union. And he had a big ol' union sticker on his truck with one of those impossibly long, romantic titles like, "San Francisco Brotherhood of the Order of Carpenters and Welders and Other Sweaty, Muscular Men in Wife-Beaters with Pomaded Hair, Local Number 345."
In 1992, nothing made me sweat more than this kind of man, the kind who controlled the means of production. We went out twice, and I even met his father, a sweet and erudite man with a beautiful home in the hills who seemed thrilled with the idea of me as his daughter-in-law. Everything was going great.
Sadly, this was my first hard lesson in one of the truisms of personal ad dating. If the guy is not married, gay, or afflicted with some hideous deformity, chances are he is embroiled in some elaborate come-back-to-me dance with his sort-of ex-girlfriend. I am firmly convinced that 90 percent of men who place personal ads do so immediately following the discovery that all of their shit is in a milk crate on the sidewalk outside their apartment with a note saying, "Go die."
The man does not want to break up, but his masculine pride is so deeply wounded that he places the ad strictly on a knee-jerk, primordial "I'll show you" kind of reaction. By the time the ad hits the streets (or the Internet, these days), the guy has already called the girlfriend to beg her forgiveness 40 times and may have even shown up outside her window hoisting aloft his boom box blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." But she is stalwart, and the dejected beau figures he might as well get a little if he can, since they are "on a break," as it were.
When the hapless ad respondee arrives on the scene, a woman should check for signs of a "lost weekend" (the smell of alcohol, rumpled clothes, less-than-close shave, mumbled ramblings about "that bitch," etc.). If the conversation turns to the recent breakup, the ex-girlfriend, or the custody battle (be it over children, pets, or CDs) more than twice, consider this a red flag. Be advised that you are probably no more than a brief distraction during the course of a month-long bender that will likely end in a phone call to you saying, "I can't see you anymore; I got back together with Stacy. She begged me, and I felt kinda bad for her."
So George reconciled with his ex, and I never heard from him again. More than once I have wondered if his father still has that great house in the San Francisco hills.
Tell us the story of your breakup and/or date from hell and we will publish it and pay you ($100 for 500-2000 words).
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