A while back, I wrote that I found a folder on my computer marked “February – Blog Later”. Yesterday’s article — the one about pickup artist Roosh V’s statement that Toronto is a terrible place for men — reminded me of one story from that folder. For that story, “blog later” means “blog now”.
February 2011: Home is a Nice Place to Visit
Still newly separated and even more newly released from my stay at the hospital as the result of killer flu, it was a good idea to spend time away from the apartment that the ex-Missus and I shared. She’d moved out just before the start of the new year, my week-long stay in the ICU soon followed that, after which I spent a week recuperating. The place may have looked big and empty, but it was laden with five years’ worth of memories. I gave some serious thought to moving someplace else. At that time, it could’ve been somewhere else in Toronto, but it could just have easily been Seattle, as I was working at Microsoft at the time. I had to get away, to completely different surroundings, even if only for a little while.
Luckily for me, my job at the time — developer evangelist — provided lots of opportunity for travel. I decided to run an idea by my manager.
“Everyone else on the team is married and mortgaged,” I said in my pitch. “I’ve got no wife, no kids, no mortgage, no debt — nothing holding me down in one place. Plus, I’ve suddenly got all this spare time on my hands, and I’d rather stay busy than sit around doing nothing, stewing in my own juices and doing something self-destructive or stupid. If there’s any kind of engagement that involves travel — presentations, conferences, and so on — I’d like to be on it.”
He’d gone through his own divorce years ago and understood what I was getting at: a therapeutic change of scenery. In exchange, he’d get a lot of work out of a guy who’d have nothing better to do for the next little while. Not looking a gift win-win in the mouth, he approved me for travel that would keep me on the road more than half the time. Home, as I often quipped then, was a nice place to visit.
Most of January 2011 was taken up by my hospitalization and recovery, so February 2011 was for all intents and purposes was my first month as a single man. I didn’t want to rush my re-entry into the dating game, but I figured I should at least be prepared. One of the side effects of my hospital stay was that I’d shed 15 pounds while there thanks to nearly a week’s time being fed nothing but nutrients and antibiotics via IV. Some of that weight loss was muscle, but a fair bit of it was a “spare tire” around the gut that came with the mellower pace of married life. My current clothes fit better. There was also that set of shirts that were so nice that I couldn’t bear to part with them; as if by magic, I could fit in them again. Not bad, I thought to myself, trying on my wardrobe in the mirror.
Also working in my favour: the accordion. Carrying it around had proven to be useful many times before:
I spent most of February 2011 in Seattle and its suburb, Redmond, attending and presenting at various Microsoft conferences and functions. During the downtime, I caroused with coworkers and customers at various parties, bars and clubs. With the accordion, I was even invited onstage a couple of times to join the act: once with the Bootie DJ crew, playing along with a mashup that used the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams as a base track, and for a short set with the band at Microsoft’s big MVP party right on the pitcher’s mound at Safeco Field:
I also had my first post-separation encounter with a woman, a non-date that started off quite well, but went terribly, hilariously wrong. I’m going to save that story for another time, because that’s not what this story is all about.
The first of my two trips to Seattle was a twelve-day stay in the city. I was staring out my window during some down time one night (the view from that room is pictured above), enjoying the hotel’s room service special — a bucket of three Coronas and a couple of sad, but edible chicken tacos for twenty bucks — when my phone rang.
“Hey. Joey,” the voice on the other side said, “you don’t know me, but I’m a developer and I read your blogs. That’s how I found your number. I’m downtown and wanted to see if you wanted to meet over a beer. I have something you might be interested in.”
My week in the ICU a month earlier, followed by a week of recovery had given me a slight case of cabin fever, so I was all too glad to go out for a drink. “Sure,” I said, throwing on a jacket, grabbing an umbrella and the accordion (I always take it out drinking; good things often happen), and stepping out into the damp Pacific northwestern night.
“You ever heard of The Game?” the guy asked, after the initial small talk and the start of our second beer. We met in a bar a short walk away from my hotel, not far from Pike Place Market. He was noticeably better-coiffed and dressed than the stereotypical software guy, and a good deal more glib.
“You mean the mind game?” I asked in reply. “The one where if you even think about it, you’ve lost, and you can only win by not thinking about it?”
“No…” he said, somewhat amused.
“Uh, the rapper, then?” He didn’t seem like the type who’d be into hip-hop, but you often can’t tell just from looking.
“No,” he said again. “I meant this.”
He pulled a book out of his leather courier bag:
It was The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, by Neil Strauss. I’d never heard of it before.
“I read about your getting divorced on your blog,” he said as I read the jacket notes, “and I thought I might be able to help you, you know, get back into it. The best way to get over someone is to get on top of someone else.”
“I can’t give you the book,” he continued, “but if you’ve got a USB key, you can copy my audiobook.”
“I’ve got more than I know what to do with,” I said. I had a whole stash of them in my jacket pocket from all the Microsoft events. He pulled out a small laptop, copied a folder of MP3s onto one of my keys and gave it back to me.
“Just give it a listen,” he said. “You’ll thank me later. You might even become one of us.”
“Us?” I asked, with some concern. “Sounds like you’re trying to bring me into a cult.”
“No, not a cult. Just a group of guys who’ve figured something out and share that knowledge. kind of like you: you know about software, and can write and present in front of people, which is why you’re an evangelist. I’m like that too, but instead of software, it’s about getting women. And you, my friend, are going to need this knowledge very soon as a born-again single man.”
At that point, the evening turned into part recruiting, part field training. The guy, whom I’ll simply call Technique (in the tradition of the pickup artist or “PUA” community, who often like to go by pseudonyms), decided that I was a good candidate to run through some socializing exercises, to convince me of the validity of his ideas as well as to gauge my “social competence”, a term often used by PUAs. We spent the rest of the evening approaching various women in the bar, who were both alone and in groups.
Going up and talking to strangers is not a paralyzingly frightening prospect for me, and the perspective I’d gained only weeks before, lying in an emergency room, surrounded by doctors, wondering if this is what it felt like to die, made it that much easier. I also had the accordion, and that helped.
At the end of the evening, over a final bourbon, Technique said “Not bad. You’ve got some rough edges, but you get it.”
“You were a bit harsh with that cute brunette,” I said. “What is that, the ‘asshole gets the girl’ routine?”
“Kind of,” Technique said with a grin. “That was a ‘neg’. It’s Seduction 101. Short for ‘negative’. You say something to put her down — just a little. Take her down a peg or two, knock her off her high horse, lower her self-esteem…just a little. Maybe a backhanded compliment. It makes you seem not that interested in her, which for many girls, especially the good-looking ones, is unusual. You take away the thing they trade on, which makes them want it back. The best thing is: the hotter the girl, the more effective it is. You boost your value in relation to hers — after all, who else could put a hot girl down, except a guy in her league or better?”
It might’ve been the booze, the ocean air, some post-separation bitterness still lingering in me, or perhaps even the non-date that went terribly wrong a couple of nights prior (once again, that’s a story for a later date), but at the time, what Technique was saying made perfect sense. Like Dennis Miller says: “Nobody finds Jesus on prom night”.
On the flight back home, I listened to the entire The Game audiobook. It’s really more of an autobiography than a pickup artist how-to, covering how its author, journalist Neil Strauss, discovered the pickup artist community and eventually became part of it, leading seminars showing men who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance how to pick up women in bars and clubs. It even features a couple of pickup artistry teachers from my neck of the woods: “Mystery” and “Papa”, who lived in Toronto, and “Tyler Durden” who graduated from my alma mater, Crazy Go Nuts University.
While Strauss’ social experiments turn him from zero to hero to pickup artistry instructor — he and his friends even set up shop in a mansion off Sunset Strip — he comes to the realization that a life solely made up of pick-ups is an empty one. At one point, when he interviews Tom Cruise (he still took journalism assignments all the while), Cruise hints at that. When Scientology-crazy Tom Cruise is the voice of reason in your story, something’s gone very awry.
I lurked in a few forums that catered to the PUA and “Seduction” communities for a couple of months to see more about what Technique was talking about. The ideas seemed intriguing to someone who’d been off the market for the better part of a decade and newly single. Many of the ideas in them weren’t all that different from what I’d learned in a decade of technical evangelism and the formal evangelism training I’d received at Microsoft: they were about influence and how to exert it, in ways both overt and covert. They were also about confidence and self-respect, which I believe are important. Attraction requires respect, and you can’t respect a doormat. I saw the germs of good ideas in them. Many groups, such as Accordion City’s own Toronto Lair, seemed to act quite well as support groups for men who wanted to better themselves and pursue relationships with women.
In the end, I decided not to actively participate in these communities. In all too many of them, I saw outright contempt for women, especially from characters like Toronto’s own ultradouche, “Dimitri the Lover”. A lot the talk in there seemed to be distillable into this line by Family Guy’s Peter Griffin: “Women aren’t people. They are devices built by the Lord Jesus Christ for our entertainment.” I’m not that guy, nor do I ever want to be.
At the very least, sex should be about making and sharing a connection. To many of the people on the PUA/seduction forums, it seemed like it was about expressing dominance. They were rife with the obsession of putting men into two distinct groups, the much aspired-to “alpha males” and lowly “betas”, and women into one: “targets”. Picking up and moving on was really an expression of power, not attraction nor connection, at which point they might as well look for sex with men, as the bodybuilders in this story do (“It’s not gay to fuck a dude to show dominance”, they’ll say, “male dogs frequently hump each other to assert dominance, and dogs = alpha; the main thing that turns you on from fucking women is showing your dominance anyway”). I don’t want to hang out in a rape culture nursery.
I’d like to thank Technique again; while I don’t buy into his philosophy, he was reaching out to a fellow man in need and trying to do me a favour (or “a solid”, as the kids say these days). It’s just not my scene.
Bonus “Reading” Material
First, a funny (and recent!) comic about negging, from the webcomic Amazing Super Powers:
Apparently someone’s put the entire The Game audiobook on YouTube. I’ve embedded these posts below. If you’re interested, give them a listen, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.