Checking in, the man behind the desk said, "You're lucky to be here tonight. Everyone's being kicked out in the morning. We just heard. No more guests. This is the last night." He wasn't sure if he'd have a job come Monday.
The room, once found, smelled of cat piss and 100 years of funk. The doorknob jiggled listless in the door. The floorboards creaked and sank under foot. The walls were cracked and the ceiling peeled. (I'm not complaining.) I opened the tall double doors to the balcony to let in some air. Twenty-third Street honked.
I'd been wanting to get close to the Chelsea's wrought-iron flowers ever since I first saw them on the cover of James Schuyler's Collected Poems, in the watercolor of the poet in his sixth-floor room, painted by Darragh Park.
"The balustrade along my balcony
is wrought iron in shapes of
flowers: chrysanthemums, perhaps,
whorly blooms and leaves and
along the top a row of what look
like croquet hoops topped by a
rod, and from the hoops depend
water drops, crystal, quivering.
Why, it must be raining, in Chelsea,
For my first, and likely last, night at the Chelsea it wasn't raining. It was hot on the balcony with the sun going down, blushing the bricks, letting the neon sign start to glow. With a bellyful of chicken from El Quijote, I had a drink and a cigarette, sitting in a knock-off Louis XV chair with broken springs and torn velvet, wondering if anyone had died in it, or what else they had done.
I listened to The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, trying to conjure some ghosts. But no ghosts came.
Down on 23rd Street, bachelorettes tumbled drunk out of stretch Hummers, slipped to the sidewalk hugging penis balloons to their breasts, and prayed their way past the velvet ropes of the basement lounge where bouncers in tight pants contemplated clipboard lists. Screeching throngs of high-heeled girls and boys in unbuttoned shirts poured in. The music of the club throbbed through the night, vibrating the whole hotel, providing a stark glimpse of the Chelsea's future clientele.
Morning came bright hot on the white bedsheets and sifted through the flowered balustrade to cast a shadow image of those "whorly blooms and leaves" on the stone floor of the balcony.
It was time to check out.
As every transient room emptied throughout the whole hotel, the lobby bustled with tourists headed home and New Yorkers who'd come for one last night, just to say goodbye. The hotel residents gossiped with the staff, shook their heads, safe for now. But still. No one had told them this was happening so soon.
In the night, someone said, someone smashed the glass in the hallway doors. (Today the Times reported it was someone's fist and just one door. Living with Legends reports one guest had to be taken to Bellevue.) Someone said that someone had sabotaged the plumbing pipes. "It's harassment, plain and simple. But I'm ready for the fight!"
Nothing can be done. The doors are being locked to us. The haunted, old rooms are being gutted, prepped for glitz. The whole world is moving in this one direction, toward a haven for the hollow men and women. What will happen to the rest of us is anyone's guess. But I doubt we'll have many more poems written for those flowered balustrades.