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The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment

Jacobs, A. J.

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The uproarious New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All gathers his adventures as a human guinea pig into one of the funniest and most enlightening books of the year.

• An irresistible page-turner filled with surprising wisdom: For his first hit book, Jacobs read the Encyclopedia Britannica. For his second, he followed every single rule in the Bible. Now comes a collection of his most outrageous and thought-provoking experiments yet. In The Guinea Pig Diaries, Jacobs goes undercover as a beautiful woman. He outsources everything in his life to India, from answering his emails to arguing with his wife. He spends two months saying whatever is on his mind. He lives like George Washington. Plus several other life-changing experiments—one of which involves public nudity.

• Amazing sales record: The humor of A.J. Jacobs has produced sales that are anything but laughable. His books have more than half a million copies in print, and they have spent a combined twenty-nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller lists and counting. He has inspired many imitators, but none has matched his ability to combine side-splitting entertainment with profound life lessons.

• A media favorite: To promote his books, Jacobs has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today show, Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360, Conan O’Brien, and NPr’s Fresh Air. Jacobs is all over the Internet as well, from Slate to the Huffington Post to Playboy.com. He is a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition. And he’s the editor-at-large at Esquire magazine, where versions of some of these experiments have appeared.

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About the Author:

A.J. Jacobs is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically. He is the editor-at-large of Esquire magazine, a contributor to NPr, and a columnist for mental_floss magazine. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
My Life as a Beautiful Woman


I’ve been a beautiful woman for fifty days, and no one has compared me to a summer’s day. No one has said my lips are like rose blossoms or my throat is as smooth as alabaster.

Men don’t have time for that anymore. We live in the age of transparency. Say what you mean and mean what you say. As in:

“You are a very pretty lady.”

“I think you are very attractive.”

“You look hot.”

I’ve been approached by more than six hundred men, and that’s one of the big themes I’ve discovered in their method: cut to the chase.

The directness has its charms, but like everything else about being a beautiful woman, it has its dark side as well. One suitor tried to seduce me with this line: “I would like to stalk you.” Another said, “I am in a committed relationship but am looking for a girl on the side.” Are these guys honest? Sure. To the point? Yes. Creepy? As hell.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up. I stumbled into this experiment as a hot woman. This one wasn’t premeditated. As a general rule, I dislike female impersonation. I have too many bad associations of men in skirts—Benny Hill, Uncle Miltie, Idi Amin. But sometimes there are good—or at least excusable—reasons to pose as a female.

The reason in this case is my two-year-old son’s nanny, Michelle. She’s a stunning woman. Before my wife and I hired her, I thought that hot nannies existed only in vintage Penthouse Forum letters and Aaron Spelling dramas. But Michelle—though I’ve changed her name for this book—is real. She’s twenty-seven and looks like a normal-lipped Angelina Jolie. She’s sweet, funny, has a smile straight out of a cruise-line commercial, and wears adorable tank tops.

No one can believe quite how beautiful my nanny is. Among our friends, my wife’s sanity is questioned about twice a week. Michelle is so enchanting, my wife has actually given me permission to have an affair with her, á la Curb Your Enthusiasm. Of course, she made the offer only because she knew there was no chance Michelle would ever be interested. Michelle is too sweet, too Catholic, too loyal, too young. It’s like giving me permission to become a linebacker for the Dolphins.

In any case, Michelle remains bafflingly single. So my wife and I decided to help her find a boyfriend. How about Internet dating? we suggested. Michelle balked. She’s shy. She’s not a big fan of e-mail. Her Internet’s down. And aren’t all the guys on those sites the kind that have a drawerful of ball gags?

We told her that’s an outdated stereotype. We’d help her out. Or I would, since my job is editing and writing. I’d sign her up for a dating site, create a profile, sift through her suitors, and cowrite her e-mails. I’d be her online bouncer, bodyguard, censor, and Cyrano. All she’d have to do is give me some input and allow a few guys to buy her lattes.

She agreed. And even started to like the idea. She wrote her own introductory essay. (“I want someone who will make me laugh at the littlest thing.”) We clicked her preferences (fish and dogs are the best pets) and uploaded seven smiley, PG-rated photos with nothing more risqué than an exposed shoulder or two.

At 8 P.M. on a Wednesday, a couple of hours after Michelle had gone home, her profile was approved and popped up online. I’d been anxious about this. What if it went unnoticed for weeks, gathering dust in an obscure corner of the Internet?

No need to worry. Her profile was viewed within the first three minutes. Then again a minute later. The page-view counter shot up to eight, fourteen, twenty. Not quite Huffington Post numbers but brisk traffic. And then the e-mails started pinging in. A good dozen before I went to bed. I know that technically these guys aren’t e-mailing me. Still, it’s an exhilarating feeling to be so desired, if only by proxy. (And mind you, I did type in the essay and clean up her grammar.)

:-D

“Hey baby, tell me you’re coming to London,” reads my first e-mail, from a British guy who works in advertising. Michelle has given me permission to reject the guys who are clearly wrong. An ocean qualifies as a deal breaker. I zap him back, “Sorry guvnor, no plans to come over there.” I liked my response. Polite and firm—but a little flirty. I’m getting into character.

The next day, I show Michelle a half-dozen men with potential. The cute scientist with the Prince Charles ears, the guy from Long Island with eight siblings. We respond: “How are you?” “How was your week?” We keep it light, noncommittal—and short. That’s an early lesson. I’ve always been the chaser, so I didn’t realize quite how radically the balance of power shifts when you’re the chasee. Michelle could have responded with a random string of letters and numbers, perhaps an umlaut and a backward slash, and these guys would be encouraged enough to ask her on a date.

After forty-five minutes of boyfriend shopping, Michelle leaves with my son for a trip to the museum. I spend an hour crafting personal rejection notes to yesterday’s discard pile.


Hello sexygentleman,
Thanks for the email. I don’t think we’re quite the right match. But it was nice of you to contact me. Good luck in your search!


Then I type:

By the way—just a friendly tip: The username sexygentleman might turn some women off. Maybe too on the nose.

Perhaps it isn’t my place to say so. But, I figured, it is Michelle’s. If a beautiful woman gave me advice—solid, well-intentioned advice—I’d pay attention.

Originally, I planned to send a personal ding letter to each of the unsuitable guys. But the volume is overwhelming. By day four, we’ve gotten close to fifty approaches. I’m starting to become shockingly picky. I have a growing list of instant deal breakers:


  • If the guy uses the word lady or ladies in his opening e-mail

  • If the guy lists his best feature as “butt” (ironically or not)

  • If the guy uses more than two exclamation points in one sentence (One enthusiast wrote: “Hello there beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!”)

  • If the guy misspells the first word of his introductory essay. (“Chemestry is important.”) I don’t want to be a spelling snob, but the first word?

  • If the guy’s opening photo features a shot in which his head is tilted more than 20 degrees to the left or right

  • If the guy has a photo of his Jet-Ski or snowmobile on his page

  • If the guy is wearing sunglasses, any hat besides a baseball cap, or is bare-chested in his main photo

  • If the guy refers to female anatomy anywhere in his initial correspondence (e.g., “I’m not a professional gynecologist, but, uh, I’d be happy to take a look”)

Never in my life have I had such power. It’s tremendous. Yes, at first I feel guilty about failing to respond to 70 percent of these guys. But it’s just not possible. And in a way, it makes me feel better about my life as a single man. Maybe when my calls to beautiful women went unreturned, it wasn’t because I was hideous or the women were evil. It was just a matter of time management.

;-)

I am rooting for one guy. He’s got a warm, unforced smile, and he’s humble, but not falsely humble. “I’m a geek, but a cool geek because I use a Mac,” he writes. Unfortunately, Michelle rejects him. He’s a drummer and music teacher. Her last boyfriend was a musician. She’s sworn off them.

Michelle and I respond to a lot of the e-mails together. But just as often, she tells me to go ahead and reply myself while she’s away. It’s an amazing ego massage, sending e-mails as a beautiful woman. It’s so easy. I type one moderately witty thing—not even moderately witty—and suddenly I’m Stephen Colbert. I told one guy that Michelle/I hang out at the Museum of Natural History, where there are “more nannies per square inch than any other place in America,” and he responded that he was laughing uncontrollably at work. He said Michelle is “funny, intelligent, caring AND gorgeous.”

It’s not always adulation, though. A few suitors take a snotty tone. One writes that he wants to know more about Michelle but adds, “I can tell from your profile that sometimes you’re a handful.”

That’s annoying.

I respond: “What gives you the idea that I’m sometimes a handful?”

He responds: “I am so right!”

Now the bastard has really pissed me off. I click on his profile. A John Turturro look-alike with a smug smile. His opening photo shows him with his arm around a pretty woman with large breasts, as if to say, “I hang around with hot, large-breasted women, so if you are a hot, large-breasted woman, you should also hang around with me.” He likes to “work hard and play harder.” He is “VERY spiritual.”

Michelle is not a handful. In her profile, she says that she’s very open and will let you know when she’s upset. That makes her a handful?

But I have a theory. I think the son of a bitch is employing an underhanded strategy. I edited an article a couple of years ago about a book called The Game, by Neil Strauss. It’s about a nebbishy guy who decides to become the world’s greatest pickup artist, and it became exceedingly popular with a certain type of single man. One major strategy Strauss talks about is to mildly insult a beautiful woman, lower her self-esteem, thus making her more vulnerable to your advances.

So I e-mail Handful Guy as Michelle: “Have you read The Game by Neil Strauss?”

He says, “What makes you ask me that?”

Yes! Busted.

I respond: “I was wondering if your first email was a neg.” A “neg” is pickup patois for the mild insult.

He shoots back: “No, it was playful teasing. And yes, I have read the book.”

Thus commences a flurry of e-mails arguing whether his line qualifies as a neg. Finally, he brings out his trump card: “Considering that I know most of the people in the book personally from before the book was released, I’m gonna have to disagree.”

Aha. I hit the sleazeball jackpot, a longtime pickup artist. I tell him I’m glad my womanly radar warned me against him.

He says, “I was hoping online dating would introduce me to different girls than the ones I pick up and seduce in bars, clubs and starbucks. So far not.”

It was the closest thing to an admission of guilt that I was going to get.

I write, “Just remember as you wade through the dating pool [his lame metaphor, by the way]: we women are not just here to be conquered as part of the game.”

I’m a magnet for scammers. Everyone wants down my pants. Michelle probably would have sniffed this guy out eventually, but I’m proud that I saved her from a date.

I was actually prepared for the scammers and the swagger. What I didn’t expect was many men’s tragic vulnerability when faced with a dazzling woman. One guy frets that his eyes look weird in his photos because he tried to blacken out the red-eye from the camera. He just wants Michelle to know they aren’t that weird in real life.

A martial-arts enthusiast admits flat out that he’s not worthy of Michelle but wants to let her know that “you are gorgeous.”

A forty-one-year-old classical musician writes, “Not being striking in the looks department, I am someone who needs a chance to show his intellect and soul. And I realize how hard that will be when the first impression is made by pictures and written words, but I most sincerely hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt.” You want to take these guys out for a milk shake. Or sign them up for Tony Robbins. Michelle and I send them encouraging notes: “You are a bit out of my age range, so I don’t think it will work out. But I think you’re a nice-looking gentleman.”

Still, it’s rejection, and a lot of men take it hard. “Never will we share a malbec overlooking the Rio at Córdoba in Argentina,” writes one Harley-riding architect. “Never will we stand together in Amsterdam looking at Vermeer’s Woman Pouring Milk. Never will I hold your hand. Never will I look into your eyes. Never will you look into mine.”

A bit over-the-top, but I know what he’s saying. I will never hold Michelle’s hand, either, aside from in a game of ring-around-the-rosy.

The power of a beautiful woman’s words is beginning to scare me. One guy begins his introductory essay, “When I was a child, I witnessed a clown jump to his death from a seven-story building. It was the only time a clown has made me laugh.”

So I write him back on behalf of Michelle: “You’re funny, but too dark for a sweet girl like me.” Both of which are true.

“Just tell me I’m ugly,” he said.

A few days later, he changed his profile to an essay about his love of Care Bears and snuggling. Yes, it was a joke, but there was an underlying sense of despair. He e-mailed Michelle that he really wanted to meet her. He needs a sweet girl. His revamped profile is only for her: “I made it in response to you.”

Men will do anything for you.

;)

Michelle has her first off-line date tonight, and I’m freaking out. It’s with the scientist guy who wears a lot of Patagonia jackets in his photos. I keep staring at my cell phone, jittery as a dad with a daughter going to the prom. Forty minutes after their scheduled meeting time, Michelle text-messages me from the Starbucks where they were supposed to get together. He never showed up. “That’s it for me and online dating,” she writes. “It really isn’t for me.”

She’s surprisingly sensitive. She should have Trump-like self-esteem, but she gets stood up once and she quits the game.

I’m furious at this Ph.D. bonehead. I spend an hour tracking down his real name on the Internet. (I know his alma mater and his specialty in marine biology.) I consider showing up outside his office and asking him why he’s got the emotional maturity of a third grader. Do you know what you’ve just blown, you idiot? Plus, in one of his e-mails, the guy said he didn’t like pancakes. What kind of asshole doesn’t like pancakes?

Then I just get depressed and insecure. What did we say that made him blow us off? It wasn’t her looks. So it must have been our banter. Did we not talk enough about reef decay in Honduras? Dammit. My walk on the feminine side is over. My vicarious single life is dead.

The next day, the scientist e-mails. He was actually at the Starbucks. He was waiting outside. And Michelle, it turns out, was waiting inside. Come on! This guy can’t even find a beautiful woman in a Starbucks the size of your average living room.

But Michelle and I are both relieved. She agrees to try again. I make another plea with her to give the smiley rocker a chance. I had e-mailed him that “I had a bad experience with musicians.” He had shot back that he’s “NOT” that guy. He’s been sending us long e-mails about his family, his career, and the magnificence of xylophones. He apologizes for the length, but “they just flow out of me.” I don’t mind. Most of these guys are too lazy to form a complete thought. A rambling e-mail is better than “u a hottie.”

Michelle says she’ll think about it.

:0

Today I get the most startling e-mail yet. It’s from a guy with the screen name “watchmeontelevision.” Who could it be? Goran Visnjic? Al ...

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