I’m in the bathroom.
I won’t burden you with details, other than to say I’m reading a copy of a magazine from and about New York City.
I soon tire of the cultural chauvinism — the smug and strangely provincial articles about the superior nightlife, restaurants, museums, blah, blah, blah — and I flip to the back pages.
To the personal ads. The ads soliciting companions, life partners, dates, dreams.
Personally, I like them.
I find personal ads a rare lens through which to peer into the desolate emotional landscape of upper middle class America.
We live in a culture where, in metropolis or small town, it is apparently very difficult for adults to locate each other, to make the all-important initial social connection. Too many Americans, otherwise successful human beings, are alone in a crowd with no way to find Mr. or Ms. Right.
As a result, people advertise.
Think about it? What would you do? You’re between 35 and 75 years of age; you’re alone in an environment that provides few comfortable situations in which you can let down your guard, revealing your true self long enough to, perhaps, attract someone to the point they want to spend a bit of time with you.
You’re a drudge, so this is no mean feat. You have to write ad copy, pay to have it printed in a periodical then anxiously await responses from interested parties. Our economy is built on convincing someone they need a product. Why shouldn’t the product be you — touted in a fascinating, compact description of your fully-realized personality and lifestyle?
I don’t know about you, but I would have a difficult time doing this. I look in the mirror every day and what I see would be hard to glamorize. What I see is an image that scares small children in the lockerroom at the gym. It would take a team of ad agency mavens and a major budget to put the physical me across.
When I turn my attention to other matters and ponder my list of life accomplishments, I confront a long, empty sheet of paper. I would be a hard sell here, too.
Apparently, I am not typical of the folks in the personal ad crowd.
What I read in the magazine as I bide my time in the bathroom shows me there are quite a few people who do not have my problem.
The personals are printed, appropriately, on the pages following the section containing gaudy ads from plastic surgeons and practitioners of cosmetic dentistry.
The Fifth Avenue Vein Center will get rid of those varicose veins, “wherever they may exist.” I don’t want to imagine all the spots they could exist.
Dr. Papadum and Dr. Tandoor will straighten your smile in two visits, without braces. And put you in touch with an answering service in Calcutta that can handle all your off-hour calls for a remarkably low fee.
You can get a new look with laser eyelid surgery and pay enormous amounts of money for the breast augmentation, tummy tuck, and fat transfer. Ah, yes, a fat transfer.
A special, this week only, will see $100 taken off your Botox tab if you receive five injections or more. The revolutionary lap band will allow you to lose weight at half the cost. Cost of what, they don’t say.
Once you’re thoroughly made over, you can take out a personal ad and find the person of your dreams. The one you can’t find any other way.
The personals ads are full of missives from people just like you and your neighbors: dynamic, incredibly successful folks, employed in high-level occupations or self-employed, captains of industry and yachts.
These people describe themselves in glowing terms; they glimmer like fine gems, revealing perfect facets, ideal reflections of an ideal existence. Each ad, like a cheesy pop song, has a hook.
“CEO, with a soft side, Young 40.” According to his ad, this guy is seeking the perfect partner with whom he can start a perfect family. She, of course, should be, “21-25 years of age, compassionate, sweet, slim, fit, able to make both our dreams come true.”
The dreams, of course, are not spelled out in detail.
Read closely and you find an old guy who needs sympathy and desperately needs a woman young enough to be his daughter who can do “everything” for both of them. But, why be critical? Esse est percipi and percipi is on Page 237.
“Extremely handsome millionaire, great build, ex-athlete, 40 years young …”
We know where we’re headed here, don’t we?
“Wants woman 21-25, highly passionate and sensual, exceptionally attractive and well built.”
Hmmm. It seems these “young” 40s guys have certain things in common.
Another chap describes himself as “handsome and honest, wry and reflective.” Well, maybe one out of four.
Another one of these geeks describes himself as “ A Celtic-American writer.”
This clever Celt seeks a gal for “pro or recreation.” Heh, heh. He compares himself to Wordsworth and Shaw (which means he’s goofy and he’s an jerk) and tells his love-to-be she must be “ a glaring aristocrat with soft eyes.”
Does he mean the eyes must be literally soft? Is he going to poke some poor gal in the eye?
Yet another of these barely-restrained Lotharios is a “tall, handsome, articulate, multi-disciplined (huh?), degreed, licensed professional, perspicacious, kind, of extraordinary wit with eclectic interests from cooking to photography.” His perfect date will reflect the same tendencies and will broadcast the following attributes: “tall, thin, strikingly beautiful, warm, sweet, wise and with character.”
Whew. Hey, that’s not asking much.
You wonder why this guy is alone.
Another would-be Casanova is a “Young 75.”
This cagy codger is “trimly built” and “alert to cultural possibilities.” He desires “exclusive intimacy.”
Guess who he’s looking for?
Could it be that same gal, 21-25, the extremely handsome millionaire is after?
We live in a balanced culture. Lest anyone think all the desperation is generated by males, read this:
“Regular girl, 42, anything but thin, pretty, huge heart (do tell) big blue eyes (big, you say?) long brown hair, accomplished (at?) adventurous, happy (how happy?) loves everything from Jeeps to music to barbecues.”
One woman modestly refers to herself as a “precious jewel,” while another tells us she is a “woman scientist/physician looking for a man, age unimportant.”
For a lab experiment, no doubt.
One gal says she looks like Sophia Loren. Another, to even the score with the guys, is “54, leggy and hot in the city, and wants to link up with athletic clean-cut guy, 21-25, intellectual, into dance and theater, athletic, who owns his own business.”
Yes sirree. Of course, most of them are gay.
On page 238, I find a “beauty contest winner,” a “vibrant editor” (I can relate to that), a “sensual slender, toned, yet curvy great looking package with dancer’s legs.”
I would return the legs to the dancer as soon as possible.
On page 239, there is a woman who “gravitates” to the Swiss Alps, enjoys tennis, Rome and Paris, and who used to be a lawyer but is now an artist who is genuine, resourceful and really really, really knows how to enjoy life with a “trim, athletic man, 21-25.”
The more I read, the more depressed I become.
Everyone out there is witty, cultured, vivacious, eager to experience all the best with a person half their age. And they’re alone, of course.
I feel so inadequate.
I read six pages of ads before I realize no one promises to cook for the object of their affection. No one uses my hook.
I ponder what I would do were I to suddenly find myself single. Actually, I thought of this the other night as Kathy reminded me of what a slug I am and turned around several times so I could observe her carefully and extrapolate from the vision that she is attractive to more ambitious and successful males. To handsome millionaires, for instance.
What if she wises up and dumps me? How would I manage the dating game?
If I wanted to lure a potential date to my lair, I would promise to make comfort food, to soothe someone damaged enough to respond to personal ads in order to connect with another, grossly deficient human being.
I’d take a couple of pounds of boneless short ribs (protein is an aphrodisiac where I come from) and cut them into chunks. I’d dice a white onion, half a red pepper, a stalk of celery, four cloves of garlic and a large carrot.
I would season the meat for my prey-to-be then dust it with flour before browning the beef in hot olive oil. I’d remove the beef when brown and throw the vegetables in the pot, adding oil if necessary. When the veggies are soft, I’d put the meat back in, add four cups of beef stock, a can of diced tomatoes, some dried oregano, some dried thyme, a hefty amount of hot red chile powder, salt and pepper. This could simmer for a couple of hours while I push debris and dog hair beneath my threadbare couch.
Ninety minutes before my potential paramour arrives, I’d add one potato, cubed and a can of Great Northern beans, with liquid. I’d toss in a couple more cloves of garlic, minced and adjust the other seasonings. Most of the potato and the beans will disintegrate, thickening the broth.
Once I open the front door of my bachelor pad and admit my gregarious, soft-eyed and witty companion for the evening — the one with the huge heart — I’ll bust open a bottle of cabernet franc and cut some thick slices of crusty bread. Crusty bread works on women with large hearts.
The bread will be slicked with olive oil and crushed garlic. A layer of grated Gruyere cheese will be applied before the bread goes under the broiler. If we each devour immense amounts of garlic, our passion will be unchained by the stinking rose.
Stew, bread avec browned and bubbly cheese, a plate of dressed greens and a splash of cabernet franc: What could be more seductive? I’ll borrow a smoking jacket. I might even smoke.
The strategy seems sound, and I might well need it.
I’m not sure what Kathy’s thinking, but I hear her out in the living room singing verse after verse of “I’m Gonna Wash That man Right Out of My Hair.” Truth be told: she’s every bit as good as Mary Martin.
To hedge my bets, I need get started on my ad. I’ll close the magazine, stand up and get out of the bathroom. My legs are numb.
Let’s see: Handsome millionaire is already taken, as is “alert to cultural possibilities.”
I’ve got it.
“Delightful, young-64, gap-toothed fat guy with ADD, a knack for eats and a way with words seeks tall, trim, financially-independent redhead, Ph.D./nuclear physicist/poetess who collects antique tarot cards, reads the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, watches the Home Shopping Network and Cops, loves bull dogs and spandex evening wear, and has a morbid interest in Nordic history and ice hockey.”
Oh, yes, I almost forgot:
“Must be 21-25 years of age.”