THERE WAS THIS twenty-five year old guy named Michael Brinksworthy.
At work in his cubicle he stewed and stewed and stewed, imagining the task bars of the bit torrent files on his apartment’s PC advancing.
He’d recently discovered—through the chaotic and constant interrogations of his friends—that one could download hitherto cost-prohibitive, self-help DVDs for free through the aid of certain websites. So now it was time. The world would open to him. He would understand and master women.
His employer, a microprocessor manufacturer, was lenient to a fault with its home-officing and flextime policies so he decided after two in the afternoon to “finish his work at home.”
He stooped forward at his apartment’s computer with his reading glasses and a big bowl of buttery popcorn.
Randall Ricardo was the alias of a dark-haired, late-thirties marketing genius and former real estate success who had made DVDs for every male shortcoming and sticking point and sold them to thousands, for hundreds apiece. And they were all there, downloaded on his PC and ready—waiting to be clicked and unlocked. There was Muscular Sexuality, Deep Mystical Game, Hoodwinking Women at Bars and Clubs, Body Language Reversals, Guy into Man Transformations—Man Transformations! He liked the sound of that. He picked a popcorn shell out of his teeth and leaned forward. His blackberry chimed with a text about resizing the PCB layout to make room for another Wheatstone bridge. He down-arrowed the volume. This was what was important. The Universe was accepting him again. His father lived in another city now but here—with the aid of a reasonably-priced power boost through his broadband provider—was a new father, scattered out over the web in flashing, fiberoptic 1’s and 0’s. Michael Brinksworthy’s mind would extend beyond his fleshy brain and branch into the Love and Fatherly Knowledge of the cyberscape. No longer the obsolete blade of grass in the overpopulated field, trampled beneath the hoof of the obsolete horse. He would win!
As he studied the scientific intricacies of Manhood in his DVD files, he drank Coca-Cola to caffeinate himself into the future, past the fun parts, and green bottles of Rolling Rock to drunken himself into the past, before the painful revelations. He had been doing much of his interactions with women all wrong. And his successes had been a blind man in a thunderstorm, stealing from shelter to shelter.
He drank a gulp of Coca-Cola. The refrigerator’s fan clicked and slowed to a stop. “No, no, no, no!” he cried out. The fire alarm chirped and the air conditioner stopped before his screen went black. “Shit!” He rushed outside to his deck and squinted in the early evening sun to the utility workers outside, near the woods, cutting down tree limbs near the power lines. He walked back into the center of his apartment’s living room.
The self-help DVDs had taught him about web forums made specifically for the pick-up artist community. He looked to the blank screen of his computer and then over to the exit door of his apartment, then back to the screen, then to the door.
Before the power had gone out, he had learned of an online lair for the city of Austin. Their members were meeting that night at a bar to break out in teams and canvas the downtown and practice technique.
It was fate. The instructions on the lair suggested dressing outlandishly but with style and finesse. He slipped on a tight, bright orange T-shirt advertising some Irish whiskey he’d never drank.
* * * *
He got off the interstate and drove past Sixth Street with all its tightly packed bars, street vendors and college students before finding a parking lot near the Fourth Street district. Fourth Street had narrow, cinematic alleyways and old-style Chicagoan Italian restaurants, shoebox-shaped bars, open-air bars, rooftop bars—guys in beige, corduroy sport coats with smart nonprescription reading glasses and girls in stilettos with perfect teeth, masters degrees and vanishingly-small black purses.
The bar they had chosen was an unpopular establishment adjoining a Fourth Street bar called All Night. He sat at the bar by himself and ordered a Rolling Rock, waiting for the others to show up. As he drank, he noticed the man sitting to his right. He was an athletic-looking guy in his late thirties with a slightly unbuttoned, dark-patterned floral shirt and cowboy boots.
Michael leaned over to him, “Excuse me, sir,” he said. “Are you here for the—well, the meeting . . . if you know what I mean.”
He looked Michael over, carefully. “Do you mean the meeting?”
Michael chuckled. “Yes, that one. That’s the one I’m talking about.”
“Yes. I’m here for the meeting. Are you?”
“Yes. I’m here for the meeting, too. I found out about it on the internet.”
He smiled a warm smile and stuck out his hand, “My name’s Dutch.”
He doubted that the guy’s real name was Dutch. Everyone on the web forums he’d searched used aliases.
They talked shop. Had they both read The Game by Neil Strauss? Yes, they both had. Had they studied The Mystery Method and the DiCarlo Escalation Ladder? Yes, in detail. Had they done hypnotic inner-game work with The Entrancer’s home study course? Yes.
More lair members started to congregate around them and Michael let himself get pulled out of the conversation as he watched them shaking hands, standing so close and smiling, like AA members after they’d admitted their alcoholism. A collage-aged, Asian man named Action sported a fauxhawk shaved on its sides with pink highlights and a pink on black crucifix vest as he simultaneously texted on his slide-screen phone and conversed. He was like a performing ventriloquist in that he also knew people were watching him. He slapped a guy hard on his back and the guy swayed his gawky frame in his unseasonably thick, green-on-brown flannel shirt like a scarecrow in a breeze. The flannel wasn’t dorky enough to be nerd-chic. He had a way of looking at Michael with a dullness that made him want to escape. Then there was a thin, fair-skinned, early-thirties, ex con with short crimson hair and perfectly aristocratic features.
“We’re going upstairs,” Dutch told Michael. “Everyone’s already upstairs.”
Michael followed the crowd upstairs to a few couches and tables seated with pomade guys in Zoot suits, a guy in a green furry vest and a couple early-forties gentlemen in grey, pinstriped Armani. They were all ordering glasses of water to the consternation of the wait staff and bartenders.
They split up into groups of five and six. At the first bar they went to the crimson haired ex con opened up a three-set of girls and got one of their numbers. At the next bar, Dutch and Action both got a kiss-close but it was from the same girl and she wasn’t cute. At a rooftop bar, at the end of Fourth Street, Michael opened three different sets of girls in fifteen minutes just to prove he knew how. The other guys agreed that he’d done all right even though his kino escalation was pulling to the left a little and his pattern fractionation was double-inverse, honky-tonk, John Madden rickshawing.
At the fourth bar, Michael worked up the courage to open a four-set of grandstanding, sorority blondes with T-shirts that told you why you couldn’t have them. He crashed and burned and immediately afterward, borrowed one of the other guy’s iPhones, sat down on a couch in a dark corner and tried to start downloading Randal Ricardo Youtube clips. But he couldn’t. The sorority blondes had started using some clunky trivia game transponders and it was messing up his 4G signal. He swore to himself, repeatedly, that they had somehow done it on purpose. He spent the next half hour sulking by himself with his chin in his palm.
“Come over here,” Dutch said, pulling Michael out of the dark corner near an impromptu dance party of three girls beneath red and pink track lighting. “Let me ask you something. You ever seen female bodybuilders?”
“Yah. Of course,” Michael screamed over the DJ’s bass line. “Dutch, I need to—”
“You need to listen. How do you feel when you see female bodybuilders?”
“Weird. Especially if they’re all tan and they have those implants and their hips are so masculine.”
“Okay. So if we were to ask a female bodybuilder why you thought that way, she would say it was because you’re insecure in your masculinity. But you’re insecurity about her being stronger than you is only part of it, right? There’s something else too.” Dutch took a breath and leaned back in to scream the rest into Michael’s ear. “What’s that other thing that makes you feel uncomfortable when you see a woman all rippling in masculine muscles?”
“Someone must have hurt her,” Michael said. “Someone must have hurt her to act that way and now she’s trying to fill this void she’ll never fill.”
“That’s right. A lot of them are taking steroids to look like something that isn’t going to be appreciated by a lot of people. To be fair we could say the same thing of anyone doing anything to excess: Male bodybuilders, actors, politicians but, Michael, I’ve been doing this for over ten years.” He pointed across the patrons of the bar. “There are men here who come here with their girlfriends just to get out. They come here to celebrate the joys of their lives—their lives, Michael. We’re the female bodybuilders of the bar.”
“No we’re not,” Michael retorted. “The problem is with women, not us. All the women are trying to be men. They’re all trying to be the leaders. That’s why we have to do all this stuff.”
“Is that so?” Dutch said, sarcastically. “Is it really all that simple? Remember something: guys in pain chase perfection. To be a success you have to pull the thorn out of your side so you can open your eyes all the way, see what it is that you want, and have the peace to enjoy it.”
“What?” Michael asked.
“WHAT?” Dutch parroted. He snickered. “You need fun.”
Michael tried, in vain, to argue the point further for a good ten minutes but Dutch’s answer was just to dance. Eventually, the women began dancing and the music was good. Just as Michael joined the dancing, the blondes by the bar gave back the trivia transponders and started using their iPhones.
“Son of a bitch,” Michael erupted. He stopped dancing.