Keeping Score

Well, some people try to pick up girls / And get called asshole / This never happened to Pablo Picasso Jonathan Richman, Pablo Picasso

Were upstairs at the Red Door when Bashev sees his target: four girls in a flurry of tight pants and spaghetti straps. Theyre hot babes. HBs.

It's a warm Friday night, and the Midtown rooftop is packed with well-dressed, attractive twentysomethings. Beautiful people in the know go to the Red Door, and the owners ward off everyone else by not even having a sign.

Before I know it, Bashev's in the girls' midst, and I think, What is he doing? A solo sortie like that takes guts. But Bashev's been studying fast-seduction for three years. He told me earlier he doesn't usually try to pick up girls ("to sarge") with wingmen, but I offer my services anyway. If we run into a pairing that includes an ugly girl (UG), I may have to -- in fast-seduction lingo -- jump on the grenade.

Bashev decided earlier to use one of his favorite stories. If a girl asks what the 24-year-old does, he's not going to say he's an engineering grad student at Rice. He's studied hypertechnical concepts at Amherst and the University of Massachusetts, but big freakin' deal: Women don't like the "ultra-rational" mind, he says. They like the unpredictable.

He spends most of his time in class, bogged down in technical studies. He once worked on a project titled "Automated Synthesis of Numerical Programs for Control, Simulation and Animation of Virtual Robots." Women don't want that dude, he says. They want mystery, romance, fun.

Bashev once took a girl he liked to his computer lab at school, where he deconstructs algorithms and multivariable calculus. He wooed her for a semester with linear algebra and software design methodology. Unbelievably, she split.

So that's why he'll get women to ask what he does, whereupon he'll point to his shoes and casually say, "I'm a foot model." Tonight, I'm to be his colleague, a model of the posterior. He doesn't expect them to really believe it; it's just supposed to distinguish us from the endless succession of cheeseballs who drop the same tired lines.

Bashev is tall and lean, with short light brown hair and a friendly Bulgarian accent. So he should have an edge, but by the time I work up the nerve to actually say something like "Yes, you heard correctly; I'm an ass model," a girl with long black hair has already shot him down. He didn't even get to his foot-model spiel. So he just opens with one of her friends. He asks if she thinks American reality shows are really real.

The first girl looks at me, rolls her eyes and says she doesn't care in the first place. I just stand there and do a really good impression of a dude who has nothing to say.

Bashev's not a bad-looking guy, but he's not getting anywhere. In the parlance of fast-seduction, these girls have just demonstrated the bitch shield. It's kind of like an electrified razor-wire force field they activate to fend off idiots at places like this. It doesn't mean the girl's a bitch. It means she's acting like one to protect herself from the silk-shirted vultures who want to talk about their Beemers and Bulovas.

A genuine pickup artist (PUA) can penetrate the bitch shield through sheer wit and charm. But Bashev's not an official PUA, and pretty soon we're treated like we're invisible. The girls eventually form their own continent and drift away to a table. Bashev smiles, shrugs it off. He's just getting warmed up. There's plenty more sarging to take care of. I head to the bar while the lazy lion of the Serengeti surveys the scene.

When I return from the bar with reinforcements, I see that Bashev's fellow fast-seducer has arrived. He says to call him Mr. X. They met at the Austin PUA Summit, held last Valentine's weekend, when some of the top players in the biz gave seminars on how to close the deal, as well as open one in the first place.

By the end of the evening, the Bombay-born Mr. X will explain why most women are here tonight: "They're hoping that Prince Charming is going to sweep her off her feet, take her home and give her a nice rogering."

When it comes to going after women, guys have been hoodwinked for the last 20 or 30 years, Mr. X says. Flowers and boring old dinners don't work. Women need mystery, excitement, romance. That comes naturally to some guys. But what about everyone else? What about the average frustrated chump (AFC)?

Fortunately, there's an entire online industry built around turning castoffs into Casanovas. The brand names differ, but the fast-seduction concept is the same: You don't have to be rich or extremely handsome to get the most beautiful girl in the bar. Whether you're looking for a girlfriend, a wife or a one-nighter, there are techniques that, if properly applied, can make you the kind of guy you say you hate but secretly want to be.

It's an incredibly scientific process, but one renowned pickup artist has boiled it down to its essence: Cocky + Funny = Laid. It's the theory of relativity with nice pants and a martini. And in bars and clubs throughout the world, AFCs and PUAs are putting this theory to the test.

The life of an adult woman is one of dichotomies. In her everyday life, she wants to feel like a lady -- respected and admired. But in the bedroom, she wants to feel sexual. She wants to be fucked like a slut. -- David Shade, What Women Really Look For in a Man

No doubt there was a caveman at some point in prehistory who taught his fellow Cro-Mags how to get the least hairy, least snaggle-toothed cavewoman in the clan, even if they couldn't slay a woolly mammoth or build a fire.

But the modern age of fast-seduction began around 1990, when a SoCal dweeb named Paul Ross Jeffrey self-published How to Get the Women You Desire into Bed. Jeffrey, better known as Ross Jeffries, developed a system known as Speed-Seduction. It's based on neuro-linguistic programming, the pseudo-scientific practice of eliciting desired behavior from others. This is achieved subconsciously through subtle body language and "implanted" words.

Behold the Discovery Channel Pattern. If delivered with the right tone and body language, this formula can get your target thinking about mind-blowing sex. First, tell her you recently saw a show on the Discovery Channel about the people who design roller coasters. Tell her you learned about the three components to a successful attraction to the ride: an initial overwhelming arousal; an urge to get back on once you "get off"; and a feeling of danger even though you know you're in the hands of something safe. From there, you launch into the experience of riding a roller coaster: heart-pounding excitement, a buildup and release of tension, etc. Voilà. She's yours for the taking.

Jeffries used the Web as early as 1993 to spread the gospel of Speed-Seduction throughout the world. He made tapes, gave seminars, got lots of press. To AFCs, the whole idea of Speed-Seduction was the Holy Grail. Finally, there was a chance for shy, fat or bald guys to shine. User groups popped up online, as did countless Jeffries imitators, each boasting exponentially better techniques.

Jeffries's Web site promises you'll seduce at least three women in 90 days or "you pay nothing." His home-study courses range from $225 to $370.

But for $18.95 at AdvancedMacking.com, a guy named Anthony Berger says he'll get you three girls per week by showing you how to "talk to chicks and get them wet DURING the conversation." One can only hope Berger's better at macking than spelling. Choice quote: "Seduce & Mind-Fuck Women: That's were we shine!"

And in What Women Really Look For in a Man, David Shade includes chapters titled "Getting Her to Pose for Pics," "Slip in the Back Door" and "The Nipple Orgasm."

The field got crowded enough that, in 1999, Jeffries sued fellow poonhound R. Don Steele, author of How to Date Young Women (For Men Over 35). Steele had attacked Jeffries online, calling him a fraud and a kike, and Jeffries sued for libel. (Somewhat cryptically, Steele told the New Times Los Angeles, "I'm not anti-Semitic. I just hate kikes.")

The lawsuit achieved nothing; both men are still in business, but Jeffries is more popular. That may have to do with the fact that, as preposterous as it may sound, he bends over backward to explain that he is not a misogynist, that these techniques are designed to bring pleasure to both men and women.

On the other hand, Steele names the women he's slept with, including an 18-year-old when he was 48.

Cradle-robbing anti-Semites aside, the fast-seduction community isn't the lechfest it might sound like. There are those out there who want to share confidence-building techniques with the archetypal "nice guy," as on fastseduction.com.

Created about five years ago by Boston-based PUA Formhandle, the site is the most comprehensive compendium of techniques from big-time players as well as average guys who've stumbled into lucky streaks. There is a general forum, as well as discussion groups for different cities. The site also offers a wingman-pairing service for a seducer whose regular buddy is unavailable.

The 32-year-old Formhandle says his site is not a den of deception, but a way for guys all over the world to improve their attitude, social skills and confidence. It's a way for them to get over their insecurities and become the kind of guy a woman would like to get to know.

"Basically, it's no more deceptive than women putting on makeup to improve their…level of attraction to men," Formhandle says from Boston. "It's no more deceptive than push-up bras or heels or going to the gym to work out…This isn't just a game of words and seduction, it's an overall life improvement."

That's not to say the board doesn't have its share of coarse language. This is, after all, a community of guys, many of whom are sexually frustrated and have more on their mind than elegant prose. So you'll find guys like Nashvilleplayboy, whose mantra is "Pussy is pussy. It just happens to be wrapped in different wrappers. Don't get caught up in the wrapper."

Sayings like that will protect Formhandle from his fear that his site will mutate into an "Oprah board." As crass as they can be, guys give better advice in this area than women, he says.

A woman "truly doesn't know what causes her to be attracted to a man," he says. "She's not going to sit down logically at any point and make her list of things that you know make her attracted to a man. There are the obvious things -- the wish list that women have, like tall, dark, handsome, rich…funny. Those are just so common that they're meaningless. And they don't actually -- they aren't the real thing that causes her to be attracted or aroused. They may be the thing that maybe causes her to have some interest in the man in the first place…ultimately, she doesn't know for sure."

But what about "just be yourself"?

"When somebody says be yourself…what they mean is be better than yourself," he says. "Be somebody who's obviously better than what you are now."

Formhandle elaborates: "She has to look across at the guy…and decide, you know, 'Whatever I see, if it interests me, is it really this person for real, or is he faking it?' And that's ultimately this whole 'be yourself' thing. Well, women will say that because they want the guy to be himself so they can better judge who they're dealing with. But as far as people who need something to improve themselves, that advice doesn't work. And you have to kind of tell them, 'Pick another person and be that.' "

Tim Perper, an independent researcher and author of Sex Signals: The Biology of Love, has studied courtship for 25 years. A biologist by training, he doesn't have faith in the scientific validity of neuro-linguistic programming, but he understands why so many guys would be drawn to a set of techniques that promise to build confidence and luck with women.

Men have a tendency to be cautious with women, he says. "And women sometimes comment on that -- 'Here we are, dressed up to the nines, and nobody talks to us.' Too many men have simply gotten shot down, or watched other guys get shot down, really, to want to risk walking across the bar. One guy described that to me as saying, 'It's like climbing Mt. Everest, but slower.' "

The fear of rejection is coupled with the nearly innate belief that all women are experts in the rules of attraction.

"We men tend to think that women know all the lines and all the rules, but she may be just as shy as we are," Perper says from his home office in Philadelphia. "She may be looking for the guy to say something inviting to her."

The best bet is avoiding lines altogether.

"They're very, very treacherous," he says. "They might work because the girl was charmed by them…or they're being used truly spontaneously, or they're just plain funny. But used manipulatively, as a ploy, they're probably going to bomb."

Neil Strauss, a writer for The New York Times and Rolling Stone, spent two years within the community, which he details in his upcoming book, The Game: Undercover in the Secret Society of Pick-up Artists. Strauss says an editor pitched the idea, and he went into it simply wanting to understand the guys who "seemed like gods on earth, living every man's fantasy." No one was more surprised than Strauss when he became one of the community's foremost experts and wound up leading fast-seduction workshops.

"I really have love for the guys who are trying to learn," says Strauss, who's also ghostwritten books for Jenna Jameson, Tommy Lee and Marilyn Manson.

Generally, Strauss says, guys don't give one another sexual advice. Conversations on the matter usually begin with "Did you get some?" and end with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

"To admit that you're not getting any is to admit you're not a man," he says. "And here are guys" in the community "who had the confidence to say, 'I'm completely unconfident.' "

Talk of one-night stands is rare, and misogyny is rarer, Strauss says. More typical are the quiet guys afraid of rejection. For them, he says, fast-seduction is a set of training wheels that can put them at ease around women.

Strauss learned under perhaps the most legendary PUA in the biz, a tall Canadian magician named Erik von Markovik, a.k.a. Mystery.

According to Mystery's self-propagated backstory, he discovered his skills accidentally, picking up a girl at a Toronto juice bar after performing a magic trick. He soon developed a set of principles and techniques, and before long AFCs were flocking to Toronto to study under him. Today, his two-day seminars command around $650.

Mystery is perhaps the most written-about PUA and holds the improbable status of being profiled in both the Utne reader and Elle, in which he tried to woo writer Lauren Sandler into his hot tub.

The Mystery Method Web site encourages integrity: "We specifically advocate NOT lying to or deceiving women -- not only is it unnecessary (we teach you how to get what you want, even threesomes or multiple women, by being a man about it and establishing a strong frame rather than lying and deceiving) but it is also beneath us."

Mystery writes that this honest approach works at all levels, from one-nighters to finding a spouse. But in his years in the community, Strauss says, he didn't hear much talk about the former.

"Some of these guys just want girlfriends," he says. "Some might want to sleep with a woman, but it doesn't have to be that night. Everyone's in it for different reasons, but a lot of guys, you know, just want a woman because they haven't kissed a woman in a couple years."

In his AFC days, he'd shower a woman with gifts and flowers and try to make her feel like a princess. "And that's what a woman wants when she's dating a guy. But before she's dating a guy…she doesn't want that. She wants to feel a challenge…If you have to work for it, it's a little bit of a challenge, you appreciate it more. It's true about anything in life. If it comes too easy, it must not have value."

So is Mr. X right? Have guys been conditioned with bad information for years on end?

"So the whole thing about putting her on a pedestal -- that's not going to get you anywhere?" I ask Strauss.

He's quick to respond with a question that's really an answer.

"What's happened within your experience when you've done that?"

It is a proven fact that women have certain hard-wired attraction switches, and also automatic avoidance mechanisms, for certain types of behavior. Wouldn't it be useful to know how that works? -- Mystery, www.mysterymethod.com

Sarging at Baker Street is impossible tonight; it's too packed to hear yourself think.

So Bashev and I walk across the street to Brian O'Neill's. Rice Village is a target-rich environment; a string of bars and plenty of single young women.

As we enter, Bashev stops to talk with a woman he knows.

"Social proof -- I know the manager," he says. Social proof means you're the man. If HBs see you in the company of other women, or if you're keeping a crowd entertained, you must have value, and she's hooked.

This demonstration of social proof is good for Bashev, who's a bit subtler -- he doesn't peacock, like Mystery, who wears black nail polish and platform boots.

At the bar, we sip on some nourishing gin and tonics and look for HBs. Bashev spots a seven and an eight sitting at a table. It helps to calculate a woman's beauty on the standard one-to-ten scale, because that influences the approach. (Some seducers use a bifurcated scale; e.g., seven-nine means a seven face and a nine body.)

When approaching anything above a seven, it's wise to use a "neg," or a slight insult, like "Nice nails -- are they real?" The thinking here is that extremely attractive women are used to simpering fools showering them with corny compliments, and that just ain't cool. If you neg -- and follow it up by turning your back to her -- you're making her notice you. But you've got to know how to use a neg. The Fast Seduction site recommends no more than two negs for a seven and a maximum of three for a ten.

Unfortunately, the eight's boyfriend returns from the bathroom and puts the kibosh on that table. Some seducers can and even enjoy sarging women with boyfriends, but there are enough women here that such a complication is unnecessary.

We move out to the patio as the band launches into "Wish You Were Here," a morose song if there ever was one, and not one especially suited for sarging. Hell, "Taps" would be more uplifting.

Outside, Bashev busts into his foot-model spiel with two women who are less than thrilled. He doesn't offer to buy them a drink, nor will he do that with anyone else. A firm fast-seduction rule prohibits such activity; it merely signals your submission. An HB will have guys offer her drinks all night, but the one who negs her, won't buy her a drink or refuses her request for one surely will distinguish himself.

The girls excuse themselves to a table. A minute later I follow, hoping they don't pack pepper spray. I tell them Bashev's not really a foot model, and I'm not a foot model's friend. I tell them I'm observing fast-seducers, like Jane Goodall and the chimps, and ask for their input.

Sarah, with black curls and a black shirt, describes the two of them as "science nerds" in their upper twenties. "Dude -- I'm getting a Ph.D. in biochemistry; the whole foot-model thing doesn't do it for me," says Sarah. She says she's read a bit about fast-seduction and finds it laughable.

"Typically, my response to that is: 'Dude, you're an asshole,' " she says, adding later, "my asshole meter is pretty finely tuned."

Julie, a zoologist, says she found Bashev's opener cute for about a minute, but then she lost interest. She says fast-seduction might work "if you do it to the right kind of girl."

Sarah says that if Bashev or anyone else was hoping to get her into bed that night, they'd be wasting their time.

"If I actually like a guy, I'm not going to drag a guy home from a bar," she says. "I'm going to call him for dinner next week."

By the time I report back to Bashev, he's already found two other women, and is expressing a clear interest in the brunette. In an effort to give them space, I sacrilegiously offer to buy her blond friend a drink inside the bar. We take our drinks over to a long couch and break into small talk. I don't even attempt fast-seduction, because I've realized by now that I would feel like a complete tool. There's no way I could tell this girl, with a straight face, about an interesting show I saw on the Discovery Channel last night. I don't even have cable.

But here we are, and we aren't going anywhere, because Bashev has locked onto her friend for the remainder of the evening. Before long, they're on the couch across the coffee table from us, and she's in his lap. He and I make eye contact, and he gives me this look as if to say, See what I mean?

According to the story Bashev tells me later, he began by "busting her balls," which was okay, since she was easily an eight. He saw the pack of Marlboros in her back jeans pocket, which to Europeans is a cowboy cliché. So he told her she looked like a cowboy.

Don't say that -- I don't like that image, she said.

Bashev responded by ignoring her. I'm just looking at your ass, he said. He said this because her ass is firm, and she knows it. But it was all part of the setup.

She asked if he liked it because it's firm; that's why all the guys like to look.

I didn't say I liked it. I think you should work on it in the gym.

Disbelief: Are you saying I'm fat?

Well, honey, you're really losing it. You need to hit the gym.

"And when I said that," Bashev explains, "she was really attracted to me."

Now she was hooked. He moved her inside, where, as serendipity would have it, a horse race was on TV. He caught her watching.

I thought you weren't a cowboy.

Oh, I wasn't really looking there.

Again, he ignored her, and tried running a pattern: Imagine what it would be like to be in the stands, and to not care about the competition, and get close to each other and make out…

Suspicion: Are you saying you want us to make out?

Whoops. Went too far. Time for damage control. He directed her attention to a couple at a table a few yards away.

No, I was talking about them -- see how they look into each other's eyes? A gentle nudge to her side. What, did you think I wanted to kiss you? I don't kiss strangers right away. Bingo. He reversed the frame, used her own language on herself. Damage controlled.

They moved to the couch, where he busted out an effective gimmick: palm-reading. It works for those who've really paid attention to what the girl's been saying all evening. Earlier, she told him that she changes friends a lot. So he traced along a line and said, You seem unattached to people.

Wow…remember, I told you that I was not attached to my friends?

Oh, my God. Well, I'm getting really good at this.

While he read her palms, her fingers were gently grasping the backs of his wrists. He told her he liked how it felt. So he asked where she liked to be touched.

My knees.

"I started touching her knees," he explains later. "I think that was the turning point, right there."

He left with her number and a date for Wednesday night.

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