Foot Notes, Part Two

The adventures in fetishism, or maybe "partialism," continue

Peter explained some of it for me in the morning. When he was a wee small child, he claimed, he crawled toward his mother’s feet underneath the dining table and was transfixed and aroused at the sight of them. Their shape and softness, and her smoothly polished toenails, induced in him his first wee small erection. (I don’t remember if he said anything about, um, odors.) Ever since, he’d had this thing for feet and found them a powerful source of pleasure, fantasy, and excitement.

Well, of course, I had to do a little investigation about this on my own, using the primitive search engines of the day, like Lycos and Nexus. To quote a contemporary source: “Fetishism is a problem in which a person has sexual urges associated with non-living objects. The person becomes sexually aroused by wearing or touching the object. For example, the object of a fetish could be an article of clothing, such as underwear, rubber clothing, women's shoes, or women's underwear or lingerie. The fetish may replace sexual activity with a partner or may be integrated into sexual activity with a willing partner…. A related disorder, called partialism, involves becoming sexually aroused by a body part, such as the feet, breasts or buttocks.”

So Peter was a “partialist” rather than a fetishist, which may be something like being a Jehovah’s Witness rather than a Seventh Day Adventist. Because I love doing research that may end in publication and a check, I ran a story idea by a staffer I knew at New York Woman, a hip monthly, then edited by a respected Esquire alumna. Both she and the senior editor were hugely enthusiastic: “Oh, yes, work in as many details about your sex life as you can!”

And so I was off to the races. Mostly on my own time, honest….I didn’t really want my colleagues at ARTnews overhearing me in a phone interview with the publisher of Leg Show, an adult fetish magazine, or with the erudite authors of a book on fetishism from anthropological and psychoanalytic angles.

It turns out, I discovered, there is a fair amount of respectable literature on the subject, even an essay by Dylan Thomas on foot fetishism, which can still be downloaded from Amazon.com. In a few deft paragraphs, the great poet observed that Dostoevsky probably had a foot fetish because of how “extensively he described the female foot and kissing it” in The Brothers Karamazov. He noted further that “there is nothing inherently bad about the foot fetish, except that arousal toward feet is simply not as accepted as arousal toward female breasts or buttocks.”

The manuscript of my article is long gone, lost in the hard drive of some recycled PC, buried in landfill or pulped to toxic waste, but the most pertinent fact I remember from talking to the academics was that the true fetishist needs to be in the presence of the object of desire—feet or shoes, rubber or leather—to achieve orgasm. This was most decidedly not true of Peter, who could have sex anywhere, anytime, with very little provocation, with or without feet. It was one of his most entertaining qualities.

I let this and other facts be known to my editors at New York Woman, who seemed barely to consider the manuscript before declaring it unpublishable, not worth so much as a single revision. Those pussies!

It seemed rather tame to me, by comparison with the editorial in magazines for men, and I doubt that I even let it slip that Peter was by and large covered over most of his anatomy in fine silvery hair, almost like fur, which never bothered me at all, especially when he spent cold winter nights in my apartment and I slept between him and my cat, like a snug cavewoman in her Paleolithic lair.

If we let every little thing annoy us, we’d never get laid. Or so went my philosophy at the time.

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Another peculiarity of Peter’s I noticed a couple of weeks into our liaison, when we went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant that specialized in Tuscan cuisine. He scrutinized the wine list. “How about a Pinot Giglio?”

“A what?”

He repeated himself. “Pinot Giglio.”

“Sweetie,” I whispered, “you mean Pinot Grigio. You must somehow have this confused with Topo Giglio, the little Italian mouse from the Ed Sullivan Show.”

“Oh, yes, right!” He flashed his most winning smile.

Then after we’d ordered, he looked at me serenely and asked, “And so tell me what you know about Toscanini cooking?”

At which point I recall that I did rather lose it, perhaps expelling Pinot through my nose. “Well, I don’t know, darling. Perhaps you should go in the kitchen and ask him what he’s conducting tonight.”

I later explained to Peter about malapropisms, citing Archie Bunker and Yogi Berra, who once declared that “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.” They are not necessarily the sign of a parched intellect or sheer stupidity, according to one expert in linguistics, but rather show the complex process through which the brain translates thoughts into language.

I don’t know how much of this registered between Peter’s shapely and handsome ears, but over time the malapropisms became rather endearing and occasionally even made a kind of twisted sense, as when he declared a friend “the splitting image of Bill Clinton” or said we might head out to Long Island, “weather pending.”

He had several appealing traits beyond the bedroom. As a part-time actor—which is to say, mostly unemployed—he had plenty of free hours for cooking and was an excellent chef. I might repair to his apartment after a hard day at the office and find a fabulous boeuf bourguigon or roast chicken waiting for me, preceded by the perfect Manhattan.

And he had an interesting library of VHS tapes, such as a recording of Maria Falconetti in the silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, along with other somewhat obscure (to the laywoman) touchstones of cinema, like Abel Gance’s Napoleon.

Alas, Peter wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but he generally knew how to say the right thing. After I finished an interview with sculptor Louise Bourgeois, I described our somewhat baffling exchange for him. The artist was then in her eighties, with a forbidding attitude and a face as wrinkled as a walnut, and we got into a bit of an argument about Simone de Beauvoir (she seemed surprised I’d ever heard of Beauvoir). Abruptly she pushed her chair back from the table where we were seated and left the room. I sat awkwardly for several minutes, wondering whether the interview was over and if I should just gather up my tape recorder and leave. Then she returned, a splash of bright pink lipstick on her lips, smiling graciously. The interview resumed.

Peter’s analysis: “She saw how beautiful you are and wanted to compete.”

Well, you gotta warm to a guy who says those sorts of things.

Nonetheless, I would sometimes look across a crowded gallery opening at him or gasp a little when he returned all hot and steamy from a run, and I would think: “He’s a bimbo. I am having the best sex of my life with a male bimbo.”

Top: Detail, Edgar Degas, Woman Drying her Foot (1885-86), pastel, Metropolitan Museum of Art