Fantastic Bikini Dream Date
A foreigner in search of understanding American culture would do well to study the personal ads that run regularly in our newspapers.
I don't know if French papers run these kinds of ads -- I imagine they do -- but the American ones reveal more about how we express loneliness, need and wishful thinking than they do about our sexuality. In our advertisement-driven society, these ads function as little commercials for ourselves.
Where the Federal Communications Commission or the Food and Drug Administration may control bad advertising and misleading claims, there is obviously no regulation or quality control of the personals, which makes them a highly amusing if not deeply distressing marketplace.
We Americans love to shop, and searching for a mate or sexual partner in the personals feeds into our fantasies of the perfect commercial trade. A successful personals trade, we believe, is efficient, doing its job with minimum effort on our part. One simply places the ad and in a matter of days a wide range of potential mates responds, ready to serve the customer.
The ads themselves represent a highly stylized version of how the love customer would like to be seen. Here's an example from a Brooklyn paper:
1st ad
This woman has missed a career as an ad writer. First, she draws you into a deliciously impossible fantasy -- I'm imagining a velvet-upholstered woman, a tailor's dummy, in a polka-dot bikini, with handfuls of dime store glitter tossed around like confetti. So where do you take a dream date like that? What restaurant would serve her?
But wait. The fantasy ends and it's down to business: she's looking for an under-35 college educated blond -- a celebrity look-alike, no less. Wow, that's a tall order. And what god would comb the singles ads in a Brooklyn weekly? It doesn't compute. Fortunately, our bikini dream date appreciates a good sense of humor, which is essential if you're trying to conduct your romantic life in the personals.
Now, I have a little secret to confess: I once was a news reporter for this Brooklyn weekly. And, as were many of my fellow reporters, I was featured as a "Single of the Week," since the writer assigned to do the feature was usually too lazy to look outside the office for a good candidate.
So there I appeared, a "blond-haired green-eyed Louise Brooks lookalike with a husky voice and languorous manner, looking for fun times with an adventurous man who likes to explore New York City, preferably a dashing British air pilot."
Guess what? I didn't receive a single response from any British air pilots who happened to be lurking around town. What I got was responses from a lot of cops and firefighters, including one who described himself in a phone message as having "dark Italian features." Another one, a cop, said he knew of all kinds of adventurously drug-infested neighborhoods from his line of work that we could explore together.
In reading the Village Voice personals recently, I took comfort in the thought that it's not just we Americans who fall prey to the personals mania. A European placed this ad:
2nd ad
This guy has better business sense than Bikini Dream Date. European Born Professional lays the essentials on the line in orderly fashion. However, he doesn't have poetry in his soul the way the bikini does. And what I'm thinking is that European-Born Casanova must be some kind of righteous asshole.
For one thing, that "European-born" nonsense is squirmingly embarrassing, like this guy is trying to impress us Neanderthal cave-people Americans with his continental charm. What we're most likely dealing with here is a bureaucrat for the United Nations, bored with his job, who hasn't gotten laid in awhile. His last girlfriend, same age as him, dumped him when she got wise. So now Casanova is out looking for a sweet young thing, 20-34, to dominate with his European-born savoir faire: "Look how you eat! Terrible! Why must you Americans insist on transferring the fork from theleft to the right? Really, you must pay attention when I correct your table manners. Don't speak. I tell you this from love, darling."
God bless European-born Romeo and Bikini Dream Date. I hope their romantic fantasies come true.
As for me, I did go out on a date with one of the men who answered my ad back during my Brooklyn newspaper days. He took me to a Greek restaurant in Sheepshead Bay and said, "I've got a funny little story to tell you, but let's sit down first." When we were seated he told me his funny story, which ended with the punchline "I haven't got a penny on me."
I scurried back to the newsroom as quick as I could and never spoke to the cheapskate again. And now when I read the personals, a basic market principle comes to mind: Let the buyer beware.

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