A Blast from the Past

 

 

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Within a week of my arrival on campus, I sought out the school's

literary magazine in an office on the third floor of the student center.

I found one of the moody editors routing through boxes of old issues. He

did not say what he was seeking and in fact, seemed annoyed at my

arrival, and annoyed at the Year Book staff that had used the office

over the summer and left it wreck. All three of its windows stood wide

open to alleviate the smell of heated paper. Not only did the room

contain stacks of years books and literary magazines, but a now-defunct

political magazine that had ceased publication with the administration's

purge of the campus radicals.

 

"What do you want?" the man asked, a man I later learned was Bob Nickas.

 

"I was looking for information about the magazine," I said.

 

Nickas glanced up, looking as if wanted to make some rude remark to

discourage me, as if he'd had his fill of would be writers and didn't

need new ones invading his office or squandering his time. But he

frowned instead, studied me for a moment, aware of my slightly older

age. I was 28. I looked much younger. Yet something about my stance

seemed to give me away. Nickas grew a little less hostile.

 

"We'll have a meeting when everything's settled," he told me. "Just look

for the notice in the school newspaper."

 

Two weeks later, I made the trip up the stairs again, that winding glass

enclosed stairway in which Sue would later freakout, having what Joel

would later call "a crying jag." The office still smelled of paper, but

also of perfume and cigarette smoke, and a host of people now sat on the

numerous desks and chairs, part of the poorly managed room assignment

that made the Student Government Organization so unpopular with the

clubs. Twenty or thirty people sat waiting for Nickas to enlighten them

to the magazine's policy.

 

Nickas, a short, stout man looked around, his face as disgusted as when

I had met him the first time. Near him, was his co-editor, Scott

McGraff, a larger, but no more friendly man, part of the old literary

order destined to fade from campus, facing the new literary order who

would take over within a year: Teri Mates, Bob Mathena, Kathy White,

Mike Alexander, Mat Grecco, and others.

 

Sue entered later in a breathless rush, coming in with a group of people

who she seemed to know, people who had come up to college with her a

year or two earlier, and whom she had not yet alienated. Some of these

had already established themselves in the magazine with stories and

poetry printed in the previous issue. All of them proud, all of them

curious about new comers like me who had just arrived on campus with pen

in hand, all of them grinning and curious about my new face among them,

asking my name, telling me theirs, most of which I forgot right away.

Though later I would recall Sue's name and face most vividly as well as

the view from the window that looked down on the Student Center Plaza,

and the odd concrete shapes that served many students as seats -- one of

Sue's favorite hangouts during our time at WPC, where she could

commiserate with the general public and keep her serfs in line. But most

of what I saw out those windows still seemed remarkably romantic, a blur

of human activity I presumed had purpose.

 

Michael and Sue, I later learned, marked two extremes in their

interpretation of "hip," and thus, adopted differing costumes to fit

this definition. Michael lived his life out as Punk, adopting everything

of that fading era's regalia short of the purple or orange hair, and the

various pierced elements that had not yet come fully into fashion during

his time at school. But he wore the appropriatefit this definition.

Michael lived his life out as Punk, adopting everything of that fading

era's regalia short of the purple or orange hair, and the various

pierced elements that had not yet come fully into fashion during his

time at school. But he wore the appropriate jeans and the appropriate

jacket, and cut his hair in such as way as to seem spiked, though which

could be combed into a more conventiona

 

Sue on the other hand had adopted the 1948 version of East Village cool,

adopting not punk attire, but beatnik, wearing black leotards, jeans and

sandals, clothing she never seemed to shed, even to the day of her

disappearance. Although later in life she would jealously envy the East

Village crowd, complaining about how stuck up they were, and she didn't

fit in, she molded her appearance to fit her perception of their life

style, reminding me of other girls -- dressed like that -- who had

haunted me throughout my brief stay in high school, girls who -- when

they discovered me a frequent visitor of Greenwich Village -- sought me

as a key into the hip-cat community. Those girls, however, girls who

seemed take their idea of the Summer of Love from repeats of the Patty

Dukeleotards, jeans and sandals, clothing she never seemed to shed, even

to the day of her disappear

 

Sue looked so fragile, thin legs and arms, that I immediately thought

her anorexic, and so pale I thought her ill. When I first met her she

seemed to wear no makeup at all, just the bare basics without the

ridiculous thick black eyeliner so popular east of the Hudson, or inch

long nails painted black or red. Her use of makeup changed, however,

over time, when she plastered her face to give herself a more

sophisticated look, then wound up with remarkably back cases of acne.

Her face broke out so terribly at times that friends often pushed her to

see a doctor.

 

She hated doctors. She refused to see them unless she was in unbearable

pain, and on those occasions, sought only the services of an emergency

room, a quack from the street, or worse some alternative medicine source

of questionable repute. Indeed, she once sought to cure her acne problem

by seeking an acupuncturist, resulting in a whole new comic effect.

 

On first impression, she seemed to lack everything people seemed to

define as beauty. Her mouth was a little too wide for her face, her

cheeks slightly puffed. She had the same kind of face I saw daily in the

streets of Passaic, like one more Polish immigrant off the boat. But she

had no accent, and seemed to fit the image of "the girl next door," and

hated herself for this.

 

In the office of the literary magazine, however, she gave off an

extremely provocative air, seating herself on one of the desks with her

legs drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around her knees -- leaning

forward just enough so that every male in the room could see the swell

of her breasts. Shewith her legs drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped

around her knees -- leaning forward just enough so that every male in

the room could see the swell of her breasts. She seemed conflicted about

the kind of impression she wanted to leave in people's minds, or

perhaps, was just too bad an actor in some respects to disguise her real

self so that while she pretended to be "like a helpless bird" her eyes

made her lo

 

Sue reminded me particularly of a girl I knew in high school who had

pursued me the hardest and eventually followed me to New York, wearing

the same bright blond hair, and the same black attire, having the same

perpetually hungry stare when I slipped out of classes early to hop the

train to Hoboken, and to the Path to Christopher Street. That girl,

Denise, like Sue, had developed an exaggerated vision of the Lower East

Side to which I eventually made my way, mistaking its filthy streets and

stinking derelicts for a some alternative life style Mecca. Like Sue,

Denise thought living there wouldNew York, wearing the same bright blond

hair, and the same black attire, having the same perpetually hungry

stare when I slipped out of classes early to hop the train to Hoboken,

and to the Path to Christophe

 

I didn't understand my own reasoning for going there, only that I found

myself hanging out in the parks, to smoke dope, or to sit in coffee

houses and listen to the music with my friends. I would have done as

much in New Jersey, but found little here in this wasteland to hold my

interest. But I had few illusions about Manhattan, where I was accosted

by drag queens, had fist fights with bikers, and chased down speed

freaks who tried to rob me. Most of the time, I sat on the inner circle

of Washington Square park or under the cube as Astor Place, staring at

nothing, wondering where I was and where I was going. Denise's interests

then, as Sue's later, puzzled me. Neither seemed attracted to the music

or the dope.

 

"If you don't like those, why do you want to go to the Village?" I asked

Denise.

 

"Because it's cool," she said. "That's where everything's going on."

 

I didn't see it, though I knew I could not stop Denise or Sue or others

from seeking out the place, painting themselves in the aura of hip that

was nothing short of religious, as mythical in proportions as Woodstock,

and as unattainable an experience, as Jimi Hendrix.

 

I lived on the Lower East Side off and on from 1967 to 1971, and went

there frequently afterwards to sit in the park and think when I was

depressed. I lived there when Jimi Hendrix died. I was there two weeks

later when reports of Janis Joplin's death hit the newspapers. In fact,

just around that time, I was making my living as a New York City

messenger when I ran into Denise again. I had seen her numerous times on

the street, a blonde-haired blue-eyed beauty that had become a star in

her own right, always crowded around by the edgy boys I avoided.

 

She ran into me on 1st Avenue the same day my child was born. She was in

a big rush, yet was so surprised at seeing me, she leaped into my arms.

She said she had a party to go to and invited me to come along.

 

"Some men want to put me in a film," she said, "and they want to

introduce me to some of their friends. They have big things planned for

me."

 

Her dilated eyes told me a large part of the story, though I learned the

dirty details later from friends on the street, how one of the local

porn kings had introduced her to a combination drug habit of heroin and

LSD. Much later, I saw her walking the lonely west side streets,

underdressed, high heals clattering against the cobblestone stones as

she sought tricks.

 

I didn't realize that Sue had already taken the deep plunge. Ron

Goldberg would later blame himself for starting Sue in the sex industry.

 

"I wonder if I'm somewhat responsible for her involvement in the sex

world," Goldberg told Joel Lewis later. "After college, I had worhad

worked as a production assistant on a porno film called `Girl's Best

Friend' as a way of learning the film business. One day, while I was at

a Manhattan bar with Sue and Glen Kenny, the crew from the film came in.

Sue hung around with these guys and struck up a frien

 

The truth was more awful than Goldberg ever imagined. Sue had been

involved in sex performance long before she reached college, and for

some ugly reason, I recognized that hardness in her eyes, a touch of the

past not just of Denise, but of my ex-wife and Hollywood when we both

wandered onto the wrong side of the camera.

 

Yet while I saw the world in Sue, she was not yet wise enough to read me

or any older men. She didn't even believe me when I told her I was close

to 30 and made me produce my driver's license, and even then she eyed me

as if I had manufactured it Abbie Hoffman-style.

 

She clearly did not know of the real world education I had received, one

very comparable to hers. I did not broadcast my past, nor told anyone

about my years on the run from the police, or the horror of my

experience doing porno in Hollywood -- where blonde-haired beauties like

Sue came and went with the regularity of the tide, each ground down by

the relentless desire of the porno industry for younger, fresher, more

willing to do anything faces the midwest most willingly supplied.

The Magazine

 

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