Friday, December 3, 2010

#43 The War on WFTs

“Well, it’s no mystery that ass has always been tits’ greatest enemy. It’s almost like a Muslim-Jewish thing, but with tits and ass. It’s the choice in life.” - Kenny Powers

“Important things are inevitably cliche, but nobody wants to admit that.”
- Chuck Klosterman

Let’s clarify from the outset: in this post you shall be moved in progression from glib superficiality to deep and self-reflective profundity. A playful comment or two will segue into a provocative yet indulgent and probably pointless examination which will segue into something honest and decent and a little wistful. It will be like life that way, in terms of emotional arc. So be prepared to get f*cked up with some truth, my beautiful b*tches.

In the last few weeks Autumn has descended upon San Francisco not simply as a matter of the Gregorian calendar but as a bona fide weather phenomenon, with heaps of rain and arctic gales. A big time brumal blow-out. None of that soft-dying light and twittering sparrows crap from Keats. Any sense of summer and hope you’ve been clinging to was collared and defenestrated through and out the tenth floor windows of your soul. The optionality and incentive to lay out at Stinson or Southwest it down to San Diego on a Friday, the mojitos, the glory, the jewelry, the cash, being coked out on a boat - it’s f*cking over. Dead. Crushed and mangled on the dented hood of a parked car below.

As a matter of consolation and bereavement we’ve brought out the fall fashion collection. As per unspoken collective agreement the ladies are showing boutique-y boots, wool coats and black tights/jeans and the dudes sport jeans and black J Crew jackets. Although the average temperature difference between SF summer and winter is about 4 degrees, we all kind of agree to dress like it’s snowing.

Now the dirty little secret of winter fashion is that, in the underground and fiercely fought battle between ass and tits, it gives ass the advantage. Put a sweater or a jacket upon a fine set of boobs and they drown in a sea of fabric. They disappear like buoys in a storm. Moreover, absent some really fine tailoring the whole package can create a mistaken impression of dumpiness across the middle. For tits and Nazi Germany’s 6th Army, winter is a bad situation.

The ass, meanwhile, loves the holidays. It loves ice-skating outfits and patterned tights and jouncing back from the gym in Lululemon Athletica. It feels radiant and fabulous, like the brightest bulb on a decorated tree.

But let’s get serious: it’s really never not winter in San Francisco. Season in and season out, ass is constantly getting the attention and the glory. In a free market economy equally divided between two embattled factions - women with fine asses (“WFAs”) and women with fine tits (“WFTs”) - this has ramifications. A social credit is imposed in one case and a tax in other. And hence, in the absence of any countervailing controls or regulation, over the years WFAs have been allocated to SF by disproportionate number. They are everywhere. Triathletes and Marathon runners. Flat chested vegans and A cup, type A MBAs. This is the spontaneous SF order. This is non-linear and this is fact. But it’s beyond competition. It’s beyond conflict. It’s open war. A war on WFTs.

The modern condition is such that most of us don’t have any experience with actual, non-metaphorical war. But we understand war. We get the gist: awesome shoulder-rolls, intrigue, and megalomania, on one hand, and beautiful bare-chested men and saucy vixens on the other. Troy, Avatar, Gone with the Wind and Star Wars - it’s all there. The lesson, as a movie critic once so deftly put it, is that war is a story about ambition and commerce, because life is about ambition and commerce, but every war eventually transmutes into a love story because life is often that, too. We get it. Explosion, light-saber duel, another explosion. And Bam! Pregnant.

And thus we know: the singular conflict in life is not between tits and ass. That is an absurd reductionism.* Tits v. ass is just one conflict out of many, and like most conflicts over status (like those in religion, professional sports, cola choice, etc.) it is mostly determined and motivated by ignorance, instinct or some coincidence (by family connection, geography, etc.) of cultural association. And further, if you alter the context, inform the instinct, or reverse engineer the cultural association, then one’s loyalties are influenced. The significance of certain variables gets reconsidered. New feelings are stirred. Sides are switched. Jews are baptized. Wolves are danced with. Because life isn’t just about motor-boating fun bags. It’s also about finding spiritual connection. As Forest Gump says about destiny versus randomness, it’s about both. Both are happening at the same time.

And so it goes that SF guys who live long enough in SF learn to love WFAs. Many of us deep down don’t want to do it. For a time we resist. But eventually we surrender. Because we are vulnerable. Because deep down the human spirit is generous. Sooner or later the sweet tailpipe of SF women puts a spell on us. We get charmed.

But, understand, we will never be complete. We will always feel hollow and wanting in the most intimate of things. That is the tragedy. All the ass-magic in the Marina can't change a man from his core beliefs**. And so many a good man in San Francisco will have his day of reckoning and on the day he will self confess: “I’m not an ass man. I’m a tit man. And this is WTANGISF.”***

*Unless you’re a sultan, Hugh Hefner or otherwise carry on a highly unusual way of life.
**To paraphrase a man with a mind like a f*cking scientist.
"The fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance." - David Foster Wallace

Sunday, September 5, 2010

#42 The Social Proof Problem

“Matchmakers say the dating scene is probably worse than anywhere.“

- “In Man-Rich Silicon Valley,” New York Times.

“One of the big problems ... these days was that the women were too picky.''

- Same article.

The concept that a woman’s desire for a man depends on other women’s desire for that man is hard for guys to get their minds wrapped around, no matter how many Playboy models David Spade impregnates. Because guys are way too objective and ahistorical to care about sociological judgments. Every male model in the world could descend upon SF to serenade the SF 6s and SF guys would say, good, go sick. Take Kelly Osbourne off the marriage market while you’re at it.

It’s a question of epistemology. Men use their brains to organize their thoughts and make sense of them and the surrounding world. Women, on the other hand, let their survival impulses guide them, like the Great Buck Howard on the hunt for his hidden performance fee, towards the set of behaviors that best serves to their immediate situational advantage and then, like acquitted Nazi Albert Speer, they use their brains to gerrymander a patch-work of communicable ideas and beliefs that make their behaviors acceptable to the wider world.

This is partly why it's difficult to understand the feminine take on reality: what counts is how things FEEL, subjectively, for a particular human at a given moment, kind of like a personalized wind chill factor, which is basically unworkable as measure of standardized, sharable truth and yet, at the same time, if you think about it, the only truly relevant measure of human experience. When our biology tells us to hook up with some person, our biology is saying that person’s genes are survivors - they are capable of making babies who are popular with and attractive to subsequent generations of people.

In this way, the fact female desire is so heavily dependent on the opinions and social proof of other females actually makes rational and probably scientific sense. Good looks, earning potential, charm - we chase after these things as if they have intrinsic value but really they are just features probabilistically associated with reproductive success. As Adam Carolla says, "I don't care how ugly you say a dude is, if he's f*cking a new hot stewardess every night, then you can say all you want about his schnauze and male pattern baldness but he can't hear you, because he's on top of another stewardess."FN1

The forgoing generally all works out on balance. Some dude who is cool but generally ignored will, given enough time, start hanging out with some cute nanny he met at the park and then suddenly ever chick in his universe who hadn’t been aware of existence double takes. He gets his chance. Usually.

A theoretical problem: if we accept as a predicate that all women, at at least some time in their lives (because they’re tired or depressed or thinking rationally about the matter), feel a total or almost total lack of interest in men as a romantic or sexual (or whatever) objects, then imagine what would occur if, by some probability-defying confluence of events, women in a particular society all experienced this lack of interest AT EXACTLY the same time AND share with one another the fact they feel this way at exactly the same time. If logic holds, then in the aftermath of this hypothetical moment no woman in that society would ever again desire a man because, so long as no foreign woman entered the society, all the men around would be undesirable to the other women. The implied cognition in every woman’s brain (that no man around had social proof of value) would stultify the system.

This, of course, is no hypothetical. This is San Francisco, and like snow blindness in cats, it scares the livin' sh*t out of us.

It happened like this: in most human spaces, like IstanbulFN2, Chicago, New York, or professional graduate programs, there’s an upwardly mobile class of women, be they, respectively, Ukranian women, Iowa farm girls, 24 year old struggling actresses (who are dazzled by a $60 restaurant meal), or sorority girls, that disrupt such a hypothetically static system. Graduate school may be the most relatable exemplar. The first semester starts and everyone has their section and the social hierarchy of cool and uncool gets worked out in a few weeks and all the girls fixate on about three guys as being desirable with the rest being generally ignored but then, not long thereafter, two guys, guys no girls deemed worthy of attention, reportedly hook up with UNDERGRADUATE girls! The whole hierarchy and design of things has to be re-thought. Wildcard, bitches!

But what you get in San Francisco is system shock pre-emption. Certain infrastructural realities like excessive living costs and industry specific professional opportunities (no fashion, no media, no marketing) enforce an on-going population stasis. A homogeneity. Putting arguments about the attitudes of professionally successful women aside, the absence of an young and non-affluent (but aspiring) class of girls robs SF women of a competitive motivator. It’s confusing to type A, successful women when they move here knowing the Bay Area is full of type A, successful men since they come to understand that, in the minds and expressed opinions of the type A locals, none of the men have any social value. In a (somewhat dated but probably sort of relevant) New York Times article about the “Man-rich” SF Bay Area, a relationship coach of 10 years is quoted as saying, “I've never seen things so bad...The women are very tough on the men. They're constantly finding reasons to not like them.”

Ironically, if you relocated 10,000 hot stewardesses into SF (and provided them with the resources to afford rent, etc.), the dating scene would improve for SF women. The guys around them would suddenly seem a little rakish, a little smoother. For what happens to an unattractive guy when he’s given a little money and the affections of a pretty girl with a little charm? He becomes against all reason and probabilities the the very thing SF women say doesn’t exist in San Francisco: David Spade.


Carolla said that in the context of a story about low test scores in the U.S. He further commented, “All these countries are ahead of us yet they all wish they lived here? I'm not sure how much these metrics are worth. We're not bilingual, our math skills are not that of India or parts of Asia. We're down in the middle of everything. Except for the part that everyone wants to come into our frat house. So we're a dumb frat house with ugly dudes yet everyone wants to party with us? To me, that's the ultimate test score."


If you spend some time in Turkey you learn that Russian women figure into the nation in an interesting way. The story goes something like this: the rise of modern, progressive(ish) Turkey coincided with the fall of the USSR. Ukranian women with no money or really resources started to show up in Istanbul, invigorating the local prostitution market. This development surely had some pretty negative and seedy externalities but at least on an anecdotal level it seems to have created a nascent class of eligible hotties. The Russian girls who were once whores (in the sense that they gave blow jobs for fifty Turkish Lira and a black eye) are increasingly becoming “whores” (in a sense that they give blow jobs for Beamers and beach houses and Turkish girls hate them).

Friday, June 25, 2010

#41 Misanthropy in the Marina

The worst part about middle school was the disorder. It was sociological chaos. You didn't really know who your friends were. You didn't know who YOU were. You'd figured out that being cool mattered ALOT, far more than puppies, ponies, mom, Little League, Nature or just about anything that made people happy, and you’d matured enough to sense how things might turn out for you coolness-wise, but matters remained inchoate. There was optionality. You were just a kid and you knew it. Kelly Clarkson’s get fat. Bad asses with tween ‘staches stop growing. It was still anyone's game.

In situations such as this, situations of extreme social flux, things get touchy. Fiercely competitive. Rumors start. Stupid plastic watches get worn. People are socked in the face. Anything to pick up an edge. Those who weren't vigilant about discriminating against the ugly, the nerdy or the poor would wake up one afternoon thirty-five years old, unshaven and destitute. Possibly handicapped. A Denny's waitress or a prison bottom. You were 13, you didn’t know.

The transition from valuing relationships strictly on whether people are cooler and more advantaged than you are (OMG that guy's so hot! I love hot boys!) to whether people are smart and nice to you and cool enough (as cool as you) is a rite of passage that happens for most emotionally functional, self-aware people by their late twenties. Chronologically, your engagement with the rules of hierarchy goes from bewilderment (junior high) to depression (high school) to savvy (college) to Machivellian over-reaching (post-grad) to gradual acceptance and a sense of proportion.

The people who live in the Marina haven't figured this sh*t out.FN1 You'll see grown-up women with the romantic sensibilities of Justin Bieber fans, 30 something men doing an impersonation of a thirteen year old doing an impersonation of an adult. There is posturing and being loud contestsFN2 and factitiously enthusiastic hugging and everything else associated with hyper awareness of social ranking coupled with a kind of behavioral skills paralysis, like a school sponsored dance where the boys stand on one side and the girls stand on the other, everyone fearful that they'll get punked or somehow exposed, shamed by a mean girl or thrown against a locker by a guy with a tween 'stache.FN3

An enormous problem with populating a city with people who spent their adolescence getting humiliated in dodgeball is that after they graduate from Cal or Stanford or Penn or Cornell and start working at Bank of America and Hewlett Packard they want to be perceived as winners. But they still feel, deep down at the level where their humanity is, like acne riddled losers. This is a devastating combination.

The Marina gets the brunt of it because the former high school dweebs move there expecting that it will be the final stage in their ascendance to the cool kid club. It's not of course, partly because you can't educate or monetize (unless you're D.Trump) your way into the high heaven of being a 9 and partly because San Francisco doesn't have cool kids, not even in the affluent neighborhoods. Sorority girls from the University of Florida just ain't around. They visit for one dork-fested, fog dampened weekend and think, screw this.

But it's worse than that because the generally applicable SF ethos - that shallow materialism and the exclusion of others is a bad thing - holds true even on Union Street. So what you get is a bunch of putatively reformed but resividist dorks thinking like high minded, progressive SF citizens but feeling and acting in the confused and desparate terms of a tweener playing a status game he doesn't quite understand.

The result and WTANGISF is this: not even Marina people like Marina people. All Marina chicks, even the self-sabotaging, silly ones, hate Marina men for being thoughtless, unoriginal hacks/dweebs and all the guys hate the chicks for being supersilious, insecure b*tches. Everyone thinks that they're surrounded by a**holes.FN4 Everyone points accusatory fingers, everyone gets blacklisted. It's a**shole hysteria. It's Douche Scare(TM).

But it's more diabolical than that, because Marina residents, basically, just like thirteen year old kids, aren't really a**holes. You may have some loud-mouth clowns from USC here and there but for the most part it's just decent twenty somethings working their little tails off to friend up and fit in. They try to act douchey and contemptuous, but they're total poseurs.FN5 Socially retarded, sure, psychologically damaged from years of high school nerd harassment, maybe, but bonafide evildoers, no.

On the other hand, the most damning villainy is usually the most subtle. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist and so on. Perhaps the Douche and Bieber-fan factor is eating away at us in repeated and non obvious ways, destroying us bit by bit, like Chinese water torture or 44 minutes of Real Housewives. Psychological battery, spiritual assault. The waves of stupid pulsing out of Bar None, the piles and piles of attitude expelled like so much b*tch effluvia from 6s who think they're 9s: it's easy to dismiss as sociological nonsense, temporary perturbations of the system, like tears in the rain or a fart in the wind. But day by day the alienation builds. The disenchantment. The confusion. Everything - the posh stores, the wine bars, the views of the Bay - is so wonderful yet everyone's unhappy.

We can say all that and still concede this: villainous or not it takes some kind of a warped genius to simultaneously be a misanthrope and a conformist kiss a**. If you go around accusing everyone of being a Douche and then do everything in your power to seek peer approval and respect, then you're culturally engaged, you're mixing it up, but you never have to settle on any particular identity and you never have to settle for a romantic counterpart to that identity. You never have to concede that you're ordinary. There's no confabulation differential in your nutty Lake Wobegon mind, where everything self-related is way above average. You can go to your grave believing your virtue, your charm, your glamour ... it's all unassailable. That no one would dare deny it. Except all the people who know you. And those douchebags can go to hell.

FN1. B&T, cougars, and yuppified breeders are common and colorful and sometimes nuanced Marina character types but not relevant to our immediate purposes. None informs the big picture sociocultural mindset of the Marina, except as an amusing curiosity, like that special ed kid who was integrated into gym class the last semester of the 9th grade.

FN2. When you travel abroad you discover something never discussed on MSNBC: Americans, comparatively speaking (NPI), produce a stunning amount of noise in conversational situations. Americans tend to socialize with the same technique they use to impress bears or panthers, emphasizing decibel volume over word combination. Other nationalities find this trait intrusive and obnoxious of course but mostly you can tell they find it bewildering, like it's an invention of evil they hadn't thought of, a brand new way of being a jerk.

FN3. The tween 'stache is quietly the most dangerous 'stache because with the other 'staches, even the evil mastermind 'stache, there's always the sense that a regular Mike Ditka / Magnum PI 'stache or a Hulk Hogan handlebar 'stache is going to come around to help. But if you're confronted by a tween 'stache, watch out Wil Wheaton, because that's the only 'stache going in your universe. You are on your own.

FN4. A fun fact on the scarring power of high school: when some researchers looked into how much a man's height affects his professional success they found an increase in salary accorded to each additional inch of height but more interestingly they found unexpected discrepancies in the data. Eventually they worked it out: if they controlled for adolescent height, then the effect of adult height on wages for men was essentially eliminated. It all depended on how tall the guy was in high school.

FN5. There's nothing intrinsically absurd about being depressed and tormented by a**holery. It's a sign of complex character and higher level thinking. It's why we love Hamlet and Holden Caulfield. But a word of caution to wanna-be poets and NPR listeners: it will not get you laid. Lionize Hamlet and Holden if you like but those f*ckers could not close. The Situation would have tapped Ophelia ten times by the Fourth Act. In the aftermath, she'd probably hate men forever, start drinking Jager and get thee self to a boob job but she wouldn't have committed suicide. So who's the a**hole?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

#40 Bridge and Tunnel

No one likes them. They're hillbillies. Morons. West coast guidos. They are louche, uncouth, junior college drop-outs. They are the infamous B&T. And it's not even their fault. They are a product of their provenance. They hail from the stultifying dreck that is Fremont or Novato or Vallejo. Have you ever visited such places? Witnessed the local flavor? We haven't but we can imagine it - outdoor malls, rampant boredom, limited options, and the mean, dumber than hell, wife-beater, jean-short, off-brand white sneaker wearing crackers who congregate in driveways to drink beer. A person gets stultified in such situations. Hell, a goat would get stultified - stultified from behind, that is.

That's the thing: B&Ters literally practice bestiality. No, we don't know that. That's probably hyperbole. But they're certainly deviant reprobates. Construction workers and Pizza Hut managers and steroid abusers. The men are miscreants and the women street strumpets. You start to see them right as Friday afternoon turns into evening, appearing here and there in the gloaming, these tiny assemblies of gum-chewing, undereducated humanity. They are all slut fashion from Wet Seal and too much eye shadow and crass high heeled footwear, stepping out of Ford Mustangs or bouncing along Folsom on their way to Holy Cow, true life manifestations of
the most absurd steam of consciousness Black Eyed Peas song ever, sensing with their tiny reptilian brains that they've got a feeling - feelings being right in the sweet spot of their cognitive skill-set - and their feeling is that tonight is going to be a good night, woo-hooo, because they've got their money and will spend it up, they work at Houlihan's, they'll find some blow, they're going to smash it up, like oh my God, they'll burn a car, they'll shoot a dog. They're going to do it! They will invade the Marina en masse at 11:30, like Visigoth marauders, storming Circa, puking in the streets, driving their cars into curbs, minds whirring like that of a Labrador Retriever in a field of bouncing tennis balls. They'll shut that sh*t down.

Perhaps this is an unfair characterization. Kind of classist, and not in the good Beethoven or Mozart way. And yet the simple fact remains: whoever these B&T are, however virtuous and spiritually coherent and life affirming they may be deep down, we do not want them amongst us. "Us" being the persons who can read.

Actually we could care less. The challenge is that humans prize boundaries. With no Dr. Evil there is no Austin Powers. You can't have Superman without Lex Luther. Fallstaff without Hotspur. Relevance depends on countervailing forces. You need rules. Exclusivity. It's basically the goal of the human condition: to distill and cordon off some kind of meaning and order amidst the outbreak of chaos happening everywhere.

This how the B&T ruin it: they blur the boundaries. All week long SFers carefully strategize and fabricate a network of social interactions, performing social maneuvers of extraordinary nuance and delicacy, establishing precisely who is good and who is evil, who is desirable who is repugnant, who is in and who is out, all those pieces are put in place, like a neatly arranged chess board, and then the weekend comes, this Manichean match-up everyone has been preparing for, and then suddenly about five billion strangers from Marin and Alameda and local prisons come streaming across the bridges and through the Bart tunnel to upend the chess board and basically f*ck everything up.

They f*ck up things in other places too. That is true. The term B&T actually originated in Manhattan. But there, like many cities, B&T have no real influence. The metropolis itself is too large. B&T are few oil drops in a vast sea. But in SF the B&T have the population advantage. They are deep sea BP gusher in a little gulf. They are an environmental disaster.

The constructs that comprise the kind of hierarchies and exclusions that denigrate and slander B&T are of course arbitrary and capricious. They are an illusion, blah, blah, blah. But it's how the human race trundles along. An important principle of life we learned from a television commercial is that
when you let everyone play ... no one wins. We demand distinctions. We demand clarity and a line-up card before we're willing to socialize and make biblical-style relations. It's a curious thing about progressive thinking about difference and equality, it vitiates some of the most exciting and invigorating aspects of being alive. It really vitiates them. It vitiates them from behind.

Friday, June 4, 2010

#39 Progressive Hiring Policies

It was a fine June San Francisco day and upon seeing someone in the building with a Peet's coffee cup, we concluded it was time to finally check out the Peet's cafe nearby, investigate in full and proper fashion the possible attractiveness of the baristas there, and so we sashay on over and who do we see behind the counter? Three dudes in various stages of unshaveness. What can I get you, sir? F*ck off. Never to return.

Friday, May 14, 2010

#38 Playa Haters

During the salad days of the Enlightenment, when whig powder and liberty was in the air, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau published a theory about the origins of culture and the theory was this: back in the beginning, before property laws and Christian dogma, when man was essential and wore loincloth, he wasn’t an a**hole. He was happy and thoughtful. And this, Rousseau then argued, was what humanity should be shooting for.

It was a populist philosophy if there ever was one, a moral license to drink, make free relations, and stop going to church, and was flawed only in so far as that, descriptively speaking (evolutionary biologists later learned), man at his purest is a colossal a**hole. Of course everyone suspected as much and so the focus went to the normative aspect of celebrating reason and pursuing happiness as the first order purposes of life, because who could argue with that?

By 2005, two centuries and change later, there’d been enough field testing to reveal a discrepancy between Rousseau’s ideas and behavorial patterns observed everywhere. People, even under the best of circumstances, didn’t act very interested in being happy. They acted interested in being popular. They were after prestigious jobs and better-looking lovers. And they’d surrender rational thinking and suffer all manner of miseries, like platform heels, pegged pants, and billable hour requirements, to achieve such. They might talk about yoga and picnics or whatever but year after year, as long as starvation and frostbite and wild wolves had been dealt with, they’d burn most of their calories on hair cuts, Prada bags, FB profile pics, identifying with trendy things (“I love [Caddyshack/Vampire Weekend/tapas]!”) and squeezing self-promotion into cocktail conversations. The rest was mere epiphenomena, like the poetry John Updike used to write for Playboy.

Thus in the year 2005 a vaguely employed guy in New York City named Paul Janka, having figured the preceding out, wrote a 17 page treatise on “Getting Laid in NYC” that went viral and made him an anonymous cult heroFN1 of sorts, to the point that “Paul Janka” became parlance for “player” for nearly every youngish single dude in Manhattan.

The appeal of "GLINYC" came from two related insights. First, Mr. Janka said that being successful with women required not cleverness or charm or even a job so much as a system (“Any successful business must follow a blueprint if it hopes to achieve significant results; the same applies to shagging women, believe it or not. Do not leave your sex life up to chance”). Second, that system, at least in Manhattan, was predicated on two basic ideas: a) meeting girls at night (especially weekend nights) at bars or clubs is futile (“No matter how suave, clever, funny or good-looking you are, I’m here to tell you that you’ll look rather dull next to New York Fucking City going off on a Saturday night”), b) dinner dates benefit no one (“the usual end game ... is a fat bill, a bloated stomach, some yawns and a peck on the cheek, with the guy standing foolishly by as the girl steps into a cab waving good-bye”).

For any dude on the make this was enticing stuff, partly because the human brain, and especially the male mind, is obsessed with systematizing or ordering a structure out of the ostensible chaos and ineffability of raw experience, and partly because Mr. Janka was exactly right, so right that ex post facto his theories seemed obvious. No normal guy likes clubbing and damn right, dinner dates are awkward and costly and just kind of suck.

Like all compelling heroes, Mr. Janka was more legend than fact, until 2008 or so when a magazine, some gossip sites, and then Dr. Phil, and then the Today Show, pulled him into the media’s lime light and the world discovered that Paul Janka was the real thing: a devastatingly handsome, Harvard educated lothario with no real income and a tiny, 0 bath apartment who stalked the streets of Manhattan chatting up, and being really, really, really enthusiastically received by, random girls he approached on the subway, at book stores, at Starbucks.

This isn't to suggest Mr. Janka's lifestyle has special cultural significance, at least any more so than John Mayer's or Tiger Woods'. His minor celebrity, like almost everything the media (the New Yorker and New York Times and a few others somewhat excepted) celebrates, is largely motivated by shallow sensationalism (and the Goldman Sachsesque capitalism its serves). What is interesting, and possibly significant, however, is the secondary and complex reason for the sensation: not Mr. Janka's lifestyle but his opinion of his lifestyle.

Mr. Janka is outspoken about the fact he TRIES to be a player. He feels it is his job as a single man. It’s not - as the theory of Mr. Janka goes - an externality of his other successes (financial or social). He strategizes it. He talks about “tightening” his game and analogizes the girls in his love life to loans in a portfolio (poorly performing loans are cut loose). Mr. Janka’s argument is that being successful with women, and he’s indisputably correct on this point, takes analysis, hard work, and learning from his mistakes, and further, that men fail themselves and, implicitly, fail women's expectations of them, when they don't make this a priority.

Some people find Mr. Janka's opinions a tenacious vexation. They feel about Mr. Janka the subtle way King Edward I felt about William Wallace. The basis for this vexation is almost always expressed through an emotionally charged, weirdly personal argument that seems somewhat divorced from the logic of discussion. The usual charges focus on: 1) an alleged personality disorder, 2) the emotional harm Janka has inflicted on others, 3) how pathetic he is and how he's stupid jerk who's going to die loveless and lonely, and doesn't deserve them and still owes them $70 from the festival thing, no they don’t even want the money, take it back [flinging currency, sobbing].

But this isn't entirely crazy. Mr. Janka's opinions can mess with your worldview, disorient you precisely in the manner a romantic break-up does, and this is because everyone's worldview has as part of its construction an answer to a very particular question: is there an intrinsic meaning in consensual sexual success?FN2 And though the answer to this question tends to fall, in tangent with people's opinions on Mr. Janka's opinions, straight down gender lines, it's way more complicated and fundamental and ultimately provocative than we generally think.

The problem with sex from an existential perspective is that it's inherently awesome and it's inherently banal and cliche, and it's both things at the same time. Hardline religious prohibitions against recreational fornication, for example, seem insanely anachronistic but also, undeniably, are based on a valid point: sex for the purpose of sex somehow seems spiritually empty. Reality, however, makes it manifestly true that everything that occurs in adulthood, especially the stuff we admire and celebrate, like art, skyscrapers, and getting decent at guitar, exists as a semi-conscious ploy to win some girl or guy's favor. Studies consistently show significant negative correlations between sexual frustration and a more general existential frustration. And further, any acts that lack the promise of sexual reward - like say, attaching a solid fuel rocket to a car, moving to Montana, or becoming a Catholic priest - are not only pointless, they tend to make trouble.FN3

Further, if we press the inquiry, the less it seems specifically about sex so much as social success in general. If, for example, you disapprove of Mr. Janka's ideas, it's not likely due to antiquated notions about virginity. If Mr. Janka habitually picked up girls and inveigled them back to his apartment, but stopped just short of sexual congress, at the precise point she advertised her full intent to sleep with him, that wouldn't redeem him. That might even make him worse. And this demonstrates the essence of any objection to Mr. Janka: he convinces as many women as possible to think he is very, very cool, and that is not harmless action, because the acknowledgment of coolness requires a psychological surrender. You don't call someone cool unless they're more cool than you.

But trying to convince other people to think we're very, very cool is precisely what everyone does all the time. It's a quietly and universally shared ethic. We just aren't as systematic or direct or honest (nor, ultimately, successful) about it as Mr. Janka. We don't run a person-by-person guerrilla campaign. Maybe that makes a ethical difference but it’s difficult to articulate why.

In this regard, the moral value of Janka's philosophy, and diverging opinions on the matter, involve a really large question: what are we supposed to be doing with our lives? How do we reconcile the two and half century old Rousseauian quest for happiness and contemplation with our powerful, often conflicting desires for status enhancement and romantic glory. Why are we doing what we're doing? Working 55 hours a week, leasing an Audi, spin class, that $800 handbag, what’s the point? We aren’t waking every morning at 6:30 AM and playing this game to achieve flow. We know it. We could, each one of us goddam overeducated, super privileged San Franciscans, if we wanted, move to Eureka, find a secure job as a clerk at a grocery store, read books, contemplate Nature and get cozy with the local bumpkins. But we don’t. Because people who do that are losers.

Some groups acknowledge this aspect of our humanity more openly than others. An affecting part of being in NYC, for example, is that New Yorkers are interested in your business. Step onto the 6 line Subway and 50 odd pairs of eyes will check your sh*t out. The more you think about it the more it's unnerving, because this hyper vigilant social surveillance is fueled by selfish interest and unapologetic ambition. You're being evaluated for the purposes of hierarchical placement. Sometimes you'll come out of these evaluations the cool kid and sometimes, even if you’re Mr. Janka, you'll get ranked out. As DFW commented, in Manhattan you almost hear the "hiss" of egos in various stages of inflation and deflation.

There's a honesty to that ethos but it's the number one reason people hate NYC. Undisguised social strategizing is distasteful and, if you're on the wrong end of it, demoralizing. Take, for contrast, the more sophisticated social protocols of San Francisco MUNI bus transportation, which dictate, especially during commute hours, that all riders deny of the existence of extra personal human life. Riders so improvident as to lack an invisibility prop (iPhone, iPod, paperback) must dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge the obvious presence of others. They sprain their necks to avoid eye contact. They look past you if possible or through you if cornered. For fifteen minutes they're fifteen inches from your face but they don't blink. They sweat that sh*t out.

This brand of anti-socialism is socially equalizing and in a way high mindedly humanistic, perhaps the precise opposite of Mr. Janka's interventionist, chat, charm and conquer approach to existence, but it's also a cop out. It's a repression of an essential part of who we are. It's an excuse to be afraid. It's hatin'. It's WTANGISF.

Not that there are positivist truths when discussing this bullsh*t. Our minds can manufacture some damn clever abstractions and we can cleave to them in our books, our dinner arguments, our blogs, etc. but no matter what sh*t we talk or profess to believe we'll always be in the most intimate of things a little confused and a bit lonely, in no small part because we know in a very profound way we aren't going to live forever. Our animal faith in that cannot be shaken. And so in the absence of any divine guidance about what they're supposed to do before they die, people will always do the same thing: get out of the house, mix it up, and try to nab a pretty girl or two. And to us, that sounds like a Janka move. Like being a player. And it sounds pretty f*cking right. It doesn't sound like the most noble or sophisticated thing in the world, sure, but it still sounds like, well, life.

In the end, you may still think Mr. Janka and his opinions are way extreme. That he is messed up. A psychotic. And we're just saying, you may be correct. We're just saying that's precisely why we need him around. As DFW also said, "Psychotics, say what you want about them, tend to make the first move."

FN1 "We do not require our heroes to be subtle, just to be big. Then we can depend on someone to make them subtle." D.J. Enright in 'The Marquis and the Madame', in Conspirators and Poets, 1966.

FN2 Let's note here that the terms of sexual success depend on your gender, which muddles things. Naked sexual success for a woman is more of a scenario than an act. It's an engagement ring. From the i-banker with a BMW. With a bit of snuggling. The rising phenomenon of the Cougar supplements this, but as a sort of risible Plan B, when hope for the good life has gone.

FN3 Adam Carolla, discussing the guys who, when ambushed on the TV show "Catch a Predator", claim they just intended to "hang out" with an underage girl, jokes, "If that is true ... if you're plan is to troll the Internet, exchange some pics, drive for nine hours, show up at the [14 yr old's] house in a wife beater, and then if your plan really is just go out to the batting cage, then something is profoundly wrong with you. I get the guy who wants to f*ck them. I don't agree with it but I understand it. I know what the motivation is. [But that] excuse is worse than the alleged crime in my book. Shooting pool with a strange 13 year old you met on the Internet, and just hanging out, penny for your thoughts, much wierder."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

#37 Cougars

People can’t get enough of Cougars. People consider cougars a hilarious and scintillating cultural development. Cougars! people say with a smile of anticipatory delight, even if no Cougar is around, as if just saying the word is like blowing a high frequency whistle, and one will come running along in short order.

A periodical no less august than Newsweek, in fact, called 2009 the “Year of the Cougar.” We kid you not. That’s some puissant cultural momentum there. Pretty soon Cougars will be bringing so much attitude and middle-age sass they will cannibalize their own metaphor. Little kids will ask, “Why are those scary cats at the zoo named after sexually aggressive, pre-menopausal women?” By the time those kids are teenagers, their won’t even be a first love, just a first Cougar. “Timmy met a forty-year old last night, Frank,” a beaming mom will announce. “Oh, did he now?” the dad will smirk, thinking, that’s my son.

At school, Senior cheerleaders won’t be caught dead with any boy above the eighth grade. College fraternities will bus in divorcees from suburban neighborhoods for Homecoming. Teachers caught sexting and cavorting with men their own age will be fired and exposed on tabloid web pages and Fox News. “What’s happening to our society?” an aged and tear-stained Glenn Beck will ask.

Redox, a cosmetic procedure that introduces fine wrinkles into smooth young skin, will make pharmaceutical companies billions. Frustrated 19 year old coeds will spend whole afternoons sitting on chicken wire, hoping to imprint a simulacra of cottage cheese on their thighs. Any woman older than 35 without fake boobs won’t be able to renew her driver’s license. Pederasts will leer through the chain linked fences around retirement homes and pimply kids will sneak into the midnight showing of Sex in the City 12.

It’s all very different and as Newsweek seems to appreciate, it’s all very exciting. Cougars! They might finally right all the imbalance and longing and soullessness that besmirches our times. In retrospect, the Cougar just makes so much sense. In the 2000 movie High Fidelity, record store owner Rob avers,

Read any women's magazine and you'll see the same complaint over and over again: men...are hopeless ...they are selfish, greedy, clumsy, unsophisticated. These complaints...are kind of ironic. Back [in high school], all we wanted was foreplay, and girls weren't interested...they used to thump us if we tried. ...Between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four, foreplay changes from being something that boys want to do and girls don't, to something that women want and men can't be bothered with. ... The perfect match, if you ask me, is between the Cosmo woman and the fourteen-year old boy.”

The thing about social revolutions, especially ones foreseen by John Cusack comedies, is innocent people get caught in the cross-hairs. In the space between the old and new order there are casualties. For the late twenty something men and women of San Francisco in 2010, who still think in anachronistic terms of dating and then marrying someone roughly their own age, there are frustrations. Our instincts are at odds with our awareness of cultural forces. The idea that a guy should make a lot of money and have a really attractive younger spouse - it’s very 2008, and way outmoded, so much so that stubbornly pursuing it is not just banal and cliche but kind of tragic. It’s Charlie Chaplan making silent movies after the introduction of sound.

But we have faith. We will adapt. We will embrace. Why shouldn’t we? Cougars! As eloquently put by the WTANGISF editors:

The truth is that on balance maybe old-school marital monogamy for all its socio-economical advantages isn't that psychologically beneficial for individuals. Perhaps being married to a [woman] who fantasizes about [Prince William] and resents being stuck with you isn't so wonderful for anyone. Perhaps regular guys are happier being celibate surfers or cartoonists or whatever than emasculated office cubicle providers. Perhaps [women are] happier talking trash with [their] single friends over cosmos and getting [comfort from Tucker Max] nine times a year. It's a different way of life sure but we don't know that it's a bad one.”

Who can argue with that? Rawrr!

Friday, April 9, 2010

#36 "Lisa" from #35 comments

In her comment to posting #35, "Lisa" said,

"I think you're wrong about the guys in bars thing. .. No one invites anonymous serial killers to their wedding. I don't know why people have so much trouble with bay area dating. I moved here from Alabama (smiling and friendly) and met a great guy that my friend introduced me to at a club. ... Be nice, a nice girl will find you. God bless you."

Two points.

First, we like the cut of Lisa's jib.FN1 We suspect she is indeed smiley and friendly. She's from Alabama which isn't a foreign country but sort of is, and so Lisa probably has the frankness and happy spirit of a foreign girl. In addition, whatever our atheistic reservations, a sincere, old-school, Baptist-style, Bible-belt benediction ("God bless you") is just nice, like lemonade on a Southern summer afternoon when we know we shouldn't be having all that sugar. To this add Lisa's optimistic prediction that a nice girl will find us, and well, to be honest, we're crushing on Lisa a bit. She probably looks like Reese Witherspoon crossed with Jessica Simpson.

Even if Lisa is the stuff dreams are made of, however, apparently she already has her "great guy" (and probably calls him "Sugar" every so often, the lucky bastard) so as quickly and magnificently as Lisa appeared, like a parking spot spied on Russian Hill, she is taken from us, and this is WTANGISF.

Second, as to Lisa's point about serial killers, we have some things to say. Let's start with a footnote we edited out of #35:

"FN1fn2: The argument that wedding party is somehow a more "real" and "safe" community probably once made sense but the progressive fracturing of all social groups, including families, by divorce, job jumping, grad school interludes and Facebook-grade friendship, renders it modernly meaningless."

We're not quite sure if this is true. But it's probably true. Take the original example of
Mamacitas on a Thursday. Mamacitas, like most restaurants/bars, accomodates nearly anyone who shows up, however, there are a bunch of infrastructural disincentives to entry - its Marina location, the frou-frou food, the parking difficulties, social pressures to dress and converse in a certain way while you're there - that act as an indirect vetting process of the clientele. The class of people willing to eat $18 Mahi Mahi nachos and get excited about a pricey pitcher of apple chunks in spoiled wine is actually quite small. It's almost exclusively limited to the bourgeouis p*ssies (Holla!) who live in or around one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world, take Saturday yoga classes at Crunch and earn in the 99th percentile. And all these p*ssies are in some socio-economo-geographical way probably more closely connected (linkedin! Haas! SF Bar Association!) than the random, rag-tag assortment of cousins (there's no way to vet family members - the annoying, the pathetic, the dangerous - they come too) and old, sketchy as hell, high school friends who comprise a wedding party.

The lovely Lisa might argue, however, that certain serial killers, like the infamous Ted Bundy, for example, hang out at places like Mamacitas and SEEM totally normal, with their yoga talk and BR slacks even though behind the urbane facade they're total psychos. They could show up at Mamacitas and no one would be the wiser. And that is true, but you see, the non-obvious serial killers, because they lead double lives, also get invited to weddings. That's the catch-22 with serial killers. No matter how safe we play it, they're going to murder us.

FN1: By the way we also like "lisalisa" (we might even "likelike" her ) from #32 comments who said, "great writing and totally hilarious. you had me laughing out loud all to myself." She seems brilliant and probably has soft skin. Recommendation of this week: chat up girls named Lisa.