Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Painting at the Homestead

So a couple of the eaves on the back porch are really rotten. I've bought new ones and painted them and when Italo gets here to help we can throw them up. While I was waiting I decided to paint the old eaves to give them a fresh look, then plan on painting the porch railing and posts, and finally the cement porch floor. No big deal, a few three hour days and it should be done.
But while I was painting it seemed to me I've been painting my whole life. It was something I did sometimes in college, along with working the art gallery, driving a cab, working the liquor store and building loft beds. As well as selling a little weed now and then. Rent wasn't high but what with text books, phone and electric bills and food and taking girls out I needed a lot of work.
Painting wasn't steady. That was generally the gift job that I'd get from Dan Blumenau, an artist who got remodeling and painting work sometimes to keep things going between art work jobs. I think some of you are old enough to remember two of his most notable collages: The inside of the two record Taurus album by Stevie Wonder, and the bathroom wall collage at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland studios.
Dan would call his brother, my roommate and great friend Phil, and we'd be given an address and a time. We wound up doing work at some amazing places: We worked the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. townhouse on east 63rd street, for instance, and the Oscar De La Renta home across the street, as well as the Kennedy townhouse on the same block. I'm forgetting the name of the banker the Kennedy gal was married to, but I won't forget a photo on one of the kids' rooms that I worked on. It was from Ted to the boy, and dated about the time of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. It read: "We Kennedys are all broad in the beam," or something close to that.
Then we got to work Electric Ladyland, just before Hendrix died. And then the Carnegie Hall offices of Island Records and later their Grove Street townhouse. Mostly Phil and I were brought in when the real work had been done. Dan's team was tired and had their money but there were still 100 things to do to finish the work. That's when we came on the job, to do the final coats of paint, the touch up work, tighten doornobs and lay outdoor carpet on rooftops. We got paid well and got to sneak a peek into the lives of those whose places we worked on for a couple of weeks. They were the sorts of jobs I don't think you could really get anywhere outside of New York and a couple of other places. It was the same working Falcor Framing down in the village one year. I got to handle original Matisse's, Picasso's, even a Van Gogh or two. I got to watch Jim Arsenaut, the owner when I worked there, hammer out gold into the thinnest of sheets and lay it on frames he'd carve for exceptional customers who could afford it.
That's a lot of name dropping, I know. But it was more than that. It was an education to get to interact, even just a little, with those people. And the best of them treated us like equals. When Marley came up to the Island offices, he passed the joint without hesitation. When Jimi did a line, everybody in the room did a line along with him. The Kennedy clan included us in lunch once. De La Renta wasn't home while we worked there.
So there I was painting again and thinking about working for Dan with Phil and missing them both. That was New York for me. All at your fingertips, even if it was almost always at the end of a hammer or paintbrush.

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