Portrait of the pickup artist as a young man in Sacramento
Hookup guru Bryan ‘Double B’ Barton brings his seduction game to Sacramento
Nestled in a secluded corner of Dive Bar on K Street, Bryan Barton watches his two most promising students try to score.
The young men in question chat up a pair of 20-something women in clubby dresses as Barton, founder of a seduction start-up called Sac Pick Up, scribbles furiously into two notebooks and smashes an umbrella against the table any time one of his lotharios-in-training does something he doesn’t like.
His “thumpbrella,” Barton calls it.
Now, Barton doesn’t look like the sort you’d expect to be running a boot camp on picking up women. The 32-year-old political-science graduate is long and lanky with a rangy scruff lining the contours of his narrow face and has the fashion sense of an Intel employee on casual Friday. He has small, mischievous eyes; a high, pale forehead; and the flappy body language of someone playing a flimflam in a silent picture.
It’s not that Barton is unattractive or without a kind of hyphy charm; it’s just that, as love gurus go, he’s no Ryan Gosling.
But that’s exactly the point of the online-driven “seduction community” to which Barton and thousands of other average dudes belong.
It all started with a book. In 2005, journalist Neil Strauss penned The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. As the title suggests, the book was all about Strauss’ efforts to go deep undercover in these “underground seduction lairs,” where formerly awkward misfits developed tactics for wooing the stunners that ignored them back in high school. In these lairs, these men pseudo-intellectualized romance in a low-rent—yet surprisingly effective—sort of way. The book blew up, and Strauss went on to create a new offshoot of the seduction submovement.
One of the author’s main figures was Erik von Markovik, a pale beanpole who called himself “Mystery” and dressed like the magician he once was. Von Markovik wore guyliner and black silk scarves and taught himself how to go from zero to hero with the ladies, and broke his process down in his 2007 douche de résistance, The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed. The book spawned a VH1 reality show, and soon, other “pickup artists” sprouted up in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere, sometimes charging luckless men thousands of dollars to show them how to talk to women.
What was once a subversive, kind of weird phenomenon grew into a slightly less subversive, still-weird phenomenon. And now websites exist just to decode the jargon favored by its followers—terminology such as “bottom bitch,” “chick crack” and “chode crystal”—the latter describing a group of male wallflowers bringing down the energy of a bar or club with their lameness.
Barton, who currently works at a tech start-up company, never took one of the boot camps. But after reading a different book on the subject, the self-proclaimed pickup artist decided to create his own after fine-tuning his method. His day job, after all, has yet to turn into a moneymaker.
“I figured I could either get a regular job or I could just teach a bunch of dudes how to hit on chicks,” he says with a laugh.
The nascent Sac Pick Up is the fruit of such grand ambitions.
Like so many practitioners of the “art,” Barton wasn’t always smooth with the opposite sex.
“I never had a date in high school or my first two years of college,” says Barton, a Bella Vista High School grad who attended both American River and Sierra community colleges before transferring to UC San Diego. “I was a very slow bloomer.”
But then, Barton—who goes by “Double B”—read a copy of Ron Louis and David Copeland’s How to Succeed With Women, and felt like the authors were writing directly to him. He says the book taught him to stop playing the self-deprecating therapist to the women he was interested in. In other words, to stop being the suppliant nice guy.
Barton segued online, where the self-help philosophies of von Markovik and Strauss armed him with gimmicks and inside-baseball terms such as “peacocking” and “negging.”
Now, after five years, this ladies’ man is ready to teach others.
“Eventually, it just became like The Matrix: I started seeing everything in ones and zeroes,” Barton says of breaking through to a head space where macking on women is second nature. “It’s just like learning math or studying literature, but unfortunately, it’s not something that gets taught at schools. And the tragic thing is fathers don’t pass this on to their sons.”
Which brings us back to Dive Bar. This is the third night of Sac Pick Up’s second four-day boot camp. For the first two classes, Barton took his wannabe Don Juans to Arden Fair mall and Starbucks to work on their “day games.” Only two students made this Saturday’s night session, both of whom attended Barton’s first boot camp the week prior.
One of the participants, a 23-year-old Jordanian named Jonathon, shows his “target” a bit too much affection, which, in the parlance of the philosophy being taught here, is called “kinoing.” It’s a loose derivation of the word “kinesthetic” and is all about building comfort through touching. In this case, though, the woman responds to Jonathon’s light caresses by folding herself up like a lawn chair. Eventually, she leaves.
Barton informs Jonathon he didn’t “neg” the lady enough. To neg is when you pay a pretty girl a backhanded compliment to level the playing field, says one former pickup coach from the Bay Area.
“It’s also one of the most debatable topics in the community, since no one uses them anymore,” says Scott “Gonzo” Bruner. “Except your Sactown buddies.”
Jonathon and his fellow classmate both came to the seduction community separately about five months ago. They applied the tricks they learned from online forums, but say Barton’s boot camp ratcheted up their success rate. One of them even knocked out an “SNL” recently, which is an abbreviation for “same night lay.”
Both guys are young and good looking in their distinctive ways. Jonathon is compact with a boxer’s build and friendly, open face. Mason is tall and sculpted. He prefers louder atmospheres like Dive Bar, where he doesn’t have to talk much and can rely on his body language. Jonathon likes the low-pressure day scene. He seems sweet and impressionable.
Two women observing the scene nearby worry that the men are learning bad habits. And what about that? With its sometimes misogynistic terminology and questionable approaches to scaling down a woman’s confidence, does the new seduction game amount to clever manipulation? Barton doesn’t think so.
He says it’s all about instilling his men—one pupil is 39 and divorced—with confidence and teaching them to be the best versions of themselves. A couple students are in this for true love, after all, and Barton’s just trying to show them how to hook that “high-value target.”
“What do I say over and over again?” he asks his nodding students. “Never lie.”
A disco-ball necklace swings from his neck, and a stuffed turtle sticks out of his pocket. A week before, Barton wore a vest made of credit cards. That’s an example of extreme peacocking, he says.
Mid-chat, Barton spies a bachelorette party getting seated just across the way. Never one to miss an opportunity, he strides over to the group, hunches just above the lap of the woman of the hour and starts twerking like a young Steve Martin getting electrocuted. Some of the bridesmaids laugh, a few adopt polite grins that seem to say, “How long is this going to last?”
As Barton wriggles, Jonathon and Mason are asked whether their sensei does this kind of thing often.
“Oh, yeah,” Jonathon enthuses, “he’s amazing.”
Barton returns with a victorious smile.
“See, they’re starting to dance, and I’m the one who started it,” he says, though the women aren’t moving yet. “Now I’m the life-of-the-party guy.”