Saturday, September 13, 2014

Three Deaths, Part Two

Flippy, 1971

Raymond Boestfleisch was a twin.  He and his brother Ronald were as different as night and day.  Ronnie was a sober, studious young man, an educational high-achiever who earned advanced degrees in science.  Ronnie was also very shy.  He was a nice guy, and a fine chess player, I was his victim on several occasions, but he was very quiet and shy.  Ray and Ronnie were both nice guys, but Ray was none of those other things.  Not even close.  Ray was the opposite of those things.   

Ray “Flippy” Boestfleisch was one of the most sociable fellows that I’ve ever known.  He was a social genius.  He knew everyone, and everyone knew him.  He always seemed to be happy.  He was always glad to see you, whoever you were.   He never had a bad word to say about anyone, almost never.  On the rare occasions when he would let go a negative comment about someone he winced like he couldn’t believe a person could behave in such a manner.  Didn’t people know that life was better if you were happy all the time and loved everybody?  Maybe Ray was a proto-hippie. 

I think Ray had been given the name Flippy by a teacher in grammar school or junior high school.  That might have happened.  Somehow it was school related.  Maybe a teacher kept telling him to stop being flippant, and the kids took up the chant, “Flippy!  Flippy!”  Something like that.  He didn’t get the idea on his own.  

I had known Ray, or Flippy as he was universally called, or Flip, since we were twelve, but I didn’t get to know him well until we were sixteen.   We lived in College Point, a smallish, working class town on the East River just past La Guardia Airport on the North Shore of Queens.  There were a lot of dances during the Sixties, thrown by various churches and schools.  There being a demand, some of the guys put bands together, cover bands, and Ray was the bass player in a good one.  At one particular dance, during a break, Ray took the mike and announced that he and some of his “Rolling Stone friends” were going to play a few Rolling Stone songs.  The rest of the band let the "friends" use their instruments.  The drummer among the friends had been an early friend of mine, I’d met him when we were four years old (we’re still friends now, at sixty-six).  Well I was completely under the spell of the ‘Stones at the time, so I was interested.  They ran through a few tunes from the first couple of Rolling Stones albums, and they did a pretty good job too.  We all got to talking and over the next few years we all became close friends.  I’m still in touch with all of them, all except Flip that is.  Events overtook Flip before too long. 

Did I say that Flippy was sociable?  Here’s one of those stories that you could not write into a fictional narrative because it would be too unbelievable.  In 1967 I was at Navy Boot Camp, marching my ass off and learning knots and whatnot.  They showed us a movie one night, we were sitting in an enormous enclosed space of some kind, over a thousand of us probably.  I overheard a guy a few rows back bragging that he knew the coolest kid in New York City, and he was doing it in my own working class New York accent.  He talked about the cool friend, how great he was, and it all started to sound familiar.  I yelled a greeting back to him and asked him if he went to Flushing High School.  “Yeah!” he said, “you too?”  “No,” I said, “but I know Flippy.” 

I got out of the Navy in early 1968, and I can tell you, that was a year the likes of which we’ll never see again.  It was one nightmare after another, out in the real world.  Flippy and I were unemployed for most of the year, and we did a lot of hanging out.  His parents both worked, and we’d sit around their house, drinking, smoking if we had it, listening to records.  In the bunker, you know, waiting for the evening when the other guys got home from work.  I had a girlfriend, she was busy at school.  I was, perhaps, escaping from reality, but Flip, I think that he had just chosen not to engage with reality in the first place.  There was quite a bit of that going around at the time.  The only thing that Ray was serious about was music. 

Getting high was a favorite pastime in College Point.  Some guys preferred the head stuff, weed, acid, a couple of beers, maybe some speed.  Some guys preferred the body stuff, barbiturates, pain killers, cough medicine, scotch by the water glass, heroin.  Some guys loved everything.  Guess which category Flip fell into? 

When Flippy started smoking weed, he smoked it all day, everyday, and into the night.  It gave him the munchies and he put on a lot of weight.  When he discovered amphetamines, he took them every day.  He had weight to lose, and over the course of a year he lost about sixty pounds.  When he discovered barbiturates, he took them every day instead.  Those downs are some very bad drugs.  They create immediate tolerance, which rapidly builds to huge tolerance, and it’s a very demanding physical addiction.   Before long the devotee needs to take a one or two dozen pills a day just to get straight.  For a while there he was still in bands and hanging out with the rest of us, but he was mostly passed out and we had to check his breathing every now and then.   He became unreliable for band work, and he started to hang out only with other unconscious young men.  This went on for a year or two, and we didn’t see much of him during that time.  

I got married, got an apartment, had a son, got a job carrying the mail, life went on.  In 1971 we got wind that Flip had returned to the land of the living.  He and I were twenty-two at the time.  Word was that he’d cleaned himself up and gotten a new girlfriend and a job.  A couple of the guys ran into him around town, and it seemed to them that he was back to his old self.  He was a little sheepish about his addiction, but he was enthusiastic about the girlfriend and the job.  There was talk about getting back together, so to speak, hanging out, maybe get a jam going.  We were all still getting loaded, just not on an industrial scale.  I heard Ozzie Osborne say one time, about rehab, I thought they were going to teach me to get loaded responsibly.  Many of us knew how to do that.  

One night I had a nightmare about a fire, and when the alarm woke me up I could smell smoke.  This was about four a.m., you know those post office jobs.   At about 4:30 I was walking to the bus.  As soon as I cleared the first corner I could see the rotating red lights of fire trucks bouncing around a factory building.  When I got to the trucks, I could see that the burned up building was the one where Flippy lived.  I approached the firemen, and they were friendly about my inquires.  Me in my mailman’s uniform, just a bunch of civil servants after all.  “Was anybody hurt?” I asked.  “Just one guy.”  “How bad,” I was pretty tense by now.  The fireman shrugged his shoulders.  “He died,” he told me.

I don’t remember if I even asked the name, I know they can’t give that out.  I went along to work and set up the mail for a route.  Before I left the office to deliver it I called my wife.   Yes, she could tell me by then, the dead guy was Flippy.  Somebody had called his family to find out, and word had gotten around.

The day, already strange, starting with the fire-dream, soon took a borderline-horrible, Steven King kind of turn.

I went out to deliver the route.  I was a floater, a “sub,” so I did a different route every day.  This one was in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens, and it was a long one, with big stoops, this was no bunny (our term for an easy route).  At the top of one tall stoop, twenty steps or something, what the fuck were they thinking,  I turned around after filling the mail box and I froze in mid-movement at who I saw walking down the street.  It was “the Lady in Black.”

This was a famous character that had lived in College Point for many years, and still lived there. That was eight or nine miles away.  She was famous for walking around town dressed in fancy, black mourning clothes, lacy dress, veil, nice shoes.  We all called her simply, “the Lady in Black.”  She always had a little smile on her face, and she never, ever spoke to anyone.  She just walked.  We were already a bit frightened by the intensity of her presentation, but seeing her in Richmond Hill, on this day, game me the scare of my life.  I had no idea at all that she sometimes took her walks elsewhere.  I really doubted if I was seeing it, seeing her at all.  I was stunned.  I did not move a muscle until she had walked the half a block past where I was standing and turned the corner.  She never looked at me. 

I didn’t get any details about the fire until the funeral.  Another closed casket funeral.  Flip had lived above a diner in what had been built as a two family house.  I had assumed that he succumbed to the smoke and fumes before the flames reached him, as is usually the case.  That’s a comforting thought to those left behind.  But no.  At the funeral I was told that he had actually gotten out of the building safely along with his roommate.  The roommate informed us that at that point Flip said, “the Vee!” and charged back up the stairs.  He had been working on a switch to guitar, and he had gotten himself a nice Gibson Flying Vee guitar just like the one that Albert King played at the time.  Those are expensive.  He died as he opened the door at the top of the stairs to exit the building for the second time.  The stairwell had, in the meantime, become engulfed in flames.  It was one of those flash/bang moments, he died standing up. 

Upon hearing this story I lost it for a good long while.  It’s the only time in my long life that I’ve broken down at a funeral.  Nobody deserves that. 

I suppose that nobody deserves any of it, but we all get it, don’t we?  In one form or another.  May yours be a peaceful end, gentle reader.  


Lou Lefevre said...

Fred, thanks for the walk down memory lane. Flip was one of a kind..!

Jim Johnson said...

Nice job Fred. Flip was special. I took bass lessons from him when I started playing. He was playing with Nicky Lerner and Danny Infantino at the time. Great band. The good die young. Nice tribute.

fred c said...

Thanks, guys. Ray is remembered fondly by a lot of people, and that's a good thing. I'm happy to have known him.