Sympathy for the Skeezy

 

A pickup artists’ “super-conference” reveals that most guys aren’t out to get laid—they’re just trying to fit in.
Rick Lax, photos by Jacob Kepler
Thu, Oct 29, 2009 (midnight)
 
super conference, pickup lines, Sympathy for the skeezy, Las Vegas Weekly, pickup artists, pick up girls
 
Do you think it’s okay to break up with somebody over Facebook?
 
Before you form a response to that question, you should know that I don’t care about your answer. In fact, the question isn’t even a real “question”; it’s an opener, an innocuous line that Pickup Artists use to begin conversations with beautiful women(1). I learned Facebook Breakup from the Love Systems Super-Conference held at the Hard Rock last month. Cost of attendance: $3,850(2).
 
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Any guy who would fly across the country and pay such a large sum of money to learn how to ask women scripted questions is a desperate loser at best, and a sex offender at worst. You’re thinking, These guys shouldn’t have to work so hard to meet women; it should come naturally; if these guys would just “be themselves” everything would fall into place.
 
And here’s the reason you’re thinking that: You haven’t been rejected as much as they’ve been rejected. You think you have, but you haven’t. So I kindly ask that you wait until you’ve finished reading this article before you make fun of us—er, them. Make fun of them.
 

 
I’m sitting in a gray banquet hall at the Hard Rock hotel-casino with 100 other guys. There’s a projection screen set up at the front of the room, and it’s playing a pre-taped episode of The Tyra Banks Show. Tyra’s guest is Love Systems CEO Savoy(3), the man who organized the Super-Conference at the Hard Rock. When Tyra says that some men pay Savoy “thousands of dollars... thousands of dollars” to learn how pick up women, her audience gasps.

I find an open seat next to Michael from Australia. He’s 36 and describes himself as a “PUA dinosaur.” And he’s right; most of the guys in the room appear to be in their mid-20s. They’re mostly well-dressed, and largely good-looking. So based on appearances alone, you wouldn’t guess that these guys had trouble attracting women. But, as any pickup artist worth his weight in feather boas would tell you, it’s not about how you look; it’s about how you make women feel(4).
 
Oh, there are a lot of bald guys in the room, too—a lot of bald guys. And there’s a guy behind me with a handlebar mustache and a red and black bandana. And there’s a guy to my left with at least one filled-in ear (it’s got no hole). And then there’s a long-haired guy in front of me who’s got to be at least 6-foot-5—that’s Savoy.
 
My tablemate Michael looks around the room and offers me this assessment: “Some of these guys are incredibly insecure—can’t even talk to girls—and some of them are James Bond. And some of them are in the middle.”
 
“Where are you?” I ask.
 
“I’m in the middle. You?” Michael asks me.
 
“Hard to say,” I reply. “Ever since I moved to Vegas, people tell me I’m Bond-y, but most of the time I feel like I’m still in middle school—insecure.”
 
“I hear ya,” Michael says. “I went through a long insecure phase. I was always the nice guy, the guy who helped his friends meet women. Basically, I was too scared to tell my girl—I mean, my friend who I wanted to be my girl—how I felt. And when I finally did tell her that I loved her, she told me that she didn’t love me back.”
 
“So she LJBF’d(5) you?” I ask.
 
“She did, and I swore on a thousand Bibles that it would never happen again.”
 
Savoy takes the stage, welcomes everybody to the Super-Conference and emphasizes the importance of active participation: “There are beautiful women in this very casino. So use this stuff right away. One thing we’re experts on, aside from picking up women, is how to learn. So listen to me when I say you should take lots of notes.”
 
At that instant everybody in the room cracks open their Love Systems folder (leather, complimentary) for the first time and begins writing. Shortly thereafter, Savoy introduces to the stage the “No. 1-rated instructor from last year: Soul.”
 

Soul, a soft-spoken, self-assured Sri Lankan guy, puts to words what’s on everybody’s mind:
 
“It’s a scary thing, spending your weekend learning to meet women. It’s humbling. We don’t want to admit that we need help, but we’re here because we’ve reached a point where our regret has built up and we said, ‘No more!’ So I know you’re feeling nervous, and I know you’re feeling weird, but I want you to know that this is a good place to be. When you stop getting nervous about your life, that’s when your life gets boring. Okay, a show of hands; this is the first pickup event for how many people in the room?
 
Half of the guys in the room put their hands up.
 
“And how many of you told your friends you were coming to the Super-Conference?”(6)
 
Ten hands.
 
“Who feels uncomfortable about being here?”
 
Almost every hand goes up.
 
“Yeah, the first experience is weird,” Soul admits. “Four or five years ago, I got together with a group of Pickup Artists in London. On my way over, I remember thinking, I’m about to meet up with some guys I don’t know to approach women and recite scripts I found on the Internet. What am I doing?!”
 
The thing to take from Soul’s comments is that you don’t need to make fun of Pickup Artists because they’re uncomfortable enough as is. Admitting that you need help with women is embarrassing and emasculating. In most cases, the decision to attend a Love Systems boot camp is not motivated by libido; it’s motivated by loneliness.
 

 
I'm standing in the “Breakout Room.” It’s another gray conference hall, but there are no tables in this one. There’s a raised platform at the front of the room, and there are four chairs on it, and there are four instructors sitting on the four chairs. There’s a tall blond guy, there’s a guy wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt, there’s an Asian guy, and there’s a guy with a backward baseball cap. They’re leading a session on “Approaching & Transitioning.”
 
“There are different types of openers,” Blond Guy explains. “Some lines open easily; some lines are more rewarding. ‘What time is it?’ will open 95 percent of sets(7), but where are you going to go with that? I mean, where’s your transition? On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Want to go to my room to fuck?’ is not likely to open many sets, but if it does open, well … you’re probably in luck.”
 
The instructors split us up into four groups so we can practice delivering “mid-spectrum openers.” We’re told to keep our tone strong and deep, and to keep our body position nonthreatening (facing slightly away). We’re told to “be real,” to “sell the line.”
 
My group instructor, the guy with the backward baseball cap, asks the two guys to my right to pretend to be attractive women. Then he tells me to try to pick them up.
 
I walk past them and then turn back at the last minute, as if I’ve got an afterthought.
 
“Can I get your opinion on something?” I say. “Is it okay to break up with somebody over Facebook?”
 
“Dude,” Backward Hat says, “you’re being way too serious. You’ve got to say the line with a little smirk that lets your target know you’re going somewhere with this.”
 
I know this is going to sound silly, but Backward Hat’s note hurt my feelings. Maybe I’m being hypersensitive, but it’s not every day that somebody tells you you’re bad at talking.
 
Next, Backward Hat has the student to my left try out the same line.
 
“Let me ask you two a question,” the guy to my left says, but he says it too quietly; the students pretending to be women act as if they didn’t hear him. So he beings to repeat himself:
 
“Can I ask—”
 
“Let’s stop right there,” Backward Hat interrupts. “When you repeat yourself you lose value. And you’ve got to be the one with the higher value; you’re the prize; don’t put the pussy on the pedestal.”
 
Yes, Backward Hat actually said that, and yes, it was misogynistic. But ladies: I don’t want you to go away from this article thinking the average Pickup Artist is more sexist than the average guy. I want you to know that if anything, the opposite is true. I want you to know that I hear misogynistic comments like that all the time, especially in the locker room and at the poker table.(8)
 

After the session is through, I wander into the hallway, and I come across a table with a dozen iPhones on it. Love Systems, I learn, is beta-testing an iPhone pickup application, Love Systems Mobile. The guys at the Hard Rock are waiting for the maiden upload.
 
Mahipal Raythattha, the application programmer, hands me his phone, and I open the Love Systems Mobile application and click on “Openers.” A list of pre-written conversations pops up. “Rich Girl,” “Female Roommates,” “Text Message Breakup” (a variation of Facebook Breakup, I presume), “Horse Girl,” “Sorry I’m Late,” “Dead Best Friend”—they’re all there. I click on “Horse Girl.”
 
“The blue text,” the programmer tells me, “is the dialogue—what you’re actually supposed to say. The pink is the response you can expect [e.g., ‘Break up over Facebook? How long have you been dating her?’], and the white text is tips from the Love Systems instructor.
 
“Once you’ve tried a couple out,” the programmer continues, “there’s a function that allows you to rate the routines based on how much success you’ve had with them. And we track the community ratings, so if everybody is rating a routine at five stars, then new users can begin with those.”
 
The programmer’s iPhone starts to ring. The iPhone has a photo caller ID, so I can see that the caller is young and blond. Her picture resembles the cover of Britney Spears’ … Baby One More Time.
 
But the call, it turns out, is fake; the Britney look-alike is part of the Love Systems Mobile software. Love Systems users can program their iPhones to receive fake calls from imaginary pretty girls. The hope is that the real girl you’re trying to pick up will see the fake caller, get jealous and want you more.
 
Before Raythattha can load the application onto my iPhone—I bet you dollars to doughnuts that fake caller ID thing works—Savoy exits the Main Stage room and tells me he’s ready for our interview.
 
Here’s how journalism works: I want Savoy to say something weird or strange; Savoy wants to promote his business. And here’s what happens in our interview: Savoy wins. Let me explain: As we sit down on the couch for the interview, an obese attendee wearing an Affliction T-shirt walks by.
 
“That guy had an amazing night last night,” Savoy tells me.
 
I tell Savoy that I want to hear about it, so he calls the guy over. Here’s what the guy has to say:
 
“Last night I went to Tryst. It was my fifth-ever time in a nightclub—keep that in mind. It’s 2 a.m., and I’ve been talking to these two girls for an hour, and then my coach, Tenmagnet, tells me I should ask them if they want to go to breakfast, and they say they’d rather go to a sex shop. I’m freaking out, because nothing like this has ever happened to me before, so I just nod. We go, we buy two […] then we come back over to Wynn, and we go up to their room, and first the girls […] and then we all […].”
 
The guy takes out his digital and shows me a picture.
 
“These girls are really cute, for a guy like me,” he says.
 
“That’s one of the most rewarding things about this job,” Savoy says. “I get letters and phone calls all the time. Wedding pictures, too.”
 
“How many students have sent you wedding pictures?”
 
“About a dozen. We have a wall at the office where we put up stuff like that.”
 
The big guy’s pictures look legit, but they alone are not enough to validate his whole story. And that raises the question, is he lying or exaggerating?(9) And what about the rest of the guys in the hallway? A lot of them have told me stories about all the wonderful things that ostensibly happened the previous night.
 
Are they lying or exaggerating?
 
I have to find out, so that night I follow the guys to see for myself …(10)
 

 
When clubgoers head to XS on Saturday night and see that the line stretches all the way back to the Danny Gans Theatre, they walk over to Tryst. That, I presume, is why the line at Tryst is so incredibly long Saturday night. Luckily, I’ve brought my girl S. and my female roommate with me, so we don’t have to wait very long to get in.
 
We descend the stairs, order cocktails and position ourselves near the Pickup Artists’ table. After 15 minutes, one of the guys approaches my roommate:
“My sister made me up to look Asian tonight,” he tells her. “Do you think it worked?”
 
“Sure …” my roommate replies, tentatively.
 
The guy is Asian, by the way.
 
“So what is it?” he continues. “The shirt, the pants, the face?”
 
“It’s...”
 
“She’s a racist!” the guy calls back to his friend. “She’s a racist!”
 
Now, I’ve got a creative mind and a rudimentary understanding of psychology, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what that guy is going for. But I don’t view his pickup attempt as a failure. Turns out the guy has never before approached a girl in a nightclub. So the point isn’t that he struck out; the point is that for the first time he swung.
 
As the hours go by, more and more students approach my roommate, my girl S. and every other woman in sight. Whatever the pickup coaches were telling the students seems to be working; they seem to be finding more and more success. One of the guys, a French-Canadian, brings a girl over to the Pickup Artist table, and when she gets there, she sits down on his lap. A couple of minutes later, they’re making out. Another student chats up my roommate and takes her to the dance floor. I see him snapping a couple of photos that he can take back to Nebraska or Ohio or wherever he’s from, show to his friends, and brag about how hot all the girls in Las Vegas are.
 
I’d say the students got their money’s worth.
 

 
At 2:30 a.m. we leave the club. S. and I walk back to the parking garage. When I start the car, the fuel tank warning light comes on. I’m nearly out of gas. Luckily, I have a spare fuel canister.
 
I pop the trunk, take out the canister … and realize that I have no clue how to operate it. Seems like it’d be a straightforward procedure, but the nozzle is too short, and the gas isn’t flowing out of it properly … and I spill some on my pants.
 
That’s when two men walk by. They’re coming from the casino, heading back to their car.
 
“What the fuck are you trying to do?” one of the guys says.
 
“Trying to get gas into the car. Do you know how?” I ask.
 
“Yeah, it’s called a gas station.”
 
They both laugh. Assholes. Even though they’re 50, they remind me of every guy who ever made fun of me in middle school—the ones who dated the girls who didn’t know my name.
 
“Seriously,” I say, “if you guys know how to work this thing, could you please help me out?”
 
“Figure it out yourself, fag.”
 
Now, I’d like to think these guys are jealous. After all, it’s 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday night, and I’m going home with a beautiful woman … and they’re not. The men are probably feeling bitter about it, and probably looking to make themselves feel better by bringing me down. But even that realization, along with the absurdity of the guy’s particular insult (I’m the one with the girl), doesn’t change the fact that when the slur leaves the guy’s mouth and arrives in my ears, I feel like I’m back in middle school.
 
So why does the comment so deeply affect me? Why can’t I just shrug it off? Why can’t I just say, “I’ve got a girl, you guys don’t, so piss off,” and leave things at that? Same reason the Pickup student wanted some photos of himself with my roommate. Same reason Pickup Artists remain active in the Pickup community even after they’ve mastered the skill: It’s not about getting laid; it’s about social acceptance.(11)
 

 
So, ladies, the next time a guy asks you whether it’s okay to break up with somebody over Facebook, consider answering the question. Consider playing along. He’s not a loser; he’s just a little insecure. He might be after social acceptance, but who isn’t? Give the guy a chance. I’m sure Savoy will clear off some space on the Love Systems bulletin board for your wedding pictures.
 
(1) Specifically, it’s an opinion opener. Common opinion openers include, “Who lies more, men or women?” “Do you think spells work?” “Do you think David Bowie is hot?” “Did you see the two girls fighting outside?” “If you’re dating a guy but kiss somebody else, is that cheating?” and “Do you floss before or after you brush?”
 
(2) $3,850 buys students a “Gold Level” pass, which includes “Infield Training” sessions in “Vegas VIP Clubs.” For $950, though, students can purchase a “Silver Level” pass, which gets them into the daytime lecture rooms only.
 
(3) Every Pickup Artist has a “handle,” a seduction nickname that reveals something about his character. Savoy’s real name is Nick Benedict.
 
(4) The general PUA wisdom goes like this: Good looks a foot in the door, nothing more.
 
(5) LJBF stands for Let’s Just Be Friends, and can be used as a verb. Now, the fact that I 1) know this acronym and 2) am able to use it correctly in casual conversation probably has you wondering whether I identify as a Pickup Artist. I do not.* Before writing this story, I’d never attended a Pickup Artist convention, and had never been active in a Pickup Artist lair. But, that said, I am friends with several guys who identify as Pickup Artists, I’ve read several books by Pickup Artists (including, though not limited to, The Game: Penetrating The Secret Society of Pickup Artists, by Neil Strauss; The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women into Bed, by Mystery; and The Layguide: How to Seduce Women More Beautiful Than You Ever Dreamed Possible, by Tony Clink), and I’ve put what I’ve learned to good use.
 
(6) All the instructors were very good about calling the conference a “Super-Conference.”
 
(7) A set is a group of people that contains at least one target. And yes, a target is a girl a Pickup Artist is trying to pick up. If you don’t like the terms—and a lot of Pickup Artists don’t—take it up with Mystery. They’re his, and they caught on.
 
*I’m pretty sure I give off Pickup Artist vibes, though, because when Love Systems sent its press release to everybody at the Las Vegas Weekly office, a couple of editors forwarded the e-mails to me two seconds later.
 
(8) First example to come to mind: Two days ago I was playing poker at the Mirage, and the guy to my left, upon seeing an attractive woman at a neighboring table, said this to me: “Just how I like ’em: blond and drunk.”
 
(9) For what it’s worth, I believe he wasn’t. I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but I imagine that when an AA member stands up and says she’s been sober for a week, nobody questions it, because by virtue of her attendance, she’s already admitted to hitting rock bottom—and what’s the point of lying after that? Same thing at a Pickup Artist convention, I believe.
 
(10) I wasn’t invited, but I wasn’t told not to come. In case it’s still unclear, I didn’t pay to attend the Love Systems Super-Conference; I’d received a complementary media pass.
 
(11) Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss drives this point home in his book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (also known as “by far the most entertaining book I’ve ever read in my life”).
 
“Some guys play the game because they have an isolated work life,” Strauss told me over the phone. “Some guys are there because they had issues with their parents growing up, and for some guys it might be social ostracism. So what they think they want might not be what they actually want; they might think they’re after sex, but ultimately they learn that what they’re really after is social acceptance.”
 
“So that’s how people get into the Pickup Artist community,” I said. “But how do they get out? How did you get out?”
 
“I think of the PUA community as something I went through, like college. It was a place I visited for a higher education on social skills … and then I moved on. Now, I’m working on other parts of my life. I do a seminar about once a year, but that’s about it. It can be a trap; you’ve got to move on from it. It’s not a place to stay forever.”