Ships that Pass in the Night

 

 

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My association with Sue resembled a Shakespearean comedy, full of irony,

accidental passings in the night, and mistaken identity. I was nearly

always a constant frustration to her, someone she talked about to other

people but rarely approached. I was supposed to have approached her, I

supposed and missed all the signals. At 28 when I met her, I was too old

for her to manipulate as a fellow student, yet too out of the academic

loop for her to seduce the way she tried with professors, someone who

fell through the holes in her manipulative web, yet someone she sought

to bring into the fold.

 

Even in our after college lives, we passed each other, our timing always

off. In the mid-1970s, I deliberately avoided Plato's Retreat, a place

she frequented when a high school student -- though I spent a great deal

of time in go-go bars with my friend Frank. By the time Sue started to

dance in 1979, I had already moved on, hanging out at only one small bar

in Passaic, where I mostly jotted down observations about the people I

found there. By the time, I fell back into the dark of that world in

1987, Sue was in recovery, working a full time job in Manhattan, acting

out the role of a upperly mobile professional. Then, when her world fell

apart, mine came together. When sheRetreat, a place she frequented when

a high school student -- though I spent a great deal of tim

 

But we came dangerously close to colliding. Just as she was moving into

her Nutley apartment, I was taking up a job in Bloomfield that brought

me passed her door every morning for more than three years. I had heard

word of her moving to Nutley through Joel who had heard word from Glenn,

but I thought little of her. I never stopped to say hello, nor even knew

that she lived in that particular three story brick building. But even

if the inclination had moved me to look her up, I would have not cared

for her circle of friends, foolishly stupid people she had gathered

together because they were the only people she could still manipulate.

The higher caliber people she had ruined at school had grown beyond her,

moving up into newer, higher social circles she had no means to achieve.

 

I had no love for the biker crowd she chose to adopt, and no desire to

return to East 3rd Street where she sometimes went to meet with and talk

to the Hell's Angels. My last encounter with their kind had come in 1970

on the streets of LA, before they sought to clean up their act, before

they and other bike groups began charity work to improve their image.

Sue loved the old image, the kind of biker who beat at my face with

chains near Hollywood Boulevard, and would have done me real harm had

the police not yanked them off.

 

I had already tasted the nasty edge of the underground Sue so desired,

from Charlie Manson's family who tossed me out of an apartment in North

Las Vegas, to the Weather Underground who nearly killed a friend of mine

in their East 11th Street explosion. I knew what it was like to fall off

the edge of the world and hated it. Sue, on the other hand, could not

get enough.

 

Sue once described herself as "a thin bony bird who trailed unfriendly

streets because of an uncontrollable insidious energy," perhaps the only

honest statement she ever made about herself, one reflecting her desired

reality, an environment she actively sought to create for herself.

School mates described her differently, especially those who saw Sue as

direct competition. In a March, 1981 parody of Sue written for the

campus underground newspaper, Pats on the Back, she was mockingly

accused of writing the essay "Kinetic Energy and the Art of Being

Adorable." Although people sensed her edge, few knew to what depth Sue

went in her career, or that she had already slipped off the edge of

respectability into that neither world of lust and outrage, a regular

visitor to clubs like Plato's Retreat where she played Sex Queen for

hundreds of horny old men. She seemed determined to destroy herself,

hiding the real danger behind myths of CIA plots and the stalking of old

boyfriends. And when the heat got too hot, she vanished, banishing

herself the way her mother did.

 

For four years, I followed some of her exploits, less aware of her of

her manipulations that some others who knew her, aware of that fact that

something was very seriously wrong with her, some dangerous element I

recognized unconsciously from my own exploits at her age. She ravished

the campus as if it was her personal war zone, and the reports of her

doings kept up long after she had left college for the real world, where

she thought she could manipulate men as easily and found that they

largely manipulated her.

 

She became the darkest element in our collegiate mythology, a sad case

of a desperate woman seeking attention of men by any means possible,

even to the point of destroying herself. For years, I collected her

stories, altered them slightly to fit in my fiction. Sometimes, I felt

guilty about using Sue in this way, especially after I finished my 1990

novel about go go dancing in Paterson. But her story went beyond

fiction, and later, I learned that what I wrote was merely a shadow of a

greater fiction Sue had created for herself, she, trying to make her

fictional characters come to life in the real world, shaping tales

around them so that peoplany means possible, even to the point of

destroying herself. Fo

 

Joseph Campbell could not have shaped characters so vivid or so starkly

mythological. from doublegangers to satanic forces, Sue had them all,

shaping them around one of the fundamental theme of contemporary

literature: The hero as a child who stands for truth or innocence and is

victimized.

 

When I modeled my Suzanne character for "Dancer on the Sand," I had Sue

in mind, and the stories she used to tell about a character walking

among in a fugue. I cast my Suzanne in the streets of Paterson,

victimized by the powers of that dark city. Little did I know at the

time that in July 1996, Sue would make those stories real, wandering not

Paterson, but Newark, a ghost as vivid as Elvis' which people reported

seeing, but none could catch.

 

Ronald W., the former national spokesman for NEXT corporation, a

communications software company that did significant work for NASA,

became Sue's ally during her disappearance. He asked me if I cared for

Sue at all.

 

"Can't you find something warm in this woman?" he asked, echoing a

question I believe Sue wanted him to ask. My web site already contained

example after example of the lives Sue's passing had left in ruins.

"Isn't there anything you like about her?"

 

It was a question that put me off for a time. Admiration was not a word

I used in conjunction with Sue, nor was love or human understanding. Yet

I did feel some kind of relationship with her, a bonding of spirits even

she would find hard to comprehend, a brother and sisterhood of artists

through which we were connected.

 

I admired her talent. I felt sorry for the young girl trapped inside

Sue's head, the one who had suffered through her parent's divorce and

her mother's subsequent four (or five) husbands, the girl who I saw when

I looked into Sue's eyes during those moments when she did not see me

looking, the girl I heard in Sue's voice whenever she honesty talked

about writing. And that admiration has grown as I conducted my search

through the bones of Sue's life, and found that she had much more in

common with spoken word masters like Homer than she did with those who

put ink to paper like me. Her ability to weave a fiction out of the

barest of facts still adivorce and her mother's subsequent four (or

five) husbands, the girl who I saw when I looked into Sue's eyes during

those moments when she did not see me looking, the girl I heard in Sue's

voice whenever she honesty talked about writing. And that admiration has

grown as I conducted my sea

 

Her tales would become the headlines of the tabloids within weeks of her

vanishing, spilling ink of talk of vampires, live-sex shows and

stalkers. She would dig out every tale she had read as a kid in the

slick-covered sex magazines, building up the stories of mad gang rapes

among bikers, changing Nazi sex masters to Russian sex masters, weaving

it all together as if she had invented it all herself.

 

While Ridgeway and Joel Lewis bemoaned Sue's death from drugs, alcohol

and depression, I envisioned her bent over each news account of her

vanishing, grinning at the head lines. Each news report, in the

Newspaper, on TV or radio, bringing to her an intense gratification sex

could not, satisfying that "bony bird" in her, giving to her the stuff

she could not get for herself, an immortality that would keep people

talking about her for decades the way people still sometimes talk about

the East Village's Jim Brody and his faked jump from the Brooklyn

Bridge.

 

This myth-making ability that drew a chuckle from me when Joel first

whispered news of Sue's vanishing over the telephone.

 

"Again?" I said and laughed.

 

Joel failed to understand the humor, having missed most of Sue's college

antics, the week-long sabbaticals from English class after having

embarrassed herself with a come-on with the professor. Joel had left too

soon to witness the mad battles in the college newspaper Sue had

initiated by stealth, swaying the favor of one person in secret while

egging on another, she, in the end, the self-declared victim of both

sides from whom she needed to be saved.

 

Joel had come in contact with Sue slightly over six months before her

vanishing and was struck by the desperation he sensed in her then. She

had undoubtedly come down on the ill end of one of her machinations,

though our circuit claimed she'd fared well, achieving notoriety for

some significant article in the Village Voice, and employment as a

researcher on a book of some sort. Joel, on his way home to Hoboken,

from his job in Brooklyn, ran into Sue in the center of the Port

Authority. He had very little time to converse. She had little interest,

though Joel's self-promotion did raise one of Sue's eyebrows, as if she

hadn't expected him to turn out a success in anything, let alone a man

with three books to his publishing credit, and a pretty consistent free

lance writing career.

 

"She said she was on her way to work," Joel told me later.

 

She was then frequently working midtown men's clubs as a table dancer,

doing extra duty in the Champaign Room for men who could afford the

service. He insisted she take his phone number, though said he didn't

actually believe she would call. She had acted so cold in college that

he seemed invisible to her, she too popular a girl for a bookworm like

him, he too wary and street wise for her to manipulate the way she did

other contemporary males. While she liked artists, Joel tended to have

the same wary talents as she did, a sensibility that kept him from being

duped. He was hardly the emotionally crippled or the perpetually stupid

upon which she usually fed.

 

But perhaps the 1995 version of Joel was refreshing after the character

of male she'd associated with since her return to the sex trades in

1989, men like Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw, who reportedly paid her

for more services than just her writing, or men like James Ridgeway who

apparently wouldn't give her the credit she felt she deserved. Perhaps

Joel suddenly looked a bit more tempting in her eyes, another write who

she might use to her gain. She had used up the lot of chasex trades in

1989, men like Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw, who reportedly paid her

for more services than just her writing, or men like James Ridgeway who

apparently wouldn't give her the credit she felt she deserved. Perhaps

Joel suddenly lo

 

But Joel, Sue likely thought, remembered too little about her from

college to be as wary as people in the Village were. Within a week of

her chance meeting with Joel, Sue rang him up, talking with him for a

while, bemoaning her plight as a dancer.

 

"She said she had just finished dancing at some place on Route 17 in

Lodi, and how much she hated it, but if she had to dance, she'd rather

do it here in New Jersey where the owners didn't make her do it

topless," Joel said. "She gave me the impression she'd been working for

some local paper out where she lived, though she didn't say what she was

doing there. But then, she was talking about 15 different things at

once. She'd always been that kind of person. In college, she used to

tell me how she had two majors and a minor. She was a weird kind of

person in others ways, too, very vague about details. I know I once

asked her out, but nothing came of it. She mostly wanted to know about

places where she might read her poetry. I told her about a few, but I

don't think she followed up on any of them."

 

Of all the William Paterson College expatriates, Glenn Kenny an immense

writing talent in his own right had kept in better contact with her than

most. In fact, I learned later, he had seen her within weeks of her

disappearance, and his statements while not directly contradicting

Ridgeway's assessments both through Joel and on Unsolved Mysteries shed

an entirely different light on those final weeks before Sue's vanishing.

Initially, he rebuffed my questions, perhaps shaken by the situation and

his own fond affections for her. In an emotional moment during an

interview Joel conducted with him for a now-aborted New Jersey Monthly

article, Glenn said he and Sue once suggested they would get married at

forty if they hadn't found anybody else. Glenn seemed to decline

comments for fear of hurting her. He had shared some very intimate

moments with Sue, as lover and a friend, and was just as put off by the

media frenzy Ridgeway had started as I was. I think he didn't want to

add to her misery. He had worked with her on the school newspaper, had

watched her claw her way up through the ranks to managing editor, then

arts editor. As editor to the school's literary magazine, I knew her

from a slightly different and more distant angle, an outside observer

with whom she mostly shared her poetry, but not her feelings.

 

Later, Glenn would talk more candidly about his last encounter with Sue,

three weeks before she vanished, before the press turned her

disappearance into a circus, before an apparently real conturned her

disappearance into a circus, before an apparently real conspiracy

emerged to make her look as foolish and irresponsible as possible, so

that if she ever did reemerge, and ever did relate the truth about the

people in her life, no one would believe her. What exactly did happen to

Sue Walsh? Why did the Fox Network emphasize her reported connection

with New York City Vampire Cults? Why did Ridgeway refuse to help her

publish her investigative pieces on the activities of those cults? Why

did she become the sudden fascination of Z100 radio, WCBS news radio,

WINS news radio, NBC TV and yes, even the New York Times? And was there

any truth

 

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Divided Opinions

 

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