Gay

"Urn, straight."

"I'm bi," he said, breathing in my ear. "That's too bad. We could've had a lot of fun."

After Andy and his friends left, I cozied back up to Hillary. She instantly gave me the doggy dinner bowl look. I took her hand under the table and felt the warmth emanating from her palm, from her thigh, from her breath. She would be mine tonight. I had won her.

Chapiah

When I came home from Hillary's in the morning, Dustin was waiting in my apartment for me. The king of the naturals had returned.

But what was he doing in my apartment?

"Hi," he said in his soft, effeminate voice. He was wearing a tweed sportcoat with large brown buttons, straight-legged polyester black slacks, and a black skullcap.

I hadn't talked to Dustin in more than a year, since before I had joined the community. Last I'd heard, he was managing a nightclub in Russia. He had sent me photos of his girlfriends: one for each night of the week. He actually referred to them as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on.

"How'd you get in here?"

"Your landlady, Louise, let me in. She's really a sweet person. Her son's a writer too, you know."

He had a way of making people feel comfortable with him.

"It's good to see you, by the way," he said as he gave me a big bear hug. When he pulled away his eyes were misty, as if it really were good to see me again.

The feeling was mutual. Dustin had been on my mind every day as I learned the pickup arts. Where Ross Jeffries needed spoken hypnotic patterns to convince a woman to explore her fantasies with him, Dustin was able to achieve the same result without uttering a word. He was a blank male canvas for a woman to project her repressed desires onto—even if she didn't consciously know what they were before meeting him. I never had the resources to understand how he operated before; but now, with my new knowledge, I could watch him work, ask questions, and eventually model his process. I could usher a whole new school of thought into the pickup community.

"I don't know if I told you what I've been doing the past year," I said. "But I've been hanging out with the world's greatest pickup artists. My whole life has changed. I get it now."

"I know," he said. "Marko told me."

He looked at me with big, wet brown eyes, the ones that had gazed into the souls of countless beautiful women. "I don't..." He paused. "I don't really do that anymore."

I looked at him—incredulously, at first. But then I noticed that the skullcap on his head was a yarmulke.

"I live in Jerusalem now," he continued. "In a yeshiva. It's a religious school."

"You're kidding."

"No. I haven't had sex for eight months. It's not allowed."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing: The king of the naturals had gone celibate. It couldn't be true. Wasn't that why prisons were invented? They offered men food, clothing, shelter, television, and fresh air but deprived them of the two things that really mattered—freedom and women.

"Are you allowed to masturbate, at least?"

"Really?"

He paused. "Well, sometimes when I sleep, I have wet dreams."

"See. God is trying to tell you something. It has to come out."

He laughed and patted me on the back. His gestures were slow and his laugh condescending, as if he had spiritually bypassed toilet humor. "I go by my Hebrew name now," he said. "It was given to me by one of the highest rabbis at the Yeshiva. It's Avisha."

I was stunned: How could Dustin transform so suddenly from nightclub player to rabbinical student—especially now that I needed him most?

"So what made you give up women?" I asked.

"When you can get any girl you want, every guy—even if he's rich or famous—looks at you in a different way because you have something he doesn't," he said. "But after a while, I'd bring girls home, and I didn't want to have sex with them anymore. I just wanted to talk. So we'd talk all night and bond on a very deep level, and then I'd walk them to the subway in the morning. That's when I started to leave it behind. I realized that I got my entire validation from women. Women became like gods to me, but false gods. So I went to find the real God."

Sitting in his Moscow apartment, he said, he searched the Internet for guidance, until he came across the Torah and started reading. After an eye-opening trip to Jerusalem, he returned to Russia and went to a casino party, where the mafia, corrupt businessmen, and materialistic hangers-on sick ened him in comparison with the people he'd met in Israel. So he packed his bags, left his week's worth of girlfriends, and arrived in Jerusalem on the eve of Passover.

"I stopped by," he said, "to ask your forgiveness for some of my past actions."

I had no idea what he was talking about. He'd always been a great friend.

"I idealized a lifestyle and behavior that were corrupt," he explained. "I abhorred kindness, mercy, human dignity, and intimacy. Instead, I used, degraded, and exploited women. I thought only about my pleasure. I despised the good instincts within me and within others, and attempted to corrupt anyone I met."

As he spoke, I couldn't help thinking that all these things he was apologizing for were the very reasons I had befriended him in the first place.

"I promoted and dragged you into this whole pickup thing, as if what I was doing were the highest ideal a person could live for," he went on. " So, to whatever extent I am guilty of affecting the natural goodness of your soul, I am deeply sorry."

It all made sense intellectually. But I've never trusted extremes, whether it be drug addiction, religious fanaticism, or zero-carb diets. There was something odd about Dustin, or Avisha. He had a hole he was trying to fill—first with women, now with religion. I listened to him, but I had a different opinion.

"I accept your apology," I told him, "but with the caveat that you have nothing to apologize for."

He looked at me softly but didn't say anything. I could see why he was so seductive: It was those eyes that glistened like the surface of a mountain lake, that intense power of focus, that way of making you believe that nothing else existed for him except what you were saying at that very moment.

"Think about it," I continued. "If a guy wants to improve his odds of meeting women, he's going to have to make some changes to himself. And it just so happens that all the qualities women look for in guys are good things. I mean, I've become more confident. I started working out and eating healthier. I'm getting in touch with my emotions and learning more about spirituality. I've become a more fun, positive person."

He looked at me, listening patiently.

"And I'm not just more successful with women now, I'm more success ful in every other human interaction, from dealing with my landlord to handling credit card overcharges."

Still looking.

"So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm learning how to pick up women, sure, but in the process, I'm becoming a better human being."

His mouth began to move. He was going to speak. "Well," he said.

Yes? What?

"I am eternally here for you as a true friend, and also to make up for what I did."

He wasn't convinced. Fuck him. I was going to take a nap.

"Mind if I stay over for a couple of days?" he asked.

"No problem, but I'm leaving for Australia on Wednesday."

"Do you have an alarm clock I can borrow? I need to pray with the sunrise."

After I found him a small travel clock, he reached into his bag and pulled out a book. "Here," he said. "I brought this for you."

It was a small hardcover edition of an eighteenth century book called The Path of the Just with a note he had written for me inscribed on the title page. It quoted the Talmud:

Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.

So he was trying to save me. Why? I was having fun.

ChapieA

Mystery and I were on another road trip. The sun was blazing, the map was accurate, and there was a surfboard strapped to the top of a brand-new rental car. We had five workshops sold out in three cities in Australia. Life was good, at least for me.

Mystery, however, was in low spirits. I made a mental note to never go on a road trip with him again. Before he left Toronto, his girlfriend, Patricia, had given him an ultimatum: marriage and children, or good-bye.

"I haven't been laid in five days because of this bullshit," Mystery said as we drove up the coast of Queensland. "But I've been jerking it mercilessly to lesbian porn. I guess I've been sort of depressed a bit."

After four years of dating, their goals were diverging. Mystery wanted to travel the world as an illusionist with two loving bisexual girlfriends; Patricia wanted to settle down in Toronto with one man and no bonus woman. Celebrity and alternative lifestyle be damned.

"I do not understand women," he complained. "I mean, I know exactly what to do to attract them. But I still don't understand them."

We'd come to Australia because Sweater, the older Australian student from Mystery's first workshop, had invited us to stay with him for a week in Brisbane. After four months of sarging, he had finally met the woman he wanted to marry.

"I'm like a smitten teenager," Sweater exclaimed when we pulled into his driveway. He looked nothing like the insecure middle-aged man I had met in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel. He was tan, healthy, and, most extraordinarily, an irresistibly welcoming smile was now plastered constantly to his face.

Helena Rubinstein once said, "There are no ugly women; only lazy ones." Since society holds men to less rigid standards of beauty than women, this is doubly true of guys. Give a man like Sweater—or any man—a tan, better posture, whiter teeth, a fitness regime, and clothes that fit, and he's well on his way to handsome.

"I just spent the week in Sydney with my girlfriend," Sweater said, walk ing us into his house. "We talk on the phone about seven times a day. I asked her to marry me before I left. It's sick, isn't it? And on top of that, I made half a million dollars this week on a real-estate seminar. So life is just amazing. Thanks to the community, I have health, fun, money, love, and great people all around me."

Sweater's place was a sunny, airy bachelor pad overlooking Brisbane River and the City Botanic Gardens. He had a large pool and Jacuzzi; there were three bedrooms upstairs; on the ground floor, four employees—all enterprising, fresh-faced Australian boys in their early twenties—sat at a large horseshoe-shaped desk, each working on his own computer. Sweater had not only trained each of them to sell his products—books and courses on real-estate investing—but he'd turned them onto the seduction community as well. By day, they made Sweater money; by night, they went sarging with him.

"I'm still having fun helping the guys here get girls, but I'm off the market," Sweater said when we asked how he felt about his decision to settle down with one woman. "And as far as I'm concerned, I'm getting out at the top. I've come to understand that without commitment, you cannot have depth in anything, whether it's a relationship, a business, or a hobby."

In many ways, I was jealous. I hadn't met any woman yet I could say that about.

Mystery's workshop had changed all of our lives. Sweater was filthy rich and in love; Extramask had recently moved out of his parents' house and finally orgasmed in coitus; and I was traveling the world teaching men a skill I'd never even possessed a year ago.

Mystery was even more blown away than I was by Sweater—less by his engagement than by his home office. When he wasn't grilling Sweater and his employees on how they ran their business, he was silently watching them work.

"I want this," he kept telling Sweater. "You have a good social environment, and it creates a good working environment. I'm rotting away in Toronto."

As we drove to the airport, tan and flush with excitement, Mystery and I plotted our next adventure.

"I have a one-on-one workshop booked in Toronto next month," Mystery said. "The guy is paying me fifteen hundred dollars."

"How'd he get the money?" Most of Mystery's clients were college kids who could barely scrape together the standard fee, which he'd raised to six hundred dollars while reducing the number of nights from four to three.

"His dad's rich," Mystery said. "Exoticoption, from the Belgrade workshop, told him about me. He's a student at the University of Wisconsin. He just started posting online under the name Papa."

Most conversations with Mystery involved plans: organizing workshops, performing a ninety-minute magic show, creating a porn website in which we'd have sex with girls disguised as clowns. His latest scheme was the PUA tattoo.

"Everyone in the Lounge is going to get the tattoo," he said as we parted ways at the airport. "It'll be a heart on the right wrist, directly over the pulse. It'll allow us to identify each other in the field. And it'll be great for an illusion; I can teach you how to stop your pulse for ten seconds."

A couple of PUAs had already run out and gotten the tattoo—including Vision, which was somewhat of a surprise considering he'd moved to Los Angeles to make it as an actor. He'd e-mailed us a photo. But there was a problem: He'd put the tattoo in the wrong place and upside down. The heart was supposed to go over the vein where the pulse can be felt. But he had put it in the center of his wrist, an inch too high, and facing inward.

Nonetheless, it was a vote of affirmation, a pact that this PUA society was for life.

Çkapiah

The day had arrived. This would be the most monumental trip of my seduction career. First, I was going to Toronto for Papa's one-on-one workshop with Mystery. Then we were going to get our PUA heart tattoos, take the bus to New York for Mystery's first classroom seminar, and finally, fly to Bucharest so Mystery could implement what he called Project Bliss. He wanted to return to Eastern Europe, find two young bisexual women searching for a better life overseas, and seduce them. He planned to get them student visas, take them back to Canada, and train them to become strippers, girlfriends, and, eventually, magic assistants.

Tattoos and white slavery: That's where self-improvement had led me.

On my way out of the house, I checked my mailbox. Along with the usual overdue bills and raised car insurance notices was a postcard of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. "Your Hebrew name is Tuvia." The writing was Dustin's. "It comes from the word Tov, or good. Its opposite is Ra, or evil. And in Hebrew, Tov also means that which endures and Ra is that which is short-lived. So your essence is connected to a desire to search out and connect to that which endures—the good. But sometimes you get stuck at the bad along the way."

On the flight, I reread the postcard. Dustin was trying to give me a message from God. And maybe he had a point. But, on the other hand, I'd had an enduring wish ever since adolescence for the power to seduce any woman I wanted. Now I was getting my wish. This was good. This was Tov.

Mystery had recently gotten his own place in Toronto with a PUA named No. 9, a Chinese software engineer who, thanks to Mystery's ever-present advice, had turned himself into a relatively cool-looking guy. They lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment above a cybercafé near the University of Toronto.

Since No. 9 was out of town, I put my bags in his room and joined Mystery in the kitchen. Patricia had broken up with him, for good this time. And he'd been staying in his room a lot, playing a video game called Mor-rowind and downloading lesbian porn. Getting out of the house for these upcoming workshops would be good therapy for him.

There were three types of people who signed up for the workshops. There were guys like Exoticoption from Belgrade, who were normal and well-adjusted socially, but wanted to have greater flexibility and choice in meeting girls. There were guys who were uptight and set in their ways, like Cliff, who couldn't even handle having a nickname like everybody else. They tended to gather as much knowledge as they could but had trouble making even the smallest behavioral change. And then there were people like Papa—approach machines who compensated for a lack of social skills with a lack of social fears. Approach machines tended to improve the fastest, simply by following the flowchart of material they were given. But once they ran out of material, they floundered.

And this was going to be Papa's challenge. He was a soft-spoken Chinese pre-law student. He wore a checkered button-down shirt and jeans that were a size too large. They always seemed to arrive in a checkered button-down shirt and oversized jeans. And they always left in a loud shiny shirt, tight black synthetic pants, silver rings, and sunglasses pushed up on their heads. It was the player uniform, designed to convey sexuality, which was evidently synonymous with cheesiness.

Mystery and I sat down with Papa at a cafe and asked the usual questions: What's your score? What would you like it to be? What are your sticking points?

"Well, I used to be the social chair of my fraternity," he began. "And I come from a lot of money. My father is the president of a major university."

"Let me cut you off right there," I said. "You're qualifying yourself to us. Instead of gaining our admiration, all you're doing is displaying lower status. A rich man doesn't have to tell you he's rich."

Papa nodded stupidly. His head seemed to be surrounded by a dense invisible fog, which made his reaction time just a little slower than most people's. It gave the impression that he wasn't all there.

"Is it okay if I record everything you're saying?" Papa asked, struggling to pull a small digital recorder out of his pocket.

There are certain bad habits we've groomed our whole life—from personality flaws to fashion faux pas. And it has been the role of parents and friends, outside of some minor tweaking, to reinforce the belief that we're okay just as we are. But it's not enough to just be yourself. You have to be your best self. And that's a tall order if you haven't found your best self yet.

That's why the workshops were so life-transforming: We told each stu dent the first impression he made. We weren't afraid of hurting his feelings. We corrected his every gesture, phrase, and item of clothing, because we knew he wasn't living up to his potential. None of us is. We get stuck in old thought and behavior patterns that may have been effective when we were twelve months or twelve years old, but now only serve to hold us back. And, while those around us may have no problem correcting our minor flaws, they let the big ones slide, because it would mean attacking who we are.

But who are we, really? Just a bundle of good genes and bad genes mixed with good habits and bad habits. And since there's no gene for coolness or confidence, then being uncool and unconfident are just bad habits, which can be changed with enough guidance and will power.

And that was Papa's asset: will power. He was an only child and used to taking any measure necessary to get what he wanted. I demonstrated some of my best routines on him—the jealous girlfriend opener, the best friends test, the cube, and a new piece I'd made up involving C-shaped smiles, U-shaped smiles and the personality characteristics each conveyed. Papa recorded every word on his digital recorder. He would later transcribe them, memorize them, and ultimately use my exact words to pick up Paris Hilton.

I should have recognized the signals then. I should have realized what was going on. This wasn't teaching; it was cloning. Mystery and I were traveling around the world making miniature versions of ourselves. And we would soon pay for it.

Our first stop was a lounge on Queen Street. After watching Papa crash and burn in a couple of sets, I started interacting. For some reason, I was on fire. It was just one of those nights. Every woman's eye was on me. A redhead who was there with her fiance even slipped her number into my pocket. I figured this must be what they call seducer's aura: I was emanating something special. And what a perfect evening to do it, too—in front of a student.

I noticed Papa talking to a cute girl with short brown hair and a round face that perfectly matched his. However, she wasn't paying attention to him; her eyes kept twinkling in my direction. This was what the PUAs, in their worst acronym ever, call pAImAI, which basically translates as an unspoken invitation to approach. (Literally, it's a pre-approach invitation, male approach invitation.)

When Papa walked away, I said something to her. Afterward, I couldn't remember exactly what I said—and that was a good sign, because it meant I

was internalizing the game, that I was getting away from canned material, that I could ride a little without the training wheels. After two minutes, I noticed she was giving me the doggy dinner bowl look. So I popped the question: "Would you like to kiss me?"

"Well, I wasn't thinking about it before," she said, holding eye contact.

I took that as a yes and moved in for the kiss. She responded enthusiastically, thrusting her tongue into my mouth and grabbing my knee with her hand. I saw a flash in the background; Papa was taking a picture.

When I came up for air, she smiled and said, "I don't have any of your albums, but my friends like your music."

My response: "Umm, okay."

Who did she think I was?

Then she smiled and licked my face, like a dog. Maybe David DeAngelo was right with his whole canine-training advice.

She looked at me expectantly, like I was supposed to talk about my music. I didn't want to correct her and rob her of the story she thought she'd earned by kissing me, so I politely excused myself. She gave me her phone number and told me to call when I got back to my hotel room.

On the way out, the hostess of the lounge pulled me aside and said, "Thank you very much for coming. Here's my card. Let me know if we can ever do anything for you."

"Who does everyone think I am?" I asked.

"Aren't you Moby?"

So I wasn't having an on night after all. Apparently, because of my shaven head, the hostess had thought I was Moby, and she'd told half the people in the room. All that time I'd put into seduction could be subverted simply with fame. To truly get to the next level, I'd have to find a way to flip the same attraction switches a celebrity does—chiefly validation and bragging rights—without being famous.

I suppose a lesser man would have taken advantage of the situation and continued the charade. But I never called the girl. I got into the game not to deceive women, but to make them like me for me—or at least for the new me.

In the clubs that followed, we watched Papa work. Every piece of material we gave him, he used. Every error we pointed out, he corrected instantly. With each successful set, he seemed to grow an inch taller. Instead of summer school, he told me, he'd spent three months working on Speed Seduc tion skills. He was even studying to get a hypnotist's certification with one of the field's most respected teachers, Cal Banyan. But until this workshop, he'd never seen real PUAs in the field before. He was so blown away he signed up for another workshop on the spot.

On our last day with Papa, we went to a club called Guvernment. I pushed him into sets and watched him repeat, like a robot, the openers, routines, and negs Mystery and I had taught him. And women were responding to him now. It was amazing how effective just a few simple lines could be—and it was also a little depressing. The first thing aspiring stand-up comics do is develop a tight five-minute routine that can win over any audience. But after seeing hundreds of rooms fill with laughter on cue at the exact same points, they begin to lose respect for their audience for being so easily manipulated. Being a successful pickup artist meant risking the same side effect.

When Papa left to get some sleep before his flight home, Mystery and I stayed at the club to continue sarging. Grimble had recently given me the idea of taking all the scraps of paper with phone numbers I'd collected and putting them under glass on a coffee table for decoration. But as I was sharing the idea with Mystery, he cut me off. "Proximity alert system!" he announced.

When women stand near a man but facing away from him, especially when there's no real reason for them to be hanging out in that particular spot, it trips what Mystery calls the proximity alert system. It means they're interested; they want to be opened.

Mystery wheeled around and started talking to a delicate blonde in a strapless dress and a muscular brunette in a do-rag. When he introduced me, he told them I was an amazing illusionist. We'd been winging together for months now, so I knew just what to do: fake them out with a couple of the practical jokes and pseudomagic tricks I'd learned in elementary school. In the field, one quickly learns that everything that was funny at age ten is funny all over again.

Mystery had brought along a video camera, so he began taping the interaction. The girls didn't seem to mind. As he isolated the brunette, I talked to the blonde. Her name was Caroline; her friend was Carly. Caroline lived in the suburbs with her family. Her goal in life was to be a nurse, but she was currently working at Hooters, despite having breasts the size of SweeTarts and a shy, withdrawn personality.

was internalizing the game, that I was getting away from canned material, that I could ride a little without the training wheels. After two minutes, I noticed she was giving me the doggy dinner bowl look. So I popped the question: "Would you like to kiss me?"

"Well, I wasn't thinking about it before," she said, holding eye contact.

I took that as a yes and moved in for the kiss. She responded enthusiastically, thrusting her tongue into my mouth and grabbing my knee with her hand. I saw a flash in the background; Papa was taking a picture.

When I came up for air, she smiled and said, "I don't have any of your albums, but my friends like your music."

My response: "Umm, okay."

Who did she think I was?

Then she smiled and licked my face, like a dog. Maybe David DeAngelo was right with his whole canine-training advice.

She looked at me expectantly, like I was supposed to talk about my music. I didn't want to correct her and rob her of the story she thought she'd earned by kissing me, so I politely excused myself. She gave me her phone number and told me to call when I got back to my hotel room.

On the way out, the hostess of the lounge pulled me aside and said, "Thank you very much for coming. Here's my card. Let me know if we can ever do anything for you."

"Who does everyone think I am?" I asked.

"Aren't you Moby?"

So I wasn't having an on night after all. Apparently, because of my shaven head, the hostess had thought I was Moby, and she'd told half the people in the room. All that time I'd put into seduction could be subverted simply with fame. To truly get to the next level, I'd have to find a way to flip the same attraction switches a celebrity does—chiefly validation and bragging rights—without being famous.

I suppose a lesser man would have taken advantage of the situation and continued the charade. But I never called the girl. I got into the game not to deceive women, but to make them like me for me—or at least for the new me.

In the clubs that followed, we watched Papa work. Every piece of material we gave him, he used. Every error we pointed out, he corrected instantly. With each successful set, he seemed to grow an inch taller. Instead of summer school, he told me, he'd spent three months working on Speed Seduc tion skills. He was even studying to get a hypnotist's certification with one of the field's most respected teachers, Cal Banyan. But until this workshop, he'd never seen real PUAs in the field before. He was so blown away he signed up for another workshop on the spot.

On our last day with Papa, we went to a club called Guvernment. I pushed him into sets and watched him repeat, like a robot, the openers, routines, and negs Mystery and I had taught him. And women were responding to him now. It was amazing how effective just a few simple lines could be—and it was also a little depressing. The first thing aspiring stand-up comics do is develop a tight five-minute routine that can win over any audience. But after seeing hundreds of rooms fill with laughter on cue at the exact same points, they begin to lose respect for their audience for being so easily manipulated. Being a successful pickup artist meant risking the same side effect.

When Papa left to get some sleep before his flight home, Mystery and I stayed at the club to continue sarging. Grimble had recently given me the idea of taking all the scraps of paper with phone numbers I'd collected and putting them under glass on a coffee table for decoration. But as I was sharing the idea with Mystery, he cut me off. "Proximity alert system!" he announced.

When women stand near a man but facing away from him, especially when there's no real reason for them to be hanging out in that particular spot, it trips what Mystery calls the proximity alert system. It means they're interested; they want to be opened.

Mystery wheeled around and started talking to a delicate blonde in a strapless dress and a muscular brunette in a do-rag. When he introduced me, he told them I was an amazing illusionist. We'd been winging together for months now, so I knew just what to do: fake them out with a couple of the practical jokes and pseudomagic tricks I'd learned in elementary school. In the field, one quickly learns that everything that was funny at age ten is funny all over again.

Mystery had brought along a video camera, so he began taping the interaction. The girls didn't seem to mind. As he isolated the brunette, I talked to the blonde. Her name was Caroline; her friend was Carly. Caroline lived in the suburbs with her family. Her goal in life was to be a nurse, but she was currently working at Hooters, despite having breasts the size of SweeTarts and a shy, withdrawn personality.

From two feet away, Caroline's face seemed alabaster; from one foot away, I noticed it was dappled with pinprick freckles. One of her teeth was crooked. She had a red mark on the skin over her collarbone, as if she'd been itching it. She smelled like cotton. She had gotten a manicure in the last twenty-four hours. She weighed no more than one hundred pounds. Her favorite color was probably pink.

I observed all these things as my mouth moved, reciting the routines I'd told to hundreds of girls before. What was different about Caroline was that the routines didn't seem to be working. I just couldn't reach what I call the hook point, which is when a woman you've approached decides she enjoys your company and doesn't want you to leave. Though I stood just a foot away from Caroline, a mile-wide chasm separated us.

After watching the movie Boiler Room, about ruthless cold-calling stockbrokers, Mystery had decided that phone numbers were wood—in other words, they were a waste of paper. Our new strategy was no longer to try to call a girl for a date, but to take her on a date right away—an instant date—to a nearby bar or restaurant. Changing venues quickly became a key piece in the pickup game. It created a sense of distorted time: If you went to three different places with a group you'd just met, by the end of the night it felt as if you'd known each other forever.

"Why don't we all grab a bite to eat?" Mystery suggested.

We walked to a diner nearby, arm-in-arm with our instant dates. During the meal, everything suddenly clicked in the group. Carly felt comfortable enough to unleash her biting wit, and Caroline began to radiate empathy and warmth. We didn't need any routines or tactics. We all just made fun of ourselves and each other. Juggler was right: Laughter was the best seduction.

Afterward, Carly invited us to call a cab from her apartment around the corner. She had just moved in and the rooms were bare of furniture, so Mystery and I sat on the floor. We didn't call a cab—and the girls didn't remind us to, which we took as an IOI.

Carly soon left the room with Mystery, giving Caroline tacit permission to fool around with me. As we wrapped ourselves around each other, the chasm that had separated us in the bar disappeared. Caroline's touch was soft and gentle, her body frail and forgiving. Now I understood why it had been so difficult to get rapport with her when we'd first met. She didn't communicate with words; she communicated with feelings. She'd make a great nurse.

After Caroline brought in some blankets to make the hardwood floor a little more comfortable, I went down on her. I stacked her orgasms as Steve P. had taught me, until it seemed like her body was melting into the ground. But when I reached for a condom afterward, I heard the five words that had taken the place of "let's just be friends" in my life: "But I just met you."

It was a much sweeter sound, and there was no reason to push for sex with Caroline. I knew I'd see her again.

She lay on my shoulder, and we enjoyed the afterglow. She was nineteen, she said, and hadn't had sex in almost two years. The reason: She had a one-year-old child at home in the suburbs. His name was Carter, and she was determined not to be another neglectful teenage mother. This was the first time she'd been apart from him for a weekend.

When we awoke the next afternoon, awkward from the passion of the night before, Caroline suggested having breakfast at a restaurant next door.

In the days that followed, I must have watched Mystery's video of that breakfast a hundred times. At the diner the night before, Caroline's blue eyes were flat and distant. But at breakfast in the morning, they glittered and danced when she looked at me. Whenever I made ajoke, even one that wasn't funny, a broad smile spread across her face. Something inside her heart had opened. It was, I realized, the first time I'd made a real emotional connection with a woman since I'd started picking them up.

I don't have a particular type of girl I'm attracted to, the way some guys are Asian fetishists or chubby chasers. But of all the women in the world, the last type I ever thought I'd fall for would be a nineteen-year-old single mom who waited tables at Hooters. But the great thing about the heart is that it has no master, despite what reason may think.

After the girls dropped us off at home, Mystery and I broke down the events of the previous night, trying to figure out what we did right and wrong. Despite what Caroline and I had thought, Mystery hadn't even gotten a kiss from Carly, though not for lack of trying. She had a boyfriend.

She was clearly attracted to Mystery, however, despite having resisted his advances. So we concocted a plan: the freeze-out. It was based on my Moby experience. If women have sex for validation, Mystery figured, why not take validation away from her? His plan was to be cold and ignore her, until she became so uncomfortable that she wanted to cozy up to him just to make things normal again.

We loaded the footage of Carly and Caroline into Mystery's computer and proceeded to spend the next six hours self-indulgently editing it into a six-minute video. When we finished, I called Caroline and she picked us up that evening.

Juggler was in town, running his own workshop. He'd met a preternat-urally bright jazz violinist named Ingrid and had started dating her exclusively. So we all went to dinner together.

"I'm going to get out of the seduction business," Juggler said. "I want to devote the time to my relationship." Ingrid squeezed his hand approvingly. "Some people may say I'm pussy-whipped, but I say it is my choice. These workshops are too stressful for Ingrid."

It was good to see Juggler again. He was one of the few pickup artists who wasn't needy, who didn't scare away my real-life friends, who made me laugh, who was normal. And for that very reason I didn't believe he was truly a pickup artist: He was simply a funny, masterful conversationalist. He seemed especially witty in comparison to Mystery, who was freezing us all out and making dinner somewhat uncomfortable. If Mystery's plan worked, it would be worth it; if not, then he was just an asshole.

Afterward, Mystery said decisively, "We're heading back to my place, and I'm going to show you the video I made of last night." Victory belongs to the person with the strongest reality and the most decisive actions.

As we watched the video at Mystery's house, Caroline couldn't stop smiling. Afterward, I brought her into No. 9's room, and we lay on the bed and slowly undressed each other. Her body trembled with so much emotion that it seemed to dissipate beneath me. It felt like making love to a cloud. When she came, she didn't make a sound.

As we lay together afterward, Caroline rolled away from me. She stared at the wall and grew distant. I knew what she was thinking.

When I asked her about it, she burst into tears. "I gave it up too fast," she sobbed. "Now I'm never going to see you again."

They were such sweet words, because they were so honest. I slid my arm under her and placed her head on my shoulder. I told her first of all that every passionate relationship I've ever had began passionately. It was a line I'd learned from Mystery, but I did believe it. Second, I told her that maybe she shouldn't have, but she wanted to and needed to. It was a line I'd learned from Ross Jeffries, but I did believe it. Third, I told her that I was more mature than a lot of the people she'd been with before, so not to judge me by her past experiences. It was a line I'd learned from David X, but I did believe it. Finally, I told her that I'd be sad if I never saw her again. It wasn't a line.

When we finally emerged into the front room, we found Carly and Mystery wrapped around each other in a blanket. Judging by the clothing strewn across the floor, Mystery's freeze-out had been a success.

Caroline and I spooned on the couch next to them, and together we watched an episode of The Osbournes on Mystery's computer, each basking in our own post-coital glow. It was a beautiful moment. And it wouldn't last.

ChaphJi

There is nothing more bonding than successfully picking up girls together. It is the basis for a great friendship. Because afterward, when the girls are gone, you can finally give each other the high-five that you've been holding back since you met them. It is the sweetest high-five in the world. It's not just the sound of skin hitting skin; it's the sound of brotherhood.

"You know what's so fucked up?" Mystery said. "I feel so bad, and then a girl sleeps with me and likes me and, bam, I'm on top of the world again."

Smack.

"So?" Mystery asked.

"Are you ready to commit to this lifestyle?"

"I thought I was committed."

"No, for life. It's in your blood now. You and me, we have to challenge each other. Of all the guys I've met, you're my only competition. No one else has the chance to reach the throne except you."

When I was a teenager, I'd lie awake in bed, praying to God, "Please don't let me die before having sex. I just want to see what it feels like." But now I have a different dream. At night, I lay in bed and ask God to just let me have the opportunity to be a father before I die. I've always lived for experience: traveling, learning new skills, meeting new people. But having a child is the ultimate experience: It's what we're here for. And despite my rakish behavior, I hadn't lost sight of that.

Yet, at the same time, living for experiences also means wanting the novelty and adventure of dating different women. I can't imagine ever choosing one person for life. It's not that I'm scared of commitment; it's that I'm scared of arguing with someone I love over whose turn it is to do the dishes, of losing the desire to have sex with the woman lying next to me every night, of taking a back seat in her heart to our children, of resenting someone for limiting my freedom to be selfish.

This pickup thing had never been about sowing my wild oats. My oats are always going to be wild. And that's not necessarily something I relish. I'm screwing up my chances of being a cool dad. If I'd married my first girlfriend and had kids with her, they'd be, say, eight and ten now. And I'd be an excellent father, able to relate to them on nearly every level. But it's too late for me now. By the time my kids are ten, I'll be well into my forties. I'll be so out of touch they'll make fun of my taste in music and beat me at arm-wrestling.

And now I was really going to screw up my chances of getting married: I was about to brand myself a player for life.

An hour later, Mystery and I were outside Fineline Tattoo on Kingston Road. I was smarter than this, I thought. But it's easy to get caught up in the moment, in the hand slap, in the brotherhood.

I turned the handle of the door and pushed. It didn't open. Though it was three o'clock on a Monday afternoon, the shop was closed.

"Damn," Mystery said. "Let's find somewhere else."

I'm not a superstitious person, but when I'm on the fence about an idea, it only takes a slight draft to push me in either direction.

"I can't go through with this," I said.

"What's wrong?"

"I have problems with commitment. I don't think I can even commit to a tattoo that signifies a lack of commitment."

My neurotic nature had saved me for once.

The next night, Caroline drove to Mystery's house, and we all went out for sushi.

"Where's Carly?" Mystery asked.

Caroline flushed and looked into her tea. "She, um, couldn't make it," she said. "She says hi, though."

I could see Mystery's body language change. He slumped in his chair and pressed further.

"Did she say why? Is there a problem?"

"Well," Caroline said. "She's ... well, she's with her boyfriend."

Mystery's face went pale. "And she wouldn't come?"

"Carly said you and she were very different anyway."

Mystery went quiet. He didn't speak for another ten minutes. Whenever we asked a question to draw him out, he responded monosyllabically. It wasn't that he loved Carly; he just hated rejection. He was experiencing the downside of seducing a woman with a boyfriend: She usually went back to him afterward. And seeing Caroline and I enjoying each other's company so much only rubbed it in.

"I'm the world's greatest pickup artist," he grumbled in my direction. "How come I don't have a girlfriend?"

"Well, maybe because you're the world's greatest pickup artist."

After a long period of silence, Mystery asked Caroline to drive him to the strip club where his ex-girlfriend Patricia worked. She dropped him off in the parking lot, and then took me to spend the night at the house in the suburbs where she lived with her mother, sister, and brother. It would be my first time meeting her family.

Her mother greeted us at the door. In her arms was a crying baby—my teenage girlfriend's baby.

"Do you want to hold him?" Caroline asked. I suppose the stereotypical reaction would be to say that I was scared, that reality sunk in, that I wanted to get out of there.

But I didn't. I wanted to hold him. It was kind of cool. This was what I got into the game for—to have these kinds of adventures, to hold a baby in my arms for the first time and wonder, "What does his mother expect of me?"

Ckapisih

While I was playing daddy with Caroline, Mystery was spiraling.

Dropping him off at the club was a bad move. Seeing Patricia had fucked him up. Not only would she not take him back, but she also told him that she'd started dating other people.

"She's been working out three hours a day," he said over the phone. "She lost fifteen pounds and her ass is a 10, dude. The things a chick will do when she's angry. Damn."

"Don't think about how good she looks," I advised. "Look for the flaws and blow those up in your mind. It'll make it easier."

"I know that intellectually, but emotionally I'm fucked up. I feel like I'm being raked over coals. It all came crashing down on me when I saw her again. That hot body, the tan lines. She was the hottest stripper in the place. And I can't have her. Carry's back with her boyfriend. And I'm beat from trying to make my new place livable. For what?"

"Dude, you're a pickup artist. There are hundreds more just like Patricia out there. And you can get them in a night."

"I'm not a pickup artist. I'm a lover. I love women. I swear, I don't even think about threesomes anymore. I would be so happy to settle for Patricia now. I've got Patricia withdrawal on the mind. I miss her every minute of the day."

Mystery had hardly thought about Patricia or talked about her until she rejected him. Now he was obsessed. His own theories on attraction had come back to slap him in the face. Patricia was doing a takeaway. But for her it wasn't a technique—it was for real.

As a magician used to exploiting the gullibility of others, Mystery had no patience with anything spiritual or supernatural. His religion was Darwin. Love, to him, was simply an evolutionary impulse that enabled human beings to fulfill their two primary objectives: to survive and replicate. He called that impulse pairbonding.

"It's strange how strong pairbonding is," he said. "I feel so alone now."

"I'll tell you what. We'll pick you up tomorrow, and you can play in the suburbs with us. It'll cheer you up."

Caroline and I put Carter in his stroller and pushed him around the block to a park. As I sat down on the bench, I thought about what a pathetic couple of pickup artists Mystery and I were. Kids around the world thought we were in hot tubs surrounded by bikini-clad models. Instead he was alone in his apartment, probably crying and watching lesbian porn, and I was in the suburbs pushing a baby around in a stroller.

In the morning, Caroline and I fetched Mystery from the city. He hadn't shaved since I'd last seen him, and thin patches of stubble dappled his baby-white skin. He wore a gray T-shirt that hung loosely over faded jeans.

"Just make sure your family doesn't ask me to do any magic for them," he told Caroline.

Yet that night, when Caroline's mother asked him what he did for work, Mystery launched into a spectacular performance. He introduced each illusion—mind reading, bottle-levitating, self-levitating, sleights of hand—with ten minutes of patter and panache that put every other illusionist I'd seen to shame. He charmed everyone in the room: Caroline's mom was flabbergasted, her younger sister was attracted, and her brother wanted to learn how to levitate chalk to freak out his teachers. In that moment, I realized that Mystery actually had the skills to achieve his dream of being a superstar daredevil illusionist.

After Caroline's family turned in for the night, Mystery asked her if she had any sleeping pills.

"All we have is Tylenol #3, which has codeine," Caroline told him.

"That'll work," Mystery said. "Just give me the whole bottle. I have a high tolerance."

Already thinking like a nurse, Caroline brought him just four pills. But they weren't enough to knock him out. So while Caroline and I slept, Mystery, on a codeine high, stayed up all night writing posts on Mystery's Lounge.

Chapisth

MSN GROUP: Mystery's Lounge SUBJECT: Life Goals AUTHOR: Mystery im staying at Caroline's place right now because I've been upset over Patricia. Caroline is Style's Toronto girlfriend, and it must be tough for him. She is really beautiful, but she's got a kid. Style and Caroline look great together, but I understand the limitations too. Damn.

Solution: Be fair. Love her, dude. Be true to your feelings and don't hurt her but also know that you are polyamorous and want more. The idea of having many girls in many ports can be wholesomely nurtured.

She has a great family. I did magic for her eighteen-year-old sister, who's a cutie, and her brother and mom for like forty-five minutes. It was fun. I did a rune cast for the mom. Caroline is like my sister. I get that feeling of caring for her and her baby. And it's great to have Style here!

Then I took codeine to sleep because they all went to bed at normal hours, and I'm fucked up with my sleeping. But I didn't sleep. I just felt love. Don't get me wrong. I'm fully aware it's the Tylenol I took but, hey, the feeling is good nonetheless. I love this lounge. You guys are super bright. I hope we can all have a huge party one day.

And all this will wear off when the codeine gets pissed out, haaa.

This is what I want to see happen in the future: I want us to become closer friends—you think we can manage that? Grimble and Twotimer, your game is so different from mine. I want to sarge with both of you sometime to legitimately attempt to understand where you are coming from.

Papa, the game you played was fucking mint when you were up here. It was great to do a workshop with you, and you are welcome anytime, man. I don't even mind that you call me every day.

I envision this lounge as not being about pickup, but rather about something bigger: life goals. Women are a huge part of that, and we work together to help each other obtain them. However, I'd like to extend our topics to money, social status, and other ambitions.

I think one of life's biggest difficulties is not being able to share your problems honestly. So, state your issues here, and you have a hundred intelligent, trustworthy men who can assist you

Also, tell us your goals and objectives. If you don't have any, now is the time to make them. I want to see all of us get our shit together and reach self-fulfillment. Travel, women, money, social status, whatever. Lets assist each other along the way. Lets all work on the same projects and synergize our efforts like a corporation.

I want to see Vinigarr5 in his own apartment with a kickass car, coin in the bank, a hot nanny to help care for his kid (a nanny he gets to boink), and a couple girls who love him to death. He should own sections of New York— nightclubs or whatever. He should be driven around in his own limo. He should run his own escort agency.

Papa, you sponge off daddy And the enemy of the best is the good. I want to see you focus as much on wealth as you do on relationship mastery. You have the drive to become a multimillionaire. You need to step out from daddy's financial shadow and dwarf his success. Imagine harnessing your sex drive and using it to create a successful business.

This is what I need: I need to complete promotional material to pitch to networks for a one-hour magic special. I need major funding to produce this. I'm not bullshitting or having fame fantasies when I say I can do it. People who have met me know I can play the role all the way. Once I have the special on the air, I can put on a Vegas show. I've designed the show in detail already.

Anyone interested in helping? Think of the after-parties! Lets build something. Lets exploit the fact that I need attention (must do shows) every day or I don't feel normal.

This isn't a freebie thing either. I don't believe in that. Work with me, and you'll get paid. Just tell me what your objectives are first so we can work on all our shit together! Gentlemen, lets get down to business.

—Mystery

5A former workshop student from Brooklyn, Vinagarr is a single father who earns a living as a driver for an escort service

P.S. I've been reading Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, and I want to suggest something related. If you regularly masturbate, you can easily become addicted. This addiction comes in the form of daily regularity that curbs your desire to go out. It also does not allow you to harness your sex drive, which can be used to motivate yourself to work on wealth-building projects.

If you aren't getting laid on a regular basis (which happens to all of us from time to time), then don't just choke 'til you're broke. Set a date with yourself. Only jerk it once a week. If you jerked it today, set the jerk date for seven days from now. If you don't get a girl between then and now, you'll have something to look forward to. Make it a good jerk! Use the best porn and hand lotion. Look forward to it and this will keep you from wasting your life away jerking it daily and focusing constantly on the pain of not having a girlfriend.

In the meantime, harness your sex drive and build something.

ghapktA

The morning after his codeine-high post, Mystery lay slumped in the backseat of Caroline's car, wrapped in a blanket and shrouded by a hat pulled low over his eyes. Beyond asking us to drop him off at his family's condo, he didn't say a word, which was rare for him. It reminded me of our Eastern European road trip. Except this time, Mystery wasn't sick—at least not physically.

We parked and took the elevator to his sister's apartment on the twentieth floor. It was a cluttered two-bedroom hovel crammed with people. Mystery's mother, a zaftig German woman, sat on a beat-up flower-patterned sofa chair. His sister Martina, her two children, and her husband, Gary, were crammed into a couch next to her. Mystery's father was shut up in his apartment four floors above them, sick with liver disease from a lifetime of drinking.

"Hey, how come you don't have a girl with you?" Mystery's thirteen-year-old niece, Shalyn, chided him. She knew all about his girls. He often used his nieces as a routine to convey his vulnerable, paternal side to women. He truly loved his nieces and seemed to come back to life a little when he saw them.

Mystery's brother-in-law, Gary, played us some pop ballads he had composed. The best of these was a song called "Casanova's Child," which Mystery sang along with at a near-deafening volume. He seemed to identify with the title character.

Caroline and I left afterward. The girls chased us all the way to the elevator bank, laughing and screaming, followed by Mystery. Suddenly, a door swung open and a man in a clerical collar gave the girls a steely, condescending stare.

"You shouldn't be making so much noise in the hallway," he said.

Mystery turned crimson. "What are you going to do about it?" he asked. "Because I think we should. These are young girls. They're having fun."

"Well," the reverend said. "They can have fun in a place where they're not disturbing other residents."

"I'll tell you what," Mystery snapped. "I'm going to get a knife, and we'll find out just who exactly should be in the hall when I get back."

Mystery marched back to the house as the rest of us exchanged concerned looks. Again, I recognized the behavior from our road trip: It reminded me of when he'd snapped at the border crossing after I'd told him what to do, triggering his father issues.

The reverend slammed the door shut, and Caroline and I slipped away in the confusion.

Cb.ap.isih

I didn't really want to go back to Caroline's. I've lived in cities my whole life. I hate the suburbs. Like Andy Dick, my biggest fear is being bored or boring. Weekend nights weren't made for sitting around watching videos from Blockbuster. But Caroline couldn't stay in Toronto. She didn't want to be away from her son; she didn't want to be a typical teenage mother.

So while Caroline played with Carter the next day, I checked my e-mail. Mystery and I had posted a field report about Carly and Caroline a few days earlier, and my inbox was full with messages from kids in North Carolina, Poland, Brazil, Croatia, New Zealand, and beyond. They were looking to me for help just as I had once looked to Mystery.

There were also two e-mails from Mystery. In the first, he wrote that he'd gotten into a fight with his sister over the hallway incident: "She proceeded to punch me several times. I had to restrain her by grabbing her throat and flipping her to the ground. I then left to go back to my house. I wasn't angry. I just wanted to stop her from attacking me. Weird, huh?"

The second one read simply: "I'm crackin' up. I'm hungry, my head hurts, my skin aches, and I've been choking it all day to Kazaa porn. I'm going to get sleeping pills because if l stay up all night alone, I'll go nuts. I can't wait to disappear. I'm so close to saying fuck it and ending it all. This living thing isn't fun anymore."

He was losing his mind. And I was stuck in bumblefuck, Ontario, watching Britney Spears in Crossroads with three teenagers, one of whom was supposedly now my girlfriend.

The next morning, I had Caroline drive me to Mystery's place.

"Can you stay with me?" I asked.

"I should really get back to Carter," she said. "I haven't been paying enough attention to him, and I don't want my mom to think I'm being neglectful."

"Your mom wants you to go out and be with your friends. You're putting this pressure on yourself."

She agreed to come inside for an hour.

We walked upstairs to Mystery's apartment and opened the door. He was sitting on his bed watching Steven Spielberg's AI on his computer. He was wearing the same gray T-shirt and jeans I had last seen him in. There were scratches on his arms from his fight with his sister.

He turned to me and began to speak. His voice was cold and dispassionate. "I've been thinking," he said. "The robots in this movie have motivated self-interest. They set objectives and then work to accomplish them. The child robot seeks protection from his mommy. The sex robot chases women. When he's freed from a cage, he sets out to mate with real women again because that's his objective."

"Okay." I leaned against a computer desk pushed flush against his bed. The room was the size of a large closet. The walls were bare. "What's your point?"

"The point is," he said, in the same deadened voice, "what is my objective? And what is yours? I'm a child robot, a sex robot, and an entertainer robot."

On the floor in front of his bed was a half-eaten plate of uncooked spaghetti. Shrapnel from the spaghetti sticks was scattered around the room. Nearby were the remnants of a black cordless phone that had been smashed against the floor. The battery dangled helplessly out of the open back.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I blew up at my sister and my mom. They wouldn't shut up."

When Mystery—or any PUA—was in a funk, there was only one cure for it: to go out sarging and meet new options.

"Let's get peacocked and go to a strip club tonight," I suggested. Strip clubs were Mystery's weakness. He had a list of strip club rules that pretty much guaranteed him at least a phone number every time: among them, befriend the DJ; never pay for a dance or a drink; do not hit on, compliment, or touch a stripper; stick to your material; and change the subject whenever a stripper starts reciting the stories she tells every other guy.

"I don't want to go out," he said. "There's no point."

He stopped the movie on his computer and began working on a half-finished e-mail.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm e-mailing the students in New York and telling them the seminar's canceled." He spoke as if he were on autopilot.

"Why are you doing that?" I was pissed. I'd put a month of my life on hold so we could go to New York and Bucharest together. I'd already bought the plane tickets. And now, because of some mixture of Steven Spielberg and codeine after effects, he was bailing out.

"Not enough people. Oh well."

"Come on," I said. "You're already making eighteen hundred dollars. And I'm sure more guys will sign up at the last minute. It's New York, for chrissake. No one commits to anything in advance."

"Living," he sighed, "costs too much."

It was all too melodramatic for me. The guy was a black hole sucking up attention. Fuck him.

"You are so fucking selfish," I seethed. "What about our tickets to Bucharest?"

"You can go if you want. I'm canceling all shows, all agents, all seminars, all workshops, all trips. I'm stopping everything. I don't want to be known for being a Ross Jeffries."

I gave his dresser a mule kick from behind. I have a long fuse, but when it hits bottom I explode. Though my father may not have taught me much about women, he did teach me that.

An orange prescription bottle hit the floor, scattering pills. I picked it up and looked at it. The word Rivotril was on the label.

"What are these?"

"They're my sister's anti-depressant pills. They really aren't about dealing with depression so much as making me sleep." Cold. Clinical.

I figured they couldn't be doing much good. So I left three in the bottle and stuffed the rest in my pocket. I didn't want him overdosing.

Mystery logged on to Party Poker, an online gambling site, and started playing mechanically. The Mystery I knew was too logical to gamble.

"What are you doing?" I said. But I didn't wait for an answer. "Never mind."

Continue reading here: People Used To Look Out On

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