THE FIRST TIME I placed a personal ad in a magazine, they said: "Just be honest. Describe yourself, your likes and dislikes, and the type of woman you're interested in meeting -- at least at 75 cents per word."
Then they handed me a slip of paper and a No. 2 pencil, and I wrote: "Short, unattractive man with thick glasses seeks stunning yet insecure woman to cook, take over my car payments and engage in occasional desultory sex. I like to drink rum out of a jelly glass and play Scrabble, that's about it."
The whole thing came to . . . let's see . . . 40 words. Cost me 30 bucks. Then I went home and waited for the responses to roll in. Nothing. Zero. It was unbelievable.
Every day I'd stand out by the mailbox waiting for a postcard from some hot-looking babe who wanted a shot at an advanced Scrabble player. And every day Ted, my postman, would walk by and shake his head and sing out: "Nothing for you today, Occupant!"
Finally after a month or so of no responses, I threw my hands in the air and shouted: "That's it! I'm quitting the dating scene! I don't know what these women want anymore!"
A buddy of mine, Neil, happened to be over the day I went ballistic. He asked to see my personal ad and studied it for several minutes.
"You gotta punch it up a little bit," he said finally. "There must be something you like to do besides play Scrabble."
Not really, I said. For a while there I was hooked on Sorry. And before that I'd play a lot of Hungry, Hungry Hippo, which is a game my 4-year-old niece turned me onto where you try to capture marbles in a plastic cup shaped like a hippopotamus.
But lately, I said, it's been mostly Scrabble. Not to brag or anything, but I should point out . . .
"Listen," Neil said, "lose that Scrabble stuff. Put something in the ad like: 'Has won over 25 bowling trophies.' They'll be beating down the doors to go out with you."
Neil knows women, you've got to give him that. But I needed a second opinion, which is the reason I showed the ad to Sarah Jean down at the laundromat.
Sarah Jean was pretty busy making change -- all 24 washers and dryers were humming and she was cranking the quarters off the changer on her belt so fast you could barely see her fingers.
But finally she stopped saying "How much you need, Sugar?" and took a minute to look at my ad.
From the expression on her face, she didn't like what she was seeing -- unless it was the No. 9 dryer knocking with those tennis shoes that was bothering her.
"Part of the problem," she said between drags on a Salem, "is your opening sentence, especially that 'short, unattractive man with thick glasses' business. A lot of women don't go for that type of guy."
Man, I could have kicked myself. She was right, of course. The more I thought about it, you don't see too many Meg Ryan types with ugly, stumpy guys with Coke-bottle glasses -- Scrabble background or no Scrabble background.
Why I didn't think of that in the first place is beyond me. Just stupid, I guess. Yeah, that's it. Maybe the ad should have read: "Short, stupid, unattractive man with thick glasses seeks . . ."
"Another thing," said Sarah Jean, "you can't just say you're looking for someone to cook and pay for your car and have sex with. That's going to turn women off. It's too . . . honest."
Well. This was a fine how-do-you-do. Here the folks at the magazine were saying: "Be truthful." But Sarah Jean was saying: "Sugar, to play this game, you gotta lie like a rug."
Anyway, once the morning rush was over, Sarah Jean and I sat down and wrote out a new personal ad on the back of an empty box of Tide.
Actually, she dictated and I wrote with a big red Magic Marker that Earl, Sarah Jean's boss, uses to make up "This Dryer Out of Order" signs.
"Tall, rugged-looking Harvard grad seeks attractive, non-argumentative, financially well-off woman for quiet candlelight dinners (your place), help with philanthropic causes, erotic adventure (though on a limited basis.) Must have sense of humor. Proficiency at spelling and board games preferred."
I don't know . . . it doesn't really sound like my kind of personal. Plus I had to pony up another 30 bucks to get it into the magazine.
Sarah Jean, she can get a little wordy.