Nineteen-year-old Tim Davis says he will start straightening out his life Monday.

"Provided you're still alive on Monday," interjects John Robinson, director of the Martin Luther King Teen Center, as he shakes his head.

Orphaned at the age of 12, Davis has since lived "here and there." He dropped out of the Arlington County school system three years ago and spends most of his time on the street.

Like many other Arlington County dropouts who drift in and out of the teen center on Kenmore street, Davis is in trouble and out of work.

"I don't feel too good about myself," he admits. "I'm not where I should be."

Robinson works full time trying to cajole and coerce kids like Davis to stay away from drugs and out of jail. He talks tough to them, but visibly softens when they are out of earshot.

"They're good kids basically, all of them," Robinson says watching a group of teen-agers through the window of his office. "Some of these kids have messed up really bad and it isn't their fault. They got nobody caring about what they're doing.

Tim Davis and other dropouts will tell you "out front" they have only themselves to blame for their troubles.

No, they will tell you, it's not the duty of the schools to try to make kids like them stay in class. No, they argue among themselves, not having warm clothes in winter was not a good reason to stay at home instead of going to school. They say being poor and having 10 brothers and sisters and no one to help with homework was no excuse for not getting a good education.

"My problem was I had my mind on playing ball all the time," Davis admits with a smile. "I do wish somebody had stayed on my back all the time, but it was my own fault -- I don't blame nobody."

Tim Davis' cousin, Charles Davis -- also a dropout -- says he regrets not finishing high school because he has been unable to find work other than menial labor.

"When I was in school I was always getting into trouble," he says, as he crosses his arms and tries to stretch out on a straight-backed wooden chair. "Then they sent me down to Beaumont (a juvenile correctional center) and that was the best thing that ever happened to me.

"I wish I had stayed down there but I wanted to be Mr. Man," Davis says with disgust at himself. I wanted to come back home and see how the family was doing.

"They started to teach me welding -- you know a trade -- but I couldn't hack being up. Besides, my mother kept telling me to come home when my year was up.

"I wish I could've stayed there a little longer."

The many dropouts who drift in and out of the Martin Luther King center say the county's educational alternatives are not suitable for their life styles.

When asked what the schools should be doing to keep other black youths studying, the Davis cousins suggest a boarding school arrangement where they could be taken out of their environment entirely.

"I wish there was some place I could go now to finish school," Tim Davis says wistfully. "But I'm too old for anything but adult education and I can't do that."

Daniel Brown, coordinator of human relations for Arlington County schools, says he is surprised that dropouts do not blame the school system for their failures.

"That's going to be a revelation for some people who think kids are always trying to blame somebody else for their problems," Brown says thoughtfully. "It sounds like these kids are maybe being too hard on themselves."

If the life style of some Arlington County's dropouts seems hopeless, it also serves as an inspiration for some neighborhood teen-agers such as Anthony Whitehead, a junior at Washington and Lee.

Whitehead says the plight of the dropouts is one thing keeping him in school.

"I try to study and I plan to go to college," Whitehead says shyly, shifting his books to her other arm. "I really want something better than this."