“Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.”
― Raymond Chandler
The most successful personal I ever ran was also the shortest:
Older woman seeking younger man.
I posted it on Craigslist late on a Saturday morning after being spurned by a man I was in love with and went to the farmer’s market for shiitake mushrooms and lemon quark. Messages poured in. And poured in. And poured in. Photos of men promising to entertain me, naked photos, one or two hustlers. They filled my mailbox all night: men ready to jump in their cars to meet me and treat me right. Right then. Right now. Because a woman likes nothing better than a man who’s sitting home on a Saturday night with his computer, ready to pounce.
What had I said? Very little. Which like all good ads allowed eager shoppers to fill in the rest.
I was getting over someone. Perhaps I had reduced expectations. I did not say: I’ve been to 50 countries and wrote a thesis on Nabokov. I did not tell them about being on the board of directors or my favorite song or my bra size. I did not mention being on “Jeopardy!” and losing on a bad call.
Sometimes less is more. I never met anyone from that pile of applicants. Maybe I didn’t need to. I got exactly what I needed from the responses.
I work for myself and as a result, I’m used to having to sell and present and represent myself to new clients. I’m overqualified for many projects I take on so I strip out half the qualifications on my resumé, leaving only what perfectly matches the requirements.
This doesn’t bother me, but it can occasionally make younger product managers nervous. The last time an ambitious woman in her 20s asked where I wanted to be in five years, I laughed in her face. I did not get the followup interview. That was all for the best. I have no idea where I want to be in five years anyway.
The summer I was 14, I was bored and at odds when my mother’s tennis partner suggested placing a free ad in the Miami Herald for babysitting. I wasn’t much of a babysitter except for little Marc who lived around the corner and whose parents were very relaxed and had a housekeeper who made sandwiches for us while I played with his toys and he watched. An only child, I regarded my younger cousins with a mixture of curiosity and dismay. I wouldn’t have known what to do alone with a child.
The first parent who called got my grandmother. She had a child with a learning disability. Without asking, my grandmother judged this would not be a good fit for me and apologized. Not upwardly mobile enough, I suspect.
The phone rang again, and I took the call in the bedroom. It was a single mother with a baby. I politely asked where she lived and how much it would pay. She mentioned a condo development not far from me. “I'm bisexual,” she added, although I had not asked. “Ever tried it, hon?”
I slammed the phone down to get it out of my hand. “Who was that?” my best friend Susie asked. She tried guessing to cheer me up, but I could never explain why I was so unnerved. My mother had told me about reverse phone books where you could look up addresses from phone numbers. So much for the classifieds.
I wound up working at Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips, learning to make change by counting up from the total. It was fast food and I had to punch a timecard and get a ride from my mother, who always made me wait until I was nearly late. But it was also right on the ocean with a beach. Sometimes the drag queens from the nearby Windward motel would perform while waiting in line for hush puppies and fried shrimp and Lemon Luv pies.
In a green-and-yellow polyester uniform, I swept the floor like Cinderella and flirted with the fryers and dreamed of going away to school up north and never returning to Miami. Just as years before, my mother had come to Florida on vacation and dreamed of never going back to New York.
I’m a copywriter. (I did mention that, right?) I write headlines for websites for major tech companies. Headlines carefully scripted to earn the click and get the sale: “Jealous?” and “It’s not easy to be green.” and “Perfect every time.”
The best ads are just a little saucy: playful but leave you wanting more. Sex sells but not as much as holding back. As in real life, it’s a seduction, each punctuation mark a measured pause, a sigh.
When you don’t say too much, you become the subject of fantasies, of aspirations.
Let them fill in the blanks.
Read between the lines.
Like you’re doing, right now …
published 8 December 2012