A Man Walks Out of a Bar

Illustration: Courtesy of Regan Books

Is Neil Strauss going to mack on me or what? It’s been a little over a year since Jenna Jameson’s Boswell published his own best-selling memoir/bible of seduction, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, which chronicles the two years Strauss spent becoming someone else—specifically, Style, the de facto leader of an underground community of nerdy guys intent on becoming international players. The book was a self-help juggernaut, propelled in part by its distinctly un-p.c. approach to the art of meeting women (one tip: Insult the object of your desire, but gently, a technique known as the “neg”). Men, from all points along the self-esteem continuum, went nuts for it. But now Strauss seems rather weary of being the Dr. Phil of cruising. By the end of his book tour for The Game, he says, the audience had transformed from 23-year-old virgins asking how to make their first pass at a girl to, “like, big college-football jocks saying, ‘This book changed my life. I can meet all these women now!’ And I’m thinking, I got into this community because you were getting all the girls! This book isn’t for you!

Even rock stars started looking to Strauss, who’s all of five foot six, for guidance on becoming more alpha. One celebrity, he says, “called and said, ‘I don’t want to speak to Neil. I want to speak to Style’—and this is somebody I did a book with!”

Post-Style, Strauss no longer juggles ten long-term girlfriends in the Hollywood Hills mansion he once shared with some 25 other pickup artists (PUAs), plus pal Courtney Love. But he is blessed with a version of the good life. His regular activities consist of living under an alias in a new secret world that he’s writing about (“I promised Judith Regan I wouldn’t talk!”), surfing, and hanging out with his guitarist girlfriend, Lisa Leveridge, who is so hot the British tabloids recently reported that she’d left Strauss for pop star Robbie Williams. “It’s just a rumor,” Strauss assures me. “We’re in L.A., so we’re always socializing with certain people and then you get a photograph … But I guess if I had to lose her, I’d rather lose her to Robbie Williams than the guy who bags groceries at Ralphs.”

The life of the semi-famous has taken some getting used to for Strauss, who got this far by hanging in the shadows of famous people’s lives. Before The Game, he was socially awkward and sexually inexperienced—he is a journalist, after all. To the envy of music geeks everywhere, he became a rock critic for the New York Times at 23, then a ghostwriter of rock-star autobiographies. He got to tour with Marilyn Manson and Mötley Crüe, and live in Dave Navarro’s drug-filled den of prostitutes and hangers-on for a year. He emerged with a few best sellers, not to mention the invaluable cachet of being able to be introduced as “Manson’s friend,” seemingly a far more effective opener in L.A. than saying you write for the Times, though still not enough to get you action. That’s why he got into the game. But now, he says, it’s time to get out.

“With the other books I’d done”—including Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale—“you’d kind of move on.” With this one, the response wouldn’t let up. After wading through “tens of thousands” of e-mails, he even held a confidence-building workshop via his Website this year, issuing challenges to his disciples, like calling five wrong numbers to get movie recommendations.

His retreat from the world of knowledge impartment is mostly motivated by the sheer practicality of having “like, five books due for Judith Regan.” The first is his new graphic novel, How to Make Money Like a Porn Star!, which compiles “a bunch of true stories” he heard while researching Jameson’s autobiography. “Every porn star would try to talk me into doing her book, and every story would be a cut-and-paste of the exact same story”—apparently about an abusive pimp, incest, and getting kidnapped by Middle Eastern royalty. Then there’s a “super-huge celebrity thing I can’t talk about.” Oh, and that “top-secret” book involving “the alias.”

Yet no matter what he does, one senses that the game will still cling to him, like some 3:43 A.M. suitor at a bar. The worst thing, he says, “is that whenever I meet anyone, they’re like, ‘Is he running game on me? What if he’s not being real?’ ”

Strauss tells me that he’s replaced “sarging,” or picking up girls at bars, with Wednesday-night dinner parties, to which he never invites anyone twice. The last time, he matched up Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, and “two blonde twin gold diggers.”

“Their game was weak!” he says of the twins. “It was, like, ‘Be quiet; look at someone through big, blinking, wide eyes; soft, low gestures; and letting him know they were bisexual at some point.’ I’ve met 60-year-old women with more game.”

But then later on, he turns the conversation to me. “I’m actually thinking in my head that I’ve gotten too comfortable on the phone with you,” he says, before explaining how he’d follow up this call with one in which he regains power over the interaction. “I’d try not to say my name, you know, kind of refer to an in-joke so you’d know who it was instantly. And then, ‘Oh, my God! Guess what happened to me today? I was surfing and this whole pod of, like, twenty dolphins came by!’ Which actually did happen yesterday. And I’d already know that you like sushi and I would have already told you that there’s a guy in the Valley, the Sushi Nazi, like the Soup Nazi … ”

He apologizes for “talking way too fast,” only to add “You talk fast, too. If I was running game, I would say the reason is because we’re both visual thinkers versus people who think with their feelings or auditory. Visual thinkers talk quickly because the pictures change most rapidly. And when you think, your eyes probably go up rather than down.”

It’s not, embarrassingly, until I get off the phone that I realize Strauss could well have just run game on me simply by explaining how he would have run game on me. I’m left with his number, his e-mail address (or rather, his assistant’s, since Strauss doesn’t do e-mail anymore), a standing invitation to the Wednesday dinner, and, of course, his parting words, “Hopefully we’ll continue this conversation at some point.”

How to Make Money Like a Porn Star!
By Neil Strauss and Bernard Chang. Regan Books. 128 pages.

A Man Walks Out of a Bar