I met Alistair in a Philadelphia gay disco standing next to a popcorn machine at a Sunday afternoon ‘tea dance’ sometime back in the early 80s. He was from New Zealand, travelling around the US on one of those one-price open tickets, had just been in NYC staying at the Chelsea Hotel (to soak up the atmosphere) and had come to my hometown of Philadelphia to visit its wonderful Museum of Art.
I didn’t know where NZ was exactly, but I thought it was near Japan. I gave him my Japan (David Sylvian) badge (a band I loved at the time).
After a lot of push/pull, a lot of doubt and angst and, only on his second night in Philadelphia, we slept together. I say angst, because he was the kind of “with it”, young beauty with just enough NZ exoticism to make him totally out of my league. So of course, I was immediately smitten and fell in love and went into my sick puppy act. He was leaving on the morning of the third day. How could he? I had just found him. My club friends were jealous so I knew that he must be a catch.
I wanted him back and had no money to follow him to Washington DC. Walking through a square in Philadelphia, tears streaming down my face, I reached into my pocket and found about $15. A florist's shop was just ahead of me and I walked in. I asked the person at the counter, "can you send flowers to DC?" "Yes. Of course. What would you like?" "Flowers like the one's in the film, 'Diva'." "What?" "Just call DC, they will know what I want." The person on the other end did know the film and even squealed, I think, when it was mentioned. The gay mafia. So the flowers were ordered and I was broke.
That Parisian bouquet did finally convince him to return a few days later. We spent almost a week together. A lot of art talk, a lot of fucking.
Then he left for the west coast, never to return.
I was devastated. I couldn’t think of anything else but getting him back to the east coast (and he had that open ticket too). I called him several times a day on the west coast until he stopped answering the phone.
I thought about the famous people he had mentioned to me. I got Divine’s autograph for him. I found some of the hair from disco diva Sylvester’s weave on the floor of my friend’s club and saved it for him.
I guess I was quite convincing. Laurie responded (I did let her get a word or two into the conversation), “Get a poster or something and I will write him a message”. I grabbed one of her exhibition posters and a marker. She wrote in grand lettering: "Alistair, Come back! He loves you. Laurie Anderson”.
A day or two later I was phone-stalking Alistair in California again. Finally, he picked up.
“I think that you want me to come there, don’t you?"I asked.
“I thought you’d figure it out eventually” he chided. "Meet me in Los Angeles next Monday. I will be at LAX around noon waiting for you with a gelato. Don’t call again.”
I hung up the phone excited beyond belief. I had never even been on a plane before. I had no money. Fortunately, my brother, convinced by my sob story, bought the ticket. I was going to LA to be with Alistair for two weeks!
|Alistair, dead centre, as an extra in 'Merrry Christmas, Mr Lawrence'|
Underneath his slight smile or smirk, I guessed that Laurie had pleased him, even I had pleased him somewhat by coming to California.
The airport departure two weeks later is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that we believed that we would never see each other again.
A few years later, I went to Paris for the first time only because it was a place that Alistair had said that he wanted to visit (although I never admitted to this at the time). I sent him a sarcastic postcard soon after arrival. This postcard journey opened a whole phase in my life (again, a story for another time).
We did meet up again, years later in Philadelphia, when he was on a shoot for the BBC and then several more times when we were both living in London. I was involved with someone else at the time. He seemed more serious and not so light and carefree then. I missed that. We tried to be friends, tried to rekindle something, but it never was quite the same.
Laurie was right. He should have come back when she told him to.
[You can read a short piece of mine in the Journal of Nursing Research on emotion and art. The painting that I talk about in the article is of the beach where Alistair and I spent many days whilst in California. This was my second venture into autobiography 'by stealth' in academic journals. Now you have the back story to that paper too.]