Scab Labor

 

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Sue didn't stop dancing. She didn't stop living with her two Todds. But

she did take up a job writing, though her employment angered some of

those who went to school with her. Like Joel, a decade later, Sue would

become a scab for a local newspaper in her effort to get some real world

clippings.

 

As detailed in her diaries at the time, Sue saw herself as somehow

fundamentally flawed, and perhaps didn't have confidence enough to take

a leap into some larger publication. Although a good writer, Sue had

produced little on the school newspaper, and almost no feature stories

at all, the kind of clippings so sought after by publications like the

New York Times or the Village Voice.

 

She always aimed to obtain petty achievements, and at school, when she

did write, she did straight news articles with the goal of becoming

editor and chief, instead of looking beyond the walls of college towards

a career, nor was she particularly satisfied with any story, poem or

piece of fiction. She seemed to want something beyond each, some sense

of importance such things granted their authors, and her writing

suffered because of this. She spent too much time groaning about how

ineffective she was, and not enough time learning her craft.

 

Most of us who came out of WPC had literary ambitions, and few knew how

to achieve them any more than Sue did. Most of us wound up in one of

three places. Those willing to enduring the drudgery of a class room

took up jobs at Passaic County Community College, a parody of WPC that

had taken up residence in the heart of Downtown Paterson. These poor

fools generally finagled apartments in the artist housing with promises

of epic poems or great novels, and floundered there, growing fat, drunk

and frustrated.

 

Others went north to take up jobs on some of the local up county

weeklies such as Wayne Today or the Suburban Trends, jump off places

where they could acquire real world clippings to take to some other,

slightly more prestigious publication. Most, however, by hook or crook

or just generally misfortune, found our way down into the Paterson

Evening News, a publication that had survived in that city for nearly

100 years before Sue's arrival there, which had beaten back the early

1960s threat of the Paterson Morning Call, combined with it, and -- as

the only surviving Paterson paper -- prospered for a time.

 

This was not a quality publication. The writers who came and stayed were

flakes, people whose journalistic skills flowered with purple prose,

mini-dramas making the front page instead of hard news. All of us

presumed ourselves this as the first step to literary greatness, and by

the time, Sue was ready to come to the paper, most of these artistic

types had come close to ruining the paper.

 

At its end, the Paterson News served more the role of a community weekly

newspaper than it did as a daily, where a writer with any style short of

libel could make a mark, few taking notice of minor idiosyncrasies among

the cast of outrageous characters already employed there. Most of these

had just enough talent to keep the paper going, though all talked

routinely of "moving on."

 

Writers scratched out literary epics inside reporters notebooks,

mumbling and grumbling over the lack of space they got for their

masterpieces or over the number of column inches the editor had to cut

to make these fit. Crumpled rejections overflowed the editors trash.

When the Herald made its takeover bid on the paper, these people found

themselves on the street, many of them wandered over to the PCCC, taking

up tutoring jobs, or other jobs from adjunct to janitor, others found

minor jobs in the commercial world, some excised their literally talents

in local poetry clubs.

 

Had Sue come at a more appropriate time, perhaps she would have changed

all this, finally finding a venue for herself where she could rant and

rave and uncover Paterson's version of the Watergate scandal. Even at

that point, the dark cloud had begun to hang over her head. She was

moody and vague, complaining about subtle things most of us didn't

understand. She constantly complained about how she needed to get away,

how her world was so mundane. She just didn't want to be another face in

the crowd, even if the crowd was a loveable lot like ours.

 

Perhaps that's why she had avoided a job at the community college. She

had already exploited the benefits of WPC to their fullest, PCCC had

even less to offer, an academic trap where talent like hers would have

wasted away providing remedial classes to students who had barely

crawled out of high school.

 

As for the Suburban Trends, Sue had already left her mark on that

newspaper, publishing poems there when she was still in high school, and

with many former students already on that staff, she probably sensed

open hostility there.

 

Few wanted a repeat of the disasters that had gone on during her years

on the college newspaper, and many had likely warned management about

her proclivity for trouble. Such warnings might have preceded her to the

Paterson News as well, except for one small lucky break, a writers

strike.

 

Before its destruction, the Paterson News hobbled along, barely able to

pay its bills, let alone turn a profit. Management routinely raised

budget-cutting schemes, plans that irritated writers to the point of

going on strike. For the most part, the writers hardly noticed the

difference between work and unemployment, and for the most part the

paper went on without them, taking Ronald Reagan s lead when dealing

with the Air Traffic Controllers. Since people considered writing an

exotic profession, the paper could easily replace those who refused to

work, going back to the source from which these writers had come:

William Paterson College.

 

Indeed, hundreds flocked in answer to the newspaper s ad, a batch as

creative, though no more talented than the batch of strikers, each

bringing with them epics of their own, and among this horde of hungry

Hemingways came Sue.

 

She bore with her all the signs of future disaster. Her dancing in New

York gave her a twisted view of the world, everything conforming to an

oddly sexual template, around which she had to struggle. The smell of

the newsprint and the rumble of the presses in the basement may have

recalled for her all the horrors she had fled at graduation, the faces

of her victims haunting her -- not so much with guilt, but with the

treat of the treadmill, she walking over the same space, meeting the

same people, doing the same petty things for the rest of her life.

 

Her horror was a lack of significance, as if just some poor little child

of three left alone in a crowded mall, everyone missing her for the

scenery. Such a horror of being stuck here in Paterson made her tremble

inside.

 

Yet tremble or not, with management so hungry for her talents or not,

Sue hardly felt adequate for the job. She didn't have the old faces to

prop her up, giving her the familiar landscape upon which she could

strut. Everyone was a stranger. And her schedule of travel drove her

crazy, from Sussex to Paterson to her gig on 42nd Street then back to

Sussex. She could barely get up in the morning to start it all over

again, and had rush to work in a dilapidated car.

 

Sometimes, she would lie in bed with both Todd's breathing in their

sleep beside her and wonder why she bothered, and what she could do to

get out of it all, to leap frog over all this petty shit and find a real

career -- not just on Screw Magazine (for which she still sometimes

wrote), but for a publication like the New York Times or the Village

Voice.

 

"Everybody has to start somewhere," Professor Herb Jackson would have

told her had she thought enough to seek out the college newspaper's

advisor. Herb was immune to her, and she dreaded a return to the campus

that seemed like a grave to her now, so empty and cold.

 

Only her rage kept her going day after day, some dark force inside her

making her rise in the morning, shower and dress and leap into the car

for the long trip south, keeping her fingers dancing over the typewriter

keys, keeping her head straight when she finally made the trip to

Manhattan for her dance -- where men jerked off behind individual

windows, fumbling to keep their quarters coming so to keep the window

up.

 

Only here did she feel safe, her nakedness acting as a shield, men's

stares so preoccupied with her body parts they could not see her

weakness or take advantage of her, and she knew that all she had to do

to survive was keep on dancing, making each man jerk up the window with

one hand and jerk off with the other.

 

And yet, part of her could not keep up those windows. Part of her wanted

something else like a writing career, even if that career was only in

Paterson and only for the length of a strike.

 

This was self-delusion.

 

Even as negotiations wore on, Sue could sense the end of her employment.

 

 

This editor was no Bill Madaras. She would not sleep her way up the

ladder here, and in the end, she would have to walk away with a pink

slip in her hand, just one more filthy scab no longer needed. And yet,

before that could happen, she got busted.

 

Busted

 

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