Joe Walsh's Brother

 

 

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Unlike the mailboxes, the doorbell buttons lacked names. I didn't know

which one to push so started with the bottom, listening to the distant

ring inside. And when after that elicited no immediate response, I

pushed the next, and then, finally the last.

 

Behind me traffic chugged on as it had since the early days of the

American Revolution, when poor farmers used it, making their slow,

painful way down to the Belleville bridge, one of the few to cross the

Passaic River, and the only bridge at the time, between Newark and

Paterson. Now Washington Avenue serving as the local speedway for the

usual assortment of Middle Class New Jersey jerks, from the snooty

upperly mobile zipping along in BMWs and Infinities to the macho maniacs

in high powered Cameros, Chevys or Trans Ams. Pickup trucks full of

rattling tools barged passed, unshaven drivers still showing the effects

of the previous evening's stop over for beer. Grim, professional older

men clutching the steering wheels of their Sevilles, Housewives elevated

by the high step of their mini-vans pretending they drive something a

cut above their mothers' woody stationwagons. A rush of running traffic

that did not end at night, everybody using this street as a shot cut

between Clifton and Newark -- hot cars traveling south for the chop

shots along Newark's Broadway, high school kids with their zooped up

jeeps making the trip back from their shopping for pot and crack and

LSD.

 

This whole section of the state made me nervous. People here put on airs

nearly as readily as Sue did, shaping their lives around one small

aspect of importance. They couldn't just be carpenters, they had to be

macho carpenters, ready to beat the shit out of you if you looked at

them the wrong way. They couldn't just be office clerk, but

administrative assistants wearing Brooks Brother suits during office

hours, shorts, T-shirts and sockless sneakers when at home, imitating

macho men by carrying weightlifting belts they rarely used. Young women

zipped in and out of traffic hoping someone would complement them by

shouting "Bitch!" Even the old men and old women refused to bear some

sense of dignity, running redlights as readily as the jeeps and BMWs

did.

 

New Jersey life had become an "us against them" proposition, white men

guarding their turf by taking on images of former macho glory. Even the

wimpiest store clerk wore his hat backwards and tried not to shave more

than once a week, casting nervous glances around to see if anybody

noticed this act. Meanwhile, homeboys from near the Newark border

paraded along the sidewalk blasting cheap boom boxes, pants dragging

along the ground as if they'd forgotten to wear a belt, cursing and

crowing in acts so phony one whiff of real man would turn them to smoke.

When I grew up, people sang songs about where all the flowers had gone,

now I often asked where the people went, the common courtesy store

keepers and friendly old folks and regular men and women who fixed my

sink or took my dry cleaning, the new generation so self important they

would have put Narcissus to shame. It was as if I had moved from a world

of ordinary people into one populated by people acting just like Sue,

each demanding my full attention and admiration and sympathy, crying

over themselves, bragging about themselves, demanding I honor their egos

in the very same ways.

 

As the cars passed, I found myself subjected to their stares, the

curious rubber neckers who searched the sidewalks for signs of the

unusual, constantly seeking some new means of entertainment, so as to

never be confronted with themselves alone. I could hear the rumble and

thump of their car stereos turned up full, eradicating every inch of

silence from the interior. These people slowed down along the highway

for car accidents, twisting their heads to catch a glimpse of blood.

These people programmed their VCRs to catch all those "true to life" TV

dramas, from Cops to Unsolved Mysteries, their lives so empty they had

to suck life out of others, like vampires. They watched me as I rang the

bell again, frowneof the unusual, constantly seeking some new means of

entertainment, so as to never be confronted with themselves alone. I

could hear the rumble and thump of their car stereos turned up full,

eradicating every inch of silence from the interior. These people slowed

down along the highway for car accidents, twisting their heads to catch

a glimpse of blood. These people prog

 

I was about to go through the sequence of door bell buttons again when

one of the two inner door shuddered open, and a dark-eyed,

disheveled-haired man appeared, staring at me through the dirty glass

storm door in the same way people had from their cars, frowning for a

moment as if he couldn't figure out why anybody would want to ring his

bell or talk to him. He clearly didn't recall our previous encounter. My

hair different now and I had worked out some with weights -- my knee no

longer capable of sustaining the five mile daily run I conducted during

the early 1980s. But I knew him, or at least, recognized the older

profile of a man I'd met only once before, his blandness so acute then

and now, I was struck dumb by it, asking again the question I first

asked in 1985: How could Sue have married a man so completely without

distinction, so remarkably plain. He blinked at me and I blinked at him.

No tattoos decorated his face or arms. His ears, nose, lip and eyes

remained free of any piercing. He bore the same dull expression I'd seen

on sleep walkers, though after a moment, his gaze seemed to register

some measure of alarm, glancing one way, then the other, as if he

expected me to have come with an army of investigators, TV cameras and

miles of wire for the microphones. When none of this appeared, he seemed

to come to the conclusion I was not dangerous.

 

"This is my husband, Mark Walsh," Sue told me in 1985 when we had

accidentally bumped into each other at a rare reunion. One of our

favorite professors had invited Allen Gingsberg to lecture at his

history of the 1960s class. "He's Joe Walsh's brother."

 

"Joe Walsh, the rock star?" I said, recalling the old adage about never

being more than three people away from someone famous. Sue always took

such people seriously, clinging to their heals. From this introduction I

understood Sue attraction to the moody man and wondered if he knew Sue

really wanted his brother. Sue had a talent for finding men of power,

only never the actual effective men that made the New York Times Best

Seller lists or invented the cure for the common cold. She mostly found

those men who'd stumbled into fame, or bfamous. Sue always took such

people seriously, clinging to their heals. From this introduction I

understood Sue attraction to the moody man and wondered if he knew Sue

really wanted his brother. Sue had a talent for finding men of power,

only never the actual effective men that made the New York Times Best

Seller lists or invented the cure for the common cold. She mostly found

those men who'd stumbled into fame, or barely clung to some aspect of

importance that allowed them to feel successful, even when they were

not. Like poor old professor Stanley Wertheim from whom Sue had acquired

a rare collection of books, or later publishers and writers with

questionable reputations. Sue saw each of these as the low rung to her

ladder to success, almost always finding the next rung out of her reach.

She had a particular fascination for the literary and artistic, and at

college, sought out the school newspaper and literary magazine, working

her way up through news and managing editor, plotting against her

opposition with each rise in position. She might have eventually become

editor and chief if graduation hadn't made her ascent moot, leaving her

like everyone

 

I had less business coming to see Ginsberg than she did. I had come to

raise protest, to cast my ballot again inaugurating Ginsberg to any

position of greatness. After all his years as the poet Laureate of the

beat movement, and then angel of the hippie movement, I found myself

appalled by his sudden rise to glory with the publication of his

collected works -- he abandoning San Francisco's City Lights book store

to go with a main stream press. I mistakenly believed at the time that

Ginsberg had become a shameless self promoter, who had abandoned his

true following for a place in history -- as if his travels with Kerouac,

and his trial in Chicago had not already done as much. The New York

Times praised him, calling him "The Poet of the latter half of the 20th

Century." Newsweek erroneously called him "Great." Michael Alexander and

I cornered him for a moment until he told us to get lost. We seemed no

more than petty annoyances to him. I later learned how wrong I was about

the poet, learned that he had helped many of his less fortunate friends,

and that though he traveled from one end of the world to the other, he

often did so in order to aid someone less fortunate than himself.

 

Yet even in my infuriated state, Sue's stare caught me. Her exuberance

could not disguise the deep shadows that haunted her eyes. Without a

word, she confirmed many of the outrageous tales the rumor mill had

churned out concerning her. While hardly a prim and proper soul in

college, her after graduation antics served as a lesson in sobriety for

us all, the rumors saying she had succumbed to alcoholism -- a matter

that had always struck me strange. Despite the fact that she had spent

nearly as much time in the school pub as she had in the class room, I

could not recall a moment when she was actually drunk. She often claimed

to be inebriated. But she always maintained that sharp sparkle in her

eyes, so calculating and cold, I often only reluctantly met her gaze.

Yet in the class room, under the echo of Ginsberg's boasting, I saw a

new Sue, someone in whom the furious fire had been finally -- if not

permanently abated. She looked weary, but not sad. She looked bent, but

not broken. Yet if I looked closely, I could still see the burned out

lights from her 42nd Street sex show performances, like a marquee

advertising her past adventures. I did not know at the time that she had

sucked Mark into her schemes. In fact, according to Floyd, Sue contacted

him at this point.

 

"She reached out to me when she was 22," Floyd told Joel during an

interview later, "because she was desperate and crying out for help."

 

Floyd also failed to mention she was up on charges for assaulting a

police officer.

 

"Floyd, a trained electrical engineer, used his connections in the

recovery moment to get his daughter into rehab," wrote Joel in his

unpublished manuscript.

 

"She went to two rehabs back to back," Floyd said, a recovering

alcoholic himself, "because her alcohol dependency was so severe."

 

In the first of these, she met Mark, and managed convince him into

joining in on her Show World Act. But by the time I saw her at the

Ginsberg affair, she had gone through all that and boasted of being

straight.

 

Then, her baby squiggled -- a part of her life I hadn't noticed until

then, drawing my attention away from her eyes. I had heard rumors about

the birth, and thought Sue totally inappropriate as a mother, an

ornament I would have never expected to find her wearing. She mis-read

my surprise and held out her precious baby for my closer examination.

 

"Don't I look grand with him?" she asked. "Did you ever think I would be

a mother, let alone the mother of Joe Walsh's nephew?"

 

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Tea and Crumpets?

 

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