Something Strange

 

 

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Rizzo greeted me with some suspicion, wary of strangers now that

something dark had come so close to her life. I'd seen the same watchful

look in crime scene victims, that "could that have happened to me"

expression. Rubber neckers had it on the highway when staring at the

spilled blood of an accident, husbands clutching the steering wheel a

little more tightly, mothers clutching their children to their chests.

 

Was I one of them, her gaze asked as she claim closer, one of the dark

shadows Sue used to describe in such vivid details? Did I, too, have

some connection to the go-go clubs where Sue performed, a don from the

Russian Mafia or a pervert from a South Jersey bar? My long hair

betrayed me. I hadn't worn a suit. I could have been anyone from

anywhere coming to take her next. I fumbled my press card from out of my

wallet and thrust it under her nose. "I'm looking into Sue Walsh's

vanishing," I told her, saying how some friends from school had informed

me about the situation.

 

Rizzo relaxed just a little, then said the press had already come, one

from the Newark Star Ledger, another from the North Jersey Herald &

News. Even one of the local papers had sent someone. Sue had written a

column for the Nutley Sun a year earlier, something called "Dialogue

with David" in which she and her son exchanged ideas. The other

reporters each had promised to break the story of her vanishing first,

although someone from the Village Voice had also called, saying they

would run something in their next edition.

 

As a neighbor, Rizzo had largely gone unnoticed by reporter and police,

telling me I was the first one who had even bothered to talk with her

for more than a few minutes.

 

And something was bothering her.

 

"I don't like any of it," she said. "Some things just don't add up about

Susan's going off like she did."

 

"What do you mean?" I asked.

 

"I mean there are little things just, well, don't seem right," she said,

glancing over her shoulder nervously as if she expected someone to be

listening to us. She obviously took to heart many of Sue stories of

stalkers and Mafia hit men, and didn't need to get so deeply involved

that she vanished, too. She would have bolted off in a moment if a

shadow had showed on the sidewalk at the head of the alley.

 

As it was, she leaned a little closer to me and in a hushed voice said

"There's more to this than what's going to appear in the newspapers,"

she said. "I can tell you that much."

 

I was intrigued, even if I suspected too much of Sue's old tales in her

tone. "Oh?"

 

I thought she would suggest at Joel had that Sue was really dead,

defying the history of bullshit Sue had told throughout college when she

would vanish for a day or week then return as if nothing had happened,

after her spies had told her tempers had cooled.

 

"I'll admit Sue was depressed and all," Rizzo said, leaning still closer

so that the heavy, nervous breathing warmed my ear. "But she was acting

really queer in her own way."

 

"Queer? In what sense?"

 

"I can't exactly put my finger on it," Rizzo said. "She just acted

differently over the last few weeks, more secretive. She would come and

go, not always telling people wherecome and go,

 

"Maybe she was scared," I suggested, an odd feeling creeping over me,

similar to the feelings I'd had at school when some disturbance called

me out of the literary magazine office to find Sue in the middle of some

major social confrontation in the hall, pieces of old plots beginning to

tumble around me again. "I do recall she claimed people were stalking

her."

 

"She always said that!" Rizzo said, tossing this suggesting off with a

single thrust of her open hand, a gesture a teacher might have used in

discounting a child's fear of ghosts. "I'm talking something different.

Something new. I know Mark wouldn't want me talking about any of this,

he doesn't want anybody talking about of it, maybe doesn't even care if

Sue comes back. But Sue was acting stranger than usual lately, and not

just for a few days before she disappeared. She said she was depressed,

but she struck me as excited, as if she expected something to happened,

and was waiting for it. And then, puff, she's gone."

 

From what I gathered over the next few days, Sue had danced last the

previous Friday, July 12, one day after I had attended Michael's poetry

reading in Paramus, and one day before he took flight from his wife. Sue

had an erratic schedule, since she could never actually count on finding

work. She had just signed up with a new go-go booking agent, which

promised to bring more regular gigs. But Sue was 36, very old in a

market which demanded younger and younger flesh. She had even pleaded

with him to find her work, willing to work only for the tips. Most

dancers retired before 30, unable to keep up with the drugs, the alcohol

and the pure physical abuse the job commanded. Many dancers made the

transition to prostitution, or died from overdoses, or found a husband

from among the variety of scum that frequented their bars, husbands who

beat them or pimped them, or eventually drove them away.

 

Sue was not scheduled to dance Saturday or Sunday, yet neighbors saw Sue

arrive back in Nutley Sunday night, exiting a Newark cab. In the six

years Sue had lived here, no one could recall her coming home via Newark

before, although she had danced in Newark numerous times, had met Billy

Walker, one of her many now-ex-boyfriends in a club there. Sue normally

begged rides off men at the clubs, or arranged to travel to and from the

clubs with other dancers. One friend, Melissa, often drove her places.

Melissa had taken Sue to the local hospital the week before when Sue

complained of stomach pains. Melissa had also accompanied Sue to a New

York City gig on Friday.

 

"She was acting as if she didn't want anybody to see what she was

doing," Rizzo said. "The way she behaved just wasn't right."

 

As a result, Rizzo kept her eye on Sue.

 

"I just wanted to make sure she was all right," Rizzo said, blushing a

little. "We've all been worried about her lately. She's had ulcers and

she lost a lot of weight. That poster says she 110 pounds, but shulcers

and she lost a lot of w

 

Despite the reputation the media later gave Sue, she was never a public

person. She had a public persona -- in fact, often adopted different

personalities for different people. She often pontificated, especially

among her followers and friends -- often leading a group of younger,

more impressionable girls around campus when at college, articulating

her ideas. But Sue, at the core, was an extremely private -- some say

secretive person. She said things, took them back, but rarely told you

what she honestly thought -- even in the remote chance, she trusted you.

While she might act out less among close friends, she rarely confided in

anyone.

 

At college, many of Sue's activities were recorded by people who watched

her serendipitously, taking note of her actions and how these differed

from what she claimed. I was among the less vigilant Sue-Watchers, but I

knew and talked to those who watched her more closely, documenting her

activities, taking not of the trail of human emotional carnage she left

in her wake. During the two days before Sue's July 16 disappearance,

Rizzo became a Sue Watcher, too, studying Sue out from behind closed

blinds, watching as she made her usual trehow these differed from what

she claimed. I was among the less vigilant Sue-Watchers, but I knew and

talked to those who watched her more closely, docum

 

"Sue perpetually used public phones," one former school mate told me.

"Even if there was a phone in the same room, Sue would leave to find a

public one, and, often, she wouldn't use the same public phone. If there

was a bank of telephones, she would use one, then the next, and then the

next, and then go find another telephone somewhere else."

 

This was the kind of stuff Abbie Hoffman once talked about when I hung

around him at the Renaissance Switchboard in Manhattan. It was also

stuff he had detailed in his 1972 underground publication, "Steal This

Book," a black-covered volume I had seen Sue carrying around campus, its

tattered pages suggesting she had read it thoroughly. Abbie preached the

dangers of the telephone, and stressed the need to avoid excessive use

of the public variety.

 

This partly explained why Sue never invested in a cellular phone, even

though she owned and frequently used a beeper. As was highlighted with

Newt Gingrich, people could listen in on cellular phones. People could

listen in on ordinary phones. And for a person like Sue, who professed

to believe the FBI, CIA and the Russian Mafia were pursuing her, she

could trust no phone explicitly. This distrust hampered investigators

after her disappearance. Not only could they not be sure which telephone

Sue used, but could not trace the calls she made even if finding the

right phone.

 

In watching Sue, Rizzo confirmed the worst of Sue's paranoia, as we all

did. Finding out what Sue was up to had become a full time hobby for

some as school, and an occasional passing interest for me when I wasn't

too busy with other things. But this wasn't Rizzo's first time in this

roll. Over the six years living upstairs from Sue she had taken note of

the parade of men who came and went from the downstairs apartment, from

the early days when Sue saw a lot of Rob Hardin, the East Village

musician to the later, darker days when Billy Walker, the Newark Club

manager had come and stayed. Rizzo had heard the fights with Walker, the

slamming doors, the breaking glass, the raised voices full of curse

words and threats. But she had seen other men, more dangerous men

perhaps, Sue had dragged home from her go-go gigs, carelessly risky in

the utterly dangerous age of AIDS, men from Newark, from New York, from

Central Jersey, but more local men, too, suspiciously familiar men whose

pictures had often made it onto the front or middle pages of the local

weekly newspaper, or had arrived in the mail box with other election

material.

 

Rizzo was smarter than most of Sue's usual entourage, which may explain

why she suddenly caught onto the change in Sue's behavior over the weeks

before Sue disappeared, the sudden humiliation showing in Sue in ways

only an observant Sue Watcher would noticed. Rizzo didn't have tbehavior

over the weeks before Sue disappeared, the sudden humiliation showing in

Sue in ways only an observant Sue Watcher would noticed. Rizzo didn't

have to know how angry Sue had been over Ridgeway's rejection of her

vampire story, or how upset Sue had been when Al Goldstien ended their

four-year on-and-off again relationship, or how frustrated Sue had been

when the publishers of "Redlight" did not pick up on her hints that she

might be in da

 

Sue's stalking stories were old hat, and only the most ardent of Sue's

fans believed them without question. Ridgeway, not a stupid man himself,

had attributed these tales to Sue's use of booze and narcotics, a

convenient dodge for a man who did not want blame for her possible

suicide placed on his shoulders -- even if he did refuse to give her

full credit as co-authorship of his book. Even if Ridgeway believed in

Sue's talk of booze and narcotics, he might have no way of knowing how

they in themselves were lies.

 

One former class mate said Sue collected people around her to whom she

could spoon-feed her tales of horror and stalking. Sue usually painted

such elaborate tales that only the most ignorant would believe all

unquestioningly, even when many of the stories contradicted. People were

always following her. People were always out to get her. People always

thought she had something they needed or wanted or could get no where

else.

 

"She's always been attracted to groups of people," one old friend from

school told me later. "She usually picks on people with serious

psychological problems, people who have little or no education, or

people who are always scared. She feeds on their fear and builds it up

so that they're too scared to ask many questions about her lying."

 

Sue loved to be the source of information, an exclusive source people

had to come to, and in playing that role, perhaps even endangered

herself, claiming to have information she really didn't have. While

spreading her tales among her friends, she was safe enough, but outside,

in a world that didn't understand her, she might have stumbled over

someone who actually believed her, and perhaps wanted her dead on that

account.

 

"So what do you think happened to her?" I asked finally.

 

Rizzo shook her head, then shuddered. "God only knows," she said. "But I

don't think it's anything pleasant."

 

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Coming Home

 

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