Corrupted message of billboard romantics

IF ANYONE ever doubted the wisdom of Robert Graves' description of love as a 'universal migraine', they need look no farther this St Valentine's Day than the experience of two men from California.

Weary of searching singles bars for perfect mates, Steeg Anderson and his childhood buddy, Christian Benvenuti, concluded that the only way to find Ms Right was to advertise. Not just a piffling little entry in a lonely hearts column. Something unavoidably eye-catching. Something classy, and grand.

They settled on a giant billboard on a busy highway outside San Jose, on which they plastered a poster adorned with 8ft-high pictures of their hopeful, smiling faces and a message encouraging loveless female motorists to telephone them forthwith.

But wooing is a tricky business in the electronic age. Would-be dates called in by the hundred, only to receive a recorded message, left on the men's answering machine by a telephone hacker, telling them to 'go away' unless they were interested in lewd sexual practices.

'We are getting calls from all over the country,' said Mr Anderson. 'So we were shocked when we heard the message. We don't want people to get the wrong idea.'

They may have had a merciful escape. Valentine's Day has unleashed a squall of exotic behaviour in the US which suggests that there is much truth to the age-old association of love with madness. One couple is tying the knot in a helicopter, another in a hot- air balloon. Suitors can send their sweethearts cards which, on opening, trigger a personal recorded message.

The official day of lovers has also launched a fresh bout of soul-searching. A survey by Hilton Hotels found that 20 per cent of women said their favourite activity during nights alone with their loved one was watching television. A poll by Kraft Cheese revealed that the favourite St Valentine's Day food was platefuls of grilled chicken, pizza and spaghetti.

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