Taco and the Tramp

About a year ago, a friend and I were drunk-eating tacos at 2 a.m. when a guy approached us. He teased us that we were eating our tacos Lady and the Tramp style, and as we continued talking, he and I started discussing Catholic versus Jewish guilt. He asked for my number, and I gave it to him, not expecting to ever hear back, and pretty much forgot about the whole thing.

Several days ago, however, I got a text from an unknown number saying that I was saved in his phone as “Kathryn Guilt Catholic Taco Tramp.” I reminded him of how we’d met, and when he asked me out, I said yes, without knowing his name or what he looked like.

Taco Boy and I were planning to meet at an oyster and liquor bar, but he texted me a few minutes before our meeting time to ask if I wanted to first stop off at his apartment because the weather was “super gross!” His apartment was on the way to the bar, so I agreed to visit, and then proceeded to freak myself out about the possibility that I was going to be abducted or killed in some Law and Order style incident. Instead of telling him that I’d rather meet him in a public place, I just texted a friend his address, and kept my mace in my pocket. (Luckily, he spent so much time checking his phone that even if I had truly been in danger, I could have easily escaped during one of his frequent phone breaks.)

If you’re curious, Taco Boy has a real job but is working on a startup. When I asked what the startup was, he said “productivity.” That’s it. “Productivity.” More questions about it revealed no new information, and while his stated ultimate goal is for the startup to be about productivity, he sort of admitted that he doesn’t know what that’s going to entail exactly. I got the distinct sense that he would not appreciate a joke about how he might need his own startup to actually create a startup.

He then invited me to a seminar that a friend was leading. I soon realized that I’d been invited over in a bait-and-switch style operation, and now I doubt that the plan was ever to go to the oyster and liquor bar.

He told me that his motivational-speaker friend was going to be leading a talk on “personal development.” When I asked him how his friend became a motivational speaker, Taco Boy said that he “didn’t have anything else going on,” as if his friend simply fell into it. The irony of having nothing better to do and deciding to become a motivational speaker was not lost on me, but apparently was on my date: when I commented on the contradiction, he gave me a blank look.

Taco (as we are now on first name basis) then clarified that his friend spoke about not only personal development, but also spent a few minutes at the end of each seminar on how to pick up women. As the conversation progressed, however, Taco revealed that the talk was mostly on how to pick up women, but I was assured that if I wanted to go, there would be other women in attendance who were “just really into personal development,” and am I into self-help stuff at all? (No.) Either way, there would be a ten-minute discussion on the subject. “Some guys,” my date promised, “aren’t into the pick up artist stuff at all and show up in suits with notebooks just to learn the self-help part of it.”
Taco warned me that the talk may seem slightly misogynistic and sexist, but in his experience, his friends that have dabbled in the pick up artist community follow the same three stages:

  1. Nerdy, uncool, uncomfortable around women;
  2. Really absorbed in pick up culture, become “super gross” and misogynistic, very unpleasant to be around; and finally,
  3. Through their sexism, they transform into suave, “super cool” gentlemen who don’t even need the tricks they learned as a pick up artist, “so I’m just like, ‘Okay so you had to be super gross and now you’re like on the other side of it and just cool,’ you know?”

About two years ago, I wrote a paper on the subject of how men speak to other men while in the presence of women – how does men’s behavior change when women are around? In doing research for the paper, I stumbled on the pick up artist community, and got completely sucked into it. It’s fascinating to me – especially since the culture feeds off of a very open contempt for women while simultaneously exposing a very naked need for women’s approval and sexual adulation. These men clearly dislike women who sleep around, but the community’s main goal seems to be to sleep with as many women as possible.

To this day, I still regularly read articles on pick up artist sites – of which there are many. My personal favorite is ReturnOfKings.com, which recently published an article called “35 Signs The Girl You’re Dating Is A Whore.” I thought the article would tell men how to find out if their girlfriends are or were promiscuous, but I realized that it’s about how to tell if your girlfriend literally makes her living as a prostitute. I highly recommend the read, if you’re ever unsure about your significant other’s chosen profession.

So when Taco was warning me about how misogynistic I might find his friend’s talk, I was delighted, and reassured him that I wouldn’t be offended. And so, off we went to the Hotel Pennsylvania’s Gold Ballroom.

Taco wanted to find an UberX to take us to the hotel, but didn’t want to pay full price, and then there was a surge overcharge, and then he tried to find a promo code online but couldn’t find anything, so we settled on a taxi. Traffic was horrific, so in our three block, $9 cab ride, we had a lot of time to talk.

For inquiring minds, Taco was wearing $500 jeans from “straight off the runway,” whatever that may mean. His real passion is for shoes, including their smell – “of the new ones, I mean.” He has a friend whose girlfriend is six feet tall and “literally a model,” and just last weekend she was grinding with DJ Tiesto! I don’t know who that is, but his tone told me I should be very impressed.

He has another friend who lives by his favorite vegan juice bar, whose girlfriend is Karlie Kloss. Fun fact: Karlie’s face is the front page of Taco’s startup’s website. No word on what Karlie’s boyfriend thinks of that, unfortunately. Taco Boy gave me a look after telling me all this, “You know who that is, right?” Yes – but only because I heard that she’s shacked up with Taylor Swift. No word on what the boyfriend thinks of that, either.

Wanna know another thing Taco Boy hates? Models in his favorite coffee place, especially during Fashion Week. It’s not their fault, you know, but they crowd up the place and he’s just trying to get some work done. Just the other day, he told some girl off about that, but she totally knew he was joking.

By the way, isn’t it the worst when really hot girls are “super bitchy” because they’re so pretty that men never say no to them? A lot of his female friends are like that – “super hot” – and again, it’s not their fault per se, but men shouldn’t give in to them. (Noted.)

We discussed all this in the taxi to the hotel, with frequent, loud interjections from him about how the taxi driver was cheating us. Eventually my date insisted that we exit the taxi and take an Uber after all. But he really wanted a promo code, and still couldn’t find one, so we settled on the subway instead.

Upon finally arriving, we didn’t enter the hotel through its front entrance, but rather through the hotel’s steakhouse, on a winding path that lead us through the dining area and kitchen to ultimately reach a dingy back hallway with an elevator to the ballroom. The reception hall before the ballroom was empty except for some plastic tables, a few folding chairs, a water cooler, and at least a dozen discarded plastic cups scattered on the ground. I started worrying again that I was going to become fodder for a future Law and Order episode. We quietly snuck into the ballroom, Taco greeted his friend at the door, I was instructed to surrender my phone, and we took seats in the back. The seminar had started at 5 p.m., and we arrived just after 8 p.m.

There were approximately one hundred men listening, rapt, to the speaker – who as it turns out, was not Taco’s friend after all, as his friend was only the speaker’s assistant. The speaker was named Todd – I didn’t have confirmation at the time, but could tell that he was one of those guys that spells it with two Ds. I did a little research later and confirmed that I was right.

Is it just me, or is there a certain type of person who calls himself Todd?1

What I first noticed about the audience was that there were a lot of backwards baseball caps, paired with a lot of Ed Hardy-style shirts. I was the only woman in attendance, despite my date’s fervent promises to the contrary. There were some men taking notes intently, and as I looked around the room further, I saw that some of the men there were my age or younger.

Let me get this out of the way: Todd is not an attractive man. He looks sleazy, with dark, shiny hair slicked back with so much gel that I could see it from the back row. He was wearing two dark v-neck shirts, both unbuttoned to his collarbone, in a style that you can tell he thinks is Johnny-Depp-hip. He’s maybe in his early to mid-thirties. The men in the room had paid $300 to hear him speak for the two-day workshop, a “LIVE event” experience for which Todd claims you’d otherwise “easily spend $10,000 or more. Period,” per his website.2

When we arrived, Todd was showing a clip of him approaching a woman in Washington Square Park. She’s sitting on a bench, headphones in, and he approaches her while his friend hovers nearby, awkwardly and surreptitiously filming the interaction. Todd first showed the pick-up in its entirety, and then he started it over again to break down each step of the conversation with his commentary. He started with an “opener” about how the woman was sitting, and she challenged him in response with a “shit-test” by objecting that she was only listening to music. (A shit-test is a “combative response” to whatever the pick up artist has just said.) Eventually, after several more shit-tests, the woman agreed to go get yogurt with him. There’s more hidden camera footage of Todd and his lady walking to a 16 Handles, more footage of them sitting outside eating, and even more footage of Todd walking the woman back to her apartment – which is turns out, is the NYU freshmen dorm Hayden Hall, where I used to live. The cameraman is left outside, but Todd alleges that he was able to sneak into the dorm without being signed in as a guest, went up to the girl’s room, and then hung out with her and her roommate for awhile. I want to add that Todd met her while the sun was still out, and then walks her back to her dorm well after sunset – the cameraman must have been following them for hours.

Todd warned the audience that they should watch out for the “super tight” security in NYU dorms, and do their best to sneak past the guards in the lobby as often as possible. Although some audience members did seem to be college-aged, most were in their late twenties or early thirties, or older, yet none balked at the idea of hanging out with an eighteen-year-old college freshman in her dorm room.

Todd really emphasized “sneaking one past the goalie,” which is just as nauseating as you’d expect. Todd’s prime example of this technique was telling a girl that he’d like to have “unprotected sex in a disrespectful manner with her in a public place.” Basically, there’s just so much wrong with that statement that she simply can’t disagree with it all! Says Todd, “If she says, ‘Unprotected sex? No, you should always use a condom!’ then she’s not disagreeing with the sex! If she says, ‘Disrespectful? That’s so rude!’ Well, she’s not disagreeing with having sex with me!” I’m not sure how this plays out in real life, but apparently it’s extraordinarily effective; once you’ve pointed out to the girl that she hasn’t objected to having sex with you, I guess she’s duty-bound to fuck you. (?) If you’re really just looking to have women sleep with you because they feel conned into it, this technique might be what you’re looking for.

Another tip: get the woman emotionally invested in you. The 18 year old in Washington Square Park was emotionally invested in him as soon as she called him a “cocky liar.” She’s begun “qualifying” him, which demonstrates his “value.” It’s just a slam-dunk from there!

A third tip, courtesy of Todd: when you’re shaking a woman’s hand, don’t shake it as you would a man’s, as that’s too business-like for ladies. Instead, rotate the palm of your hand up when shaking her hand, which seems more “personal.” You’ll want to be gently cradling her hand in the palm of yours. This wasn’t a recommendation of Todd’s, but I imagine that if you do it quickly enough, you can probably break her wrist in the process. Then you’ll be able to accompany her to the E.R., which I expect would probably lead to a ton of that super valuable emotional investment you’re going for.

After analyzing three “pulls,” including one in which the woman tells Todd several times that she has a boyfriend but gives him her number regardless3, it’s time for role-playing. The first exercise is “Yes, and” statements; when a woman shit-tests you, you should affirm what she’s said, and add something else to it. By saying yes, teaches Todd, you’re telling the woman, “I accept the world how it is.” I think Gandhi used the same technique.

The lights were turned on and we were instructed to stand up and break into groups of three. Another friend of Taco Boy’s had sat next to us in the back row, and so he became our third group member. He was cute, actually, and seemed charming – but had been diligently taking notes through the seminar, which seems like a wild red flag.

I was not very good at “Yes, and” statements, and in case you’ve never tried it, it’s a thoroughly unnatural way to hold a conversation. Also, with the lights on and everyone out of their seats, I felt much more uncomfortable, and was much more noticeable than I had been while sitting in the back row, in the dark.

You get a lot of looks as the only female attendee in a room of over one hundred men who have paid several hundred dollars to learn how to meet women.

Looking around the room, though, most of the men seemed to be well-dressed and at least somewhat attractive. I wondered why they thought I was there, and also why they were there – frankly, if some of them had approached me in a bar, without using one of Todd’s idiotic “openers,” I wouldn’t necessarily have turned them down.

After a few torturous moments of our Yes, ands, we moved onto “I love” and “I hate” statements. Todd instructed us to start off every sentence with either one, and to say the first thing that came to mind, no matter how idiotic. I was slightly better at these. Taco and Friend encouraged me to think of this as a free improv class, but Friend told me I should probably work on my “cold approach” – i.e., approaching strangers on the street with the intention of hitting on them. I told him that was a skill I was never going to use. (By the way, no indication of whether Friend had paid to attend the seminar, or had snuck his way in for free also, although I suspect he did the former.)

Todd kept staring at me without blinking, and the amount of eye contact became increasingly unnerving.

Lastly, we did “qualifying statements,” in order to get our targets emotionally invested. Todd, unblinking, assured us that they could be as stupid as we wanted them to be! It doesn’t matter, just say anything! They had to follow the format, “You’re so _____, it’s like _____.” My date thought of a charming one: “You’re so stupid, it’s like pathetic.” Todd pointed out one participant in the front row who was wearing an ugly patterned sweater: “You’re so sweatered up it’s like you’re a penguin!” Unfortunately, the young man was staring at me and didn’t realize Todd was talking to him. His fellow group member had to swat his arm to get his attention.

Another prime example, courtesy of Todd: “Your posture is so chill right now, it’s like you’re a Buddha!” The Buddha in question grinned and pumped his arms in the air, presumably ecstatic. There was some sad, scattered applause.

I refused to do a qualifying statement, so Friend started off, “Your hair is so carefree, it’s like fluttering blossoms blowing in the breeze.” Taco’s statement to Friend: “You’re so racially ambiguous, it’s like you could be in a Target commercial.”

A quick note: Yes, ands, can be a way to carry on a conversation, however awkward. And “I love” and “I hate” statements aren’t difficult to think of, nor do they feel particularly unnatural to say. But the third exercise has a distinct I’m-trying-to-hit-on-you vibe. To watch a group of one hundred allegedly-über-hetero men try to seduce each other is something I can’t recommend highly enough. They were practically yelling across the room to each other, trying to stand as far away as possible. There were a lot of feet shuffling, looking at the floor, aggressively crossed arms, and averted glances. The emotional investment was palpable.
Unfortunately, one of the event coordinators came up to Taco and I and indicated that we had to follow him, cutting off the third exercise for us. I stood around by the door while Taco and the coordinator talked – I got the sense that we were in trouble, but that the men would handle it for me. I was told to produce my ID, and then after it was returned to me, I was asked to take my phone and leave.

If attending the seminar wasn’t embarrassing enough, getting kicked out certainly was.

Turns out, Taco hadn’t really cleared it with his friend the assistant or Todd that he could attend for free. Until Todd was able to confirm that that was the case, we needed to either pay $300 each or leave. Seeing as they kicked us out at 9:15, and the seminar ended for the day at 9:30, paying didn’t seem quite worth it.

Taco had also told me that paying attendees were allowed to bring dates or girlfriends for free – a provision that makes fiscal sense to me because there aren’t likely to be that many men attending that have women to ask, and also because I doubt very many women are likely to go. While I have to admit that I think it’s a little hypocritical to be kicking out the only female attendee, to be fair, I was very clearly an interloper, and I’m sure my Jane Goodall-esque attitude didn’t help things much.

Either way, Taco and I left the hotel and he told me that he was going to get Chipotle and then try to return to the seminar. I was invited to join, and to go clubbing with him and the literally six foot tall Tiesto-grinding model, but I declined both. We hugged awkwardly, he told me to text him, and I haven’t heard from him since – which is assuredly for the best.

[1] I tried Googling “Tod versus Todd” but didn’t find any significant results, although there is a doctor with the unfortunate name of Tod Todd in California who specializes in holistic treatments and has written a fictional thriller novel titled 444 The Key to the Island. FYI. (But seriously, you guys must intuitively know the difference between a Tod and a Todd, right? I can’t be alone in this, can I?) (Back)

[2] In the interest of Todd’s privacy, I won’t call him by last name, although it’s only a quick Google away if you’d like to attend the seminar yourself. You’ll know it’s him by the awful hair. (Back)

[3] Todd admitted that nothing happened with the woman with the boyfriend, and an audience member asked what happened with the NYU freshman, at which time he reluctantly stated that he only hung out with her and her roommate before leaving. A third video showed him picking up two dancers in Times Square. One dancer was very clearly uninterested in him and his shtick4 and when that came across in the video, Todd interjected that she was “much less hot” than her friend, who was coincidentally fawning all over Todd. Even so, Todd took both women out for coffee, got the hotter friend’s name and number, and kissed her. Then she and her friend drove back home to Jersey and that was the end of that.

It’s exceedingly curious to me that Todd chose those three videos, which are evidence of him spending considerable amounts of time on a total of four women, to only net one quick kiss in return. I wanted to stay after the seminar’s conclusion to ask him what his goal is. Is it collecting numbers? Is it sleeping with these women? Is it creating a relationship with them? (Back)

[4] Another note: when Todd could tell that a woman was on the brink of rejecting him, he would demonstrate his own “value” but saying something like, “I mean, if sexy, charismatic, confident, funny, successful guys like me aren’t your type, that’s fine and I’ll leave you alone.” But the really astonishing part was that it seemed to work! These women would feel insulted that he would insinuate that they don’t have good taste in men, and in another instance of “sneaking one past the goalie,” they’d then be drawn into continuing the conversation. (Back)

Kathryn Leslie is a human being living in Brooklyn.