Petrillio, or Love on the 90th Floor



Chelsea, 10011

Neighborhood: Chelsea

Even the janitor’s wife has a perfectly good love life and here am I, facing tomorrow, alone with my sorrow, down in the depths of the 90th floor.  &nbsp–Cole Porter

It may not have been the 90th floor, perhaps the 30th or 40th. The exact number is foggy in my memory, but the rest of this “strange interlude” dances before me in primary colors. I met Petrillio, an architect, at a private erotic art opening in a Chelsea gallery that was generous with champagne. High on the bubbly, I found myself beside Petrillio while we both stared bemused at a painting of a watermelon-like vulva by Judy Chicago. Naughty, I imagined him following up the dry champagne with wet kisses.

It was difficult to concentrate on Petrillio’s words, rather musical notes, for he spoke in dulcet harp-like tones. Compact, only slightly taller than I, he wore his straight grey hair, a slight curl at the end, shoulder length. As he pointed at the painting I noted his long tapered hands which, I sensed, moved gracefully across a drawing board or along a woman’s body.

Hmmm, I thought to myself, it boded well that Petrillio chose to attend an erotic show rather then one displaying landscapes. When he asked for my card, then called a week later, I ransacked my entire wardrobe to find the perfect garment to bewitch a sophisticated older man who wore his age with the same distinction as his Pierre Cardin suit. I yearned to stroke his perky moustache that he unconsciously twirled now and then.

For five dates we thrust and parried in trendy Chelsea restaurants over dinners that tasted bland, for my attention belonged entirely to Petrillio. In the distance, he pointed to his abode in a tall modern building. Wistfully, I visualized us cavorting on his bed, or enjoying an intimate laugh after a savory breakfast, then back to bed for another roll under the covers.

Why didn’t Petrillio, as huggable as a baby penguin, invite me upstairs to see his etchings? “I’m yours, take me!” I screamed silently. Was Petrillio married, gay or hiding bodies of ex-wives or girlfriends? Finally, in January, on a snowy night–a breakthrough: my cavalier suggested a glass of Pinot Grigio chez lui.

“Oh, I couldn’t. It’s so late,” I answered trying not to appear over anxious. Meanwhile I was petrified he would change his mind. Mentally, I was throwing my coat, gloves, jewelry, high heels, underwear in a heap.

Petrillio passed the doorman with an insouciant wave. Offhandedly, he asked the score of the Sugar Bowl game. “Dip into my bowl of sugar so deep that I’ll have none left, go ahead scoop up handfuls,” I thought to myself. How many other women had zoomed up in this elevator to his perch in the clouds? Were they younger, prettier, sexier than I? How could I induce an amnesia that could beguile Petrillio into thinking that his love life began and ended with me?

Exiting the elevator, windows everywhere, a panorama of midtown floated up to meet my eyes. Was I flying in a stationary airplane about to land in paradise? I wanted to lie down and dream in this hallway of rugs plush enough to be comfy pillows. Petrillio’s hand on my elbow, our first caress, relieved any lurking uncertainty.

Voila, the minute I walked into Petrillio’s aerie it seemed I had been there before; if not in this life perhaps in the Twenties for cocktails and kisses. Tonight, I felt high both physically and intellectually. Petrillio’s apartment exhibited an artistic imagination scaled down to fit into New York’s astronomical rents. Each piece of furniture seemed about to burst into a chorus of welcome as though it had been expecting me. The simply designed chairs were made of wood finished to a silky texture. Flower-shaped lamps gave the room a feminine touch.

Japanese screens, judiciously placed art work–a Warholesque painting of Marilyn Monroe, a smiling Buddha, silk wall-hangings, a Tibetan rug–everything conspired to create an aura of enchantment. Paradoxically, Petrillio’s miniature castle in the sky seemed neither cluttered nor claustrophobic.

“Pardon this camping out,” explained Petrillio, as he gently placed me on a divan barely big enough for two that was set into a cozy nook that contained several small vases filled with palm fronds.

“Till I find something bigger, my art collection’s in storage. Supporting a home in Danbury, an ex-wife’s obsession with her shrink, plus two kids at expensive colleges keeps me hopping. Women haven’t been kind to me, especially Sally.” The pain in his deep blue eyes made me long to kiss away the suffering his thoughtless wife had inflicted. I vowed to soothe this old school gentleman, who exuded elegance and seemed absent from our technological age of cell phones and sound bites.

Petrillio sprinkled his conversation with references to Italian art films and Roman history. He was a genuinely sensitive man of letters rather than a dilettante, I concluded. Therefore, I expected that the books on his shelves would be scholarly. Getting up to examine his collection, I opened a folio written in Italian to a picture of a woman, legs spread, masturbating.

My vision blurred as volume after volume contained pictures of women in classic pornographic situations: multiple partners, orgies, animals, including a monkey. Keeping my voice under control, I whispered: “Are all your books porno? No Dickens or Proust?” I whined. “And Screw magazine. You read that . . . . Why?”

“I’m a collector,” answered Petrillio proudly. “I somehow managed to get a complete run. No small feat since Screw has been published for decades. Don’t those models wear some delightful outfits? Mostly black leather but a few show real imagination. Here look at this foxy lady, her nightie of leather and lace. See, this blondie’s hot pants are cut out at the crotch and rump. Fun, huh?” Cheerfully, Petrillio thrust the well-thumbed magazine in my face.

My smile belied tears oozing from my eyes, about to course down my cheeks. The room started to spin and so did my mind. Was this porno maven the man I had fantasized would be my lifelong partner? I squirmed and intended to leave, however, my feet felt plastered to the floor.

“Pinot Grigio, darling? Other than bubbly, it’s all I drink. It’s good for the heart too. Ah, what beautiful visions my elixir conjures. It compensates me for this meaningless, brutal existence. Water is for fish. Drink up, you angelic creature. Together we shall pay homage to the versatile grape.”

Petrillio sighed and moved my hair away to lick my earlobe. Then he raised the window blinds higher to expose a view of the Empire State building ablaze with colored lights as bright as crown jewels. Pouring glass after glass of wine, soon he finished the entire bottle as though it were apple juice.

The more wine I consumed, the more I yearned to become part of Petrillio’s scenario. As he smoked a cigarette in a long golden holder, I marveled at the movement of his graceful wrist, the erotic way his lips puckered to inhale smoke.

“Darling, mind if I change into a cozy dressing gown?” Disappearing into a small alcove, Petrillio blew me a kiss.

I had anticipated him caressing me slowly, awakening each erogenous zone in turn. Mad from an overabundance of wine and desire, I shivered with longing ready to open every orifice to him.

Ten excruciatingly long minutes later, Petrillio appeared wearing a gold-colored silk robe that Noel Coward would have fancied. Underneath what a shock: black lace panties and bra, a red garter belt that held up black fishnet stockings and an antique locket with rhinestones dangled from his neck. Prancing like a rotund fawn drunk on wine, Petrillio’s reserve evaporated.

“You think I should get a bustier? Petrillio murmured, twisting and turning before a decorative mirror on a stand. He thrust his chest forward provocatively. Meanwhile, he applied layers of makeup to his face and rouged his cheeks. “Could I look worse than Madonna? That slut! Staring at me, darling, why?” asked Petrillio, his speech slurred. “C’mon, never seen a man wear a locket before?”

“Any picture inside it?” I asked, motivated by a mounting hysteria.

“A picture of Mae West taken when the cops arrested her and closed her show. Bought it at a flea market in Danbury along with a hairpin the dealer swore belonged to Mae herself. Some pisser!” he slurred. Fondling the locket self-consciously, Petrillio wriggled in a vain attempt to assume a dignified posture. One of his frilly-topped fishnets dropped.

Bug-eyed, I watched my courtier metamorphose into Tony Curtis’s drag character in Some Like It Hot. Perhaps in a former incarnation I had stolen Petrillio’s garter belt, kicked a cat or spit into a beggar’s bowl? Buddhists say that debts from a previous life must be repaid. By then I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream for help–fat chance on such a high floor. Dazed, I watched this fan of Victoria’s Secret consume another bottle of his “elixir.” Just as I was figuring how to sneak out without Petrillio noticing, he sidled over, crossed his hairy legs and plumped down beside me. Suddenly sober as a deacon, although his breath smelled of alcohol, he crept up close to my face, examining it minutely.

“There’s something I’ve wanted to do since the first moment I saw you, Darling. May I?”

“Why not?” The wine had plunged me into a lethargic reverie. The scene assumed a fin-de-siecle aura reminiscent of a novel by Gabriel d’Annunzio. Only lacking was the subtle odor of heliotrope or the green fairy, absinthe.

Mesmerized, I watched Petrillio fling open two drawers brimming over with makeup. Other drawers in a delicate lacquered chest were bursting with hairnets, rollers, and hair conditioners.

“Sorry Darling, but your eyebrows are so. . .” he searched for a word. “Yuck! Like they’ve been sprayed with DDT. The hairs scraggly every which way. No arch to speak of, tch tch. Let me fix them, pretty please?”

Before I could say Estee Lauder, Petrillio started plucking away. Expertly, he wielded the tweezers across my brows. Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa could not have been more intent on his task. Foundation, powder, rouge and lipstick were applied with the same agility.

Next Petrillio covered me with a plastic cape and took out a professional scissors. While he snipped away, he supplied highlights of his biography.

“Wanted to be a stylist since I played with grandma’s curling irons back in Bumfuck, Ohio. My parents, especially tight-assed Dad, insisted I study architecture. The bastard died last year. Left me some money, and soon I’ll have enough to quit drudging away. Hell, let those snooty, philistine clients of mine live in a sewer.” Venting his irritation, Petrillio threw a brush across the room.

“I’ll find women to beautify, even if I have to chase them down Broadway. No more men’s suits either. Before the great drag queen in the sky pulls down her shade, it’s gonna be gowns and champagne at The Four Seasons for this tootsy.” While applying pomade to my hair, Petrillio chortled merrily.

“Let me look, please,” I murmured half-expectant, half-fearful. Like moths, Petrillio’s hands flitted around my face and throat.

“Trust me! In you I shall reanimate Rita, Ava, and Marlene. Stars then were glamour pusses. Not like those anorexic twits on screen today. Turn right, chin up, my lovely.”

Petrillio moved my face around to different angles to check if the colors were coordinated and flattering. Was he going to make me look like Mae West?

Finally, after I couldn’t sit still one more second, Petrillio brought over a hand mirror. As he sprayed my hair with jasmine-scented mousse, I examined his handiwork, which had turned a boring shingle cut into a layered fantasy of curls that made me look years younger.

“What d’ya think?” he inquired, fists clenched. The artist wanted to be certain the canvas on which he’d painted his masterpiece had the right proportions. Meanwhile he rubbed heavy dabs of setting gel on his grey hair that now looked shellacked.

“A red streak, gold eye shadow!” For a moment, I hardly recognized myself. Alchemically, Petrillio divined from my soul the audacious way I had always wanted to look but never dared.

This chic, yet funky style eventually caused a renaissance in my social life. I bought form-fitting clothes, ventured into offbeat clubs, bought spiky, black-heeled shoes with ankle straps. As though I were a car, Petrillio gave me a complete overhaul.

At this time, I desperately wanted a lover–not a cross-dresser. If he wasn’t the elusive Mr. Right, at least Petrillio had given me a valuable crash course in cosmetology. I remembered John Lennon’s words: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

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