Obsessed with the dark side

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

 

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During the years after Sue's return to the underworld (and during her

research for "Redlight," Sue fell deeper and deeper into a world she

claimed to hate, acting as a tour guide, and the eventual chronicler of

the industry through the book Ridgeway claimed to write. She fashioned

herself into the spokesperson for dancers everywhere, using them to

glorify her place in that society.

 

Perhaps Hardin was right in saying that was obsessed with that side, and

once she began to fall, could not, did not want to stop herself. In the

beginning of her research on "Redlight" she had it all, from riding

around in Goldstein's stretch limo to the prestige of saying she was

from the Village Voice. But in actually, despite the fact she sought to

better herself by becoming a non-matriculating graduate student at New

York University, Sue was little more than a strip dancer with dreams of

graduer.

 

During the two decades between 1970 and 1990, I knew and talked to

hundreds of dancers, and learned the pattern of their lives, one in

which they dabbled with the underworld and got caught there. Rarely did

women jump into the underworld, but slid slowly into it, with walls too

slimy for them ever to climb out again.

 

During college and for a few years afterwards, I spent most of my spare

time writing in go-go bars, attempting to document the misery I saw

there, making word-sketches of the weary men who sat staring up at the

dancers. I wrote mounds of notes about the stories the women told me,

though for the most part I angered management and frustrated dancers.

One dancer was so enraged by my inattention, hopped onto the bar, walked

over to me, and stomped on the pad.

 

Even then, I wrote around her foot.

 

I learned -- as the connoisseurs of yellow journalism like Robert

Florida put it -- these women craved the attention of men, needing their

admiration nearly as much as their money. I learned that -- like my

girlfriend in 1970 --many came to dancing with no intention of slipping

deeper into the muck, yet could not escape when men's desire pulled them

down.

 

"Every time I danced, men offered me money," a dancer named Mary once

told me. "And every time, I refused. `I'm not like that,' I'd say. But

the man would only grin. The managers kept telling me I ought to do

more, but wouldn't say what. Each manager knew I knew what he meant. But

I was a good girl. I was only there for the money I got from dancing."

 

In "Red Light," the dancers talked about other expenses, the costumes,

make-up, not to mention transportation -- each of these things stealing

cash from the nightly total. But women I met also developed habits, some

drank, some smoked pot, most did cocaine or speed or heroin -- just

enough, as was the case with Sue, to get them through the night. These

habits cost money, too.

 

Problems with boyfriends was a constant refrain in my talks with go-go

dancers. Most men hated their dancing, even though many of those same

men met these women while these women danced. As soon as a relationship

started, the battles began, these men demanding their women quit

dancing, and often beat these women in order to make them stop. One

dancer was beaten so often, she lost hearing in one ear. Chrystal was

beaten by her boyfriend, later husband, routinely when she came back

from work, as if he had recorded every nod or wink she gave to other men

and punished her for each. She eventually lost her sense of taste and

smell. Many women I met had lost teeth or covered over bruises with

makeup. Every dancer I talked to over the two decade period of my

wandering the go-go circuit had been beaten by at least one boyfriend,

most said all their boyfriends beat them.

 

I remember the strange look I got the first tie I asked a dancer why men

beat her. She stared, frowned, then asked if I was kidding.

 

"No," I said, "I'm not kidding."

 

Boyfriends of dancers, it seemed, were so absolutely convinced their

girlfriends cheated on them, and in many cases, believed these dancers

to be prostitutes when they sometimes were notthese dancers to be

prostitutes when they sometimes were not. Many of these men also

believed that their girlfriends deliberatel

 

"My boyfriend beat me so much, thinking I was doing it with other guys

that I figured I might as well be doing it," one woman told me, echoing

a refrain I'd heard years earlier somewhere about marriage and

infidelity. "If I was going to get beat up when I got home, I figured

I'd have some fun first."

 

Unfortunately, the patrons as well as the boyfriends beat these women,

or raped them, or just didn't bother to pay for the sex once they were

finished.

 

Laura LeDerer, in the classic feminist bool, "Take Back the Night"

detailed many of my experiences on the LA porno scene, but the go-go

scene in New Jersey seemed always to escape the attention of the press.

 

In places like San Francisco and New York, the go-go scene more or less

emerged in tact out of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Bars that had

caged women dancing as part of that early version of the disco scene,

suddenly found they could attract men by conducting regular

performances. In New Jersey, these bars developed in Newark and Paterson

as the jazz scene died, many old Jazz bars turning into go-go clubs by

the beginning of the 1970s, with other bars taking up the theme as the

trend grew popular. Because Sue was so close to this scene, she was not

completely willing to highlight the back-stabbing nastiness of the

business, the warfare -- not just between dancer and patron -- but

between club managers, agents, and the dancers themselves, each looking

to get over on the other, each losing to the inevitable capitalization

of the industry, as the industry grew bigger and more mainstream.

"Redlight" does not explain the slow, slug-like advance go-go bars made

from the center of cities to the edge of surburbs, or the battle local

muncipal leaders have begun to undertake to limit that advance, passing

ordinances to keep such clubs from encroaching on churches, playgrounds

and schools.

 

But like the porno scene itself, the go-go movement evolved over time,

moving up from its relatively innocent beginnings to a full-fledged

industry. Go go like porno developed in phases, from its early roots

when dancers bobbed up and down inside cases, wearing something that

differed very little from a two-piece bathing suit. In the cities, the

evolution moved more quickly, as the influence of strip tease was

stronger. Topless bars like the Metropole in New York emerged very early

and indicated the direction other bars would take over the next few

decades.

 

 

 

Like many of her contemporaries at William Paterson College, Sue was

profoundly influenced by T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred

Prufrock," using its images in her early writing, shaping her view of

the underworld by its foggy texture. Like Michael Alexander, who

disappeared a day before she did, on July 15, 1996, Sue would find

inspiration in the lonely passages of Eliot's middle class survivor, a

man who went "through certain half-deserted streets, the muttering

treaties, of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels, and sawdust

restaurants with oyster-shells: streets that follow like a tedious

argument of insidious intent, to lead you to an overwhelming

question..."

 

Graham Greene described Sue and Michael in his travelogues when

referring to this passage of Elliot, saying that people will

deliberately seek "the heart of darkness," wander empty streets, seek

brothels and drug dens in an attempt to reconcile their past, preferring

the thrill of the dark to the homogenized existence of the every day

work-a-holic world.

 

As Sue pursued her dream of becoming a recognized writer in 1993 to

1995, she wandered through the fog of her own past, finding that the

work-a-holic world intruded on her, reaching down along the continuum to

ruin even this small, previous place a relative freedom. She did not

understand capitalism; she only saw its effects. She did not realize

until very late how all frontier deteriorate as they become profitable,

the "clerks" of T.S.Elliot's poem moving in to create a bureaucracy,

even around such things as sex and drugs. Although Sue would rant and

rave about the threat of the Russian Mafia, and make claims about how

Orwellian the world had become, the much bigger threat of the mundane

loomed over her, turning the world of go-go bars and prostitution into

just one more sweat shop, unprotected by a union.

 

When I first began visiting such places with my friend Frank, most of

the suburban go-go bars did not yet exist, so we had to travel to places

like Paterson, Passaic or Newark, yet even there -- with a few

exceptions like the Palace in Passaic -- we did not feel the difference

between these and ordinary neighborhood bars. The prices were slightly

higher, but the high pressure tactics used by the dancers to get tips

now did not exist then. We sat over our beers, flirted with the girls,

gave tips as we wished, and then went home. Early on, Frank dragged me

to some many of these bars so often that I became fairly familiar with

the scene, familiar enough to later notice the change when I returned in

the early 1980s, the harder edge that had begun to creep around the

industry as the managers of the bars saw their opportunity to make real

money -- from the girls and patrons -- and go go began its firm and

steady descent into a cover for prostitution.

 

The 1990s version of go go differs as much from the 1970s version as

most aspects of society. In 1970, most households could exist with a

single income -- and even then, the hippie movement warned of the great

capitalistic money machine seeking to make people into total consumers,

working for a pay check only to spend that paycheck immediately on

consuming unnecessary frills. In those two decades, people found

themselves consuming more and working harder to pay for it, single

occupancy hotels vanished, people with their own apartments vanished,

new graduates from college come to places like Hoboken or Jersey City

looking for room mates not just rooms, and when later married, rely on

the second income to make their mortgages. Everything the hippies warned

would happen, did. People lost their freedom to hop on the treadmill of

survival, paying and paying the merchants for products and services they

often no longer needed. The boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s

created a nightmare for ordinary working people, where businesses and

governments saw paychecks and property as an unquenchable source of

revenue, raising property taxes, sales taxes -- not to mention the

prices of traffic tickets -- so high people began to work extra jobs to

pay the fees.

 

The go-go industry changed in the same way. Instead of coming into a

relaxed atmosphere, men now walk into a room full of tension. Bar owners

began to charge their dancers to dance (instead of paying them a living

wage as was the habit in the past). These owners believed the girls made

too much money in tips and sought to get their share. The dancers, whose

incomes were never as great as the public imagined, grew more and more

desperate to make up the loss, and instead of flirting with patrons,

they sought them out like sharks, lootension. Bar owners began to charge

their dancers to dance (instead of paying them a living wage as was the

habit in the past). These owners believed the girls made too much money

in tips and sought to get their share. The dancers, whose incomes were

never as great as the public imagined, grew more and more desperate to

make up the loss, and instead of flirting with patrons, they sought them

out like sha

 

For dancers, this increases the hustle, and makes them seek tips more

aggressively. It put them in hard competition with each other. Women who

don't go further and do more, don't survive.

 

In the early 1980s, a good dancer could earn as much as $500 a night

with her salary and tips. By 1995, that figure declined to about $100 to

$150. Compare this to a six-hour baking shift at Dunkin Donuts. In 1980,

a good baker earned about $50. By 1990, that figure climbed to about $90

for the same shift.

 

This loss of value becomes particularly true as dancers age. With the

industry being constantly flooded with younger women, older dancers

command less in the way of tips or wages. They are constantly pressured

to take the plunge into some level of prostitution. While some dancer

resist the impulse, most cannot. One dancer, named Peggy, I knew in

1987. She was already closing in on 30, a critical age for dancers, but

had made an art form out of resisting prostitution, playing off men's

expectations so as to get the best of both the dancing and prostitution

sides. Bar owners called her "the bitch on the hill," and told countless

tales of men she lured to her apartment with promises of sex, where she

milked them for money and drugs then dumped them out on the street with

their expectation unsatisfied. But even Peggy succumbed to age, and

retired eventually to marry a lawyer as fewer and fewer clubs would hire

her.

 

At age 36, Sue was already well over the preferred age, and her options

for survival much more limited than even Peggy's. While I knew one

dancer named Betheme who lasted until she was 40, few do, and even

Betheme had to resort to some desperate measures to keep herself on the

stage.

 

"I had a kind of comedy act," she told me from her room at the Passaic

YWCA, "I would do all kinds of crazy things that would make men laugh.

Often bars would hire me as the second dancer, a kind of comic relief.

But even Betheme found it had to keep going without being forced into

prostitution and eventually retired as well.

 

Burn-out isn't burn-out, it is a step deeper into the slimier aspects of

the sex slave, and further away from the level of consent.

 

The clientele changed, too.

 

In New York City, dancers complained about the egocentric yuppies

dominating the scene, wanting to glimpse or touch everything without

paying anything in tips, cheap sons of bitches who show off their wealth

driving BMWs but won't dip into their wallets for a buck.

 

Many of these are wheeler-dealers, men who act important here because

they lack importance in their real jobs, always working on some side

arrangement that will bring them a fortune, but always hitting friends

up to buy them drinks.

 

Even in New Jersey where the dancers say men are more generous, this

type has begun to spawn, filling up the bar stools where the lonely men

used to sit. Most of the real losers I used to document have gone,

unable to afford the high pressure sales pitch these places have become,

unwilling to pay the $10 or $15 cover charge that such places demand,

let alone the rip off price the bars charge for drinks. And with these

same mobsters charging dancers to dance, the ordinary slob doesn't get a

chance to get turned on, being hit up for tips by the continual string

of dancers. These men, who used to come here to drown their marriage

miseries in the consolation of tits and ass, or a simple smile from the

stage, have now abandoned these places to the more wealthy patrons who

can afford to particular in this go-go cattle auction.

 

Xanax

 

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