Ryan Jaunzemis is having a good night.
He’s broke, sporadically employed, and his car has been repossessed. But tonight he’s looking sharp and feeling good. One friend loaned him her car for the night, another bought him a beer, and most importantly, he’s looking forward to an evening of his favorite pastime. “If you’re broke,” he says, “the only thing you can do is pick up chicks.”
We’re on the sidewalk outside Carnival Court, next to Harrah’s. Jaunzemis hands me a video camera and walks up to two beautiful women. In the parlance of the pickup artist, he’s “opening a two-set.” Jaunzemis is wearing a striped gray shirt and a fedora. He’s maybe 20 pounds overweight, but he carries it well as he walks with a slight swagger and plays up his boyish twenty-something charm.
I look into the viewfinder and hold the camera steady as Jaunzemis delivers his opener. I am about 10 feet away, plainly visible, but the women either don’t notice or don’t care. Within seconds their quizzical expressions change to smiles, and Jaunzemis has their full attention. He would like to be using remote microphones, but he can’t afford them, so I can’t hear what he’s saying. I can guess, though, since Jaunzemis also runs seminars where he describes his technique in detail. He is talking animatedly to the girls. “Running routines,” he calls it.
The next step is to start touching, or “going kino.” Jaunzemis starts by getting them to give him high-fives. Then, like a ballroom dancer, he spins each of the women around. This is a favorite move of his, probably because it looks good on video.
A minute later, he’s about to ask for their phone numbers and move on, a “number close.” But then another pickup artist, Christian Valentino, walks up. This is not part of the normal routine. Jaunzemis and Valentino banter, almost ignoring the women, who keep smiling and laughing anyway. Jaunzemis and Valentino are good friends. But Valentino picked up the same two girls earlier in the evening, and he’s concerned Jaunzemis might accidentally reuse his material. Since they haven’t coordinated their pickups, a slip could tip off their targets and end the game. But Jaunzemis is unstoppable tonight. He leaves with the numbers and the video I’ve just shot. Tomorrow he will post it on Facebook and YouTube. The day after, his roommate will skip town and leave him unable to pay his rent. He’ll move out in a hurry, with no place to go.
But at least he’s still got game.
Jaunzemis’s hobby, or pastime, or occupation, or obsession, depending on your point of view, is now called The Game, after the 2005 book of the same name by Neil Strauss. But the idea behind it is hardly new. Early last century, Dale Carnegie discussed the importance of sexual relationships in his personal development courses and in the 1937 book created from those courses, How to Win Friends and Influence People, which has since become one of the best-selling self-help books of all time. How to Win Friends originally included a section called “Making Your Home Life Happier,” in which Carnegie argued that sexual maladjustment was the No. 1 problem for couples, offered advice for how to improve romantic relationships, and provided a list of seven books on sex which he strongly suggested reading. Unfortunately, when How to Win Friends was updated in 1981, editors removed that entire section, so interested men must now look elsewhere for advice on how to address sexual maladjustment.
In the early 1990s, an ex-comedian named Ross Jeffries started offering those men his own seminars and tapes, called Speed Seduction, and pioneered a new era of sexual self-help techniques. One of the longest practicing pickup artists in Las Vegas, John (not his real name), remembers listening to his original Speed Seduction cassettes while commuting to his job as a computer programmer. “Frankly, it was the most exciting thing I’d ever listened to,” he says. “There’d never been anything like this before. It came from a basis in NLP [neuro-linguistic programming] and Ericsonian hypnotherapy, as a means of communicating with the other-than-conscious mind. It was mind-shattering.”
Critics accused Jeffries of promoting misogyny. It didn’t help that Tom Cruise had delivered a memorable portrayal of an unforgettably obnoxious pickup-artist seminar leader in the movie Magnolia. (Jeffries swears Cruise’s character was based on him.) Nonetheless, a community steadily grew up around the idea that attracting women could be understood scientifically, and that effective techniques could be developed, tested and taught, just like any other skill.
About a decade later, a new generation of pickup artists gained popularity, initially on the Internet, then through Strauss’ book, The Game, and later the VH1 program The Pickup Artist. To share and practice these techniques in person, local groups called “Lairs” sprang up in cities across the country.
When John retired from his job as a programmer in 2004 and cashed in his dot-com stock options, he was financially set, but still very unhappy with his social life. If money can’t buy happiness, however, it can at least buy training. So John studied at a Los Angeles pickup boot camp, then returned to Las Vegas, and founded the first Lair in town.
In the early days, John’s Las Vegas Lair catered to both tourists and locals. But soon the Lair had to implement a strict locals-only policy. “Ninety-nine out of 100 [tourists] belong to one of two groups,” John says. “Either they want a chaperone to show them around Vegas, or they have zero social skills. We’ll be talking to a group of women, and they’ll just stand there with their mouths open, completely frozen, not paying the slightest attention to what they have to do. So eventually we had to say, enough of this.”
Six years later, the original Lair still meets on alternate weeks in an out-of-the-way Chinatown restaurant, where half a dozen or so men meet to eat Kung Pao chicken and Sichuan spicy beef and discuss techniques for picking up women.
At nearly 50, John remains a fixture at these meetings, calmly advising aspiring pickup artists. Imagine a playfully confident (and bald) cross between Mike Myers and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Although his voice has become a little flat from endlessly repeating the same advice to a never-ending stream of new attendees, John speaks from long experience and hard-earned wisdom. “Immature guys just want to get laid, and think they have control over other people,” he says. “That’s not what it’s about. Ultimately, it’s a self-help group.”
In the end, John’s Lair, and others like it, are not purveyors of quick-and-tidy how-to lessons. They are identity-refurbishing communities. The art of the pickup is about much more than getting the girl; it’s about overcoming crippling fears and self-doubt. John says it’s also about being desperate enough to change. “It’s not something I do,” he says. “It’s someone I’ve become.”
Jaunzemis arrived nearly broke and alone in Las Vegas in 2006, after fleeing a disastrous divorce and various troubles with the law in England. “They lost my luggage,” he says. “I got here with the clothes on my back and $50.”
He soon got a job as a recording engineer and moved into an apartment in Henderson, but after spending Christmas and New Year’s alone, he hit rock bottom. “I cut myself a lot,” he says, “but I didn’t have the balls to take it all the way.” The cuts got him in trouble at work. His boss told him, “You can’t have that shit,” and made him wear gloves and long sleeves until they healed.
Jaunzemis recorded his experiences at the time in a homemade rap video, in which he sings:
I’ve worked my ass to the bone, but despite what I did
I lost my whole fucking family, my wife and my kids
Everyone and their mama’s been trying to tell me, “Have patience”
I’m climbing out on this limb and I’m feeling the branch breaking
But in the chorus, he reiterates his determination not to change.
I won’t stop, I won’t quit, I’ve reached the edge now, this is it
Around this cave-in I could slip – a leap of faith, that’s all I get
Jaunzemis was angry. He started voraciously consuming books he thought might help, including self-help, biology, body language and evolutionary psychology. Soon he found the pickup artist community, and knew he’d come to the right place.
He attended a few of John’s Lair meetings, and liked them. But he wanted more. He admired Lairs in other cities, like the Casanova Crew, which hosted seminars and organized groups to go into the field to “sarge” for girls in Los Angeles. So in February, Jaunzemis started his own group. John’s group is decidedly noncommercial, but Jaunzemis hoped his new Lair might become a business, or at least bring in enough money to support itself. His seminars and group outings quickly became popular, but so far they have not made much money.
“I’m in the hole like $1,500,” he says. “I was trying to charge, but so many people are on hard times, there’s only a couple people I could charge. It would be great if the group was for profit, but it’s not.” Not yet anyway.
In a comfortable booth at Buffalo Wild Wings, near the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson, Jaunzemis introduces me to a potential business partner, Charles Starr, a dapper man whose actions still display some of the crisp deliberateness of his training in the Marines. Jaunzemis’ object is to unite his avocation and his vocation. Starr wants to make money.
“How do you monetize your passions?” Starr asks, and proceeds to describe his plan. He explains that he is a Certified LifeSuccess Consultant for Bob Proctor. Proctor is the author of the international bestseller You Were Born Rich and a featured speaker in the popular film The Secret, where he describes the Law of Attraction, which says anyone can get anything they want, as long as they believe it strongly enough. Starr wants to create a new program. He calls it The Secret to the Game, and it will combine The Secret’s Law of Attraction, with pickup techniques like those described in The Game. “Take what he’s doing,” Starr says, gesturing to Jaunzemis, “and put it in a business model that monetizes the activity. What I’ve been doing is on the back end, creating that platform, to create the membership site area. I’ve got it all set up. Right now it’s just about taking the content and putting it in.” After hearing this, Jaunzemis still isn’t sure how he’ll go about turning his pickup skills into an engine of commerce. But he’s willing to try.
Later that day, Jaunzemis smiles and tells me, “I’ve picked up smoking-hot catwalk models, having no job, no car and not a dime in my pocket.”
After seeing him in action, I don’t think he’s exaggerating. I ask him to explain his process, and he warns me he’s going to use some jargon. The pickup artist world is filled with special terms, like “peacocking,” which means wearing flamboyant clothes designed to attract attention. “I use the Mystery Method,” Jaunzemis explains, “consciously monitoring where I’m at, from the time I begin initial eye contact with a woman, until I move into the open phase, whether it’s going direct, an opinion opener, however I choose to begin.”
An opinion opener just means asking a woman for her opinion on something specific. An example is the “island opener,” an original Jaunzemis created with fellow pickup artist August Rider: If you had an island, your own island, what would be the first thing you’d do when you got on it? “I’m looking for a couple different things here.” Jaunzemis says, “If she says ‘I’d build a house,’ this is a practical girl, and I can disqualify her, because that’s not the kind of girl I’m looking for. If she says ‘I’d have sex,’ ‘I’d get naked,’ ‘I’d grow pot,’ then right there I’m going to put my arm around her, and be like, ‘You know, you might be my new best friend.’ From there, I can move into a qualification phase, isolate her into a comfortable environment. I can set up a time-bridge for a second meeting. I could number-close. I could Facebook-close, and let her come on to my Facebook later, where I can demonstrate higher value as a man to her.
“Or I can take her straight. If all things are going well, maybe suggest we go back to my house to watch a movie. Which really means come back to my house to have sex, but it gives her plausible deniability. But as soon as they agree to that, they’re pretty much saying they’re going to sleep with you.
“You can run this repetitive pattern that will take, for me, from opening a woman to sex, approximately six and a half hours.”
I asked a female friend of mine about this. She used to enjoy picking up guys, but now she’s married and therefore asked that I not use her name. She laughed and said she felt sorry for all the work guys have to do. “A girl should be able to get a guy into bed in half an hour, depending on how far away her apartment is,” she said. “All a girl has to do is walk up to a guy and say, ‘Hey, do you want to have sex?’”
Shortly before Jaunzemis found out he was going to lose his apartment, I attended a meeting there. What struck me most about the group was how normal everyone was. They use specialized terms, and talk very explicitly about things many men would never say. But the ideas they express are very common. I had to wonder if some of the references to “banging hot babes” were thrown in as an attempt to maintain a little machismo while the guys engaged in the very un-macho act of explicitly discussing their fears and aspirations.
At the meeting, a student of Jaunzemis’, CJ Walker, described a recent breakthrough:
“So I send her this text message, ‘Hey, sweetie, I would like you to meet me at Paris valet at 2:30 if you can. I will pick you up in a red truck, we’ll get away from the noise, maybe Peppermill or my place.’ A lot of guys won’t do this. But I decided, you know what? I’ve got to start pushing the envelope. We’ve got to let these women know this is a man in front of you; he’s going to say what he thinks. If you don’t like what he says, that’s cool, we still love you, but … you’re over there.
“So I’m thinking, shit, she’s going to respond saying she can’t make it, blah, blah, blah. But here’s how she responds: ‘Sure, I’ll be there.’”
Walker looks like he could have been a surfer, with his short blond hair and casually relentless cheerfulness. He’s also had problems in the past, but he doesn’t like to talk about them. Walker recognizes he still has a long way to go in his personal development, but he’s dedicated to changing. He’s so excited about it that he’s writing a book based on his experiences, which he’s considering calling The Man of Attraction.
The introduction reads like a manifesto: The Man of Attraction has no interest in suppressing his own healthy desires, instead, he is in tune with his desires, he does not apologize for them. He goes into the world expressing his desires. He describes this as being true to himself. The Man of Attraction loves himself more than the world, yet he understands that to fully love himself, he must give love to the world also.
Learning the art of the pickup, Walker says, is only the first step. “By getting laid, you will gain confidence. Women are the greatest measuring rods of how much of a man you are.” However, he says, “The Man of Attraction goes beyond the need for pussy. He becomes so powerful at getting the things that he desires that he requires more than a hot body.” Walker understands that not everyone will appreciate his message. “That’s what many men’s problem is today. We’re afraid to display our natural, our masculine sexuality, because our society has taught us that we’re pigs if we do. But we’re not pigs. That’s just our society trying to make us fit into their mold.”
A few weeks later, I met Jaunzemis again, who was delighted that his financial problems appeared to be under control, at least for the time being. In typical pickup-artist style, he bragged that he’d moved in with his “sugar mama,” Michelle Willow.
Willow was a little surprised to learn Jaunzemis had been referring to her as his “sugar mama,” but laughed and took it in stride. She is an attractive personal banker, a few years older than Jaunzemis. And she’s got her own ideas about where the power in the relationship lies. “He was preselected by me,” she says. “I thought he was a player, but he has a very nice vibe. He was just fun.” When Jaunzemis called her back the day after they met (no three-day rule for pickup artists), she couldn’t remember who he was. “I called him about four different guys’ names before he corrected me,” she says.
A lot of Willow’s female friends told her Jaunzemis was using her. “But my guy friends,” she says, “knew I was strong enough to handle it.” For now, she genuinely likes Jaunzemis, has no illusions about their relationship, and intends to enjoy it while it lasts. “I like to have as much fun as possible,” she says.
When Jaunzemis got into financial trouble, he asked Willow for advice, and she suggested he move in temporarily. She made him set up a savings schedule so that, even with his modest income, he will have enough money to buy his own car and get a new apartment by January. She sees more potential for him in teaching pickup skills, though, so she is urging him to start working as a private pickup coach. She would like to help him start his own pickup boot camps.
“I set the goals for him,” Willow says, “and he’s achieving them.”
One small catch is that since Jaunzemis is being faithful to Willow, he now has a limit on how far he can go in his own game. He’s like a fisherman who has to return his catch. He still number-closes girls, but he rarely makes the call.
“If he wants to call them for research,” Willow says, “that’s OK.”