The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete
Adoration Revisited, part ten
Welcome to Not Knowing How: Adoration Revisited, a capsule newsletter by Lisa Locascio Nighthawk in sixteen parts. Names have been changed. The version of events is my own.
“The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” is Billy’s own “Wuthering Heights,” the story of a man who murders his beloved and is forever haunted by her ghost.
February 2023, West Hollywood. I hit a snag as I’m raking my fingers through my hair after dinner. “I should brush it,” I tell my husband, yanking out a daddy longlegs of strands attached to a fat little knot. I’ve been describing the bodies of the lovers I had before him. “I remember Phillip as kind of a large white mass,” I say. We dissolve into laughter as my husband reenacts my last five minutes of dialogue, our specific strain of domestic dada.
Phillip is my neighbor now. I keep track of him, although we haven’t been in touch in almost a decade. He moved back to L.A. from Chicago the year I moved from L.A. to Connecticut. Now we’re both here. I imagine intercepting him on the sidewalk with my baby. He would be smooth and easy, polite, friendly. He would joke.
I tell myself I don’t begrudge him his fantasies, his bad excuses, his fallibility. His carelessness with my feelings was only human. What still bothers me is the way he discarded the opportunity for more emotionally intense sex with his grown-up teenage dream girl. Why didn’t he just enjoy his luck a little longer? Why wouldn’t he give me what I thought I wanted?
April 2014, Woodside, California. Every night when I get back to my studio at the arts residency I lie down on the floor, spread my legs, and visualize hot pink feminine creative energy emanating out into the world from my crotch, a practice I began on the advice of a psychic. It has unexpected consequences, the most surprising of which is a text from Phillip.
You were my closest experience to true love. I was afraid to be with you for real because I was worried about what people would think if they knew how we met.
We haven’t talked in five years. When we last spoke I felt ill-used by him. Like he took my earnest feelings for granted. I tell him this.
I’m fucked up, Lisa. And you’re a happily married woman now.
He doesn’t know anything about me.
Did he ever?
I still have that manuscript you gave me. Your book. In storage somewhere.
It is amazing to realize that I can still be humiliated by him after all this time.
He tells me he masturbates to pictures of me from when I was in college. He asks what I’m wearing.
Sweats, I tell him. Muddy from a hike.
That’ll do, he texts.
October 2011, Los Angeles. My email inbox.
Phillip has indicated you are a Friend
I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
Strange, because two years earlier he unfriended me on Facebook after I failed to reply to one (1) Hello Lisa, how are you? late night text.
August 2009, Los Angeles. Phillip texts me.
Lisa, I’m looking at things I shouldn’t be on the internet. I think I’m the horniest man on earth. I’m thinking of trying to find a woman to come have sex with me in my hotel room in Texas.
Doesn’t your girlfriend live in Texas? I ask.
We’re having problems. Because of the distance. And because of my general lack of human emotions. I sure wish I had your stockinged legs with me here right now.
I wore thigh highs the last night we spent together. For years I had that pair from Wolford, hand-washed and kept in good condition, folded carefully in a drawer like a passport.
Later July 2009, Chicago. Phillip takes me to a documentary about factory farming. He is in a bad mood about an upcoming wedding in which he is the best man. “I wish people would stop asking me to do things,” he says.
After the movie we go to a bar and he buys me two Long Island Iced Teas. He volunteers to drive me back to the suburbs.“What am I going to do, put you on the train?”
We speed through the hot night, windows open, Kiehls Musk No. 1 wafting over to me through his bright white shirt. He intimates that his new girlfriend is terrible in bed and tells me proudly that he lost weight when he was sick. As we pull into my driveway he says I look beautiful. He parks and we attack each other as if we’ve planned it.
“I’ll go home with you,” I say, “I’ll get up with you in the morning and leave.”
He says my name, kisses the top of my hand. “I’m responsible to someone else. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going further.”
I am sweaty, dehydrated. My temples sting.
“I’ll walk you to the door and give you a hug,” Phillip says.
A few days later we gchat.
Phillip: are you upset?
but it's not because you need to go to sleep
i guess all i want to say is that i care and want to be your friend, and don't want that to be abad [sic] thing for either of us
i had a great time with you on sunday night, and it was the type of encounter i want to keep having with you when we're in the same city
the attraction that exists between us is really strong, but i respect the fact that you're in a relationship. i trust you understand the attendant feelings of conflict and confusion
so that's what i've been dealing with
Phillip: sorruy [sic]
i'm falling asleep
i want to be your friend too
and i don't see why we can't
we cannot be affectionate and for that i feel bad
July 2009, Chicago. Phillip invites me to meet him for dinner at five o’clock at the overpriced restaurant in his office building. We eat outside in the hot purple dusk, making stilted conversation about things other than the black lingerie I’m wearing under a wrap dress held shut only by a tied belt, like a bathrobe. He keeps telling me he has to go right back to work after dinner. It’s obvious to me that he planned this meal to negate the possibility of our sleeping together. He doesn’t talk about the new girlfriend I’ve seen on Facebook. I ask him why he sent me a text at two forty-five in the morning—Hello Lisa. You’ve been on my mind—and he acts confused and affronted at my implication. Phillip pays for dinner and leaves me on the curb with a limp hug.
Actually, that’s not right. The hug is what I remembered. But in revising this I have recovered that Phillip gave me an odd openmouthed kiss before turning to his office.
I take a cab back to the suburbs, go over to a childhood friend’s humid, dark apartment. Strip off the dress and lay down on her floor. “You definitely thought you were having sex tonight,” she says.
June 2009, Chicago. The day I return home from my apartment-finding trip to L.A., where I am moving at the end of the summer, Phillip and I plan to meet for a drink in his neighborhood. I dress up in my Urban Outfitters finery, lace-up pleather open-toe wedges, black tank top, short silver skirt. I blow-dry my bangs and take the Blue Line into the city, leaving my mom watching movies in her bedroom. She knows where I’m going.
I station myself at a lame bar called Swig, text Phillip the address. No response. The bartender takes pity on me, chatting me up, introducing me to her best friend from Niles West High School, an identical nasal brunette. Hours pass. I stare at my flip phone. The bartender and her friend grin at each other, flirt with medical equipment salesmen, call me honey, become irritated by my presence, ignore me. After five hours I give up and get in a cab back to River Forest. I’m almost home when Phillip texts.
I just woke up after sleeping for hours. I’m not a well man.
My mom and I watch Conan with our cats until I fall asleep in her bed.
A few days later Phillip and I gchat. I send him a picture of the shoes I was wearing.
me: sometimes i've worried that my effusiveness, my desire to show people - i.e. you - how much i appreciate your presence in my life has made me seem soft or easy
Phillip: being open is rare
it's a good think [sic] for sure
Lisa: but there very few people i care about that way, and you're once of them, so when i'm there telling you nice things it's not because i'm easy to please or don't know what i'm doing, it's because i chose to do that and it was important to me, and it was a gift i was trying to give you, one i can't give very many people at all
Phillip: i really didn't know that
i didn't know that you're not like this with everyone
I email the transcript to my friend Isaac:
Maybe you should skim this and determine whether I'm an idiot for feeling better after this conversation. Spoiler: I am way too nice, even when I try to be mean.
(Sorry, Isaac. That email might be the worst part of this whole story.)
Spring 2009, New York. I plan a secret trip to Chicago to see Phillip. Secret because I don’t tell my parents or anyone else that I am coming home. I want to spend the whole time in bed with Phillip. He agrees to the visit—I know it is a risky endeavor and don’t buy my ticket until I receive affirmative consent, as if this will guarantee my desired outcome—but then stops responding to my texts and emails. I try to be coy and cute to coax Phillip into replying, into wanting me, but eventually I have to be direct. Will he be picking me up at O’Hare or should I take a cab?
hi lisa, he writes back. Thanks for the update note. Can I call you?
I know this is bad. We never talk on the phone. Phillip explains that he is sick, has too much going on. We can have coffee while I’m in town, but that’s it.
Like the sensation of giving birth, the specific pain I feel when I hang up the phone is lost to me now. I can only recall its grandeur. I walk to one of the tourist dives on Washington Square and order a double shot of Maker’s Mark I slam in one go. I pay eighteen dollars for the pleasure.
A few weeks later I call Phillip on the morning of his birthday, crisply give him my regards. “Well thanks, sweetheart,” he says. “That’s very sweet of you.”
At some point in that month I go to dinner at Sharaku with my friend Ivan. Once, when we were children, he played “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” on the piano for me at the first coed party I ever attended. Now we’re both writers in New York. I tell Ivan my whole sad tale.
“Lisa, this is what he wants,” Ivan says. “Right now. The way you feel, how fucked up it is. He doesn’t want it to get better, to figure things out. The way things are right now—that’s what this guy wants.”
For months my friends have listened patiently as I agonize over Phillip. They have all made heroic efforts to get me out of this situation. Ivan’s words are the first ones that I really listen to. For a while.
January, February, and March 2009, New York. I’m a new woman. Before, I have only ever been a girlfriend, but now I am the easygoing fuck buddy of a depressed man sliding into middle age.
I am practicing casualness. Taking things lightly. My feelings for Phillip are controlled, regulated. He is not my boyfriend, and he is not going to be my boyfriend. We’re friends whose friendship has expanded to include a new, sensational element. I will see what happens. I set my whole determined self to the task.
you’re a classic overachiever, Phillip says on gchat.
But on the first day I ever teach college he surprises me by sending me a huge bouquet of flowers to my MFA program, a very public gesture that punctures my illusory sangfroid.
I was prepared not to hear from him at all, but to my delight, we now gchat many evenings. cool and ha, he responds to my whole paragraphs of excited detail about my life. Sometimes hot.
I was in my hotel room that night you came with your friend, he tells me. I was terrified of what would happen if I invited you two up to my room. But I also fantasize about it to this day.
I try to date in New York, but I have no aptitude for it. What I’m good at is long weird relationships with sad men. My therapist says I am voting with my feet.
One Saturday I text Phillip that I slept until one o’clock. Tell me I’m not a loser.
He writes back ten hours later. Sorry. You’re a loser.
December 2008, Chicago. We barely need the pretense of a dinner to do what wants to be done. The writing is on the wall as soon as Phillip chivalrously opens my car door. At the “secret speakeasy” he takes me to, he comments on my dilated eyes. “You know what that means, right?” I ask. He doesn’t.
“Intense arousal,” I say.
Phillip lives in a condo that contains only a bed, a dress form, and the stand for the Taschen book Sumo by Helmut Newton, which, he tells me, cost $25,000. Sumo itself, along with all of Phillip’s furniture, is in storage for undisclosed reasons.
Phillip wants me and acts like it and this is exactly what I want.
In the morning I am so giddy to wake in his low bed in the bright sunlight reflecting off the snow-covered hospital out his massive window. At the breakfast he takes me to I am giddier still. I sit in his passenger seat in a state of ecstatic bliss as he drives me home to my parents. Finally I have done it. Pierced the veil, transcended myself, accomplished what was hard for me but what all my peers seemed to do easily, without a second thought.
On my last night in town he invites me to a hotel room where he has spent the day photographing a different young woman. He wants to take pictures of me, too. I beg off on the usual intense goodbyes with my family and go downtown in a fancy green dress. The last time I wore it was to my anniversary dinner with my ex-boyfriend Adrian, at an expensive NYC restaurant neither of us enjoyed.
Phillip photographs me in a room at the W Hotel full of boxes of size 7 Aldo shoes he bought for the other girl’s shoot. “Feel free to take any,” he says. None of them fit.
Before he takes me to the airport I give Phillip a copy of my manuscript-in-progress. He flips to the first page, sees the epigram:
I’d often speak of you
But the you was always me
— Billy Corgan
I stare at the floor. “Yeah he shows up in everything, I guess.”
Why am I embarrassed? Billy is the reason Phillip and I know each other.
November 10, 2008. New York.
Subject: does this email still work?
It's a longshot, I know. It's been a while, and I really only have a sense memory of how your email was spelled, so I'm trying a few variations. I have so much to tell you and want so much to catch up.
He replies within hours.
Subject: re: does this email still work?
Apologies, I've been traveling for work. Will reply later. Would love to hang out with you.
April 2001, Los Angeles. For spring break we take a family trip to California so that I can look at colleges. We start in L.A. and drive to San Francisco. But not before I spend an evening with Phillip.
My father is always the stricter parent, prone to paroxysms of conservatism and mood-inspired moral panics about my sex life, my mother the more permissive. When I raise the prospect of seeing Phillip, they switch roles. My mother says that she doesn’t want me to go. My father agrees to take me to him.
We pick Phillip up in our rental car. He sits in the backseat. My father drives to the Sunset Laemmle 5 and leaves us there to watch Before Night Falls.
Almost as soon as we sit down in the dark, Phillip takes my hand. We clutch each other’s fingers throughout the movie, which stars a charismatic actor I’ve never seen before named Javier Bardem. After, my dad picks us up and drives Phillip back to his apartment. We hug chastely on the sidewalk and say goodbye.
I write a poem about the experience, “262 Miles to San Francisco,” and send it to Phillip. My poetry is purposefully obscure, hard to decode, a shield for my forbidden desires. I feel like I’ve been here before, Phillip writes.
After this, we fall out of touch for almost eight years.
December 3, 2000, Chicago. The last Smashing Pumpkins concert has just ended. It is three in the morning, snowing, and I am wearing open-toe six-inch heels made to look like a piece of rebar stuck into a hunk of concrete. During the concert, my feet hurt so bad that I thought I would pass out. I asked a security guard to lift me out of the crowd. A waitress brought me a bottle of water as I recovered on the edge of the floor. Then I fought my way right up to the front again, thrashed and wept in Billy’s light.
Now everything is over. I dazedly scan Clark for a taxi.
A man approaches me, carrying a video camera with a bright spotlight. I can’t see his face. He asks me about the concert, about my feelings about the Smashing Pumpkins. He films me talking. I fill out a release form.
A few days later he emails me about the footage. I tell him my age.
Sixteen? He wrote. When you said sophomore I thought Loyola. Northwestern.
After that we email each other every few days, long missives about our lives and tastes. He tells me to watch Magnolia—pee first, it’s long!—and a movie called Beautiful Girls, in which Natalie Portman plays a character who reminds him of me.
Phillip is twenty-eight. He works closely with the Smashing Pumpkins in a creative capacity. But we don’t talk about them much. I am shy about the intensity of my fandom. He is parsimonious with stories about the band. He tells me about going to the Grammys in a leather tuxedo.
Like me Phillip is from the western suburbs of Chicago, but now he lives in Los Angeles. After we’ve been emailing a few months, l he comes home to visit and we speak on the phone. He tells me that the night before he was at Doc Ryan’s, a bar ten minutes from my house. I know he is staying at the House of Blues downtown. So I go there with Moira, call him, tell him we are downstairs.
“Oh,” he says. “I’m sorry, I’m not in.”
He promises to send me a package of Pumpkins stuff, and I think he does, but I can’t remember what was in it.
He asks me to take pictures of myself with my SP collection. Says he will pitch me as the album art for the band’s forthcoming greatest hits compilation.
My hair was dyed dark. I laid on the floor in my rose-print bra, surrounded by my treasures. My mom captured the scene with a disposable camera.
I don’t have these pictures. I gave them to him.
I thought it would be fun to write about Phillip, his dumb soft mouth and pale freckled back and stilted avuncular pillow talk. About the way he used his anorgasmia to beg off condoms. About how I was delighted when he gave me almost nothing and devastated when he refused me his crumbs. I thought this story would be the most juicily entertaining installment of Adoration Revisited. But then I got sick—first with the enigmatic pain that sent me to the ER in January, then with a cold—and I couldn’t stop thinking about my mom.
For years I have been at work on an essay about a different affair I had, later in my life. Many times I’ve declared that essay finished and sent it out to magazines that reject it. One editor wrote, “The mom was, to us, maybe the most interesting character. Would read more about her for sure.”
I remember standing with my mom at the makeup counter at Marshall Field’s in Water Tower Place, listening to a pitch for the Yves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat.
“It highlights your pretty parts,” the saleswoman said.
My mom looked at me, smiling. “She has only pretty parts.”
That was what I thought adult life was like, when I was a child. Elegance, leisure and ease, glamour, as packaged in the cool, reflective atmosphere of a high-rise mall with glass elevators built in 1975. That was the world my mother promised me and the one she took with her when she died.
I never make it very far into drafting one of these newsletters without spending the better part of an hour scrutinizing the Wikipedia entry for Water Tower Place, as if I am convinced it will explain it to me.
Thank you for reading! This is the tenth of sixteen installments of Adoration Revisited, which will be released every Friday between December 2, 2022 and April 7, 2023, or whenever it’s done. If you enjoy my newsletter, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. And I’m always interested to hear about your obsessions and memories.
This might be my favorite one yet ✨
I’ve loved this series, Lisa. You look so much like your mom in those pictures too.