Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Modern Yentas

I am three issues into a subscription to The New York Review of Books.

This publication is a terrific way to mine your intellectual lapses. After wading through articles like Jonathan Raban's "The Conservative Soul," or learning that Robert Fagles has yet another translation out--this time of Virgil's The Aenied--you may turn to a discussion of Matthew Stewart's The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World.

By now, if you are me, you're feeling damned inadequate. Why, in your desperate scramble to find gainful employment, leading to excesses like food and health insurance, you forgot to learn Ancient Greek! And what about schooling yourself in the niceties of the history of Philosophy? You are to be scorned for the sin of poverty, which held you back from these august pursuits. Life is waning! Get busy!

So it is, with a heavy heart, that you find yourself perusing the Classifieds section. And lo, your mood immediately lifts at the sight of so many personal ads.


Yes, even the NYRB must scrabble for ad revenue, and what better way, besides all those full-page University Press ads, than advertisements from the magazine's target audience?

Full disclosure: I have always loved reading personals ads. When they first began appearing in alternative papers, back in the nineties, I devoured them with great, condescending amusement. All those pretty, wealthy, evolved people. Then, finding myself single, working in a field populated by women, I decided to place one myself.

This was in '92-'93. Fewer women ran ads in those early days, so I was able to place mine free of charge. I avoided cliche; I did not say I was beautiful or wealthy or that I wanted somebody who was. But I lived in Southern California, where appearances and finances are paramount. I received scores of responses from men who rode horses, surfed, and spelled out their physical attributes in great detail. One guy left several voicemails bragging about his Malibu ranch.

The entire experience was excruciating. I would listen to the voicemails, taking notes. I would screw up my nerve (no small task), and call a few guys. I would go on three or four awful dates. I would stop for a few months, despairing, fine-tune the ad, start again. I finally hit on the line "looks and money not important," which sent some of the worst packing. One day I screwed up my nerve yet again. I would make a few calls. The first guy on my list wasn't home. I skipped down to the number below him, a person who had left a one-line message in a very quiet voice. I had not planned to call this fellow, but there I was, sitting by the phone, adrenalin pumping. I dialed, and had my first conversation with Hockeyman.


So here we are, fourteen years later, on page 84 of the April 12th issue of the NYRB. I count twenty-seven ads. Most are about fifteen lines long; advertisers are charged by how many times the ad is run. One-time: $5.50 per word, fifteen word minimum. Run the ad for a year and get the bargain rate of $4.50 per word.

Twenty-four of the advertisers are straight women, one a GWF, one a SWM, aged 68. The final ad comes from a MWM, aged 69, seeking a female, preferably married, for a "long-term liason."

The straight women are alarming. Seventeen describe themselves as stunners, knockouts, beautiful, thin, slender, fit, pretty, head-turning, with bodies ranging from sexy to fit to elegant. They want you to know they have great legs, are spiritually evolved, gourmet cooks, love opera, theatre, world travel (especially Paris), and Film, as opposed to movies. One is "crazily beautiful," another posses "uncomplicated, sexy style with just a touch of glamor."

So why do they need to advertise? Well, it is hard to meet people these days, what with the demise of the various social institutions where one met mates--churches, synagogues, parents looking to forge imperial alliances. I am entirely sympathetic. But how does the single, NYRB-reading male select an advertiser from this sea of dazzling adjectives? Does he necessarily believe all these women's claims? Are they really all that gorgeous? Is this statistically possible? Yes, the sample size is small, but think of twenty-four women you know. All they all stunners? Maybe a couple. But the rest are, well, the rest. Just like us: average. Well-dressed, well-nourished, well-cared for, succumbing to the depredations of ageing. Shit happens.

Suppose he ventures a repsonse. What does he say of himself to "Appealingly thin, beautiful inside and, deep thinker?" Or the woman with "Garboesque good looks" who "adores reading on airplanes?" What of the one "known to create beauty wherever she is?" How is it possible to approach such people? I, too, am gorgeous, ageless, an Olympian with a command of ancient languages? My favorite place to read, en route to tapas in Spain, in on an airplane? I am looking for a woman who can create beauty while washing my socks?

Do the advertisers really believe these things about themselves, or are they flinging words about in their attempts to hook a live one? What kind of person describes herself as "considered perfect person with whom to be stranded (mind that word count!) on a desert island?" And what sort of person would want to date her?

Finally, do the advertisers actually read the NYRB? Or is it merely a patch of prime hunting ground? And is the hunt successful? Inquring minds want to know!


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