The Pickup Artist
I sit in a room at the posh Redbury boutique hotel in Hollywood. The décor is bohemian opulence, with gilded wallpaper and framed naturalist prints that would do Darwin proud. It’s the perfect setting for the 10 guys gathered here to learn the art of seduction.
They come from as far away as Norway and Australia. Most are in their 30s. The youngest is 23. I spy strong jaws, crisp haircuts and one muscled blond who is downright hunky.
But it’s the instructors who stand out. There’s “the Sneak,” with a huge Jewfro and wispy mustache; Johnny, with features that make me think Persian pretty boy; Victor, who exudes a Valentino quality even in a plain red T-shirt; and “Evolve,” with kick-ass buckled boots and a loosely fitted toque that frames the roguish waves of black hair that tickle his jawline.
They’d have PhDs in seduction if there were such a thing. They’re coaches for the Stylelife Academy, founded by Neil Strauss, aka “Style.” In large part, it’s Strauss’ reputation that has drawn these guys here, each forking out $1,500 (plus travel costs) for a weekend of instruction. Strauss is the author of the best-selling (and some have said life-altering) book The Game, which chronicles his rise from AFC (Average Frustrated Chump) to arguably the best pickup artist in the world.
Strauss confidently asserts that he can pick up pretty much any woman he chooses. These guys hope to gain a fraction of that skill. And then there’s me.
I’m here to find out if seduction techniques honed for straight guys to pick up women can work for me in the gay world. To start, we’re given a dizzying array of instructions.
“Be the exception.” “Take them on a journey.” “Lead!”
Beyond the high-minded bons mots, the instructors break seduction down into four “simple” steps.
First: Open. In other words, say hi, except that is “the most overused canned opener of all time.” Instead we’re given openers like: “Hey, real quick—I need an outside opinion on something my friends and I were arguing about. Is it okay to date someone in order to learn a new language?”
Second: Be interesting (aka show higher value). “Your routines are not the game. Your identity is the game,” they say. “When someone asks, ‘What’s your favorite TV show?,’ have an emotionally charged answer that reveals something about you.” By way of example, the hunky blond tells us how he was sent to the principal’s office in high school because during debate class he yelled at his opponent, “Get out of my fucking face,” while channeling Tony Soprano. “And that’s why The Sopranos is my favorite TV show,” he concludes. Loud round of applause.
Third: Be interested. “Tomorrow you will tell us three things about a woman you meet tonight that you like about her that do not include her looks, so pay attention to her.” Women apparently like that.
Fourth: Close. Get her number. Get the kiss. Get her to go all the way. All of these are closes. “Set yourself up for the close beforehand,” they tell us. “Think of it as your past self looking out for your future self. If you make a plan for another day, you have to get her number. It’s natural at that point.”
And then the theory is done. One by one, we make a vow. When it’s my turn, I stand and stare into the Sneak’s eyes. “I promise to make six opens tonight,” I say, “and then push the conversation another 20 percent.”
We enter the über-cool Edison nighclub in downtown Los Angeles, all in button-down shirts, dress jeans and dress shoes. (Dress code is strictly enforced.) Down a set of stairs, we enter a world where steampunk meets straight bar. Designer light bulbs that hark back to the days of Thomas Edison (now I get the name) are everywhere, casting soft shadows on what looks like a salvaged train engine of sorts.
From what I can see, I’m the only gay in the village, so I open to women. It’s surprisingly nerve-racking. I’m pretending to be straight, yet I don’t want them to reject me. Despite the anxiety, I do okay. I even get a phone number. Then I approach the one guy that I’ve locked eyes with thrice. Turns out he’s straight, but he and his friend are good sports about it. (I still wonder if the only reason he was “straight” was because his friend was there. What straight dude stares into another dude’s eyes on three consecutive walk-bys? Now, there’s an opening question I’d like to ask.)
As I walk away, Coach Johnny slides up beside me.
“I don’t know if he’s your type, but I want you to open to the guy in the blue shirt directly behind you.”
And there he is. Another gay. He’s handsome in a swarthy, lithe kind of way. This will be a challenge. Four women surround him. I don’t hit on guys in groups. No way am I getting rejected in front of his clique. But that’s the old me.
Before the paralysis can set in, I walk up to them.
“Real quick,” I say, breaking into their conversation. “I have to get back to my friends, but you all look like you have good taste. I’m trying to pick a new scent. I’ve got a different cologne on each wrist. Let me know which one you prefer.”
I stick my wrist into the middle of the group. There’s a shared look of Are you kidding me right now?
Panic starts to rise in me, but from the corner of my eye I can see that my sister brother is into it.
When you ask a question, I hear the Sneak’s voice inside my head, direct it at someone specific.
On a lever, my arm swivels toward my target. He grips my wrist, and his nose brushes along the inside.
The game has begun. Seeing his acceptance, the rest of the group relaxes, allowing me into their fold. They’re from Tunisia. I tease their hand gestures (by doing so, I’m “disqualifying,” lowering their value), then I join in, asking them to teach me.
“It’s like saying, “What?!” they explain, with an upward twist of the hand. This becomes a recurring gag (bringing their value back up and creating the intimacy of an inside joke).
I do a ring-finger routine, a short, simple evaluation of personality based on the finger someone chooses to wear a ring on, then a cold read of my fellow gay based on his bedazzled cell-phone protector.
I’m mostly on autopilot, just having fun, not really thinking about whether value is going up or down. Only when there’s a lull do I reach for a bar game—just as I was taught. I even do a Facebook close. (As in “Hey, can I look you up on Facebook?”)
After the fact, the one critique the Sneak has is, “You should’ve stayed and chatted for another five minutes after the close. You don’t want him to feel like you were just after a trophy to tell your friends about.”
I nod at his wisdom. There’s still much to learn and much to process. But it turns out the techniques intended for straight men to pick up women did work for gay men to pick up other men. Well, at least this gay man.
The boot camp has provided me an unusual mirror on the gay world. Straight guys have their “10s,” the top tier of women they desire. We have our A-gays. Both of these groups of desirables have their version of the “bitch shield” to ward off unwanted advances. “If you encounter a bitch shield, don’t blame it on them,” we’re told. “That’s their response to you making them uncomfortable.” But also think about any time you’ve seen a so-called “mismatch”—evidence those barriers can be breached.
And it’s not just about picking up.
As the 23-year-old in the group puts it, “It’s hard to explain to my friends why I’m doing this. I’m already a social guy. I just want to be better.”
By the end of the weekend, he is, and so am I. Because gay or straight, the same general rules of the game apply, from dressing in a way that conveys an identity (my dandyish suspenders and skinny tie are a hit) to knowing when (and how) to separate a target from friends (after winning his friends’ approval so they actually start being my wingmen instead of cock blocks).
The main difference, as the Sneak puts it: “With two guys, everything’s sped up.”
Um, yeah. We could’ve taught him that.
Steven Bereznai is the author of Gay And Single...Forever? 10 Things Every Gay Guy Looking For Love (And Not Finding It) Needs To Know. He can be reached through his website: stevenbereznai.com