A Sue Look-a-like

 

 

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Although Sue sold everyone on the idea that she wanted to quit dancing,

in reality dancing was quitting her. Part of it was her age. At 36, she

couldn't continue to perform as she had in the past, not without sinking

into open prostitution or becoming the laughing stock of those she

sought to seduce. It must have been a great embarrassment to climb up on

the stage each night, knowing that younger and prettier and more

energetic women waited to take her place. No wonder she told Don Budd,

her booking agent, that she would work for tips. What club would pay an

old woman like her when it could get young flesh?

 

Go-go bars were also losing some of their appeal, as town fathers of

small municipalities like West Paterson, and larger towns like

Irvington, sought for better ways to limit such activity. Even old Sin

City itself was changing. A new law would go into effect before the end

of the year that would cut by a quarter the number of sexually oriented

establishments. Secaucus, where I worked as a beat reporter, passed

ordinances so strict that only the existing go-go bars could do business

there. North Bergen pushed hard enough to close those within its

borders. For Sue this meant an increase in the competition. Fewer dance

clubs meant she would have fight that much harder to gain a place on the

dance circuit -- a proposition she had no taste for.

 

Even prostitution wasn't a safe alternative with county governments now

pushing for municipalities to sweep the streets more thoroughly and

close down those places frequented by such activities. Clubs in Hudson

County suddenly saw an increase in health inspections, and found their

doors locked because of numerous, painful and expensive to remedy

violations. Many thought to move rather than put up with the constant

harassment. For Sue -- who saw New Jersey as a safe haven after all her

activities in New York -- suddenly found herself with shrinking options.

She had to get out, had to find some other way of making a living that

didn't depend upon the age of her body or the sag of her breasts.

 

That's why she depended upon the Ridgeway connection and fell into such

a fit when he betrayed her. She had nothing else, except for the

freelance work her father gave her. And she absolutely refused to go

back to that way of life, not after she had tasted the high life, not

after she had spent four years riding around in Al Goldstein's limo,

acting like a real, authentic bitch.

 

Hiding out in Newark must have been a real let down for her, especially

if she saw nightly what I saw as I drove down Bloomfield Avenue -- a

section of town that seemed immune to the street sweeps and the crack

downs, where weary street walkers hobbled home after a long night, as if

they had a right to be here, as if the town had zoned this part of the

city just for them.

 

Many of these looked up as I passed, their weary faces hopeful of one

last trick before calling it a night. Their exotic clothing clung to

them, crumpled from their constant removal, high boots scuffed,

thigh-high stocking torn, short coats missing buttons. Then, when

realizing I'd not come to shop, they lowered their heads again, looking

as troubled as peasants after a long day harvesting in the fields,

looking neither right nor left, especially when they neared the church.

Apparently-- by some unspoken mutual agreement -- the church goers made

no acknowledgment of these women, neither looking at or talking about

them as they passed.

 

By the time I reached the Sixth Street, the deterioration was

unmistakable. Newark -- especially along Broadway a few blocks east --

had not recovered from the 1967 riots. Everything lived in the shadow of

those few days, and the decline of this great city was hurried by its

momentum. Whites, trickled out of town before that, fled in droves,

selling their homes cheap when they could not get their full market

value. The fresh scars of the war zone aided their retreat, and even

when those scars grew old, they remained, development refusing to fill

in their empty spaces. But even more appalling were the decades of

disinterest, as if the white-dominated investment community wanted to

teach Newark a lesson by denying it an infusion of fresh capital, hoping

to choke off the movement of black leadership and force the populous to

accept whites as the rightful heirs to city hall. This helped destroy

those few remaining businesses. Drugs and prostitution became the only

viable meblocks east -- had not recovered from the 1967 riots.

Everything lived in the shadow of those few days, and the decline of

this great city was hurried by its momentum. Whites, trickled out of

town before that, fled in droves, selling their homes cheap when they

could not

 

Melissa said it was a house with blue siding. Although she had come to

look at the house herself, she feared making a move to confront Judy.

 

"I've told the police," she said. "But they don't seem interested."

 

But one Newark cop was, a lieutenant who was continuing the search on

his off-duty hours, despite the threats made to the two bounty hunters.

 

"He's been down there," Melissa said.

 

In looking for the Blue-sided house, I turned the wrong way, following

the one-way part of Sixth towards the south, trucking terminal to my

right with threatening signs advertising vicious guard dogs, as if the

glittering, newly installed razor wire along the top of the rusting

fence wasn't enough to protect the dilapidated collection of tractor

trailer trucks stored there, just visible behind a wall of weeds.

 

Two and three storied houses lined the street across from this fence,

not the wealthy houses of Wayne or the more blue collar houses of Totowa

where Sue grew up, but a more desperate kind of house where the

occupants fought hard to maintain some level of civilization, like

frontier wives, putting up curtains on the windows, making repairs to

the porches and roofs.

 

Few of the cars in the drive ways or the street were new, and most dated

to the late 1980s or early 1990s, alarms beeping their single-noted

warning as I passed. A few pedestrians strode along the sidewalk, some

clearly dressed for church.

 

I saw a few blue houses, but only one seemed large enough to be a house

of prostitution. I drove around the block, past the fast cars, the

dilapidated cars, past the Broncos and the vans, past macho Italian men

staring out at the street from their porches, and the equally macho

Latino men staring from their windows, sad and angry working men, locked

into a system of despair, saddled with the American Dream -- which

neither could honestly achieve.

 

Only when I crossed Bloomfield Avenue did I realize my mistake,

swallowed up suddenly by images of my own life in Passaic. The men on

this side looked angry, too, but their stares lacked even the illusion

of hope. They didn't maintain the same dream as the men on the other

side, perhaps wiser the way Sue was wise, in understanding that men did

not thrive in America by worThe men on this side looked angry, too, but

their stares lacked even the illusion of hope. They didn't maintai

 

Many of the cars parked here were new, marking those men who had

succeeding in skimming the cream from the top of this curdling social

milk we called capitalism. But just as many older cars sat at the curb

side, cars with that unmistakable 1970s slant, whose engines grumbled

and rumbled and them stalled amid a cloud of smoke -- the faces of the

losers peering questioning down at their open hcurdling social milk we

called capitalism. But just as many older cars sat at the curb side,

cars with that unmistakable 1970s slant

 

Drug dealers and pimps cruised these streets, their smug faces sealed

behind tinted glass, warily studying their turf for intruders, eyeing me

and my dented Mazda with great suspicion, wondering why a white man

would choose to take a short cut through their neighborhood at such an

early time of day, trying to file me into one of their limited

categories for men who did belong here -- the macho Italians, the

desperate Greeks, the hundreds of varieties of Latinos, leaving only one

more category in their heads: cop.

 

I found the building this time without trouble, a corner structure from

another, more important era of commerce that had shifted purpose in the

pathetic years after the riots, no doubt once an apartment building with

a store downstairs, now a crumbling institution with a vigilant air. A

huge Latino, with muscles bulging from under his thin jacket, sat on the

front stoop, her clothing expensive, but hardly the stuff movies costume

designers fitted on their pimps.

 

I wondered if he had a gun.

 

He was talking to a woman when I first passed, and looked up sharply

when I stopped three houses away, nearly leaving two car lengths of

rubber in my eagerness to halt.

 

The woman -- though I could not get a good look at her -- looked just

like Sue, wearing the same black chest-hugging leotard top and the same

open-toed sandals. Every here hair had the same blonde hue, though

crinkled, not straight. She looked at me, too, frowning at me and my

car, clearly recognizing neither.

 

I feared to leap from the car and call her name. She might bolt, and her

pimp might pull out his pistol and pump me with bullets. Yet the longer

I sat and did nothing, the more nervous the woman and her pimp became,

looking to each other as if asking if I was a cop.

 

Was it Sue?

 

I couldn't tell! She just wouldn't turn in a direction that would allow

me a positive identification, she kept shifting and tilting her head.

Finally, I pulled away again, drove three or four blocks until I found a

place I could turn around, and then drove back, passing so as my

driver's side faced the woman I thought might be Sue.

 

It wasn't.

 

This woman -- though she looked a lot like Sue had a pockmarked face I

recognized as the result of excess cocaine. The man had slipped out of

sight, but I knew he watched from some shadow to make sure I did no harm

to his piece of bait. I pulled the car to the curb diagonally across the

street from the blue-sided building and watched the woman warily make

her way up that side of the street, eyeing me, trying to figure out if I

wanted some of her action. Finally, she came close enough for me to call

out.

 

"I'm looking for Sue Walsh," I told her. "I'm a reporter and an old

friend."

 

"Sue Walsh?" she said. "I never heard of her."

 

"Someone told me she was staying in that house across the street," I

said. "Staying with a woman named Judy."

 

The woman staggered back a step, her pockmarks crinkling up with alarm.

 

"We've got not Walshes here," she said, clearly struggling to maintain

her composure, running through the list of last names she did have in

the building. She did not say anything about Judy, except to mention

that a Newark cop did have in the building. She did not s

 

"Two days ago," she said. "They yanked me right out of my car and kept

calling me Judy. I tried to tell them I wasn't no Judy, but they didn't

believe me. They said I had to go with them and have someone else say

who I was or wasn't. What the hell's going on anyway? What's so special

about this Judy and whatever did that Sue Walsh do to make so many

people act so crazy?"

 

"Sue vanished a couple of months ago and a lot of people are worried

about her," I said. "I am, too. Some people think Judy kidnapped her. I

know Sue. No one would kidnap her unless she wanted to be kidnapped. But

she might not want to come back, especially with the police looking for

her. If she needs help, have her call me. She doesn't have to deal with

the police."

 

So I left my card, and drove off, wondering just how well my message

would be received? Did Sue even remember me now? Or had she simply put

me out of her mind the moment she realized I had nothing to offer her,

no lucrative assignments for the Village Voice, no stretch limos, no

columns in the local sex newspaper.

 

The next day, I called Melissa, she said her friend had called, saying

Judy and Sue were at the door and wanted her to leave with them.

 

"She sounded frightened," Melissa said. "And then she hung up."

 

Melissa went over to the apartment. One of the neighbors apparently told

her that two women had taken the girl and her child away in a car.

Twenty four hours later, the woman returned and wouldn't talk to Melissa

any more.

 

"It's over," Melissa. "They've frightened her into being quiet."

 

The police later concluded that when Sue first vanished, their

detectives were in contact with people who claimed to have been

maintaining contact with her.

 

"But soon those people stopped talking to her, a sign police took to

mean she may have moved out of the area," wrote Tom Troncone in July 17,

1997 Herald & News.

 

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Lessons by Abbie Hoffman

 

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