Adrift in Berkeley

Like every American city, Berkeley has many, many street waifs, kids whose parents are so awful, whose life at home was so hellish, living on the street feels like the best alternative. One of these children, a girl who looked about 15, sat on the sidewalk near my table for most of the day.

Some kids on the street wear a 'poor' costume, with artificially distressed jeans, their faces a voluntary scowl, but they're playing at it. It's obvious that a Mom-made meal will be ready when they're done playing.

Other kids are absolutely adrift, miles from any shore, and might go underwater at any time. Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow. It's desperate, and it's not pretending.

That was this girl.

I didn't say anything to her except "Hi." What else could I say? What can ya do? Can't adopt her, and anyway, there's a thousand kids in this town every bit as doomed.

In the afternoon, the vendor in the next booth, an ancient woman I'd seen around but whose name I don't know, motioned for the girl to come over. The two of them talked quietly for a while, the kid said thanks, and she looked so relieved as she walked off down the Avenue.

"What was that about?" I asked my neighbor. Had she referred the kid to a shelter? Offered her a hot meal? Passed her something tangible like a McDonald's gift certificate? Hell, maybe she'd invited the kid to take the spare room in her house? It sure looked like something charitable, something helpful had happened.

"She looked so lost, so helpless," said the lady, "so I gave her my best mantra."

This is how we help the helpless in Berkeley USA, but hey, it's more than I did.

From Pathetic Life #15
Sunday, August 20, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. I don't know what you could've offered that child. A few dollars maybe? Just being an adult who is not a predator would be something.

    1. Wait, that came out wrong. I am not accusing you, just saying that a few kind words she might have appreciated.

    2. Yeah, I'm not that kind of pervert and I should've said something to her.

      No offense taken. It's hard for anyone else to be as critical of me as me.


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