I picked up a copy of the St. Louis Gutterfrump Times at the restaurant where I had lunch today.
It’s an arts and entertainment rag, comes out once a week. You know, a little politics – but not too much, movie listings and that sort of stuff. Usually I just check out the local music section, read a few futon ads and pitch the thing into a corner of my apartment where it sits for a couple of months until I finally get around to pitching it.
The ads are really the best part. Fly Helicopters, lessons start at $79. The Best in Leather-Rubber-Vinyl. Uncle Timmy’s Boudoir. Sounds Right. Custom Car and Audio Store. Great name for a store, huh? This stereo, it sounds right, it works and it’s probably not stolen. It sounds right and it might even be brand new.
The issue was just brimming with ads for cheap futons and I couldn’t resist turning its newsprint-scummy pages. Futon Paradise Ltd… Futons your girlfriend will hate… Really, really cheaply made Futons… Modern Futons…. Futons that sit so close to the floor that you feel like you’re sleeping on the floor. As per tradition I was about to chuck it in the corner when I noticed a completely different kind of ad nestled between the ones for speed reading classes and the “Abs-master.”
“Girlfriend-Express,’ it read. “We’ll find you Ms. Right.”
They were offering to find me a girlfriend for $19.95. I wondered how they could even make such promises. Why does the Better Business Bureau let someone operate such a scam? Why would the Gutterfrump Times even accept their ad? I thoroughly scanned for the catch. I had no doubt that one was lurking somewhere.
The phone number was a local call. Not a 1-800 number. Not a 1-900 number. Nothing that said $5.95 per minute – just one price. I noted that it even had the same first three digits as my own number.
I made the call.
“Girlfriend Express, can I help you?”
“Yeah, I saw your ad and wanted to find out more.”
“Yes sir, basically we have you answer a bunch of questions,” the male voice drones. He sounds almost like a teenager. In fact, he sounds like the kid that lives next door who spends most of his time throwing rocks into the apartment complex pool when his parents aren’t home. I wonder whether this is a joke. “Based on the way you answer the questions we find you Ms. Right. We set up the date, hand you her phone number and directions to her house. Then after you go out on your first date you both pay us $19.95.”
This throws all of my questions out the window. Everything I had planned to use to debunk this foul scheme has just been negated. It sounds too good to be true, or too good to be untrue – one of the two.
“Great….” I mumble, instantly defeated. “What credit cards do you accept?”
“What cards do you have?” the teenage sounding voice asks calmly.
“Sears, JC Penny and Best Buy,” I say, hoping this will end the call.
“We accept Best Buy,” he replies.
Now I never thought it would go this far. They accept Best Buy?! I could have just hung up on the guy and forgotten it but a couple of minutes later I’m giving him my name, age, height, weight, eye color, hair color, first grade teacher’s name and all that jazz. I gave him my Best Buy credit card number. And then he gets personal.
“Where do you buy your clothes?” he asks.
“What stores do you shop at when you need new clothes?” he repeats, enunciating each word as if he were talking to his kid brother.
“Why in the hell is that important?”
“It’s important to women. They want to know whether or not you buy your clothes at Venture, inherit them from an older brother or buy the latest pleated cotton pants at Structure and Banana Republic.” I find this completely fucking unbelievable but I answer anyway.
“I shop at the Gap, Structure, Banana Republic, American Eagle and sometimes Eddie Bauer.”
“Okay..” I can hear him writing something down, the sound of a pen scratching over paper. “Do you ever shop at J. Riggins?” he asks.
“No. I don’t shop there.”
“Why not?” Mr. Puberty sounds surprised.
“Because their clothes suck.” I spout. “Nobody I know shops there. I don’t know who does. Ok?!” I’m really getting exasperated quickly with this shopping line of questioning. I wait as he apparently makes more notes. I can hear some crunching on the other end and imagine a kid writing, pen in one hand and a “Super Grab” bag of Doritos in the other.
“Are you sensitive?” he asks abruptly.
(Are you sensitive? )
“Yes,” I reply. Scribble, scribble. . . the audible sound of notes being taken. Why doesn’t this company use a computer database to keep track of my answers? How are they going to match me with a girlfriend if they don’t?
“Do you like Melissa Etheridge, Edie Brickell and the new Bohemians, Bonnie…”
“Wait a minute,” I stop him. “Don’t you want to know why I’m sensitive?”
“No,” he says matter of factly.
“Because it’s not important. It just matters that you are.”
“That the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, how can you trust someone to… Wait a minute, what’s your name?” There is a long pause. I’m wondering whether he hung up when I finally hear him take a long inhale.
“Randall,” the teenage voice replies. I hear him shuffling around on the other end and after awhile I hear his hand on the receiver, muffling a conversation going on.
“OK, Randall. How can you trust someone to say they’re sensitive. Isn’t that something that has to be proven?”
“This is a dating service Mr. Mitchell,” he lectures me, reminding me that he knows my name and more. “Your potential girlfriend only wants to know whether or not you’re sensitive. Yes or no. No elaboration. Okay?”
“Great, whatever..” I mutter. Randall continues where he left off.
“Do you like Melissa Etheridge, Edie Brickell and the new Bohemians, Bonne Raitt and gay dance music?”
“No, no, no, and double no!” I’m proud of myself for standing my ground but this will pass.
“Are you willing to tolerate the aforementioned music if she’s very good at oral sex?”
“Uhhhh…” He’s got me. “Yeah, sure,” I admit.
I answered questions for about a half an hour. What would I do on Valentines day? Do I write love letters? Do I have a best friend? What kind of car do I drive? Do I have a problem with doing the dishes? Have I ever seen the movie “Sleepless in Seattle?” Do I forget to put the toilet seat down? At one point I can hear a radio playing in the background on his end. I made out the lyrics and backbeat of the Human League’s song “Human.”
(You will pretend to like: )
“What do you do for a living?”
“I work for Blockbuster Entertainment.”
“OK, so you’re in the movie rental field,” he says flatly. “Do you hate it?”
“No, I don’t rent people movies. I work for Blockbuster Entertainment – the company. I’m in marketing.” This sounds more glamorous than it really is. I’d probably be having more fun writing marketing campaigns for paper towels boasting some new revolutionary technology like “thirst pockets.” For example, at the time I was working on a campaign to get our customers to rent older movies. A majority of the people who rent are only interested in the New Releases. Specifically, they only want the ones that came out that week.
“Do you hate it?” he asks again.
“No, not really. I do hate some of the people I work with though.” I wonder who the best example of this would be. Actually I hate quite a few of the bastards. I settle on one of my partners, Russell Kimsway.
“This guy who sits next to me came up with the idea of having our store employees wear backstage passes with dumb marketing slogans like ‘We have pop corn, candy and other treats!! Take some home tonight! Ask me about them.’ I really feel sorry for the poor kids in our stores who’re forced to wear the damned things. It’s bad enough they have to dress the same and wear name tags but now they’re walking marketing billboards too.”
“Did you just burp?”
“No, I hiccuped,” he clarifies.
“Sounded like a burp to me.” He lets this pass.
“Ok, that pretty much wraps up the questions. I will…”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupt him. “Don’t I get to detail the sort of woman I want to meet?!”
“No, we do that for you. We match who you are with who she is.”
“That’s completely stupid,” I complain. “I’m paying $19.95 to you people to find me Ms. Right and I don’t even get any say about what I look for in a woman? I know exactly the sort of girlfriend I’m looking for.”