Thursday, August 27, 2009

#20 Street Trickle and Grunge Bums

Compassion is a noble sentiment but much like former Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch it does not respond well to pressure. If you see a craggy-faced, world-worn grey-top shuffling behind a rusted shopping cart, a guy clearly broken in spirit and mind by a life of God knows what, you feel a surge of sympathy. Poor, aged, oppressed man, you think, perhaps I shall hand him a farthing. But you see 20 of these guys, everyday, along with the related pan-handling, obscenity-laced freak-outs, and innumerable urine trails, each one zig-zagging toward the curb, a tiny vignette of chaos' unfolding beauty ruined by the wild-eyed John Nash character standing stupefied over it, and the pity you felt fatigues into contempt. Those disgusting, violent, strung-out old bastards, you think, let's drown 'em in garbage bags.

No surprisingly San Francisco's large homeless population is a source of on-going civic disquiet. However, the SF Board of Supervisors has yet to address one of the unspoken sides of the issue: homeless people, for better or worse, are girl repellant.

There's two reasons for this; first, the obvious: homeless people are, in a basic, superficial but visceral way, gross and a little threatening. Girls may be more compassionate than men but, as research indicates, they also show greater sensitivity to disgust stimuli, which is why a neighborhood full of hobos means hot chicks busting out of there like Count Cristo from his chains at Ch√Ęteau d'If (and also why girls use the word “gross” to describe pretty much everything from corn chips to rain). More generally affecting is the day-to-day psychological impact of the homeless: they are a constant reminder of life's more depressing but pointless truths, such as when you're rich the world is your oyster and when you're a crackhead the world is where you get beaten with a toilet.

The second reason is the grunge bum. Grunge bums are those unwashed, punk rockish, Portland born, twenty-something Caucasian kids who loiter in and around the Haight with their grunge bum pals. They're homeless in the strict sense of not having a home but it doesn't appear that a disabling condition is the cause of this. At least they don't seem psychologically stressed about the state of their lives. They all sleep in the park and bullsh*t in front of dive bars and cultivate the junky, Kurt Kobainey aesthetic that's available in local thrift shops. They are a weird hybrid of street urchin, beatnik poseur and the kind of slacker teenagers who hang out at suburban Quickie Marts. Each probably has some troubling back-story, but there's not much compassion for a well-fed white kid in dreads that keeps his panhandling real. That kid just doesn't really want to work.

But here's the thing: working sucks, and there's a part of every guy with a lame-ass, soul-crushing Office Space job that is jealous of these so-called malingerers, and that part of him, when it witnesses grunge bums strumming their guitars, life's responsibilities gossamer and light as burnt cannabis in the breeze, well, it sort of relates. A guy gets the motivating philosophy. It's how Chris Rock felt about OJ Simpson (allegedly) killing the douchey waiter who (allegedly) drove around OJ's Ferrari and banged his ex-wife: "I'm not saying I'd do it, but I understand."

Girls take the totally opposite philosophical position, for two reasons. First of all, girls are more consistent believers in the social contract - no killing, no thieving, no free-riding. Secondly, girls believe in the corrupting power of peer influence. A girl will size up a guy's friends and acquaintances and make an assessment about the guy. You can’t talk her out of it. It doesn't matter if the guy is a cleric in a religious order and his friends, whether lotharios, drunks, or grunge bums, are nothing like him. "If his friends are doing it," she thinks, "then he's doing it, or at least, he will do it. Ef that, I'm moving to Manhattan."

Friday, August 21, 2009

#19 Evolutionary Psychology

Sometimes you hear a guy say, with a certain contrarian alacrity, that he "doesn't like people." That guy may be earnest, he may even be thoughtful, but he is completely full of sh*t. People are the one thing we all really like. People, and the love that they offer, motivate almost every human behavior.

Admittedly it's an instinct wrought with conceptual conflict. As intelligent minds we know none of it, not just human connection but life itself, matters that much. Eventually a comet or meteor or whatever will blow earth and all traces of humanity large and small into dust and smithereens, and the rest will be silence, forever. It'll just be God and grainy Mickey Mouse cartoons, zipping through dark matter at 186,000 miles a sec.

Yet evolution’s inertia presses us on. The ancestral DNA embedded in our chromosomes embedded in our brain cells make us fight to find love and love our hearts out when we find it and despair when we inevitably lose it. Life is, foundationally, pretty simple that way. We work hard, we chase girls and hope for the best.

But sometimes we fail. Sometimes for all our endeavors no one likes us back or, at least, no girls like us, or at least no girls we like like us. Not in THAT way. It happens to us now and it happened to our socially primitive forebears eons ago. The forces of sexual selection are ruthless. But our DNA accounts for this too. Our DNA is wily.

Our DNA's sexual disaster management plan is this: use our elegant and powerful brains to single out and analyze a temporary and totally random fluctuation in our external environment, either a socio-economic aberration or a geo-political quiddity or unforeseeable pop cultural contingency - something, anything, that can be reasonably comprehended, at least from a certain perspective, as a real phenomenon - that could account for why a creature so dashing, so humorous, so virile, so lovely as ourselves, can't get a girl. We rationalize.

It's an amazing cognitive process. The more severe the sexual failure the more creative and trenchant our analysis becomes; we'll stress test the outer limits of logic, countermand foundational rules of social behavior, be rude, be silly, be jejune, hide behind arcane vocabulary. The range of machinations will be as wide as the corn-fed backsides that balding, soft-breasted middle-aged men love to ridicule.

And this makes us feel better. It ameliorates our experience of negative affect. We don't give up. We cope. We struggle on. And our DNA lives to see another day and another chance to hustle its way into the embrace of a winsome lady.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

#18 Unaggressive Guys

Once everyone gets into the hustle of life we learn pretty quickly that the years and years of straight talk from authority figures - do your homework, be nice to your sister, don’t nap on railroad tracks, etc. - all concerned things on the periphery. The things we want as grown-ups, our motivating aspirations, everyone’s, are horrible, selfish, often disgusting things - world-wide domination, vile sexual fetishes, death to our enemies - not good, morally-minded things at all. We’re monsters. But we can’t own up to this, not publicly, if we want to stay alive or not be hookers, so we speak the Code; we pretend, for example, that when we start chatting up a pretty man or woman we’re just being friendly and that a midnight invitation to to come up for coffee doesn’t involve something super dirty or that Levitra enhances guys' ability to throw footballs through a backyard tire swing.

Women are Code speak mavens. They are so advanced they sometimes forget they’re talking code, and imagine whatever bullsh*t or distraction they're using to leaven the truth is really the thing that they care about, which, research indicates, is supremely useful in both being OK with really shallow behavior and convincing other people to carry your handbag.

Women, for example, get away with saying they’re attracted to guys that are “funny”, by which they mean guys who make them feel attractive and sexy and fun!, which is brilliant if you think about it, because that’s almost the same thing as funny and yet not the same thing AT ALL. When Gwyneth Paltrow insisted in an magazine interview years ago that Brad Pitt is “funniest” guy she ever met, what she really meant was his soft supple hair is so FUNNY! And his washboard abs are so FUNNY! Look at his perfectly formed jaw line, it’s HILARIOUS!” An outrageously handsome man is paying attention to little me! Giggle, giggle, giggle.

Men, on the other hand, generally suck at Code speak, especially when approaching the ladies. They bollox it up like toddlers presenting some Crayola crayoned abomination for display on the fridge, which doesn’t make any strategic sense at all, since the space between what men want and what is socially appropriate is really, really huge, abhorrently huge, it could fill Oakland Coliseum with fantasy-beast anime porn.

BUT in the rare case where guys do master Code speak, what you get is an unstoppable force. You get the guys of Manhattan. You get black guys. Devastating banter. Girls heads spin. These guys talk talk talk until resistance yields.

Now SF women claim that these guys are AMAZING. SF women say they long for a day when these players from Manhattan ride into town because SF guys, by comparison, are mild mannered, socially uncoordinated candya**es. SF guys, they complain, lack the skills and cahones to chat up the ladies. They're stuttering, epicene, unkempt wimps.

This kind of attitude, you might note, seems rather confrontational. It makes you wonder if SF guys live in a scary environment. It makes you wonder about the value of aggression in such a place. It makes you wonder about that guy in a turban who waved a scimitar at Indiana Jones: aggressive maybe, but stupid, absolutely, because Indiana had the gun.

SF women seem to have this hybrid sensibility of hill-billy southern gallantry, where prescribed gender roles dictate who should aggressively pursue whom, and a regionally specific 70s-style extremist feminism, where there is hyper sensitivity to being hit on. According to San Francisco magazine, “Bay Area women have been known to react to innocent flirting as if they'd been groped ... Marie, a 32-year-old executive recruiter [says]: ‘If a guy walks up to me at happy hour, I think he's a friggin' cheese ball.’”

That’s the paradox. SF women get sort of annoyed when guys attempt to seduce them. Not bemused or bored, annoyed. The fact that the average SF guy has the charm of a yard rake doesn't matter. SF women want men to make advances on them but without them knowing that the advance is being made, which requires not just Code speak but pretending to be gay.

This creates what anthropologists call a double bind dilemma. A successful response to one message implicates a failed response to the other, so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response. It's pretty much the kind of thing that broke the Union in 1861 and makes the Middle East a total mess. So if you’re a guy in San Francisco and there's a pretty girl sitting next to you, what’s the right move? You keep quiet, keep your head down and hope no one starts yelling.

Friday, August 14, 2009

#17 The Decline of Marriage and Those 17 Guys

People wonder at the so-called six degrees of separation - the marvel that EVERYONE on earth is connected in some extended way - but the fact of the connection is not nearly as remarkable as the reason: the devastating sexual prowess of 17 (approximately) smooth-talking guys. The huge stadium-sized quantities of conversation and emotion girls expend talking about “guys” - pretty much all the noise bombinating about your average urban Starbucks on a Sunday afternoon - it ain’t about “guys,” it’s about the one friend we know who gets so much tail it’s just not fair.

You know that friend, the one whose after-hours exploits are recounted with head-shaking and mumbled murmurs of “unbelievable!” He both awes and kind of pisses us off. He is among the anointed 17, the musica universalis, the unknowing, amoral puppet masters who Malcolm Gladwell calls Connectors, "the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together." Think of every girl you will ever know and understand one of the 17, probably John Mayer, knew her first.

On some level we all recognize that’s the dynamic we deal with. Regular guys talk a big game and put on their male, male impostor shows and generally pretend single life is this swash-buckling, Entourage-style condition of serial monogamy but we know in truth it’s just like high school: a handful of guys from the football team having a field day with every girl in the yearbook while the rest of us watch from the sidelines, clutching Trigonometry textbooks, all vulnerable and wanting, streams of nerd tears spilling down our cheeks, clinging to the hope that sooner or later some girl will take pity on our bench-warming butt, which, because we live in a society that frowns on open polygamy, we know to be a sort of statistical inevitability.

Academics and scientists actually have data to support this. In his book Sex and Reason legal scholar Richard Posner showed that up until external forces (usually the laws and social pressures coincident with wedding vows) permanently pair up women each with a particular man, the American female population is effectively divvied up (by geography) into a regional harems, each serviced by a relatively small number of local lady killers.

The problem in San Francisco, throughout progressive western cultures actually, is that institution that props up societal monogamy - marriage - is on the decline. The percentage of people who marry is steadily decreasing and the age at which people marry, at least among more educated, more affluent groups, is steadily increasing. The more prosperous and secular the place, the more the trend is true. In countries such as Sweden or Denmark, which are bell weathers for this kind of thing, only about 60% of people ever marry. All the data shows that the United States is following this trend, and nowhere more so than in liberal, cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco.

This puts enormous pressure on Those 17 Guys. While they benefit from an enlarging sexual hegemony some growth, like that of mortgage-backed securities or Verne Troyer, is not likely to sustain itself. Despite a long and storied familiarity with sexual frustration we regular guys do not look kindly on terminal celibacy. Now perhaps we’ll do the civilized thing and repress our desires away, Victorian England style (we lean more Matthew Arnold than Oscar Wilde but make no judgments), or distract ourselves with religion and porn, Bible Belt style. But maybe not. Maybe each of those 17 guys will awake one pre-dawn morning to discover, on one view, a bevy of slumbering beauties draped across the bed, the sofa, and floor rugs, but on the other, a hoard of lonely, angry, horny Columbiners-in-the-making shaking fists and pitchforks in the driveway. And in that singular moment, in that twinkling of personal and societal transcendence, he’ll find himself saying, in a low, sexy voice: “We’re moving to Utah, b*tches.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

#16 The San Francisco “Summer”

The weather, unlike Macy’s or United Airlines, lacks a customer service center, which means two things: first, the weather simply does not give a damn, not even in that half-ass, patently selfish corporate way we’re used to, and second, there’s no sensible place or target for unleashing outrage at the oppression we suffer. Our only coping mechanism is to “vent”, which means re-directing our bitter, recriminating energies towards the people who love us, which works as follows:

“Hey friend, what’s up?”

“This weather, I hate it!”

“I hate you!”

“Die, mother f*cker!”

The climate in San Francisco is “Mediterranean” or “uncomfortable year-round”, a meteorological quirk that results in a host of social externalities, including one already articulated here, but none really make you feel homicidally disgruntled until late May, when the cold and blustery winds that characterize the city’s weather patterns are supplemented by a low-lying, bone-chilling Londonesque fog (circa 1870s), a gloom so damp and hypothermic you are bound by obligation to your insurance carrier to wear a parka when venturing outdoors, and do so knowing full well that in cities across America, bush-league cities like Milwaukee, Boise, Buffalo and Nashua, New Hampshire, citizens just like you except not as smart or well-paid are cavorting about in flip flops, barbecuing on decks, licking ice cream cones and making out at the local Frosty Freeze and thinking on this destroys any lingering, underdoggy hope you have for a just world. Some statistics:

-Among largish U.S. cities, San Francisco has, by a long shot, the coldest daily mean, maximum and minimum temperatures for June, July and August,

-The average high in San Francisco in July is 66 degrees,

-The average high in Fairbanks, Alaska in July is 72 degrees,

-The the average wind speed in San Francisco in July is 14 MPH; and

-The average wind speed in Chicago, the windy city, in July is 8 MPH (Chicago’s coldest July on record averaged 77 degrees).

In this regard, a summer in San Francisco is like a date with Pamela Anderson: the idea of it seems, despite all reason, precedent and widely circulated rumor, tremendously alluring, but the actual experience is so astoundingly awful, all cuss-words and effed-up mind games, that you wake up in the morning wanting to f*cking kill yourself.

We kid. Actually, the research demonstrates that it is hot and humid weather not soul-crushing, Frigidaire-sponsored San Francisco type weather that is correlated with people being shot in the face and other such brutally violent acts. No, the real vice of the San Francisco summer is what doesn’t happen:

-Girls wearing dresses, skirts, halter-tops, short shorts

-Outdoor/patio/rooftop social venues

-Pretty skin

-Pool parties

-Breast augmentation

-Skinny dipping at Midnight

-Skinny dipping at Noon

-Skinny dipping at other times

Apologists go around talking up San Francisco’s famous Indian summer, which consists of 9 warmish days in early October (jeans, a light wind breaker and you’ll be fine!). This is a pathetically meagre trade-off. This is laughable. This is the French negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase. This is the Falcons giving Brett Favre to the Packers for three towels and a case of PBR.

We don’t really think about it but the things that make summer delightful 1) are the very reason we suffer through our horrible jobs and all the stressful, inclement crap going down from school’s start on through the holidays, the tax season, and the NHL playoffs and 2) can basically be boiled down to opportunities to hang out with physically appealing people.

If such things are missing, how exacerbated are the travails of the human condition? What meaning is there in such a cold, Sisyphean world? What incentive to tighten up those abs, diet or believe in God? The summer is a symbolic amnesty, an escape from corporate abuse and a limited time reprieve from Sartrean nausea. It’s a chance to get off the snide. It’s a last chance for 40 year old virgins. Broken fire-hydrants, wet t-shirts and back-seat gropefests. We don’t just like it, we FaceBook like it. But make the tragic error of moving to San Francisco and it’s all gone in an instant. As they say, it’s not the cold, it’s the conditioned mentality. It’s like volunteering for early on-set senescence, where the memories of the good life remain but you’re long past actually experiencing it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

#15 Heightism

In an experiment on female sexual selection (reported by the TV news show 20/20) women were asked to choose between hypothetical men of differing stature. The short guy was really short - 5 footish - but he was also, women were told, super smart and sophisticated, even eminent, a Nobel Prize winner or something. The tall guy, on the other hand, was exceedingly average: undistinguished, unambitious, intellectually banal, etc. Women chose the tall guy every time. When a subject was asked whether she could imagine any circumstances under which she would choose the short guy she responded, "I guess if you told me the tall one was a murderer. Or a child molester."

Two points here. First, that woman was probably lying because women pursue death row inmates with sufficient frequency that (and this is totally true) 20/20 subsequently ran a story titled “Why Are Women Marrying Murderers?”. Second, when SF women complain all the time that SF men are physically unattractive we know what they really mean: that SF men are short. This is vexing for SF guys, and understandably so because we aren't THAT short. We aren't Lilliputians, moonlighting in some B movie with Ted Danson; we're simply a wee bit below average.

The lower average is probably influenced by San Francisco’s relatively high representation of Hispanic and Asian men (which comprise 14% and 33% of SF males, respectively (approximately)). In this regard SF heightism is wildly unfair, even if we accept the predicate that height reflects in some small way genetic fitness, because our Hispanic and Asian brothers are not actually short, they just happen to live in a nation where the majority of men have an African or European lineage, genetic lines that, by some Darwinian happenstance and over many millennia, sacrificed spatial reasoning and number processing skills for a few extra inches of elevation.** So the latter don’t get into UCLA but they do get into UCLA girls' pants, which is both pathetic and sort of ingenious.

Heightism, by this measure, seems fabulously random, totally discriminatory and economically counter-productive. Given women’s obsession with height you'd think that the NBA propped up the national economy. Imagine asking a non-socialized third party, a Martian say, to scrutinize our modern, information-based economic order and identify which trait is more highly prized by humans, height or brain power. The alien would choose brain power every time, right? Of course, because that alien would be a short, self conscious Jupiter-head and totally compensating.

This all flows from a sociological fact we're dimly aware of but never really think about: male attractiveness doesn't exist in the abstract - it's a fluid thing that depends on your environment. You can be pretty average in life, for example, but if you develop one situationally specific skill, like being a black-belt in karate, and publicize it, by say teaching a co-ed karate class, then you're suddenly a bonafide bad-ass, at least behind the doors of the dojo. Meanwhile that handsome lady-killer who made the mistake of signing up for beginners' karate will suddenly seem very beta, especially if you regularly use him as a punching bag.

In other words, all that a guy needs to be desirable is a one socially relevant talent. You can be poor if you're brawny, you can be weak if you're brainy, you can be boring if you're beautiful, you can be bald if you're a black-belt, so long as you have some forum to show off your excellence. But the one thing you can't be is short. There's no redeeming talent for that. Women put up with lying, cheating, beating, stealing, murdering pregnant women, but they won't touch a short guy with a six foot, 2 inch pole.

In San Francisco it's worse because we're both short and living in a community known to be disproportionately populated by short guys, which drives women away in hordes, like the Computer Science building on any college campus. And where do all the girls go? No one knows for sure but we might want to check San Quentin or Pelican Bay during conjugal visiting hours.

**To be fair WTANGISF wants to clarify that this statement is expressed for humorous affect with the understanding that culture plays a huge role, probably a larger role than genetics, in determining the kinds of activities certain groups might seem to excel at. See Stephen J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man or this blog, for example, both of which suggest, in WTANGISF’s opinion, that nearly everything that happens in society, at least with respect to who is accused being what, depends not on preordained edict, genetic determinism or really anything other than collective cultural choice, implicating all of us, a thought that is simultaneously really depressing and really hopeful.

Monday, August 3, 2009

#14 The Lop-Sided Gender Ratio

Not long ago an academic named Richard Florida made a small ruckus by scientifically proving that the San Francisco Bay Area (along with L.A.) was the best place in the country to be a single woman. He based his finding mostly on data that men here are rich (at least richer, on the mean, than men from any other major metropolitan area) and outnumber single women by about 65,000.

Florida didn't seem to correct for sexual orientation, the favorite straw-man of disgruntled spinsters, but even so the underlying data wasn't really controvertible. It wasn't even new. In 2004 the research firm Teasley published findings that ranked San Francisco as the best place to find a rich, single man in the United States, as measured by San Francisco’s single male "Golden Ratio" of 140%, and specifically accounting for the large percentage of gays (which according to the most reliable figures is considerably less than people tend to believe at about 15%). Similarly a 2004 article in the magazine San Francisco estimated that unmarried straight 20 to 44-year-old men in San Francisco (not including Silicon Valley or Man Jose) outnumbered their female counterparts by about 12,000.

Yet two anecdotal curiosities give us pause: first, an informal study of male opinion and the SF night-life scene describes a ratio that is FAR worse than even the data suggests. Second, and more puzzling, there is widely-shared belief among females that very few eligible/desirable men live in San Francisco.

A study published in in 2007 by two English psychologists (who are better known for a different study that showed the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms may shed some light. The study looked at marriage patterns in the United States and an interesting trend appeared: unbalanced gender ratios did not seem to problematize proportionally. The research showed that as the sex ratio augmented in favor of women, at first, as you would expect, the women simply turned fussy and went for richer and more powerful men. But at a certain point a curious thing happened: the amount of socioeconomic status a guy needed to get girl increased way more than the math would predict. Specifically when the ratio was tilted in favor of women by 10%, low status men became not 1.1 times less likely to get a girl but 2.3 times less likely and high status men 1.3 times less likely.

In other words, increase the number of males in a system too much and the number of females interested in pairing up GOES DOWN, due to some mysterious psychological trigger. Women won't pick and choose, they won't choose at all. They abandon the enterprise. Romance dies. Society crumbles. Imagine a bar with 100 girls and 100 guys. The bouncer admits 10 more guys and competitively speaking it's as if, for the low status guys, 130 guys walked into the room (and for the high status guys, 30 guys). The bar might as well close for the night. That bar, friends, is San Francisco.