A Desperate Move
What exactly did anyone expect Sue to do now? She couldn't crawl back to
mother this time and beg for her bed by the door, or ask to borrow more
on her inheritance from Grandma -- an amount so small for all those
years of borrowing, Sue likely owed her grandmother money.
She felt exhausted again, as if rehab hadn't happened and she hadn't
married, and the only proof she had of either was the baby she was
saddled with, so vulnerable as sad, even she couldn't give it up without
Love had touched Sue after all and left its indelible mark, one far more
serious to her than any rape she'd suffered, or any arrest. She loved
and was loved and it burned inside of her like hell, a fire so hot she
couldn't quench it with alcohol or drugs -- though at this point she
She was desperate, not stupid. She wanted a job.
And not a job on the same dismal treadmill, despite the fact her
credentials might have landed her work on some other magazine or
journal. She was through prostituting herself with technical writing --
at least full time. She was a better writer than that and she knew it,
and she needed a change of life, something that would put her on the
right career path, the appropriate ladder to success.
But she has found herself in the middle of a world where she had no
connections, at all, no one to help her start on the right ladder, where
she can market her skills as a reporter and creative writer. Although
the old fire stirred in her chest, from her days in college when she
imagined herself as an investigative reporter, she had written very
little she could show to a place like the New York Times or the Village
Voice, a handful of meeting reports from her time on the Paterson News,
even more dubious reviews from Screw Magazine. Her best work came in the
area of metallurgy, and those to whom she submitted those pieces frowned
at her, asking how she thought she could cover a crime beat or a beat
down at city hall when all she had to show was the step by step process
for removing precious metal from raw ore?
Could anyone take seriously her college clippings, clippings now already
nearly a decade old?
Perhaps Sue had heard tales of her name-sake, a 19th century East
Village writer named Mike Walsh, who had etched his name in the legends
of New York with his own underground newspapers called "the
Subterranean," and "The Knickerbocker" who like Allen Ginsberg and the
Beats, had taken his cue from Walt Whitman. Sue would have heard talk of
him during her journeys through the Village, and may even have been
aware of his end, a drunk found dead in the gutter of 8th Avenue with
his pockets empty.
But the fire has started up in Sue again, that rage at the world she had
let simmer and nearly die after her arrest in Haledon. She was not going
to be undone by this, she was going to make it work for her, she was
going to call upon all those old, dark powers within herself to save her
and her child.
One by one, she called her old friends, people she knew from school,
from the circuit, from every corner of her now-growing- longer-life,
from her stretched-out and forever-sad life, searching her mind for
those people she believed could have made it by this time, should have
made it by this time, and could, would help her make it, too.
Unfortunately, too little time had passed for most of us. Holly had
moved out west beyond her reach. Nicole had married and found a job in
Pennsylvania. Michael Alexander was working a used magazine store on
40th Street Manhattan. Bill, Joe and others were all in that in between
stage of making their own mark in their own professions, none quite at
that stage where they could help anybody but themselves. Even Glenn,
brilliant Glenn, had only then progressed to the level of editor on a
small, video magazine. And Joel, that so-connected soul from school who
had asked her out once and seemed so hurt when she told him to get lost,
he was a social worker in Bayonne.
When she called me in early 1989, I didn't know the cause of her
desperation. But I knew she wanted something.
In many ways, I must have been an after thought, one of those people who
she had only half-heartedly attempted to snare at school, and yet
someone, curiously enough, always lingering beyond her reach, living the
life of artist when everyone else banged their heads against the
survival machine. She had always wonschool, and yet someone, curiously
enough, always lingering beyond her reach, living the life of artist
Hadnŝt she told one professor how much she admired me and how she
believed I had the stuff to make it with? She was aware theaware the
underground magazine Michael and I had put out for years. Why hadnŝt I
made it yet? Maybe I had and I was lying about it, hiding my success in
a cold water flat in Passaic, she always meant t
We didn't talk long.
I was amazed she had even found me, calling every Dunkin Donuts in North
Jersey until someone said they knew me and that I worked the overnight
That alone should have told me something was wrong.
Sue sounded fine on the phone, all friendly and sober, the way she had
during that day in Professor Ripmaster's class, when we had held our
unofficial reunion. I asked about the baby, she said David was fine. I
said nothing about the rumors I had heard about her from other people,
suggesting she had nose-dived into the underworld again.
"I just wanted to talk to you," she said, giving me that classic, bimbo
giggle of hers which I knew was setting me up -- though, in truth, I
missed hearing it, one tiny bit of nostalgia for those days when life
seemed simpler for us all. In those days, I was actually for a time
fooled by Sue, seeing her as this younger, shyer girl who seemed
embarrassed about having an adult conversation with me. Even later, when
I knew or guessed the truth about her, I knew she was only seeking
approval from her peers, from her professors, from any person she
thought worthy. Still, her voice on the phone also recalled my
discomfort at being alone with her. If we did not talk about writing, we
had nothing to say.
Perhaps she sensed my lust for her, the way I was aware of some subtext
to our conversation for which I had no translation. She suggesting
things in her own code I was not ready to hear or unwilling to try,
fearing my own ability to become one of the walking dead behind her, the
last in a long line of foolish men ruining their lives in the mistaken
chivalry of saving Sue.
Of course, hearing her voice on the telephone again, I wondered just why
she had gone through so much trouble to get into contact with me. She
had seemed so happy the last time we talked. She had no reason to envy
my life. Like the others, I had found a treadmill of my own, working two
part time jobs, one at night as a donut baker, the other during the day
as a stringer reporter for a Wayne weekly. I wrote fiction on my own,
published a little now and then in the literary magazine, but not the
novels. Sue's timing was bad as well. I had just recovered from a woman
just like her, a dancer who I would reshape into a novel character and I
did not need another emotional crisis to distract me.
She asked if we could meet and talk.
I told her I was busy, and we both let it go with that.
Only after I hung up, did it occur to me she might need help, but by
then, I was sure she'd already forgotten me.
Sue still had other options then, options that would vanish later before
she disappeared. She was just then approaching 30, old for a dancer, but
not too old to ensnare a man. I think, too, the old pressure had started
to mount, the for a dancer, but not too old to ensnare a man. I think,
too, the old pressure had started to mount, the rage inside, the danger
from without. She could sense men staring at her with implications of
threat. In some cases, her control slipped. These men didnŝt just want
to take care of her, they wanted something back for their a
At just what point she started go-go dancing, Iŝm not sure. But around
the time of this call, she met Melissa, a dancer who Hardin believe,
helped hook her back into the profession with tales of easy money and
A little her phone call to me, Michael Alexander saw her.
"It was in the twilight of the eighties," he said. "At the corner of
eighth & fortieth, swept along on the river of asphalt, she was dressed
in office-wear & seemed uncomfortable at being recognized. I knew that
sometime around then sheŝd been writing for a skin magazine, but I only
asked her how she was doing & she answered vaguely. It was five years
later I heard she was working at the VAULT. Strictly rumor, but I
And Along Comes Hardin