I think that naturals have the psychological power to do it. Toward the end of my singlehood, I found a boldness that was shocking. I developed the courage to tell a woman after a glass of wine, "I'd like to fuck you." There are some women looking for you to be bold and a leader. It took me a long time to learn that.
Something strange happened to Eric Weber when the conversation veered toward naturals and tales from the field. He came to life. The spark in his eyes brightened. For a half hour, we swapped stories and theories about the game. For all his talk of marriage and happily ever after, beneath the surface still seethed that awkward guy who was envious of his friends' success with women.
After we talked, he showed me a scene from the movie he was editing. It was about a pale, bald, unemployed middle-aged man shopping a terrible screenplay and sponging off his ex-wife, who was now married to a handsome, successful man.
"Is that screenwriter in the movie the way you really see yourself?" I asked as we walked out of the building together.
"That's the inner me," he admitted. "Inside I sometimes feel pathetic, awkward, and unloved."
"Even after all the confidence you acquired as a pickup artist, a husband, and a father?"
"Well," he said, opening the door to his car, "all you can do is put on an appearance of confidence sometimes. And after a while, others will start to believe it." He grabbed the door handle to pull it closed. "And then you die."
At 2:00 AM, Lisa burst into the house, making her nightly drunken entrance. She stomped up my stairs, shedding her purse and clothing on the way, and leaped onto my bed wearing nothing but a beer bottle.
"I'm attracted to you in every way," she blurted.
"Do you know what all the ways are?"
"Do you want me to name them?"
"Emotionally, physically, and mentally."
"I can elaborate."
"Okay. Let's start with the physical." That's probably the area where I still needed the most reassurance.
"I love your teeth, and your mouth especially." I listened for hesitation or doubt. There was none. "I love how broad your shoulders are and how narrow your hips are. I love the hair placement on your body. I love the color of your eyes, because they're the same as mine. I love the shape of your nose. I love the indents on the side of your head."
"Oh my God." I flipped on top of her and grabbed her shoulders. "No one has ever complimented me on my head indentations before. I love them too."
I laughed, a little too loudly, at the ridiculousness of what I'd just said. And then I confessed everything to her. I told her about the last two years of meeting players and learning about the game. I told her about the AFCs and PUAs, the FBs and MLTRs, the IOIs and AMOGs.
"I would love to have you dress super-hot one day," I said, caught up in the excitement of the game I had helped invent, " and then go to a bar. And I'll practice AMOGing all the guys who try to hit on you."
She rolled me off her, so that we were facing each other on our sides, our faces an inch apart. "You don't need to take their advice," she said, her breath intoxicating and intoxicated. "Everything I like about you, and everything that makes me think you're rad, is all the stuff you already had before you met those PUA guys. I don't want you wearing dumbass jewelry and Pee-wee Herman shoes. I would have liked you before all that self-improvement shit."
From outside, we heard the sounds of men climbing the hill, flush with the excitement of another night out almost getting laid. "All the things you learned from the PUAs almost made us not come together," Lisa continued. "I want you to just be Neil: balding, nerdy, glasses, and all."
Maybe she was right. Perhaps she would have liked the real me. But she never would have had the opportunity to meet him if I hadn't spent the last two years learning how to put my best foot forward. Without all that training, I never would have had the confidence to talk to and handle a girl like Lisa, who was a constant challenge.
I needed Mystery, Ross Jeffries, David DeAngelo, David X, Juggler, Steve P., Rasputin, and all those other pseudonyms. I needed them to discover what was me to begin with. And now that I had found that person, brought him out of his shell, and learned to accept him, perhaps I had outgrown them.
Lisa sat up and took a sip from the bottle of beer she had brought upstairs. "Everyone was hitting on me tonight," she giggled. Modesty was never her strong suit. "I hope you realize that you are dating the most fabulous girl in L.A."
In response, I wordlessly pulled open my bottom dresser drawer, grabbed two large manila envelopes from inside, and brought them to the bed. I turned the first envelope upside down and dumped its contents onto the comforter. Hundreds of paper scraps, matchbooks, business cards, cocktail napkins, and torn receipts spilled out. Each one contained the handwriting of a different girl. Then I emptied the second envelope onto the bed—full of more of the same—until there was a small mountain of paper scraps. They were all phone numbers I'd collected since taking that first fateful workshop with Mystery.
"I know you are," I finally answered her. "I've spent two years meeting every girl in L.A. And out of them all, I chose you."
It was the most beautiful thing I'd said in a long time. And, after I spoke it, I realized it wasn't entirely accurate. If there was anything I'd learned, it's that the man never chooses the woman. All he can do is give her an opportunity to choose him.
Herbal was the next to go.
I saw him from my bedroom window, stuffing his robot vacuum cleaner into a U-Haul van.
"I'm going back to Austin," he said with a wan smile when I ran out to talk to him.
He was the last person I expected to abandon the house. "Why? After all you went through with Mystery, you're going to leave?"
"I just feel like the house has been a failure," he said. "No one hangs out anymore. The RSD guys stopped talking to me when I started working for Mystery, and Papa keeps moving in guys I don't really like."
"What's Katya doing?"
"She's moving to Austin with me." I suppose if Katya were using him solely for revenge, she would have dumped him by now.
"Urn, by the way, what should I do when your wallaby arrives?"
"I've already arranged to have it sent to Austin."
Watching Herbal pack his possessions into the moving truck, I was struck by a much more profound sadness than when Mystery had left. With Mystery, I had lost a friend and former mentor. But I had thought that perhaps without the drama, the house could unite. However, between Tyler Durden's plotting and Herbal's imminent departure, Project Hollywood was truly dead.
Outside of Papa and Tyler Durden, everyone seemed to be waking up from the spell the community had cast on them. Even Prizer—the sarger who had lost his virginity in Juarez—had stopped selling his pickup DVD course and become a born-again Christian. In his last post, he warned, "Snap out of your trance and stop handing your salary over to a bunch of losers who are only able to seduce gullible guys. There's more to life than sarging."
If the stupidest sarger of us all had outgrown the community, what was I still doing here?
Behind Herbal and me, a beer bottle shattered on the street, scattering fragments of green glass everywhere. I looked up and saw a teenager with a dyed-blond Eminem crewcut and a white tanktop sitting on our steps.
"I don't know," Herbal said. "He's been staying up in Papa's room."
I was alone here now. It was just me in my bedroom against the borg in the rest of the house trying to force me out. I was tired of fighting. I was tired of being disappointed in people. I didn't need to be here anymore. Besides, I had a girlfriend.
Still, I couldn't help thinking, "If I was so smart, how did Papa end up with the house?"
Lisa answered that question as we lay in bed together that night.
"Because you didn't want the house," she said. "It's not a life. It's a subculture you dipped into. How could something be good that's based on a false reality and a learned behavior? Walk away. These guys aren't helping you anymore. They're holding you back."
Watching The Wizard of Oz as a child, I was always disappointed when Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy that she'd possessed the power to return home since the moment she had arrived in Oz. Now, twenty years later, I understood the message. I had possessed the power to leave the community all along, but I hadn't reached the end of the road until now. I still believed that these guys had something I didn't. Yet the reason all the gurus latched on to me—the reason Tyler Durden wanted to be me, even though he hated me—was that they thought I had something they lacked.
We were all searching outside ourselves for our missing pieces, and we were all looking in the wrong direction. Instead of finding ourselves, we'd lost our sense of self. Mystery didn't have the answers. A blonde 10 in a two-set at the Standard didn't have the answers. The answers were to be found within.
Even Extramask had discovered that. After staying at a Vipassana meditation center in Australia and an ashram in India, he was coming home to, as he put it in an e-mail to me, "the way things were before."
In the morning, I was awakened by noises downstairs. Three new recruits for Real Social Dynamics—replacements for Playboy, Sickboy, and Extramask—were hauling boxes from Ikea into Herbal's room. Like those who came before them, they were former students turned interns and employees, working for free in exchange for pickup lessons and a closet to sleep in. They had quit their jobs; they had dropped out of school; they had left their hometowns for this.
I sat in the living room in my boxer shorts and watched them as they worked. They were diligent. They were efficient. They were automatons. Wordlessly, they set up three bunk beds with matching sheets, blankets, and mattresses. Herbal's room was being converted into a barracks to house this growing army. The troops would be sent to the Sunset Strip nightly to do battle-armed with my clothes, my stories, my mannerisms-while the generals in the bathroom plotted the last stages of their conquest of the community. Even Mystery's Lounge would soon be theirs, with Mystery himself purged.
I returned to my room, pulled several duffel bags off my closet shelf, and started packing. Hanging over me were rows of peacocking garments: a fuzzy purple vest, a pair of tight black vinyl pants, a pink cowboy hat. Stacked on the floor were dozens of books on flirting, NLP, Tantric massage, female sexual fantasies, handwriting analysis, and how to be the jerk women love. I wouldn't need any of those where I was going.
It was time to leave the house, and the community, behind. Real life beckoned.
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