Busted

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

In some respects, Sue had already over extended herself, draining her

limited resources to a point that almost guaranteed collapse. People say

she drank significantly during this time, something bound to cause her

serious problems. But many could also see her riding the downward slope

of a wave, the cycle coming around again for her to freak out.

 

Disaster was inevitable. She was already out of control.

 

Even though she wandered from one social scene to another, lived with

two men, worked in a relatively large New Jersey Newspaper, Sue was

alienated from most people, and haunted by the belief she was being

stalked.

 

Stalking is one of the central themes of her life, and part of her

personal mythology, something that people would later mistake as signs

of paranoia, alcohol abuse or drug use. This was not even a sign of a

bi-polar disease some claim she suffered.

 

She felt flawed, marked by society, and hunted by society. Even if she

had maintained herself as the perfect daughter, wife and woman, fate

would destroy her, men would seek to use her, and only by her constant

struggle did she maintain even a remote chance of survival.

 

Plenty of people saw that she was in decline, but few thought enough of

her to help, contributing to her alienation. Her mother, still

threatened by the idea that Sue might seduce the latest of her husbands,

had banned her from the house again, and her grandmother, from whom Sue

continually borrowed money, frequently asked her to leave as well.

Perhaps she could have sought out her father, but she had lied so much

about him that she might not have felt comfortable seeking him out. She

certainly hadn't trusted anyone with her version of the truth, only

hints of how she felt, half-joking about her slow decline.

 

So by the time she reached the breaking point again, no one was around

to help her -- even if by that time she knew enough to ask. She had

established a pattern that was self-fulfilling. She said people were

hunting her, so she built those circumstances that made this come true.

With her hanging so far off the edge, she was bound to find herself in a

confrontation with the law.

 

Patrol officer -- let's call him Bill -- had no quota of tickets to

fill. Haledon with its population of 7,000 didn't work that way. Indeed,

more than in most town's, being a cop here meant living up to the old

adage: To serve and protect.

 

Although Haledon began its lackluster history as a Union town,

sheltering communists and other agitators during the early 19th century

Paterson strikes, and later, houses union people, the years and the

change in Paterson's population made the town take on the besieged look

of a town bordering a frontier. It's small police force guarded its

border with Paterson as if expecting an Indian attack. Whereas the

detective bureau, as tiny as two men once -- largely investigated

burglaries, uniformed patrolmen dealt with the constant flood of traffic

from two directions.

 

From up hill, spoiled rich kids raced their fancy hotrods down through

the angled, twisting narrow streets, turning into the cut out down Tilt

Street from Hamburg Turnpike, or down the longer, straighter hill of

Pompton Ave. Sometimes, they even roared out the back end exit from

William Paterson College, flooding Haledon Avenue in their hunt for

booze.

 

From the Paterson end, gang kids roared up the hill in hot-wired cars,

usually vehicles lifted from the various county workers who parked in

the center of town, cars now spinning their burning rubber to escape

city police, clashing with the rich kids as they met in the middle,

along Haledon or Belmont, leaving a trail of rich kids blood when they

departed.

 

Some of the rich Wayne brats had a taste for drugs, but lack the courage

to actually make the whole descent down the hill into the depths where

they were unlikely to return from unscathed. Haledon became the mid-way

point, that safety zone where buyers could meet sellers on neutral

ground, exchange money for drugs, with each group returning to their own

environment. Pot, speed, heroin, cocaine, traveled up hill be every

available means.

 

Early on, most of the traffic up from Paterson came via West Broadway,

out of the neighborhoods surrounding the Christopher Columbus housing

projects and the dilapidated tenements at the top of the Paterson Falls,

traveling up Hamburg Turnpike the way Revolution era travelers had, in

supped up 1970s muscle cars with the idea of outrunning the police. But

when the county and state police cracked down on this route, setting up

speed traps along the nooks and crannies of that Western Ridge of the

Watchung mountains, dealers and kids found more devious ways to meet,

creeping up and down the narrow streets into Haledon, the dealers, of

course, attrChristopher Columbus housing projects and the dilapidated

tenements at the top of the Paterson Falls

 

Alcohol was not the only reason students redubed WPC to mean "We Party

Constantly), but it's formidable location at the top of the hill,

nestled in the all-white neighborhood of Wayne, make it difficult for

dealers to come and go unnoticed. While plenty of white kids dealt drugs

on campus and many black kids who attended WPC did not use drugs, let

alone deal them, almost all the wholesale suppliers were black and came

from Paterson and feared exposing themselves too much.

 

While Wayne cops were tough (some say nasty, particularly considering a

certain hallway in the police station where no cameras saw the numerous

suspects fall and hurt themselves), they could not guard all the routes

into town. Highways bounded one side, with numerous other squiggly roads

leading into its depths. Wayne relied on Haledon to act as a buffer

zone. Haledon didn't like it, but could not avoid its own geography, nor

close its own boarders so completely as to loose the more legitimate

drinking business WPC students brought to local taverns.

 

Local cops lived in a nearly constant state of siege, its small force

dragging drunks off the street, chasing spoiled rich kids back to Wayne,

watching warily for the infiltration of drug dealers with their packets

of poison. The detective squad could not handle the volume alone, so the

town's few uniformed cops because the eyes and ears for the whole

department, reporting any oddity, keeping tabs on strange phenomena.

 

For a small town like Haledon, whose yearly budget didn't allow for an

extensive police force,, law enforcement became a matter of personal

pride. When car thieves or drug dealers used Haledon as an escape route,

Haledon cops took it personally. When punks kids from Wealthy Wayne

trashed a local bar, Haledon cops got peeved. They didn't like people

describing them as hicks, and took particular offense when people from

other places treated them as if they were stupid. When someone escaped

them, they remembered. When someone rubbed a crime in their faces, they

got even.

 

It was through this world Sue passed every day on her way to work at the

Paterson News, then back through there on her way home to Sussex. In

fact, Haledon was the last stage of a complex back route from North

Western New Jersey to Paterson that allowed Sue to avoid the string of

traffic lights and speed traps along Hamburg Turnpike. The route also

allowed Sue to avoid a overtly public display of her extremely illegal

and dangerous car, so much in disrepair than any cop in any town would

have ticketed it as a road hazard. But since most cops in most towns

watched the main route south rather than the side streets, Sue skipped

through Pompton Lakes, Prospect Park and North Haledon undetected.

 

Then, she arrived in Haledon, her overheated car streaming steam for

blocks as it barreled passed the North East Gate for WPC, passed a strip

mall, several dilapidated houses, a hill of undeveloped land, then

through the just turninWPC, passed a strip mall, several dilapidated

houses, a hill of undeveloped land, then through the just turning red

traffic light near the Dunkin Donuts, in whos

 

In fact, Officer Bill did not end his shift here by accident. He waited

specifically for Sue. He had seen her come through here before, and set

his trap here because he had suffered through the embarrassing

experience of Sue's Con Job his first time, falling for the pity routine

most of us on campus call "Sue's crying jag," a "pity me" routine most

of had seen once or twice during our long school career with her, but

one that worked particularly well on men with power. She had a way of

making important men feel sorry for her, even though she had not the

least bit of respect for the police. She turned her act on and off when

she needed it, often forgetting on who she had pulled the trick already.

When Bill pulled her over for the first time, she batted her eyes at

him, staring up at him through her slightly moist eye lashes, and gave

him that "Sue Merchant Grin."

 

"All right, I'll let it go this time," he told her, sounding a little

stupid using that line after all the TV shows and movies had done to

make it a cliché. But Bill wasn't a cruel cop. He didn't want to hurt

anybody, and Sue looked honest enough. "Just make sure you get this car

fixed -- and for God's sake, slow down. You run one more red light and

someone's likely to get killed."

 

Sue nodded, wiggled her fingers good bye, and in a puff of smoke and

steam, was gone, leaving behind her an odd sense of what sociologists

call "distance." The cop hadn't smelled alcohol on her breath, and yet

had seen a glaze in her eyes that wasn't exactly normal.

 

The next day, traveling along the same route, trailed by the same cloud

of smoke, Sue ran the same red light, and when Bill pulled her over

again, she went into the same routine as the day before, apparently

oblivious to her earlier performance. She didn't seem to remember Bill

or his warning. She batted her eyes, stared up at him through her

slightly moist eye lashes, and then looked shocked when asked for her

driver's license and car registration. She did not look at all penitent

or embarrassed by getting caught. She just stared up at him and --

endured.

 

Bill gave her the ticket and told her she had better get her car fixed

and better refrain from running red lights in his town or else. She took

the ticket, stuffed it into the glove compartment, and, without a wiggle

of her fingers, sped away. The cop figured that was the last he'd see

her, presuming she would continue her nefarious activities along the

Pike instead. There she would get tickets, but not the personal

attention Haledon would give. This was Friday, on Monday, she was back,

the same smoke, the same rush through the red light, and the same

ticket.

 

"Don't you learn?" Bill asked, drawing a non-committal shrug from Sue

who muttered, "I guess not."

 

This time, she seemed annoyed -- but still not ashamed or repentant, and

not particularly scared -- just annoyed at the inconvenience, slamming

the glove compartment a little too hard after depositing the ticket

inside. Her car burned a little too much rubber as it roared away.

 

The next day, when he stopped her, she turned on him and glared and

said: "Look, Mister, why don't you stop this stuff? Every day you stop

me and every day you make me late for work. I'm going to get fired on

account of you."

 

"If you fixed your car and quit running stop lights, I wouldn't have a

reason to pull you over," the cop said.

 

"If I could afford to fix the car, I would," she said, "and if I slow

down like you said, I'd be just as late."

 

Her twisted logic left Bill with nothing to say. He just handed her the

ticket and watched her drive off. He made no future effort to reason

with her. He simply pulled her over, handed her the ticket and let her

go again, a routine so regular that his desk sergeant began to suspect

he made up the whole exchange. Half of Bill's monthly tickets were

dedicated to Sue -- who made no more effort to pay them than she did to

amend her behavior. One by one these tickets eased through the court,

first resulting in warning letters and increased fines, and then, closed

in on becoming warrants for her arrest. Bill had that first warrant in

his hand when he pulled her over for the last time.

 

"I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me to the station," he

told her.

 

This jerked Sue out of her indifferent haze, drawing a startled stare.

"What did you say?"

 

"I have a warrant for your arrest," Bill said. "You didn't pay your

ticket and you'll have to come to the station to settle it."

 

"But I can't," she complained. "I'm already later thanks to you. I can't

waste time with you at your silly police station."

 

"I'm afraid you don't have a choice."

 

Only later, after she freaked out on him, and he was forced to bring her

into the station house in handcuffs, after she was charged with

resisting arrest, hindering an officer in the performance of his duty

and assault on police officer, did he find out about her condition, her

alleged alcoholism, clinical depression and use of cocaine, and still

later, he learned the court had sent her off to a rehab rather than

jail.

 

Sue ran no more red lights, left no more trail of smoke, but Bill didn't

remember those things as clearly as the savage look on her enraged face

when she leaped out of her car at him.

 

Her case, when it came up, was processed through the criminal law

division in Passaic County -- although because the physical records are

only kept for two years, no one is sure whether the case was heard in

Haledon Municipal Court or Passaic County Superior Court in downtown

Paterson. Even the name of the police officer she was accused of

attacking is in question. The assault charges were judicated, and

downgraded, and instead of Sue going to jail, the court ordered her to

get treatment. She was sent to a rehab in Pennsylvania, at which she met

her future husband, Mark Walsh -- brother of rock star, Joe Walsh.

 

Married

 


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