The morning after Disneyland and Craigslist dating, I was a bit of a wreck. See, before I left on the 50/50 road trip, a friend of mine who has asked to remain anonymous handed me his copy of Neil Strauss’ The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick Up Artists. “You might be interested in this,” my friend told me. “Or at least, you might want to be aware of this on your dates.”
I tossed the faux-leather bound book (which looks more like a bible than a manual for how to score chicks) in with the two other books I was bringing with me (Travels with Charley and One Hundred Years of Solitude) and figured I’d get around to reading it.
Well, 48 states and one kidney stent later, I did finally get around to pawing my way through The Game and found it engrossing, engaging, ahead of its time and so impossible to put down that eventually I hadn’t showered in over 24 hours and simply got in the bathtub and soaked myself clean through the last 100 pages of the book. Neil Strauss comes across as a genuine, hellacious critical thinker whose emotional intelligence and IQ are through the roof, as well as an occasionally smarmy yet eager to please man. In other words, he comes across as human.
Sure, part of his story is about pick-up artistry, yet there’s more to it than that. Neil Strauss describes what it’s like to go on a journey, experience life in an entirely foreign way, make that foreign way your own, and think about what it all means constantly. And in that sense, I started to think Neil Strauss and I had a lot more in common than just an innate curiosity about social relationships. We’d both evolved from who we’d been because we didn’t like where we were in life, and we’d both experienced the good and the bad from that evolution. We’d just gone about it differently – mine in a chaste first dating expedition, and his in a much more seemingly lusty adventure. But sex aside, the fact remains that we dove head first into relationship culture.
So when Megs gave me word that he agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, I literally started dancing in excitement. And then I had over a month to think, fret, develop questions and practice interviewing people so I wouldn’t find myself in rookie-mistake land (like only asking “Yes” or “No” questions). I listened to Terry Gross on Fresh Air with rapt attention to invoke an ability to talk to people while getting answers to my questions. I tried not to vomit when I thought about the prospect of getting to meet someone whose work I admired. And I watched clips of Neil Strauss in other interviews to prove to myself he probably wasn’t going to taunt me.
Yes, I had this deep fear that Neil Strauss was going to go school-yard frenzy on me and bust out gems like, “I’m rubber and you’re glue!” and maybe the dreaded “Ostrich-jello” which was the only way anyone could think to make fun of my last name, Ostarello. This fear, as Megan pinpointed quickly, stemmed from the fact that I didn’t feel like I belonged in a place where I was asking Neil Strauss anything. Who the heck was I? Some silly girl who’d gone on (almost) 50 first dates.
Actually, I was some silly girl who’d gone on almost 50 first dates who was currently navigating Megan to Neil Strauss’ home while pretending not to be nervous. I’m not known for being able to hide how I feel – time and time again my face gets me in trouble for portraying my exact sentiments – and Megs saw right through me. With a snack in her hand and an eyeroll when I refused to eat, she came up with one of her off the cuff, amazingly astute pithy mantras: “You belong at this table.”
She went on to explain that sure, there are probably some things I would never be at the table for – namely my ability to drive quickly or discuss the joys of flying – but that this topic was one of those things I knew something about, had an opinion about, was smart about, and could talk about endlessly.
The sun was beating down on us, the ocean was a glimmer through the trees, and the gate to an expansive yet subtle home was opening to let in the Honda Fit. Even though I didn’t really believe Megan in that moment, in between deep breaths I started telling myself I belonged at this table.
Time to meet Neil Strauss. I really hoped there was a table.