Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Searches – Spectacular Shortfalls: Suzy Creamcheese

"Suzy Creamcheese." I naively thought what a strange name until Karen enlightened me. It was the name of a fictional character in a Frank Zappa song, a moniker obviously given my brother’s Chicago girlfriend. Inquiring among the Chicago Vietnam GI crowd, we came upon her real name, Susan Rosenberg, by all accounts a free spirit combining a lifestyle of counterculture irreverence and New Left seriousness. Everyone remembered her vividly, but she’d been neither seen nor heard from in years.

Several of the group thought she was still in Chicago, her hometown. Susie came from a well-to-do family; at the time she was neither a college girl nor did she hold a job. At one point we thought we’d spotted her in a photo from a recent reunion of SDS in Ann Arbor MI, the organization from ‘60s Students for a Democratic Society, but it proved a false lead. Another time we got the notion she might be a psychotherapist specializing in drug counseling with an address on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. Bill O’Brien, a great friend to the project, left no stone unturned checking that one out, even drove by the presumed address, all to no avail.

Chicago Skyline and Gold Coast Beaches along The Drive

Then one day a notice crossed my desk, Susan Rosenberg, former Weatherman, ex-Federal prisoner, would be speaking at Hamilton College not far from where I live. She’d become a writer in prison and would speak in a program dedicated to edgy topics. I figured this was it, we’d finally found Susie Creamcheese. Made sense she could’ve drifted into Weatherman, the radical faction that split from SDS in ‘69, and it wasn’t surprising she would’ve served time, a number of them did. Susan herself had been a fugitive into the ‘80s until caught unloading weapons and dynamite from a car.

I contacted the Comparative Lit prof running the speaker’s program, told her the story of Jeff and Susie, said I planned to attend the talk, asked if I could have a chance for a personal word. Coincidentally, the professor was related to a well-known radical defense lawyer who, with his partner Leonard Boudin, took on challenging cases of left activists. Under furious siege from Hamilton alumni and all over the national press for inviting a Weatherman formerly committed to violence, the professor welcomed my collegial interest, even invited me to the private dinner for the speaker.

I was going to meet the elusive Susan face to face. Actually I’d spoken with her by phone decades earlier though I didn’t know it at the time. It was mid- ’69 as Brother Jeff lay dying in the Miami Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital, though I didn’t know that at the time either. The date was June 15th, I had plane tickets for two days hence to visit Jeff and confer again with his doctors. That afternoon I got a phone call from the hospital, the voice of a young woman, extremely upset. Told me to come down right away, “They’re killing Jeff.” She didn’t give a name. Tried to calm her, said I’d look right into it.

Her call stunned, puzzled me, my parents had assured me Jeff’s condition was stable since I last saw him in March. Corresponding with him gave me no reason to think otherwise. I immediately called my father. Yes, he was aware of the young woman’s agitation, told me she was high strung, everything was alright, I should come as planned. Reassured, I went back to tying up loose ends so I’d have no distractions in Miami. The next day, June 16, 1969, the phone rang again, my father in a choked voice, “Bob, Jeff’s gone.” Darkest moment of my life.

As I learned only several years ago, the young woman sounding the alarm had been Susie ‘Creamcheese’ Rosenberg. Jeff’s Chicago friends had made the long trip down to see him, Susie the only woman in the group. Would it have made a difference if I had heeded her call? Not likely, Jeff’s end was at hand, but I might have been at his bedside. Goddamn.

All this I intended to say to Susie out in Clinton NY. Meanwhile, with the unfriendly media attention focused on little Hamilton College, a contemporary picture of Susan Rosenberg surfaced, a nice-looking, dark-haired woman no worse the wear for 16 years in prison. With success near at hand, I shared the photo with Bill O’Brien who’d known Susie well. By return email back came the news -- that wasn’t Jeff’s Susie, a blonde and much shorter.

Alas, sheepishly, I wrote my Hamilton colleague cancelling my trip, mistaken identity. In the end it didn’t matter, Susan Rosenberg the writer spared Hamilton further grief by gracefully withdrawing from the gig. Meanwhile, Karen and I still search for Susie ‘Creamcheese’ Rosenberg, she’s listed on our mini-website below for missing friends. Where are you, old friend of Jeff’s?

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