Saturday, August 17, 2013

A girl named Sue (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

Oct. 15, 1980

That first winter 1972 into 1973 proved a challenge in a number of ways, and the biggest wedge between the men in the house was Sue; an 18-year-old sexually-active more-than-a-little-na├»ve daughter of a rich Upper Montclair doctor who wanted to be out on her own and convinced her father to foot the bill for the rooming house while she “discovered herself.”
She was pure catnip to the mid-20s men in the house like Ed, Meatball and even me, over whom even some of the women fought – mistakenly assuming Sue was to blame when she wasn’t.
She greeted me my first day at the new house, but it wasn’t until I had fully moved in that she made her biggest impact.
There was another women on the third flood, a little bit older than I was, and very street savvy, who knocked on my door one morning to say that she had locked herself out of her room and did not have time to wait for the landlord to get up since her ride to work was going to come shortly, and she asked if she could wait in my room out of the drafty cold. So I invited her in.
I didn’t notice Sue coming out of the bathroom at the moment my door closed.
Nothing happened (not because I wasn’t attracted to the woman upstairs – Ed was on her the first day, but she was savvy enough to avoid him and Meatball, but tolerated me and one of the other men in the building because we didn’t sniff at her heals like dogs).
But the next day, I got a knock on the door. This time, it was Sue. She was naked except for a small hand towel she held across her chest. She said she’d locked herself out of her room after her shower and was freezing, and wanted to know if she could come in my room to keep warm until the landlord got up (a lazy scheming man who I loved dearly, but who rarely got up before 10 a.m.).
Sue, whose room was right next to the bathroom, rarely brought clothing in the bathroom when she took a shower, but ran in and out – at least, this was her claim.
She would become my nearly constant companion in the house, although not a love (I was still too screwed up from the break up with my wife), and we often sat in her room where I read poetry to her (and when I started finally to write and perform songs) and sang to her.
“She wants to be a Lover,” a song I still perform was written about her, something she was thrilled about.
I was the person to whom she cried most about other people and other men who used her and abused her, even though sometimes, she tended to invite the abuse.
She often prowled the bar across the street, a very popular hangout for bikers and macho working class hippies, as well as my old crew from Little Falls. More than once, she appeared to send messages she either didn’t intend or sent as a flirtation only to find some beefy, angry man pounding at her door to be let in, forcing the landlord to call the cops.
While I had no beef with Ed or Meatball over her, the two men became to hate each other – even though both professed to love other women in their lives. Ed never ceased sniffing out new territory, and Sue seemed infatuated with him. Meatball pretended to want to protect her, even though he did exactly what Ed did.
She was a regular visitor to both their beds, and sometimes sought the protection of one against the other when Ed or Meatball got angry at her.
I was on the public phone in the hall one day (trying to make sense of what Hank was trying to tell me) when Ed and Meatball had it out over her. Ed was lean, but gnarly, while Meatball, much more muscular (softened only by his near constant ingesting of pot). They looked like gun fighters but with curled fists instead of guns, and their raised voices filled the hall so that even the lazy landlord called up from downstairs to know what was going on. Hank squawked at me over the phone with the same request.
They didn’t come to blows. But it divided them until a new woman moved in to the rooming house, and distracted them, and Sue eventually moved out.
But the only one who really seemed to miss her was me, and every time I sing that song, I think of her, and wonder what ever became of her, and if she still remembers me.

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