Monday, August 1, 2011

Last Night at the Chelsea

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.

Schuyler wrote:

"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.


Anonymous said...

The Chelsea Hotel/
A well fertilized flop-house/
Falls victim to wealth/
(I knew a recovering addict who found an 8-Ball of coke that fell from the Chelsea and sold it to start a small business!)

Ed Ward said...

In a perverse sort of way, though, New Yorkers are lucky to be in the vanguard of what's apparently going to happen to the rest of the country as desirable places are sold off to the very rich and the rest destroyed. You're less Cassandra than some sort of prophet like, er, Jeremiah.

JM said...

For the first time in my life, I actually hate a generation. It's not logical, and I know there are a lot of kids out there who didn't follow Sex and the City into the glitzy, narcissistic overconsumption suckhole personified by the young women in your picture. I also know that these types of people have always been there, perhaps in fewer numbers, but uptown and in the suburbs, certainly not in the downtown I loved. Now, it's this...

Were all their parents really this bad at raising children? Or is it just the cultural tidal wave they were born into? The way we were born into the 60s, and grew our hair and rebelled against the conservatism of the previous generation....was that merely the opposite of what's happened to them?

Whatever the reasons, it's simply disgusting. I suppose many of my parents' generation felt that way about us. But I can't help it, I hate them.

EV Grieve said...

That was beautiful, Jeremiah.

And sad.

We're all doomed.

Melanie said...

Glad you made it one more night. Sad it's closing.

BrooksNYC said...

What a lovely piece. Glad you were there for the swan song.

"The whole world is moving in this one direction, toward a haven for the hollow men and women."

That's it. That's the bottom line. Stunning, isn't it?

"What will happen to the rest of us is anyone's guess."

The tide moves in, the tide moves out.

Anonymous said...

...waiting to see what will become of their neon sign!

onemorefoldedsunset said...

My mother-in-law's boyfriend, the Polish artist Jan Lebenstein, used to stay there back in the 70s and 80s when he was in New York. Artist & city, both gone. Another world.

michele zalopany said...

Thank you Jeremiah. As a 22 year resident of the Chelsea, I don't have words for how painful it has been, and is now, experiencing the brutal dismantling of this beautiful place, and dream of many...not least of all, the mighty Bard family.

clr said...

I feel so terrible that I have been so out of touch that I didn't know. I would have been there for one more night. But at least I had been there, just like at least I stayed at the Gramercy one night before the change.

The new world wants the hollowed out kids, because they don't demand anything except MORE and NEW and BUY NOW

Grade "A" Fancy said...

Depressing. Beautiful.

What Grieve said: doomed.

And what of El Quixote?

Jeremiah Moss said...

i am continually dumbstruck that so many integral parts of the city, monuments you never thought could be touched, are all going down the same road to hell. coney island, the chelsea, etc., etc.

as for Quijote, i don't know. but i worry what the sale means for them.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this, jeremiah. it brought tears to my eyes.

Marty Wombacher said...

A sad but wonderful tribute. Thanks, Jeremiah.

Caleo said...

You've outdone yourself Mr. Moss.
And so it goes... many other comments hit on it as well,
but I moved here more than 20 years ago because I felt like an alien in the city I was born, and felt at home as soon as I got here.
And now i'm the alien again. But this time, there's nowhere else to go.
I guess I'll just dig in deeper, hold onto the memories and wait for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction at some unforeseen point in the future.
There is nothing else you can do.

mikey said...

Oh, man, you're making me cry at work.

First they came for the poets, but I was a mindless transplanted shitheel, and did not speak out...

Holly Lama said...

This is your most poignant commentary yet. Thank you for writing about the end- you deserved to be there. We are lucky to have you to share with us the end of what is sacred about NY. I can accept respectful change, but what is happening to NY is a far flung cry from what's in its best long term interest. Hard to believe, actually- and extremely sad.

julie wilson said...

So sad. I was lucky to have lived there for 4 months in 1977. I was 17 and would sit in the lobby and watch people come & go. Sometimes the desk clerk would let me borrow a tv and I would watch an old movie in my room. I was going to school of visual arts and was given a list of possible housing and the Chelsea was on the list. Stanley had a special rate for students. What a different world. I hate the now.

blue glass said...

take lots of pictures.
lots and lots of pictures.
pretty soon that will be all that is left of "old new york". the new york with a history and a soul that drew people here. the new york with neighborhoods full of family stores providing services to residents and visitors and run and staffed by humans.
we are rapidly becoming the wonder bread tourist playground that Giuliani and Bloomberg built - that you can find anywhere - only here it is larger and more expensive.
the chelsea hotel is one among many things, soon to be of the past, that people reminisce about and watch the destruction.
thanks for the good reminiscence.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

This is the end of so many things, and I'm really glad you were able to stay there on the last night. The photo of the empty bed really makes me sad.

One of my happiest NYC memories is of a party I unexpectedly attended in the hotel many years ago. I'll tuck that memory away in my mental scrapbook of NYC that, tragically, reads like a eulogy. Thank you for sharing this last moment with us.

@Caleo - I know exactly how you feel.

esquared™ said...

bachelorettes tumbled drunk... slipped to the sidewalk hugging penis balloons to their breasts::
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere...Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert"

Screeching throngs of high-heeled girls and boys in unbuttoned shirts :: "Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert, A shape with lion body and the head of a man...Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it"

The music of the club throbbed through the night, vibrating the whole hotel:: "The falcon cannot hear the falconer...The ceremony of innocence is drowned"

The whole world is moving in this one direction, toward a haven for the hollow men and women.:: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;..And what rough beast, its hour come round at last..."

-- the second coming of chelsea hotel

Jeremiah Moss said...

if only Yeats knew from penis balloons!

esquared™ said...

penis balloons:: Spiritus Mundi

Jeremiah Moss said...

well, who knew the Chelsea Hotel was overflowing with the spiritus mundi of a million bachelorettes? they were everywhere, in their tiaras, with their penis necklaces, and their entourages of sloppy drunk bridesmaids.

how did that happen to this city?

Bob Arihood said...

Beautifully written and heart-felt post Jeremiah

esquared™ said...

a shape with man body and the head of a horse:: sjp

that's what happened to the city

Danielle Bennignus said...

Jeremiah, thank you so much for these entries - you're my link to a city I loved dearly, and miss terribly. And as painful as it is to read about New York's precious character that's fading at an ever-increasing rate, the story needs to be told - this blog is a living, breathing epitaph.

Something that's been aching inside lately is that my brother just moved to the city, to be with the woman he loves. He's a good man, a poet at heart who will respect what NYC is, rather than attempt to mold it to suit his own desires. To think that he won't know the same city that I have, breathing with creativity, fire and curiosity, just hurts. I try to describe what it was, and how it's changed... but it's too all-encompassing, too painful.

Again, thank you for your wonderful work.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Danielle. maybe your brother can make the city a little better. we need more poets.

Kagemusha said...

Dear God... first the old Yankee Stadium, now this? What's next? The Statue of Liberty. Heaven help us.

Ed said...

"In a perverse sort of way, though, New Yorkers are lucky to be in the vanguard of what's apparently going to happen to the rest of the country as desirable places are sold off to the very rich and the rest destroyed."

I agree with this. This stuff is happening elsewhere, though later and more slowly. For the first time in years, I no longer want to leave because I have party adjusted to this crap and don't want to have to go through the same process again.

John M., there is a meme forming that the "Greatest Generation" terribly spoiled their kids, and that did have repercusions to this day. And the attempts at parenting by the following generation may have turned out to be worse.

79rigid said...

It will return as the "Chelsea",but quite possibly won't be the Chelsea again.

editrrix said...

I admire your ability to seek out and so report so passionately about the changing face of New York. This piece is elegant and the accompanying images are lovely. It's fitting that you were there on that night of nights. As a New Yorker it saddens me; as a writer it makes me damn jealous. I'm humbled.

srl said...

jeremiah, so the city has changed. the people have changed. i get that. what i dont get is WHERE do the interesting people go? i know this blog is about "vanishing" but 1): what besides crap are good things being replaced with? are these newer kids all schmucks? 2) how are they different from when i was going to clubs in the mid 60s? clubs like "arthur" or "ondines", or steve pauls "scene". we dressed, had expensive clothes, went from club to party to 3am breakfast. bought the latest styles from mary quant, & all the newer boutiques. if you didnt have $, someone always paid. we also met up in london on kings road, had our clubs there. most of my art school friends were in europe as well. hate to bust the bubble but we didnt always go to funky old places. (sometimes yes, but not all the time). the 60s were elegant glamorous! whats the difference between us from 1960s, & the newer people like 40-50yrs later?? are these kids really dumb?? we sure werent.