Foot Notes

In which the author meets a wily cheater and a sexy fetishist

The most viable prospect for long-term romance post-divorce turned up through work. I was reporting for ARTnews on one of the first legal challenges invoking the Visual Artists Rights Act and met the attorney defending a trio of artists whose work was threatened with removal from the lobby of a New York apartment building. He was smart and charming, with a gorgeous head of salt-and-pepper hair—and also quite short, while I at the time was five foot ten. If he was available, I thought perhaps he’d make a good match for my friend Melissa, who was also entering the limbo of midlife dating.

But, no, Richard seemed quite smitten with me and I became briefly so with him. Especially when I pulled my hair away from my face and he told me I looked like that famous photo of Greta Garbo by Edward Steichen in which she pulls her hair back from her face. I did not, and do not, look anything like Greta Garbo, but at that moment, feeling hugely insecure about my desirability, the line worked embarrassingly well.

So the next thing I knew we were on our way out to my parents’ empty house in Montauk in early spring in Richard’s ailing Maserati, which broke down and required repairs in Amagansett. I came almost to my senses when I woke up in the middle of the night as he was headed to the loo and caught a glimpse of his bare back and butt in the moonlight. I remember thinking, Oh my God! What am I doing? He looks like a little boy from a Maurice Sendak picture book.

A couple of days after that he saved me the trouble of “breaking up” with him when he confessed that he lived with a female “roommate” who was quite a bit older.[1]

“How much older?” I asked.

“Twenty years.” Which would have put her close to seventy.

“Do you sleep with her?”

“Yes. Sometimes,” he answered.

“Do you have an open relationship?”

“No.”

“Then how,” I asked, “could you go off for a weekend with me?”

“I told her I was visiting my sister.”

Remember, reader, very few cell phones back then and so harder to check up on people. Perhaps he called her from a phone booth when I sent him out for groceries.

Oddly, I wasn’t all that angry about the deception and remained friends with Richard for a few years, until the endless philandering became too much to fathom or sanction, especially after he ruined a perfectly nice vacation in Venice with another friend. But that falls under the rubric of “Terrible Travels” and belongs to a whole different saga, yet to be written.

The next prospect was Peter, who advertised himself laconically as “a GQ type, solvent” in the New York Magazine personals. He was a couple of years older than I and, yes, fashion-model handsome with prematurely silver hair and glacially blue eyes. Sensitive hands, an endearing gap between his front teeth. We discovered a bit of common ground when he revealed that his father was a painter who hung out with de Kooning and Pollock and was the last person to talk to Arshile Gorky before his suicide. His mother, a photographer of some note, had been one of the first women to show at the Museum of Modern Art.

So, of course, after a couple of dates, he invited me up to his apartment to see his parents’ work.

I must pause here to ask myself what kind of involvement I wanted at that point in my life, about a year after the divorce was final. I don’t believe it was to get married, or even fall in love again. I was busy establishing a new career as an art reporter and reviewer at a time when I worried that I would never have a job again. In fact, ARTnews, where I had interviewed almost 20 years earlier for the post as receptionist (I turned it down in favor of an assistant’s position that paid $10 more a week), was in many ways my dream job, drawing as it did on an academic background in art history a talent for writing.

No, I think I mostly wanted to hold on to my equilibrium and move forward from a difficult split.

So what was I looking for? A boyfriend, a boy toy? I believe people have no idea when they end a marriage of 16 years that no matter how amicable the parting, no matter how much money or property gets tossed your way, there is bound to be anger. And grief. And so perhaps my quest was for a “comfort man.”

But none of this was buzzing through my brain as I sat in Peter’s one-bedroom apartment eyeballing his father’s tortured AbEx paintings of dancers with tiny heads and coagulated limbs. I suppose I should have walked out then and there on the grounds of aesthetics, but he was cooking and the aromas from the kitchen were deeply tantalizing, and what the hell? It was only dinner, right?

We were on the couch, enjoying another glass of wine, and I was halfway expecting a pass, when Peter made a lunge for my foot. I don’t remember what I was wearing on my upper anatomy, but I vividly remember my sandals. They were flats, black suede, with narrow straps. Tenderly he put my foot in his lap and began to undo the little gold buckle.

“Forgive me. I love feet,” he said simply.

Well, reader, we did end up in bed, and memory has blocked some of the myriad ways he found to admire my feet while in the act, but I will tell you that because I have long slender legs men have often had the idea that they are somewhat like cooked spaghetti, infinitely flexible, and occasionally that misapprehension causes some awkward moments.

But in the morning, after rather a divine time any way you bend it, I learned a few initial truths about fetishism, and specifically foot fetishists.

Oh, brave new world!

[1] There are so many questions one often does not think to ask at the beginning of a liaison with a man who is supposedly available. Like, point blank, Are you in a relationship? Or, How many other women are you seeing? Foolishly late in the game, I discovered that I should be submitting questionnaires before succumbing to so much as a smooch.