BEING A SINGLE GUY DOESN'T SUIT BILL Machmer at all. Since his 1990 divorce, the 40-year-old research technician from Houston has been looking for love in all the obvious places, from bars to church groups, and not finding it. Then he read about the Barbie twins, the L.A. models who found work—and momentary celebrity—by putting their picture on a billboard. No, he's not dating them—just using their idea.

Along with three other lonely guys, Machmer chipped in $2,500 a month to rent a billboard on a busy freeway near downtown Houston. Their message, which went up July 15 with a post office box number: "4 Middle Class White Males, 32-39, Seek Wives, Kids OK." They quickly found that, yes, it pays to advertise. By last week about 800 women, 21 to 65, had responded. The candidates range from secretaries to attorneys and stockbrokers. "It was just like Santa Claus had come," says Machmer. "I was really excited."

Many of the letter writers "poured their hearts out," says Machmer. A few, though, offered more tangible inducements. One woman wrote that she was set to inherit $14 million from her grandmother; another mentioned five times how much she enjoyed sex. Another asked if the guys knew a rich man who wanted a mistress. Then there was the man looking to meet any women who didn't make the cut. Machmer's three partners look 50 or 60 letters each and, no doubt confident that each would find the woman of his dreams, withdrew from the enterprise.

Machmer has gone out for lunch or drinks with nine of the women who responded. "They've all been very nice and sincere," he says, "but I just haven't been struck by lightning yet." Since there's a limit to the amount of dating one man can do, he is now looking for more single men. He also wants to convert the whole matchmaking project from a one-man operation to something more organized, perhaps under the aegis of a church group. "I realized," he says, "that I've struck a nerve. There are a lot of lonely people out there. I feel more responsibility and commitment to make it work."