Stanley's Curse

 

 

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For me, Sue's antics seemed old and tired, especially after my semester

off. I had just managed to reassemble the piece of my life again. My

uncle had tried to kill himself. My ex-wife had called from

Pennsylvania, begging me to come and help her. The police were

threatening to take away our kid after busting my ex-wife for

prostitution.

 

"They offered me a deal," she told me. "If I cooperate with them, and

tell them what they want to know, they'll let me keep our baby."

 

"Bullshit!" I told her. "They're going to get you killed."

 

Indeed, I was in my ex-wife's house when several hard-nosed

heavy-weights came around from the go-go club to "have a little talk

with the little lady." They hadn't expected to find me there, nor

expected me to step outside and "give them a little word of advice."

 

In New York or Los Angeles, their kind would have tried to beat me up.

But in the middle country, such characters generally beat on weaker men

and women, ruling their lives with fear. They backed off. Eventually,

the police used by ex-wife's testimony to put their boss in jail.

 

My uncle was another matter. Like Sue, he professed to be an alcoholic

-- one my father had helped get started, though like Sue, he used his

so-called disease to manipulate the family into providing him with

undeserved pity, slowly offending each member of the family until the

only person left was me. I inherited him a year after I started college,

and then, like clock work, he attempted suicide every six months, using

the banks of the local river as his easy way out.

 

Like Sue, he would sometimes just disappear and during those years at

school, I spent more time searching the streets of Paterson for some

sign of him, than I did searching a literary story for symbols. Before

he finally died a year after Sue's vanishing from Nutley, in 1997, I was

his sole connection to the real world, and he could barely manipulate me

with the same degree of success.

 

But he had taught a lot about alcoholism and clued me into the behavior

I could expect from such people, a perhaps Sue suffered this disease the

way people claim, perhaps her two trips to rehab in one year came

because her case was so incredible bad she needed to shots at salvation

to save her, but I didn't think so then or later, when people claimed

she had fallen back. And as time when on, I grew less and less amused by

her antics. If she was a drunk, she was a mean and nasty drunk, full of

twisted games that left people with scars, leaving behind her a trail of

walking wounded, each who loved her, each who hated her, each who -- for

the rest of their lives -- couldn't tell the difference.

 

Perhaps others had seen Sue drunk; I never met anyone who had, or could

absolutely say she wasn't pulling their legs. Oh, she drank at Billy

Pat's pub whenever she went there to preach to her friends and

followers, but she always cradled the second drink, acting wilder and

wilder while taking tiny sips, as if alcohol on her had an exact

opposite effect as with everyone else -- time making her more drunk

instead of less.

 

Sue talked a great game, but I had seen such talkers in the 1960s, the

fakers who wanted into the psychedelic club of my era but without

actually having to take any drugs to do it. I once rolled a unfiltered

Kool cigarette to look like a joint and made one such fellow smoke it,

telling him it was Acapulco Gold. The fool acted high for over an hour,

even set to blaze the grass along the side of the Garden State Parkway,

before our laughing clued him into our game and he stalked off, cursing

us for our cruelty.

 

Sue seemed to me to have manufactured a legend of drug use she could not

possibly have achieved, bragging over amounts that would have killed

strong men. Those Joel later talked to seemed to believe her tales. But

several inconsistencies should have clued the wiser of our classmates

into Sue's distortions. During this time, Sue told Nicole she was doing

"Black Beauties," a legendary speed which had come into popularity in

the late 1960s. If she was, then Sue must have looked long and hard to

find the drug, since like "Reds," -- an equally legendary drug of that

time though opposite in effect -- manufactures had stopped producing

Black Beauties by 1975. If Sue had found some and taken them, they did

not have the exaggerated potency she gave them. More than likely, she

took nothing, getting the name from some tract sthat would have killed

strong men. Those Joel later talked to seemed to bel

 

How much of this she handed to Wertheim still puzzles me, since he would

not have tolerated drug use and reports of it would have disturbed

greatly the conservative man I knew from earlier. So straight and arrow

was he that any report would have sent him to the authorities, even for

someone he cared about as much as Sue. The old Stanley, the one I knew,

had offended the liberal element of the English Department with his

unreasonable rigidness, once filing a lawsuit against another professor,

who had dared to call Stanley "a baby" in print.

 

On the other hand, the old Stanley would not have found Sue attractive

-- not in any intellectual capacity. More than once, Wertheim had

lectured his classes on "a woman's place," making it clear to each woman

who dared take one of his classes that he felt his efforts at educating

them to be a waste of time. They would not become intellectuals, he

felt, but find a man to marry and go off to have babies, extinguishing

any spark he might have lighted in them with one of his lectures.

 

Yet this Stanley fawned over Sue in a way I would never have expected.

What had she done to him? What had he done to himself? Was this mid-life

crisis striking him down, the way it had so many other good men, making

them vulnerable to such conceits?

 

Wertheim's enemies, among the staff and the students, looked on with

glee, waiting for the administration to discover his indiscretion, or

his wife, rubbing their hands over the potential destruction of his

career.

 

I felt no such inclination. While I disagreed with the man's politics

and his policy on women, I thought a good man, a solid man, a man of

principle as well as pride, making Sue's conquest of him, an even

greater shame.

 

Wertheim's enemies claim Sue seduced him in order to obtain a good final

grade in one of her classes. Sue rarely worked so cheaply, if such a

seduction ever took place, something Wertheim himself has failed to

confirm. This is the reason this part of the story failed to even make

the final cut in Joel's New Jersey Monthly article. Sue, on the other

hand, hid none of it, though feigned embarrassment when fellow students

questioned her about it. She mumbled her usual diatribe about

"irresistible desires," claiming she never meant for it to happen.

 

Even then, she led Wertheim around by the nose, making people laugh

about his sudden bumbling, the proverbial absent minded professor -- who

I eventually pitied. While many minded professor -- who I eventually

pitied. While many professors on campus were foolish enough to sleep

with coeds -- I knew four for certain, and perhaps others -- none but

Wertheim were ever so careless enough to fall in love with one, and

though Sue hit on several other professors (most of the English

Department as well as some in Communications), few if any went so

 

When I finally caught up with Sue in the student center to confront her

about the issue, she winked at me and told me she was happy.

 

"Stanley's going to leave his wife and take me to Italy," she said.

 

Perhaps he had made such a promise. In go-go bars, I'd seen men promise

the moon for a little nooky, changing their minds the minute their lust

faded. But I also knew Sue would not play this game forever. If she had

grown bored with campus and emasculating male students, Wertheim would

not long entertain her. Long before a ship could sale for Europe, he

would be stumbling along the paths of campus, following the trail of

tears left by her other ex-lovers.

 

Later, I stopped him near the library, he wouldn't look me straight in

the eye, so utterly defeated I wanted to shake him. I joked with him

instead, and then asked him about his collection.

 

He blinked at me.

 

"You're Hemingway collection," I said. "You promised to let me see it

one day."

 

"Oh that," he muttered. "I gave them away month ago."

 

He didn't have to tell me to whom; I saw the painful answer in his eyes.

 

 

"I'm so sorry," I said, and then moved on.

 

I later found out from another source that my suspicions were true.

Stanley had actually given Sue his signed first edition copies of

Fitzgerald and Hemingway, as well as another author who I didn't

recognize.

 

"The kick is, Sue told me, she doesn't even like Hemingway or

Fitzgerald, but they were gifts and she wasn't about to refuse them,"

this former reporter from the school newspaper said. "She takes

everything anyone offers, and says she doesn't want to make a big deal

about it."

 

When Joel interview Wertheim, the man seemed genuinely pleased top see

him.

 

"He remembered me," Joel said. "I was surprised by that. I think he

missed us, even though we tended to be left wing. His students aren't

nearly as interesting or as serious as we were."

 

Wertheim had not heard of Sue's disappearing, yet did not seem to think

this as inconceivable. But he denied giving Sue volumes of Fitzgerald or

Hemingway, yet admitted giving her other books by a writer she admired.

 

"Give her my Fitzgerald? Why those volumes are worth $20,000," he told

Joel.

 

Joel said later, he would have to revisit Stanley and confront him with

information gleaned from all the other interviews, every former student

saying Stanley had had an affair with Sue.

 

"I'm just going to have to confront him with what I found out," Joel

said. "Everybody I talked to said the same thing. I want to hear what he

has to say about that."

 

To my knowledge, Joel never did.

 

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Bucky

 

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