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Fix-up pros take a shy guy under their expert wings.

February 10, 2005|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

The TV writer is trying to meet women at a bar called Cabo Cantina, a Westwood-adjacent hang with "sophomore-year dorm" decor and '80s rock played for irony, not nostalgia, because few in this crowd were out of preschool when Bon Jovi was livin' on a prayer.

He is 29-year-old Josh Lynn, who on this night was known as "Josh L.," because a person can be only so vulnerable. And heaven knows the shark tank that is the L.A. singles scene brings out the jellyfish in everyone. Everyone, that is, except the alpha dog at the next table, a sort of "Outsiders"-era Matt Dillon type who is high-fiving the waitress and blowing kisses to another woman while simultaneously rubbing elbows with that cute brunet that Josh L. had his eye on.

"That's the kind of guy I don't ever want to be," says Josh L. "But at the same time, it's like, way to go! You know?"

Nina Rubin knows. In fact, Josh L. hired Rubin and her roommate Marni Kinrys to make it their business to know. "Look at him working the room," Rubin says. "I bet he's a player. He's all over the place!"

Rubin, 26, and Kinrys, 24, are professional "wing girls," women who accompany men out and for $75 an hour introduce them to other women. They have devoted this rainy Saturday night to finding and wrangling the women Josh L. fancies. Their company, Ice Breakers, like the well-publicized Wing Women in New York, operates on the assumption that attractive women notice men who are accompanied by other attractive women.

Rubin and Kinrys act as conversation starters, social mediators or, as Josh L. describes them, "heat-seeking missiles," who target single women, intrigue them with a good one-liner, often a compliment, and close the deal by gracefully introducing their client as "a friend." If it works, they create a comfortable situation for men and women to get to know each other without the expectation or the pressure of a pickup. If it doesn't, they consider it a healthy exercise and move on to the next lucky contestant.

"We're constantly giving men tips on reading people," Kinrys says. "A lot of these guys are socially awkward. We're very blunt with them and honest.... The truth is, women and men have different approaches. Men are very by the book. Women, it's completely the opposite. They want men to be mind readers a lot of the time."

Ice Breakers launched in September with an ad on Craigslist.org, the online bulletin board and ad service, and now has 36 clients and 23 wing girls, both groups of varying ages. Rubin and Kinrys claim a 75% success rate, which means that for every four women approached, three give up a phone number.

Kinrys sells her service as a gentler, more personal answer to online dating, which virtually every single person has either tried or earnestly studied. She and Rubin came up with the concept with their roommate Rob G., a single 38-year-old investment banker who likens Internet dating to shopping from the "irregular bin." "You see this great picture of this really attractive woman," he says. "You go out once. It still seems fine.... It's always a test to see how many dates it takes to find out why she's in the irregular bin." Ouch.

Icebreaker dating, they say, is a more organic (albeit fake organic) way to meet women. It manufactures those synchronistic "friend of a friend" meetings that lead to romance. Along the way, Rubin and Kinrys, the latter a psychology grad whose thesis was titled "The Social Interaction Between Males and Females," offer pickup tips or "dating therapy."

For example, says Rob G., "I think a lot of guys are under the misconception that they should be Pepe Le Pew -- 'You're beautiful. You're beautiful. Go out with me. I think you're beautiful.' " Rubin and Kinrys taught him to "vary the rhythm a little. Say 'hi' and walk away."

And now he's dating Melissa, a woman he met with the Ice Breakers. And yes, she knows that Rubin and Kinrys are professionals. "I told her on our first date," Rob G. says. "She thought it was funny. She didn't feel hoodwinked."

Ninety minutes into his three-hour outing with the Ice Breakers, Josh L. is still warming up. And who would blame him? He's a nervous intellectual with a quick wit who writes adolescent sitcoms. The dominant species here, however, is more aggressive, more meathead, more wannabe reality TV stars. Josh L., at least on the surface, is packaged to thrive in more civilized habitats -- coffeehouses, tapas bars or sidewalk cafes. "It's never been my forte, meeting people at bars," he says, later. Yet, Josh L. chose the Cabo Cantina because the women are more accessible and less studied (perhaps younger?) than those who frequent the dark, moody joints on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.

Besides, as Kinrys points out, Josh L. isn't trying to pick up women. "He's just having a conversation," she says. Josh smirks and looks toward the dimpled brunet. "Little do they know," he says quietly, apparently summoning some of Alpha Dog's mojo.

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