When schmoozy, young, business-casual-attired Scene sales reps who recently graduated from Bowling Green show up at your baseball card hobby shop carrying a folder of price points and an air of desperation, hear them out, Cleveland. Because this stuff really works!
I can confirm this because the ad for my gay escort service ran in Scene for only one week in just one issue, and it really took my brand-awareness to a whole new level.
During my second senior year at Kent State University (often referred to as "The Harvard of Portage County") I was bartending at the now defunct, painfully-appropriately-named tavern Glory Days. Bar owner Mike Beder and I were and remain the type of friends whose primary goal in life is to spite one another and cause each other moderate to severe discomfort. We prefer to do this in cleverly conceived ways, though we are admittedly not above the occasional drive-by ball-tap. (Classic!)
For example, as anyone who has ever tended bar will attest, during any given shift you will experience random people calling the bar constantly, trying to set up appointments with the owner/manager. It's an array of people trying to sell the manager things, charities begging for money, people asking if you're hiring, etc. Usually you just blow these folks off, pretend to write down a message, and then go back to secretly drinking your way through your shift.
But at one point, over the course of about two weeks of boredom, whenever I received such a call I would pretend to be the owner and enthusiastically agree to meet with every single person who contacted us. I scheduled all of them for the exact same day and time during one of my friend/owner's shifts. This resulted in about 25 people converging on him at the exact same time, trying to get him to sell their gourmet popcorn at his place, imploring him to sponsor their Ultimate Frisbee team, and asking him when they could start installing the vinyl siding that I had agreed to purchase.
It was a hoot! He was not pleased, however, and was quick to return the salvo.
One Halloween at the bar, I made the unfortunate choice of dressing as an effeminate cowboy. Not very original, I know. It was a last-minute rush job. Sort of a Village People thing without a Biker and Indian to help it make sense. Short denim cutoffs, shirt tied up at the stomach, sideways neckerchief. You get the idea. It was fun for the night. Pictures were taken. And that's where the trouble started.
Unbeknownst to me, my friend designed an ad for my gay escort service utilizing a particularly flamboyant picture from that evening. The ad promoted "Cowboy Mike" and it offered men the opportunity to "mount up and show me the ropes," with various other vaguely Western-themed sexual euphemisms thrown in to round out the character.
The ad also conveniently provided my actual cell phone number.
My friend then placed the advert in the back pages of this very magazine, alongside the other ads offering a vast array of exotic goods and services. (And by that I am of course referring to the ads that offer totally legal, therapeutic back rubs from licensed professional masseuses.)
So did it work? Did it ever!
At first, I wasn't clear on what was happening. It took a couple of voicemails before Cowboy Mike realized what was going on.
But after the third or fourth message I received in which a different male voice was asking Cowboy Mike for a date, I pieced it all together just like Chazz Palminteri did at the end of The Usual Suspects, but way gayer.
But the calls kept coming.
The messages guys left me were as diverse as they were plentiful. I got old men and young men. I had a couple of black guys call who apparently wanted to get on me as a team, which, I have to say, made me feel pretty cool -- like having a black friend but on a whole different level.
I had one woman, who I guess either didn't read the ad very well or was perhaps shopping for a friend, leave a message trying to arrange a date. I had one guy call who was obviously in a room with other people but was oddly comfortable with the fact that he was ordering a man-hooker right in front of them. It sounded like this:
(Several people talking in background. Music is playing.)
"...I know, I heard it's supposed to rain...but I, Oh hang on I got his voicemail...Hey Cowboy Mike. This is Todd, I saw your ad and...sorry, one second...(holds receiver away) what? I'm on the phone. Jason? He's in the basement....he's not? Well he was just down there. I don't know where he is. I'm not his keeper. Try the garage. (back to phone) Sorry about that Mike. Any ways, I'm looking to hook up, so if you have any time later this, hold on...(holds receiver away) Jase! Dan was just looking for you. He's in the garage...(etc.)
My phone kept ringing for about a month. At first it was kind of funny and I'd explain the situation to whomever I was with and then play the consistently amusing messages back for them. But it eventually got tiresome. I'd be on a date and my phone would ring three times until the girl got annoyed enough that I'd have to explain to her that it wasn't a jealous girlfriend calling me, it was just three different strangers who wanted me to suck them off in exchange for money. This generally resulted in further tedious questioning.
I have to say that the eeriest calls came from the most pedestrian-sounding men. Not to say that I expect all homosexual guys to sound like over-the-top gay male wedding planners from hacky romantic comedies, but these guys were clearly on the down low. I'd get a call from a guy who sounds exactly like your most boring, married uncle, and he'd leave me a very business-like message along the lines of, "Hey, Cowboy Mike. My name is Greg. I saw your ad. I'm in town for a convention for the next two days. I'm staying at the airport Marriott. Give me a call back so we can set a time to meet up. Thanks. Have a great day."
He'd deliver this in a totally normal, matter-of-fact manner as if he were trying to set up a dental cleaning. Which means he's probably done this before. A lot. How is he so calm?
If I call a woman who I have actually met and who willingly gave me her number, I still get nervous when I call. And the first message that I leave for her is inevitably a stammering, desperate mess. This is because I'm trying to be about four different characters at the same time, because I don't know what approach will be effective, so I just attempt all of them simultaneously. I'll go from "arrogant" to "jokey" to "affectionate" in the same sentence some times.
A TYPICAL DESPERATE FIRST VOICEMAIL MESSAGE FROM ME TO A GIRL:
"Hey Jen. (it's almost always "Jen") This is a kidnapper! I have your mom! I'm just kidding, this is Mike Polk, we met at Ashley's birthday party last weekend. I cornered you in the kitchen. You remember me. Good-looking smart guy with a winning smile. Just kidding. Not that I'm not those things, I totally am and stuff. I'm confident, I don't have low self-esteem. I just meant that I was kidding in that I don't say it out loud onto girl's voicemails because I'm humble. But not too humble. And I'm tall. Remember? But...any ways, just wanted to call and say hey. And see what you were up to this weekend. Not that I don't have anything going on. I'm pretty busy. I probably couldn't hang out this weekend even if you could. I have a lot of friends...God damn it. Why would I...I don't know why I just said that. But I did. So.... Who cares? I don't... Hey, is there a feature on your voicemail where I can listen back to this and start over if I want to? I know that some of them have that. Not that I would do that. I'm fine with what I'm saying. Who cares? But how would I engage that if I did want to? Is there like a phrase or key word?....Erase voice mail! ...Did that do it? Voicemail start again!....God damn it. Just ignore this. This was all a joke I did. Plus I'm drunk. This is someone else... Damn it. (click)
By comparison, the no-nonsense out-of-town business guy casually trying to set up a sex date with me as if he's ordering Jimmy Johns sounds downright freaking romantic.
Easily the most disturbing potential customer that I encountered during my brief stint as a gay male prostitute was a kid named Sean. I felt genuinely bad for him. Based on his trembling, youthful voice, I surmised that Sean was a young man who was just coming to terms with being gay. In his message he spoke quickly, timidly, and quietly, as if he were scared his dad might come into the room at any moment and discover his secret.
SEAN CALL ONE:
"Um, hey Cowboy Mike. This is Sean. I saw your ad. It looked sexy. Um. So. I don't know if we like, meet up somewhere or. Just call me back. My name is Sean. I already said that. (nervous laugh) Sorry. My number is..."
As was the case with all of my aspiring clients, I did not call Sean back. I didn't see any need to call back any of these suitors, for the very simple reason that I had no intention of going down on them. I'd just ignore it, and that was that. Out of the 50 or so messages I received, Sean was the only one to actually call back in spite of receiving no response. This time, he sounded a little more agitated and confused.
SEAN CALL TWO:
"Hey. Cowboy Mike. It's Sean again. I called before. Look, I don't know why you didn't call back. I don't know if I, like, didn't do something right or...But, call me back. Thanks."
Yet again, I did not respond. This led to a third and final message from Sean in which he sounded livid.
SEAN CALL THREE:
"Cowboy Mike. It's Sean. What the hell? This is the third time I've called. What's going on here? The least you can do is call me back."
Now, if you look at this from Sean's perspective, you can understand his frustration. If my hunch was correct, here was this shy kid, finally coming out of the closet. He probably doesn't really feel like he fits in at school and stuff. Now he's trying to follow his heart. He musters up the courage to do this. And now Sean can't even get the gay cowboy prostitute to return his call so that HE CAN PAY HIM TO HAVE SEX WITH HIM! That's gotta sting a little.
So I realized that the decent thing for me to do at this point was to call Sean and break up with him, try to let him down easy. So I call. I'm praying for it to go to voicemail. It doesn't. Sean picks up.
MIKE- Hi. Sean?
MIKE- This is Mike. You've been calling me?
SEAN- Cowboy Mike?
MIKE- (pauses, audibly sighs) Yes. Cowboy Mike.
COWBOY MIKE- Listen Sean, there's been a misunderstanding, see, I'm not really what you think I am and I can't help you with what you need help with.
SEAN- What do you mean?
COWBOY MIKE- See, my friend, who's an asshole, took out that ad as a joke. Just to mess with me.
SEAN- What? That's fucked up.
COWBOY MIKE- I know. But in fairness it was a pretty good burn. I mean he really....
SEAN- (hangs up)
COWBOY MIKE- Hello?
And with that, Sean and I were through.
Eventually, as time wore on and that issue of Scene was replaced by others with new ads for people not named Cowboy Mike offering their bodily services at an hourly rate, business slowed down and the calls dwindled.
In any event, I didn't get another call for about two months, when I received a message from a guy with a thick Canadian accent telling me that he lived outside of Ottawa. He wanted to know if I was willing to travel, assuming he picked up all of my expenses. I briefly toyed with the idea because, really, it's just nice to get away for a weekend sometimes and go somewhere new, regardless of the circumstances. But after some reflection I decided against it.
But it made me wonder how that Canadian dude stumbled upon the ad. As far as I know it wasn't online or anything. And his call was the only one that I received from out of the area. Regardless, it just furthers the belief that the culture of Canada truly is far behind that of the U.S. in every conceivable way and that advertising in Scene totally works. Buy, people, buy! Just don't use my cell phone number in your ad.