A while ago there was a list floating around the Facebookosphere of “23 Hilarious and True Pie Charts.” Of the 23, I would say that only one was truly hilarious, and that was the chart entitled “What Happens in the Shower.” I know what you’re thinking: it must have contained some kind of masturbation joke. That’s what I assumed too. This was not correct: the chart instead had one small section (roughly 5%) that said “washing my body” and one larger, encompassing section that said “winning fake arguments.” I suppose you can say that the latter is a form of mental masturbation—which happens to be my second-favorite type of masturbation. I’d show you a picture of the pie chart but the only one I could find on Google is tiny and I’m pretty sure my explanation was sufficient.
I am a huge fan of the imaginary shower argument. It is in the shower that I am at my most witty and persuasive, whether arguing the merits and shortcomings of the current American intellectual property regime, the best season of Temptation Island, or my favorite argument, the income gap (or really, the income abyss) in San Francisco. Indeed, I often find myself coming up with brilliant retorts as I’m rinsing off lavender-scented body wash, leaving my imaginary opponent (a libertarian who fancies himself as the heir apparent to Ayn Rand) speechless with my air-tight logic and melodious rhetoric (because I also like to sing in the shower—I’m a man of many talents). Then again, occasionally the devil’s advocate throws a curveball I can’t hit, and I find myself questioning my particular brand of recycled liberal bullshit.
For this point, I’m going to try to piece together an example of a more-insightful-than-usual shower argument I’ve had with myself. It’s really a composite of multiple shower arguments, since we’re in a pretty serious drought in California and are encouraged to take shorter showers (or to skip the whole ridiculous ritual altogether). For this argument, let’s call my usual, bleeding-heart lefty, outward-facing self “A” and the imaginary conservative friend/evil twin “B.” If it helps, try also imagining me, naked, in the shower, with soapy lather glistening in my manly chest hair. Now there’s an image you ain’t gonna forget anytime soon. You lucky dog, you.
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A: Oh man, did you see that new place on Market Street where they sell $6 french fries?
A: It’s on maybe 8th or 9th.
B: Oh yeah?
A: Yeah. At some point, when we weren’t paying attention, fries and ketchup became a $6 item. Sorry, not “fries”—“baked potato wedges,” and not “ketchup,” “pesto ketchup” or “garlic and black pepper mayo.” They don’t taste quite as good as McDonald’s fries, but supposedly they’re healthier. Frankly, I say if you want a healthy snack, you should eat fruit.
Note: When I said “fries” and the whatnot, I was definitely making air quotes.
B: So you’re not a fan.
A: No, I’m not, for two reasons: number one, the fries really don’t taste that good.
B: Maybe you don’t know how fries are supposed to taste?
A: Screw you, I’m a fry connoisseur. But more importantly, the number two reason I don’t like it is because it’s an obnoxious, brightly-colored yuppie/tourist attraction built on Market Street, when it is more suited for–I don’t know–Fisherman’s Wharf.
B: Now that you mention it, I do know the place you’re talking about and I actually think they have a location in Fisherman’s Wharf—no joke.
A: Perfect! Meanwhile, Kaplan’s, which had been there for 75 years and actually brought real, genuine character to the neighborhood, can’t afford to pay rent and they’re putting in some fancy boutique hotel.
B: I thought Kaplan’s was closing because the Kaplan family finally sold the building, voluntarily.
A: Whatever. The point is that Market Street, which used to be an affordable, albeit colorful, part of the city is being completely Disney-fied by Twitter, Uber and the other techies, and it sucks.
B: What do you mean by “colorful”? Does “colorful” mean having to play “dog or human” when I’m walking to work?
Note: For those of you who don’t live in San Francisco, “Dog or human” is the “game” of guessing whether feces you see on the sidewalk is of the canine or human variety.
A: “Dog or human” is such a tired cliché. If you see a piece of shit on the ground, why does it matter whether a dog or human produced it? Are you insinuating that you’d happily step in dog shit but that human shit is off-limits? Or will you gladly step in human shit if it comes from $6 french fries?
B: Baked potato wedges. And the people who shit on the street aren’t eating those. They’re probably eating McDonald’s or 7-11 hotdogs or other crap like that.
A: Yes—because that’s all they can afford. And it’s not just homeless people, people who aren’t rich in general, who live in the Civic Center area, need affordable food, not $6 “baked potato wedges” designed for self-professed “foodies” who work at Twitter.
B: People who work at Twitter eat Twitter food.
A: You know what I’m talking about. It’s bullshit to put in expensive eateries and bars in poorer neighborhoods. It’s like Rye, Swig, and those other new, super-shishi bars opening up in the Tenderloin, where anybody who actually lives in the TL could never afford to drink.
B: Neighborhoods change—that’s just the nature of the city. North Beach used to be the bohemian center of the city, back in the beat poetry days. Then, as land there was getting more expensive, the city threatened to build a freeway through the Panhandle and property values dropped there—that’s why the bohemians emigrated to the Haight.
Note: Clearly, my evil conservative alter-ego knows his shit.
A: It’s one thing when the change is gradual and organic (although it’s not that much better), but putting the swankiest establishments in town amongst the poorest neighborhoods in the city is a huge fuck you to the people who live there. It’s made worse by the fact that you then have these rich tech kids who say they “like to hang out in the TL” but don’t like dealing with the poor people who live there, playing “dog or human,” etc.
B: Well I’m sorry—I like to be able to go out with my friends without having to worry about getting robbed or stabbed or stepping in human feces. Excuuuussseee me.
A: Also, you do realize that the widening income gap is actually making the TL, Mission, Haight and other areas less safe, as more and more people who before were just barely getting by are now having to resort to crime? Crime is actually on the rise in those neighborhoods.
B: So we need to get more police.
A: That’s difficult to do, because cops in SF, despite being the highest-paid in the country, still have trouble affording to live here.
Note: The starting salary for an SF cop is $80k. For somebody who just moved to SF and doesn’t have rent control, this salary is limiting. I know, I know—that’s pathetic, but true.
A: Not to mention the fact that the city can’t pay for more cops because certain companies that we need not name—
Note: E.g., Twitter
A: don’t have to pay payroll taxes, despite taking up extremely large swaths of prime real estate and pulling in a shit-ton of money. The worst part is that the few cops we have in this city are focused on making sure that “Mid-Market” is “clean” for the Twitter-folk who don’t want to see those “unsightly” poor folk.
B: I’m not saying that I think poor people are “unsightly,” but the streets of a city should be clean—go to NY. That’s how a city should look. We seriously need a Giuliani.
A: We have Lee—and he’s doing his best. But the problem is that homeless people are people, and people don’t just disappear if you kick them out of one area. The homeless people who used to be in Mid-Market are now creeping up into Hayes Valley.
Note: No joke.
B: Boo-fucking-hoo. We spend more money on services for the homeless here than any other city in the country, and all that does is draw more of them here. Seriously, the homeless people here have it great.
A: Sure, if being constantly hungry, having to sleep on the street, getting beat up, abused, raped, and looked at like animals by people like you means “great.”
B: Fine—so get them more help. But give them actual mental health services, not just food and money that they’re going to spend on booze and drugs.
A: We tried doing that before, until your hero Ronald Reagan decided to close all of the state hospitals because of his utter contempt for the poor.
B: So build more.
A: It’s going to be nearly impossible as long as California is bankrupt, as it will remain as long as Prop 13 is in effect.
Note: Prop 13 was an amendment to the California constitution in 1978 that caps property taxes at 1%, by far the lowest in the country.
B: Sorry, I paid way too much for my shitty condo, it’s ridiculous if you’re going to tell me that I then have to take out a second mortgage to pay my fucking property taxes.
Note: Of course B owns a condo.
A: You don’t have to take out a second mortgage. Everybody else in the country handles 2-4%, you can too.
B: This city is so fucking expensive, the condo cost me an arm and a leg. I’m not even making it all back from the rental units, even though I’m charging $2800 each for one bedrooms.
B: Not to mention the pain in the ass I had to go through to evict the tenants when I bought it.
A: Are you fucking kidding me?
B: Am I fucking kidding you? They were paying $800 a month for one-bedroom apartments in the Mission! Because of your stupid rent control, I couldn’t afford to let the tenants stay in their units. I would have lost a shit ton of money.
A: How long had they been living there?
B: I don’t know…the one old Mexican dude had been there for like 20 years. Whatever, he was a shitty tenant. I offered him 20K to leave, and he refused. I had no choice but to evict him.
A: You could have let him stay—that was his home. You do realize that when you kicked him out, he can no longer afford to live in the city.
B: I’m sorry, since when does renting an apartment mean you have the right to stay there forever?
A: So how should it work—somebody who has never lived in the city and has no ties here, but who is rich, has more of a right to live here than somebody who has lived here his whole life?
B: That’s the way free markets work. It’s not my problem that he didn’t buy a place here. He knew when he moved in that he didn’t automatically have a right to stay there forever.
A: And because he doesn’t make enough money to live anywhere in SF without rent control he has to leave, just so you can own a condo here?
B: Dude, rent control is the reason that rents are so high here! If you have units in your building pulling in below-market income, you need to increase the rent in the other units to make it worth your while.
A: Not really—your mortgage doesn’t go up.
B: Why should you not be able to make more money as an owner? That’s the reason you buy apartments in the first place—as an investment to make money. And furthermore, as a new buyer you shouldn’t be forced to inherit tenants with ridiculous rent control.
A: Why not? It’s like when you buy a patent, you need to take it subject to any licenses that may have been granted under it that are still in effect.
B: I don’t understand your analogy. At all.
A: And furthermore, removing rent control would not decrease rents in the city. There are enough folks at Google and Facebook and wherever who want to live in SF that even if they got rid of rent control today, all rents citywide would still be ridiculous.
B: So let’s build more housing in SF!
A: We can try, but (1) there are tight building codes in SF that restrict all kinds of development—
B: so get rid of those anachronistic laws—
A: you know that takes forever, and greedy developers who control Lee’s govenrment don’t want that because the artificial scarcity means they can sell condos for much higher prices. More importantly (2) so many wealthy people want to move to San Francisco right now that even if the city’s housing stock doubled, rents still wouldn’t decrease. You see it now—there’s tons of construction, and it’s all for luxury apartments and condos. The city’s infrastructure is not equipped to handle that many people.
B: Okay, then fix the city’s infrastructure.
A: It would take forever.
B: So start now. Don’t you remember the beginning of the first new Star Trek movie, where it shows Riverside, Iowa in the 23rd century and it’s a thriving metropolis? That didn’t happen overnight, but San Francisco can undergo the same size increase.
A: I don’t understand your analogy. At all.
B: And all of these new buildings come with required BMR housing.
A: “Required,” unless you can finagle your way out of it. Which you can. And even if you can’t, there are plenty of people who make too much money to qualify for BMR, but not enough to afford to live in the city otherwise. You know—teachers, waitresses, nurses, artists, cops, entrepreneurs who don’t have trust funds…
B: There are plenty of those people in SF.
A: Not for long—they’re moving out because they can’t afford to live here anymore. Or in Oakland, for that matter. Now you have nurses who live in Tracy and have to drive an hour and a half each way to come work at UCSF every day. People who were born and raised in SF but now must move to fuckin’ Tracy to let the Twitter folk move in. Or the Google folk, who of course live here but take the free bus to work—the bus, I might add, that uses SF public resources.
B: And Google pays for them now, as you know. Not to mention the fact that Google donated millions of dollars to allow kids from low-income families to ride the bus for free.
A: A small price to pay if it justifies gentrifying the hell out of low-income neighborhoods. In not too many years there will be no low-income families left, and then Google won’t have to pay for buses anymore.
B: Ah, now he finally mentions the dreaded G-word.
A: Google? I was talking about Google hours ago (or minutes ago, whatever).
B: No, “gentrify.” I can’t believe it took you 5 pages to bring it up. Listen, I’m sick of people talking about gentrification like it’s a bad thing. I like living in places that are safe, have restaurants where I actually want to eat, and where the streets aren’t lined with piss, shit, vomit, and heroin needles. What you call “gentrification” is really just “neighborhood improvement.”
A: Or maybe “urban renewal”?
B: Something like that.
A: You realize that by making the neighborhood safer for you and your white friends who are afraid of all things “sketchy,” you’re often tearing apart a community of color. Like James Baldwin said when the Fillmore was torn apart in the 60s, “urban renewal means negro removal.” Now the same thing is happening to the Hispanic population in Mission, thanks to you buying up buildings and charging $2800 for a one-bedroom apartment.
B: Dude, you live in Hayes Valley. 15 years ago you wouldn’t have dared to walk down your street.
A: Hey, I played no part in the gentrification of Hayes Valley—it was like that when I got there.
B: Which is precisely why you went there in the first place. You didn’t choose to live in Bayview.
A: Bayview isn’t very convenient to where I work.
B: And where is that? In a fucking technology and internet lawfirm downtown, where you represent all of the tech companies that you claim are ruining the city so much.
A: Well, I would be a public defender if you people didn’t make it so fucking expensive to live here.
Note: Also, public defender jobs are way more competitive than biglaw jobs in San Francisco and I probably couldn’t have scored one if I’d tried.
B: I don’t understand what you’re suggesting? Where should all of the Google employees go? To Tracy?
A: That’s an idea. Why not Mountain View? Most Google kids don’t appreciate San Francisco’s city, politics, culture, or anything the city has to offer except for new expensive restaurants and new “hole in the wall” restaurants that are also expensive. You can build establishments like that much closer to the Google campus. Seriously, the suburbs should be bedroom communities for the cities, not the other way around.
B: You’re the one who doesn’t appreciate San Francisco’s culture. The tech industry has brought a new kind of vitality to the city. There is more creativity here than you can possibly see sitting in your swanky Hayes Valley gentrification cubical typing away on your MacBook.
A: Creativity? Try homogeneity. You’re not “creative” if you’re doing the same thing everybody else is doing, like putting on a Santa costume and getting drunk or dressing up like Mad Max at Burning Man. And please don’t tell me that EDM is a viable form of music. Even if there is a “new San Francisco culture,” that’s no excuse for forcing out the old culture and the people who created it just because they’re not rich.
B: And what culture are you referring to? The Black jazz culture of the Fillmore that died in the 60s? The hippie culture of Haight that really died in the 60s? The punk rock culture that died in the 70s?
A: The Dead Kennedys and D.R.I. were still thriving in SF in the 80s…
B: The Latino culture that died in the 90s? The gay culture, that is still strong today and not going anywhere?
A: Well, they did close down Marlena’s and replace it with a totally cheesy Marina-style bar.
Note: Marlena’s was a drag queen bar that was a Hayes Valley institution since the 1970s. Two years ago it was replaced by one of the douchiest bars in the city, and that’s saying a lot.
B: A, get over yourself. You’re not Black. You’re not Hispanic. You’re not gay. And you’re definitely not Punk Rock. You’re a straight white male lawyer from Marin County who works in the tech industry, just as bad as (if not worse than) the rest of us.
A: Don’t forget Jewish.
B: How are you not just as bad as everybody else you constantly rant about?
A: It’s about empathy, dude. Just because you’re not undergoing the same shitty experiences as somebody else doesn’t mean you can’t try to understand how he feels.
B: You’re the least empathetic person I know.
A: Not true at all. Did I mention that I give culturally-aware walking tours of San Francisco, and hand out muffins to homeless people on my way to work every Monday?
B: Only every five fucking minutes for the past year.
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So there you have it folks—an argument I often have with myself. I know that I left a ton of shit out, but we’re already over 7 pages and there’s only so much I can write about these issues without citing (or researching) a single fact. I’m guessing that, no matter where you fall on the SF political spectrum, I’ve made some point that has pissed you off and you can’t wait to tell me all about it. I welcome your opinion—please feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or we can have yet another obnoxiously-long flame war on my Facebook wall. Whatever works for you.
And now, your Muppet clip: