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Danger: pickup artists ahead

You may not like Neil Strauss' new book, 'The Game,' but he's a hero to men seeking women.

August 31, 2005|Deborah Netburn | Special to The Times

We'll call this one Cupid because, with his golden curls and wide-eyed cherubic face, it seems like a decent handle. He's 26, fresh out of the military and, despite his Abercrombie good looks, he tends to panic when he talks to girls. "I'm totally an introvert," he says early on a Friday evening.

But now it's into the wee hours of Saturday morning and he's at the Saddle Ranch on the Sunset Strip. He's watched as a man called Mystery made out with a cute brunet with pale lipstick and another guy did a "bounce," leading the most scantily clad woman at the bar from one part of the patio to another.

But Cupid hasn't approached anybody all night, and now that the bartenders are hollering for everybody to get out he's worried it might be too late. He turns to Neil Strauss for guidance.

Strauss once counted himself among those who were panicked around women. Then he overcompensated. After attending a seminar on the art of seduction in 2002, the former New York Times columnist and current Rolling Stone writer has been obsessed with, even addicted to, a little-known community of men who consider themselves pickup artists. He posts to message boards, helps out with seduction courses, even concocted an ill-conceived plan to get the best in the business to live together in Dean Martin's former mansion above the Hollywood strip.

He chronicles his ascent (descent?) into this world in the new book "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists," which arrives in stores, bound like a Bible, on Tuesday. In it, Strauss describes in graphic detail a personal journey that begins with him being terrified of women and ends with him believing he could seduce any woman in a club, bar, coffee shop or elevator. He is a diminutive man with a shaved head and angular goatee, and though he seems gentle and sweet in person -- nervous and cute and maybe a touch effete (affectations he's learned in seduction training, perhaps?) -- in the book he comes off as debauched and predatory.

But he is a hero to the 11 men who have signed up for the $2,250 Mystery Method Bootcamp -- a three-day, 40-hour intensive seminar designed to help "men from any background meet, attract and build relationships with exceptional women of extraordinary beauty and quality," according to the workshop's website.

"He's supposed to be one of the best," says Chongo, a 30-year-old special effects designer who is on his third seminar this weekend.

"See that girl over there with the pink shirt?" Cupid asks Strauss, who is known as Style in the rapidly growing community of pickup artists and who once appeared in a porn movie while ghostwriting Jenna Jameson's memoir. "I think she's, like, the hottest girl in the whole place."

"You may have missed your window because now she's with a guy. But go and approach her anyway. It's a two set," says Strauss, in pickup lingo referring to the number of people.

"Can I do that even though the lights are on?" Cupid asks.

"Don't even think about it and just do it," Strauss says. "If you don't, you'll be regretting it the rest of the weekend."

Strauss doesn't have high expectations for Cupid. After all, this is only the first night. The whole point of the evening is for students to watch the self-proclaimed pros in the field and to take their own fledgling steps into the world of seduction by starting conversations with women.

"The first night we go out, the students will walk in and crash and burn because they don't have a clue yet. The second day is more about the students and they'll go and do openers and do OK, and the third day is kind of fun. On the third day, they actually start to have some success," Strauss says. "People forget how petrified men are to talk to women they don't know." But Cupid does well for a first outing -- the couple engage in conversation with him.

Strauss isn't teaching this weekend's workshop. He's assisting his friend Erik von Markovik, arguably the best pickup artist in the community, who uses the name Mystery -- and who first taught the course three years ago, the class Strauss attended. Now Mystery is teaching seduction seminars almost every weekend in cities around the globe. He isn't the only one -- Strauss estimates there are roughly 100 others.

Mystery is a 6-foot-5-inch lanky magician from Toronto who intentionally "peacocks" (dresses outrageously to attract women) -- today it's black fingernails, black cowboy hat, brown corduroy bell-bottom suit with little slashes of orange all over it and snakeskin boots. A virgin, he says, until he was 21, he developed the "Mystery Method" through trial and error and the kind of single-minded determination and willingness to practice that all magicians need to be successful at deception.

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