Saturday, June 27, 2009

#7 The On-Shore Breeze

The myth of San Francisco as a balmy beach town has largely been exploded, in no small part due to the oft-quoted adage that the coldest winter ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. The reality is more nuanced though - since absolute temperatures in San Francisco never dip very low. What really kills you is the on-shore breeze.


This is a lesser known fact since sea breezes are generally associated with vitality, beauty enhancement and a top-selling Mexican beer. Sea breezes connote a certain lifestyle aesthetic ("I'm on a boat mother f***er"!) that makes us happy: Dutch mills, girls in bikinis, expensive sea craft, waving palm trees, etc. AND provide that dramatic slow-motion montage effect we've seen a million times: a statuesque beauty backdrafted in an entryway, a sun-kissed blonde with sea-breezed bangs, and, giving us the vapors, a brash kid from steerage at the prow of an unsinkable ship.  

Sea breezes and humans, in other words, are usually on the same side, just a couple of laid back dudes working together on Corona commercial. Not so in San Francisco. As soon as temperatures heat up in the California valley, somewhere around mid-March and lasting until mid September, gales of cold coastal air sally forth like crazed Germans out of the trenches. 

Hostile air currents like this, especially since they do not abate in the evening, have a profound affect on a city's nightlife. A girl dolls up to the nines, checks herself in the mirror a thousand times and then the second she leaves her apartment gets air blasted. Her skin is chafed, her eyes water and, most saliently, her hair becomes a wind torn mess. All that time poofing and curling and straightening, wasted. She shows up at the bar or restaurant or theatre looking like Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard.


Guy would not disqualify a girl for this. Errant locks, bruises, even raggedy clothing - guys have a super-ray vision that sees through this stuff. It's what makes them hit on girls at the gym.


But girls care about style and personality. They like having a certain aesthetic flair, a panache, and they like going to places that encourage those things. And if the process of achieving these things is frustrated or undermined, by, for example, inclement elements, then the incentive for a girl to present herself to the public for judgment is likewise undermined. Hence, the paucity of ladies out at night. It doesn’t help much to blame the wind of course, it’s not consciously undermining the single most compelling motivation for a guy’s continued existence, but what’s the alternative?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

#6 Matthew McConaughey

A less obvious reason there are no girls in San Francisco is Matthew McConaughey.  


McConaughey’s film career and shirtless jogging has made him pretty famous by now. The thing about McConaughey, and part of why girls adore him, is he doesn't seem contrived. Sure he's the Sexiest Man Alive and sure he looks resplendent on a jet ski but guys such as McConaughey exist in real life. We knew them in high school. We occasionally meet them at bars. We like these guys. They’re cool. They’re laid back. They’re handsome, confident and just blandly charming enough to miss being a dick.


The people McConaughey is paid to pretend to be, on the other hand, are often totally contrived. In his largest grossing films McConaughey portrays, respectively, a civil rights lawyer (A Time to Kill), a renowned philosopher (Contact), and a business executive (How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days). We accept such conceits for the purposes of enjoying a make-believe story but we know that these characters - the Pretend McConaugheys - could never actually happen. In real life McConaugheys are carpenters, real estate agents and motor cross racers. They are not accepted into the University of Virginia law school and do not publish in academic journals. They do exactly what Matthew does in the tabloids: they smoke up, pound on bongoes/underage girls, and take road trips in camper vans. 


The fiction, however, has got girls thinking. They descry life in the artifice. They don't think McConaughey the civil rights lawyer is true exactly, at least as the society works right now, but they think he SHOULD be true. That's the expectation.


This radically alters the long established hunk paradigm. Before McConaughey hunks came in specific types, like ice cream flavors. There were soulful, chatty hunks like John Cusack, bohemian hunks like Johnny Depp, beautiful hunks like Brad Pitt. Further, each hunk type’s strength intimated some weakness - Cusack was chatty because he stunk at football, Depp was bohemian because he was skinny and short, Pitt was pretty but not a rocket-scientist. Everything these guys did, independent of the hunk type they were or aspired to be, was understood to be either a ploy or frustrated response to the failure of his ploys to get girls to like them. No guy, Jesus aside, strove for intellectual greatness or pondered upon the frailties of the human condition simply because that was the noble, most interesting thing to do. 


Pretend McConaughey, however, evokes the concept of a hunk that transcends type, a grand unification of hunkiness, a hunk hunk, who is a book-wormishly brilliant altruist AND a carefree, selfish sexy man beast. This is devastating to the popular appeal of all traditional guy types, but especially the nerd types living in San Francisco, where soaring real estate costs and the progressive culture has, for a long time, encouraged people to be one-sidedly overachieving, intellectual and not Southern. Social and physical awkwardness is not exactly championed here but it isn’t a sentence for social isolation either. San Francisco has historically been the one place where a nerd could get a girl precisely because he was a nerd.  

Of course Pretend McConaughey and the ontology he stands for is still just that, pretend. He’s a myth, a chimera, a clever move by Hollywood to commodify female desires, a spook story that dads tell their sons at night. No one really believes in him.


Except that we do. We know when a girl scrutinizes us she no longer thinks, "All right, so he reads The Economist, has high earning potential, recycles, OK, I get it, this might work." No, she thinks, "He has puny arms." 


So we lay alone at night, the rumble of bongoes in the distance and the tang of whiskey-fed BO in the fog air, and we worry that someone is whisking all the girls away. Maybe we’re just being neurotic, we think. Maybe our big nerd brains have turned against us. But maybe not. Maybe it's exactly what we fear: Dr. McConaughey, with his PHD from Yale and honeydew drawl, is Pied Pipering his way through town, and girl after girl is making a happy mental hop into his capacious camper van.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

#5 The Environmentally Conscious, Anti-Corporate Attitude

San Francisco is the most liberal, activist, entrepreneurial, Ef-the-Man city in the world. That sounds like platitude but live in the city and you won’t forget it. There’s the Critical Mass rides, Sierra Club street hustlers, pugnacious gay politicians, and dotcommers in corduroys with hemp shoulder bags, driving Priuses tricked out with Smile Train bumper stickers. The whole scene is like that robotic vacuum cleaner Roomba: progressive, there to help but also, in a way you can’t quite pinpoint, really menacing.

Still, you’d think a sensibility like this would appeal to, and therefore attract, girls more than guys. Girls are always volunteering, expressing compassion for the disenfranchised, and so forth. They tend to be intellectually progressive and socially tolerant. And indeed those are the qualities widely associated with San Francisco. When people disparage San Francisco for being a faggy city, for example, what they basically mean beyond the homophobia is that it's just kind of feminine.

The problem is that San Francisco is feminine without being girlish and this is because the city presents girls with two existential crises that makes them not want to be here. First, all the anti-corporate film festivals, Peta protests, and reduce your carbon footprint parades essentially constitute one continuous harangue on the evils of materialism. Girls irritate at this, not because they are shallow but because they don’t accept the “either or” premise of the argument. Girls want to wear Juicy Couture shorts and wheel about in a BMV convertible while wearing sunscreen tested on rats. They also want to vote for Democrats and stem cell research at election time. They want both.

Second, and more importantly, girls are attracted to guys who kick ass, a characteristic which by definition requires first identifying an ass of another person, a living one with real feelings and a capacity for loveliness, and then kicking it. That is not a San Francisco thing to do. San Francisco advocates the very modern (and controversial) “asses are not for kicking” policy.

There’s some confusion on this point, because although girls don’t want guys to be hostile to THEM and their friends, their feelings on whether guys are hostile TO EVERYONE ELSE remain conflicted. This is why world class a-holes - Genghis Kahn, Stalin, Henry VIII and the sinister richie from any 80s rom com - don’t despair for female affection. As an illustration as to how confusing this can be, take the recent findings that girls would rather “chat up” someone who owns the latest hybrid car versus a sports car. What the findings don’t emphasize is that a girl’s choice for whom to chat up versus whom to shag proceeds along separate and entirely different decision trees. God love Ralph Nader, the makers of hemp, and non-profit employees everywhere, but those guys can’t keep their pimp hands strong.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#4 The Wine Bar

Merging two awesome but different things is sometimes a fantastic idea, as demonstrated by the iPhone, the Labradoodle, the flamethrower, and Brangelina. The trouble is when you merge two things that are individually awesome precisely because they are not the other thing: Diet Coke Plus, compassionate conservatism, open marriages, and, affecting literally thousands of SF guys, the wine bar.

The wine bar is a hybrid species of bar that, like Barbed Goatgrass and Starbucks, has invaded, proliferated and, at least in San Francisco, crowded out the competition. 

Admittedly, the appeal of the wine bar, like that of Starbucks, or Barbed Goatgrass if you're a goat, is hard to miss. The soft lighting, nooky layout, and civilized atmosphere - it's nice. It captures the romantic spirit of a bygone era, when everyone was French, unfailingly chivalrous, and dueled by heated word; before Reaganomics, youtube, and girls gone wild, before Ludgwig Wittgenstein destroyed the foundation of all philosophical thought and Paris Hilton destroyed the value of thinking.

As it turns out, however, the wine bar is terrible as a BAR. It's a bar like Rupaul is a woman, true in every way except the really important one. There's the stools, the alcohol, the people and the same sloppy, repetitive cross-eyed mush that passes for conversation when you're drunk. But there's no cross-group conversational flow or psychological casualness, at least partly because the wine sensibility seems to distance you from your base nature rather than embrace it, and this makes the random socialization with strangers feel awkward, which, if you think about it, undermines the entire point of being at a bar.

The value and relevance of a bar, like an ecosystem or Lindsay Lohan, depends on both
randomness and resiliency to randomness. There has to be a balance between what biologists call regular stochastic fluctuation and ecological predictability. This is why strip clubs (all randomness) and family picnics (all predictability) are both strategically unwise and usually illegal forums for chromosomal intermixing.

Successful bars and clubs toe the line here, manipulating variables such as bouncers, cover charges and dress codes on one hand, and caged dancers and free shots on the other, in order to carve out a particular night-life niche. Wine bars, however, strive to transcend randomness and predictability, they strive to be
SOPHISTICATED, and this is ultimately why they are boring. Dynamic social interaction requires crowdedness, an element of aggression and the occasional casualty.

Think of the
college house party: it's so unsophisticated it's unsafe. People are falling out of windows, vomiting in Rubbermaid trash cans, and God knows what else but bodies will be found in basement the next afternoon. A college house party is one of the most dangerous places on the planet, and simultaneously, among the best places to meet a girl.

Wine bars, by contrast, provide the illusion of vigorous socialization without any real threat of injury or embarrassment. They are like
youth soccer: you can play out the season, never touch the ball and no one will notice.

The wine bar, however, poses more trouble than a classification conundrum. Girls going to wine bars is not like girls playing soccer, because the former but not the latter means girls NOT going to other venues that serve alcohol and are conducive to talking with strangers. It means girls not going to pubs or sports bars or lounges. And if this happens often enough and consistently enough, what you get is an ecosystem with no Lindsay Lohans and no place to meet girls. What you get is San Francisco.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

#3 The Gay Aesthetic

The effect of the gay population on a straight guy’s romantic prospects is complex. On one hand, gays take up male space without actually stealing any girls, which, at least statistically, reduces competition among straight guys and opens up the field a bit, like a power play in hockey. On the other hand, gays can send girls into a spiral of anti-straight guy despair, a condition in which “It’s always the best ones [that are heterosexually unavailable]” and every straight man is a selfish, sloppy, cheeseball mess, like Jose Conseco slump busting his way through Vegas.

In San Francisco, a girl will know busloads of gay guys. These guys, make no mistake, are not the gay guy or two who is our old college roommate or maybe fraternity brother, the guy who never does laundry, watches Sportscenter, wears frayed khakis and, if given the opportunity, shaves bi-monthly. That guy is just a straight guy who prefers men over women sexually as well as personally. He’s a regular dude cutting back on transaction costs.

No, the gay guys that SF girls befriend are advanced. They quote English novelists, get expensive hair cuts, manipulate’s free shipping policy, and wear jeans that are not only expensive but the correct size. They take Bosu Bootcamp classes at Crunch Fitness. They instinctively know about things girls care about. What they possess is that set of graceful and inimitable sensibilities - a trendy fashion sense, a knowledge of wine, art and world affairs, and a weakness for cupcakes - recognized as the Gay Aesthetic.

Like the Power Rangers, no one element of the Gay Aesthetic is very powerful on its own, but when packaged together in one cheerful, garrulous personality the resulting force is mighty. A girl sees a forbidden splendor that outshines the dull charms of heterosexuality like daylight does a lamp. The comparison makes any straight guy seem like a dim-witted dumpster diver, like that booger pickin' cousin from a trailer home up the valley; all hand me down t-shirts, grass-stained knees and mismatched stripes on tube socks. The cousin you host in the back yard so your friends can't see.

San Francisco guys, like guys across the world, have made good-faith attempts to mimic the Gay Aesthetic in order to get girls to like them. The achievement of such efforts is labeled Metrosexuality and though there were initial breakthroughs real success has proved illusory. As a practiced move it may attract attention but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Girls sense that it’s just a ruse. Metrosexual guys look and sometimes act gay but girls know they’re not the real thing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

#2 The Foreigner Effect

39 percent of San Francisco residents were born overseas. San Francisco like all great American cities has a long and colorful tradition of xenophobia, but, on balance, today’s SF foreigner is pretty well received. He usually has a winning angle or two: status as a political refugee, an adorable ineptitude with English syntax, bad-ass computational skills, skinny-and-chic Euro half-pants; something cool. He is also a potential transmission source for nightmarish diseases like SARS, Swine Flu and Bird Influenza but as long as the French Tuesdays invites keep coming everyone looks the other way.

Where the SF foreigner suffers is in the area of sex. He doesn’t get his dry-cleaner burnt down anymore, sure, but he doesn’t get female attention either so, in a way, at least as far as his DNA is concerned and unless he’s carted along a girl from back home, what’s the point?

The problem is two-fold. First of all, as socio-biologists have pointed out, expatriates are hugely disadvantaged in the competition to impress ladies. Experts Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa say, in explaining why single men go abroad with far less frequency than single women, that a man’s “attractiveness” - which depends on all these culturally specific things beyond his physical appearance - does not translate well to to other countries, where the stuff people and chicks value (e.g., throwing a football, English language skills, investment banking) are not necessarily the things he’s good at (e.g., juggling a soccer ball, Hungarian language skills, combatting vampires (we kid)).

Secondly, though girls have no special antipathy to foreigners per se they are instinctually distrustful of casual acquaintances who do not belong to their circle of friends and family. Expatriate foreigners, absent extenuating circumstances, not only fall within this zone of distrust, but exactly into its sweet spot, because they are not only literal strangers but metaphorically strange with their weird accents and unnaturally intimate double-kiss greetings. Evolutionary psychologists believe that female xenophobia is a function of sexual selection: girls are wired to be attracted to partners with known resources and community ties, because such partners are more likely to provide long-term love and care.

Paradoxically, girls LOVE foreigners when traveling abroad, where the relevant context makes everybody equally strange and therefore equally familiar. A girl on a language immersion program in Italy, for example, finds Ronaldo or Serge or Alexis or whoever urbane, exotic and charmingly bilingual. But stateside such same guys seem like random roving outsiders with lousy grammar and personal space issues. They still seem interesting but they also seem skinny, hairy, and vaguely creepy. Imagine a bar swarming with such guys. Girls do no go this bar. The bar is San Francisco.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

#1 Day Culture

San Francisco people like “to do things during the day." You'll hear San Franciscans say this all the time, they'll go out of the way to say it, often with slim regard for its conversational relevance. It is the sort of unsolicited, nonsequitor declaration that poses as throw-away small talk but is really a test. It's like announcing to a stranger that you're a cat person, it's less a statement than a question: "What kind of person are you?"

In San Francisco you're either a person who "likes to do things during the day" or a totally different person, the kind who "likes to go out", AKA a nightlife junkie, a person who shotguns beer, yells obscenities at strippers and drunk drives orphans to Cambodian killing fields. You're
that guy.

reality is no one, except hyper kinetic 23 year old girls with fake boobs, likes to go out. You stand in lines, get sweated on, experience the anxiety of being judged, spend $75 on alcohol that retails for $2.29 at a corner store, and alternatively feel harassed or ignored. Emotionally, going out feels the same as a job - it's not very pleasant, you certainly aren't excited for it a half hour before you leave the house, but once you're in the flow it's endurable, even if you’re surrounded by freaks, and most importantly it has to be done in order to lead a halfway normal life.

San Franciscans attitude towards this reality is akin to that of
Belarussian Jews towards the Nazis - they are having none of it. They are going hiking Saturday morning on Mount Tam and the departure time is 7:30 AM, right after they get back from a pre-dawn jog.

This perspective is partly just a Ponzi scheme of peer pressure, a socialized pathology like
Sex in the City feminism, but only in part. After all, sailing in the Bay is nice, Napa wine-tasting rooms are nice, so is a hike in Yosemite; and the night scene is drab enough by comparison that treating the two as mutually exclusive lifestyles isn't insane. It's a bit like avoiding the shoddy circus by the rail road tracks when there's a world class museum down-town. You could do both, they are not really the same thing, yet both are recreational and one is so obviously superior to the other that you'd really only visit the former when you felt like slumming it, when you were in the mood for genteel irony.

The casualty is that day activities are rarely conducive to large-scale social interaction. You may bump into a stranger or two at the trail head, meet another crew at the boathouse, pass some folks in the bike lane, but the sheer numbers are way, way smaller than those of a night scene. The odds are against you. Moreover, without the lubricating effect of an alcoholic buzz, randoms are less likely to start chatting away. This contributes to the oft commented upon
Girl Mirages of San Francisco: veritable squadrons of pretty ladies appear out of the wood work on weekend afternoons - jogging, driving, at the counter of a coffee shop - visible for but a fleeting moment, never actually seen socially, standstill, at a bar, event, a party, or any other place where a guy could actually meet them.

And herein lies the underlying, chagrining hypocrisy of day culture that even its believers can sense. Human nature is such that as much as we like sunshine and fresh air we like other humans a lot more. That's Darwinian theory and the power of sexual selection at work. So when we proclaim, "I like to do things during the day," what we're really saying is, "I'm lonely."