Why does it have to be so difficult?

Some letters to Pathetic Life

Your adventure with the jock itch spray (11/11) made me laugh out loud, because a similar thing happened to me once. You know that Tiger Balm stuff? It's a very concentrated balm for muscle aches. Once you put it on, it penetrates deep into the tissue and tingles, getting very warm.

Well, one night my girlfriend wanted a back-rub. Both naked, I rubbed it all over her, then climbed on top of her to rub it in. The Tiger Balm on her back made its way to my nuts unnoticed — until suddenly there was this intense burning sensation.

I yelled bloody murder and jumped off her, but the damage was done. I washed my privates but that damned stuff was already working and the burning got worse and worse. I could do nothing but roll into the fetal position and emit high-pitched moans until it subsided.

—Eric B, Sacramento  

So what you're saying is, you have a girlfriend. Don't rub it in. —DH 

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You're looking for someone to say something nice about New York? (11/1) Sorry, can't help you there. I hate the damned place. So why don't I move? Maybe because I'm afraid that I'll discover that it's not NYC, but myself I can't stand.

—Paul Kazee, FALaFal, Brooklyn   

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Dear Doug — We're writing to ask you to give us yr news and yr Pathetic Life. Thanks in advance. Let us know & keep in touch. Love and peace. Earth first! Poetas del Mundo Unios,

—Daniel De Culla, Burgos, Spain  

Daniel, there's always plenty of competition, but for sending no money, no stamps, nothing but a photocopied form letter across the ocean begging for a freebie, you've won my assessment as 100% scum, and you, sir, are the Sphincter of the Month. —DH 

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I am a senior in high school, just another useless youth. My senior prom is coming, and I am not going. I don't want to spend the night with everyone I hate, which is everyone. What good is sitting there and imagining beating the living shit out of them?

So instead I just want to pick up and leave. Go to California, Barbados, or just take a car trip. By myself. All alone. I want to go to the University of Maryland; I don't know why. To be a teacher, and get beat up by my students, or just shot at?

Well, it's Friday night and I'm home again. My dirty "friends" are tripping. I really don't have one good friend. I haven't for three years. I was anorexic in 9th grade, and it ruined two years of my life. I lost my best friend, because she was afraid of my frail 92-pound body. I'm completely recovered; what's ironic is that now I'm overweight.

Why does it have to be so difficult? What good am I if I have not one friend? I should just slit my wrists so my body will be donated. I could give my heart to a good 9-year-old girl, and my kidney to some 30-year-old man, and my bone marrow to a 40-year-old mother or something.

No, I would never slit my wrists because I would go to Hell. I don't want that. Thank God my parents have forced me to go to church because if I was an atheist I would do it in a split second.

Anyways, is there anything in San Francisco I should see? Anything no-one knows about? Is there anything there that's in remembrance of Jack Kerouac? Give me a little info so I can have it to look forward to. Thanks, man.

—Linda D, Philadelphia  

High school is awful, but once you're past that hell your life is yours to live as you choose, and once it's your choice it can get a lot better. If you choose wisely.

Before you think about slitting your wrists, try doing what you want to do with your life — whatever seems like fun or might make you happy. If it turns out it isn't fun or doesn't make you happy, try something else, but screw everyone's expectations, and do what you want to do.

You want to go to UM and become a teacher? Do it then, but not for anyone but yourself. If you go there because your parental units want you to, or because it's somehow "expected," or just because you can't think of anything better to do, you'll drive yourself crazy, like most people do every day of their lives. 

Sure, come to San Francisco, if that's what you want to do. Its the most beautiful city ever, not for the architecture or parks or the big bridges, but because the people here are more live-and-let-live. You'll find some colorful subcultures — the hippies, the druggies, the beatniks, the gay and lesbian scene, and of course the just plain nuts — we're probably the most populous subculture.

As a favor to me and you, though, please don't even think about taking such a trip to any destination before you're 18, if you're not yet. Searching for meaning or happiness or just a vacation, the very last thing you need is to get tangled up and against the law.

That said, if you choose San Francisco, there are a million things to see and do, some famous, some top secret. You mentioned Kerouac, and yeah, he has his street here, though it's only an alley. If you like Mr K, you'd probably like Grant Avenue, the funky beatnik neighborhood around there, and still the highest goatee quotient in the known world. It has poetry, jazz, and City Lights (his publisher, and a terrific bookstore).

Try the Castro any weekend — that's the city's mostly gay neighborhood. I'm straight, but it's a beautiful place for anyone who's different in any way. Seeing so many men holding hands with men, women with women, and people being happily who they are, always warms my frigid heart. The aura of acceptance is a hug for anyone who's out of the ordinary.

Me, I usually hang out alone, maybe riding the buses, looking out the window, watching and thinking and all.

Of course, there's my present turf, Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. That's where Collegeville yuppies-in-training mingle with hippies-for-life and the homeless, rebels and stoners and screaming street preachers.

Half a block away, you'll find People's Park. Maybe you don't know the story? The University wanted to pave it for parking and dorms, but it was seized by radicals instead, who made it into an illegal, handmade park. The cops tried and failed to take it back, and decades later it's still a stalemate and a nice place for a picnic.

There's more, of course, so much more, but the best way is to discover it for yourself. Wear a flower in your hair, as they say, and wander your own path.

You sounded blue in your letter, so before signing off I'll harp on this again: High school is a frickin' prison. Ain't much education there, but all those young people are jammed in a building where many/most of them don't want to be, five days a week pretending to learn stuff that doesn't interest them and doesn't matter. It's a tedious sentence, and if you're not careful it'll hammer all the you out of you.

If you don't like your fellow inmates, if you find few friends in such a cruel, artificial environment, that's not a problem — it only shows that you have good taste.

When they unlock the doors and let you walk out of that place forever, think about what you want to do, and then do it. Come to San Francisco if you choose, or go to Barbados, or to college in Maryland, or surprise yourself with another idea, but following your own path is the only way to enjoy your time on this rock. —DH 

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Some time I must tell you about my encounter with Cedric the sheep.

—Jim, somewhere in Oregon  

From Pathetic Life #21
Thursday, Feb. 29, 1996 

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.

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