Each day I commute from San Francisco to my job in Sunnyvale. I am one of an army of reverse-commuters, heading from our flats and rowhouses in the City southward to the leafy office parks of the Peninsula and South Bay. On our way we pass the northbound commuters, heading from the leafy neighborhoods of the South Bay and Peninsula northward to the office towers in San Francisco. It’s like two parallel universes, glimpsing each other for just a second as they cross paths.
My office is in a bucolic place called the Sylvan Business Park. It dates from the era of functional zoning, with nothing but offices all around. Going to get a sandwich, going to the post office, or going to the gym all require getting in the car. Many of the buildings are dated; some have been given moderate rehabs to spice them up, but it makes me think of that expression about pigs and lipstick.
A number of the streets around here have odd female names. Evelyn, Mary, Maude, Mathilda. These are names from another era. I wonder who these women were. San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood also has several streets with female names, and legend has it that they were named after local prostitutes during the Gold Rush. Julia, Clementina, Clara, and another Mary. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes a good story. What’s the story behind the belles of Sunnyvale?
I work for a small company. Everybody in the office is very nice, but sometimes I’m envious of the perks offered by the larger companies around. A friend of mine works at one of the big-name companies nearby and they get free food, free coffee, transit passes, an on-site gym, even a bowling alley (which is chronically out of service, however). They work in flashy new LEED-certified office buildings. And they walk around with their name badge/key cards like they’re somebody. My office is too small to need name badges, and we open the door with old fashioned non-duplicate metal keys. It’s silly, but feeds into my inferiority complex.
The inferiority complex, or what I often think of as my “B+” complex. I was a good student in school, but not in the top tier. In tracked classes, I was in the second-highest track but rarely if ever the top tier. I remember in fifth grade being in the top tier for a brief period, before being yanked back down into track-two. One day the teacher caught my eye, asked for me to come speak to her, and informed me that I was being transferred to the next lower class. For months afterwards I’d convinced myself that I was demoted only because she had caught my eye. If only I had been doing my work and not looking around, she wouldn’t have caught my eye and I’d still be in the top class! Or so I thought.
Very good, close to the top, but not Grade A. No, you’re B+. Quite good, quite respectable, and so close to the top you can see it and nearly touch it, but can’t obtain it.
Good looking, but not as hot as the other guys. Decent bod but not the best. B+.
A number of years ago there was a website called “Hot or Not.” Well, you know where this is going… I put my picture up to see what score people would give it. On a scale of 1 to 10, I think I came in somewhere around 7. Not bad, should be grateful, right? Lot’s of people would kill to score a 7. Damn good, right? The curse of the B+.
I think lots of other people think this way, have this type of complex. The English even have an expression that evokes the feeling: Musn’t grumble. Like when someone asks you how you’re doing, you say, “Oh, I’m fine, musn’t grumble.” I’ll admit sitting here complaining about it is rather self-indulgent, even pathetic, but there you go. Yes, I have a job, I am reasonably smart, my looks are decent enough that I can get laid when I feel like it, and I’ve got a roof over my head. So as I make my way past the manicured lawns of the tranquil business park and turn the key to unlock the office door I think to myself, “yes, musn’t grumble.”