Make A Physical

AND DO YOU THINK THAT LOVE ITSELF, LIVING IN SUCH AN UGLY HOUSE, CAN PROSPER LONG?

EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY,

"And do you think that love itself"

ChapbA

It took just one woman to bring Project Hollywood down.

By all appearances, Katya was a standard-issue party girl. She liked to drink, dance, have sex, and get high, not necessarily in that order. But Katya—perhaps out of innocence, perhaps out of revenge, perhaps out of true love—would outgame every PUA in the house. All those years of study, all those memorized routines and learned patterns of behavior, all those New Rock platform boots were no match for a woman scorned.

When I returned from New York, Mystery had a workshop scheduled in Los Angeles. He was charging fifteen hundred dollars now—and people were paying. He had five students, guaranteeing a healthy profit for a weekend of talking and sarging. Katya's was just one of several numbers he had collected while demonstrating his game during the workshop. He'd met her at a Hollywood bar called Star Shoes. She was very drunk at the time, and quite possibly high.

Monday was telephone day at Project Hollywood. Everyone called the numbers they'd collected the previous weekend to see which leads were hot and which had staled. When Mystery made his calls, the only person who picked up the phone was Katya. If Katya hadn't been home and another one of Mystery's numbers had answered instead, all our lives would have been different.

Despite our supposed skill, mating is largely a game of chance. Women are at different places in their lives when we meet them. They may be looking for a boyfriend, a one-night stand, a husband, or a revenge fuck. Or they may be looking for nothing at all, because they're in a happy relationship or recovering from an emotionally destructive one.

Katya was probably looking for a place to live.

When Mystery called, Katya couldn't remember having met him. Nonetheless, after a half hour of talk (or comfort-building, as Mystery put it), she agreed to come over.

"Dress casual," Mystery told her. "I'll only be able to hang out for an hour or two."

Using words like "casual" and "hang out," and the time constraint, were all part of a strategy to make the visit a low-pressure event. It's a much better way to get someone to commit to time with a stranger than AFC-style dinner dating, which can be a painful, drawn-out affair that involves two people who may have nothing in common stuck together for an entire night of awkward conversation.

Katya arrived that evening wearing a pink sweatsuit and dragging along a scrappy little terrier named Lily. Both Katya and Lily instantly made themselves at home. The former collapsed into the pillow pit and the latter took a shit on the carpet.

Mystery popped out of his room in jeans, a long-sleeved black T-shirt, and his hair in a pony tail. "I'm just going to hook my computer up to the projector and show you some movies I made," he told her.

"No worries, no troubles," Katya replied in an upbeat Russian accent. She had a button nose that wiggled, puffy cheeks that flared, and blonde hair that bounced to maximize her cuteness.

Mystery dimmed the lights and showed her our home movies. They were becoming a popular routine around the house because they allowed us to convey positive qualities about ourselves and our friends without even talking. After movie time, Mystery and Katya massaged each other and made out. On their second meeting, three days later, after much LMR, they closed the deal.

"I'm moving out of my apartment," she told Mystery afterward. "So is it okay if Lily stays here while I go to Las Vegas this weekend?"

Leaving Lily at the house was a cunning tactic because, while Katya was gone, we all grew attached to the cheery, lovable dog—and, by extension, to its owner as well. Their personalities were similar: They were both bouncy and energetic and liked licking Mystery's face.

When Katya returned from Las Vegas, Mystery helped her move out of her old house. "I think it's completely ridiculous for you to rent a new apartment, knowing that you'll be spending most of your time with me," he told her. "So why don't you just move into my room?"

All she had to her name were two duffel bags, a makeup kit, Lily, and a Mazda SUV stuffed with clothing and shoes. As far as anyone knew, she had no job or source of income, though she'd modeled for a couple of low-budget swimsuit calendars. In the evenings, she went to school to learn special-effects makeup. Every night after class she'd prance around the house with fake rope burns around her neck or artificial brain spilling out of a flesh wound in her forehead or the wrinkles and liver spots of a ninety-year-old woman.

Katya quickly wove herself into the fabric of the house. She volunteered to be a pivot for Papa's workshops; she put eyeliner on Herbal before he went out for the night; she cleaned the kitchen that we were all too lazy to deal with ourselves; she went shopping with Xaneus; and she played hostess to Playboy's parties. She had an amazing ability to befriend anyone, though her motivation was unclear: Maybe she was genuinely a people-loving person, maybe she enjoyed the free rent. Either way, she was giving the home its first rays of warmth and camaraderie since the night we'd moved in and sat in the Jacuzzi, dreaming of the future together. I liked her. We all liked her. We even let her brother, a shaggy-haired sixteen-year-old with Tourette's syndrome, sleep in the pillow pit for a few weeks.

Mystery was particularly happy with himself. He hadn't dated anyone seriously since Patricia.

"I actually have a crush on my own girlfriend," he said with pride one evening, showing Katya's swimsuit-calendar picture to a group of random sargers. "I think of her constantly, like when you have a baby. I have a very strong nurturing instinct. I need to take care of this girl and make sure she's safe."

Later that night, as Herbal cooked steak on the barbecue, Katya and I sat in the Jacuzzi, sharing a bottle of wine.

"I'm really scared," she said.

"Why?" I asked, though I really knew why.

"I'm starting to fall in love with Mystery."

"Well, he's a talented and amazing guy."

"Yeah," she said. "I never let myself fall in love like this. I don't know enough about him yet. I'm worried."

Then she sat there quietly. She wanted me to say something, to warn her if she was making a mistake.

I didn't say anything.

A few days later, Mystery, Katya, and I flew to Las Vegas. As we changed to go out for the night, he rattled on about his favorite subject. "I am so into this girl." He smudged on black eyeliner and smeared white concealer beneath his eyes. "She's even bi. She has a couple she sleeps with in New Orleans." He centered a black cowboy hat he had bought in Australia on his head and admired himself in the mirror. "I feel like I'm pairbonding."

We had dinner at Mr. Lucky's at the Hard Rock Casino, where Katya put away two glasses of champagne; then crossed the street to Club Paradise, a strip club, where she put away two more glasses of champagne.

When the waitress came to the table, Katya commented to Mystery, "She's really hot." Mystery looked the waitress over. She was a perky Latina with long black hair that reflected the stage lights and a densely packed body that threatened to burst through her clothing.

"Ever seen the movie Poltergeist?" Mystery asked her. He made her straw move. He told her they wouldn't get along. He asked her what she was famous for—"everybody's famous for something." Soon the waitress was stopping by our table every few minutes to flirt with Mystery.

"I would love to see that girl," Mystery told Katya, "eating you out."

"You just want to fuck her," Katya slurred. I suppose it was difficult for any woman—especially a drunk one—to see the same routines that had ensnared her being used on another woman. And effectively.

Katya leapt to her feet and stormed to the bar. Mystery followed to appease her. But when she refused to acknowledge him, he stomped out of the club like an angry child. Although Katya was bisexual, Mystery still wasn't getting threesomes. He made the same mistake every time: He pushed too hard. He needed to follow Rick H.'s advice and make the experience her fantasy, not his.

When I woke up, I took a plane home, leaving the two of them alone in the hotel room until their flight in the evening.

A few hours later, I received a phone call: "Hey, it's Katya."

"Hey. Is something wrong?"

"No. Mystery wants to marry me. He got down on his knees at the Hard Rock pool and proposed. Everyone applauded. It was so sweet. What should I do?"

The only reason I could come up with to explain Mystery's desire to get married was so he could get a U.S. citizenship. But Katya wasn't a U.S. citizen. She still had a Russian passport.

"Don't rush into anything," I advised. "Just get engaged. Or, if you want, they have commitment ceremonies at the chapels there. Do that. Then spend some more time together and see if this is something you both really want to do."

Mystery grabbed the phone. "Hey, man, you're going to get really mad at me. We're getting married. I love this girl. She's crazy. We're on our way to the chapel. Okay, bye."

The guy was an idiot.

That evening, Mystery carried Katya over the threshold of Project Hollywood humming "Here Comes the Bride."

They'd known each other for three weeks.

"Look at my ring," Katya cooed. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"Our rings cost eight thousand dollars," Mystery said with pride. That was basically all the cash he had. Though he was raking in money from his workshops, he was a fan of man toys—computers, digital cameras, electronic organizers, basically anything with a chip.

"This whole marriage thing," Mystery told me while Katya was in the bathroom, "is the best routine ever. She loves me now. She gets off on calling me her husband. It's like a time distortion."

"Dude, it's the worst routine ever," I replied, "because you can only do it once."

Mystery took a step toward me and removed his ring. "I'm going to tell you a secret," he whispered, putting the ring in my hand. "We're not really married."

If any other PUA had told me he'd gotten married in Vegas to a girl he'd just met, I would have known it was a joke. But Mystery was so headstrong and unpredictable that I had given him the benefit—or, more accurately, the detriment—of the doubt.

"Yeah, after you left, we walked by a jewelry store in the Hard Rock and decided to fake our marriage. So I bought two rings for a hundred bucks. She's such a good liar. She totally fooled you."

"You're both great illusionists."

"Don't tell Katya I told you. I think she's really enjoying the role-play. On an emotional level, it's the same as really being married for her."

Mystery was right: Perception is reality. In the days that followed, their entire relationship changed. They actually started acting like an old married couple.

Now that he was living with a woman, Mystery didn't feel the need to go out anymore. To him, clubs were for sarging. To Katya, though, they were for dancing. So she started going clubbing without him. After a while, Mystery hardly left his room or, for that matter, his bed. It was hard to tell whether he was just being lazy, or if a depression was coming on.

There's a pattern the pickup artists have called rocks versus gold. It's a speech a man gives a woman he's dating when she stops having sex with him. He tells her that women in a relationship want rocks (or diamonds)

while men seek gold. Rocks, for a woman, are wonderful nights out, romantic attention, and emotional connection. Gold for a man is sex. If you give a woman only gold or a man just rocks, neither will be satisfied. There must be an exchange. And Katya was giving Mystery the gold, but he wasn't giving her the rocks. He wasn't taking her out at all.

It wasn't long before they began to resent each other.

He'd say, "She gets drunk every night. It's driving me crazy."

She'd say, "When I met him, he had all these plans and ambitions. Now he never leaves his bed. What's the point?"

He'd say, "She never shuts up. She's constantly yapping about something pointless and bouncing off the walls."

She'd say, "I'm getting wasted every night because I don't want to be in a reality that's so sad."

Mystery needed a more passive girl. Katya needed a more active man. And it saddened the rest of us; after living in a house full of men for so many months, we'd grown attached to her positive energy and high spirits.

Mystery had taught himself everything there was to know about pickup, but nothing about how to maintain a relationship. He had this beautiful creature, full of sparkle and life, and he was just throwing it away.

Soon, another woman, with a very different kind of sparkle, would move into Project Hollywood.

I received the text message at 11:39 PM: "Can I stay at yr house? They repoed the car and worse. U don't wanna know. Need to not be alone."

It was Courtney Love.

Chafdsth

I knocked on the door of Courtney's corporate apartment in West Los Angeles.

Courtney sat on the floor in the middle of a sea of American Express bills and bank statements with a yellow highlighter in her hand. She wore a black Marc Jacobs dress with buttons running down the side. One was missing

"I can't look at these anymore," she moaned. "There are so many loans here that I never knew of or approved."

She stood up and slammed an American Express bill on the table. Half the items were highlighted, with notes in black ink scribbled in the margins. "If I stay here, I'll do drugs again," she cried.

She didn't have a manager, and taking care of her own affairs was proving to be more than she could handle.

"I don't want to be alone," she begged. "I need somewhere to stay for a couple days. Then I'll be out of your hair. I promise."

"That's fine." I guess she didn't have a problem with the story I'd written in Rolling Stone. "Herbal said you could sleep in his room. I just want to warn you, though, that you're not going into an ordinary house."

"I know. I want to meet the pickup artists. Maybe they can help me."

I walked her downstairs and strapped her sixty-pound suitcase to the luggage rack on the back of my Corvette.

"You should also know that Katya's brother is staying with us," I said. "And if he seems a little off, it's because he has Tourette's."

"Is that like when you yell 'Shit! Balls!' uncontrollably?"

"Yeah. It's sort of like that."

I parked in the garage and dragged her suitcase upstairs to the house. The first person we saw inside was Herbal, who was coming out of the kitchen.

"Hi shit balls," Courtney said to him.

"No," I told her. "That's not Katya's brother."

Her brother walked out of the kitchen a moment later, sipping a Coke.

"Hi shit balls," Courtney said to him.

She took a step backward and stepped on Lily, who yelped loudly. Courtney turned around. I assumed she was going to apologize.

"Fuck off," she told the dog.

This was going to be an interesting couple of days.

I showed her around the house and then bid her goodnight. Two minutes later, she marched into my room.

"I need a toothbrush," she said as she breezed through to my bathroom.

"There's a clean one in the medicine cabinet," I yelled after her.

"This will do," she snapped back, grabbing my gnarly used toothbrush off the sink.

There was something endearing about her. She possessed a trait nearly every pickup artist desired but lacked: She just didn't give a fuck.

The next morning, I came downstairs to find her in the living room, smoking a cigarette and wearing nothing but a pair of expensive Japanese silk panties. Her body was covered with black marks, as if she'd been rolling around in charcoal.

In that state of dishabille, she met the rest of the house.

"I used to ride horses with your dad," Papa told her when I introduced them.

Courtney scowled. "If you call that man my father again, I'll punch you in the face!"

She wasn't trying to be mean—she just lived in and reacted to the moment—but Papa didn't take well to aggression. All Papa had wanted from the day he'd signed the lease to Project Hollywood was to hang out with celebrities. But now that he was living with one—in fact, the most notorious woman in the country at the time—he was petrified of her. He avoided her from that day forward, like he did everyone else who wasn't part of his pickup business.

Next, Courtney met Katya. "I just took a pregnancy test," Katya told her, puckering her lips into a childish expression of self-pity. "It came out positive."

"You should have the baby," Courtney said. "It's the most beautiful thing in the world."

I was living The Surreal Life.

Mystery kneeled in front of Katya and kissed her belly. "If you want to keep the baby, whether we are together forever or not, I will support your decision. It would be a beautiful baby."

The sun poured into the kitchen from the patio, illuminating a thin, orderly chain of ants that ran from the brickwork outside to the overflowing trashcan. Before he stood up, Mystery licked his finger and wiped a thin stripe of saliva through the middle of the chain. The ants went scurrying in every direction at the point of rupture.

"I can't even believe you'd think of keeping the baby," Katya replied, her voice chirpy but scornful. "You are weird. You're acting like we're married."

The ants began to fall back into line. Soon, order was restored. It was hard to tell there had ever been a catastrophe.

"I love you," Mystery said, without emotion. "And you know my mission in life: survive and replicate. So I don't see any harm in having the baby. I'm willing to fulfill my half of the obligation."

Our house wasn't self-organizing like a line of ants. There was no chain of command or unspoken structure. The invisible chemical path we were all following smelled like male hormones. And its natural state was disorder.

All afternoon, Mystery and Katya fought with each other over whether she should have an abortion and who should pay for it. These matters, however, are not group decisions. Katya and Mystery went to an abortion clinic three days later.

"Guess what?" Katya squealed when she returned. "I'm not pregnant."

She jumped into the air and clapped her hands together in praise of luck. Mystery stood behind her, giving her the finger. The look on his face was pure hatred. I'd never seen him display such malevolence toward a woman before.

A few hours later, I found Katya at the bar pouring herself a glass of Chardonnay. Then another. Then another.

"Mystery doesn't come out of the room, and he doesn't fuck," she complained. "So I'm going to have a good time tonight without him."

"You deserve it."

"Come drink with me," she cooed.

"That's all right."

"No worries, no troubles." She took a slow sip of wine and sat next to me on the couch.

"Wow," she said. "You really have been working out. Your arms look good."

"Thanks." One of the things I'd learned in the past year and a half was how to take a compliment. Just say, "Thank you." It's the only response a confident person can make.

She sidled up to me and squeezed my biceps. "You're the only person in the house I can talk to." Her face was inches away from mine.

I felt that tingle of energy, the one I'd felt just before I kissed the hostess Tyler Durden had picked up at the Hard Rock.

"Look at this," she said. She was lifting her top now. "I got a scratch."

"That's nice."

She took my hand and pulled it toward her breast. I really had to get going.

"Well, it's been fun talking, but I have to go to my room and floss my cat now."

"But you don't have a cat," she whined.

I circled around to the back of the house and entered Mystery's room through the patio. He was lying on top of his bed in jeans with a laptop computer resting on his bare stomach. He was watching Back to the Future II.

"When I was in tenth grade, I wanted to kill myself because I had nothing left to live for," he said. " Then I heard that Back to the Future IIwas opening in twenty-three days. I had a calendar, and I would mark off each day until I could see the movie. It's the only thing that kept me from killing myself."

He paused the movie and lifted the laptop off his stomach. "When I saw it and heard the opening music, I cried, dude. It was my reason to live. I know all the props." He held up the DVD box and showed me the cover. "I touched this car."

I sat down at the foot of his bed. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. I picked up the DVD box and looked at it. Mystery enjoyed movies like Real Genius and Young Einstein and The Karate Kid. I liked Werner Herzog, Lars von Trier, and Pixar. It didn't mean I was better than him: It just meant we were different kinds of nerds.

"Dude," I told him, "your wife is hitting on me."

"I'm not surprised. She hit on Playboy earlier tonight."

"Aren't you going to do anything about it?"

"I don't care. She can do what she wants."

"Well, at least she's not pregnant."

"Get this," he said. "She's such an idiot. That wasn't a pregnancy test at all. It was an ovulation test. She bought the wrong box at Rite Aid. She took the test three times and each one was positive. So all she discovered was that at twenty-three, she's still ovulating."

"Listen, man." I noticed that there were scratches on his arm. "You're driving her away. If she's hitting on everyone in the house, it's only because she's trying to get revenge on you. It's rocks versus gold, man. You haven't been giving her rocks."

"Yeah. She's a brainless alcoholic." He paused, shut his eyes for a moment, and nodded wistfully. "But that body: Her ass is a 10."

When I left Mystery's room, Katya was no longer in the living room. Papa's door was open, and she was cuddled next to him on his bed—with her top off.

I retreated to my room and waited. An hour later, the storm came. Voices yelled, doors slammed, glass smashed.

There was a knock on my door.

It was Courtney. "Are your roommates always this loud?"

She was one to talk.

I followed Courtney to Herbal's room. Herbal had been sleeping in the pillow pit while Courtney commandeered his room. Clothes, books, and cigarette ash were spread across the floor. A candle sat burning at the foot of the bed, its flame licking just an inch below the comforter. One of her dresses was draped over a hot, exposed light bulb for mood lighting. And all four of the house phone books were spread across her bed, with pages torn out of each. I examined the ripped scraps: They were listings for lawyers.

The noises coming from Mystery's room grew louder.

"Let's see what's going on," she said.

I didn't want to be involved. I didn't want to clean up anyone's mess. This wasn't my fucking responsibility.

We walked into Mystery's bathroom. Katya was kneeling on the floor with her hands clasped around her neck, as if she were choking. Her brother was leaning over her, holding an asthma inhaler in her mouth. Mystery stood a few feet away, staring daggers at Katya.

"Should I call an ambulance?" I asked.

"They'll arrest her because she has drugs in her system," Mystery said contemptuously.

Katya looked up and glared at him.

If she had the presence of mind to glare at Mystery, then she clearly wasn't dying.

When Katya finally emerged from Mystery's room, her face red and damp, Courtney took her by the hand and led her to a sofa in the living room. She sat down next to her, still gripping her hand, and told her about the abortions she had been through and about the beauty of childbirth. I looked at the unlikely pair sitting there. Courtney was both Project Hollywood's child and its mother.

She was also probably the sanest person in the house. And that was a scary thought.

ChafdsA

The next morning, Courtney burst out of her door at an atypically early hour. She was wearing an Agent Provocateur nightie.

"What? What's going on?" she asked, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "I had a bad dream. I didn't know where I was." She looked around: at me, at Katya sleeping on the sofa, at Katya's brother and Herbal snoring inches apart in the pillow pit. "Everyone's nice," she observed with relief. "No one's mean. Okay."

She returned to her room and shut her door. A few minutes later, a driver arrived at the house.

"Where's Courtney?" he asked.

"Sleeping," I said.

" She's got a court date in an hour."

He knocked on her door and walked inside. Shortly afterward, a slew of dresses came tumbling out of Courtney's room, followed by their owner.

"I need to find something to wear to court," she said as she slipped on various outfits, running in and out of the bathroom to check them in the mirror. Eventually, she left the house in a strapless black cocktail dress of Katya's, Herbal's eight-dollar sunglasses, and Robert Greene's The 48Laws of Power book tucked under her right arm.

"It's a silly dress because it's a silly case," she told court reporters that day.

While she was gone, we inspected the damage. There were cigarette burns in Herbal's bedspread, and the wall behind the door was destroyed from the constant slamming. There were slicks of unidentifiable liquid on the floor, candles still burning, and clothing flung over every light fixture.

In the kitchen, the refrigerator and cabinet doors all hung open. Two peanut butter jars and a jelly jar sat on the counter top, with their caps scattered on the floor. Globs of peanut butter dripped from the counter, the cabinets, and the refrigerator shelves. Rather than open bags of bread using the twist tie on the end, she had torn the tops of the plastic bags open like an animal. She didn't give a fuck. She was hungry; she ate. It was another quality that pickup artists admired: She could go caveman.

When Courtney returned from court, she sat with the house's cabal of pickup artists and planned her appearance that evening on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Mystery and Herbal taught her about concepts like social proof, and NLP ideas like framing. She needed to be reframed. The current frame everyone saw her through was that of a crazy woman. But having lived with her for two weeks, we knew she was just going through a bad period. She was eccentric, but not crazy. In fact, she was incredibly smart. She understood and internalized every concept they taught her.

"So my new frame, then, is that I'm a damsel in distress," she said.

That evening, she shone on The Tonight Show. Unlike during her tabloid-headline-making Letterman appearance, she was composed and well-behaved on camera—and her performance with her all-female band, the Chelsea, was a reminder that she wasn't just a celebrity, she was a rock star.

I had driven to the show in Katya's car with Herbal, Mystery, Katya, and Kara, a girl I'd met in a bar a couple of days before. After the show, we went upstairs to Courtney's dressing room, where she was sitting on a stool surrounded by the Chelsea. I was stunned by her guitarist: She was a tall, gorgeous bleached-blonde rock-and-roller oozing attitude. Why couldn't I ever find girls like that in the clubs?

"Can I stay in your room for two more weeks?" Courtney asked Herbal.

"Sure," he replied. Herbal never had a problem with anything or anyone. While Mystery had been moping in his room, he was out helping Katya keep her brother entertained.

"It may be a month," Courtney called after us as we left the room.

In the parking lot, Mystery climbed into the driver's side of Katya's car. He hadn't spoken a word to her all day. She sat in the passenger seat and slipped a dance mix by Carl Cox into the CD player. Her musical taste was confined to house and techno; Mystery listened almost exclusively to Tool, Pearl Jam, and Live. That should have been a warning sign.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, Mystery's phone rang. He turned the music off to answer it.

Katya reached over and turned the music on quietly.

Mystery angrily turned it off again.

And so it went: on, off, on, off—each twist of the knob with more venom than the last until, finally, Mystery slammed on the brakes, screamed "fuck you," and jumped out of the car.

He stood in the middle of Ventura Boulevard blocking traffic, with his right arm thrust out and a middle finger in the air, directly in line with Katya's face.

Katya crawled into the driver's seat and drove to the intersection, then turned around to fetch Mystery, who had started walking along the sidewalk. When she pulled up next to him, he stopped, shot her a scornful look, crossed his arms into the fuck-you position, and then continued walking.

She drove off without him. She wasn't angry; she was just disappointed by his childishness.

That night, Mystery didn't return home. I called him several times, but he didn't answer. When I woke up the next morning, he still hadn't returned. Every time I dialed his number, the call went straight to voice mail. I began to worry.

A few hours later, there was a knock on the door. I answered it, expecting Mystery, but found Courtney's driver standing there instead. One of Courtney's many talents was the ability to turn anyone within a hundredyard radius into a personal assistant. Seduction students visiting the house for the first time found themselves running to Tokyopop for a manga book Courtney was in, picking up bedding from her corporate apartment, or sending e-mails to the financial expert Suze Orman.

"Shitballs!" she called to Katya's brother. "Can you go back to my apartment with the driver and get my DVDs?"

After he left, Courtney told Katya, "He's a nice kid, and kind of cute."

"You know, he's a virgin," Katya said.

"Sure," Courtney replied. She went silent, contemplating this piece of information for a few moments, then nodded her head and told Katya, "I'd give him a mercy fuck."

That night, Mystery returned. He had a stripper on each arm. They looked like they'd been working in the same dark club for twenty years; our hundred-watt lightbulbs weren't serving them well.

"Hey, buddy," he said, as if he'd just come back from the grocery store.

"Where were you?"

"I went to a strip club and spent the night with Gina."

"Hi," said a horse-faced brunette on his left arm. She lifted her waving hand meekly.

"Well, dude, you should have called. It's okay to have your little spat with Katya, but Herbal and I were really worried. That wasn't cool."

He paraded the girls through the house, making sure he introduced them to Katya, then sat on the patio with them.

Katya went about her business. She showered, she cleaned the daily explosion of peanut butter in the kitchen, and she did her special-effects-school homework on Herbal's face, giving him a lobotomy.

While Mystery's stripper gambit had failed to make her jealous, it did succeed in making everyone else's respect for him dwindle further.

It was bound to happen. Katya eventually reached someone in the house. She'd been hitting on all of us since her pregnancy scare.

It was Herbal who ultimately cracked. He was laid-back. He never lost his cool. He liked to listen. He was modest and understated. In other words, he was the exact opposite of Mystery. All that time he had spent with Katya while Mystery was pouting or laying indolently in bed or sleeping with a stripper out of revenge had affected him. He had developed feelings for Katya. After watching her suffer through Mystery's manipulation and neglect, he'd even begun to believe that he was more worthy of her.

"It's getting harder and harder to say no," he told me.

"Just ask Mystery. He's probably over her by now."

"Yeah. After all, he was cool with the whole Sima thing." (Sima was Mystery's ex-MLTR from Toronto who Herbal had fooled around with.)

So Herbal asked Mystery. The answer was no. But that evening, after fighting with Katya again, Mystery found Herbal in the living room. "We're broken up," he said casually. "She's all yours."

They were words he would soon regret.

Within hours, Herbal had his dick inside her. Since Courtney was sleeping in his bed, he fucked Katya in Playboy's room off the kitchen.

When Mystery returned home that night from the Standard, he went to the kitchen for a Sprite. That was when he heard them. The moans that had been his exclusive nightly serenade were being sung to another man. He stood outside Playboy's door in shock, listening to them have sex. Katya seemed to be enjoying it. Loudly.

Mystery walked into the living room and collapsed on the floor. The blood drained from his face. Like his father's death, it affected him more than he could have predicted.

Never underestimate your own capacity to care.

"I love her," he said, as the first tear trickled down his cheek. "I love that girl."

"No you don't," I corrected him. "You said the other day that you hated her." The thoughts I'd been holding back for weeks came pouring out of me. "All you like about her is her body. The only reason you're upset is because you feel rejected."

"No. I'm pissed at her for not loving me back."

" She loved you more than any other girl I've seen you with. She sat with me in the hot tub one night talking about how scared she was to let go and really love you. And as soon as she did, you became a cold, shutdown, miserable bastard."

"But I love her."

"You say that about every girl you sleep with. That's not real love. It's fake love. It's an illusion."

"No it isn't," he screamed at the top of his lungs. "You're wrong!"

He stood up, stomped to his room, and slammed the door, splintering paint onto the carpet.

He'd been so neglected as a child that the withdrawal of love pulled all his emotional triggers, exploding the carapace of narcissism built by his childhood escapism.

As I walked back to my room, a scene from The Wizard of Oz sprung into my head in which the Wizard tells the Tin Man, "A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others."

I was looking forward to letting my dreams file away all my thoughts, worries, and aggravations so I could start the next day fresh. But I was waylaid by Courtney. She stood in my doorway, a sheaf of papers in her hand.

"You gotta get Frank Abagnale on the phone for me," she demanded. "He can fix this. And call Lisa and tell her I need to see her."

I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn't know how to get in touch with Frank Abagnale (the counterfeit artist whose memoir inspired the movie Catch Me If You Can) or, for that matter, Lisa, her guitarist. But by now I'd figured out how to deal with Courtney's constant demands: Just say yes and do nothing. She'd forget what she wanted in a few hours anyway.

In the morning, I checked on Mystery. He was sitting on his bed in his robe, shaking and convulsing. His face was red and his eyes were full of tears. I'd never seen him like this before. When he was depressed in Toronto, he'd simply shut down and become catatonic. This time, he seemed to be in real pain.

Evidently, Katya had come into his bathroom in the morning to get her toothbrush.

"Do you want to tell me about what happened last night?" Mystery had asked.

"Why should I? You basically gave me as a present to Herbal."

"Did you fuck him?"

"Well, let's put it this way," she had said, "I just had the most amazing sex of my life."

It crushed him.

"I want to kill her." He rolled onto his back and moaned like a dying dog. "Logically, I know I'm being controlled by my emotions. But my logic is just 2 percent right now. I feel emotionally raw." He clenched his bedsheet in his fist. "I feel strange and empty, like after a shit."

He rolled over and started sobbing again. "I feel shit empty."

I would have laughed if he were trying to be funny.

As he grieved, I kept thinking of one of Courtney's lyrics: "I made my bed/I'll lie in it." Mystery had made his bed. And now Herbal was lying in it.

He raised his hands to the ceiling and screamed in his Anthony Rob-bins voice. Suddenly, Courtney poked her head in the door. "Is it about me? I can sleep in the front room if you want."

She could be so sweet.

I walked into the living room and told Courtney what was going on. Katya was sitting on the patio outside, smoking a cigarette.

"I feel so bad," Katya said. "Poor Mystery." She made sympathetic sounds for him—awws and mmms—as if she were talking about her dog.

Herbal shuffled to the table with his head slumped forward. He was silent, trying to think of something to say. Neither of them seemed to regret sleeping together. They just didn't realize that Mystery would take it so hard. None of us did.

Courtney lit a cigarette and told Herbal about a threesome she'd experienced and how sharing can be caring and how she ran away to San Francisco to join Faith No More and how the Suicide Girls was her idea and how she tried to turn a groupie into an artist in Europe. Somewhere in her meandering speech there was a metaphor for Herbal's current dilemma-caught between his closest friend and the girl he was falling in love with—but we couldn't find it.

Just then, Herbal's phone rang. He answered it and, with a shocked expression on his face, handed it to Courtney.

"It's Frank Abagnale calling for you," he said. "I guess he got my message."

I left the three of them on the patio and called Mystery's sister, Martina.

"He's starting to crash again," I said.

"It started off like normal heartbreak, but this morning he went over the edge. The situation seems to have triggered some kind of chemical reaction. He's crying uncontrollably right now."

"Well, if it gets any worse, I'll get him a ticket back to Toronto. If you can put him on the plane, we'll take care of him when he arrives."

"You realize that if he comes back to Toronto, everything will be lost. He's overstayed his visa here, so they'll never let him into the United States again. He'll have no chance of becoming a famous illusionist. And his pickup business will be destroyed."

"I realize that. But what choice do we have?"

"I'll try to handle it myself."

"Just send him home. Health care in Canada is free. We can't afford to take him anywhere in the States—especially if they institutionalize him."

"Let me try. If it gets worse, I'll send him back to you."

Watching Mystery's relationship with Katya unfold had been an eye-opener. He invited her to move in. He married her. He got her not-pregnant. He ignored her and resented her. He gave Herbal permission to sleep with her. He was no one's victim but his own.

In the meantime, ever since the New York Times article, half a dozen reality TV executives had called Mystery—including the producers of American Idol. VHl had even sent him a contract for a show in which he turned losers into Lotharios. The stardom Mystery wanted so desperately was his for the taking. But he wasn't calling anyone back.

"This has happened before," Martina sighed when I told her about the reality-show offers. "Every time he gets close to making it, he breaks down and throws it all away."

"Yes," she said. "He's actually scared of the success he wants so badly."

The next night, Katya came home at 2:00 A.M. She was with Herbal and the couple from New Orleans she sometimes slept with. Mystery pushed open his door, sat on a pillow on the floor, and watched them as they drank in the common room. He was making an effort to hold himself together.

The woman in the couple was six feet tall, with a gym-taut abdomen, brown hair hanging down to a well-sculpted butt, brand new fake breasts, and a large nose that was next in line for the plastic surgeon's scalpel. When Katya leaned over and made out with her, Mystery's face scrunched up and reddened. If he'd just held onto Katya a little longer, he could have had his elusive threesome. Instead he was confined to his pillow, watching Katya laugh with the couple, watching Herbal sit there with a self-satisfied grin, watching the girls change into bikinis and prance out to the hot tub, watching Herbal join them.

Katya had given Mystery her love, and now he was paying for tossing it in the trash. Whether intentionally or not, she was rubbing her bisexuality, her youth, and her happiness in his face.

By morning, Mystery's sanity had decomposed further. When he wasn't crying on the couches, he was patrolling the house, trying to make sure Katya and Herbal were apart. If he couldn't find them, he'd call her. Whether she answered the phone or not, the result was the same: Mystery would fly off the handle and destroy whatever was within arm's or leg's reach. He pulled several bookcases to the ground; decimated his pillows, leaving feathers strewn across his room; and threw his cell phone against the wall, snapping the apparatus in half and leaving a deep black dent in the plaster.

"Where's Katya?" he'd ask Playboy. "She's shopping for clothes on Melrose." "Where's Herbal?" "He's, um, sort of with her."

And then Mystery's heart would twist and his face would fall and his eyes would leak and his legs would give out from under him and he'd make some bizarre evolutionary justification for it all. "It's selfish genes," he'd say. "It's the nonexistent potential baby punishing me for leaving."

When Herbal returned from shopping on Melrose with Katya, I warned him, "You're being tooled. She's using you to get back at Mystery."

"No," he said. "It's not true. We have real feelings for each other."

"Well, can you do me a favor and just try not to see her until Mystery gets better? I'm going to ask her to leave the house for a while."

"Fine," he said, with some reluctance. "But it's not going to be easy."

That night, I took Katya and her brother to the movies. Plan A was to get her out of the house and away from Herbal so that Mystery didn't get any worse. Plan B was to fuck her in order to show Herbal that his connection with Katya wasn't so special.

Fortunately, plan A worked.

"You are destroying Mystery," I told her as I drove her back from the theater. "You need to leave the house. And don't come back until I say it's okay. This isn't about you anymore. Mystery has a serious psychological problem, and you've set it off."

"Okay," she said. She looked up at me like a child being disciplined.

"And promise me not to sleep with Herbal again. You're hurting one of my roommates, and you're about to break the heart of another. I can't stand by and watch it."

"I promise," she said.

" The fun is over. You've made your point."

"Pinky swear?"

We locked pinkies.

I should have made her swear on something more serious.

Seduction was easy compared to this. Even if people were just programs designed by evolution, as Mystery believed, they were apparently too complicated for any of us to truly understand. All we had figured out were a few simple cause and effect relationships. If you lower a woman's self-esteem, she will seek validation from you. If you make a woman jealous, she will become more attracted to you. But beyond attraction and lust, there were deeper feelings that few of us felt and none of us had mastered. And these feelings—for which the heart and the word love axe. just metaphors-were tearing Project Hollywood, a house already divided, further apart.

And so it came to pass that Mystery scared everyone out of the house and he started talking about killing himself and I got him a Xanax from Katya and I put him in my car and I took him to the Hollywood Mental Health Center and he tried to run away twice and he wanted to hit on the therapist but couldn't.

Six hours later, he left the clinic with a package of Seroquel pills in his hand and another Xanax in his system. I'd never heard of Seroquel before, so when we returned the house I looked at the pamphlet that came with it.

"For the treatment of schizophrenia," it read.

Mystery took the pamphlet from my hands and looked it over. "They're just sleeping pills," he said. "They'll help me get to sleep."

"Right," I told him. "Sleeping pills."

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