2- Roots in the old world
Peggy’s grandparents moved to the Lodi/Garfield area more than a generation after mine.
Whereas my family moved to northern New Jersey after the conclusion of the American Civil war by way of Manhattan, Peggy’s grandfather and grandmother arrived just prior to World War I from Poland via Connecticut.
George arrived around 1812. Mary – who Peggy adored – arrived a year later. The two met and married in Connecticut where their first child, Florence was born in 1916 after which they moved to the Lanza Avenue house in Garfield, where Peter was born in 1918, followed by Peggy’s father, Steven in 1921 – and Russell, at some point early in the 1930s.
George worked as a watchman at nearby Woolen Mill, where Mary worked at a spinner apparently through the Great Depression. By World War II, George was working across the river on Dayton Avenue in Passaic at the Botany Worsted Mills – he died shortly after the war so that Peggy, born in 1959 never met him.
Peter, then some kind of semi-skilled machinist, perished on the beaches during the Normandy Invasion and his remains buried in France as among the honored dead, and listed among the home town heroes in Garfield.
There were a handful of other Yacyniaks that lived in the area, but with the exception of Michael, who was born in Garfield in 1924, none were related to Peggy. I was never able to figure out Michael’s connection to Peggy, although he clearly was since he named one of his sons, Peter, and another, Steve.
None of the family members would wander far from the Lanza Avenue house until after Mary’s death in 1995.
Florence moved around the block where she would live even after she married in 1960, and would die there.
Russell moved when he married to Cottage Street within long walking distance of his mother’s house, and remained there, until he sold the house to his son, before relocating to Little Falls.
Peggy lived in the Lanza Avenue house growing up, and lived there until her father and mother divorced in the early 1970s, although her mother, Eleanor, moved only a few blocks east to Ray Street, where she remained until her marriage to Charles Moan around 1988, when she moved to Little Falls.
Steve, Peggy’s father, remained in Lanza Avenue house, as a caretaker for Mary, even after his divorce from Peggy’s mother and at some point, Janet Watkins, moved in with him – who he would later apparently marry years later after moving to Pennsylvania.
Even Peggy’s sister, Susan, stayed local, living for a long time in an apartment complex near Outwater Lane on the Garfield/Lodi border.
Peggy’s early life was very much contained in that small ethnic world of Lanza Avenue with an Eastern European deli across the street where English was a foreign language, to the local tavern with similar clientele. Her elementary school was a block and half from her house, and even after she moved in with her mother on Ray Street a few blocks west of the Lanza Avenue house around 1973, she was already entering high school which was a short bus ride away.
Peggy disliked high school so much that she avoided going there as much as she could – and it remains one of the great mysteries of the universe how she managed to graduate. Although she spent as much time away from school as possible, many of her classmates recalled her outrageous laugh, something that was a cross between a fog horn and a bullfrog.
She loved music and dancing, but did not get involved with either at school. She joined no cheer leader squad, not stage performance, no other extracurricular activity during her long four years at Garfield High.
Some classmates recalled her as a bubbly long-haired pretty girl who trailed after and gushed over her boyfriend, Bobby.
Bobby was and remained the one great love of her life, someone she continued to have contact with, even after I started seeing Peggy in late 1986.
She could not stop loving Bobby, even after he started beating and stalking her, leaving notes under her door – even sometimes when I was in the apartment with her, a violent man who left mental and physical scars on her, and a legacy of destruction I even saw in the apartment in broken mirrors and bric-a-brac.
Peggy claimed she attended Montclair State College after graduating Garfield High. She may have, but if she did, she never graduated.
She much preferred the night life and managed to connect with local mobsters, although her whole life growing up was surrounded by them, operating local businesses and taverns. Her mother and possibly sister for a time across from the legendary Goodfellas in Garfield. Peggy frequently danced at mob owned dance clubs – some known as havens for illegal drugs. One of her closest associates was a man named Thomas, who worked the concession stands at the New Jersey Sports complex in East Rutherford, then controlled Agathos, the head of a union then controlled by the mob.
She emerged into a world at a time when a pretty girl could party constantly, having men cater to her every need. With her pal Marsha, Petty took advantage of the 18-year-old drinking age and her ability to meet important people – sports stars, rock stars and, of course, well-connected mobsters.
She developed expensive tastes as a party girl, accustomed to getting the best of everything from the men she dated, a point she often made with me even as I scraped together just enough money to keep up with her.
But I never bought her drugs, even though she suggested I should more than once.
Cocaine remained her drug of choice, a habit she developed during her popular years when she and Marsha scoured night clubs for men who could feed their insatiable appetites. Later, when Marsha settled down, Peggy continued to crave the drug and sought new ways to feed her addiction.
Peggy also claimed to have a day job as a certified public accountant for a Bogota-based company that operated several packaging companies. This may have been a fabrication, inventing a day time identity based on what her family members did. When she died, Peggy was employed by The Bank of New York, as head teller – hardly the stuff a CPA would be doing. Her mother, however, was employed as a bookkeeper for a packaging firm in Carlstadt – among several jobs, and her sister worked as a CPA for a Lodi trash hauling company.
But when I met Peggy for the first time in the fall of 1986, I was completely taken in by her webs of deceit. Indeed, part of what fascinated me about her was her ability to live in two worlds simultaneously, a vixen of the underworld at night, and a member of the corporate world by day.
If Peggy was a prostitute, it was not in the usual manner in which men pay her directly for sex. She certainly did not see herself as one, in fact, seemed in a perpetual struggle to keep from becoming one.
The owner of Mr. B’s, a particularly loathsome strip club on Wall Street in Passaic, called Peggy a tease, referring to her as “that bitch on the hill” who lured unsuspecting middle class white men up to her place on Harrison Avenue where she bilked them for food, drugs and whatever else she could get out of them before dumping them back out onto the street with nothing to show for the experience.
He may have been peeved at Peggy because she flatly refused to do what was expected of all strippers in places like his. She not only refused to service his special customers when she danced her, but refused to service him or take part in those special film projects that sometimes found their way to the peep shows on 42nd Street in Manhattan.
“She thinks she's something special,” he complained one night when I was licking my wounds after breaking up with Peggy.
Regardless of how he meant it, Peggy WAS someone special, someone who mistakenly believed she could ride the tiger of underworld life and escape unscathed.
I don’t recall exactly when I first took notice of her (best guess around Labor Day, 1986), only when she took notice of me sometime around Thanksgiving at the My Way Lounge in Passaic. But once she caught my eye, I watched her closely.