Belladonna By Prof Barbara Foster

 “Just one of those things”. Cole Porter

It had been almost a year since I visited the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan’s East village. Their Monday night open mic attracted a wide array of performers. One of them, a Latino fellow with shiny curls and eyes that lit up the stage, sang corny songs unsuitable to a bohemian joint where edginess prevailed. Oblivious, his poise harked back to crooners from a bygone era. I had seen his act before but one night after his brief set of two Sinatra songs, he sat down next to me. I did my best to make conversation, not to come across as an academic.

“Have you been singing long, “I ventured

“Two years, ever since I heard that CD of Frankie Sinatra at my aunt’s in Jersey. Never paid any attention to him before. Afterwards, I started warbling. I haven’t stopped since. Who’s asking?” His serious manner contrasted with the romantic songs in his repertoire. I gave him my particulars, he gave me his–which included a doctorate in Sociology. To avoid the pressure of academia, he taught in the public school system.

Our conversation continued through the next set and we wound up leaving together. Despite the winter wind, we sat on a bench outside the Club sharing nuggets about our lives. It turned out that Randolph (nicknamed Randy) spent many evenings at open mics in hopes of being “discovered”–his dream. He had made a CD, which he hawked at every opportunity. Straightaway, I bought two copies, although he wanted to present one to me.

Finally, I asked the one question that had a major impact on all my relationships. “Where do you live? Manhattan?” I asked optimistically.

“Not these days. Used to during my first marriage. Some years ago, before it got so trendy, I bought a house in Williamsburg. Brooklyn’s got interesting neighborhoods Manhattanites don’t suspect. Why not come over to sample my grilled salmon? By the way, I’m a gourmet cook.” Randy licked his lips as though tasting one of his culinary creations.

He was geographically undesirable, but my mouth watered above and beyond any concoction he could whip up on the stove. Randy took my number and phoned the next day.

“Free tomorrow night?” he demanded, in his crooning voice that made my knees buckle as though I were a Sinatra worshipper at one of his concerts. I imagined Randy’s long eyelashes flickering in my direction like a magic carpet tempting me to climb onboard and fly away with him. The “imp of the perverse” whispered in my ear: “Go ahead, you only live once!”

Our first date revolved around a Rock and Roll Musical on Broadway. In Randy’s company burgers and fries at McDonalds would have sufficed. Worried about the strain on his pocketbook, I inquired:

“Isn’t Broadway rather expensive these days and don’t you have to be up early for teaching?”

“Not a problem,” he reassured me. “Let’s have drinks at the Water Club after. Great pianist there. Anyway, don’t need much sleep. If I get a gig performing in clubs I’m up till the wee hours. Who cares? Someone with your ravishing style doesn’t come along every day. Gotta’ say, I adore older women!”

“How old are you?” This question had not occurred to me, for Randy would have appealed to me had he been in his thirties or nineties. Another plus, he counted out a mere ten years younger.

Before Randy hung up, he added. “You remind me of the classic actresses, not the vapid creatures on screen today. Let’s see, maybe, Lana, no too blond, or Ava? Better Rita, with her glorious red hair. Did you see the “Dancing Pirate?” Wow! I’ll play it for you sometime.”

Primping for the show, I ransacked my closet for a killer outfit. Finally, I picked a black and silver sheath dress, matching stiletto heels that made me totter as though I were drunk, and antique jewelry to add a classy vintage flair. Fishnet stockings completed my ensemble. Women in dungarees, Randy declared, made him run for the exit.

Nor did he seek marriage. Twice disappointed, forever wary of commitment. Gradually, Randy had reinvented himself as the “dream date,” ready to play with the flame as long as the fire didn’t come close enough to burn. Such honesty was refreshing, indicative of someone able to follow ground rules. A man who would show up on time, take me out to nice places, and throw some passion in my direction did not have to promise eternal fidelity. Time this veteran of the bedroom follies made a few compromises!

Five dates, all to upscale places, happened in two glorious weeks. After each date, Randy administered a chaste kiss. By the third week, I was so mad for Randy that I would have paid for the best hotel room in Manhattan to have his lips explore mine—elsewhere as well– in privacy. Finally, Randy extended the invite I had been waiting for: dinner chez lui at his Williamsburg digs, a three-story fun house full of surprises.

The first floor appeared pedestrian: a small office, one room full of recording equipment, computers, plus a separate, modest sized kitchen. One level down several rooms were appointed in black and white: chairs, tables, a bureau, even an Olivetti hunt and peck typewriter. A bed with a heart shaped-painted head board showed an interracial nude couple embracing. Another room contained such a variety of exercise equipment jammed in that it qualified as a mini gym.

Yet another room had a locked door. I insisted on seeing its contents to establish that Randy did not have remnants of ex-girlfriends stashed there. This teeny-tiny space yielded a delightful surprise: two turtles were happily ensconced in a decorative bowl on an antique table. They dozed side by side, so companionable curled up in their shells.

Randy woke them up with food nuggets. Their names were Sinatra one and two—a tribute to the crooner whom Randy placed on a pedestal so high it reached the heavens. This reptilian duo consecrated our evening and convinced me that Randy would—as the evening progressed–unveil more enchantments. If the Goddess of Love cooperated, soon we would lay body to body, trading kisses so passionate that they would leave scars.

The dimly lit basement floor contained a few more rooms decorated in a red so dark it could pass for black. In one room the bed occupied most of the space, except for a large locked trunk which Randy explained held his CD’s—his most valuable possession. Randy slept in this airless vampire’s cave because he found it “cozy.”

Our whirlwind tour completed, Randy escorted me upstairs for dinner, which appeared magically. We ate salmon fresh from the grill spiced with rosemary washed down with a properly aged Pinot Noir in a compact, improvised dining room. Frequent toasts to each other and the evening ahead culminated in spontaneous dancing that harked back to my teenage years at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

Our movements, as we celebrated Bacchus, the god of wine, became wilder and wilder. Pagans, we let all restraints go as, piece by piece, we dropped our clothing on the floor. Touching Randy’s well-developed muscles formerly hidden by loose fitting suits made my hands yearn to strip him naked. His obsidian eyes pierced the shell which protected me from entanglements apt to veer beyond my control.

Again we adjourned to the basement, where Randy’s bed promised myriad erotic enchantments. Straightaway, he assumed the requisite condom. His vigor both thrilled and frightened me. What an uneven match! His bulk, kept formidable in daily workouts, pitted against my one-hundred-and-ten pounds. Think Two Ton Tony Galento in the ring with a featherweight. Would I emerge from t this bout with all body parts intact? Bulk aside, Randy’s movements had the grace of a tiger weaving its way thought a jungle.

Randy’s inexhaustible energy penetrated my core and made me forget the civilized trappings that I had adopted to function in the world. Holding onto the sheets, my imagination soared out of the gloomy basement. His touch ushered me into a universe of perpetual delights where every part of my body came alive. Instead of diminishing, the intensity kept building. Randy appeared to be the veritable “all-nighter” that many women highly prize. Not me! In the past, I had avoided men keen to show off their endurance.

About three o’clock, Randy dozed. Fifteen minutes later he woke up.

“Time to get going,” he informed me.

“It’s the middle of the night,” I moaned.

“Hey, I’m always up a six to work out. Then I ride my bike round the neighborhood. That routine really works for me. Any objections to the results?” He flexed his muscular arm, then smothered my mouth with passionate kisses, nibbled my elbows. Was he ready for another round? I wondered. Instead, he got up and started to put on his clothes.

Exhausted, nevertheless, I threw myself together and staggered upstairs. Affectionate, Randy held my hand while he escorted me to his car. On the way back to Manhattan, euphoria overtook both of us. We began to sing Sinatra standards at the top of our lungs. I could still taste his lips, the tongue that probed my every orifice with such expertise.

# # #

Next morning, sore from the persistent thrusts of Randy’s cock, I administered home remedies to heal the area. Small price for a night of rapture. This throbbing reminder of our time together did not lessen the contentment that made me want to both laugh and cry simultaneously. As though on cue, Randy called to reminisce about our tryst. He promised to schedule a repeat performance soon.

Exhilarated, and inspired by Randy’s example, I went to the gym. On the way back I tumbled into a deep hole, one of many common on New York City streets. While Alice fell down a rabbit hole into as fantasy world populated by other worldly creatures, I thumped on the jagged pavement–my left leg twisted under me. Disoriented, I could not figure out how to pick myself up. All my defenses were gone, lost the night before in a mysterious basement chamber where two turtles played hide and seek.

A couple of passer-bys rushed over to help me up, giving the lie to New Yorkers reputation for not being helpful to strangers. Oddly enough, nothing hurt, nor did I become black and blue immediately. A few days later my thigh became dark but still no pain. When the color started to creep down, I consulted my doctor who assured me that nothing was broken. The bad news: “it would get worse looking before it got better.”

In a few days, the discoloration crept down my entire leg. Panic set in, and I rushed to the emergency room at a local hospital. After sitting for several hours, a redundant x-ray indicated that nothing was broken—news that made me feel foolish for wasting hours in such a depressing place.

Randy stayed in touch, or rather telephoned daily bulletins about his career’s progress. After a brief question about my injury, he gave me intricate run-downs on this or that company possibly interested in his CD, or gigs that looked promising. Nor did he ask how he could be helpful in any way. As a sidebar, he went into his disappointment when past physical relationships degenerated into platonic ones. This sort of connection without flesh to flesh contact was a “waste of time” from his perspective. Predictably, such dissertations did not speed up my healing process.

In a month my leg returned to almost normal. The news gratified Randy who began to suggest outings. His first proposal, watching a vampire film on TV in his basement, did not cheer me up. Persistent, he proposed brunch in a “really, really cheap” restaurant on the West Side. What a come down from our evening at the exclusive Water Club, the Broadway show that won a plethora of awards. Did the injured rate only rate rock bottom dates, or did Randy’s cheapskate side kick in once a romance succumbed to his charms? Additionally, he mentioned that the turtles died, a loss that I imbued with a symbolic significance.

Although I could not forget being devoured by Randy’s kisses, the circular way his tongue massaged the roof of my mouth, I had no inclination to see him again. My fall and his subsequent behavior put a curse on our future. I added this experience to many other voyages along the shores of sacred and profane love. Unexpected twists and turns in the romance department no longer surprised me. Nor did I intend to rush into another affair with someone who had superficial glamour but promised trouble down the road. A saying of Casanova, the great lover who wrote the classic memoir, came to mind: “Beyond pleasure, there is still happiness.”