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
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
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
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
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
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 --
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
"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
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
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.