Last Fall the University Daily Californian hosted an essay contest called the “Broke Berkeley Student Essay,” for which students were invited to “mourn exorbitant textbook prices, deplore the inherent difficulties of finding affordable housing, bemoan the innate complications of financial aid and speak to how these worries have shaped your experiences, your goals and yourself.” After hearing through the grapevine that not a single student had submitted an entry, I threw one together and sent it in. I was immediately informed that it would be published with slight changes, changes I was unable to abide by and which mostly consisted of a short line at the very end that blamed “the system” for my troubles. So instead I’ll share it here, in all of its almost perfect word-countedness, for your schadenfreude.
When you are denied a tour of the facility in which your child will be starting daycare because you are applying for a government subsidy to cover the cost, only to find out later that your child has been placed in a temporary trailer in a parking lot adjacent to the fully-equipped house in which the non-subsidized children receive their care.
When down the street from your child’s daycare trailer you pass the football stadium, recently renovated to the tune of 321 million dollars, on your way to pay your rent- which you do in person in order to make sure that the money goes directly to your rent, and not to a number of mystery fees that have popped up on your CARS account- only to find that the cashier’s windows have been closed because the employees there have been required to close early so that that they can sell concessions at that evening’s football game.
When you spend half a day waiting in line at Social Services (something you do an average of twice a month) to address what turns out to be a clerical error that has cut your family’s food stamps by more than fifty percent for more than six months, and you wonder if the clerk in question found it hard to believe that the university actually paid you so little.
When, after that debacle you are informed that you qualify for cash assistance (you rush home to draw up your new budget, in which you imagine income finally exceeding expenses) and a week later you are informed that in order to continue receiving this aid you will have to attend a personal finance workshop, which is only offered on the days that both you and your spouse have both work and school. The aid is cut by one third, and your income once again falls prey to your expenses.
When there are only three weeks left in the semester, and you are informed that, due to the shoddy organization between the various entities that award financial grants and loans, you now find yourself owing the University of California $1,200 dollars, which you no longer have because you’ve budgeted (see: spent) it.
When in a panic you seek out the folks from the Student Parent Center and they help you with a budget appeal, but your expenses don’t qualify so you appeal that appeal, and find yourself sending it to someone higher up the food chain, who tells you they will consider making an exception, but that they can’t meet that day because they’ll be out of the office. You deliver your appeal in person anyway, with your two-year-old in tow, and find that the woman is, indeed, in her office, so you get to have a meeting. At this meeting you are allowed a “one-time exception” and informed that your child-support checks don’t count as qualified expenses. Your child plays peacefully in the window with an Obama bobblehead.
Or when, after picking up your child from daycare, you stop at The International House to buy a muffin to make change for the bus because your child lost your student ID, but the power goes out because of an explosion on campus, which is more than probably the direct result of the university’s 700 million dollar backlog of deferred maintenance, and you are therefore forced to attempt boarding the 52 without the proper payment. You think to yourself “I am carrying a two-year-old, one Trader Joe’s bag full of library books, another full of baby gear, and a backpack- surely the bus driver will have compassion?” He doesn’t. You try to slip by but he calls you out. You tell him your situation, he says you can’t ride, you say you’re riding anyway, he parks the bus and threatens to call the police. You get as close to him as you can (the sign about the 10k dollar fine for punching a bus driver looms behind him), and drop an F-bomb in his face. Storming off the bus, down Bancroft, your toddler caresses your cheek, tells you “It’s okay, Papa.”
When you can literally feel the awesome power of money as you sit across the table from the lawyer for the administration of the University of California, Berkeley, for eight hours as they grill you on the events of November 9th, 2011, when everybody in the room knows exactly what happened that day: the cops brutally beat you and a bunch of other students, many of which later filed a lawsuit, which this deposition is a part of. For eight hours, in a slick high rise building in San Francisco, they bully you, and treat your deposition as though it were your trial- cameras in your face, the clickety-click of the stenographer muffled by thick carpet, marble, and money. Your lawyers work pro bono, the UC’s have more money than you can dream about, which is why they always win: they can drag this out ad infinitum, but for us time is money- and we don’t have any. Box after box of facts about your life are presented to you as if they weren’t yours, as if your life was a weapon to be used against you. At some point, a lawyer points out that the police were just doing their jobs- that thing we do to make money.