The Nutley Connection

 

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Someone gave me Sue's new address just after she moved to Nutley. I

found it again, years later, stuck in as a book mark in one of my

hardcover journals for that year with a small scribbled message to

myself to look her up -- which I never did, though about the same time I

was changing jobs, and by the time she had fixed the curtains on her

first floor apartment windows, I was making a daily early morning trip

passed her house, without being aware of her, or she of me, as I took up

a job at the Bloomfield Dunkin Donuts on Bay and Board, less than two

dozen blocks from her.

Perhaps she came back to suburbia because she thought she could start

life over again here, away from the glitz and the yuppies that had taken

over her downtown haunts. She might even have thought her son, David,

safe there, isolated by miles of meadows and mountains from the

intolerable fast pace of Manhattan. She still made her trips in and out,

by bus or cab, or more likely, at the favor of men who wanted to please

her.

 

She was thirty years old, an unbearable thirty that already made her

feel old, used up, out of touch. At college, she had envisioned herself

successful by this time, covered in furs, hands full of diamonds and

pearls.

 

Ironically, she had come full circle, back to the neighborhood where she

had partied in college with Dan, the lawyer's apartment within walking

distance. But Dan was no longer around to buy her new winter coats the

way he had, coats she would conveniently leave in other men's cars.

 

Yet she was within walking distance of two strip clubs, places where she

would dance for a time, earn some money, and then move on. In them, she

would make new, local connections, people in and out of local government

who she could use to provide her with basic comforts. She would meet the

editor of the local weekly newspaper here, and his brother, who was the

civilian commissioner of the local police. She would meet men who could

grant her favors. Indeed, Sue seemed to develop a significant influence

with town hall, and connections, which allowed her to get numerous

privileges for her child, something usually reserved for the political

privileged, people who are considered friends of the power structure.

 

During that first year, I actually worked a few fill-in shifts for the

night baker at the Nutley Dunkin Donut three blocks from Sue's house.

While I never saw her, I got a glimpse of the kind of people who came

and went through that hub during the early morning hours, the drunks

attempting to sober up with coffee before going home to their wives, the

early morning rail workers rubbing their eyes after long overnight

shifts. Often these men clamored into the donut shop out of the fog.

With the river so close and rains prevalent in Spring and Fall, this

part of the town seemed remarkably alien to the rest of Nutley.

 

For the most part, the Dunkin there served as a cross roads for workers

and others who passed through that corner of town, headed from Lyndhurst

to Belleville or the other way around, traveling from Clifton or

Bloomfield. Sue managed to select for herself the poorest part of town,

the impoverished sister to which the rest of Nutley was shamed, where

men could still be seen head deep under open car hoods of any given

Saturday or dragging bags of groceries back from the town's only

supermarket. The rest of the town kept its distance, a retirement

village for wealthy older Italian and Irish families who slowly faded to

the next generation of wealth, Caddilacs giving way to BMWs as the

yuppies moved in.

 

The Dunkin Donuts was constantly busy, and at certain times of day,

provided a remarkable social comedy, as drug dealers rubbed shoulders

with bankers, prostitutes with real estate brokers, thieves with police,

each locked into a ritual of rising or going to sleep, each part of the

change of shifts that marks the area's current self-image, the

conservative, upright, church goers taking back control of their city

now that the pimps have finished with it, completing one more round in a

hypocritical dance that has long been held here, fathers and sons

pretending themselves different people from the johns who cruised

Newark's Bloomfield Avenue or Broadway only hours earlier.

 

Sue had apparently met someone who lived in the wealthier part of Nutley

and had moved nearby to further the relationship, and expanded her

tentacles once she was sure of who ran things here. Of course, she

rarely found the real power figures, but the subordinates, or weaker

relatives whom she could manipulate, brothers and cousins of local

officials who would put in a word for her. She was very good a ferreting

such souls out, even in a town whose conservative population frowned at

the white trash they saw in this small corner, putting up with the

dilapidated buildings, the aging cars and the white trash mentality

suited more for Belleville than Nutley, NRA and Dump Florio bumper

stickers as prevalent as "support your local police."

 

But it was not the Nutley police people looked to for protection along

this strip, but the Belleville cops who patrolled the zone between

Nutley and Newark like sharks, tough, good, solid cops few criminals

tested. Nutley -- the force that would eventually get saddled with the

task of seeking Susan after she disappeared -- was no match for these

police. In fact, Belleville cops frequently violated Nutley's municipal

boundaries, rather than relying on a Nutley cop to pick up pursuit. In

one case, a Belleville cop rushed across the boarder in pursuit a car

thief, the police car breaking down. The cop found a Nutley police car

parked with its driver asleep and dragged the sleeping cop out, jumped

in, and continued pursuit using the Nutley cop's car.

 

Sue's part of Nutley was a war zone with the local newspaper reeling out

reports of the incursion of youth gangs, always highlighting the word

"Belleville" as if part of some cold war conspiracy and artificial Iron

Curtain against which the police must stay perpetually alert -- and

rarely did, leaving the real work to Belleville, or Newark or Kearny,

while the wealthy town slept.

 

Nutley has spent years climbing out of the pits of its past, the great

gapped quarries out of which New York's Upper West Side was built, and

the image of trash, and piles of coal. Its real estate brochures bragged

of high property values and the hundred acre causeway park that had

replaced the rushing waterway that had once run the waterwheels to

thriving mills. On warm days, I jogged through this park, down the

narrow strip of lawn, park benches and high-crested trees little

suspecting the possible contamination I might be breathing as I listened

to Beatles music on my walkman and nodded to the other joggers, senior

citizens and romantic couples, who had also come unsuspectedly to this

park.

 

The Nutley on the proper side of town is a white town full of white

people living in constant fear of Newark and its problems, caught in a

corrupt web of favoritism, local special interests subverting the local

tax laws to their own advantage. Those who were connected, got quite

illegal breaks in how much they had to pay the town, special assessments

that allowed Mansions to play less than single family houses within a

block of each other. The people who knew people pumped propaganda into

the frightened population to divert attention from the dishonesty going

on within the borders. Local officials would wail about a possible strip

mall being installed on the Clifton border, or conduct a whispering

campaign about how easily Nutley could turn into Newark unless that tax

base and the high standards were not maintained. These offcaught in a

corrupt web of favoritism, local special interests subverting the local

tax laws to their own advantage. Those who were connected, got quite

illegal breaks in how much they had to pay the town, special assessments

that allowed Mansions to play less than single family houses within a

block of each other. The people who knew people pumped propaganda into

the frightened population to divert attention from the dishonesty

 

A Town with a History

 

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