'Bob Levey speaking."
"Is this the author of Bob Levey's Washington?"
"The perpetrator might be more like it. Yes, sir, it's Levey himself. None other than. The genuine article. What can I do for you?"
"Bob, I read your column every day. Now, I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but I also read the personals columns every day."
"How could I take that the wrong way, sir? If you didn't read the ads, I'd be doing something else for a living."
"I'm not talking about in The Post. I mean those ads the people put in when they want a girl friend or a boy friend."
"Oh, you mean the ones which say, 'Single White Male in search of Single White Female. Object, spinetingling love forever.' That sort of thing?"
"Yes, exactly. Do those ads work, Bob?"
"I don't know from experience, sir. But I have a few friends who have tried them. The ads work in the sense that you get responses, that's for sure. But sometimes you don't like what you get."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that some of the people who answer those ads are not exactly God's gift to the opposite sex, if you know what I mean. If they were, they wouldn't be answering ads."
"Yeah, but once in a while the ads work, don't they?"
"Sir, you sound like a man who has just spent $25 on one of these and is still waiting for the phone to ring."
"How did you know?"
"Put it this way. In my job, you learn to read voices."
"Well, you read mine just right, Bob. Man, what am I going to do? That was $25 I really couldn't afford. It was three weeks ago, and I haven't had a single call. Not one! I've sat by the phone every night, like some schoolgirl, and nothing. I don't understand it."
"How did the ad read, sir?"
"I remember it by heart. It said, in big capitals, 'ARE YOU LOOKING FOR THAT CERTAIN SOMEONE?' Then it said, 'Single White Male, 35, seeks relationship with Single White Female. Call . . . .' And then I put my phone number."
"Sir, I don't know the first thing about advertising. But that ad tells me nothing about you except your age. And even that isn't too remarkable. If you're 35, you must have been born in the middle of the greatest wave of babies ever to hit America. That hardly sets you apart."
"But don't you think that top line was a grabber?"
"Not really. I'd much rather know what you mean by 'certain someone.' Is it marriage you're after? Then I'd make it, 'ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO BE THERE, FOR RICHER OR POORER?' Or maybe you're after a wild weekend in a hot tub. Then I'd make it, 'ARE YOU LOOKING FOR THAT SENSUOUS SOMEONE?' As an old city editor of mine used to say, sir, words mean what they mean. If you want to mean a certain something, you'd better spell it out."
"OK, Bob, that's good advice. Now I need some more. Do you think I ought to put the ad in again?"
"I have no way of answering that, sir. But I think that silent phone of yours is trying to tell you something."
"You mean I should rewrite the ad?"
"Now who's reading a voice?"
"Hey, I feel better already. Got any ideas?"
"I need to know a little more about you. Height, weight, interests, that kind of thing."
"Well, I'm 5-feet-8, and I weigh 200. I live with my parents in Glen Burnie. I like military magazines and comic books. I'd love to get married some day. And, oh, yeah, I watch 'Dallas' on TV."
"Never even had a date, Bob. I work at the IRS, and one of the fellows I work with said I should try the ads. He said it never fails. I don't have the nerve to tell him that failing is all it's done."
"Sir, this is much against my better judgment, but I'm going to try to help you. Got a pencil?"
"Take this down. 'SWM, 35, Northern Marylander, never been down aisle, on stocky side but lovable, interests range from defense issues to Sunbelt. Desires relationship -- possibly permanent -- with right woman. Could you be she?' "
"Bob, that's great!"
"Let's reserve that word for Muhammad Ali and Mozart, if you don't mind, sir. In the meantime, I hope this helps."
"I hope so, too, Bob. One more question, if I can take another 30 seconds of your time."
"Why don't you ever run any of these ads in your column? Your readers would love it."
"These ads cost more than a dollar a word, right? Well, the day they pay me more than a dollar a word, I'll be glad to."
"Fair enough. Wish me luck, OK?"
"Luck. And get ready to hear that phone ring."