My friend S. subscribes to the London Review of Books for the personals, which are superior not only to those in American journals but also to the other ads on the page ("Memoir Writing in Southern France!") and to the articles with their elderly rubbish about Islam and the limits of modernity, the John Edwards scandal, revisionary atheism, and what would have happened if Celine and Vita Sackville West had been lovers under the rule of Sharia. Glum stuff.
How much more pleasurable to encounter a notice that begins in boldface, "There's usually an atmosphere of dread," and continues, in unhighlighted print, "when I show up at a party. Not so the next one, when you accompany me as both my groom to be and my designated driver. Easily drunk, garrulous F, 41, prone to molesting the teenage sons of suburban dinner party hosts and crying over the petits fours. WLTM sober expert in public apology to 50."
Or, "I'd sooner indulge my dangerous hi-fibre diet obsession than contribute yet another churlish whimsy to this column. Yet I am alone, and need to smell a lady's head. Man, 54."
Obsessions with obsessions, with the power of smell and with the value of sobriety, are as common as the "whimsy" and the artful use of an exclamation point: "Reformed trapeze-performing reprobate (F39) seeks creative, sane(ish), trampy-looking (but non-smelling) boy for sober fun!"
And then there's the lure of France ("Narrow Dog to Carcassonne") and the delightful specificity ("seeks 56-ish M") or lack thereof ("possible female equivalents, 50 to 75, may discover more"). The succinctness of a T-shirt ("Celibacy sucks. Let's get it licked. James, 46") is as unattractive as sincerity ("seeks tall man 50-62ish with big heart and expansive mind"), and what's with this "ish" business?
There are a lot of eligible teachers out there. "School teacher, 36, seeking spectacle-wearing sci-fi reader, can be a Gamer if he makes time for kite flying." And if sometimes the advertiser resorts to shock effects ("I pride myself on being very well lubricated"), hyperbole, in the best ads, collapses beautifully. "Let your mind be dazzled, your senses tingled! I am a geography teacher in West Hartford. M, 57."