It’s been almost a year since my date with Frank Sinatra. He has dazzled me with every luscious note, every wicked innuendo, that when the night finally came, I was breathless for more. All day, my body was aquiver with anticipation. After so many years, this was a momentous occasion. It was a comfortably crisp California night, and my glamorous white faux fur was the perfect counterpoint to my black mini skirt and matching lace top.
He chose the lobby bar of a boutique hotel for our rendez-vous, and I soon learned why. It was empty save for the lady bartender who knew better than to intrude. There was a hush to the surroundings and a quiet luxury that was accentuated by the black velvet patterned wallpaper that enveloped the intimate room. It hinted at rococo and offset the white painted wood of the mid-century Chinoiserie. There hung the scent of absinthe and perfume, like the gilded jewelry box of a nineteenth century courtesan. With its vintage, yet timeless charm, it could have been anywhere in the world, but on this particular evening, there was no place where I would rather have been.
He stood when he saw me, and under his gaze, the quivering anticipation of the day became a sudden warmth that crept up my back and bloomed, full-flush, in my cheeks. He was a devastating man, and if only for an evening, he was mine.
Did you say I’ve got a lot to learn?
Well don’t think I’m trying not to learn
Since this is the perfect spot to learn
Teach me tonight
He was naturally tan and he wore it well, like Rossano Brazzi in his prime. His personal style was impeccable and meticulous without being dated or overdone. He was part Hollywood director, part heartthrob, and part California dandy. Though he scarcely worked a day in his life, he had the air of a man who had assumed great influence and wielded the bearing of his name. The jeans and the blazer balanced the ensemble, and there was just the right amount of grey in his casually coiffed hair. The French cuffs of his crisp, peach shirt were adorned with cufflinks that I could only imagine depicted his fraternity, and above the open collar, a tuft of dark hair was just peeking through. I was hot like a molten soufflé and quickly removed my jacket. I might have been perched in the small armchair opposite him, but I felt like I was floating over the cocktail table towards him, like a lover in a Chagall painting. Would he join me? His eyes suggested as much. While this may not have been Francis Albert Sinatra, this was as close to a date with Frank as I’d ever have, and under the spell of my racing heart, I knew it to be true.
Given his half-downed glass, it was clear that he had already settled in before I arrived, and I liked to think that he got there early in anticipation of seeing me. The decadent décor was tailor made for such a man, especially when he was expecting to pour on the charm. It was frustrating how well he did it, too. I was drawn in by this captivating figure even faster than I had expected.
How do you pinpoint when it began, that luscious love affair, that timeless fascination? He was king of a thousand hearts, and mine was one of them. I have been hanging on Frank’s every note for many years, dreaming away at his overwhelming artistry, his pungent punch lines and daring innuendo. The way he bends a note makes me swoon, and before I fall with a descending phrase, he picks me up again with that biting charm and hurls me skyward where we’ll play among the stars. If a look, if a gaze could be as strong, if a smile could be as devastating, it was staring me down from across the cocktail table. Of course it wasn’t the Chairman of the Board himself, but the way I felt, it might as well have been.
In fine wheels we flew to a nearby restaurant and ordered without looking at the menu. Rather, he ordered for us with aplomb, chumming up the waiters who seemed to know him well. How numerous were the dates who had sat in the same seat on other winter evenings? How many toasts and coos and smiles had there been across the tablecloth, across the years? Was I a comma or an exclamation point? There were so many questions; I didn’t dare ask a single one. He was a complicated cat, a dashing man and likely a handful. Just like Frank, he had an edge, and he wasn’t afraid to use it.
The streets were nearly silent when we left the restaurant and dipped into the cool, night air arm-in-arm. We turned off of Wilshire onto a side street, and there, in the heart of Beverly Hills, my Frank took me in his arms and made me remember it.
Starting with the ABC of it
Getting right down to the XYZ of it
Help me solve the mystery of it
Teach me tonight
I closed the door behind him, and heard Frank singing in the other room. Graduation’s almost here my love, you’d better teach me tonight. From torch song to ballade to swingin’ with Basie, Frank would always be with me. I could feel a mile high in a minute, could see a second sunset in a day, could turn Perrier into pink champagne in under a tune. With Sinatra, an evening knew no end, and there was starlight at dawn. With Frank Sinatra, I could forever live that ring-a-ding-ding, that je ne sais quoi.
Juliann Budimir, 2011. All rights reserved.
“Teach Me Tonight” (Sammy Cahn/Gene DePaul)
“Fly Me to the Moon” (Bart Howard)