1959 - 1999
Dec. 15, 2010
Peggy Yacyniak is dead.
The fact that she died back in 1999, makes this no less a shock since I only discovered the fact a few days ago and began the process of mourning that other people closer to her in time and space have already undergone.
Even more significant is the fact that she died on the eve of St. Valentine’s Day. On the verge of getting her life back together with some one new she had met, her plans fell apart and according to her sister, Susan, “she had decided not to be here anymore.”
A shock, but not a surprise; Peggy’s early death at age 39 was inevitable. She had her feet firmly planted on that path when we parted company in mid-1987, and nothing I did before or after our breakup could convince her to alter her ways – adding to my own sense of helplessness since at the time I saw myself as her only hope.
This was an illusion.
I was merely one may in a line of men who walked in and out of Peggy’s life, no more important to her than any other. She was in the end much more important to me than I ever was to her, a person, if partly because of her wasted potential, steered me away from a similar path of self destruction to what proved to be a more positive road.
I met Peggy in the fall of 1986 just as her beloved New York Giants were about to make their successful march towards the Super Bowl. At 27 years old, she was already considered an over-the-hell go-go dancer on the local strip club dancer. She laid claim to a much better fate during the decade preceding my meeting her, when she hobnobbed with members professional football players and rock stars (she would never tell me exactly who), and as she grew older was condemned to part time go-go dancing in small bars like the My Way in Passaic on weekends, while she worked a “straight” job during the week as an accountant. A 1981-82 graduate of Montclair State College, Peggy worked for a packaging company as the assistant head accountant.
This dual identity startled me early on, until I later realized she needed the contacts she made on her weekend gigs to meet men like me who could help feed her out of control cocaine addiction.
One particularly vicious strip club owner still in business on Wall Street in Passaic called Peggy “The witch on the hill,” claiming that she picked up pudgy suckers at the bar, lured them to her apartment on Harrison Avenue in Lodi, where she squeezed out of them everything she could to feed her habit, before dumping them back out onto the street – never delivering what she appeared to promise them in the first place.
“She’s a tease,” he told me after he discovered my involvement with her.
His was a particularly sleazy place with deep ties to the porn film industry and more, a recruitment place for prostitution that still operates today. He disliked Peggy because she refused to “put out” the way the other girls had to, and she would not fall into the typical trap that aging dancers often fell into, forced to make their living on their backs or knees rather than on their feet.
Even though Peggy often visited her mother, Eleanore Moen, she seemed to keep her distance from most members of her family, although late in 1987, she would move in with her sister Susan in Little Falls, before wandering off again to Paterson, briefly, Fairlawn, then back to the Garfield area where she apparently ended her life. Although remote, her family did play a significant role in her life, helping her out when she got into very serious trouble. At one point, during my foolish effort to “save” her, I ran into a man I believe was her real father. But her distance from her family kept them from providing her with the help she needed. They believed she was mentally ill and not at all in touch with reality.
As sexually involved as she might have been with some men in her life, Peggy seemed to avoid falling into the trap of becoming a common whore, part of some inner greatness I sensed the first time I saw her at My Way around Labor Day weekend 1986, and something of which I became more and more conscious of as time went on.
She stood out – even beyond the fact that she was 27 in a world that considered this too old for most strippers. She had an attitude you just couldn’t ignore, something that insisted on being paid attention to despite everything you might do to resist.
Peggy was clearly an alcoholic – perhaps self medicating to heal some inner wound she refused to reveal to the outside world. Her cocaine addition allowed her to drink in excess without becoming drunk, but as a result, she constantly struggled to keep down her weight so that club owners could not use this as an excuse to against hiring her – even though she maintained a batch of bars through which she could feed off us lonely slobs for drinks when we were too poor to feed her other habit.
Saddled with a mentally ill mother, a suicidal uncle, and a junkie for a best friend at the time, I was in a deep malaise typical of many working class men, and took refuge in the My Way where I could drown my sorrows over a few beers while watching pretty women dance for me.
If Petty noticed me during those first few months, it was only as one of the crowd, a familiar face from whom she could elicit tips and drinks while she harvested a more serious crop from some fool she had spent months grooming. But I noticed her, though I made no effort to show up every time she danced the way I would later.
She took notice finally of me around Thanksgiving, 1986 and from then on made a point of busting my balls each time I cam into the bar, perhaps the early stages of setting me up as her next potential victim. But since what intrigued me about her had less to do about sex than curiosity about her, we were already on a different, by far stranger path than either of us expected.
Love is too strong a word for any of what later occurred, although it remains to this day the closest thing to how I felt at the time. In some ways, it was the stuff of a romantic comedy, but with the ghost of tragedy lingers over us always. After the beginning of the New Year, I became full immersed in Peggy’s world and soon saw my life spinning out of control as I tried first to keep up with her, and then later to try to save her from herself. Neither task – as it turned out – was possible and I eventually had to walk away, but even then, I made desperate attempts from a distance to try and make her change the path of self destruction she had embarked upon.