Part Three: The Edge

 

 

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Tour Guide

 

 

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Ron Goldberg, who Joel Lewis described as a freelance writer, and whose

publishing credits include an interview with authors Ellen Fein and

Sherrie Schneider on how to manipulate men, remembered Sue deliberately

trying to shock people. When she wasn't talking about the "unendurable

stress" she was enduring, or about the extent of suffering she suffered,

she was pulling some sexual stunt, guaranteed to keep people talking

about her.

 

Ron was a tall, Jewish looking man with dark brown, chestnut colored

hair, a nice smile, (at the time of Sue's vanishing, he even sported a

goatee) and the looks that made women drool over him behind his back.

Women at school said he had a nice smile, nice voice, nice sense of

humor and a nice ass.

 

He became -- like Glen Kenny -- a professional bachelor, and in fact,

often went out on the town with Glen. Rumor claimed that he and Glen

often shared the same women in a kind of kinky triple.

 

During one point, Ron came down with cancer and believed he was going to

die, and thus began confessing all his sins to everyone he knew. In one

such confession, Ron allegedly told Mike Reardon that he'd slept with

Reardon's wife, Bernadette. This confession destroyed the tenuous

relationship between the two men and may also have destroyed Reardon's

marriage, and perhaps sent Reardon on a life long alcoholic binge. I saw

him in August, 1997, sprawled out drunk in the Hoboken train terminal.

And then, to make things worse, Ron didn't die after all.

 

Over the years since college, Ron was a man of many professions, trying

this and that, from working with fashions in the rag trade to making and

promoting a film of his own with Glen -- something that was eventually

stolen from him, even though he had used his numerous resources from his

days in the New York University film program.

 

"Ron is always doing something different," said one former school mate.

"He had all kinds of interest."

 

But he was never the kind of man Sue could manipulate easily, which

allowed him to hang around her and not get seduced.

 

"Women just aren't able to get an emotional hook into Ron Goldberg,"

said another friend. "He never gets involved. He loves sex; he loves

women, but he likes being free."

 

In many ways, Ron and Glen lived their lives remarkably alike. Both have

significant, if unadvertised personal accomplishments, both somehow

survived Sue's attentions.

 

"But Glen had a thing for Sue," Dorothy Ryan said. "He admired Sue for

her constantly trying to manipulate him.

 

Ron, unlike Glen, later told Joel that he believed Sue did not get

kidnapped or kill herself, and would return on her own someday, as if

nothing had happened. But Ron also blamed himself for some of Sue's

woes.

 

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

world," Goldberg told Joel. "After college, I had worked as a production

assistant on a porno film called `Girl's Best Friend' as 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 friendship. The next thing, I heard, she was doing

a sex show performance called `Sweet Sue and the Lewd Brothers.'"

 

For most of us, life grew less hectic on campus after Sue left, almost

sleepy. The literary magazine still maintained its level of mediocre

poetry, but the newspaper went straight to hell, the administration

making moves to make sure it lost vitality. Only Herb Jackson, the

paper's advisor allowed the paper to maintain even a little respect --

though even he longed for the days when Sue and Glen were prominent

figures on the staff. Whemediocre poetry, but the newspaper went

straight to hell, the administration making moves to make sure it lost

vitality. Only Herb Jackson, the paper's advisor allowed the paper to

maintain even a little respect -- though even he longed for the days

when Sue and Glen were prominent figures on the staff. When I talked to

Herb,

 

"You work at it," he said. "And that's more than half the battle."

 

Of Sue, Jackson said little. But he grinned at me when I told him I knew

her.

 

This was in 1990. I had returned to college to take a few journalism

classes with Jackson. He had seen neither Glenn nor Sue in years, but

shook his head over my mention of Sue.

 

"That girl was a pip," he said.

 

The fights in the Beacon office ended with her graduation. No one

freaked out in the halls, and though girls still had sex with

professors, none managed to humiliate any as thoroughly as Sue had done.

 

While maintaining her relationship with her two Todds, Sue began to

expand her contacts on the other side of the Hudson. She did not need

Ron Goldberg for this. She had weaved her way through that world for a

longer time than he had, avoiding the pitfalls he and Glenn had suffered

in their failed attempt to sell a motion picture. She was on the hunt

for an opportunity -- though it is unlikely she knew what that

opportunity was.

 

Before graduating, she had reached out to Abbie Hoffman when he made his

appearance on campus. He was everything to her, one of the models of her

existence. But he had gone to jail, and from jail, moved to

Pennsylvania, well out of the orbit in which she intended to fly. She

was seeking something she called "the edge," that ether-like region that

separated the organized, rational, rule-driven world of everyday

existence from the apparent chaos and violence of the street.

 

Ordinary rules of social order didn't apply in this region. A person

here could unshackle herself from school books, and bank books, and

telephone book listings. Hippies used to dig its possibilities; hippies

used to space out to investigate its boundaries, punks and later Goths

bathed themselves in its slimy glory, manufacturing new worlds out of

its dark shadows.

 

For me, "the edge" was a psychological frontier that emerged when the

covered wagons finally came to California and when trains replaced by

planes made LA seem a subway stop away, a refuge of the immature, where

kids came like tourists to glimpse the underbelly of society from

relative safety -- kids getting their kicks from sampling illicit fruits

without making a commitment, coming close to being snatched down into

the abyss, but yanking themselves back before the claws of the beast

could catch them.

 

Some of course did not escape.

 

These kids did not fully understand the nature of the edge, how it was

no so much a safety zone, as a feeding tank, and they less spectators,

than fair game, the beast of the underworld grabbing at them, snatching

them out to feed upon. Those who could not see passed the glitz to

glimpse the shadowy shapes lurking in the muck got devoured; victims of

the pimps and prostitutes and perverts waiting to steal their souls.

 

Of course, only a few realized their danger, or how they gradually

slipped over the edge. While many came, took their enjoyment as young

people, enjoyment as young people, and left, some lingered too long, and

found themselves already committed to a new set of rules and a new

string of obligations, hooked on heroin, or in debt to loan sharks, or

sud

 

The naive and the inexperienced did not understand the traps that waited

to snare them, nor grasped the reality of the edge, how much it

resembled a mine field rather than a playground, each turn full of

deadly potential, each temptation often a step deeper into the

inescapable quagmire.

 

Sue knew. She had danced on the edge for so long, she had developed a

morbid fascination with its challenges, playing the game against its

consequences the way kids in the arcades played video drone, a real life

role-playing game from which she got her thrills by avoiding the dangers

-- the closer she came to each, the more stimulating the ride, her

addiction an addiction to danger itself. She had created her role many

years earlier, the "bony bird" trailing unfriendly streets, driven by an

uncontrollable insidious energy.

 

In my days on the edge, such characters were called players or tour

guides, people who seemed to know all the rules of both worlds and

skimmed along on the edge like a water spider, nothing seemingly capable

of ensnaring them, the responsibility of job or family on the above

world, not the addiction or delusion in the underworld. But Sue differed

from other players in some fundamental ways.

 

Largely because Sue had been victimized as a child, she perceived how

thin a protection traditional social institutions were. The family --

her father and mother -- were supposed to have kept her from harm, and

failed, and deep down, she began to see herself at early age in a

society where nothing could be trusted to do what it was supposed to do.

People would later call her paranoid; this was not the case.

 

Sue understood that the social contract between a person and those

structures set up for protection often did not work, and that in America

and the world, people were at war, and survival depended upon stealth,

disguise and sewing confusion among her enemies.

 

"There were people, sticks with machine gun eyes, all around," she wrote

in her story Dry Ice. "They walked the streets. The tiny creature knew

that if she kept going, kept her feet steadily hitting the ground, she

could avoid the marble fire of their eyes."

 

When she was raped at three by one of her mother's boyfriends, Sue could

not fend for herself, forced to comply with the power of the man who

abused her. But as she grew older, she began to see how she could

manipulate herself out of such situations, and perhaps avoid becoming

the continual victim. She could not trust the courts, or the cops, or

her family to keep her safe. While authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie

Schneider taught girls the rules for becoming the new master race, Sue

saw life as total chaos, and in this matter, saw no difference between

the over and underworld, saw rules as an illusion by which people

allowed themselves to be cowed and crucified. For Sue, all bonds that

kept the overworld together, the rules and the taboos, no longer ser

power of the man who abused her. But as she grew older, she began to see

how she could manipulate herself out of such situations, and perhaps

avoid becoming the continual victi

 

She used sex to survive, but didn't appear to enjoy it. She knew that if

she could seduce men, she could keep them from destroying her. In many

ways, she seemed to believe that she needed to destroy others first,

when they ceased to provide what she needed, or abandon them when they

began to take on the aspects of a threat.

 

In many ways, the overworld seemed more dangerous to Sue than the

underworld. Traps were better disguised by the illusion of safety, of

moral superiority, where as in the whore house and the dance clubs, at

least one layer of pretense was stripped away, making everything a

degree more simple, or at least, more predictable, and control easier

because she didn't have to deal with some many variables, like the

marriage games or the career game, or the countless other variations an

attack could take hidden among the tumble of social etiquette like land

mines. She felt most comfortable in the twilight between worlds, where

she could coast along, never seriously committing herself to the dangers

of order or chaos.

 

Yet even players sometimes slipped, smoking one too many joints, taking

one too many hits of acid, snorting one too many lines of cocaine. These

became the fodder for the grist mill below, the fresh bodies for the

whore houses, the new capital for the crack dens, the suckers for the

numbers rackets and con games, the recruits to the huge underworld

machine, feeding the under class with its victims.

 

Sue was one of the few people who understood that both sides of "the

edge" had rules, mirrored dictates that set up a mock society in much

the way the shimmering surface of a cesspool reflected what was above

and around it. Where as the above world had mayors, tax collectors and

cops, the underworld had godfathers, loan sharks and thugs. An MD here

was a pusher there, a priest was a pimp, the Madonna, a whore.

 

Sue knew that those who fell over the edge were no more free than the

poor schmuck shoveling burgers at the local greasy spoon, and that in

fact, in an underworld making no pretense at providing social justice,

no rules existed for limiting the labors of its participants. Few whores

could seek the protection of local labor board to complain of their

unreasonable long hours. In fact, many prostitutes working 42nd Street

when Sue got their in 1985, fucked for 16 hours a day, with no health

insurance or minimum wage.

 

After four years of college and nearly a decade as a player in the

twilight, Sue came to believe that her survival depended upon keeping

herself to that narrow zone between the two worlds, a perpetual

balancing act that most players only performed for a short time, either

moving on to more elevated position in the upper society, or lower down

into the quagmire of unprotected savagery of the underworld. Only here,

dancing on the very edge between these two existences, could Sue avoid

the danger of rules, or where at most the rules of either world were

weakest. While others, young girls played for a time then went home, Sue

struggled to maintain, seeing no other future, no other sense of hope,

no other way to survive.

 

She became out of necessity what the sociologist called a "tour guide,"

someone who knew the rules and the people of the street, never really

putting herself in dangerous situations, but always aware of just how

easily should could get involved if not careful, always taking advantage

of the easier rulesstreet, never really putting herself in dangerous

situations, but always aware of just how easily should could get

involved if not careful, always

 

Over the years, I've known hundreds. They were teases and cheats, and

made as many enemies as they did friends, hated by those trapped below,

hunted by the law above.

 

While some claim only the young had energy enough to keep their focus

for this dance, I've known a few old timers who have gone on for most of

their lives, dealing and being hunted, surviving by stealth and wit,

reading the shifting elements of time and circumstance the way psychics

read tea leaves. They were aware of the traps set for them by both

sides, the endless hunger of the meat machine below, and the insistent

rage for justice above. Most tour guides burn out, the pressure of the

edge wearing on them, giving them a choice about which side of the line

they want to spend their lives. Most fall into the pit. A few cling to

minimum wage jobs and spend their old age in obscurity, recounting that

time in their lives when they were players.

 

Sue's ambitions, of course, betrayed her later, when she sought to find

her place in the above world. She would unwittingly upset this delicate

balance by betraying herself, allowing herself to be used by James

Ridgeway for the writing of Red Light. Early on, she survived the

underworld by keeping its secrets. Later, sheupset this delicate balance

by betraying herself, allowing herself to be used by James Ridgeway for

the writing of Red Light. Early on, she survived the underworld by

keeping its secrets. Later, she would gamble her survival on getting

full credit as an author, trusting Ridgeway and

 

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My Time on the Edge

 

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