Sunday, November 13, 2011
She works in a restaurtant attached to a roadhouse bar, with an open archway in the wall between them. I come in, and I'm captivated at once by her. She flaunts her bare belly at me, and I'm helpless. Her body owns my lust.
I flirt with her a bit, and to my surprise she flirts back. Finally I blurt out, only half-jokingly, "what does a man have to do to kiss that belly-button?"
And she starts teasing me about a special promotion they have at the restaurant, where if you can eat their largest sandwich, which is meant to feed 4 people, you get to be a "Super Belly." If I can be a "Super Belly," she says, I can kiss her navel. And she strokes my pot belly and says, "You sure look like a 'Super Belly' to me!"
How could I resist. This was the chance of a lifetime for a poor, pot-bellied nerdboy like me. I ordered it, she brought it, and -- with her belly-button in my sight the whole times -- I ate it. She watched every bite. And when I finished she cheered, whooped, and announced to the whole place that I was their first-ever 'Super Belly,' having completed the challenge.
Then she pulled out a little blue cloth, and she laughed and said, "Unfortunately, due to a shipping mix-up, we only have your 'Super Belly' championship top in a women's cut and a size S." The patrons laughed. She pulled my shirt off over my head as I protested and tried in vain to suck in my embarrassing belly, but that only made me feel more pathetic.
She wrestled the blue spandex top over my head and put my arms through it. It was a long-sleeved Superman top, but in place of the big letter "S" were the words "Super Belly" in the same colors. I looked down at it and saw how, in a fit woman, it might have stretched to her navel, but it was tight on me and the curve of my pot belly pushed it up in a bunch right to my chest. My whole belly was bare, down to my too-tight jeans.
I played along and pretended to smile while she showed me off to the whole place, stroking my soft belly and poking my belly-button with her sharp-nailed finger. Finally the people went back to their dinners.
"So how about that belly-button kiss?" I asked her quietly. "I passed the test."
"You passed part one," she smiled, rubbing her belly up against mine.
"What's part two," I said, swallowing hard.
"In the next room," she said, with her warm hand laid lovingly on the top of my belly, at just the spot where a man would thud his punch into you to make you drop breathless to your knees. "In the roadhouse. It's 'Fight Night' in there. They have the fight ring set up. Any man who steps into that ring is fair game to be challenged to a fistfight by any other man in the place. You're going to go in there, dressed like that, and stay in there till I tell you you can come out. I'll be mingling among the boys, dropping hints and making suggestions."
Diana set down her empty wine glass. She slid trimly off the broad metal desk that had served as her chair while she directed us. She walked slowly toward me.
On the set she forbid us to call her "Professor Morgenstern;" it had to be "Diana."
"It's not enough," she said. She carried the script in her right hand. Her hips swayed in her long, low gypsy skirt. Stylish leather boots ticked her footsteps on the floorboards.
The humidity was insufferable in the college's attic studios that summer. The administrators conveniently forgot that summer theater productions were going to rehearse here, so they didn't budget money to keep the AC on.
Diana had pulled up her long white T-shirt and knotted it firmly between her breasts. Her bare belly-button whispered kisses as she moved toward me. Her hair, wild with ripples and streaks, looked like she had never touched it, as natural as wildflower meadows. Her eyeglasses were prim and purely functional.
She was 15 years older than me, and to a young man in my condition she was the perfect poison: a doctrate in literature wrapped around a confident, exuberant female eroticism. I felt it just in passing her on campus. And of course, I'd heard the stories.
I really didn't need the grade credit. I had taken this summer theater course expressly for the chance to work closely -- intimately, even -- with Professor Morgenstern. The course consisted entirely of us 5 students staging a one-act play, written by her, under her direction.
I visited her during office hours at the first opportunity, and by skimming her bookshelf discovered we shared a love of belly-dancing: her as a performer and instructor, me as a respectful and studied admirer of the artistry and athleticism of the women who dance -- that's how I sold it to her. The truth is I have a deep and incurable erotic fetish for female belly-buttons and bellies. My mask was no doubt transparent. I probably didn't really care.
We chatted about belly-dancers we had met or seen when we met. Mostly it was her regaling me with tales of the classes she had taken with this or that legend of belly-dancing. But she was glad of an appreciative listener, I believe. "Legend of Belly-Dancing" is a title that doesn't carry very far; most people can't name you one besides "Little Egypt." But they really are superb at what they do, and lionized among those who know anything about it. And in me she had at least an audience of one who could understand what a thrill it must have been to dance back-up for Ansuya or to have taken a class in arms with Rachel Brice herself. No need to tell her that I knew this out of a perverted lust to kneel and kiss their belly-buttons and worship them erotically.
She also shared with me some of her own writings on belly-dance, which had sometimes been published in belly-dance publications. I copied down part of one poem that struck me:
"Voluptuous undulations of lovely
belly; I know a man's soft spots.
I know what makes him melt within.
My wrists twine like the vines in Eden.
My hips rise in tides,
and my bare belly blossoms, all
unfurled erotic joy."
I should have paid more attention to other passages. Her truth was more cruel, bellyslamming, and lusty than my dreamy romantic fantasies of women could have anticipated.
When the casting of the play was announced, I got an e-mail simply listing my part -- "unnamed male character in fight scene." I had expected her to give me something more central. I thought we were friends. There was one romantic role -- not the lead male, but a guy who made love to his wife, a very hot role -- that I thought was just right for me. She gave it to another guy in the class.
She sent me a follow-up, personally, asking me how I liked my role. I feigned a little enthusiasm, and also made what was supposed to sound like a light-hearted "boo-hoo" over the other boy getting the part I coveted. But she wrote back and replied, simply, "wait and see."
Turns out "unnamed male character" had rather a lot to do. Professor Morgenstern's play was an extended metaphor, based on the interaction of a coarse and violent young married couple (I wrote a paper about it later, got an A, then reworked it into a masters' thesis). They bicker back and forth, tossing lines to each other, while all the while cheating on one another in their actions onstage. Denying the very things we see them doing. You see him flirting with showgirls. You see her seducing the husband of a friend. You see him sneaking through her drawers, looking for evidence of infidelity. You see her doing the same to him.
And at one point -- my big scene -- you see him beating up a guy for having an affair with his wife. Except it's the wrong guy. It's not the guy you saw his wife actually fooling around with -- because she's still fooling around with him, hot and heavy, while this beating is going on across the stage. And the couple are sparring with their biggest verbal jabs now, shouting with passion, it's like the balcony scene in "Streetcar;" their actions are ramped up to match the fury of the words.
She is really in the throes of passion with this adulterous man, and he is really pouring the punches into the belly of this hapless victim.
Who happened to be me. By Professor Mor -- by "Diana's" choice and election.
Obviously, most of the play was rehearsed without me, because I wasn't in it. But she set aside a special hour each day to work on just this scene. Which was a lot of focus, in proportion to the length of it. But she said it was the most important scene in her play, or at least the one she was most interested in getting right.
They rehearsed my part separately at first from the action on the other side of the stage, where the wife and her lover were getting it on. But as the wife's lines were part of the husband's dialogue, Diana made the actress who played her attend these beating rehearsals, and stand there and deliver her lines, in character, facing us.
And the husband responded to them, while enforcing his point with punches into me. The timing of the beating had to be woven into the rhythm of the dialogue, as Diana explained it. That's why she was taking such care with the details of this beating. "When he MEANS what he SAYS, he literally drives home the point with the hammer-blow of a FIST," she told the other actor, all the while pressing with her own fist on my belly.
Diana also explained that the space constraints of small stages effectively limited the kind of action you could stage on them. So she had written this explicitly as a belly-punch beating, which can be staged pretty much in one spot. And if this play was going to get on stage anywhere, it was going to be a small stage.
So that was what I did with my summer vacation: Sweated and lusted after a professor and let another man beat up my belly for hours for free.
We were in the third of our four rehearsals before the staging of the play. In the first, Diana taught us the dual rhythm of the punches with the dialogue. And she drilled us in each line and each punch till we all three had the scene by heart. (When it got to the stage, the wife actress would have to perform with her back to this beating, so it was important that she memorize it, both visually and by the dialogue).
She made them say the lines over and over, to one another, while he slugged me in the belly, till they had the timing by rote. And my reactions were part of it, too, so she coaxed me in how to take it -- how to TAKE it, to show the whole house that I'd just been punched really hard in the stomach, in spite of the pulled stunt-punch he had actually given me. The vocalics of my reactions to being bellypunched were part of the scene, she explained.
So we did that, over and over all one hot afternoon, taking it from the top when any of us flubbed. The wife actress was a bitchy, self-absorbed junior who frequently lost her lines through sheer inattention.
The role turned out to be the most demanding one in the play. I had to convincingly take not just one punch in the belly, but a whole beatdown-ful of them. In between I had to spend long periods of being doubled over, breathless, winded. All as determined by the pacing of the lines in her script, and the need, as determined by her, of the husband actor to emphasize his words by an emphatic punch -- oouff! right in my belly!
Yet that microscopic frozen moment out of reality became the essence of who I was, during that time. For I deeply longed to impress her as a serious talent, and she knew that. She had me in her office for coffee and to talk about it. It was the first time in my life I'd ever had espresso. She described the part and told me, "you aren't just a guy who takes a punch; you 'are' the impact of the punch, in the form of a man on stage. That's all you represent; that is the only reason you are even there."
The title of my thesis was "Existentialism as Stage Combat."
Diana said "action," and I became "punched belly," until the scene ended or she said "cut." I became completely, body, voice, and mind, the platonic ideal of "belly punch" that existed in the minds of enough people out there that you could count on it being recognized by most of them. I was "the guy who can't take it in the belly." You'd seen him somewhere: old Westerns, pro wrestling, interrogation scenes in gangster novels.
Those years, with tiny television screens and big, dim arenas and gyms, the wrestlers and the stuntmen -- who were purveyors of the only violence we were allowed to see -- over-sold every act and move. The key to a stunt bellypunch, of course, is the "take." Even the lamest attempt to throw a punch can look like Rocky if the taker receives it with body blown back from the center, air rushing out of lungs, face contorted with bellyache suffering, arms flailing helplessly.
And now the authoress herself had stood there in front of me, speaking the lines she had written for the wife to be speaking as she watched me getting my belly beat up. She held the script, but never needed it. She spoke them from heart. And her eyes stayed fixed on me. That's what she'd told Emma, the snooty junior class actress, to do for this rehearsal.
But she moved so differently from Emma. She moved as she spoke, took a step this way and that, put her hands on her hips, and she moved her hips, this way and that.
During one brief smoke break I asked her why she did it like that, when it wasn't part of the play. "I'm directing you," she replied.
"Because I know you understand belly-dance so deeply," she smiled, and she touched her hair. "I'm watching you doubled up as you suffer from a punch in the belly. And I'm flaunting my bare belly-button at you, taunting you with my bare belly, even as you burn in shame because this lovely woman is absorbing the sight of you as a pathetic wimp who can't take a punch in the belly. My belly-button is mocking you, isn't it? Like she's laughing silently at your suffering." I felt quite flattered.
Then we had returned to rehearsing and Diana commanded the other actor to belly-whomp me right there and drop me to my knees. And as he rants, periodically, he hauls me up off the floor and beats my belly some more for emphasis. I'm nothing more than visual flourishes for his egotistical rant. But those flourishes cost me a belly-punch humiliation.
We finished, broke again, and took our places to do it over again. But now she was walking toward me, peering over her glasses, circling her hips, flaunting her bare belly, and saying,
"It's not enough."
And she was talking to him, but never took her eyes off me. She explained how this was such a key scene, and we all were wonderful but it still did not match the vision in her mind. And that this sometimes happened in theaters. And there was a way professionals handled it. And she knew we, all of us here, were professionals. She was watching my eyes watching her. She was reading me like a secret.
And she was right in front of me now, and she leaned forward and stood tiptoe, and I felt her belly, her bare belly, pressed damp and firm against me. Her bellybutton laid a deep, long, deceitful kiss on mine.
"From now on, when you beat him," she said, "I want you to do it for real."