Cock and Awe 

St. Louis pickup artists rule the roost.

Trix stopped counting his conquests after he bedded more than 300 women. He met them in bars and in shopping malls. He met them on Central West End streets and in the Delmar Loop. Once, in fact, he slept with a woman on her wedding day, sometime between the reception and the honeymoon. On another occasion, during an out-of-town business trip, he spotted a dancer at a strip club. "I said, 'I'm taking her home,'" Trix fondly remembers. "Four hours later, me and this other guy, and two strippers, were at Denny's getting breakfast before going back to the hotel."

Trix, the invented name of this self-described pickup artist, is hardly what you'd consider a Casanova. He's a skinny, 28-year-old guy who stands five-nine and wears his sideburns long. Button-down shirts and jeans are his usual attire, along with "sixth-grade shoes," Vans he's scribbled over with ballpoint pen. His voice is scratchy, and he talks quickly. He works as a computer consultant. When he first met his current girlfriend, she dismissed him as a dork.

Picking up a woman, says Trix, is not a matter of luck, but a skill he's spent years polishing. "I'm a perfectionist," he boasts.

Other guys might obsess over video games or fantasy baseball. Not Trix. He's busy padding stats. Ladies of St. Louis: consider yourselves warned. Unless, of course, you are looking to hop in the sack with a perfect stranger, and Trix fervently believes you are, even if you're married or otherwise attached.

"Girls like sex as much as guys," he says. "They just like to pretend they don't. When I'd meet a married woman, I would say, 'Hi, I'm Mr. Discreet.'"


Trix decided to become a pickup artist five years ago. "My girlfriend of two years cheated on me," he explains. "It broke my heart. I became very depressed." Operating on the age-old principle that the best way to get over one woman is to "bang ten others," he turned for guidance to the source of all knowledge: the Internet.

These days, anybody can read up on pickup techniques in books like Rules of the Game or watch them on YouTube or the VH1 show The Pick-up Artist. When Trix began his mating games, the pickup community was still safely sequestered on a few Web sites, most notably Fast Seduction 101, an extensive clearinghouse of pickup lore.

To be a pickup artist is to speak in acronyms and code. Fortunately, Fast Seduction links to a fifteen-page glossary of terms. An AFC, one learns, is an average frustrated chump. A PUA is a pickup artist. SHB is a super hot babe, as opposed to FUG, a fucking ugly girl.

The Fast Seduction forums are full of field and lay reports and big-brotherly advice on how to get over "approach anxiety" and "close" with a woman — meaning anything from getting her phone number to getting into her pants. PUAs seldom work alone. It is considered essential to have a good wingman for support when you go out "sarging," or looking for pickups. (The term originated not with the military, but with Sargy, pickup guru Ross Jeffries' pet cat.)

It was the guys in the forums who got Trix to stop tallying his sexual prey. "They said I was seeking validation," he says.

The life of a PUA, though, isn't all about sex, partying and peacocking (another pickup expression that means wearing silly hats and feather boas to attract attention in bars and clubs). The community has its — dare we say — intellectual side. Pickup literature is full of theories gleaned from social anthropology about how to become the alpha male, to be pursued by women — not the pursuer.

"It's based on survival of the fittest," says Cougar Hunter (his made-up name), a Washington University student. "Life is about surviving and replicating your genes."

Fellow Wash. U. student, Ikon, a 23-year-old math major, takes a break from a game of darts with Cougar Hunter (his made-up name) to talk about his transformation into a pickup artist. "A year ago," Ikon confides, "I was a nerdy math guy. I had poor social skills. I thought, 'If I get really good at math, I will attract women.'"

Cougar Hunter snorts in disbelief. "You actually believed that?"

"It wasn't conscious," Ikon protests. "But I asked myself, 'Why am I so competitive?' I realized it was to get women." And so he decided to try a more direct strategy. He discarded his glasses and spruced up his wardrobe. "When I started sarging," he says, "people would guess I studied engineering. Now they don't even suspect I'm a Wash. U. student."

But dressing well can only get you so far. It is a truth generally accepted among pickup artists that, given a choice, women will pick the confident man over the one who is merely good-looking. A well-trained PUA would never break dance in a club to attract a woman, as one contestant did on The Pick-up Artist.

"It tells people that you're trying to impress them," Ikon explains. "It tells the girl she's the prize. That lowers your value. You want to be the prize. Girls are turned off by guys who are trying too hard to impress them."

That is why a pickup artist will never buy a woman a drink. Ever.


Attention ladies: Here's how to tell you're in the presence of a novice pickup artist:

He will approach you and your friends, suddenly, as if shoved in your direction. (And perhaps he was, by his wingman.)

He will say, "I can only stay a minute, but can I get your opinion on something?"

His pockets will bulge with breath mints and condoms in case he closes.

He will ask if you floss before you brush, or if you think his friend should go on Jerry Springer to meet a secret admirer.

He will address his opening remarks to your friend so you will feel compelled to compete for his attention.

He will pretend he has something important to tell you, in order to get you alone.

He will try to read your mind or, if you are especially lucky, your tarot cards. (The pickup community refers to this sort of pseudo-spirituality as "chick crack.")

He will have memorized all his lines in advance from a cheat sheet he carries in his back pocket.

This is the textbook pickup, and it is regarded with scorn by any PUA with more than one night's experience in the field. "I hate the pickup community," Cougar Hunter grumbles. "It's insane crap. It puts the rest of us in a bad light. For a normal guy, it's just self-improvement relating to how to act with girls."

"The mainstream caters to the nerdy type who has to have everything broken down in a nerd-like fashion," says the Real Assanova, a blogger in Columbus, Ohio, who sarges across the Midwest. "When you're yourself, you have a better chance. Women admire confidence. Just say what's on your mind. Why even bother with 'Let me get your opinion on this'?"

The experienced pickup artist has created his own variation on the basic routine that better suits his personality and that savvier targets may not have already seen on VH1. He aims to distinguish himself. He won't ask you inane questions, like where you're from or if you come here often. He's above all that. He also knows it doesn't pay to be too free with compliments.

"From the time a girl is sixteen or seventeen and starts going to parties, she's always hit on and pursued," Cougar Hunter explains. "She starts noticing that guys do the same things. They say, 'You're so cute' and buy her a drink."

"By the time she's 23," Ikon adds, "that's seven years, and even if she only goes out twice a week, she'll have heard it 3,050 times."

Instead of commenting on your pretty eyes, a pickup artist will make a shrewd observation about your personality. "If you convey positive things, people tend to agree," says Monty, a 31-year-old manager at an engineering company in Fairview Heights. "I say very general things. When someone is cold, I'll say, 'I'll bet people think you're cold, but it just takes time for you to warm up.' That's true about every single person in the world.

"The 'game' is about having canned openers," Monty continues. "I don't believe in being untruthful. I don't read something out of a book and spit it back to a woman. Women are highly intuitive. If you lie, you're going to get caught."

Some of Monty's openers stem from genuine questions. "I was hanging out with this girl," he remembers. "We had a good conversation and she offered me her phone number. Then she said, 'I kind of have a boyfriend.' What does that even mean?"

Other PUAs prefer more flamboyant tactics. "I saw this girl sitting at a bar," Trix remembers. "I stuck my arm on her shoulder and then, when she turned around, I said, 'Oh, you're not who I thought you were.' She liked my confidence and gave me a ride home."

Assanova, meanwhile, once picked up a girl by saying "fuck you" over and over.

Not all of Trix's openers have been successful. "I went into Victoria's Secret once and held up a thong and asked, 'How would this look on me?' I failed horribly. My stepmom had a good laugh. She rolled her eyes and walked away."

Then there's the close. "You don't actively ask for a phone number," says Monty. "It makes you look needy. When a girl comes up to me and says, 'I want to give you my number,' I really, really enjoy that."

It takes patience to succeed at the pickup game. "For every hundred women I hit on," Trix says, "I'll get 50 phone numbers. Maybe half of those will be right, and from those, I'll get three dates. And maybe one of them will sleep with me. If you want to get laid, act like you don't care. Don't be outcome-dependent. Women can sense neediness."


Men have been devising pickup strategies since the days of the Neanderthal. One of Trix's favorite books, The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene, catalogs some of the greatest pickup stories in history, starting with Socrates, who dazzled young boys in the symposia of Athens. But only in the past 40 years have pickup artists begun to realize that they could earn vast sums of money by passing along their secrets.

In 1965 a shy and horny young New Yorker named Eric Weber deeply admired a friend of his who was very comfortable with women and had no trouble getting dates. The two worked together in an ad agency, writing direct-mail letters to promote how-to books.

"My friend said, 'Why don't we write a book?'" Weber recollects. "I thought the idea was preposterous — and hilarious. I looked down on those books. But then I noticed that people really respected them, and there was a real interest in the subject."

So posing as a writer for Cosmopolitan and armed with a $13 tape recorder, Weber sought out women in Central Park and asked them if they would be amenable to a pickup.

"They liked the idea," he says. "If a guy came up at a museum, stared at you and wanted to meet you, it's terribly flattering. It takes courage, and it's a sign of great confidence. The women liked confident men. They told me what men should wear, what they should say, what they should look like, and I compiled it."

How to Pick Up Girls went on to sell 1 million copies and spawn a minor cottage industry: an album on which Weber describes various techniques ("The Women's Clothing Store Pick-up", "Love in the Library"), a made-for-TV movie and a number of sequels, including a guide for divorced women. Weber even taught a couple of classes at the Learning Annex in New York, but as he had already picked up a wife in a singles bar, he grew bored with the scene and went on to write novels and screenplays.

It would fall to others to see the true financial potential in pickup artistry. Ross Jeffries was the first of the pickup entrepreneurs. In the late 1980s, he set up his Speed Seduction school: books, workshops and, eventually, a Web site touting his pet strategy, neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP. NLP involves the repetition of suggestive phrases to create a hypnotic effect.

Ikon has been experimenting with NLP. "I'll say, 'I've been fucking around with an idea. You need to stop and close off your mind.' Get it? Clothes off?" He admits it is a difficult technique to master.

Jeffries was supplanted by gurus with simpler strategies, like Juggler, Swinggcat, David DeAngelo, and, most famously, Mystery. Formerly a struggling magician, now a star on VH1, Mystery pioneered the "Can I ask your opinion?" opener and the pickup boot camp, where, for a mere $3,000, he would take his students out into the field for practical demonstrations. He also inspired a slew of imitators to wear silly hats, ski goggles and feather boas.

Neil Strauss, a writer for Rolling Stone, first attended one of Mystery's seminars as research for an article and, after successfully picking up a Playboy Playmate of the Year at an LA Office Depot, became intoxicated by the game. Within a few months, he became Mystery's wingman and then a master in his own right. He cemented his fame in 2005 with the publication of The Game. Bound like a Bible, with a limp leather cover and gilt-edged pages, it became a best-seller.

After The Game, it became much harder for PUAs to use the same canned lines without getting caught. But it also introduced the philosophy of pickup to a wider audience who previously had no idea how to meet women — men like Monty, who, after his divorce, found himself single for the first time since high school. "I was absolutely fascinated," he says. "And I saw the business potential."

Two months ago, Monty attended a three-day boot camp in Chicago. (He signed a confidentiality agreement that forbids him to name its leader.) He already knew how to pick up women. What he wanted to learn was how to run a $3,000-a-head pickup seminar of his own.

He, six other students and two instructors spent five hours a day together in a hotel conference room exploring the intricacies of the club pickup. "It was very well put-together," he says. "There was a syllabus. And handouts." At night, there were practical lessons in clubs. These were less rewarding.

"It was a messed-up environment," Monty says. "There were so many guys doing the same material and doing it badly, it wasn't fun. You'd start a conversation, and the girl would ask, 'Are you friends with that guy?' At the end of the first night, I was tired of talking to people. The one thing I really liked, though, was that it took away approach anxiety. The coaches forced you to go out and have interaction. Sometimes they would physically push you."


Neil Strauss' British publisher has created an online game that simulates the experience of being coached through a pickup by the master himself. He fist-pumps for each successful maneuver and holds his head in disgust when you say something cheesy. Upon closing, you can add your name to the Hall of Fame. It is highly addictive, much like the real-life version.

"Sometimes I do think of it like a video game," Monty admits. "I have a little power meter in my head. If I have success, the meter goes up. If a girl doesn't like me, it goes down, and I have to build it back up again before I approach someone else."

And, as they might with a video game, some pickup players lose sight of the ultimate goal — soul mate, or at least girlfriend — and instead get caught up in mastering different skill levels (number close, kiss close, fuck close) and beating their old high scores (the number of women they've slept with).

"It's a maturity thing," Monty says. "I'm past that point in my life, but I'm sure I've been that guy. It's ingrained, it's a stage, and you can't fault them for it." Still, he's not a big fan of score-keeping. "It makes the game a more competitive thing, more manipulative than social."

Eric Weber, now 65, has not surveyed the work of any of his successors except Ross Jeffries. "I found it distasteful," he says via cell phone on the way home to Tenafly, New Jersey, after an appointment with his shrink.

"It's cruelly manipulative," Weber adds, "and it turns me off. It's dishonest and creepy. I want someone to like me because she finds me attractive and witty and interesting. I don't think manipulation works very well."

Herein lies the existential dilemma of the pickup artist: At what point does the player become the game? "It can desensitize you," Monty says. "You focus more on the system than on the people." But what if the system makes you a more attractive person?

"Women are attracted to assholes," says Ikon. "The traditional nice guy is nice out of desperation, and that kills the attraction. Women are attracted to men who get their emotions going."

Five months ago, Trix became "exclusive" with Amber, whom he introduced to his family as "my future ex-wife." When they got together, she dumped one guy. He dumped six girls. Amber, who is 24, has long, wavy blonde hair, a broad smile and a resemblance to actress Kate Hudson.

When she and Trix go out together, she says, "People assume he's either rich or well hung." Early on in their relationship, Trix told Amber that he'd slept with more than 300 women.

"I didn't believe that number when he told me," she says. "At the time I was like, is that really possible?"

Trix was always careful to use condoms, take hot baths to reduce his sperm count, and avoid ambiguous situations. "I didn't like same-day lays," he says. "Everybody's drunk. I like to keep my self-respect."

What bothered Amber more was Trix's skill as a pickup artist. Since they live together, she knows where he is at night, but still she does wonder if he's using pickup strategies to manipulate her. "It sucks," she says. "I'm trying to figure it out."

To that end, she has begun to study Trix's seduction books and has become quite fluent in the language of pickup. He's also explained to her, in great detail, how he got her to stop thinking of him as a dork. "I used the 3-1 rule," says Trix. "I'd make one call for every three of hers. The disinterest worked so well, it wasn't even funny. She followed me around like a puppy dog."

Amber refuses to concede that she'd been played. "He'd hang out with me all the time," she says. "He said the usual was once a week."

"I enjoyed hanging out with her," Trix counters, "and on the way home I would call other girls."

"You hung out all the time," she replies.

"She's very alpha," says Trix. "This one challenges me." Which may be the highest praise any pickup artist can bestow on his target.

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