My Time on the Edge
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
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
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
A Vulnerable Sue