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.