Thursday, July 30, 2009

#13 Full House

Defenders of San Francisco, often ex-San Franciscans recently relocated to New York and brimming with a new-found elitist generosity, say that San Francisco is a wonderful place to live, just in your later 30s, once you're married and somehow "settled", which is an endorsement so specific in scope that it essentially functions as a sweeping theological renunciation. San Francisco is great, the implication is, once everything interesting in life is over. It's like saying Rwanda is a fabulous vacation spot, so long as you've reached the point in your existence where you want to contract HIV.

Curiously everybody who's youngish in San Francisco basically concedes the accuracy of this account, even though it doesn't make any sense. Despite all the counter-culture stuff and intellectual, entrepreneurial ethos, there's this deep seated, subconscious feeling among the younger generation that San Francisco's best suited for the domestic ennui of married life. Picnics, baby strollers, opiate smiles and the like.

The cause for this is the television sitcom Full House. Full House ran from September 22, 1987 to May 23, 1995 on ABC. Everything anyone born between 1972 and 1988 thinks deep down about San Francisco can basically be attributed to this show.

One effect of TV’s pretend reality is that exposure to it when you're coming of age, when the cement's still wet, makes it intractably real, emotionally and existentially, no matter what countermanding intellectualisms you later formulate. This is why the prospect of visiting Miami makes us feel dangerous. We secretly think that if we go there, we'll get force-fed cocaine and shot at by dudes in leisure suits. We saw Miami Vice and Scarface, we know. Beneath the gild of palm trees and Dan Marino fans is stripper-grade mayhem.

Full House was not even directly about San Francisco - almost every episode occurred within the titular full house - but you never forgot it was set in San Francisco because the show opened with the now iconic image of the Tanner family cruising in a cherry red convertible across the Golden Gate Bridge, backgrounded by the city’s hilly skyline.

Full House's plot details didn't matter much, but the basic idea was that three harmlessly screwball guys looked after four cutsey, albeit histrionic school girls. John Stamos played Jesse, the show's charming, swashbuckling never-do-well, so footloose that it took him all of 2 and half episodes before he was engaged and married to an attractive Aryan woman, who then showed up pregnant in every single episode that followed.

In retrospect the show's self-conscious promotion of family values and themes seems absurdly forced. Youngish men sat on a sofa, making cheesy banter and hoping a nice wife-to-be would walk in the door while little girls made drama over who would take the dog Comet for a walk. The conceit that Danny Tanner could convince two of his buddies to sign up for this hell is hard to reconcile with what we know about human behavior.

But what we think now isn't relevant because back in 1990 our impressionable, Freudian little minds were conditioned to link San Francisco with the edgeless, wholesome tyranny of Danny Tanner's domestic bliss. The show's producers weren't trying to construct a highly specific collective unconsciousness. They weren't trying to destroy San Francisco's singles scene. But screw those bastards because they did.

Friday, July 24, 2009

#12 The Absence of Bull-Sh*t Artists

There's an old saw that life and the social realities that define it never really progress past high school. Kurt Vonnegut theorized that every person you meet, however seemingly unique, can be reduced to a guy or girl you knew as a Sophomore. Every class has a Richard Nixon, he said.

The fact people figure out this, however, is why in the end it’s not quite true. The recognition that the same rigid, ruthless hierarchies that govern high school govern all of life gives rise to an adaptation: the bull-sh*t artist. Bullsh*t artists are guys who take the lesson you don't really learn until your early twenties - that there's enough slack in the system to fake it - and make a run. They adopt a persona, some gimmick, that isn't true, but SEEMS true.

You know these guys: with the tattoo sleeve, the leased Porsche or a name preceded by “DJ.” Bullsh*t artistry is always niche, not so niche that it's strange but niche enough so no true alpha males are among the competition. So you have your guy who is really into kite surfing or snow-boarding or The Paris Review, and he has a look and cultivated attitude that goes along with it, to ensure people know he's into that thing. It's like being white and wanting to succeed at sports: go for golf, lacrosse or soccer. Avoid sports popular with inner city youth.

Bullsh*t artists comprise about 20% of the male population and in a way keep monogamous societies functioning. Girls prefer the authentic alpha male, but that's about 5% of guys, so there's this huge space of unsatisfied female desire. Regular guys deal with this through drug abuse, religion, and sometimes self-improvement, but the bullsh*t artist isn't a sucker for second place. He buys a Harley, frosts his hair and adopts a swagger he saw on a VH1 reality show. He says he's a club promoter or speaks surfer pidgin. He digs through pop culture bromides of "coolness" like he's Carrot Top with a trunk in Vegas, pulling out whatever artifice - aesthetic, linguistic,  professional - that might provide a passable illusion.  

San Francisco is one of the few places in the universe that doesn’t have these guys. Impostors don’t thrive here. The economy is structured around intelligence and hard work and the cultural ethos encourages authenticity. People are honest, tolerant, upright citizens. They wear polos, corduroys and sneakers. Arguably this is just another brand of bullsh*t, liberal, Harper's reading, pacifist bullsh*t but if everyone's committed to it, then it's the relevant status quo, and thereby just inconspicuous, good old regular reality.

The problem with being a decent, regular person is that no one notices. A guy who doesn't stand out doesn't really exist. In high school this is okay, in fact it’s a survival technique, since the experience is so harrowing and brutish. You keep your head down and survive. But in life survival’s not enough. In life we seek more. In life we seek love.  

But the percentages are against us. The hierarchies are vicious. Loneliness is vast. Bullsh*t artists provide a partial reprieve. They both beckon girls forth, like opposite-sex Sirens, and also make the regular guy look good, almost noble by comparison. Hey, girls will say about the regular guy, there’s what’s-his-name, at least he’s not full of sh*t. 

Girls never said this in high school nor do they now say it in San Francisco and in that regard, San Francisco is like some sick, Godless time-warp back to your Sophomore year, when you were sensitive, idealistic and crushing on a cheerleader unaware of your existence. You were a tree falling in a forest, with no one around to hear. It’s so sad to think about you might just pop your collar and put Ray-Bans in your hair.

Monday, July 20, 2009

#11 The City of New York City

One of the reasons that people hate the New York Yankees is that they are swoopers. A swooper is that friend who waits from afar while you introduce yourself to a group of ladies, and then, after you have made yourself seem desparate or predatory via the unsolicited approach, he swoops in without a care in the world, as if he's not even interested, as if he's not consciously free-riding on your hustle, and thus, with his seeming insouciance and cavalier charm, steals all the girls. This is doubly damning because not only does he benefit from your hard work, but the girls have it exactly wrong, for it is he who is the real predator; he's the evil empire.

In baseball the New York Yankees do this by letting the A's, Red Sox, Texas Rangers, etc. scout and develop the talent and then swooping in to cherry pick Nick Swisher or Johnny Damon or Alex Rodriguez, etc. And the Yankees are just a microcosm of New York City as a whole, which pulls this same d*ck move all the time.

San Francisco suffers disproportionately from this move because San Francisco shares the same cosmopolitan, liberal ethos of NYC, and relatedly, the same demographic of upwardly mobile girls. Phoenix might lose its talent to Miami or L.A., for instance, but San Francisco somehow always loses its talent to the big Apple. The process is not always instant but it's inevitable, which is why whenever we spot a pretty girl on the streets of San Francisco we never really appreciate the moment, we're too busy thinking about the Canadian Football League, and the day it lost Doug Flutie to the NFL.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

#10 The Concept of New York City

If you live in San Francisco, you're always threatening to move to New York. A friend has an open bedroom in his West Village sh*tbox or your company has a satellite office in Midtown. There's some reason. You likely already lived there or almost moved there after college. New York and San Francisco are like these two wormholes, and you're always standing at the edge of one or the other, waiting for your luggage.

Moving to New York seems like a pretty specific life decision but for the educated, well-to-do twenty or thirty something living in San Francisco, it is the epitome of modern desire. Whether it concerns our job, our bodies, our hair or our girlfriend, what we desire is not a radically different alternative - we are solipsistic, self-aggrandizing ego queens who love who we are and what we have, we aren't some loopy farm kid from South Dakota - no, we just desire a less flawed version. We want to keep the good and banish the bad, not in some sick, Fascist pogrom way but in a totally normal, totally healthy Tony Robbins or Scientology way.

So we don't want cities like Charleston or Minneapolis. No one in San Francisco threatens to move to Tallahassee. And though people constantly clamor about how different New York and San Francisco are in lifestyle, as if their dual existence confronts humanity with some grand crisis of identity, New York and San Francisco are really overlapping worlds, comprised of the same genre of affluent white (or white acting) people, same career opportunities, same progressive cosmopolitan ethos. This is why we have friends there, job prospects, and a lead on an apartment.

New York promises the same basic stuff and meaning of San Francisco life just subtly improved. It offers opportunities we can't yet describe but that we sense are right in our sweet spot. We imagine a fabulous if small studio and delicious cocktails and all the glamourous people! Like a Tom Wolfe novel! The Wall Street players with dark suits and dangerous smiles, the skinny models, the actresses, the fashionistas! None of these Subaru-driving faux-hippies, none of these ex-nerd jokers who wear polo shirts and white tube socks. Say sayonara to awkward encounters with Google engineers.

But here's the thing: when your consciousness is half tuned to that mythology, when you always have one foot out the door, then you disengage from your reality, you don't make small talk with the random guy on MUNI, you don’t go slumming at Circa on weekends, you see the tawdriness of SOMA clubs and the under-arm hair of the barrista at Peet’s. After all you've been to Manhattan, the real city, in fact you're considering a move there, Jenny just started Stern and there's that tall guy you met in Tahoe, who has a penthouse on Park Ave., so he said, he's unbelievably full of himself and Sarah said some bad things about him but he was so funny and he keeps texting you... and this small little city around you and it's dorky denizens are just so...bush-league. You can do better than this, you know it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

#9 UC Berkeley and Stanford

San Francisco's geographical proximity to Cal and Stanford means a few things. First, we must bear witness to the annual Big Game, an event wherein as part of a storied athletic rivalry the two schools meet on a football field and debate who has the higher IQ. Second, Stanford and Cal students move to San Francisco after they graduate and do so in large numbers, relative to other schools any way, and thus bring a particular personality type, look and attitude to the scene, in the same way that the more comely co-eds from ASU, USC and BU, for example, infiltrate and influence Phoenix, LA and Boston, respectively. 


The latter fact, in conjunction with the reality that Stanford and Cal alums look and act like nerds, explains why SF women seem, on the average, socially and physically awkward. Curiously, however, it doesn’t explain why SF guys complain about it all the time. SF women ARE unattractive, but SF men, also being Stanford and Cal alumni, are as ill-formed and featured as the women. Thus, the pairing of the equally unattractive genders should sort itself out neatly. (At least by the numbers and for that generation. God knows how unsightly the procreative output of such pairings would be. The poor transients of the Tenderloin would feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend).


The real cause for the complaint has to do with a gender divergence. For women education and professional success are really the same as height, in so far as men who have less than them are disqualified as potential mates. For men, on the other hand, things like earning potential, pedigree, and height aren’t first order sexual selection criteria. We like tall ones, short ones, Chico State drop-outs, and Yalies - as long as you’re cute, smart and bi-curious, we’re good to go.

This divergence has the following result: as women get more education and money, the pool of men appealing to them shrinks while as men get more education and money, the pool of women that finds them appealing grows. What San Francisco gets in the end is a city full of nerds, each gender thinking they are better than the other, and they are both right. 

It’s reasonable that women that went to Cal or Stanford do not want to date cell phone salesmen, firemen or cops and it’s also reasonable that they are not impressed by some dude’s fat investment bank/law firm bonus, since they got one as well. It’s hardly hot sh*t to dunk a basketball if your girl can slam it home from the free throw line. Of course it’s equally reasonable that male nerds are annoyed by female nerds’ lack of respect for their careers and salaries because male nerds know that there are throngs of cooler, prettier girls, in say Phoenix or LA, actresses, waitresses, assistant editors, etc., who get blown away by a dinner at PF Changs

So you can complain all day long that San Francisco is full of 5s and 6s who think they are 8 and 9s but the simple truth is that until the male and female nerds stop accusing each other of over-reaching, and stand up against the real enemy, the beautiful people, the bastards that have made them feel inferior all their lives, it’s an intractable situation.

Monday, July 6, 2009

# 8 The Parking Problem

San Francisco parking is a bit like dirt in the movie Waterworld: so precious and rare a resource that its presence stirs forth a half spiritual, half murderous hysteria and the quest to find it never really ends, which is why you can find yourself yelling, "Look! A parking space! Oh my God, another one!", like you just saw a Bald Eagle or a bobcat, not only when you have no plans to park but when you aren’t even in a car.

It's easy to get high-minded and poo-poo such drama because the problem seems so niche. If you don't live in San Francisco or, even if you do but are presently day tripping in some suburban neighborhood, where parking spaces come free and plenty as summer rain in northern Queensland, the whole fuss appears to be absurd. You can see that fist-fighting for a parking space is at best a borderline call. You can see the fragility of how we comprehend the world. Parking spaces don't matter, you can conclude in your detached, wiser state of consciousness.

But you'd be wrong and this is why: San Francisco, the third most densely populated city in the Americas, has no viable inter-city public transportation. BART just goes to Oakland and MUNI buses...don't make us laugh. Go to a MUNI bus stop past commute time and tell us how it goes. Good luck waiting for that messiah. Then there's taxis, which exist, but just as a hypothesis, like Schrödinger's cat.

What this means is that getting anywhere, especially on a weekend evening, is a major hassle. You can't drive, buses aren't making regular runs, it's too windy and cold to hoof it, and no one is answering the taxi hotline. So if you're a girl, and it's Friday night, and you're OK with going to a bar where 70% of the patrons are men, half of whom are hipsters, short or software geeks, then you're still dealing with 50/50 odds you'll be marooned 2 miles from your apartment at 2:06 AM. And remember, the bicycle ride to the Marin Headlands leaves at 8 AM. So what do you do? You get in your jammies and watch Sex in the City.