[transcribed - all errors are mine - M.]

Personal ads, the neurotic erotic adventures of "Paul".

P: To my knowledge when I first began the personal ad odyssey there was an internet but no one except my little brother speaking Klingon was using it. This was the early 90's. You'd see ads, you still see them, for these phone numbers that you'd call and people would leave messages. There's basically two kinds of personal ads even to this day. People actually trying to meet a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife and people looking to get laid. Sometimes they blur the line but usually its very obvious which is which. Some of the more advanced systems categorize - split them off.

I was always interested in both. It was great for me because I hadn't dated a lot - sometimes I was able to go to a bar and pick up a girl but it was never the girl I liked. I liked the menu aspect of the personal ad whether it was, at this point there was no visual menu because it was the phone or the newspaper but I got into the idea of people describing themselves. I especially liked calling the numbers where you could listen to someone. I felt that although I couldn't tell what they looked like by the voice I could get a vibe off them. I was very successful. I met lots of girls that I liked, I even met a girl that I dated for two years.

Its funny because when you start dating someone from the personal ads you have to make up a story, with girl X and I we made up some bullshit story about meeting in a library or something.

M: Was her ad for sex?

P: No, her ad was absolutely in the category of someone looking for the girlfriend/boyfriend and I later find out slash husband mode. But on a phone system the very next ad could be someone who was looking just to get fucked and sometimes very explicitly. This was a system where they let you describe yourself not just by leaving your message but there were categories that would say: I'm looking for a casual encounter - which means getting fucked, or I'm looking for a discreet encounter - which means your married and want to fuck somebody else, or I'm looking for a long term relationship which means you're a prude. Then there is I'm looking for a group scene and so on and so forth.

Sometimes there'd be a girl who didn't have the confidence or was timid to put something in a sex ad but that was basically what she wanted. You could usually read it early on. I wasn't just looking to get laid myself - there were times I was really looking to meet someone really cool. Usually I was - especially with the internet now - what they call a lurker. Which means I wouldn't usually put my own ad in. I experimented but I found I preferred looking at the menu, I didn't want to be on the menu. I felt like there were usually more guy ads and also I didn't like the responses I would get. Fifty percent which would be from other guys. Which is fine but not what I was looking for.

M: I actually gave some advice recently - I guess I was wrong - but I told this guy that he should put an ad in. It was just for sex - I thought more women would answer an ad than would place an ad.

P: Its getting better now. I was sort of locked in this 10 years ago thing. As it evolved and I started doing more internet personals and stuff like that, lots of personals that used to be on the phone or in the paper are now all on the internet with pictures and stuff. Its getting more socially acceptable and there are more women. I just recently moved to a site that is a more people just trying to find partners kind of site which is very specific to my ethnic background.

I stopped as of recently, I met a lot of people but I've actually met one girl who I'm going to start dating. This was a system where you had to have your own ad. You couldn't just look at other people's. There were some people who responded who were very - but I felt like all the one's I wanted to talk to I would find. There was never anyone who found me who I was interested in. I'm patient enough at scouring the system so I don't need to be on the menu.

M: Do you feel like it doesn't give you enough control?

P: That's part of it but I just don't often like the women that respond to me. Its like in life - the women that hit on me are not often the one's I like. Some of the women that responded to my ad were really cool I just wasn't into it.

M: So the person you met through this last dating ad, you found her ad.

P: Yes, although she claims she saw me first and she thinks she emailed me. It's actually a point of contention. She thinks she emailed me first and I know I emailed her.

P: I recommend it to anyone because there are a lot of weirdo's but there are no more weirdo's than there are just in life. I think it helps if you have some sort of niche, if there's a way to weed out some of the population, like an ethnic background or a hobby. I personally think that in Chicago the Reader Personals are a decent cross section of the population. You basically hit on everything from Lincoln Park yuppies to more regular Chicago people. A lot of those phone number things have just gone down hill, they've become like weird - and if it's what you're looking for it's fine - but this weird sort of underground, swing club. A lot of people that just want people to go get high with and go to the hottest clubs.

M: I think I would feel a lack of control.

P: It is kind of nerve wracking but I get an adrenaline rush just off of the anticipation. The part that's nerve wracking for me and is sometimes good sometimes bad, is when it becomes real. I've tried to learn to do a poker face. But when you meet, even if you've seen a picture or not, its essentially a blind date. At least now with the internet you get a picture. Before it was totally blind. I'll never forget one time I answered this ad, the girl seemed really sweet, she was like look I'm a little chubby but I'm not huge, I'm not fat. And I'm like, that's fine I don't mind. And I'm walking down Michigan Ave and I see one of the biggest girls I've ever seen in my life. She was a sweetheart, a really nice girl, but she completely misrepresented herself.

P: You don't really know what's someone is like and unfortunately so many people are totally different when you meet than when you talk on the phone. Like literally a totally different personality. Or something that was kind of cute on the phone is now like just.

M: So say you were meeting someone for a sex hook-up. Would you still meet in public for the first time?

P: I like to meet in public because - well its not like a safety that they might kill me but a safety that if I'm not attracted it's easier to make an exit. It just makes everyone more comfortable. I don't want to deal with someone who thinks I'm going to kill them. You know there are weirdoes out there. I've heard stories, you know like the girl invites a guy over and her boyfriend is hiding in the closet and jumps out and mugs him. But most people doing shit like that I think there would be easier ways than personal ads, like just picking up someone in a bar. Personal ad you have to be patient. You have to wait. Someone who like instant gratification isn't going to like them. Its like a smoker or an addict waiting for their shit in the mail.

It appeals to me because I like the distance in selecting and the pushing forward to intimacy at your own pace. It is about control, when you meet someone in another way sometimes you're just sort of thrown together, like a chance meeting - you might be with other people. You're getting to know them and deciding if you like them while you're in it.

ůMy heyday was right before the internet became hot ...by the later 90's it was the shit. Yahoo personals and AOL personals, I met so many woman that way. It was great. For someone who had been doing it through the newspaper and phone - now you could see them and chat with them online. I've picked up so many women chatting online. That's great too when you're in different cities. You don't have to worry about long distance. This was before long distance got really cheap. I would chat with a woman in city 1, while I was on my way to city 2, so that by the time I was on my way back to city 3 I already had - it was great. It was fun. For me - I'm a very talkative chatty person, its great because sure people talk each other up in a bar or whatever but there's something very direct - its pure communication, there's no outer distraction, its immediate.

M: So you would take ads as your way of choice for both when you just want sex or you want to meet someone to date? That's how you would look for someone?

P: It certainly has become that. Originally I think it was just a way to open up the playing field, to create diversity. It's the menu aspect of it. You can cover so many more people, I don't care how much energy you have you can see more potential people on a web site than bar hopping, or bookstore hopping or whatever. You're not dealing with the temporal value of are you there at the same time, are they single.

M: So what's the weirdest thing or most fucked up thing that happened?

P: I was abducted for a short time.

M: Really? No way.

P: This is going way back to those phone days and I answered an ad from what sounded like a very attractive young lady. Who even in her ad described herself as being bi-racial - part Italian and part African American which I thought sounded like a super combination based on my taste. Although, "Paul" has dated all kinds - "Paul" loves everybody.

M: If you keep doing that everyone is going to know who you are.

(laughing)

P: We talked a few times, there was one time we were supposed to meet at some Wicker Park bar. It didn't work out. I was living alone at the time and one day it was a rainy day, I didn't have much to do, I had to work later that night. And she called me up and we're talking and she says well why don't you come visit me. Get a six pack and just come over and hang out. So I'm waiting for the bus, I don't remember the details it's like a really bad storm, rain, I missed the bus, I had to walk back. So I called her and said, you know what, let's just do this another day. And she said - I'm going to send a car for you. I'm going to send my driver for you. And I think, wow she's got a driver? OK. As I'm waiting for the guy I'm thinking - this is kind of weird. I started to get a little - what the fuck's going on? I'm waiting and waiting. It takes forever. Finally I hear my doorbell and I go out to my gate and there's this little guy in this baggy t-shirt. It looks like he kind of has a broken nose but I find out later it's a recent scar from a knife wound on the top of his nose. He asks if I'm "Paul" and I say yes. He says, I'm Johnny, I'm here to pick you up for Miss Sheila. Being the idiot that I am I get in the car. Which is like a Datsun or something. We're driving around and he says, so, how do you know Miss Sheila? I had no idea how to answer so I just say we're friends. That's good, he says. Are you [a certain ethnic background]? I say yes. He says good, she'll like that. We're driving along and he says - Had a bachelor party last night with the girls. Yeah, one of these guys had a knife. He had a knife? Used to. And that was the extent of the car conversation.

We pulled up to a building in the West Loop (and this was before the West Loop was cool) it was kind of skanky. We get out of the car and he says go up those stairs. So I go in and there are a bunch of fat black women in various stages of undress and I get to the top and a very nice bi-racial younger (than the others) woman comes to the top of the stairs. And in the most professional way - like the president of a bank - she says, Hello "Paul" I'm Sheila it's nice to meet you. Like she's welcoming me into a fortune 500 company but I look around and its more like a crack house.

We sit down and drink the beer and talk just making chit chat. The guy disappears. And she tells me her life story which is basically that her mother was a prostitute of African American decent and her father was the guy who - at least at the time - ran the south side outfit. The Mob. He always felt responsible, always gave them money. And when she got old enough he gave her a little business which was running a sort of escort service/bachelor party deal. Which she apparently did very well. She told me how much she liked [people of a certain ethnic background] and would I like to have lunch. And she said, just wait here and then she was gone for a really long time. I said a couple of times - maybe I should get going, uh you seem really busy and she said no, no just wait here.

Finally she comes back with the little guy and she says, lets all go for lunch. Let's go to a restaurant that's owned by my family. We drive around forever - they can't find it or something. Frequently the guy stops at traffic lights and starts arguments with people, at one point he flashed pistol at some guy because he cut him off in traffic. I should mention that it's him, me, Sheila and one of the fat black women all shoved into this little Datsun. I'm feeling uncomfortable but finally we get to a restaurant and they go in and order a bunch of food to go and they all start looking at me and didn't say anything. They're just looking at me and I go - oh, uh, how much is it? It was like, whatever - I gave them the money they bought the food and then instantly it changed and they said, where can we drop you off "Paul"?

I was like, oh over on Halsted is fine. They were like (sweetly), oh it was great to meet you, next time we'll pick you up in the limo, it's in the shop right now. Then, I'll never forget, Sheila looked at me and was like - call me. I walked to work and that was the last I heard from them.