Unfortunate Timing

 

 

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Unfortunately, Sue's disappearance suffered from unfortunate timing.

During the Summer of 1996, numerous alleged abductions occurred, as well

as a host of reported stalkings, motorcycle gang bangs and missing

children. Not only did the FBI arrest the man in Secaucus for faking his

own kidnapping, but that same week they closed in on a man in Virginia,

who had faked his own disappearance from Bergen County a decade ago, a

man who had left wife and family and sought a new life under a new name

that had taken from an obituary of a 30-year-old newspaper. The police

caught onto him when he sought to get a copy of the death certificate

issued in the spring, after his wife had given up years of searching and

finally had him legally declared dead. This man seemed less interested

in blackmail than in pulling the old Tom Sawyer routine, to live free

and independent of a system in which he no longer existed.

 

Much closer to home and within two days of Sue s vanishing, another

school mate disappeared. Michael knew Sue as well as I did, maybe

better, having run across her from time to time during gigs in clubs

along Lodi s Route 17, or during his occasional visits to The Vault in

Manhattan where she played the role of Dominetrix. In fact, I received a

call from his wife a day before Joel called, and had initially

disbelieved his disappearance, too. Not because he d had a habit

vanishing in college the way Sue had, but because from outward

appearances Michael had seemed to over come every single sign of madness

he had displayed at school. Whereas when I met him, Michael had seemed a

good deal more wild than Sue, a poet punkrocker who had come to college

from the same middle class background with the same middle class values

as Sue, but was determined to break free of the social changes that

bound him to that world, determined to study his art and perfect it so

that someday he might transcend the working blue and white collar world

that had shaped him.

 

Like Sue, however, Michael's home life looked calmer from the exterior

than it actually was. While he had no rush of new fathers coming and

going into his life the way Sue did, he had a family full of frustrated

artist ambitions, a father, who as musician had become a bureaucrat for

Television and radio, and his mother, acting out the hip scene the way

Sue did, such a cool cat who couldn't stand the heat of the East Village

from the previous generation, so turned herself into a teacher instead,

making Michael equate teaching with failure, even though he would have

likely made a magnificent teacher. He fought so hard against it that

like Sue he seemed to rush towards the edge, threatening to leap off. In

school, he praised Punk Rock and Punk Poetry, a nearly perfect bookend

to Sue who sought out similar themes but in the much more avante gard

style of the East Village.

 

Early on, I thought the fact that these two school mates vanishing

within a day of each other was just one of the those queer coincidences

that occur, one of those curves life pitches at people now and then.

Michael's vanishing seemed petty when placed side by side with Sue's,

the way Michael's protective life was. He liked to talk as if he had a

sense of street wisdom, but was a lamb waiting for someone to slaughter

him, an innocent who purposely walked into dens of lions while spouting

rhetoric about high ideals.

 

In many ways, Michael formed a nearly exact antithesis to Sue, mirroring

her descent in the underworld without repeating, like a comic subplot in

a Shakespearean tragedy. While Sue sought the depths of society, probing

at the roots of evil with an insatiable, ravishing hunger, Michael

dabbled at the surface, caught up in the pretty reflections of the

underworld he mistook for beauty. While Sue danced in sex shows in 1985,

Michael getting us kicked out of bar in Passaic by trying to pass poetry

to the dancers. But he did seek to plunge the edge for a time a comic

subplot in a Shakespearean tragedy. While Sue sought the depths of

society, probing at the roots of evil with an insatiable, ravishing

hunger, Michael dabbled at the surface, caught up in the pretty

reflections of the underworld he mistook for beauty. While Sue danced in

sex shows in 1985, Michael getting us kicked out of bar in Passaic by

trying to pass poetry to

 

But as Sue sank deeper and deeper into the muck, parading through

Manhattan as the mistress of Screw Magazine's publisher, Al Goldstein

and the "researcher" for "Redlight," James Ridgeway's book on the sex

industry, Michael climbed out, quitting his job in the magazine shop for

one in a bank in a small New Jersey community. He seemed to adapt to his

new social position well, taking up membership in the local Kiwanis,

becoming the local libraries maven for poetry and literature, putting on

readings once a month. Then, one day, he taps a few messages into a

computer, and stumbles into the Edge through the internet, falling in

love with some woman he'd never seen -- part of his romantic notion that

he could find purity among the dregs of society, honest one-to-one

communication between people that rules of society did not allow. But

what he really found was the material of a tabloid headline: Man falls

in love on AOL, leaves wife, moves to Texas.

 

In many ways, Sue and Michael had always defined the boundaries of

popular culture for me, their seeking to escape the mundane world of the

working man, always gave me perspective as to how not to fall off the

edge of my own world. I didn't need to seek the "cool world" they way

they did. I didn't need to bend the rules and live life as a constant

risk, a on-going sense of life verse death. I had already been there.

I'd already found that what people like Michael and Sue thought was cool

was little more than an empty blind, a suckers trap for the innocent and

the stupid, though Sue and Michael were neither, sucking up victims for

a social machine that would ground to a halt without their kind

constantly feeding it.

 

In that world, people gauged their vague against their ability to

survive, growing in worth as they confronted evil, and conquered it.

Michael constantly sang the sirens song of the self-deceived, telling me

and others had pure that world was, how honest, how admirable -- people

using their teeth and nails to claw their way through life, without the

artificiality of social rules or the bullshit of bureaucracy. During the

years after leaving school, when Michael sought truth, carrying his

lantern of dilution into the depths of Paterson where prostitutes

laughed at him and muggers eyed him asconquered it. Michael constantly

sang the sirens song of the self-deceived, telling me and others had

pure that world was, how honest, how admirable -- people using their

teeth and nails to claw their way through life, without the

artificiality of social rules or

 

Unlike with Sue, I had warning about Michael's vanishing. I didn't know

he was going to leave. But about a week before he fled New Jersey for

Houston, I saw him at a poetry reading where he was featured. His whole

demeanor was strange. He kept laughing at odd things and seemed fed up

with his own work, reading a collection of poems that covered every

phase of his writing career, as if he was seeking to sum up fled New

Jersey for Houston, I saw him at a poetry reading where he was featured.

His whole demeanor was strange. He kept laughing at odd things and

seemed fed up with his own work, reading a collection of poems that

covered every phase of his writing career, as if he was seeking to sum

up his life in one night. I didn't think much about it then, except to

remark on its oddity. Then, on July 13, the Saturday befo

 

On Sunday, he called and explained how he had fallen in love with

someone else, how he would be traveling south with that woman the

following day, and how he had no intention of returning. He didn't care

about any of his jobs, he didn't want any part of the house he and his

wife had just purchased. In fact, he wanted no part of his old life at

all, choosing instead to start over with an English teacher as some

college in Houston. Apparently, this teacher had come north once or

twice over the previous six months, met secretly with Michael and during

these sessions at a nearby motel, hatched their plot together.

 

When I heard all this, I believed absolutely none of it. Sue hadn't

disappeared yet, recalling all those previous times at college when she

had used such intrigues. In fact, when Michael's wife told me all this

on the telephone, I actually started to laugh. This should have been a

joke, and as a joke, fit in with the conversation she and I had

conducted after Michael's poetry reading the week before. I had told her

about investigative pieces I had done for my paper concerning the

acquisition of sex over the internet, how the internet had suddenly

become one vast porn shop, advertising everything from child pornography

to live sex acts. Whore houses were no longer in the slums of Newark or

Paterson, but right around the corner, an easy drive from Belleville,

Bloomfield, Clifton or Nutley.

 

At the poetry reading, Mike's wife had found the subject so intriguing I

knew we would pick the conversation up again later. She had laughed over

my inability to go through with meeting the sex provider when the whore

house turned out to get in the old neighborhood where I'd grown up.

While I didn't admit it at the time, the whole internet sexual

revolution disturbed me greatly, as if I had stumbled into the middle of

an even more seedy web than the Los Angeles porno scene from my youth. I

felt over my head in the story, as if the subject was better left to

investigators to the New York Times than to a reporter from the Hudson

Reporter. Mike's wife vowed to bring the subject up later when we got

together for dinner. And her call, on July 16, I thought was to make

arrangements, and that her saying Michael had left, was just her little

joke.

 

"I'm not joking," she said. "Michael's gone."

 

So when standing in Nutley three days later, staring at Sue's face

pasted to a poster in a window, I half expected to find Michael's face

featured there as well, his crook grin showing side by side with Sue's

sly one, his simple face, a perfect companion for Sue's artificially

innocent one, his aching stare as painful in its vanishing as Sue's was.

Even if, his tale seemed many times more ridiculous than hers did, and

his posters would have related the much less tragic story of a man

bumbling over the edge with all the elaboration of a circus clown, and

much more vulnerable to accidental death as a result.

 

"Mike's more like a crab," one friend said, "scrambling around the edge,

clinging to it when he accidentally falls off. With Sue, it would be no

accident. She wouldn't stumble over the edge, she would take a flying

leap."

 

Later, I would learn just how related these two disappeared people were,

and how much contact they'd had with each other over the last year. Was

it merely coincidence that these two vanished within hours of each

other? Sue had expressed interest in Michael before, back after her

arrest and her so called recovery, after her marriage, the birth of her

child, when Michael still worked in a Wayne bookstore. Sue had shown up

at his place of employment -- after having seen him at yet another

poetry reading. Later, I would come to believe this tooover the last

year. Was it merely coincidence that these two vanished within hours of

each other? Sue had expressed interest in Michael before, back after her

arrest and her so called recovery, after her marriage, the birth of her

child, when Michael still worked in a Wayne bookstore. Sue had shown up

at his place of employment -- after having seen him at yet another

poetry reading. Later, I would come to believe this too much t

 

At first Michael's wife didn't believe in a connection, saying Michael

had not slipped away so easily as he wanted. On Monday, July 15,

Michael's wife came home early. She had tried to keep up the usual

routine, but found herself too upset to concentrate on work. Once

through the front door of her house, she heard a noise in the attic, and

thought a burglar had broken in. She thought to call the police, but

slowly crept up the stairs until she found Michael routing through his

possessions, hastily assembling some things he wanted to take with him

to Texas. At this very moment, Sue sat beside her landlord's pool in

Nutley, sunning herself in a lounge chair, as if nothing was wrong and

she had nothing planned. If she had plotted Michael's escape, that part

of her plan seemed to go wrong. Or had it?

 

Michael's wife helped him back the car. He was such a klutz when it came

to such things and she loved him enough to not want to see him die along

the highway because some box broke loose and hit his head or caused him

to drive off the road. He was apparently supposed to meet his new girl

friend in Maywood, at a local restaurant. Michael's wife pursued him to

the place, and a small blonde girl -- who was not Sue -- stepped out,

seemingly a little put out by the confrontation, but not overly

receptive to Michael's wife's warnings that if Michael could do this to

her, he could do it to anyone.

 

This seemed to put to rest the idea that Sue and Michael had gone off

together. What would Sue do in Texas anyway? That seemed an thousand

miles from "The Edge" she sought. Yet others have since claimed Sue

perfectly capable of developing such an elaborate plot, of having

someone stand in for her, manipulating events so as to make her

disappearance and Michael's seem unrelated coincidences. And even as I

stood before her apartment and felt the vacancy of her life, I could

close my eyes and see the two of them dancing hand in hand over a mood

scape of human desolation and misery, wandering if not the streets of

Houston, then of some skid row somewhere, like two scarecrows seeking

the wisdom of an non-existing Wizard of Oz. And strangely, standing in

Nutley, sweating under a July heat, I felt like I had been enlisted to

play the part of the cowardly lion. And I didn't like that.

 

But the connections between Michael and Sue would grow over the months,

as facts began to show stronger and stronger influence, as if Sue --

hearing of Michael's plans -- had shaped her own in imitation, fleeing

the scene for exactly the same reasons Michael did, not because of

Mobsters or stalkers or even that mysterious bi-polar disease she

claimed for herself, but because she could no longer handle the mundane

life she had slipped into.

 

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Older but No Wiser

 

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