Visions of Redlight

Links to a.d.sullivan & info on Susan Walsh

 

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The most ironic element in the Sue Walsh as writer story is how little

originality Sue possessed. Everything word she wrote, every idea she

ever had, every element of every plot she ever invented came from some

place else. Whether she knew it or not, Sue took up a suggestion laid

out by the poet T.S. Eliot who claimed good poets borrow, great poets

steal.

 

In college, half her school work was done by men she made love to, men

she promised to make love to, or women she manipulated into feeling

sorry for her. Even as late as 1995, she manipulated Glenn Kenny into

helping her with her a paper on Marquis De Sade (for her graduate work

at NYU). But Glenn needed no manipulation. At WPC, he scribbled off

minor masterpieces as easily as he might a grocery list and became the

secret source of many desperate undergraduates.

 

In shaping her stories for Screw Magazine, Sue needed no grand

inspiration for the early work, skimming the surface of the dark world

she had already come to know so well. Sex was sex and she had

participated in almost every aspect of it, and later, would map out the

range of her own experience inside the pages of the book "Redlight." Yet

long before Sue had hooked up dark world she had already come to know so

well. Sex was sex and she had participated in almost every aspect of it,

and later, wo

 

Yet as pervasive a product as sex is in our society, Sue needed more

that Screw Magazine to make her mark in the world, and constantly

searched for angles and people she could use to edge herself higher in

the hierarchy of the publishing world. In college, this required little

effort since many of us hung around the same place and she merely had to

pick and choose who she wanted to use next.

 

In the real world, with Sue approaching the ripe old age of 30, this

process was more difficult. In 1989, Sue met Rob Hardin. She most likely

had little idea of how she would use his talents, only that he was

well-published and well-connected with the art world. In 1990, when she

moved to Nutley, she discovered that the publisher of the local

newspaper also operated a large cable TV franchise, and this intrigued

her as well. In 1991, when she began to date Mutant, he still had a

fairly success magazine. While all during this period and for many years

during college, Sue wrote for Screw, it wasn't until she met Al

Goldstein in 1992 , the magazine's publisher, that her fortune seemed

guaranteed, and her direction set -- though did not really have a clear

idea of how far she could string out her sexual experience, or how she

might shape her knowledge into a career.

 

For all Sue's cleverness in disguising them, sex and violence dominated

her creative endeavors for as long as I'd known her. Even in the early

works I saw at school, Sue played with the images of a helpless being

struggling nobly against the rages of a dark world. Every poem, every

fiction, every aspect of her writing except straight news was a

fatalistic allegory that shaped her as the helpless victim of

circumstance, driving by some fury she did not understand, with her

fighting against the eventual rape of strangers.

 

Like many writers with far less talent than Sue, she lacked the

imagination to step beyond herself, to create fiction or non-fiction

that did not have the sex industry at its center. Those few pieces which

did excel, generally came from other people, people who willingly or

unwittingly gave her the root.

 

"I never even thought of using Susan's words or ideas--though she used

mine," Hardin told me shortly after Sue's vanishing in 1996. " Twice,

later in our relationship, she screwed me out of co-authorship: for a

paper on the prosody (a term which she knew nothing about) of Melville,

and for the only Screw article that ever got her noticed (by anyone

other than Goldstein). I remembered those incidents; I never

collaborated with her on anything again. Besides, the collaborations

were bad. My ideas and her anger -- that combination proved as flawed

her poetry, and for the same reason: the tone was overamped and

unexamined.

 

"If you're going to condemn someone, I used to tell her, you'd better be

awake. You'd better know exactly who this person is and why they deserve

your hatred. (Later, of course, Susan found reasons to condemn me as

well.) Toward the end of our relationship, she routinely told me how

jealous she had been of my work, of my IQ (which is not that amazing)

and of my friends. She told me that she hated me but was drawn to me;

and she used to call me saying, `Please put me out of my misery!' That

was why I broke up with her a few times; at one point, I sent her to a

rehab clinic to get free of me. I felt guilty the entire time, too,

because I was trying to be nice to her, to care for her, but the sad

truth was that I didn't love her, which was the only thing she wanted.

So when I fell in love with her later, it shocked us both. I loved her

with painfully open eyes."

 

 

Sue's work for Screw Magazine caught the eye of Village Voice columnist,

James Ridgeway, whose collaboration with other writers had helped many

of them find serious careers in the news industry, and helped establish

reputation for Ridgeway as a man of letters. Ridgeway, in some ways, is

to journalism what later James Michner is to literature, with a volume

of publishing credits earned on the backs of interns like Sue.

 

And she had just the kind of story that peeked Ridgeway's curiosity,

especially at a time when the former Soviet Union was in collapse, and

rumors of the Russian Mafia filtered down into the daily lives of even

the most out of touch. The street was full of tales about the Russian

Mafia and the sex industry, and for a large part of it was true. The old

Costa Nostra had lost most of its edge since the 1950s, giving way to

Chinese gancollapse, and rumors of the Russian Mafia filtered down into

the daily lives of even the most out of touch. The street was full of

tales about the Russian Mafia and the sex indust

 

Although Italians suffered greatly from the stereotype of the mobster,

the traditional Mafia networks rose less out of the old world, than out

of the street gangs that plagued New York City since the 1830s, when

gangs of Italians, Germans, Irish and other European ethnics clashed in

battles nearly as legendary as those fought in the civil war, making

ruins of places such as Five Points and the Bowery long before the news

media gave them a name. These gangs were tied to local politics, and

local neighborhoods, and often ran the sex trade in their district, just

as they ran local theater, sometimes connecting the two into what would

later emerge as burlesque.

 

While many blame Prohibition for giving the mob the boost it needed to

become organized, many elements of the Mafia had been codified by the

turn of the century, evolving out new needs of old street gangs for

improving their operations. Prohibition simply gave these new networks

another product to sell, side by side with sex and gambling. And later,

when alcohol became legal again, drugs took its place.

 

Sue was not wrong in highlighting the change of power ongoing in the sex

industry. Indeed, many of the strip clubs throughout North Jersey began

to feel the pinch of the new emerging organization, who signed

"contracts" to bring in girls, and fill the request with ethnics from

newly liberated Eastern Europe, girls enticed to come to America with

the same old streets of gold routine from a century earlier, only to

find themselves on strip stages and cheap hotels, earning their money

via a far older profession.

 

Sue's research for her Village Voice collaboration would take her deep

into the risky world of these Russian dancers, have her questioning club

managers at a time when the Russian Mafia was exerting its most

influence to dominate these clubs. The perceived threat of Russian

retribution for her questioning would replace the traditional Mafia in

her personal mythology as easily as the Russian Mafia did in the actual

world. She went to Brighton Beach, and would later claim she had stirred

up trouble among the mobsters, thus remanufacturing the central myth of

her life as the victim oquestioning

 

In her story for the Village Voice, Sue spoke with dancers, managers,

customers, even Russian agents, from "Brighton Beach to desolate

stretches of Route 1, or into the suburban wasteland around Newark." In

language that echoed work I had read in Sue's fiction over a decade

earlier, Sue manufactured a world where agents ripped off dancers,

charging them for each day's booking, and when they went freelance,

their agents pressured club owners not to hire them.

 

I'm not sure how much sympathy a man making $70 a day breaking his back

unloading trucks can have for a dancer complaining about her

$1,000-a-week earnings. But Sue managed to shape such dancers into

objects of pity, with Ridgeway and the Village Voice going along for the

ride.

 

Sue managed to find nearly illiterate patrons, painting them with

contempt, and shaped hapless New Jersey club owners as the victims of a

sham, men who described the Russian dancers as cold women who wouldn't

flash, giving the bars a dreary atmosphere.

 

In many respects, Sue's Russian Dancer story foreshadowed the largely

pointless "Redlight" that would follow, a shallow glimpse inside an

industry that thrives on providing fresh meat for an endlessly,

monstrously hungry American male.

 

Like many of the works done in Screw, Sue's Village Voice debut was

slick, but cold, lacking any sense of urgency.

 

In "Redlight," she would repeat this error, and worse, fall into a

confused sympathetic state that destroyed the book's credibility.

 

The Village Voice article, however, also lacked the close up focus

needed to make the dancers and the management human.

 

Where was the danger? What was the Russian Mafia making these women do?

 

While others claimed Sue unveiled significant abuse, the article lacked

substance upon which to make a claim she had irritated the Russian

Mafia.

 

I talked to Electra, a woman Sue spoke with for her Screw Articles, the

Russian Mafia article and "Redlight." Electra, who I later saw dancing

in a Secaucus bar, claimed she had introduced Sue to one dancer, but

said this woman was "very Americanized," and was unlikely connected to

the Russian Mafia.

 

But from it, Sue managed to manufacture a mythology of personal danger,

Ridgeway and others would alter attribute to alcohol use and drugs.

 

Almost from the day I met Sue, she was seeking the glitter and fame of

the high life, hungering to leave some monument to posterity that would

keep her name a live in people's minds, something to the East Village's

most famous fake: Steve Brodie, who staged a fake leap from the Brooklyn

Bridge, and later his own disappearance.

 

Sue loved the power of the word, the raw visage the investigative

reporter displayed when uprooting scandals. But in school as she would

later do in Nutley and New York, she got too close to her stories,

always becoming entwined in the scandals she sought to uncover. In

school, she talked about mob men and the CIA, in Nutley she would find

them becoming real, like that old Graham Greene novel about an agent

inventing a conspiracy only to find people dying around him.

 

Sue once said she envied me because she believed I had the stuff to make

it in the creative world, a man with a mission. She told our professors

as much as if expecting ttold our professors as much as if expecting

them to say as much about her. Now, a decade later, among the hostile

world of publishing, where local mobsters dominate the weekly town paper

and sex kings dominate New York City porno magazines, she still gets no

raves, though she seems to stalk this campus of little town and big city

politics with the same rage she did our campus, looking for the "one

large

 

"She has a way of sticking that pretty little pale face of hers in

places where it doesn't belong," one of the other reporters on the

school newspaper told me once. "She wants to be Woodworth and Bernstien,

only WPC just doesn't have a convenient Watergate scandal."

 

Her story on the Russian Mafia was supposed to be that story, and the

book "Redlight" her masterpiece that would maintain her in the high life

forever, allowing her to ride around in stretch limos that were hers,

not Goldstein's.

 

But something went wrong. The Village Voice story flopped, and though

"Redlight" would sell an amazing 100,000 copies, Sue would not get

credit.

 

Long before she vanished on July 16, 1996, Sue must have suspected the

worst. Even as she ran through the ritual of research, Sue must have

worried over publishing credit, pushing Ridgeway for assurances, telling

Ridgeway she wanted to quit dancing and the whole scene. And Ridgeway,

according to one source, pushed her to continue, encouraging her to

write everything down in her diary, keeping her on this new, more

elaborate treadmill until the book was published.

 

And Sue, of course, talked more and more about being hunted.

Ridgeway Gets in Wrong

 

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