During my long and successful climb to obscurity I had, on two occasions, the opportunity to work as a designer for an independent fabric import company based in Miami, Florida. The job had few gratifications but did allow me to shuttle back and forth to New York quite frequently. On one such mission, referred to as a “design symposium” (pretentious for trade show), a group of up and coming designers and I decided to do the only rational activity following nine hours of marathon discussions concerning tapping the yuppie market, appealing to the masses and profit potential. We went out to get drunk. New York enthusiast that I am, I was elected to pick the spot. Having met Andy Warhol briefly in 1969, I thought it adventurous to seek him out for an updated appraisal of his pomposity. We found out that there had been a recent sighting at a place on 57th Street called Mr. Chow. We immediately recruited the services of the informant who professed to have a contact at Mr. Chow who could guarantee us a respectable table.
While being led to our table moments later, I made incidental eye contact with a goddess addressing two couples several feet from our table. She smiled at me with an impish grin as if to acknowledge the entrance of an old acquaintance. I seated the two ladies in our group and moved toward my assigned seat. As I removed my coat I noticed my apparition gliding across the floor toward me. I remained standing, considering the slim possibility that I was her destination. She stopped very close to me, extended her hand and softly uttered, “Hello, I’m Tina Chow.”
I gazed into her endless third world eyes, reflexively offered my hand and said, “I’m pleased to meet you, I’m Quinn Stilletto.” She took my hand and turned it so my palm was facing the floor. I panicked thinking she was examining my freshly ravaged fingernails but instead, she commented on my ring which, frankly, bears a profound resemblance to a hood ornament. I wanted to return the compliment on her jewelry but not knowing where to begin, I passed.
She then asked me a question I was used to hearing. “Are you a rock star?”
I answered, “No, I’m an artist but this week I’m a designer.” I was amazed at the genuine interest she displayed in my oratory, and the relative ease with which she discussed the design microcosm in New York. She was a consummate conversationalist and a gracious listener.
In a previous career I had been a fashion photographer for the Crowther Photography Studio in Cleveland but I must confess, I rarely read a glamour magazine. Nor was I current on the modeling elite of the period so I was absolutely ignorant to whom I was addressing. I stupidly inquired, “So what do you do, Tina?”
Without reacting to my faux pas she politely replied, “My husband and I operate this restaurant and I’ve done some modeling.” For Tina Chow to say, “I’ve done a little modeling,” is comparable to Perlman saying, “I dabble with a fiddle.”
Apparently I gave myself away because she then asked me where I was from. I was certain that my answer would end the conversation but I took the plunge. “I’m from Cleveland, Ohio,” I said boldly.
Her compassionate eyes exploded into stardust and she again took my hand and said, “I’m from Cleveland too.” I suspected this was a colossal joke but she had an adequate recollection of the city. We spoke for a few more minutes during which she bought a round for our table. I came to discover later that this was her habit where artists were concerned. She offered us many words of determined welcome and endless encouragement before she excused herself in pursuit of her next assignment. As quietly as she appeared she slipped out of my life.
As we were leaving Mr. Chow I got one more reprieve. Tina hastily excused herself from the table across the room and met us at the door and said, “Come back soon, Quinn." I, of course, read much more into it.
I thought of Tina often in the months to pass. My career took a nosedive along with the economy and although I was in New York on several occasions, I never set foot in the restaurant again. I deluded myself into believing that I would not be able to face her again without some grand news to report. The irony of my thinking is that Tina Chow was not the kind of person to whom that would have mattered.
The next time I saw Tina she was on the cover of the March 2, 1992 issue of New York Magazine. This, however, was not the Spring Fashion Issue nor was it the Restaurant and Entertainment issue. It was the story of a Lady of great beauty and grace who tragically succumbed to the AIDS virus. As I read her story, my fifteen-minute interlude with her became a lifetime. I thought of my many friends and acquaintances who had perished within the time since I’d seen Tina. After a difficult divorce from her husband Michael; Tina was vulnerable and uncertain about her future. This phenomenon is familiar to a great many unfamous people, myself included. She made a mistake that cost her her life. Tina Chow slept with a total of four (4) men in her entire forty-one years. I can’t help feeling a sense of personal loss and grave injustice.
The Art community, like none other, has been decimated by the AIDS virus. It is my fervent wish that en route to the long awaited cure, the dead and the dying be remembered in the prayers and promises of the survivors. It is not fair for many to say that we knowingly avoided contracting the AIDS virus. We merely escaped it.