Friends at a Distance

 

 

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I heard about Sue's vanishing from Joel Lewis, who had heard about it

from Glenn Kenny, who had heard about it from James Ridgeway, and he

Ridgeway, and he from Floyd or Martha or one of the many people in

Nutley who went nuts in the hours after Sue's vanishing. The hysterical

Martha seemed to believe Ridgeway with his vast resources cou

 

Joel was less upset than curious. Glenn must have been out of his mind

with grief, a man who had once promised to marry Sue if they both hadn't

made it by age 40 -- an age rapidly approaching both of them. I didn't

know Ridgeway to know if he was upset, though I later learned he was

instrumental in calling in the press, perhaps part of his effort to

publicize the book "Redlight" which he and Sue had worked on together

and which had been published a month before and for which sales seem

lackluster. Boarders didn't carry the book initially. Barnes & Noble

took thrthey both hadn't made it by age 40 -- an age rapidly approaching

both of them. I didn't know Ridgeway to know if he was upset, though I

later learned he was instrumental in calling in the press, perhaps part

of his effort to publicize the book "Redlight" which he and Sue had

worked on together and which had been published a month before and for w

 

While I knew Sue had moved to Nutley in 1990, I arrived at her apartment

for the first time, three days after my conversation with Joel. No

newspaper had yet filed a report, such was the power of our network of

college alumni. While Sue's antics at school had left her with few

friends from that era -- Bill Madaras and Glenn Kenny, the most noted of

these -- we kept track of her anyway as one of those characters who we

knew capable of pulling some significant stunt a some point in the

future -- if not this, then something as equally bizarre such as jumping

off the Brooklyn Bridge.

 

We compiled reports of Sue with more dedication than most of her family

had, tracking the changes in her life as we got on with our own. Those

of us who suffered some hurt from Sue at college, kept our distance from

her, yet greedily accepted news of her activities, nodding our heads

over this or that event as if we expected it. Few of us truly believed

her 1985 reform would last, that moment when she went into rehab and

came out engaged and pregnant, soon giving birth to a baby boy named

David. We did not believe that she could contain the habits she had

acquired over the years, to live "an ordinary life." Sue was not

ordinary, and her life could not be contained in the same middle class

bottle that had contained the lives of her parents.

 

Perhaps this unofficial network of expatriates from William Paterson

served as a salvation center, which we could turn to when we fell off

the edge -- as I did in 1987, when I wandered into the same dark world

Sue inhabited, and found myself tangling with drug dealers, prostitutes

and pimps. Glenn Kenny made a point of calling Michael Alexander who

called me to tell me to watch out for myself, citing as he would later

cite the dangers of the darkness. But the venue served to supply us with

news of all sorts, from Ed Smith's marriage to the firing of Michael

Reardon at Passaic County Community College in Paterson. We heard talk

of those who made it, and those who didn't, and those who still tried,

as well as those who had given up.

 

Over the years, I had heard tales of Sue's successes, the baby, the job

in publishing, and then, of her failures, the downsizing, and her return

to darkness. Joel, whose later effort to tell Sue's story was rejected

by New Jersey Monthly, showed little sympathy for Sue's plight when

first announcing it to me over the telephone. While he seemed serious

enough about her doom, a touch of gloating seemed to color his voice.

 

Joel was a remarkable poet and someone who has made a significant dent

in the local literary scene, publishing "Blue Stones and Salt Hay," a

monumental anthology of New Jersey poets, as well as a book of collected

lectures of "Ted Berrigan." But he was no popular in college among Sue's

set, a man who had come back to finish his masters during our tenure at

school, seen as something of an inand Salt Hay," a monumental anthology

of New Jersey poets, as well as a book of collected lectures of "Ted

Berrigan." But he was no popular in college among Sue's set, a man who

had come back to finish his masters during our tenure at school, seen as

something of an intruder from the past. One person told me that Joel was

interested in Sue in 1980, but she had other interests and blew him off.

Joel, whose sloped shoulders and

 

Joel seemed to adopt Ridgeway's belief that Sue was dead, a victim of a

drug overdose or the violence inspired by her connections with the sex

industry, men she met either from her investigations or picked up during

her strip club gigs. The conclusions sounded dubious even when Joel

first presented them. Something nagged at me about the tale, as if it

lacked some important detail that only my instincts as a reporter knew

should be there. Immediately after talking to Joel I ached for a more

credible source, making me want to investigate the scene myself rather

than hearing about it through such questionable filters as Joel or

Ridgeway. Both seemed to have already made up their minds about Sue's

disappearance, as if drawing from the same script.

 

I knew Sue well enough to distrust obvious explanations for anything she

did or said. At school, Sue had created whole dramas, incorporating

unsuspecting victims to play various parts, leaving people confused and

alarmed and angry at each other as she waltzed away into some new

self-generated performance. I also knew Sue had vanished before,

something Jdramas, incorporating unsuspecting victims to play various

parts, leaving people confused and alarmed and angry at each other as

she waltzed away into some new self-generated performance. I also knew

Sue had vanished before, something Joel and Ridgeway seemed unaware of

or willing to discount. At college, Sue had made an art of disappearing

whenever the players in her dram

 

I also emotionally rejected the thought of her death. While attracted to

her once, I did not love Sue the way most men she met did. Yet I liked

her in some ways, admired her skill as a writer and story-teller. I had

also recently lost two friends to various diseases and didn't relish

losing another to some mystery nobody could explain.

 

Sue had no listing in the 1996 Essex County phone book, though an

earlier edition showed her number and address. I called the phone

number. No one answered. The telephone company said the account had

never lapsed, but refused to tell me under whose name the account was

now registered. I later learned the account was under her landlord's

name, Louis Riccardi, a man to whom she was reportedly "very close."

 

As I let the phone ring, however, I imagined the sound filling her empty

apartment. I did not know until later that each ring of the telephone

was striking terror into the heart of Sue's most recent lover, a

21-year-old self-proclaimed vampire named Christian, a man who in

believing everything Sue every told him, believed that the same dark

force that had stolen Sue from him was not focusing its evil eye on him,

and my ringing of the telephone sounded like hthe telephone was striking

terror into the heart of Sue's most recent lover, a 21-year-old

self-proclaimed vampire named Christian, a man who in believing

everything Sue every told him, believed that the same dark force that

had stolen Sue from him was not focusing its evil eye on him, and my

ringing of the telephone sounded like his call to doom. In working up

the poor man to such a

 

"Same old Sue," I thought, remembering her glint in her bright blue eyes

whenever she thought up a new plot to weave. Some people later called

this delusion, a symptom of a bipolar disease she allegedly carried

around inside her head. Dorothy Ryan, a friend of Sue's for a while at

school, agreed that Sue was ill in some important fashion.

 

"But not in the way people think," she told me. "Sue was a calculating

bitch who knew exactly what she was doing to people. She might have been

twisted, but it was a twist with a lot of evil in it."

 

Sue saw herself in direct competition with every other woman in college,

and had few qualms about stealing their men, and strangely, during her

five years on campus, Sue succeeded more than she failed, often against

women who I considered much prettier than she was. Sue knew how men

ticked and could take them apart as easily as she could a watch. She

simply lacked the skill to put them back the way she found them, often

leaving a trail of parts strewn across campus, men with some vital part

of their personality missing. On any day you could hear them moan. And

even then, even wounded and abused, they hobbled behind Sue still in

utter lust for her, begging for her to take them apart again. She rarely

gave them a repeat performance. Few men were interesting enough to her

for her to take apart twice.

 

What made men behave so foolishly around her? I was never able to figure

it out. Perhaps it was some kind of chemical response, a kind of

pheromone secretion she could exude that created a fog in men's minds. I

saw class mates ruin their grade point average over her. I saw one

professor nearly ruin his marriage professing his love for her. It was

not enough, and when she fled him, he took years to recover. This

professor told Joel Lewis later in an interview that Sue certainly

"acted sexual" around him.

 

Boy was that the understatement of his career!

 

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Ships that Pass in the Night

 

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