After years of training with professional pick-up artists, Neil Strauss wrote his international bestseller, The Game, about how he transformed himself from nebbishy New York Times music writer into successful ladies’ man. He taught men how to “neg” on women, advised them to wear a boa to a bar to get attention, and passed along a menu of skills that quickly became a part of the young American man ’s cultural lexicon—and led to the inevitable reality show. But shortly after finishing his media blitz, Hurricane Katrina hit—and Strauss quickly realized that, facing multiple doomsday scenarios in America’s future, he now needed the skill set of a survival artist. So he sought out wilderness experts, shady lawyers, and submarine-owning doomsday prophets, all of whom helped the journalist gather the know-how that would get him through any national nightmare. His new book, Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life. reveals how to shoot guns, hotwire cars, forage for food, set fractures, and generally live off the grid. He shared a few valuable take-home tips with The Daily Beast.
“If some huge disaster does happen, I’m probably not going to be better off than anyone else, because everyone I’ve ever met is going to hole up at my place. We’re going to run out of food fast.”
How’d you come up with the idea to write Emergency?
It started out as a life project, rather than a book proposal. During Katrina, I began to realize how much my idea of America had changed since I was a kid. I didn’t believe anymore that the strongest, most powerful country in the world could protect its own citizens from major disasters. I decided I needed a back-up plan. A back-up country. So I began by getting a second passport.
From where? And how’d you get it?
I met a couple billionaire business moguls—I can’t say their names, but trust me, you’ve heard of them—who were thinking along the same lines as I was. They were learning to fly planes, looking into buying submarines, that kind of thing. One of them had gotten his second passport in Austria by starting a million-dollar business over there. That wasn’t an option for me. But after a little research, I figured out that to get one from St. Kitts—the best-kept secret in the Caribbean—all I needed to do was establish a residence. So I mortgaged my place here in LA and bought an apartment there.
What was the appeal of the second passport?
Look at what happened in Mumbai: The terrorists went after the Americans and the Brits. I don’t want something like that to ever happen to me. Anyway, after I got the passport, the billionaires told me my next step should be protecting my wealth. I opened an account with an off-shore bank so that I wouldn’t be completely dependent on the dollar if the economy were to completely tank. Next, I hired some shady lawyers to tie up as many of my assets in trusts as they could—that kind of thing—to help protect me if someone ever tried to sue the pants off me.
“The worst part was having to sign these release forms which make you promise not to sue the place if you happen to screw up and, you know, blow your own head off. I hate it when that happens.”
Where does one find these shady lawyers?
Well, the guys I worked with are now being investigated by the IRS, so I’m not sure I’d recommend them. Maybe there are better ways to go about it. Moving on ... after shoring myself up financially, I headed off to St. Kitts for a while. And as soon as I arrived, there was a blackout that lasted, on and off, for a week. I began to realize real safety doesn’t come from governments, or institutions, or money; it comes from within. I needed to learn complete self-sufficiency. And one of the first things I did was to go to a place called Gun Site in Arizona, where I learned how to shoot alongside FBI agents and people who were going to Iraq. I’d never held a pistol before.
Was that scary?
The worst part was having to sign these release forms which make you promise not to sue the place if you happen to screw up and, you know, blow your own head off.
I hate it when that happens.
Another thing I did was to go through a wilderness survival course, where I learned how to procure and purify water, make fire without matches, and forage for edible plants. I also took an urban survival class. The instructors taught me how to pick locks, hot-wire cars and get over barbed wire fences.
What kind of people were teaching you how to do all this?
Survivalism superheroes. Experts in their fields. The most amazing character I met was a guy named Mad Dog—the maker of the world’s best hand-crafted knives. He’s this skinny Rambo with a handle-bar moustache who has wrestled wolves, and once out-shot an entire SWAT team in a contest. You’ll have to read the book to find out what we did together, but he took me on an adventure I never in my life thought I’d have. ... Anyway, some of the other things I learned how to do: grow veggies, bake bread, can and preserve food. I became an EMT, which taught me both how to deal with everything that could possibly go wrong with the human body, as well as how to cope with crisis situations.
Sounds like you’d be a good person to be with in an apocalypse.
As I learned while writing The Game, women really do like men whom they feel safe around.
Is it a big turn-on for women when you talk about large-scale disasters? Good cocktail party conversation?
No. It’s like talking about serial killers: It makes you seem crazy. People go out and drink because they want to forget the problems of the world.
Since we’re kind of on the topic: You could say that The Game was about how to con a woman into liking you. Do you think being a good con man will help you survive the end of the world as we know it?
I’m going to respectfully disagree with you. Ultimately, The Game was about how not to be socially scared all the time.
Oh, so both books are about how to overcome your fears?
Yeah, you’re right. I hadn’t realized that before. And see, most guys are more scared about approaching a girl than they are about the prospect of nuclear war. Both books are also about becoming a man in a world where men aren’t necessarily raised to become men. But back to what you were saying before, about wanting to be with me if I was the last man on earth? Now that I’ve done the book, I’ve realized a lot of my friends feel that way, too. And if some huge disaster does happen, I’m probably not going to be better off than anyone else, because everyone I’ve ever met is going to hole up at my place. We’re going to run out of food fast.
Speaking of, I read that you were inspired, in part, because you "came to the sobering realization that, even in America, anything can happen." Do you really think that’s true?
Do you really think it’s not? I mean, in the last decade, we’ve been attacked on our own soil; an important American city totally collapsed in a natural disaster; our banks have fallen apart; the dollar has plummeted. If you walk around New York City, everywhere you look are signs about how you should report strange packages. And incidentally, when I talked to police officers and firemen for this book, I realized their plan is to pretty much leave most people on their own if something huge happens, because they’re going to need to concentrate on putting out the big fires.
If you could advise Americans to make one major change in their lives to prepare for the worst, what would it be?
Stock your home. Have a few weeks of water and food. So-called Meal-Ready-to-Eats, or MREs, are a good idea because they’re so compact and last for seven years. But nuts, canned foods, protein bars—dense stuff like that with a long shelf-life is fine. Get a generator and some gas for it. Take an EMT class so you can help if anything happens to someone you love. I’d also buy a hand-cranked radio and a flashlight.
Should people also procure goats for themselves? I ask because I’ve heard you have one.
Actually, I now have three. My first, Lola, just had kids: Thumper and Lady. My girlfriend and I delivered them! Pulled them right out. And man, talk about survival skills: animals have them. The kids were walking immediately, because when they’re born in the woods, they have to be prepared for anything. Goats are the best pets, by the way. They totally trump dogs. A goat will give you companionship and food.
Oh. So Lola’s going to become goat stew some day?
No way! She gives us milk. And I make cheese out of it. That’s all.
Maura Kelly just finished her first novel. Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Salon, Glamour, Penthouse, and other publications.