My Time on the Edge

 

 

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I fell over the edge as a teenager, though I didn't know that's what

people called it or where I had wound up -- although for the most part,

I was more prankster than trouble-maker. I stripped cars, blew up phone

booths, engaged in gang wars, beat up kids, got beat up by other kids,

and generally confronted authority figures from rail road dicks in the

Paterson stock yards to hall monitors at school.

 

Many of my friends from that period fell deeper than I did. Dennis

became a notorious Paterson hoodlum, who mugged people, robbed liquor

stores, and once, when being pursued by the police, leaped off the Great

Falls, and survived. His sister did little better, moving out west where

her mother pimped her to strip miners out of a house trailer.

 

Davey became one of Clifton's biggest pushers. As a kid, I protected

him, even him dragging him away from gang fights when the cops came to

break them up. He suffered from a growth deficiency that was supposed to

kill him before he turned twenty. His father, a doctor, felt so sorry

for him, Davey got whatever he wanted, including nearly pure heroin.

Davey mainlined. Several of his friends, used to the milder street

variety, OD'd in his house.

 

But Davey did not die. And the last time I saw him was in 1979, when I

found him pimping young girls outside the unemployment office in

Passaic. He mocked me for going soft, telling me I used to be somebody

cool, but now I was looking to take on airs because I wanted an

education.

 

But I had come close enough to being "cool." In 1969, I robbed $10,000

from a safe and fled west to L.A. During a two and a half year flight

from police, I dealt drugs (LSD), brawled in the street (beating and

being beaten by a wimp biker named Billy Nightrider) and descended into

the Hollywood porno scene (thanks to my ex-wife who believe this would

make her a star).

 

During that time and for a few years after I had turned myself in, I

learned some hard lessons about the edge and the underworld, and how

little either had to offer. In L.A. I saw men and women with arms so

bloody from their daily fix that they would spend an hour searching

puss-covered wounds for a vein to poke. Women I knew prostituted

themselves for an up, or a down, or even for a cup of coffee.

 

For a short time in North Las Vegas, I lived with a man who had tried to

shoot himself in the head. The bullet blew out the right side of his

head, but had only resulted in partial paralysis. He could walk and

talk, after a fashion. He even taught me the art of lighting a match

with one hand (before the companies switched the strikers to the wrong

side). He also threw me out onto the street when members of Charlie

Manson's family (to whom he was associated) came around, looking to

raise money for their master's murder trial defense.

 

In New York -- I while waiting for my baby to be born -- I freaked out

on acid twice. In one instance, a local black prostitute held up her own

pimp in order to get me the drugs to bring me down. Later, I nearly got

busted in Portland, Oregon, escaping via a dramatic car chase through

the streets, the driver a man more wanted by the police than myself.

 

Oddly enough, when I finally turned myself, I only spent a few days in

Passaic County Jail --though it was the worst part of the journey and

something that made me realize I did not like that side of the edge as

much as I'd thought. I eventually received four years probation.

 

Yet even then, I lingered near the edge.

 

At one point a Montclair woman, who claimed to have slept with the mayor

for money, asked me to be her pimp.

 

"You have an honest face," she said. "I know I can trust you."

 

Needless to say, I refused to job offer, though it wasn't until a month

or so later, that I gave up on the edge entirely.

 

I was staying in a rooming house in Montclair and let a friend sleep off

his high in the corner of my room. When I woke up, I found him cold, and

his skin gray, and quite dead.

 

The police accused me of dealing him the drugs on which he had

overdosed, and if not for my landlord, I would have found myself in

jail. At one point he and they stood nose to nose, screaming

obscenities. The police gave up on me when after a search they could

find no drugs in my room.

 

But the event cured me, though like many people who had come back from

the edge of doom, I became a kind of reformer -- not your prayer meeting

variety, but someone who went out of his way to rescue lost souls. I did

not understand how much a waste of time this was or how dangerous.

 

This kept me in contact with the wrong people, people like Tommy, who

married one of my best friends from grammar school, but who had a

history as a junkie as thick as the phone book. He not only continued to

shoot up after his marriage, but more than once he wandered into

shooting dens where ruthless characters stripped him of everything. One

day -- about the time Sue was seducing Stanley at school -- I came over

to Tommy's house in Paterson and discovered him in the corner of the

living room, his arms wrapped around his knees.

 

"I've been bad," he whispered when I came over to him, and rocked him,

and tried to make him feel better.

 

He had gone to the shooting gallery. Someone had slipped him a knock out

shot instead, then took his wallet, his car keys, even his wedding band.

He had to walk home. Only later, after his divorce, did I find out he

had done this many other times.

 

My only success came with a man named John, who fell into a cocaine

crowd, and was smoking crack on the streets of Manhattan because he

couldn't afford to buy the powder any more. I didn't know this until I

found his crack pipe and confronted him. I threw the pipe in his toilet,

and then packed up his bags and helped him move back to his

grandmother's house.

 

My worst moment came in 1987 when I met a stipper named Peggy in a

Passaic bar. She had built up a reputation for bringing men home, then

dumping them out on the street after she had stripped them of their

money and their cocaine. At the point I found her, she skin popping

cocaine with a dirty needle because her nose couldn't handle the massive

amount of snorting she'd done. I thought she was worth saving -- and she

was -- I just couldn't save her, but teetered on the edge with her for

months before I gave up, afraid that I would fall with her.

 

A little later when I started writing about the experience in my novel

"Dancer on the Sand," Glenn Kenny sent me a message through one of our

mutual friends to watch out. Later, after Sue vanished, Glenn mocked her

love of the edge.

 

"Living on the edge. What piffle. Last week I was trying to talk some

sense to a pre-op friend of mine who was about to fuck her 135th St.

dealer to get more heroin. In the meantime, she could get 50 bucks or so

for a couple of bags by shitting on a plate and letting this seedy (to

say the least) guy who hher 135th St. dealer to get more heroin. In the

meantime, she cou

 

I didn't realize that I would have to talk that dark walk again, or that

I would have to try and save Sue the way I had tried to save Peggy

before her, and my ex-wife before that, or that no one else cared enough

to seek out the truth about Sue, or loved her deeply enough to yank her

back from the edge.

 

People like her father, mother, girl friends and ex-boyfriends all

claimed to love her, and yet none seemed willing to understand the real

person behind all the masks, lies and disguises. Some people I talked to

accused me of hurting Sue. Others urged me on out of revenge. While

others like Joel, joined Ridgeway in a feeding frenzy, sucking the

marrow out of her bones. In the end, I seem to be the only one who loved

Sue enough to seek to sever those strands that connected her to that

dark world, which she only really entered for the first time after her

graduation from college, and surfaced from only for the short three-year

stretch in the middle to late 1980s. But the Sue who seemed to powerful

in high school and so manipulative in college, proved hardly the monster

people painted her, and proved ill prepared to meet the world she so

thought she wanted, finding herself just one small guppy in an ocean of

sharks.

 

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A Vulnerable Sue

 

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