This is something that's happened to me three times in the past few months, and to say it's unsettling is an understatement. It's plain depressing.

My office is just two blocks from 14th Street NW, a thoroughfare that is noted for, among other things, young ladies for hire and fast-food restaurants. I sometimes go there for the latter.

Three times over a span of several months I've found myself sharing a table with attractive, articulate women, younger than my own sons. And all three times the story has been the same: the women, daughters of middle-class families from Northern Virginia, married early, bore a child -- sons in all three instances -- and were deserted by irresponsible young husbands.

All three took to 14th Street to earn what passes as keep. All three, by their accounts, dote upon their sons.

These women can be a bit coy, or perhaps sheepish, when discussing their plight with a gray-bearded guy who might be considered a father figure. Innocently, before the realization of her situation set in, I asked the third young lady the other night what she did for a living.

"I'd rather not say," she replied, getting up from the table to go out where, a few minutes later, I saw her at curbside.