If you're angry, let it out

If you can't tell your boss what you think of him to his face, tell him in a personal ad, writes Daniel Jeffreys
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Indy Lifestyle Online
New York and anger were made for each other. Sure, the place has parks and picture galleries but it's on the streets that the city steams.

That's where cab drivers and bike messengers joust with tyre, iron and bike chain, where ordinary citizens turn crazy over the slightest insult, imagined or otherwise. This is the "in-your-face" town, its people are direct. Mayor Rudy Giuliani just gave us a new slogan: "New York - we can kick your city's ass." Some people say New York is a romantic town, but New Yorkers thirst for revenge as much as love. It's all this high- pressure time spent too close to people we often don't like.

So thank God for the anti-personals. This latest addition to the city's toolbox of fury is just the job. Let's say you were being mugged on the subway and someone close by did nothing to help. No problem, just dip the pen in poison ink. "To the insensitive boob in the blue business suit and black sneakers who watched me get mugged on the A-train last week without doing a damn thing to help. Pig."

The Anti-Personals began small. Eighteen months ago a shopping magazine called the Manhattan Pennysaver invited its readers to "give the gift of hate" by attacking their enemies in its "anti-personal" ads. "Spew forth your anger. You'll feel much better afterwards," the paper says. The ads were the brainchild of Pennysaver's commercial director, Eric Naher. "I just got tired of all those lovesick desperate pleas for companionship," says Mr Naher. "I wanted to do something for the dark side of New Yorkers. Believe me, everybody who lives here for long has one."

The ads cost 50 (about 30 pence) a word which is the same price as their romantic brethren. According to Mr Naher, the largest number come from jilted lovers. The next biggest category is from people angered by bosses or colleagues, such as this one in last week's edition: "To my new SOB of a boss. What goes around comes around. No one will stay with you because you do not treat people with the respect and courtesy they deserve. You are ripping us off. I'm going to report you to the proper authorities."

When it started, Pennysaver got about 20 submissions a week and published an average of 10. The truly offensive were rejected. Now the weekly total is close to 500. "People are starting to read the magazine just for the anti-personals," says Mr Naher. That may explain the interest from New York magazine and New York Observer. Both have large personal columns and both are planning their own versions.

The sniffy New Yorker said it would have nothing to do with something so vulgar.

But do the ads work, do they make the author feel better? For a jilted lover they seem a poor substitute for a slap in the face or a tossed drink. "I'm not aware of any evidence that people can get rid of aggression symbolically," says New York psychiatrist Dr Joyce Brothers. "I don't think these things are therapeutic at all. In fact, aggression tends to breed aggression."

But hold on, an anti-personal is not a loaded gun, another favourite means of dispute resolution in these parts. The sender can tell a disagreeable colleague he's a jerk from a safe distance, while still smiling at him round the coffee machine. "It's perfect for our modern times." says Mr Naher. "It's a safety valve."

Yup, and it works for both sexes. "To the woman I could have loved for ever, I'd rather split than endure."

Or, "Sex with you was bad, sleeping was worse and your eating habits even grossed out my mother. You can edit books, but women aren't for you." Ouch.

'Sex with you was bad, sleeping was worse and your eating habits even grossed out my mother.'

'To the insensitive boob in the business suit and black sneakers who watched me get mugged on the A-train last week without doing a thing to help. Pig.'

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