Annals of Journalism III: The Personals Competition

I may well have posted this story before. Not sure, not gonna try to search.

When I worked at the newspaper, years ago, we had personals. There were all sorts of weird things about this. We had to reject the many NAMBLA personals, for example, and deal with the outrage of potential child molesters who were denied the opportunity to rent new catamites. We had to deal with the paper’s tradition of free personals about nothing, in which a kind of mini Usenet/LJ of odd characters socialized and fought via mailed 3×5 card and free weekly paper. And then there were the dating personals.

As a free weekly in the pit of sin that was Los Angeles in the 1980s, we pretty much had a category for anything seeking everything else. There was a lot of pervy amusement to be had. Most of it, though, was men seeking women per the usual pattern. After every issue we’d get a torrent of mail that went to any woman at all who advertised. And the men seeking men was a huge moneymaker, since “traditional” personals didn’t accept that at all.

Sometimes we’d have uneven columns and holes in the pasteup. In most sections of the paper we’d run a small house ad or something similar, maybe a freebie for a long time advertiser. In the classifieds section, we filled them up with fake personals.

At first a couple of the women in the production department put in their own personals. This is how we discovered that the same guys send the same letter and the same picture to any woman who advertises at any time, ever. After a few weeks of this we had a “Wall of Shame” in the production room with ten in a row of the same 8×10 glossies and lovelorn notes. The pictures were real “keepers”. I remember one gentleman in a cowboy hat and Speedos in front of his trailer, and another with a Tom Selleck moustache and a combover leaning on a Mercedes. That kind of thing.

And this was born the Great Personals Competition. Anyone who wanted could enter, and write their own fake ad. Whomever received the most responses in the first week won.

I don’t remember most of the ads. I do remember the top two. #2 was courtesy our classifieds guy’s girlfriend:

Buxom blonde twins, 19, seek man for threesome. Pillow fights, tickling, and whatever else follows. Age, looks not important.

That got a tremendous amount of mail, falling out of the box and annoying the secretary. But it wasn’t #1. The winner, the classifieds guy (and talented cartoonist) himself, wrote:

Affectionate but diffident male gymnast, 18, seeks father figure to explore gay lifestyle. Hairy or a bit overweight a plus.

The amount of mail generated was truly heroic. The wall of shame was entirely covered with hopeful men, straight and gay, thinking they’d hit the motherlode of fantasy fulfillment. And then we all went downstairs to the Two Guys from Italy and drank, because that’s what we did there.

4 thoughts on “Annals of Journalism III: The Personals Competition

  1. Oh, that was the best. Someday I will have to share the story of My First Dot Com Job, which was photoshopping whore tits and writing copy for their ads.

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