Friday, September 30, 2011

Off campus, online

Spent the last day writing this column for the Yale Daily News.

Off Campus, Online

“Yo dawg, how’s it going?”

These days, that’s how it always begins. After a few seconds of “John is typing …” he’ll respond, “nm homie, not much.”

Often, we’ll skip the platitudes. “dude those Asian guys playing piano and guitar is [sic] so good. [insert YouTube link]”

“wow manila sounds crazy.”

“yo look at facebook. the girl who just posted on my wall.”

That’s how post-Yale conversations begin — on Gchat. It’s 1 p.m. in the Philippines; 1 a.m. on the East coast. Both of us should be doing something else: John, P90X; me, working.

But we keep talking, because post-Yale, that’s how college relationships are. John is typing …

“she definitely posted this of her own accord. without any provocation from me.”

“what did you say to her?”

“we had a conversation about how we compulsively check our facebooks. i check it for the small victory of seeing that absolutely nothing has changed since the last time i checked it 10 seconds ago. (it was funnier in person, i did a whole one man sketch scene).”

“oh nice. you should keep it up. but don’t give her too much. so obviously, don’t respond tonight.”

“s--t. I literally just posted on her wall.”

In many respects, 2011 and 2010 are very, very similar — except now, my social interactions have moved online.

Instead of tossing the football against gentle autumn winds on Cross Campus, I’m tossing trade proposals on ESPN fantasy football (Cadillac for Fred Williams? Seriously, Warren?). Instead of meeting up for a jam session on Old Campus, I’m sending out YouTube links of acoustic covers. Instead of flirting in Commons, I’m eating take-out dumplings while sending OKCupid messages. (“So … how do you feel about jeggings?”) Instead of hanging out in a common room, I’m hanging out on G+. John is typing …

“this girl is mad chill. like she’s super into college football and nfl. and she’s also super super into tennis. she’s like just an ideal chick.”

“you’re so set. just dont screw this up.”

“lol. but i really don’t wanna be distracted iwth this s--t. dammit.”

After college ended, I’ve gotten distracted a lot. My summer in New York, I was distracted offline: shows, street fundraising, busking, Argentinian women on the subway, basketball at Rucker Park. In Manila, I’m distracted online: Quora, Tumblr, Twitter, Ravelry (don’t ask), Athletics Nation, Reddit, Hacker News, Spotify and Blogger (shameless plug:!), literally all of which I either didn’t know about or barely touched back at Yale.

This is to be expected. It is part of the transition from college. As natural as learning to cook (revelation: eggs can be microwaved), using a plunger (no Yale “super-toilets” anymore), or even — God forbid — flipping through the UCS guide, “Life After Yale: A Survival Guide for the Class of 2011” (with useful tips like, “don’t expect to be the CEO after a week”). It is as natural as maintaining relationships through gchat. John is typing …

“i almost feel like she’s too much of a woman for me to handle.”


“i don’t even have her number yet. how do i go about getting her number?”

“you get her number by, one day, in the middle of a conversation, without provocation, taking out your phone and looking at it, while saying, ‘Let me get your number.’”

These are the vestiges of Yale. Without the near-frictionless social environment of college, maintaining friendships becomes more imposition than convenience: it’s 100 percent on you. Otherwise, as a 2010 friend puts it, they’ll become “nonexistent. so sad. I haven’t kept up w yale at all.” You can’t take the chicken tenders or Master Chun with you, but you can take your friendships, even if they are wedged in a small box in the corner of your Gmail account.

What is life after Yale? One friend says, “Sitting and eating and then making enough money to sit and eat some more.” He adds, later, “rambles and shambles.”

Another says, “it’s the sense of relief when your ego comes flooding back when you are back on top out in the ‘real world.’”

Another says, “It means being cast out of an edenic garden of earthly delights into the wilderness of responsibility.”

Or, maybe all Life after Yale means is having to email your friends with the question, instead of yelling it across the common room.

It’s different for each of the 1,251 graduates of 2011. There’s no statement of pure pith. Well, except for what my suitemate told me, two days ago.

I asked, “Quick q. What does ‘life after yale’ mean to you?”

He replied, “it means never having to bs my way through section again.”

Now that, friends, is something to look forward to.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Leaving Yale, Part 3: I must pee.

Part 1: Lychees and a Sock

The weather is perfect, unbelievable. The summer solstice has bent away, and the days are supposed to be shrinking, but it is bright, standing on this square of concrete sidewalk. The trees are green. Green-green, dead-serious green, veins of green, supersaturated chlorophyll watermarks against a light, intimate sky. A breeze is pushing me over gently, and the sun is whisking away lonely wisps of humidity. I am on the outskirts of campus -- on Howe street -- with a guitar slung over my back, walking towards, through, and away, from Yale.

It was never the plan to say goodbye in such a trivial way. James and I, we had just whiled away two hours in his art-deco-infested sublet. I brazenly wrestled the pictures and video of our triumphant guitar set last night from his computer, while he talked to his mum, awkward-as-a-white-elephant headphones in his ears. We are in the kitchen of a house. A house with mason jars, instead of glasses. A house with two bathrooms, both warily functional, exactly across from each other. The house speaks to us. It whispers, "You might have wire-rim glasses, but you'll never feel comfortable here." Whilst the ghosts of the tenants engage us, James and I, both of us, we just sit there, present, visceral.

“Do you like fruit?” I ask.

“Of course,” he responds.

“You can have this. I want you to keep it.”

“There’s an entire mango in here? Thanks mate! Are you sure you don’t want it?”

“Nope. That’s a present from me to you.”

Not much of a present for our friendship, or even for two nights in a real room, with a real sheet, a wake-up call in the morning, unabashed use of his computer, and a cozened generosity for my professional time-wasting activities. No, the fruit in the bag, just an over-ripe mango and a branch of lychees -- round and globular, hardened and ready for any-length fingernails to pierce with pleasure -- was not adequate for our goodbye. Not even.

So I prepared a speech.

“Thanks so much for being my friend. For having the generosity to have me, a tyro, with literally no knowledge of music, teach you, the 17-year master, how to play guitar. Because you didn’t need to ask me. But you did. And out of it came the greatest memory of this summer – and also a new friendship that, while maybe I wouldn’t have valued a year ago, and definitely not three years ago, now means so much. It was a good way to go out. I’m glad we became friends.”

At 7:25 p.m., we stood awkwardly, wedged between the arc of the front door and the staircase. (Poor design. I blame the hipsters.) I got out the first two lines – “Thanks for playing guitar with me. I’m really glad we played together” -- before he immediately volunteered a response: “Shared accountability, remember,” -- more inside joke than sentimental farewell. And, with that sweet, irreverent remark, an air of finality hit both of us; it hung in the air. I didn’t push back. Instead, we grasped in an ever-so-sloppy handshake, and then I turned and left into the beautiful day.

My heels struck pavement, my stride was purposeful, my gait long, tall, and designed-by-force. I was ready for my last tour through this school, head swirling with the soft memories of my last interaction ever. Then: "Hey, Peter!"

I look across the street. It's my KASY wife. Shoot. It's not like I don't like her, or anything; I actually do -- whenever we've hung out, she's been accommodating, energetic, beatific -- but we haven't seen each other much through the year. She's an acquaintance, and now, she's going to fall into place as my last conversation at Yale. This wasn't supposed to happen! Where's my script? The sunset, the cherry-black horse galloping into the distance, the tumbleweed?

"You're leaving! Oh man -- this is my friend, by the way."

I shake hands. I am woefully unprepared to meet someone new, not now, not after I have already put Yale and its vicissitudes behind me. Our conversation peters out, drips slowly onto the cement, the latent discomfort and patent unfamiliarity staining our skin, turning us egregious. After 30 seconds, I make the move to exit gracefully, without, of course, any semblance of grace. 

"Ok, I'll see you...uh, again! Soon! Keep in touch!"

And I'm off! The journey is back on track, and I'm planning my route through Yale: I turn right and head towards Chapel Street; then, feeling regret already poisoning my thoughts, double back and walk through the pathway between Branford and Jonathan Edwards. I decide to go even further north to High Street gate, so that I can let some of the magic of Old Campus linger. 

I walk through the gate. Should I be crying right now? Not bawling, tears hanging off my chin, but maybe a little misty-eyed solemnity, a rapid-fire sequence of blinking to hide these grown-man emotions? Crying seems appropriate. Apropos, I think, to make-up for my lack of emotion during graduation, when the end was still hazy, wobbly, un-finalized and not very present, not with a summer in New York so close. Yes, tears should be shed, preferably while I keep walking through Old Campus, even if these high school students -- what program are they here for? -- wearing their tags of identification around their small, skinny necks will see me. Tears would work well here. It would be memorable. It would be quite a Capstone. Emotions. Melancholy. The end of childhood. 

But of course, I am nowhere near crying. Not in the same block, or borough, or continent. My neurons are not obeying my commands for sentimentality. It isn't as if this is some romantic comedy, where I just broke up with this school and its now nearly 20 billion dollar endowment. Plus, I am facing a more immediate problem. It is the problem of throwing away my sock.

Oh, you hadn't heard? Well, see, back on Chapel Street, I attained a splinter in my right shoe. I thought it was poetic. An extended metaphor for my stay at Yale: overall superb, but a little niggling and nagging, a prickle, a mini-crisis. I relished the thought at becoming a literal walking metaphor. 

But 10 steps in, I had enough. It hurt too much. I stopped, peeled back the sock, and tried to locate the source of my discomfort, but I couldn’t see it. So I slipped my shoe over my toes, and then over my heel, and started walking, sock in hand. Which was equally metaphorical, now that I think about it. Slightly unbalanced. Comfortable, successful, but imperceptibly uneven, slightly awry, askew.

My sock could go into my guitar backpack! I would carry it as an emblem of Yale. It would sit in my room for a week, and then I would go to the old shop downtown and frame it underneath the saltiest old glass I could find, append a label saying, "The Last Sock of Yale," and place it in safekeeping in an attic until I bought my own place, at which point this trophy would come back in blazing fashion, mounted above a fireplace, an instant-conversation starter. Hey what's so special about that sock?Well, Mr. President, let me tell you, that sock has been through thick and thin with me. Why, back when I was at Yale...

I throw the sock away in a trash can on Old Campus.

Knit and Tonic

A man much wiser than me said that poetry's purpose is to deepen your sense of self. This is updated from July 7th. It's much, much better. Inspiration: Carol Moldaw. 

Knit and Tonic

Less hand, more fingers.
Napkins sewed to shreds.
Precision without neatness.
A task put to bed—

not old garments, but
fine wool fibers, lighter
than our cat’s hind paws,
twined to make socks

for our friends. Even apathy
deserves warmth. Afternoon
tea, and a sewing machine 
bites off cloth, patterns.

Cut, snip, brush, pout. Done!

The Rhode Island breeze lasted
one whole month. It blew
the big toe and two ankles under
the docks by the bay. Crabs and
lobsters took them home.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harvard Business School and Kennedy Science Club: the joys of experiential learning

In the middle of 10th grade, my best friend moved away to India. More importantly, he took his basketball with him. Without it, the loose group of friends I associated with on the blacktops  we all dispersed, like ants suddenly without a home. Within a week, it seemed, everyone had made new friends, and had found new activities.

Newly peripatetic, I circumnavigated Monta Vista's hallways, bouncing from academic court to the fringes of the rally court, from the lunch line to the library. The end of sophomore year wasn't bad: I had my first relationship, and spent most of my free time with her and her friends. But by the time junior year arrived, I was freshly single again, ready to carve a serious niche for myself in the hazy high-school hierarchy. 

Turns out that niche was the classroom. I found solace talking to teachers during their break periods, signing up for tutoring and becoming a tutor, working on assignments tucked away on the second floor of a far-away hallway so that, back at home, I could engage in more worthwhile pursuits, like Super Mario World. My favorite ecosystem was the Chemistry classroom. I was taking Chemistry AP at the time, meaning I was tutoring Chemistry Honors. Twice a week, I walked through the D-building doors, spending 45 minutes helping the underclassman, talking to friends, and turning my head when the occasional cute girl walked in, looking for help.

All this lead-up is a long way of saying that I slowly developed a love for chemistry. And because of that love, I found myself, on a sunny day in January of junior year, sitting on a bench next to the basketball courts, talking to one of my best friends about how we could be "more legitimate" in our extracurricular lives. By the time lunch period ended, we had been bitten by inspiration: it was time to start a science club at our local middle-school.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Links, Week 15: 77 hours and a top-ten list

Did you know that I repeated "Links, Week 5" twice? We're skipping Week 14 and going straight into Week 15.

This week, my Manila internet access (primarily due to the SmartBro wifi USB stick) amounted to a mere 77 hours and 45 minutes. I wasted more time (28 hours, 52 minutes) than I used it productively (26 hours, 16 minutes). I also used Gmail for 10 hours, 53 minutes. The rest of the time was pretty neutral, thank goodness. This week? Let's get down to 66 hours!

Editorial: I played Angry Birds on Chrome for 2 hours, and 49 minutes, and finished all 3 worlds of the game.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Red-light district conversations: Old, fat white men in Manila

Two conversations with old, fat men tonight in Manila's red light district, two different takes on the women here. Plus bonus 30-second jaunt through a seedy, seedy bar. Read all about it!

(Note: this post is going to be wrapped into my long-read about Manila's red-light district, so it's going to disappear, probably in a week.)

Conversation un:

Norm Wilson, an Australian with his own company selling fruits and vegetables, just got married. He’s 60 years old. His bride, Diane, is 25. I met them eating Chinese food in a restaurant in the middle of the red light district. Norm is corpulent, but not unusually so. He's wearing a metallic polo shirt (hiding a pair of love handles, probably), which points upwards to his double stacked chin. He's halfway bald; his cheeks are blubbery. He looks like a fat cat, especially when he unbuttons his polo all the way to reveal a chest with wispy, pubic-hair-like curls as dense as the ones on his legs.

His wife – they were officially married yesterday, September 23rd, in city hall in front of 40 of Diane’s relatives (nobody from Norm’s side was there) – is less corpulent than Norm. In Australia, she would pass for normal-sized. In the Philippines, however, she's slightly overweight. Her features are shockingly normal: she has black hair, a cute smile, a pig-button nose. She wears sandals, like Norm. Her command of English is above-average: I can ask her questions, even in my normal, slightly run-on cadence, and she’ll answer without straining her ears or asking twice.

How Quora helped me become a published author

This is a post I wrote on about the process towards publishing my Simple Pickup article -- expanded, with bonus insights. It's gotten over 2100 views and 120 upvotes putting it in the top 40 posts on Quora, ever.

To my friends, it's not a secret that Quora has become my 2nd most frequented social network, just behind Facebook. Forbes online calls it the social network for smart people to show off their intelligence; to "win" at Quora, you write witty, insightful answers to questions other users have posed. It's like what Yahoo answers should have been. The community is rapidly expanding: Ashton Kutcher, Michelle Rhee, Reed Hastings, JJ Abrams, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Summers have all either asked or answered questions on the site. 

I've always enjoyed puttering around there, learning esoteric facts (like why platypuses sweat milk)  while trying to find out the backstory for the community's welterweights (Yishan WongMarc Bodnick). While I'd heard of success stories of Quorans who have been "discovered" on the site and now write for Forbes or TechCrunch, they were feverish content creators. I'm not. I consider this site useful procrastination -- every day, I log on and read the new content on my newsfeed, and vote up the best answers -- and not very relevant for my professional life. That has all changed.

On Monday,, a liberal-leaning online magazine that sees 1.5 million page views every month, put up, on its front page, my profile of the YouTube channel Simple Pickup. 

You can find the article here:

My personal story -- the story of the article's inception -- begins with Quora. While I wrote for the Yale Daily News and was active on on-campus publications, I had zero contacts in the outside journalism world. I did, however, know some professors and staff that had written for big magazines, like the New Yorker and the New York Times, but my pride wouldn't let me contact them before I tried to publish the profile myself. So I went to Quora, and asked the question, "Getting Published: What's the normal process for submitting a story to a magazine for publication?" On August 31st, 2011, Aileen Gallagher, who is definitely in the long-tail of Quora users (only 2 answers, I'm her only follower), wrote a generous response to the question. 

She literally laid out every step towards getting published: how to find a relevant magazine, how to lay out the introductory email pitch, where I should be looking. After receiving the response, I thanked her. Further meanderings through the Quora ecosystem revealed other equally incisive answers to the same topic. Brandee Barker's answer to Wired (magazine): What is the best way to pitch a story to Wired Magazine? at once overwhelmed me and steeled me for the process ahead; Steven Levy's answer to Wired (magazine): What is the best way for a freelance journalist to pitch a story to Wired Magazine? brought back my excitement for publishing with one sentence: "But like every magazine I've ever known, we are hungry for someone who can deliver a fantastic story, and when one of those does come in, everyone is excited." Did I have a fantastic story? I thought so. James Mowery's answer to What is the best way to get started as a freelance writer? convinced me the daily writing I do in my blog ( was still worth it. Finally, Lulu Liu, who from all I can discern, is concentrated in science topics on Quora, contributed the best answer to What should I do if I want to have my own article published in a magazine? that, while rehashing all the information I had read about already, strangely unhinged me, and imbued me with a quiet optimism. It whispered in my ear, "You can do it."

In no time during this process did I ever go outside Quora to seek advice on how to become a published author. What's more, I never even thought about leaving Quora. That's what you call an affirmation of the quality of this site. 

On September 15th, after having written the profile, and with everything I gleaned from this site teetering precipitously in my head, I shot off an email to the Life section of 3 hours later, the editor of the section emailed me and said, "Let's do this." I edited with her for 2 days, flipping my day/night sleep cycle on its head (I'm working in Manila), and, Monday, my profile appeared on the front page. If Quora didn't exist, it'd still be languishing in the hinterland of my computer's folder system. 

So, to the Quora community: Thank you. You guys are f*cking awesome.
(If you haven't joined, you should. If you've ever had questions that you can't find answers to online, or know a ton about an esoteric subject, the site's for you.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Yes, and: Enablers and the people who love them

As a freshman in college, I was easily pursuaded. Free food! Bright t-shirts! People! Nowhere did this manifest itself more -- in an activity that I had absolutely no interest pursuing -- than the improv groups on campus.

I was intrigued, of course, by their gregarious attitudes, and their implicit promise that they could make anybody funny. And it was free! Free shows in WLH, free workshops on Cross Campus, myriad opportunities to laugh and learn how to make other people laugh. I was intrigued -- but I was also pretty terrified. 

Figures: I never tried out for sketch comedy or improv. I did go to their shows – until, um, I realized they weren't funny (to me). As another enclave in the Yale creative scene, improv was just another form of art I couldn't quite appreciate. So, after attending three shows freshman year, I didn't attend another one ever again. My most significant interactions with the troupes were figuring out how best to avoid their glances, their hands, those flimsy pieces of paper shaped like purple crayons.

I'd like to think I was funnier than average in college -- though, of course, that means absolutely nothing. I'd like to think that during my best days, I could be wry, sardonic, and completely whimsical. I'd like to think I surprised people with my sense of humor. But really, I'm pretty sure that only my roommate thought I was funny, and even now, I still can't be sure he wasn't faking it. It wasn't until graduation that I realized what a loose, unleveraged place college was: it gave me consequence-free opportunities to fail. I should have failed at learning improv; college had been my best chance. 

This thought became blatantly clear when I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants. She talks about the golden rule of improv: “Yes, and.” Always agree, no matter what. If I tell you there’s an alligator in my boots, and you say, “No there isn’t,” our conversation has just ground to a halt. If you tell me, “Yes, and there’s a snake in mine,” we're moving. That's progress. It's a simple and powerful idea.

And yet, for its Occam’s razor-like quality, “Yes and” is so neglected in our everyday lives. Our friendly neighborhood John Song describes it this way: There are two types of people in this world – enablers and blockades.

It’s a Friday night, and you’re with three friends, ready to hit Roosevelt Bar. Then it starts raining. Jesse looks at the group and says, “Should we still go?” Here are three responses:

  •  “Yes! And I have an extra umbrella I can lend someone.”
  •  “I don’t care…I’ll go if everyone else goes.”
  •  “Nah, I don’t like getting wet. And I’m kind of tired.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of these statements; each one could be a truthful representation of what you're feeling. But in terms of social momentum, only the first response – the enthusiastic one – builds good standing among your peers. Say yes, and people will come to you, because they want to hear it again. Say no, and people will stop bothering you, because they wouldn't rather not be turned away again.

Another way to say it: The more you enable others, the more changes you'll have to enable others. It's a positive feedback loop that will just keep giving. And really, being a "Yes, and" kind of guy (or gal) is the way to go if you want to maintain your optionality. The blockade who says no will never get invited to anything again. The enabler who says yes will always get invited -- but he can also choose not to go. If you say yes, your options proliferate.

I realize this isn't a jaw-dropping thought. But it's a thought I too often find myself not remembering until it's too late. We can all do a better job of enabling each other in our lives. 

My final thought: being an enabler isn’t analogous to being positive. It’s not just saying, “Yes.” It’s saying, “Yes, and.” Encouragement is only effective insofar as you seed future potential. It's not just "Good job" – it's "Good job! Have you ever thought about this, too?" Add value by being positive; go above and beyond by offering a space for that positivity to grow. Be an enabler, in as many contexts as possible. Broaden and build, because in the long run, you’ll be paid back 10 times over.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peter Lu in lists

On my computer, I have 14 sticky notes accumulating all my wayward thoughts. I’ve organized them into triplets. Here’s what I'm thinking about, in lists of three:

What I am currently listening to.
How to Love, Lil’Wayne
Them There Eyes, Ella Fitzgerald
We’ve Got The Blues, Leo Watson & The Spirits of Rhythm

What I will never have a chance to do.
Create a stop motion of Commons.
Give Dan Turza The Four Hour Body.
A YaleLunch, with Ed.

Three exigent thoughts.
If we all lived in a Manhattan-density area, the U.S. population would fit in New Hampshire.
Soon, we’ll have video profiles for online dating.
It’s cute when you’re five years old speaking broken English, but not so much when you’re 22.

Favorite sayings.
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
“Not even Google can satisfy every Search.”
“The best kept secret is one you don’t know yourself.”
extra: "I have a question I mustache, but I'll shave it for later."

Saying I’m not sure are true.
To forget memories, you need to make memories.
To produce great ideas, you need great lighting.
When you know, you know.

Three things I would not normally admit.
Senior year, my NJB team went 0-12.
I want to be Neil Strauss when I grow up.
I could really use a good luck tchotchke.

Advice I will follow in the future.
Don’t follow the latest fashions; wear what the fashion designers wear.
Learn to cook a couple favorite meals, and use premium ingredients. (YW.)
Never buy a dragon egg from a stranger in a bar. 

Books I keep telling myself I will read.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
1Q84, Haruki Murakami
The Dragon Reborn, Robert Jordan 

Books I keep telling myself I will read but probably never will.
Starting Strength, Mark Rippletoe
The Bible
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Corey Seymour

Movies that I secretly liked.
Easy A
Just Go With It
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Off-the-beaten-path books that I unabashedly enjoy.
Beating the Reaper
The Merlin Series
Where's Waldo

Three not-so-famous people I would love to meet.
Cherry Cheva, writer for Family Guy (and Yale psychology major)
(wait, there's no more????) 

Peace and Love.
Cameron D.
Peter C.
Jack "The Man" C.

Squeaky-clean phrases from news articles.
“At first, Shortz didn’t cotton to any of them.”
“She said, somewhat apropos of nothing,”
 “I’m talking about the good condoms, not the shit condoms you get for free.”

Magnificent words I’ll never be able to use.

Favorite phrases I like to slip in whenever the situation calls for it, which is always.
I majored in unafraid.
“How do you feel?” “Like a champion.” (via Warren)

My favorite rose cultivars.
Strike it Rich
About Face
Dick Clark

Three online dating sites I check once every two months.

I would pay someone for this.
Learning to freestyle.
Learning to tag (montana / techlak).
Learning to sing.

What I forgot to do in New York.
Buy modern organic products, summer paste.
Get fitted at Paul Stewart.
Endure a hypnosis session with Victoria Phillips of NY Health Hypnosis.

Poetry collections I am reading.
Praise, Robert Hass
Blizzard of One, Strand
Shadow of Sirius, Merwin
extra: Averno, Gluck; April Galleons, Ashbery

My favorite fonts other than Garamond, which I use too often now.
Corbel, size 10
Georgia, size 9
Corbel, 10.5

Random thoughts.
What about the infinity that occurred before we were born?
We’ve all time-travelled; we just can’t remember it.
"The last one there farts in a milk bottle!" ~ Ender's Game

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Real empathy is impossible; or, Simple Pickup in the developing world

To pound the topic of pickup to its cold, dead end, let's talk today about how blessed everyone living in the United States -- or the developed world in general -- is when it comes to leisure time.

There are communities that revolve around discussing "first-world problems"; on Reddit, in the top 5 are, "I like Google+ more than Facebook but none of my friends are on it," and "My laptop screen is so glossy that I can see myself masturbating." I've complained about them before: Chick-a-Fil filling my drink with just too much ice; the New York Times not refreshing fast enough to satiate my 10-minutes checks; being unable (unwilling, really) to shell out the money to install good car speakers so I can play dubstep on the way to work.

Quora, the smarter, sexier Yahoo Answers, notes in one question that the one thing that has to be experienced to be believed is living in a third-world country. The argument goes: try eating on 34 cents a day, having to bury your own shit after going to the bathroom, living in a minuscule sweat-soaked shack with ten other people, making your own "shoes" out of banana leaves when the rocks and broken glass become too much. It's not possible to imagine, no matter how hard you want to, or try to.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Behind the scenes with Simple Pickup

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already read the profile of Simple Pickup I wrote for The article’s meaty – over 3,000 words – and captures the pith of Simple Pickup. But if you want more flavor, here's a look, backstage, at what they’re like in real life.


Part 1: Backstory
(If you want to get straight to the interview, go down 2 line breaks.)

I’m an Economics major-turned-writer from Yale. This summer, I worked at a publishing company in New York. In June, after watching the Simple Pickup videos, a couple buddies and I took to the streets in an attempt to be amateur pickup artists.

The results, of course, were spectacular (by our standards – none of us had ever picked up a number before). Over three weekends in July, I picked up 17 numbers during lazy Saturday and Sunday afternoons, either purposefully in Union Square, when I went to a free day-game session hosted by Aiden West, or serendipitously, hanging out with friends at a concert at MoMA PS1. (The MoMA concert was where the Russian girl anecdote in the piece comes from.) Bolstered by that success, I pushed it a step further: I became a street fundraiser and approached 2,000 people, convincing 5 to donate $2,000 to my causeplayed guitar in Times Square holding a cardboard sign that said, "I slept with Snooki last week -- please help"; took pictures with random strangers just to validate the world's humanity; and ran around with my man JSR in Captain America costumes asking people if they knew the Pledge of Allegiance. All said, a pretty good summer. (Oh, and I'm genuinely glad I picked up the numbers. Made two good friends because of it.)

In August, I emailed the Simple Pickup guys to thank them for their inspiration (corny, I know, but so true). They were genuinely nice in their response, and told me we should meet up in CA sometime. I forgot about them until I got back to CA, when, one night, by some sheer stroke of brilliance/naivete, I decided I wanted to write a profile of them. The thought stewed in my head for days; then, one day, when my mom and I took my sister to her swimming lesson, I brought my laptop and started writing. It took 3 days and 20 hours. 80% of the Salon piece was written on that first go. Call it inspiration.

I emailed the Simple Pickup guys and sent them the profile. They responded within a day and said, “We don’t usually accept requests from freelancers, but we can tell you’re a talented writer and understand what we’re about.” I met them on August 29th. Then I had an epic trip back home.

Part 2: First Impressions

(Present tense): We decide to meet at a Coffee Bean in a generic open-air outlet mall. It’s 8:05? (8:02?) when the guys walk in. First thing Jesse says to me is, “I told Kong that looked like you.” The place is empty, and the chairs are positioned awkwardly, so we take a table outside. Jason shows up 5 minutes later. All three are dressed normally: t-shirt and shorts/jeans. Jason's wearing the same shirt he had on in the wrestling video. I don’t know why this fact is unbelievable, but it is. They look exactly the same in real life.

Before we get started, Jason yanks Kong’s Taco Bell burrito straight out of his hand. He laughs, then starts eating it. I’m really confused, but it’s kind of hilarious. “There’s this little game we play, where if you grab someone else’s food from them, you win it. Cleanly. If you touch them, or there's a spill, the other guy has to walk over and buy it immediately. So I’d have to go over…fuck, where is it?” Jason says. I ask if Jesse plays, and Jesse kind of looks at me and says he’s not good enough. So it’s just Kong and Jason ragging on each other. Kong mentions that he used to be way more jacked. Later on, they also talk about how Jesse's too Indian with his hair -- it's always gelled up, when he should just let it down (it's down tonight).

While we're outside, there's a group of either volleyball or softball girls that walk into the store behind us. They are legitimately gorgeous. Jason gets distracted and looks at them and says, "Damn. They are so hot."

We talk for 2 hours. It's just chill -- they're relaxed, joke around constantly. Real fun to be around. The interview's below, but we definitely went on some major tangents; it was more a conversation than anything. I've paraphrased a bit to help with flow.
Part 3: The Simple Pickup Interview

How did the idea for the YouTube channel come about?

“We did this stuff before all the time, just not formatted or recorded. We would challenge each other to do stupid shit. Like, I’d say to Jesse, 'Go up to those girls and ask them if they want to come home with you.' Stuff like that. Sometime it would work. We started doing more and more of it, and realized it was high risk, high reward. We’re also really big fans of YouTube, and liked the stuff that pushed the limits. We wanted to be more risky than what was already out there.

We made our first videos on an iPhone, but the first one to go on YouTube, the "Penis Pickup" video, was filmed with a regular camcorder. It was only going to be for our entertainment, but we got 100k views in 2 weeks. We posted it on forums and it blew up – Pickup artist New York, Chicago, the miscellaneous section of the bodybuilding forums were surprisingly great. We did maybe one, two hours of promoting max and it just took off. We never promoted our Twitter other than the link; and the Rock found us and tweeted our video, but he tweeted the wrong video first – something that someone else had stolen from us and put on their own site – and we had to tweet him back to put up our legit one. And it was on his birthday too, so everyone was looking at his Twitter! We must have gotten at least 100k from that.

The one "moment" of inspiration, though there really wasn't just one, was when we were at this bar and we challenged Kong to go into the woman's bathroom to pick up a number. So Kong walks in there and says, "Excuse me, do you know where the nearest Starbucks is?" Meanwhile, Jesse has his hand stuck around the corner and is recording the entire thing. (It was only the sink area, of course I couldn't see anything.) We realized then we could/should be doing this.

How did you guys meet? [Kong and Jesse] actually met on a forum there; we were really antisocial people at first. When we met each other we were as weird as fuck. He wore 4 watches, it was just bizarre. We started to do crazy shit together. Last year at Comic-Con we got into an event for free by making up someone’s name and saying, “Plus one, please.” We saw Danny de Vito standing in front of us. It was cool. We have a history of sneaking into places. People don’t usually stop us. Think about it – if you’re a person volunteering there, you wouldn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to pose as someone else.

How would you guys describe yourselves?

Jason: I knew nothing when I started. I knew absolutely nothing about pickup artist community. Basically, I had the balls but not the knowledge, whereas Kong and Jesse have the knowledge and not the balls.

Jesse: Hey, that’s not true! We have balls too.

Kong: I’m the more clever one – I’m the go in smooth kind of suave operator, stereotypical romantic, charming guy.

Jesse: I’m more of the nice guy.

Jason: I’m the asshole.

Which one works more?

Actually, the asshole works the most with girls – Jason likes to let girls know that he wants to be friends with benefits – it’s very obvious at the beginning. Kong likes to make it a good experience for them too, so that years down the road the girl will think back and think, damn, Kong was the sweetest guy ever, whereas for the same girl Jason would be like, ‘Wait, I had sex with him but I don’t even remember what he looks like now.’”

What was the breakthrough for your game?

Well, for night game, it was when we realized we needed to touch girls more. We realized we were being too friendly with girls. They weren’t horny enough. So we did what we thought was over the top touching, shameless, I’m-horny-I-want-you-right-now-touching. At first it was weird, and then we realized this was actually the best way to do it. We realized that’s what girls want: People who honest with them, who are aggressive with their intentions. In the videos we’re actually less aggressive than we should be, because we’re catering to a mainstream audience that isn’t comfortable with that; you saw the comments about “rape” on the touching video.

Jason: Remember, I was new to the game. So the first time I did a video, I thought it wasn’t going to be funny, it wasn’t going to work, and I was complaining to the guys the entire time about it. Then after I did it for half an hour, I turned to the camera and said, “How the fuck is this actually working?” When you first try it, you realize you can get away with a lot more than you think.

What advice you have for people who aren’t confident – (because of physical appearance, looks, too skinny, overweight)?

Jason: Try being an asshole – just try it once and see what happens. It works.

Kong: Turn everything that you’re scared of into something fun. Go up to her and say, “Hey I know I’m a fat-ass but I want to meet you, I’m Kong. They’ll like it.”

Jason: Also, think that you’ll get rejected, so there are no expectations. When you don’t give a shit, they read that vibe off you.

Kong: And don’t waste your time not trying. Even if you have a 1% chance of succeeding, there’s a 0% percent chance of you succeeding if you don’t try.

What’s been your worst rejection?

[They take a while to think] Actually, we haven’t had any bad rejections seriously. One time Jesse got slapped, but that was when he saw a girl crying and tried to go up to her. You know, because sometimes it works, you can really cheer a girl up if you go up, but it didn’t happen this time. Jesse went up to her and said the whole, “You are too adorable I wanted to talk to you” line; she pushes him away, but Jesse thinks it’s a playful push and so he laughs. Big mistake. She takes it the wrong way and slaps him.

Jason: Once at a club, I was flirting back and forth, and tried to go into it for a kiss, and she slaps me. But then like 5 minutes later I try to make out with her again and it worked.

We’ve had girls flip us off, say fuck you after we said to them, “I had to stop you, you’re really cute,” but we just laugh about it later. It happens maybe 1% of the time.

We get like 50% of the numbers of everyone we approach on college campuses; Venice beach it’s like 30-40%; but that’s because the girls there are drunk. Huntington beach is 50%. If we dressed normally the ratio would be higher; it’s not a drastic difference. [editorial: and here, I thought the success ratio was like 10-15%.]

In the filming sessions, most of the numbers we get are boring; we don’t put in all the numbers; maybe like 30% of them?

Our goal really is to try to stay in a conversation for as long as we can.

Who are you guys, when you’re not Simple Pickup?

Jason in college was a Psychology major – but he’s decided that Simple Pickup is going to be his life; he’s saving up enough to live and make this a business.

Jesse’s parents own a 7-11 that they turned into Quik-E-Marts for the Simpsons movie.

Kong is an entrepreneur – he and two partners tried to found a restaurant chain, but didn’t have the capital to get it going.

What’s the craziest story you’ve ever had?

Jason: So I meet this girl from San Fran, start texting her, etc, and she comes down for New Years to hang out with me. Problem is, she doesn’t stop smoking when she gets here. She stays with me, but I end up kicking her out because of (some shit) and I send her to a hotel to sleep. The next day when I wake up, I have 78 calls and 138 text messages from her, complaining about how she came down all the way to see me; so I end up ordering her a pizza and sending it to her door.

Jesse: I met this girl who was married – open relationship though – and started hooking up with her. That’s great – until I start getting calls from her husband, who managed to find out my first and last name, and starts threatening to come over to my parents’ house unless I meet him at a Motel 6. At this point, I realize that him coming to my house and my parents finding out would be worse than death, so I actually tell him I’ll meet him at a Motel 6. Keep in mind this guy is apparently an ex-Marine. I get there, he’s holding a Jack Daniels and cigarettes; and the girl is sitting on the bed! They invite me into the room and they start having a good conversation. There’s another friend there too. The guy leaves and gets some beers, then they get serious – the couple starts to fight, he goes to my car to look for long hairs – and I bounce the fuck out of there as soon as I can.

Kong: [This story is actually too much for public consumption. Sorry, guys.]

What actually happened at Comic Con when Kong almost got arrested?

Actually, what happened was that Jason and Jesse got bored and pulled a prank on Kong. Jason went to the security officer and said, “Sir, I have a friend who’s 16 that just got really creeped out by this guy over there. He was hitting on her and making her feel very, very uncomfortable.” The officer didn’t respond, so Jason went to Comic Con security to tell them.

Jesse: You should have seen Jason’s face – he was actually really angry when he talked to the officer, like it actually happened.

So 9 cops and security came over to Kong and started talking to him, and it took like 45 minutes, there was an entire crowd of people, Kong making up stuff and not treating it seriously didn’t help, and the giant sword he was carrying also definitely did not help. When he got off, Kong started skipping down the block [Jason shows me a video of Kong skipping away on his phone] and everyone around him starts cheering. It was great. Kong had no idea Jason had done it to him.

How do you guys film it / describe a day on the set?

Costco camera that we return every 90 days. (hahaha) Now we have 2 cameras shooting at the same time; so two of us go to one area, and we have another friend helping the third guy. We have a voice recorder and wind the mic under our shirt and sync the feed separately later. When girls discover it we just change the subject really quickly; they always ignore it; we tell them that it’s our headphones. Or our pacemaker. I wore my shirt backwards once and it didn’t really matter; it’s not a big deal at all.

We film for an hour each. Huntington, Venice, Irvine, Cal Poly Long Beach; schools are easier to film – the girls are more receptive and open. We literally have someone with a camera 15 feet away filming the interaction. [Kong points to a lamppost] It’s like that distance away. And 90% of the time the girl doesn’t see because they’re so absorbed in the interaction. Also, we try to angle it so the girl’s back is to the camera.

There are some challenges with filming. So many technical difficulties – the memory is full, battery runs out, there was this one time, when we did the gay episode where the Jason, in tight, skimpy shorts somehow managed to make out with one girl. It was amazing: she was into him, but he had to deal with the cockblock of her friend, who was right there, then these other guys came up and Jason had to fend them off; the whole thing took 30 minutes and it was really epic. And then afterwards, Jesse goes up to Jason and says, “Dude, the audio wasn’t on.” And Jason’s like, Haha, funny joke, before he realizes that he’s serious and it’s like fuckkkkkkk. Jason always gets screwed with the technical difficulties. 

Why don’t you show a full-length pickup?

Because there’s a lot of really boring conversation. It honestly would not be interesting; it just wouldn’t appeal to the masses. I know a niche group probably really wants to see it, though, and we have a couple we might release to the public

What about user feedback?

We really focus on the first 10 days; that’s when our most loyal people are reading it all. It takes a good hour to go through all the comments. We get like 6-7 emails a day, and like 10-15 messages on the YouTube messaging channel. Jesse tries to respond to them all, but they’re literally like page long diary entries about these guys lives and asking for advice on what to do with women. Jesse wants to, but just can’t respond to them all.

Where do you go from here?

The videos are just the start of what we’re doing; YouTube is just for the brand recognition.

Whatever happens, we just want to give inspiration to guys who were like me; all the nerds out there; because like we said, we weren’t very social people before. We felt like it was hard to go out and make new friends, and we want to give the message that it’s not hard to do.

Pickup isn’t just about the women; it’s about learning how to do things for you and not other people. We’ve learned so much from the experience.

Future videos?

We’re going past the numbers now, doing a more comprehensive pickup, from start to finish. Keep watching.

Are you guys collaborating with the other guys in the pickup artist industry?

No, we want to keep our distance with them; we know people who have experienced lots of snake oil dealers – it’s too easy to get into the industry, and people don’t know what being good really means. You have a guy who goes to a $3,000 bootcamp and gets a number and thinks it's worth it, but you can’t compare it to anything else. People think getting a number is the biggest thing, that you’re getting laid – but phone numbers are actually a double edged sword. It’s actually bad, because sometimes a girl will give you her number just to get rid of you.

That's it. Coffee Bean closed right then; we parted into the night. Cool story, bro.

Related note for those who have read this far: I'm looking for wings around the world. Email me at Gmail: peterjlu.