First Posted 08-Sep-2018
Promises were made. Offers proffered. If I’d sign papers saying I was mentally ill to the point of being disabled, I could get Uncle Sam to pay me a stipend, make groceries for me, pay my rent, and cover all my medical bills. A quick signature and I could have my pot of government-issued gold.
The agents of the Peepluz Free Democratic Anarchist Republic of Berkeley had me alone in a room in a mansion on Berkeley’s Northside, up there at the top of Hearst Street with other student housing and frat houses. I had been offered weed, cocaine, heroin, beer, whatever I wanted. There was a petite girl, of indeterminate age, appearing to be legal, but barely so, braless, in a wife-beater that rebelled against keeping her covered, and a tie-dyed peasant skirt. She was very attentive and said she’d be even more attentive if I did as I was told. All I had to do was sign the papers.
I didn’t sign the papers. I told the caseworker I’d rather work a job than be stuck on welfare in public housing having to prove, twice a year, that I was crazy enough to be disabled. Faster than I could process it, I’d been slapped by the girl, accused of hitting her first, then bum rushed on to the street by faux Hell’s Angels in Castro Street Sadomasochism drag. I knew the psuedo-bikers were fake because they spoke in a countertenor with a distinctly Sunset Blvd. pidgin. Their chaps had designer labels from couture houses in Paris. So, there I was, in a ‘tween fog & rain, at the top of Hearst Street, with a walk to my room at the YMCA.
A University cop stopped me about when I started to cross Euclid against the light. The usual blah, blah, blah, with a warning not to jaywalk and he let me go. It occurred to me that I felt safer with the cop than I did with the doe-eyed, doting hippie chick and her friends. I’d grown up in a family that was agin everything, starting with the government. I was an outlier in my family because I never really believed that God could make a world which was such a vicious playground for minions who took pleasure in torturing humans. I liked saying the world wasn’t black & white, nor iterations of gray, but technicolor, more interesting. I continued down Hearst Street toward Shattuck Ave., talking to myself outloud in the best tradition of Berkeley eccentrics. Nobody cared.
I got back to the Berkeley YMCA, where I was renting a room, and ended the night. Maybe some would be down with the program—with living on disability, in the comfortable, confining arms of Uncle Sam. I chose the less traveled road and that has made all the difference.
A few days later story came out in the Grassroots election rag about a Merritt College student found wandering around Northside muttering something about being gang raped by pledges to Sigma Nu. There were a couple guys with Sigma Nu logo sweatshirts at the same house I was at that night. They were passed out on a tree-swing in the front yard. The story gave a description of the alleged rapist that almost matched my description. Police were quoted as saying that no charges would be filed because there was not enough evidence. This was before rape kits had become S.O.P. in cases like this.
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I saw the girl a week or so later outside Au Coquelet with a donation box for the Berkeley Free Clinic. She looked awful. Behind the big sunglasses was a black eye. Her upper lip was cut and swollen. There were handprint bruises on her neck. It was like People’s Park had seduced her in and then shoved her out a shunned, shameless hussy. The subtle fashion cues identifying her as a Moonie were gone. She looked like she hadn’t had any sleep.
Life inside PUDFARB is ugly. The numerous laws make it hard to follow all of it. Something as small as a paste earing worn on the left side is an infraction worth severe penance. The girl had scabs on her right earlobe where someone had yanked out the earing. I felt sorry for her. I put a dollar in her box. She mumbled, “Thanks,” as I started walking down Milvia towards Allston Street.
I saw her again a couple months later as UC Berkeley students were moving back into housing. I was waiting for the 43 at Telegraph and Dwight. She walked past me as she went into Buffalo Exchange. We exchanged glances. She was dressed in a Sorority t-shirt and designer jeans. She cleaned up nicely. The northbound 43 bus came and I got on my way.