I'll admit it‚ the Redwood Room at the Clift is a pretty swanky place. Gorgeous deco architecture, those cool movable paintings. The crowd is tall, good looking, and well heeled. And it is packed on a Wednesday night. I can see why a girl might want to hang out here.
The problem with the Redwood Room can be spotted with a trained eye. Intermingling with the polished suits and Prada heels crowd are some other guys. Younger guys. Guys in striped collar shirts, mostly good looking or at least well put together, hanging around in clumps, surveying the crowd with a predatory eye. It is an infestation of self-described pickup artists. And at the Clift, they are often junior pickup artists, freshly minted, the webelos of the pickup set. That is because every Friday at the Clift, guys pay for classes in of art of the pickup. They are released into the wilds of the Redwood Room at about 9:30 p.m. Woe be unto the hot young thing at the bar who just wants a drink.
If they are going to call this "The Game," it seems only fair that there should be another team. We all like to go out and have a good time, maybe even meet someone, and there's obviously nothing wrong with that. But if guys are going to take seminars and pay good money to learn specific techniques, then it is only right that we should know how to spot them, and thereby have a little fun of our own.
My guide into the world of the pickup is Arron Wheeler, of Ultimate Interactions, who also teaches classes on how to talk to the ladies. Their classes don't purport to teach people how to become pickup artists, but how to master the underlying techniques and psychology to overcome social awkwardness. He has agreed to help me spot the more underhanded maneuvers, and learn how to avoid them.
At the Redwood Room, the safest spot seems to be the crowded center of the bar, where in order to get your attention someone might have to touch you, something potential pick up artists are taught to avoid. If I wanted to play, I would opt for a spot on the low bench by the door, or at one of the mixed-group tables around the edges of the room. In the 45 minutes or so that we loiter, Arron manages to casually make conversation with a half dozen striking women.
Once learned, it is easy to tune into the classic pickup techniques, and I realized how many times I'd encountered them before. There's a reason these are taught: they're inconspicuous and they work.
The pickup community has settled on an easy opening line, and it's not the sleaze-ball come on you might expect. It's the same thing they teach you in sales classes ‚ ask for an opinion. It goes a little something like this: there you are, standing in a girl-herd with your lady friends, when a fellow walks up and says with a smile, "Hey, I need a woman's opinion on something. I think he's a moron, but my friend over there thinks..."
It's chatty and non-threatening. Smooooth. How to get out of it? "My friends and I were in the middle of a conversation. It is totally inappropriate of you to interrupt like this."
Possibly the most famous pickup approach is the neg, wherein rather than complimenting you on your chic outfit or eyes like limpid pools, he asks what's up with your haircut, anyway? The artful neg is a mild put-down, designed to get your goat without making you mad enough to fling a drink. It is disarming when done well, since it sidesteps your natural defenses about compliments from strangers. The escape: the neg is intended to instigate playful banter. Decline.
Similar in intent to the neg, a pickup artist may choose to ignore the person they are most interested in, instead playing up to her friends. The aim is to draw return attention, again by sidestepping those social defenses about too much attention. Refusing to be provoked is the easiest and most satisfying response.
Charms can be laid on thicker one-on-one. He'd really like to talk to you outside, where it's quieter. He'd like to reveal his vulnerabilities and really hear about what's going on in your life. And then he'd like to gently brush the hair out of your face and suggest that maybe you take this conversation elsewhere?
Although the easiest solution to this is to stick to your own wing man, the more sporting option is to go along for the ride until the last possible moment, at which point, with a glance at the watch, announce, "Well, Jimmy, or whatever your real name is, it's been lovely, but I've got to run. We should do this again sometime."
We moved from The Redwood Room's inlaid wood walls and high ceilings across town to the glass-fronted modern Matrix, also going strong on a Wednesday night. On the minuscule dance floor, there's some awesome white guy dancing going on. The crowd is young, and, this being the Marina, pretty much exclusively white and non-hipster. There's a lot of carefully groomed stripey shirts present. So how is one to spot the pickup artists in a joint like this?
Pickup artists prefer to prowl with a wing man, who can help steer conversation and direct or deflect attention, so I was on the lookout for Maverick/Goose combos. Another element of the formula is "peacocking," or dressing in a way to stand out. The underlying logic of this is easy to appreciate, especially when faced with the more typical man-crowd where no care is paid to appearance whatsoever. I have always had a weakness for men who can dress themselves, whatever the social genre may be.
That being said, at the Matrix, we were frankly stumped. Was the guy in the prep school blazer, baby blue slacks cuffed into uneven pedal-pushers, and boat shoes peacocking, or was he just channeling some kind of retro A Separate Peace vibe? Was the short guy in the gold-sequined tennis shoes his wing man? Or was he just excited about his Bedazzler? Pink polo shirt with turned-up collar? Maybe this is normal in the Marina. I admit to not getting out much around these parts.
I spotted a clump of dudes with gel-spiked hair and striped oxford shirts. They were all facing outwards, surveying the crowd. One of them was rubbing his cocktail glass with his thumb in an agitated and slightly unsettling way. His buddy pointed out the ass of a girl in skinny jeans as she walked by. Again: pickup artists, or just guys? Perhaps if, like a bird watcher, you spent enough time watching them, you would begin to be able to tell which is which.
Strangely, learning to spot the pickups didn't render them horrifying or off-putting. It made me want to see them in action. I find myself keenly observing my fellow patrons at the local watering hole, looking for signs of manipulation. I've been reading up on more advanced techniques. In the same way I'm sucked in by con game films, I can't help but admire the skillful application of ruse. It's like knowing how the Pigeon Drop or Spanish Prisoner works, and then being able to watch it in action, or better yet, look forward to being mistaken for a mark.