Monday, September 10, 2007

My Friend, Phil Blumenau

I guess everybody has someone who taught them how to live. For some it was teachers, for some their parents. For me it was Phil Blumenau.
I was 18. I was probably already problematic, having helped start an undergroung paper at my high school, Bishop Reilly in Fresh Meadows, Queens, New York, being a baseball player and an actor at school and someone who would sell poems to other students to enter into the annual Robert Frost Competition that John F. Kennedy demanded every high school student be part of. But then I went to Hunter College of the City University of New York, a great university. I entered Hunter, perhaps the most famous nursing and education facility in the US in 1969, just the second year it was integrated--it had always been a girls' school--and the ratio was something like 9-to-1 females to males. And there I was, a functioning male. For a kid who had never masturbated--sad but true--being in that environment where I was around that many girls gave me essentially a permanent erection: to the point where my extremely Catholic mom asked if I was trying to show off. Hah! I wish.
In my anthropology class in my freshman year--an auditorium class of perhaps 200, there was one guy who caught my eye. He was a longhair like me, but he had an air about him that showed a sophistication I'd never seen before in someone so young. He seemed to know that he was doing. He wore an afghan coat that was in style that year, but he wore it with an ease I'd never seen. His blond hair was straight, his blue eyes piercing....I guess if I was gay I'd have fallen in love. As it was, I wasn't but I still fell in love with him.
I met him when I missed a couple of anthro 101 classes and needed notes. I asked if I could borrow his. He said okay but he wanted them back. I said Okay and returned them a couple of days later. We became fast friends. There was a girl who like me named Darryl and Darryl (hello, Darryl, wherever you are) and she and I would borrow my mom's car and drive to Philip's mom's house in Queens Village and neck in the area's private streets. We got caught by the cops once and were pretty naked. They let us go after taking about 30 minutes while looking at the 6-foot Darryl and we didn't consummate until after I broke into Phil's friend, Naomi Pelzig's Amstermdam Ave and 91st street apartment to have sex with Darryl. Great break-in. The cops were called then too--probably why I am shy around women as the cops always seem to be talking about my private parts when I'm naked and they catch me.
It was worth it for Darryl, who became a fantastic educator for New York State.
Phil and I wound up getting a rent-controlled apartment on 76th street and Second avenue in NYC in 1970--the week I turned 19. Four little rooms, tub in the kitchen, for $45 a month. Ground floor, fireplace, small back yard. (Yeah, different time, different world.) We grew up there. I don't know what he might say about me but I will say that Phil, who later had his own lab as a physicist working with optics, was the single coolest person I ever met. He could make ice melt and was as humble as a daffodil. But he knew how the world worked.He understood things that a smart guy like me didn't know at all. His brother Dan had done the collage in the Stevie Wonder Taurus album and hired me and Phil to work on his famous collage in Jimmy Hendrix's Electric Ladyland Studio bathroom on St. Mark's Place. Dan later hired me and Phil to help revamp Chris Blackwell's Island Records' Grove street townhouse and their Carnegie Hall studio, where we met and toked with Bob Marley and others. We later worked on the homes of Oscar de Laurenta, Arthur Schelinger and the Kennedy townhouse on 63st. None of those toked with us.
But Phil was cooler than even that: One night we left our NYC apartment, took a walk to participate in a protest about Vietnam, and wound up as a couple of 19 -year-old kids in a coffee shop around the block from where we lived. Next to us on a stool in the place was a 45-year-old man. This guy, whom we'd seen around the neighborhood but never spoken with, was sitting next to Phil. And he said something like: "Did you see the undercovers? They were everywhere. What a freakin' city. You never know who your friends and who your enemies are."
And Phil, sitting next to him, pulled a joint from his shirt pocket then put it into the guy's shirt pocket. "You have to go with your gut feelings about who you think are narcs. Enjoy this."
The guy's tongue is still probably hanging down to the ground.
That was the single coolest thing I've ever seen on this planet.
And Phil may reappear on this blog from time to time. He's still that cool.

4 comments:

doug said...

nice...sure brings back memories of long hair, coffee houses, Hendrix, teenage sex, and all the other stuff that was a one of the highpoints in my (our) life!

Thanks Peter!

Gregory Daurer said...

I remember way, way back...it was a decade called the '90s. That's when you edited a magazine piece or two of mine (e.g., Allen Ginsberg interview).

Since I discovered your blog, I've been checking in every now and then to see how you're doing. Glad you're hanging in there -- despite trials, tribulations, and Texas.

Best regards.

Peter Gorman said...

Greg: Nice to hear from you. Still writing?

Gregory Daurer said...

Yes, still writing, I'd have to say. Just finished my first novel. Click on my name above if you want to check out the blog I've dedicated to it.

Glad to read that you're still writing, too.