July 25, 2006

A TRANSLATION OF HIROYA’S DEE DEE RAMONE PAINTINGS

Hiroya, the crazy Japanese graffiti painter with wild black hair who used to stand in the lobby in paint splattered suits and accost tourists with boasts of his artistic prowess, left several paintings behind in Hiroya823 the hotel when he died.  Two of them, replete with crosses, caskets, and the symbolism of death, and heavy on Japanese text, have long intrigued us because they seemed to tell the story of Hiroya’s falling out with his friend, the punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone.  We have been waiting for a Japanese person to happen by and translate them for us, and finally we found one in Yuko Shingyoji, a Japanese fashion designer.  The yellow one that hangs in the stairwell between the seventh and eighth floors is rather poetic and reads approximately as follows:

From here it’s heaven,

Heaven is a forest.

Drink Rum in the morning, 

Everyone dance.

Beyond Death: darkness, time, space, land of God. 

De De Land.

Hiroyaorange_1 The orange one that hangs in the stairwell on the first floor, though it touches on a similar theme, tells more of a story:

De De Land.  In heaven I meet De De and Barbara.  De De always thinking something very deeply.  The job of Barbara is reading “pustory” (“true story?”) to De De.  De De makes blueberry jam.  He writes a poem on the pink chalkboard.  My job is after he finish writing a poem, put the poem into drawing.  My girlfriend Marcia take picture of the drawing and record to De De Land’s diary.  End of day at De De Land.  De De Land is very good feeling (comfortable), mellow world.

Yuko says Hiroya’s English is not very good, ungrammatical.  Yeah, that’s Hiroya alright.  The “De De” in question is the punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone of the Ramones.  Barbara is Dee Dee’s wife.  The story of the paintings is that Dee Dee paid Hiroya $500 to make two paintings of the Chelsea Hotel for the front and back cover of Dee Dee’s novel, Chelsea Horror Hotel.  Hiroya took the money, but then started to have second thoughts about whoring himself like that, and so couldn’t bring himself to complete the paintings.  This led to a falling out between Dee Dee and Hiroya, but in the end Dee Dee insisted that Hiroya at least owed him two paintings of some sort, and these are what Hiroya came up with.
About a year after their falling out, Hiroya left the Chelsea Hotel to enter a rehab program.  He attempted to move back into the Chelsea a couple of years later, but Stanley wouldn’t give him a room.  On the very night he was rebuffed by Stanley, Hiroya checked into the Gershwin Hotel and died. Dee Dee proceeded him in death by a year.  As often happens with such deaths, there was no way to know for certain whether it was an accident or suicide.  (Ed Hamilton)

July 18, 2006

JUNKIE JOE & THE EUROPE OF THE MIND

The most beloved--and enigmatic—character ever to grace the halls of the Chelsea is of course our illustrious proprietor, Stanley Bard.  Among his many endearing qualities,  Stanley possesses a congenital inability to admit that anything bad has ever taken place in the hotel.  There are no roaches or mice, and certainly no junkies have ever lived here.  If pressed, he might be willing to admit that Sid and Nancy had a slight altercation one night back in the seventies, but absolutely nothing untoward has happened since.  The writers and artists living here are all brilliant, contented and wealthy.  The Buck_1 magnificence of the Chelsea ’s luxury accommodations is scarcely rivaled even by The Plaza or the Waldorf-Astoria—perhaps not even by Buckingham Palace itself.
        We were talking to a friend in El Quijote the other night, someone who used to live here back in the eighties and nineties, and he told us a tale that’s perfectly illustrative of this tendency of  Stanley’s:

I was going up to the ninth floor to visit my friend one time.  The elevator was slow, probably somebody was holding it up, so I walked up the stairs.  As soon as I turned onto his wing I saw cops all over the place, about eight or ten of them.  They were coming in and out of an apartment.  There was a stretcher in the hall with a body in it in a black body bag.

I knew whose apartment it was—it was a guy I knew, I’ll call him Joe--and I assumed it was him in the body bag.  Joe was a junkie, so of course I immediately suspected that he had ODed.

One of the cops finally noticed me standing around, and said, ‘Don’t come up here yet.  Go back downstairs.  We’ll let you know when you can come up.’

The elevators still weren’t working, so I walked back down to the lobby.  It was full of people.  They weren’t allowing anybody to go up. 
      Stanley was standing behind the desk and so I went up to him and said, ‘What’s going on up on the ninth floor?’
       ‘Nothing, why would you say that?’  Stanley said.
        ‘There were cops all over the place!’

‘No there weren’t.’

‘Yes there were!’

‘You may have seen one or two policemen,’ Stanley admitted.  ‘They probably have a room here.’ Stanley’s manner was so matter-of-fact and convincing that he made me doubt the evidence of my own senses.  I began to think that maybe I was becoming one of the crazy people wandering the halls here.  Still, I’m not that far gone, so I said, ‘ Stanley, you can’t tell me nothing is going on.’
         ‘Well, I don’t know what you want me to tell you then.’

‘That was Joe, wasn’t it,’ I said.  ‘Joe’s dead, isn’t he?’

‘Joe?’  Stanley said.  ‘Oh, no.  Joe’s fine.  He just went on a little vacation.  Europe, I think.   He’ll be back in a couple of years, I’m sure.’
        In the days that followed there were plenty of rumors circulating around the hotel, but nobody ever got any definite information, and nothing about the incident ever appeared in the papers.  Stanley has his ways of keeping things like that quiet.
         It’s difficult to discern how much of Stanley’s act is a con, and how much a sort of rosy-spectacled tunnel vision.  Whatever his secret, he’s a brilliant magician whose slight of hand has allowed him to conjure up the infinitely seductive shadow reality of the Chelsea.  Who but a Philistine, a sworn enemy of art, would mention such trivialities as heat or running water?  It hardly matters that Joe—or whatever his name was before he passed into myth--has yet to return from his sojourn abroad.  (Ed Hamilton)

July 11, 2006

FRIGHT WIG FLIPPED

Susan and I were walking up Eighth Avenue late one Saturday night.  Susan was wearing a brown t-shirt that said Ciao Manhattan!  As we approached the Hudson Diner we noticed a pretty girl in a Ciao floppy hat and a blond bob haircut sitting at an outdoor table sucking on a milkshake.  She kept staring at us over her milkshake with her big blue eyes.  What the hell is she looking at? we wondered.  Finally, as we got up to her, she stopped slurping her milkshake long enough to raise her head and blurt out, “Edie Sedgwick!”

            Yeah, that’s right: Edie starred in the film back in the late sixties.  But who the hell even knows about that old movie, we wondered, much less cares?  And then we recognized the girl: it was Sienna Miller.

            That would explain a lot, since Sienna recently finished shooting the Edie biopic, Factory Girls.  But the more pressing question remains: What was Sienna Miller doing at the Hudson Diner?

            Perhaps she was just really getting into her role, we speculated, slumming it in an attempt identify with the tragic bohemian princess.  Sienna visited the Chelsea for just that purpose, we knew, and we heard that she even went to Edie’s grave and wept.  But then, that was when she was filming the movie; by this point the shoot had already wrapped.  Had Sienna flipped her fright wig entirely?

            And anyway, not even Edie would’ve been caught dead at the Hudson Diner. (Ed Hamilton)

July 04, 2006

EASTERN (EUROPEAN) PHILOSOPHER

There was a new guy staying next door in the transient room.  “I hear him out there,” my girlfriend Hungcur Susan said.  “Open the door and see what he looks like. Maybe we can interview him for the blog.”  It was late at night and she had just settled into bed.  I didn’t feel like talking to anybody, since I was tired and ready for bed too, so I waited until I didn’t hear anything outside before I went to take a piss.

            The guy was still out there, hanging out in the hallway.  Short, thin, with gray, close-cropped hair, he eyed me up and down as I stepped out of my door.  “Are you something?” he inquired.

            “Uh, well, I’m a writer,” I said.

            “I’m a writer myself, of a sort.  I do ontology.  I’m from Tennessee.”
            He was an older man, and half-way distinguished looking, so I thought he meant he was a professor there.  “You must be in the Philosophy Department,” I said.

            He clearly didn’t know what I was talking about, but decided he didn’t mind being taken for an academic.  “Uh, yeah.  I just got back from Hungary.  I decided I needed to familiarize myself with western philosophy before I immersed myself in the eastern variety.  But you know what, once I started studying, I found out that they were the same thing.
            It seemed like an oversimplification to me, but I didn’t feel like getting into it at the moment.

            “You live here, don’t you?” the philosopher inquired.

            “Yeah, 11 years.”  Since he was curious, I opened the door and showed him my room.  Susan hid her head under the covers. 

            “Not bad,” he said.

            “Thank you,” I said, closing the door.  I still had to use the restroom, as I headed in that direction.

            “Can I live here?” the man asked hopefully.   

            In the old days, no problem, I thought; he would have fit right in.  “Well, I don’t know,” I said.  “You’ll have to talk to Stanley Bard.  It’s pretty expensive these days.”

            “I saw a bag lady in the hall.  She can’t be paying much, if anything.”

            “Well, you’re probably right about that.  But she’s been here 30 years.”

            “I’m going down to the Spanish bar next door for a drink,” he said.  He seemed to be inviting me to come along.

            “The El Quijote,” I said.  “Say hello to Santi for me.”

            The philosopher left a Hungarian bill on the bathroom sink when he checked out.  A tip for the maids?  I left the bill tacked to his door in case he came back looking for it. (Ed Hamilton)

June 27, 2006

LIKE APPLE PIE

There’s a large, shady garden on top of the Hotel Chelsea, complete with flowers, bushes, and fully grown trees, one of which has taken root in the roof itself, sending its roots down into the apartment below.  The garden is surrounded by a brick wall, insulating this idyllic retreat from the swelter and commotion of the city below.  Over the top of the wall you can see the top of the empire state building and the other tall buildings uptown.

On the evening of last year's Gay Pride Parade, a couple of the Chelsea people, two men who lived together in one of the hotel’s more lavish suites, gave a party in the garden.  They had hung some rainbow-colored balloons, but besides that it was just the usual Chelsea party, with, by and large, the usual Chelsea denizens.

The gay guys of the Chelsea Hotel are not the buff Chelsea Boys you hear so much about.  Any actual, self-respecting Chelsea Boy wouldn’t be caught dead here.  The Chelsea Hotel boys are more flamboyant, artistic, fabulous; whatever their age, they dress more like old time gays, in lavender jackets, cravats, fedoras, things like that.  There were even a couple of drag queens, Chelsea Girls.  One man, tall and thin, with a lined, weathered face, wore a pink seersucker suit.

The lesbians at the party were, by and large, girls next door (looking like boys next door), in jeans and t-shirts, though one of them wore a retro polka dot dress and had a beehive hairdo.

There was lots of liquor, and lots of food: one table filled with fancy, catered appetizer platters, another with potato salad and coleslaw, and burgers and hotdogs to throw on the grill.  My girlfriend and I talked to our friends, got drunk, and then, as the sun was setting, slipped away from the party to explore other areas of the roof, higher levels toward the rear, where the purple sky, and Greenwich Village, it’s streets alive with the gay pride revelers, spread out before us in a panorama.

When we came back, everyone was finishing up their food, and it was time for the desert.  A Tits heavy-set, husky woman, butch, in flannel shirt with hacked-off blond hair, brought out a platter containing the dinner’s piece de resistance: three cakes in the shape of round, white tits, C-cups, approximately, with delicate pink nipples set enticingly on top. Smiling, she showed the cakes around the crowd proudly.  The tits were coated with a glazed, hard shell of icing, making the confection seem more like candy, rather than cake.  They looked mouth watering, almost too pretty to touch.

Finally, after everybody had had a good look at them, they were placed upon a table, a knife was produced, and everyone gathered around as the blond butch dyke cut into them.

And, lo and behold, they were green inside!  The tits were filled with a green gel of some sort.  Everybody was surprised.  “Oh, they must be Irish tits!” the guy in the seersucker exclaimed.

The blond woman glared at him, and looked him up and down in disgust.  “These are American Tits,” she said, crossly.

            The man in the seersucker was too frightened to say anything.  He just stood there for an uncomfortable moment with his mouth agape.

Finally, as the woman turned her attention back to the cake, the seersucker turned away, and, making his escape, rolled his eyes and remarked in a low voice, “Yeah, tits on a plate, real American!” (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

June 20, 2006

TRIVIA MASTER OF FLORENT STUMPED

            Florent was in the Meat Packing District before it was cool—or really when it was a lot cooler, Florent before the neighborhood was taken over by Sex-in-the-City wannabees.  The food is always great there (get the Moules Frites), as is the atmosphere.  Ask for a table outside and watch the sun set.
            Lots of famous people come into Florent, so it’s kind of like the Hotel Chelsea in that respect.  When we’re there, we always play a celebrity trivia game with our waiter, the tall and urbane Josiah (author of The Unauthorized Donna Summers.)  In the past, he’s always been able to figure out our questions, but recently we stumped him.
            “There was an actor checking into the Chelsea a couple of weeks ago,” I said.  “I was waiting for the elevator and he kept staring at me like I was supposed to acknowledge his presence.  But I was way too cool for that.  He has a new hit TV show.  About southerners, I think, or anyway about some kind of trailer trash.”
            I thought this one was going to be easy, but Josiah stared at me blankly.  “He used to be a skateboard champ,” I said.  “But now he’s a scientologist.  He was in the papers recently because he named his child something crazy.  Let’s see, ah, Pilot Inspector.  That’s it.”
            “I like the name,” Josiah said, “but I have no idea.”
            “You, know, that Earl guy from My Name is Earl.”
            “You’ll have to tell me.”
            “Jason Lee,” I said.
            Josiah still didn’t know who he was.  “A Chinese man?” he asked.
            “No,” I said.  “Finally, we stumped you!”
            Josiah didn’t like the sound of that.  “I don’t watch TV anymore,” he said.  “It’s too engaging.”
            Josiah went away for awhile, presumably to attend to his tables inside.  But when he came back he immediately announced, triumphantly, “I asked all the waiters in this restaurant and all the cooks, and no one knows who Jason Lee is!”
            The implication was that this was too obscure a question, and therefore illegitimate.  “Uh, it’s a very popular show,” I said defensively.
            “You must watch a lot of TV,” Josiah said. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)


June 13, 2006

No Room for Stanley Bard's Long Lost Son

The two desk clerks were laughing when I came in, though one of them, Morgan, was laughing the loudest.  “What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Henry just said a transvestite came in last night and said he was Stanley Bard’s son,” Morgan said.

When I heard that I cracked up too.

“So what did he look like?” Morgan asked Henry.

“He was tall,” Henry said, indicating with his hand. 

“Was he dressed in women’s clothes?” Morgan asked. 

“No, but he had on all the makeup and everything.” 

“Did he look like Stanley ?” I asked.
          Henry seemed to be tiring of the interrogation.  “Well, he was the same color.”

“I wouldn’t just dismiss it out of hand,” I said.

“Yeah, you never can tell what kind of weird shit goes on around this place,” Morgan said.  “You’d have to get a DNA test to rule it out.”

“He didn’t have one of those,” Henry said, irritably.

“Are you sure it wasn’t just David?” I asked, naming Stanley’s actual, known son.
          “No!  I know what David looks like!”

“So did you give him a room?” I asked. 

“Joe talked to him.  He was going to rent him one, but I guess he didn’t like the price, so he went away.”

“I’m gonna call Joe right now and ask him about this!” Morgan exclaimed, snatching up the phone.

I didn’t wait around to hear from Joe.  “Hard to believe you can’t even get a decent rate when you’re the owner’s son,” I said.  (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

June 06, 2006

Something Like An Eternal Debate

I was talking to the painter Michael Bell and the poet Sheryl Rubenstein at the party for the one-year anniversary of our Chelsea blog.  The New York light, orange at sunset, was streaming in through the Wolfe west-facing window, much the same as it would have seventy years before when Thomas Wolfe lived in this very room. (Photo from Lisa Chamberlain's Flickr set)

There was a reporter from the New York Times at the party, taking notes.  “It’s nice that someone is finally paying attention to all this,” Michael said with a sweep of his arm, “all this creativity going on around here.”

United in our thankless plight, we all agreed that it was patently unfair, this misunderstood toiling in obscurity that we seemed doomed to endure.

“Who do you think has it worse,” Sheryl asked, “writers or artists?”

“Well,”  I said, “at least people don’t think they could just crank out a painting like they think they could sit down and write a novel if they felt like it.”

But Michael said, “Oh, yes they do.  They think they can just throw down paint.  They don’t think there’s anything at all to color theory or technique.”

“But it’s so much more obvious that you’re creating something,” I protested.  “An object of beauty.  I know damn well I could never paint anything.  But people use language every day, and they probably figure their office memos are just as good as anything I write.”

I thought Sheryl would back me up, but strangely, she agreed with Michael.  “They especially say that about abstracts,” she said.  “When they see one they say, Oh, if you like that you should see what my child paints!”

“Yes, but that’s almost a cliché,” I said.  “People have been saying that for years.  But these days, of course, they’re joking.”

“I don’t think so,” Sheryl said, and she and Robert both chuckled.  I was facing right into the streaming light.  I could scarcely make out Michael and Sheryl’s faces for the glare.  I saw merely their dark silhouettes: they were shaking their heads back and forth in unison.  I broke out in a sweat, less from the sun’s heat than from the realization that they were right.

I sighed.  “You know, there was a lady in the lobby saying that very same thing just the other day,” I said.  “I don’t think it was your painting, Michael, but maybe it was Philip Taffe’s.  Besides that, she was a nice lady, from North Carolina, a tourist of course.  And now I’m feeling really bad about this.  Because I just burst out laughing right in her face.”  (Ed Hamilton, 2006)

May 30, 2006

THE PETER PAN COLLAR

            Since the old McBurney Y closed down, I go to the New York Sports Club on the corner of 8th Ave. and 23rd St.  I came into the locker room the other day at about one o’clock, and there was a Ppc neatly dressed young man of about thirty standing in front of the mirror.  He was tying his red-and-beige striped tie, obviously ready to head back to work after a lunch hour workout.

            Another man came into the locker room; he was maybe in his mid-twenties, dressed in baggy jeans and a t-shirt, a gym bag over his shoulder.  “Hey Dan, what’s going on!” he piped up heartily.

            “Oh, hey Joe,” Dan said, with notably less enthusiasm, as he finished tying his tie.  He seemed to have things on his mind.

            Most of the guys that go to my gym are gay, and of course you never know, but these guys seemed pretty macho.

            “You’re all dressed up today!” Joe observed.  “Dapper Dan!  That’s a Peter Pan collar you’re wearing there, ain’t it?”

            “Peter Pan?!” Dan exclaimed in puzzlement.  “Hell no!  What the hell are you talking about?”

            “Yeah, that’s what it is,” Joe said.  “A Peter Pan collar.  That’s what they call it when it’s rounded like that.  You know, instead of pointed like a regular collar.”

            I noticed then that Dan was indeed wearing a pink shirt with a rounded collar.

            “Great,” Dan said, his voice tinged with disgust.  “Well, I’m sure as hell not wearing it anymore if that’s what it’s called.”  He had finished dressing and was gathering his things into a gym bag.

            “Uh, well,” Joe stammered, “You know, I could be wrong.  Come to think of it, I think that’s just what they call it when it’s a girl’s collar.  For a man it’s just a, uh, rounded collar.”

            Dan slung his gym bag over his shoulder and turned to go.  “Too late now,” he said.  “Thanks a lot.  I’m throwing it out.” (Ed Hamilton)

Continue reading "THE PETER PAN COLLAR" »

May 23, 2006

Bonnie and the Angel of 23rd Street

            Bonnie Kendall, with her exquisitely coifed red hair and painstakingly-applied make-up, always dressed to the nines to sit behind the desk and answer the phone, was something of an institution around here.  Though she recently left us, hopefully for greener pastures, she’s difficult to forget.  The other day I recalled a conversation that I had with her in April of 2002.

            If you remember, that was when the Japanese guy who dressed like an angel lived here.  Angel_wings_feather_3d_smallWhen I came into the hotel that day, he was sitting in one of the lobby chairs, dressed in a long white  gown, with white wings and a halo.  He was talking to a conservatively dressed, middle-aged Japanese woman.

            Bonnie was sitting in her chair behind the desk, and I greeted her as I walked up.

            “Between that angel, and Jimbo, and the blond woman who runs around here, it's getting to be like a nuthouse,” Bonnie said.

            The blond woman she was referring to was a woman with Tourette’s syndrome who used to live in the Chelsea.  Jimbo was a desk clerk with whom Bonnie argued constantly.

            “Is this the first time you noticed that?” I asked, chuckling.

            As was her way, Bonnie paid my remark no heed.  “That's his wife he's sitting out there talking to, if you can believe that,” she said.  “Or at least she used to be.  I guess she pays for all this.”

            “All this luxury?”

            “Which makes her crazier than he is!” Bonnie went on.  “He's a transvestite, but he used to be married.”

            “I guess that’s before he died and went to heaven,” I said.  “Hey, maybe this hotel is heaven!”

            “Oh, you're not supposed to notice his wings,” Bonnie said, sarcastically.  “Oh no!  Just act like they're not there.  Well, I'm sorry, but it's kind of obvious.  It's not like he's up on a cloud or something.”  (Ed Hamilton)

May 16, 2006

The Spoon Game

Susan and I went to our favorite neighborhood diner for lunch one afternoon.  There was a new waitress serving us, an Eastern European girl—you could tell by the garish make-up--and apparently it Spoons was her very first day.  I ordered a split pea soup and grilled cheese, and when the soup arrived, the waitress gave me a t-spoon to eat it with.  “Could you bring me a larger spoon,” I said.

            I guess I wasn’t being specific enough, because when the waitress returned, she brought me a selection of spoons: a soup spoon, a table spoon, and a long-stemmed iced-tea spoon.  I selected the soup spoon.  “This really large one is a table spoon,” I said, figuring I’d clue the girl in for future reference.  “It’s used more for serving.  And this long one is an iced-tea spoon.”  I picked it up to demonstrate: “You see, it’s long so you can get down to the bottom of the glass.”

The waitress rolled her eyes at my stupidity.  She spoke good English, albeit with an accent.  “It’s a matter of individual preference,” she said.  (Ed Hamilton)

May 09, 2006

HITTING ON THE GIRLS

My girlfriend Susan and I were in the Malibu Diner late one evening, on 23rd St., east of the Chelsea.  There was a young guy sitting at the table behind me, looked like a bridge-and-tunneler, Malibu20diner2023rd20west a Jersey guy. He was talking to two girls who looked like they were from Jersey as well.  The man had his hair slicked back and wore a leather jacket; the girls wore tight pants and spangly tops.  Though they seemed out of place in the homey diner, I figured they just needed to fuel up for a night of clubbing.

The man related a story in a loud voice.  He said he was at a club one night and they were having a male strip show.  “You know, like Chippendales,” he said.

In response to the girls’ puzzled queries, he explained that he went to such places because, “When those girls get done watching all those sweaty male bodies gyrating up on stage, they’ll be hungry for some hard cock, and I’ll be all too happy to provide it for them.”

I wasn’t even tempted to laugh, since I knew that was why most men go to see male go go dancers.
         
“Anyway,” the guy went on, “So I’m in this club filled with people, when somebody throws a beer bottle and hits this girl in the head over near the DJ booth. So she’s on the ground and her head’s all cut open and she’s bleeding all over the place.  I’m just heading up the stairs to the second level, when this guy starts screaming that I did it and he comes running after me, swinging like he’s gonna kill me.  So I push him back down the stairs, but there’s a crowd of people on the stairs and so they catch him and he can’t fall far.  He keeps trying to come back after me, and I keep kicking him back down the stairs.
        “Then the DJ gets on his cell phone and tells the management there’s a fight.  Then about eight big bouncers and a couple of the strippers are there in about two seconds, and they’re grabbing me and restraining me like I’m going to go after the guy.  And I’m just like, hey dude, I’m not doing anything, just minding my own business.  I don’t know what the fuck his problem is.
      

“They threw the guy out, and then they took the girl out of the club and put her in an ambulance.  So I thought that was it.  But then after about five minutes one of the bouncers said that the guy I fought got on his cell phone and called all his friends and now they were waiting for me outside the club.  Some of them came out of the club and some of them drove there from other clubs, and now they were all out in front of the club trying to overturn cars and shit.  They were trying to rush the door, saying I beat up their friend’s girlfriend and now the club was protecting me.  The bouncer said if they just let me walk out the door those guys would kill me, so they were going to have to sneak me out the back door to 11th Avenue.
         

“Well, when we got out there, one of the guys who was after me was there with his cell phone.  The bouncers were trying to hail me a cab, when all of a sudden all these guys start running around the corner, heading our way.  The bouncers were able to hold them back, but then they said if they put me in a cab those guys would follow and wherever the cab let me out they would get me and beat me up.  So the head bouncer, Shorty, said he was going to take me home in his SUV.  Sure enough, as soon as we got in, those guys came roaring around the corner in their cars, but the bouncers were waiting for them and they blocked their way with two trucks.  Shorty had a gun so he could protect himself.

It sounded like the bouncers had dealt with this sort of thing before, perhaps on a semi-regular basis.  I made a mental note not to be caught dead in this particular club.

“Shorty asked me where I lived but I’d didn’t want to go home yet, so I told him some place on 37th St.," the guy went on.

“When we got to the building on 37th St.Shorty said, is this where you live?  I said, yeah, and he said, I’m not going to drop you off here just in case they’ve been following.  I don’t want them to see where you live.  So he drove me around the block and let me out.”
         The girls didn’t say anything.  The table lapsed into silence as they ate their food.  The story seemed to be over.

I had been sitting with my back to the guy and I wanted to see what he looked like, so when we got up to go I glanced in his direction.  He glared at me, aware that we had been listening—though he had made no attempt to keep it quiet.

We paid at the register and left the diner.  “He seemed very angry,” Susan said, disturbed by the story.  “And you know he was the one who threw that bottle too.”

Yeah, sexual frustration’s a bitch, I thought.  “I wonder if that story made those girls hungry for his cock,” I said. (Ed Hamilton 2006)

May 03, 2006

Jerry's Famous Tour of the Hotel Chelsea

     Walking through the lobby on Sunday after-noon, I noticed that Jerry had a group of college students lined up for one of his Chelsea Hotel tours.  In all the years I’ve lived here I never have gone on Stanjer one, so I figured this was my big chance.  Knowing that he wouldn’t reveal his secrets to an outlaw blogger such as myself, I quickly ran upstairs, donned a collegiate disguise, and hid myself in amongst the kids.             
         
Jerry didn’t tell too much that I hadn’t heard already, but it was interest to note how he tailored the message to appeal to a younger audience.  He talked about how the Grateful Dead used to live here, back in the 60s, and said they gave the absolute best parties in the history of the hotel.  He said you could get happy just by walking by their door.
          He told a familiar story about how Jimi Hendrix was hanging around the front desk when an old lady was checking into the hotel and, mistaking him for a bellhop, ordered him to carry her bags upstairs.  Well, in Jerry’s version, Jimi was such a nice guy that he actually grabbed the ladies bags and went up with her in the elevator.  Unfortunately there were no tales of more recent rockers such as Rufus Wainwright or Ryan Adams.
          Jerry told one thing I didn’t know – the room off to the right of the lobby, which is now being refurbished as Stanley’s office, was originally a “Ladies Waiting Room.”  This, naturally, inspired Jerry to tell a joke about hookers – of which he commented that we no longer have any here.  At that exact moment a resident was walking past.  “Yes we do have hookers!” he said.
            “You got that right!” I exclaimed on impulse.  But then, my cover blown, I had to flee up the stairs as Jerry and the college students presumably adjourned to the famous Hotel Chelsea Bar to do a few beer bongs and jello shots.

May 02, 2006

Bohemians, Bloggers & Book People

If you ever plan on entertaining a bunch of bohemians, skip the crudites and order more sushi.  We’re still trying to finish off all of those damn vegetables. 

The blog’s first-anniversary party was held in Thomas Wolfe’s old room, now occupied by the photographer Julia Calfee, who was kind enough to let us borrow it for the event.  Even Robert Lambert and Dave Linter gave up their lobby spots to drop by.  Highlights include Robert’s cell phone going off constantly (whoever it was no doubt thought he was still in the lobby), and Dave, who walks with a cane, announcing loudly as he exited, “I need a wide berth, here!” and scaring a couple of Brooklyn bloggers, who didn’t know that he has a sense of humor, half to death.

The painter George Chemeche, commenting on the aging bohemian population of the Chelsea, said that every time someone dies, he figures he’s going to be next.  But anyone can see he’s still got a lot of life left in him.

Befitting the creatively charged atmosphere of the Chelsea, there was at least one scene, theatrically staged, between two artistic rivals, but the principals have asked us not to discuss it until 50 years after their deaths.  (Rest assured, an account will be found in my papers!)

Robert Lasner of Ig Publishing went home with the door prize, a bottle of Makers Mark, for answering the most Chelsea Hotel trivia questions.  Winning question: In what room did Sid kill Nancy?

The real highlight of the party didn’t come, however, until most everyone had gone home.  The Irish lady who was staying next door in the transient room popped her head out and told us how nice it was that there were still hotels like this left.  She drank a glass of wine with us and showed us her room – the other half of Thomas Wolfe’s old suite – and what should we discover there but the fashion designer Charles James’ ancient drafting table!!  Readers of the blog know that, not having enough room, we set this table out many years ago, with a note attached describing what it was.  We’ve been wandering ever since who might have retrieved it, and now we know: Stanley Bard!  He has it nailed into a bookshelf, so no one else can ever again throw it in the trash.  The party pics are here.

April 25, 2006

A Year of Slices - The Revelatory Work

Hard to believe, but soon we'll be celebrating the blog's one-year-anniversary. It's an excuse to re-post my favorite Slice of Life story.

The Revelatory Work
     I found a purse in the shared bathroom one morning.  It contained the usual junk that women carry around, and a wallet with an ID and forty dollars in it.  From the picture on the ID, I could tell that it Coffepot wasn’t anybody who had any business using our bathroom.  I suspected the worst, that she was a junkie who had broken in to shoot up, and that made me feel like taking the money and throwing her purse in the trash just to teach her a lesson.  But really I had no evidence of that, and I’d seen her around the hotel, so I asked for her room number and took the purse up to where she lived on the fifth floor.
     The woman who answered the door was tall, middle-aged, with long, dyed-red hair.  She wore bracelets and a flowing, robe-like, Turkish hippie shirt.  She had apparently been sleeping, or otherwise indisposed, and at first she didn’t understand what the hell I was saying, but when she caught on she was really grateful: “Oh my God!  I didn’t even know that was gone.  Oh thank you so much.  Let me give you a reward.”
            “That’s OK.”
            “No, no.  I should give you something for your trouble.  I’m so scatterbrained!”  She checked her wallet, then said, “Oh, I’m afraid I’m kind of short right now.  I’m unemployed at the moment.”
            “Don’t worry about it.”
            “Actually,” she said, “I’m a poetess.  At the moment I’m composing a long revelatory work of scope and vision that I believe will open the eyes of a great many people around the world.”
            “Wow,” I said, and then, mercenary son of a bitch that I am, asked, “You think you’ll get some money for that?”            
         “Perhaps,” she said, with a touch of condescension. “Certainly I’m not in it solely for the money.”

            “Of course not.”

            “Cynthia Blair, by the way,” she said, extending a long, thin hand.

            I didn’t hear anything more from Cynthia for a few weeks after that, but apparently it had been bothering her that she couldn’t give me a reward, because one day she showed up at my door.  “I still don’t have any money,” she said, “but I have this coffee pot.  It’s a nice coffee pot, don’t you think?”

            There was nothing nice about it whatsoever.  It was an old, used coffee pot.  I must have looked rather bewildered, because she clarified her offer: “You can have it if you want.”

            I took the pot.  “Thanks,” I said.

            “I just wanted to give you something for your trouble.”

            Now the strange thing about it was, it was a very small coffee pot, apparently for espresso.  I had never seen one before.  “Uh, how do you use it,” I asked

            “I don’t know.  I’ve never used it before,” Cynthia said.  “I think you just put it on the burner.”

            “Hmmm.”

            “It needs a basket or something to go inside, but maybe you can find one of those.”

            “Oh yeah, I’m sure that’ll be no problem,” I said, unable, despite myself, to suppress a hint of sarcasm.  “Thanks.  It looks real good.”

            We stood there in the doorway for a moment, not knowing what more to say to each other.  Finally, I asked, “How’s the revelatory work coming?”

“What?  Oh, very well, thank you.  I believe it’s being well received.”

            “Good.”

            “However, as I’m sure you must realize, these things take time to be resolved, and in the meantime the mold is growing thick all around us.”

            Cynthia turned to go.  But then she thought of something and turned back and said, “Oh, by the way, I’d rinse that pot out if I were you.  I had bleach in it.”

            I wondered, but I didn’t ask.  Something for the trash after all.

Ed Hamilton

April 18, 2006

My Name Is Earl At The Chelsea

I was coming into the hotel the other day, when who should I run into checking in at the front desk but that EarlEarl guy from "My Name is Earl."  I nodded to him, and then I stood there waiting for the elevator, but I noticed that that Earl guy kept staring at me.  What, is he waiting for me to acknowledge him, I wondered, to ask, hey, aren't you that Earl guy?  Maybe even ask for his autograph or something? Well, I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.  The elevator came, and, with Earl still staring at me, I got on and went up.  It wasn't until I got to about the third floor that I realized, hey, I know why he was staring at me: it's because I'm carrying this 5 foot tall painting that I just found in the trash.  I'm sure he was thinking, wow, there's one of those crazy Chelsea artists I've been hearing so much about; the bohemian weirdness is starting already.

When I got to the eight floor I told a bohemina girl about my recent star sighting, but she seemed more interested in the painting.  (Ed Hamilton)

April 11, 2006

The Easter Nest

One Easter Sunday morning my girlfriend and I were walking along the Hudson River.  Recently they’ve been cleaning up the waterfront, planting trees and grass, attempting to turn it into one long park, so you can walk or bike all the way around Manhattan Island without having to go out into the city.  They’ve gotten pretty far along on this plan by now, but on that particular morning they were just beginning, and so the waterfront was pretty rough in spots.
        We take long walks, and by 11 o’clock we were all the way up in the seventies, near the Trump Towers, which were still under construction.  Traffic was light and there was no one else around, only 024_70thpieradj the occasional bike rider.  We were passing a little patch of scrub brush and weed trees, a place where there was no floodwall and the banks of the shore were lapped by the waves washing up from the river.  The little wooded area was filled with garbage that had drifted up amidst the debris of twisted steel wreckage and ruined concrete pylons.  Over beyond a chain-link fence, there was someone rooting around in a pile of trash that had washed up on the shore, pulling at a big mass of rope and seaweed that had tangled around some rusted steel cables.  Though I could see that the man was busy, it seemed so odd, so incongruent, that I had to yell down: “Hey, what are you doing down there.”
         “Oh, good morning,” the man said.  “I’m searching for driftwood.”

“What for?”

He approached the fence.  A little man in his fifties, still appearing youthful, thin, with piercing gray eyes, he was dressed in a sort of peasant costume: an old shearling vest, lace-up boots, and an old gray hunting cap with earflaps.  “I use it to create art,” he said.

“Kinda slim pickin’s in the city, ain’t it?”

“You’d be surprised,” he said.  He picked up a bundle of sticks from the brush nearby; he had tied them together with an old yellow rope.  “I’m working on a special project for today,” he said as he untied the bundle.  “A nest to use as a centerpiece for an Easter brunch I’ve been invited to.”

The man showed us how several pieces of wood fit together, interlocking, like a puzzle, with the minimum of twisting.  He knew how to place them in such a way that they did come together to from a sort of nest, hollow in the center, upturned around the edges.

“That’s really nice,” my girlfriend said.  It did look like it would be a pretty interesting—albeit Easternest unsanitary--centerpiece for a table.

“This is approximately what it will look like, but as you can see I need another piece to go in here—like this.”  He wove his fingers into the piece to demonstrate.  “Who knows, though?.  It’s what I find that determines the actual shape.  In the end it may look totally different than this.”

“But still,” I said, “a nest.”

“Yes, of course, still a nest.”  He glanced around as he spoke, as if eager to get back to his work.

“You’re kinda far afield,” I said.

He looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about.

“I mean, aren’t you running kind of late?  That is, if you’re gonna get to brunch.  It’s already eleven.”

“Oh, is it that late?!  I’d better hurry!” he said.  He walked back down to the river to resume his scavenging.

“By the way,” I called after him, “what are you going to put in the nest?  Eggs?”

He turned back to face me.  “Eggs?” he said, as if the thought hadn’t crossed him mind.  “Well, I suppose you could. And certainly it could be used to hold many other things besides.”  He appeared to be giving the matter thought.  “Things related to Easter,” he said.  “Yes, certainly, eggs.”

I guess I hardly need to tell you the punch line.  Though I didn’t know the man, I had seen him around before, and that was the reason I spoke to him in the first place.  First floor maybe, since he didn’t ride the elevator.  Of course he was from the Chelsea Hotel.  (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

April 04, 2006

NEW YORK BREAKDOWN

I was coming out of Whole Foods on 7th Ave. around the corner from the Chelsea when I heard Whole a loud crash.  A guy in a blue SUV had rear-ended a cab at the corner of 24th street.  Despite the loud noise, it was clear that neither of the cars had been damaged.
      A middle-aged man in a shirt and tie sprang out of the SUV and ran to the window of the cab and started apologizing profusely: “Oh my God I’m so sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry, I am so sorry!”

The cab driver, who looked Indian, got out to look at the damage.  “Oh, don’t worry about it,” the cab driver said. “It’s nothing.”

The SUV driver then burst into tears and dropped to his knees, begging forgiveness.  He would have embraced the cab driver around the knees, had not the Indian man scampered nimbly out of the way.  Instead, the SUV driver started kissing the bumper of the cab, and weeping.

There were some Whole Food workers standing nearby, taking a cigarette break.  They had seen the whole thing, and now they called out: “Dude, get up!  It’s nothing, it’s no big deal!  There’s no need to act like that!”

The cab driver, too, kept repeating that it was nothing, that there was no damage.  Still on his knees, the SUV man continued to apologize.

All I could think of was that the SUV guy must have been having a bad day, and had finally reached his breaking point.  All it took was that one incident to send him over the edge. New York will do that to you.  It could have been anything; it just turned out to be that one thing.
         The cab driver was helping the man to his feet as I walked away.  Having just braved the nightmarish shopping experience of the Whole Foods, I thought I could empathize especially well. (Copyright 2006, Ed Hamilton)

March 28, 2006

ETHAN HAWKE SUMMONS PROPHETS TO END WAR

MUSIC AND STARS AT BRUCE LEVINGSTON’S FIFTH ANIVERSARY GALA

FOR THE PREMIER COMMISSION

On our way out the door to the pianist Bruce Levingston’s concert at the Lincoln Center, the desk clerk at the Chelsea, having little faith in my powers of concentration, warned me not to fall asleep.

But there was no danger of that, as the program of music turned out to be quite invigorating.  Bruce started the evening off with a familiar Chopin nocturne.  He played it well, and I thoroughly enjoyed his interpretation.  The next piece, “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” by Allen Ginsberg, set to music by Bruceethan Philip Glass from his Hydrogen Jukebox, turned out to be the high point of the first half of the program.  Ethan Hawke came out in a semi-sparkly suit with peach shirt and delivered a stirring rendition of the piece, which is about the poet standing in the middle of Kansas, meditating on the end of war.  Ethan used a soft reading voice, but he was able to make it boom when, halfway through, he spoke like God on High, calling down the prophets of old into the vortex of Kansas to stand with him in proclaiming an end to war. (Unfortunately, this works about as well now as it did back in 1966 when Ginsberg wrote the poem.) (Photo of Bruce Levingston & Ethan Hawke by Lisa Ackerman)

After the break Bruce came back out and played a first-rate Chopin Etude, which I thought was his best piece of the night.  His mood varied between careful concentration and rapturous abandon as he gave his all at the piano, executing what was obviously a very difficult, albeit supremely rewarding, piece.

Next, Philip Glass came out and played Two Etudes, one of the highlights of the night.  It was Philipbruce_1 an exhilarating performance, and he won me over to his method right there.  An authoritative longhair sitting behind me remarked that he had made a couple of mistakes, and I could see what the guy was talking about, but Glass’s exuberance obviated any minor technical concerns. (Photo of Philip Glass and Bruce by Lisa Ackerman)

The last number was perhaps the most compelling: “Knee Play No. 5” from Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, which featured Michael Cunningham’s hypnotic reading of the weird, repetitive text: “These were theEthanmich days, my friends, yes these were the days my friends...”  (Cunningham is the author of The Hours and A Home at the End of the World, both fine novels.)  Whether by design, or simply because he had a more powerful voice, Michael drowned out Ethan Hawke, who read the other part.  That was my only quibble with the piece: tryPiano as I might, I couldn’t hear what Ethan was saying at all.  Nevertheless, it was a splendid performance of Glass’s masterful work, all the more remarkable when you learn that Glass had written a new arrangement of the piece right before the show and it had never been rehearsed in this form before. (Photos by Lisa Ackerman)

It was dreadfully crowded at the Gala reception afterward, too crowded, and there was a bottleneck going into the room.  Nobody could get through to the Veuve Clicquot—and I only wanted water, anyway—and people were swishing their long coats around and knocking wine glasses off of Party the tables onto the floor.  But the people I overheard all seemed to have appreciated the concert: “It was like a drug,” I heard a man remark.  “I closed my eyes and I could feel it surge through me.  I don’t need drugs with music so powerful as this.”  Drugs or no drugs, we had to get out of the close press in the room, so we fought our way back out to the hall, which by this time was also thronged with music aficionados. (Photo of Philip Glass, Bruce, & Ethan Hawke by Lisa Ackerman)

To our chagrin, our camera malfunctioned, so we couldn’t get any pictures of the stars.  Ethan Hawke was there talking to some old friends from the Chelsea.  Ready to give him a break, since he read the Ginsberg poem so well, I asked him if I could take his picture, and he snarled at me in reply.  I tried to take it anyway, and the camera flashed, but it didn’t turn out.  Damn.  That would have been a good one.  I was more concerned with Michael Cunningham anyway, since he’s a writer—though as far as I know he has no connection with the Chelsea.  (His book about Provincetown, Land’s End, is an extraordinary tour of another place we love, however.)  I overheard him and his friend talking about blogs, so maybe with any luck he’ll read this one and tell us whether he’s ever been to the Chelsea before.  And Michael Stipe from REM walked right past me, so close it was almost a jostle.  I could Tnmichaelstipe_032206 have whipped my camera out and flashed it right in his face, but by that point I wasn’t even trying anymore.  Ah well.  (I’ll bet he’s been to the Chelsea.)  (At least Patrick McMullan got the shot.) That’s what I get for using one of those disposable cameras; we’ll have to spring for some better equipment if we’re going to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of the paparazzi.

Unable to handle the crowd any longer, we slipped out the emergency door to the street, even though a stern security matron scowled at us disapprovingly.  Thanks, Bruce, for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of music. And thanks to Lisa for all of these wonderful pictures.

(Bruce Levingston’s new CD, Portraits, with music by Glass, Ravel, Messiaen, and Satie, is available at www.orangemountainmusic.com, www.premierecommission.org, and www.amazon.com .)  More reviews: New York Times.
Ed Hamilton

March 21, 2006

The Truth About Those Fancy Hotels Continued

Part IV: Another Sort Of Hotel (Parts I, II, & III)

            The old woman wore herself out early from singing all day, and went into her room and closed the door at about nine o'clock that evening.  I was still pissed off about having been deprived of sleep.  By this point I was so angry, in fact, that I couldn’t even write once it was quiet.  As the night wore on, all I could think of was revenge.  At about midnight I threw open my window and stuck my head out to see if I could see into the woman’s room.  Her lights were out and there was no sound coming from within.  No smell of gas either.  If I had had a smoke bomb, I would have heaved it in through the woman’s window.  I've got to remember to keep some of those suckers on hand.

            I thought about dressing all in black and going over there to perform an exorcism, but I would have needed a suitable text, and I had sold off most of my books before I moved into my closet at the Chelsea. 

          Anyway, I had a better idea.  I drained my beer for courage and headed out into the hall.  I got Fireext the fire extinguisher down off its hook, walked over to the crazy woman's door, and banged on it good and hard.  Harder than necessary.  It was taking her a while to answer, so I banged some more.  She appeared at the door in her bath robe, with her coat over the top of it.  A blast of cold air hit me in the face.

            "What the hell?!" she screamed, her eyes darting back and forth.  "Who are you?!"

            I held the fire extinguisher in one hand and the hose in the other.  "I'm the exterminator," I said.

            For just a moment, her face showed terror.  "What?!  What do you want?!"

            "I'm here to spray your room."

            The woman just totally went off: fucking this and fucking that.  I thought she was fucking going to attack me for a minute, the way she was thrashing her arms around.  I got away from her quick, almost running.  The time I took to hang up the fire extinguisher probably would have given her a chance to catch me, but something must have given her pause.  She just screamed; she didn't chase.

            And really, I don’t know what she had to complain about.  You'd think she would have appreciated this independent confirmation for her theory.  But maybe she just hated her late husband, the exterminator, so much that she couldn’t bear to be reminded of him.  Poor man, at least now he's at rest.  For the second night in a row, the woman screamed long into the night.
            After riling up the crazy woman, I didn’t get much sleep that night.  But I still felt it was worth it.  I finally drifted off, chuckling to myself, near dawn.

            I was awakened not long after by a sharp rap at my door.  It was the manager, Mr. Lovano.  I don't think the crazy woman had fingered me, but he had somehow put two and two together.  "What did you do to that woman last night?" he asked.  "Did you threaten her, or what?"

            "Oh, hell no,” I said.  “I just said I was the exterminator."

            Mr. Lovano didn’t seem angry.  If anything, he seemed slightly amused.  Still, he shook his head in disbelief, and said, "Thanks a lot.  We had just gotten her settled down."

            "No problem," I said.  And then, standing there in my boxer shorts, still groggy, an idea occurred to me.  “You  know, maybe we should get an exterminator.  The mice don’t bother me so Rm much, but the roaches are all over the place.”

            “Every building in New York has roaches,” Mr. Lovano said.  “Get some of those hotels.”
            “What?” I said, not comprehending at all.

            “Those hotels.  You know, some of those roach hotels.”

            They got rid of the old woman when her week ran out.  I was surprised: I thought she was going to be one of those who barricade themselves in their rooms and refuse to leave.  We get a lot of those cases around here, people who they just keep on gassing, but who never seem to take the hint.  Anyway, she went on her way to cause trouble elsewhere: hopefully, to the nuthouse, but most likely just back to the good ol’ Harold Johnson's. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

March 14, 2006

The Truth About Those Fancy Hotels

Part III: The Police Investigation (Part I, Part II)

            To save money, I rented a room without a bathroom.  Since I was drinking beer I had to piss frequently, and since the bathroom was at the end of the hall, I had to walk past the woman several times during the night.  The first few times I didn't say anything to her and she didn't seem to recognize me.  But one time, on the way back from the bathroom--I made sure it was on the way back--I just couldn't help myself: "Sure is smoky in here," I said.  Predictably, the woman screamed at me and ran after me again, but this time I had my key out and ready.

            The woman continued to yell about the conspiracy--off and on--until about three in the morning.  Then she finally wore herself out, closed her door, and was silent for the rest of the night.
       

            But she was up at the crack of dawn. “Jesus Christ!” I said as I thrashed around in my bed.  “This shit’s gonna drive me to drink!”  Since I had been up the night before writing--and drinking--her raving hadn’t completely unhinged me then, but it was a different story when I was trying to sleep.  I pictured myself strangling her, shaking her by the neck until her body swung limp and her teeth rattled in her skull.

            "You may kill me," the woman raved, as if she’d read my thoughts, "but you'd better dispose of my body good, because there'll be a police investigation!"

            Well, I thought, at least she seems to have resigned herself to her fate.  I only hoped that somebody would hurry up and gas her to death so I could go back to sleep.  With any luck, the police wouldn't wake me up for questioning.

            And then she started singing God Bless America, over and over again.  She was being ironic, of course, and so it was kind of funny, but I would have much rather slept.  The woman sang poorly, in a hoarse, throaty cackle, and the joke soon wore thin.  Once in a while she would switch to Glory, Glory Hallelujah, and that came as a welcome relief--even though she didn't know all the words.

            But then something occurred to me.  In her blindness, through the haze of the dimly lit halls, what the old woman glimpsed may not have been the past, but rather the future of the Chelsea.  The hotel, like the city itself,  was on the verge of a transformation.  In a year or two the florescent tubes would be gone, shining new globes in their place, as would the linoleum, replaced by inlaid wood.  Soon there wouldn’t be any room for her kind here.  Even now, the old bohemians were dying off, or drifting on.  Rents were going up.  The Chelsea was gradually being gentrified.
            The woman seemed determined to sing all day.  A jackhammer would have been preferable.  A bullet to the head, and then a blissful oblivion.       

            Giving up on the notion of sleep, I put on my clothes and went out to get a cup of coffee.  The woman was leaning against the wall, singing boisterously, but also coughing and sniffling between her verses--probably the result of sleeping with the window open in February.

            Along with the coffee, I picked up some beer and cigarettes and a sandwich so I wouldn’t have to go out again.      

     Back on my floor, the old woman was still in the hallway.  I took a better look at her this time.  Her hair had come out of its curl and was dangling limply, its gray roots having worked their way up during the night.  Her clothes, the same as the day before, were rumpled.  Her make-up was smeared, as if she had slept in it.  She had quit singing for the moment.  She was looking into a small mirror and smearing some kind of black stuff under her eyes.  I didn't speak to her, and she showed no signs of recognizing me from the night before. (Next Week: Part IV Another Sort of Hotel) Ed Hamilton, 2006.

March 07, 2006

The Truth About Those Fancy Hotels

Part II: Ghosts Of The Old Hotel  (PART I)

            Eventually someone must have complained—or more likely a lot of people, repeatedly,  because that’s what it would have taken  to get a response.  Anyway, one of the desk clerks came up and confronted the woman while she was in her room.  I recognized his voice: it was a young Chinese man named Joe.  I felt sorry for the poor guy for having to deal with this nut.  He was obviously low man on the totem pole.  He didn't have a very advanced command of the English language, or at least not good enough to talk his way out of this assignment.  Joe knocked on her door and said, "Is there problem?”

            "Damn straight there's a fucking problem!" the woman screamed.

            "What is problem?" Joe asked.

            "Can't you see?!"

            "No,” he said.  Then he made a stab at it:  “The window is open?"

            "The fucking window is open because the fucking room is filled with smoke!  I know that smell: you've been spraying for bugs!  You assholes can't fool me!  My late husband was an exterminator!  I better not wake up in the morning with black eyes!”

            Apparently, she believed that the inhalation of bug spray causes black eyes.  I don't know whether this is true or not.  Maybe she just was making a faulty association, and the black eyes she Ext had received in the past had been from beatings by her late husband, the exterminator.  I could see him now: balding, potbellied, rough and unshaven after a hard day’s work, drifting through the halls in his ectoplasmic fog of  insecticide.

            "No one has sprayed," Joe said.  "I smell nothing."

            "I know the score, you fucking asshole!  I've been around!  I know what goes on in these fancy hotels!"  In her delusional state, the woman believed the Chelsea to be a fancy hotel.

            That was the craziest thing the old woman had said yet.  The hallways of the Chelsea were dimly lit by long florescent tubes, the linoleum in the corridors was worn, the plaster of the walls cracked, the paint peeling, and exposed wires and pipes jutted out from the ceiling.  Inside the rooms was even worse.  The cheap hotel furniture hadn’t been replaced since at least the sixties, and was rotting and falling apart.  The carpets were stained and dirty.  Some of the rooms were better than others, but they were all infested by roaches and mice.  That was another thing that made the exterminator story so funny.  I doubted there had been an exterminator in the place in years.

            It hadn’t always been like that.  The hotel had been built in 1883 as a luxury apartment house, and then soon after that had been converted to a hotel for the big shots of the theatre world, people like Sarah Bernhardt—who reputedly slept in a coffin--and Lillian Russell.  Late at night, in the flickering fluorescent lights, it was kind of hazy in the hallways, and the past had a tendency to bleed through into the present.  Then, if you used your imagination, you could see the lingering traces of the grand old hotel.  The layers of peeling paint hid the fancy woodwork, and here and there a stained glass transom had survived.

            So perhaps the woman was remembering the good old days.  I caught myself thinking that maybe she had lived here as a young woman, perhaps with her late husband, at the time a virile young exterminator in the prime of his life.

            The only problem was that she wasn’t old enough to remember that far back.  As far back as the time of Dylan Thomas and even Thomas Wolfe, the place had been down at the heels.  She would have been young in the fifties or sixties, when the place was a serious flophouse, on the order of a Bowery Hotel.  By that point the luxury suites had long since been chopped up into cubicles, like the one in which I lived.

            "Please do not curse me," Joe requested of the woman.

            "They did this exact same thing to me at the Harold Johnson's!"  That's what she said: Harold Johnson's.  I guess she was under the delusion that that was a fancy hotel too.

            "I am sorry," Joe said.

            "I want another room!  Immediately!"

            "No other rooms are available."

            "I paid my $800!!!"  That was apparently what they were charging her for a week's rent.

            "You can have your money back and go some place else."

            "You're not getting rid of me that easy!"

            Then she abruptly changed the subject.  Your guess is as good as mine on this one.  "And another thing," she screamed, "I want you to turn off this heat!"

            "But it is February," Joe protested."

            "I said no fucking heat!"

            "It is thirty degrees out.  You will freeze."

            "I paid my fucking $800 and I say no heat!"

            Joe went out and got the key that was used to adjust the temperature of the radiator.  He came back and turned the radiator off.  "There," he said, a tone of perverse satisfaction in his voice.  "No heat."

            But Joe wasn't getting off that easily.  The woman returned to her favorite topic: "Can't you see this whole room is filled with smoke?!"

            "You are blind, lady."

            "I'm not fucking blind!  I'm legally blind!  That means I can see things up close, just not far away!  Who told you I was fucking blind?!  I'm not fucking blind, you asshole!"

            "Please, you no curse me!" Joe pleaded.

            "Can't I get a fucking clerk who fucking speaks fucking English?!"

            "You no curse me, please!"

            "You fucking foreign asshole!"

            Joe finally got fed up with this abuse.  "You are crazy lady!" he yelled at her.

            "I'm not crazy!"

            "YOU ARE!!!"

            As Joe walked away down the hall, the woman came out of her room and screamed after him, "I better not wake up tomorrow with black eyes!"  Next Week Part III: The Police Investigation (Copyright 2006, Ed Hamilton)

February 27, 2006

The Truth About Those Fancy Hotels

Part I: A Diabolical Plot

            Those fancy hotels work like this: first, they take your money, say for a week, in advance.  Then they gas you, so you either die, or get fed up and leave early.  In either case, they get to rent your room out again to some other sucker, thus doubling their money.

            One night I was sitting in my tiny room in the Chelsea, drinking and writing.  I had gone out for another six-pack, and had just got back into the hotel and was walking down the hall towards my room.  It was February, and the hall was freezing cold.  One of the rooms on the hall had the door standing wide open; I could see inside it and the window was wide open too.  A middle-aged woman with long, dyed-blond hair came out of the room, wearing a long, suede coat and holding a sandwich.  I had never seen her before.
            "Hello," I said.  "How are you?"

            "I have to eat my dinner out here because my room is filled with smoke!" the woman screamed.  Her eyes were darting back and forth in her head like she couldn't see very well.  She didn't wear glasses, though it seemed like she needed them.  There was no smoke in her room.

            "That's terrible," I said.  "Why is your room filled with smoke?"

            "What the hell are you asking me for!?  Why don't you ask them down at the front desk?!"

            In those days the hotel was filled with crazies.  We used to joke that the Chelsea was the last stop on the way to the nut house.  Sometimes it made me wonder what I was doing there myself.  Crazies and creative types: the line was kind of blurred.   
         
But not in this case.  "Well, can't talk now.  Gotta run," I said, and turned my back on her and walked away down the hall.
            She followed after me, screaming: "I don't want to talk to you!  I'm just eating my dinner!  Why are you asking me about the smoke?!  Huh!?  Why are you asking me about the smoke?!  You've been living here for years!  You know what's going on!"

            At this point I had been there for less than a year.  But I was beginning to get an inkling as to what was going on.  They would rent these transient rooms out to just about anybody: pimps, prostitutes, con men, street hustlers—people who couldn’t get a room elsewhere--often at exorbitant rates.  The theory was, that kept the rent down for the permanent residents, the writers and artists and musicians.

            Breaking into a run, the old woman hot on my heels, I made it to my door.  On the verge of panic, I fumbled around finding the right key, but got it into the lock before the woman could catch up to me.  I slipped inside and slammed the door in her face.  Goddamn crazy bitch.

            Something I had said or done really set the woman off.  She screamed for two hours about how there was a conspiracy to kill her.  The management of the hotel, and the long term residents, were in cahoots in this plot.  Unfortunately, the halls wrapped around in such a way that my window was directly across from hers.  I couldn’t concentrate on my work, and it didn’t take long before the old woman was driving me nuts.  I was grateful when she went out in the hall and screamed, though I don't think anybody else in the hotel appreciated it. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

Next Week: Part II: Ghosts Of The Old Hotel

February 21, 2006

CHUNKY MONKEY

Diane was an artist, a painter, though lately she didn’t work much.  While Charlie was on tour Diane roller bladed around the city.  With him gone her energy seemed boundless.  She'd sail past Cm you, almost knocking you down and you'd think she was on her way home, but no, she'd come around the block and lap you before going into the Chelsea--like she had just exactly that much more energy to use up before she could rest.
    
Charlie was a musician in a cowboy bar band.  He wore a toupee to cover up his bald spot while he was on stage, even though he usually wore a cowboy hat on top of that.  But he didn’t wear either of them when he was around the Chelsea.
       Charlie snuggled up to Diane on the couch while they were watching TV.  He turned and tried to kiss her, pawing at her breast, but Diane scooted down the couch out of his clutches.  She took a swig of her beer and continued to stare straight ahead at the TV.  But Charlie sat bolt upright and said crossly, "You don't like to have sex with me anymore, do you?  We haven't done it since I've been back.  You think I'm fat, don't you?"
          He was fat alright, downright obese.
          "It's not that honey, it's just..."
          "It's just what?  Look, I'm trying to watch my weight, you think I'm not trying?"
           "Well..."
          
“I am trying," he declared, "It's not easy.  You think its so easy."
          "I know its not easy honey, but you've got to show a little self control.  Last night you ate that whole pepperoni pizza and that whole pint of Chunky Monkey..."

"I did not eat that whole pepperoni pizza!”
             "But you ate the whole pint of Chunky Monkey!"

"I did not eat that whole pepperoni pizza!!!" Charlie roared.

"Well, OK," Diane admitted, "I had one slice."

"So!" Charlie exclaimed in triumph, "You admit you exaggerate."

"OK, maybe you are trying to control yourself."
           But Charlie was on a roll: "And about that Chunky Monkey.  Here you come waltzing in the door with a pint of Chunky Monkey, like there's nothing in the world wrong with that, la de da, and here I am trying to watch my weight."

"The Chunky Monkey was for me," Diane said.

"So what am I supposed to do?  That's what I want to know.  You say I'm not trying, and then in you waltz with the chunky monkey.  La de da.  And you know it's my favorite."

They're all your favorite, Diane thought.

"And while we're on the subject of self control,” Charlie went on, “how much did you drink while I was away?"

"Just a couple drinks a night," Diane said defensively.  "No more than usual."

"Oh the usual!  Well that's not much, now is it?" Charlie said sarcastically.  Then he added, "Dan told me he saw you dump a load of liquor bottles the day before I got home.  He said he could hear it all the way down the hall."

"I wish Dan would mind his own business."

"When you live in glass houses, don't throw the first stone."

"Oh, please."

"Dan also says you had people streaming in and out of this room night and day, including some MEN."

"Dan is an asshole."

That seemed a fair assessment to Charlie.  Still, he sensed he had the upper hand, so he wasn't ready to let the matter drop just yet. "You've been sleeping around on me, haven't you?" he said.

"Now you're being absurd."

"Well, how about it?" Charlie insisted.

"I'm not even going to respond to that," Diane said.

Charlie thought about the groupie—actually a middle aged housewife--he had sex with while on tour, but he didn't feel it would help his case to bring up this point.

"I'm going to bed," Diane said.  She finished off her beer then got up and moved to the bed, which was behind a screen they had set up at the far end of the room.  Charlie watched TV for a couple of hours, snuck in a late snack, then he came to bed to.

Ten years from now, still at the Chelsea, they’d be having pretty much the same conversation.  Ten years from now, her beer beside her on top of the toilet, Diane would be kneeling before the tub and giving Charlie a sponge bath to get at the places he couldn't reach. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

February 07, 2006

WORKERS GIVE ADVICE ON COMBATTING TERRORISM

There’s been scaffolding up around the Chelsea for several months now, seriously detracting from the building’s unique gothic splendor.  The workers put it up in the early summer, went away for the rest of the summer—it was probably too hot to work--then came back and worked for about two weeks in October.  They haven’t done anything since then, although the scaffolding remains up.  When Teendee_1 the workers were here they stood on a hanging scaffolding outside my window and yelled back and forth to one another for eight hours a day, when they weren’t scraping or sanding with a machine. (Photo: Shows the scaffolding on the building in August)

There were two workers outside my window (though there were others elsewhere on the building), a New Jersey Guy and a Russian.  They hadn’t met each other before this job, and so the first day they bonded.  “My last rap was a misdemeanor, but they kept me in six months,” the Jersey guy said.

“My last was a felony,” the Russian said, as if it were no big deal.  “And they only gave me three.”

It was comforting to know that if anything went missing, I would at least have someone to blame.

The two workers had to strip and paint the woodwork, and to paint the windowsills—both of which chores made perfect sense.  But they also had to strip the tar off the gutter—gouging and chipping away at it with their putty knives and then buffing it with a circular sander to reveal the gleaming copper--and then to refinish it, which made no sense at all since it had just been refinished earlier that year.  The point, apparently, was to change the color from black to gray, maybe to match the paint.  The jersey guy, who was the most talkative, shared my confusion: “Why the hell are we doing this?  Why are we making it gray?  It’ll be black again in a month anyway!”

I couldn’t do much work with these guys yelling back and forth all day, so I had to resort to transcribing their conversation to kill time.  About ninety percent of what they said was bullshit—the Jersey guy had a lot to say about sports and drinking—but once in awhile they got onto an interesting topic.  At around this time terrorists had just bombed the subway in London, and the cops had started searching people in the subway here:

“They said on TV, if you see somebody who looks suspicious in the subway, let us know,” the Russian said, chuckling.

“Fuck, everybody looks suspicious in the subway,” the Jersey guy said.

“They’re not going to stop it, nothing can stop it.”

“Hell no!” the Jersey guy said.  “If I’m a cop and I see some Arab guy with a backpack, I’m not gonna say, open that up.  What am I, a fucking idiot?  He’ll blow us both up.  Just keep going buddy, blow some other place up.  I wanna get home to my wife and my kids.”

“I’ll search some old lady, instead,” the Russian said.

“So the Arab blows some people up, and your boss comes up and says, ‘Hey, why didn’t you stop that guy?’ ‘Oh sorry chief, I must’ve missed him.’  What are they gonna do, fire the guy?  Better than being dead.  ‘Sorry chief, I’ll do better next time.’”

On this one subject I feel like these guys may have had the proper mindset to provide us with Gutter some insight.  They were at least half right about the gutter, by the way: it’s not quite black yet, but it does look pretty goddamn scummy.  The black sealant was better because it hid the dirt.

(Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

January 31, 2006

The Unfairness of It All: Movado Pt. II

In my first year at the Chelsea I wrote a story called “Movado,” about a guy who tried to sell me a fake Movado watch when I was moving into the hotel.  It was published in Pif magazine, and then I Movado promptly forgot about it.  Ten years later, a guy from Washington, DC—Jose Padua—read it and wanted to make it into a short film.  Since he was from out of town, my girlfriend and I volunteered to pick up a fake Movado to use as a prop in the movie.
Canal street was the obvious place to begin.  We went down there on a Saturday afternoon, when the hustle and bustle of the street life was at its worst, the throng of tourists pressing in upon the shop-keepers and hustlers selling scarves and costume jewelry and DVDs recorded straight from the screen.

The first place we stopped was a tiny little shop crammed full of fake Gucci and Kate Spade purses.  They didn’t have any watches sitting out, but at the mention of the magic word Movado a young Chinese girl hustled us toward the back of the store.  I didn’t see any watches back there either, but then the girl swung open a hidden door in the shelves and ushered us into a secret back room.

“Don’t go back there," my girlfriend whispered.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“You could be knifed or robbed.”

“Yeah, and they’ll sell you into white slavery,” I scoffed.

I wasn’t going to miss out on a chance like this.  I’d always heard there was a network of secret tunnels running beneath Canal street, linking all these shady establishments, concealing hidden sweat shops and gambling dens, and making for quick escape when the heat was on.

            Disappointingly, we didn’t go down any tunnels, just into a small back room—though it did look like there were further rooms beyond that one.  An old Chinese man lifted a cloth from a display case, revealing the hidden cache of Movados, along with a bunch of other crappy fake watches such as Rolexes, and I don’t know what all else.  In fact, he didn’t have a real good selection of Movados, only about three or four, and I wouldn’t have worn any of them, even if they had been real.

Still, the watch wasn’t for me to wear.  “How much?” I asked.

“Twenty-five dollars,” the grim-faced man said.

“That seems like an awful lot,” I said.

“For a Movado!?  No one has ever complained before.”

That seemed implausible.  The guy eventually came down to sixteen dollars, but it still seemed a bit steep.

We looked in the next little shop, but they didn’t have any Movados.  Rolexes seemed to be what everybody wanted.

Out on the street, a large African man—he was at least six-five--came up to us.  He had apparently been watching us and had seen that we were looking for watches.  “Here, you need a watch?” he said.  He showed us a Rolex he was wearing.

“A Movado,” I said.

“Rolex is better than Movado,” he said.

“No, we only want Movado,” my girlfriend said.

“I’m telling you, Rolex is much better!”

We started to walk away.

“Wait a minute!  Wait a minute!”  He grabbed me by the arm. “You want Movado, I got your Movado.  Come with me.  Step over here for a minute.”  He directed us over toward a side street.

I was a bit hesitant—he was kind of intimidating--but there were plenty of people around even on the side street, so we went with him.  Furtively glancing back and forth, he pulled a watch case out of the thigh pocket of his cargo pants, and opened it to reveal a blue-faced Movado.

I’d never seen a blue one before.  “How much?” I asked.

“Eighty-five dollars.”

“They’re selling them for sixteen dollars inside,” I said.

“Those watches are fake!” he declared.  “You don’t want a fake one, do you?”

“Hell, I don’t care.”

“Alright!  Alright!” he said.  “But I’m losing money on this deal!”

The blue Movado looked pretty cool, and it had a case, which was a nice touch, so I figured it was worth it.  Plus, I was afraid the man would kill me if I didn’t buy it at this point.

I took out a twenty and tried to hand it to him.

“I said sixty dollars!” the guy yelled in my face.

I decided to risk death.  “Oh, OK,” I said.  “No thanks, then.”

Hopping mad, the man snatched the watch back.  “Mine is real!” he exclaimed.  “It’s not fair!”

He turned and walked quickly away from him.

“It’s just not fair!” he yelled after us.

I don’t know if he was referring to my own refusal to be ripped off, or to the business practices of the Chinese who were undercutting him.  But it turns out it wasn’t so hard to find fake Movados after all.  We eventually bought one from a guy who had a table set up right on the street.  No secret rooms or anything.  It wasn’t a blue one, but it looked almost as good.  We paid ten dollars, and though we probably could have got it for less, by that point we were sick of dealing with the

Canal Street scene, which gets old pretty fast.

And come to think of it, I guess I could have saved myself even more trouble if I had just bought one ten years ago, since obviously, despite my resistance, I was destined from the beginning of time to own a fake Movado. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

January 24, 2006

DIETARY TIPS OF THE HOMELESS

Around the corner from the Chelsea, on Seventh Avenue, I was waiting for a friend to ride the subway uptown.  There were two homeless men camped out near the entrance to the subway.  They were old, or at least they appeared old, their faces worn and weathered.

“Fuck the salad,” the bigger one said.  He was paunchy for a homeless man, and had wavy, Mesclunsalad gray, uncombed hair.  “Roast beef and mashed potatoes, plenty of gravy.  Fuck the salad,” he repeated, for emphasis.

“Gotta eat the salad,” the smaller, thinner one said.   “Gotta have your vegetables, fresh vegetables, or else you’ll get sick.  ‘Specially with all the drinkin’ we do.”

“What are you talkin’ about?” the big one said.  “Sick how?”

“Just sick, that’s all.  How the fuck do I know?  Your teeth’ll fall out!  Your fuckin’ dick’ll shrivel up and drop off!”

The bigger man paused to reconsider his position in the face of these threats.  “Still, it tastes so bad,” he said.

“That’s what the dressing is for, you dumbass,” the smaller man said.

They were too preoccupied with their discussion to even bother hitting me up for money. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

January 17, 2006

HOW TO GET YOURSELF SENT AWAY

     A semi-famous painter, an abstract expressionist who studied in Paris in the forties and fifties, Mr. Flore Peyton was gray haired, stocky, lumbering like an old bear, genial.  He was always cheerful, though sometimes slightly addled, forgetful, since he was after all in his eighties.  He was sociable, and always stopped to shoot the breeze, sometimes beneath his own large canvas, which hung prominently, in a place of honor in the hotel lobby.  One sensed he had had a good life, over all.  You never heard him complaining.
     Mr. Peyton had one of the best apartments in the whole building, on the tenth floor, filled floor to ceiling with his paintings—really a studio, an atelier, I suppose, though he worked only sporadically now—which opened onto a huge patio on the roof.
       I was up on the tenth floor visiting friends one evening, when the fire alarms went off.  We all piled out into the hallway to see what was going on, just in time to see smoke streaming from the open door of Mr. Peyton’s apartment, rolling out along the ceiling.  Mr. Peyton stood there outside his door, frantically fanning at the air.
     “What happened?” I asked.  “Are you OK?”  Everybody on the floor was popping their heads out of their apartments to ask, basically, the same question.
     “Don’t worry, it’s just steam,” Mr. Peyton said.  “I overflowed the tub.”
     Of course, nobody believed that for a moment.  The hall was filled with smoke, not steam.
     “We’d better go downstairs and wait until it clears,” I said.
     “No, it’s nothing,” Mr. Peyton said.  He refused to go downstairs.
     He was right that it wasn’t much: Mr. Peyton had burned something in a casserole dish in the oven, forgot he was cooking and dozed off.  The fire had gone out before the firemen even arrived, though they made a big fuss with their sirens and about fifty of them tromping through the hotel lobby.  Better safe than sorry.  Most of the residents didn’t even notice it anyway.
     Mr. Peyton’s children got wind of the incident, of course.  Now his son came to live with him, to take care of him, to make sure he didn’t try to cook anything too ambitious.
     A few months later I noticed that I hadn’t seen Mr. Peyton lately.  Hoping that he wasn’t sick, I asked his son what had become of him.
     "He's in France," the son said.
     “Oh,” I said, surprised. “What’s he doing there?”
     It turned out they had put him into a nursing home there.  The time Mr. Peyton had spent in Paris in his youth had apparently qualified him for government benefits, including a free stay in a nursing home.  “I checked out several places upstate, and even in New Jersey, but they were all too expensive, they wanted an arm and a leg,” the son said.  “We won’t get to see him that much now, but we decided that this was just the best situation for him, over all.”  Now the son lives in Mr. Peyton’s old apartment with his wife and two kids.
     Now we tease all the older residents, especially the ones who burn candles: "One slip up and it's France for you!"  But after all, I think it was less the fire itself, than the story about the tub and the steam that did Mr. Peyton in.  That and the great apartment.
    
It all sounds rather grim, but I like to think that maybe it didn’t turn so bad for Mr. Peyton.  France, after all.  Rather than New Jersey.  Mr. Peyton used to hang out at the Dunkin Donuts on Eight Ave., one of the few in the city that had outdoor seating.  He told me once that when he sat there he would often find his mind wandering, and he would catch himself thinking, just for a moment, that he was back in Paris, sipping his coffee, at a cafe on the Boulevard St. Germain. (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

January 10, 2006

The Puzzle

Jigsaw_pieces A middle aged man in a blue uniform came into the Chelsea.  He was small, with a little round stomach, balding, with a tuft of black hair sticking straight up from his forehead.  Apparently, he couldn’t get his shampoo machine into the hotel because a moving truck was parked in the way.  He started complaining to Dennis, one of the bellmen, in a thick Brooklyn accent: “Why’d he park his truck there?  It’s a puzzle!  Now I can’t get in.  What am I supposed to do, haul the machine down the street on my back?”
            “No, don’t do that,” Dennis said.

            “It’s a puzzle, ain’t it?  Him parking his truck there like that.”

            “I think they just need to carry some furniture in,” Dennis explained.  “And then I’m sure they’ll move the truck.”

            The carpet man didn’t want to hear it.  “I’m telling you, it’s a puzzle!  Can't understand it.  Don't know what to make of it.  Never will figure it out.  It's a puzzle!”

            “Yeah, I know what you mean,” Dennis said, sensing the futility of continued explanation.

            “It's like when I was a kid.  My mother give me a puzzle.  The Grand Canyon.  It was one of those with all the pieces.  So many pieces.  Two thousand pieces it had!  Imagine that.  A real puzzle!”
            “A jigsaw puzzle,” Dennis said.

            “That's what they called it.  Two thousand pieces!  What a puzzle!”

            “So did you put it together?”

            “No!” the carpet man said, annoyed.  “Of course not!  It was a puzzle!”
(Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

January 03, 2006

DONUTS SANDWICHES

Part II:  Sandwiches  (If you missed Part I, click here)

Over the days that followed, more came to light.  Jerry learned that his wife had opened several secret Deluxe charge accounts over the years, which she had used to order things over the phone, running up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.  Naturally, this increased his anger at his dead wife even further.  There went the three-hundred dollars a week he thought he’d be saving.

            But a week later, after the funeral, Jerry seemed to soften a bit towards his wife, and to regret that he had made her look bad.  He started trying to puff her back up:

“When my wife was in the hospital, hundreds of people would come by every day.  Some days somebody would order twenty pizzas to feed them all, another time somebody bought $200 of chicken parmigiana subs.  For the funeral, all the cops from the neighborhood came and carried her coffin down the street wearing their dress uniforms and white gloves.  She was only fifty, you know.  Everybody loved her.

“After the funeral I threw a big New Years Eve party.  We always used to do it, me and my wife, every year.  So this year I turned it into her wake, and everybody from the whole neighborhood showed up.  Went on ‘till dawn.  We went through dozens of kegs.”

            “Yeah, sounds great,” I said.

            “So, enough about me,” Jerry said.  “What did you do for New Years?”

“Oh, nothing really,” I said.  “I just stayed home and read, and went to bed early.”

            “Really?!” Jerry said.  “What, don’t you have any friends?”

            “No, it’s not that,” I said, rather defensively.  “It’s just that it’s too much of a fuss.  There’s all this pressure on you to drink.  And then you just feel bad the next day.  You’re starting the new year off on a bad note.”

This was not the right thing to say, apparently.  Jerry got mad at me, really angry.  Perhaps he felt guilty about having a party and getting drunk when his wife just died.  No doubt drinking contributed to her death.  For once he had nothing to say.  He served my cheeseburger sullenly, and didn’t say goodbye when I left.

Jerry was never was too friendly with me after that.  He never made my sandwiches quite right again, and one time he gave me some bad chicken salad that made me throw up.  I didn’t go back so much after that, at least not while Jerry was working.

Ymca       Donuts Sandwiches closed at the end of the 90s, the victim of the rising rents that came with the gentrification of the Chelsea area.  Its storefront was taken over by an over-priced muffin shop.  The McBurney went down too, at about the same time, and now it’s a condo building, called, cynically enough, The Y Building.  The Chelsea Hotel is the lone holdout.  (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

December 27, 2005

DONUTS SANDWICHES

Part I:  Donuts

Before it closed, Donuts Sandwiches, along with the Chelsea and the McBurney Y, was one of the pillars of the Bohemian community of West 23rd Street.  You could get a Cheeseburger deluxe -- 
Donuts that’s a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, a pickle, and French fries—for $2.95 in the mid 90s.  For a dollar, you got two donuts and a coffee.  You could even pay with a subway token, if that’s all the rehab center gave you for the day.

            The cook was a middle-aged man named Jerry, who looked like Jack Kerouac—when Jack Kerouac was a fat drunk.  Despite his bulk, if somebody acted up, if a junkie cursed him, say, Jerry would grab a baseball bat and hop the horseshoe counter and run the guy out the door.

Every time I came into the diner I would order my coffee black with no sugar.

            This always seemed to offend Jerry.  “No milk, no sugar?!” he would say every time.  “Why don’t you want some milk?  How ‘bout at least some sugar.”

“I don’t like it like that.”

“Why don’t you like it?  It’s good like that.  I can’t understand it, I can’t understand how anybody drinks their coffee like that.”

            Luckily, he wasn’t generally the one who fixed the coffee.         

            Jerry was talkative, and aside from the thing with the coffee, usually cheerful.  Over the years I learned a lot about him: he lived in Queens, he was an expert fisherman, a fine gardener, and he could fix anything around the house.  He had a son who was a lawyer, apparently the best in the business, who made five-hundred thousand, or sometimes it was a million, a year.  Jerry was a Mets fan, permanently disgusted with their performance.
            One year, over the Christmas holidays, Jerry’s wife died.  Though she had had serious medical problems, it still came unexpectedly.  For all his talk, I had never heard Jerry mention his wife before, except in passing.  Now he discussed her at length:

“I’m just glad it was my wife instead of my mother-in-law.  I loved my wife, but my mother-in-law was the one that cooked and took care of the house.  I know maybe that sounds funny, but it would have been more of a loss if she had died.  My wife was always like a child, she never could clean, never could cook.  There at the end she was an invalid, she got really fat.  She just laid in bed and drank beer and smoked cigarettes, three packs a day, watching TV and killing herself.

“She had diabetes.  She should’ve got out more, it would’ve helped her circulation, but it was hard for her, it made her tired.  She was always in and out of the hospital for something.  A blood clot went to her brain and killed her, a stroke, just like that, died in my arms almost.

            “Now, I’m not saying I’m glad she’s dead, but I’m gonna save a lot of money now, I’ll tell ya.  I figured it up, and I’m gonna save three hundred dollars a week just on beer and cigarettes alone.

“My mother-in-law was the one who took care of her.  My wife couldn’t have made it without her.  My old mother-in-law—she’s 80—had to wait on her hand and foot.  If my mother-in-law had died she wouldn’t have had anybody, so that’s why I say it’s a good thing she went first.  I know it sounds weird to say that, but that’s how I feel.”

            I did think it was weird—though not so much to feel it, as to say it.  It was natural to be relieved that someone who was so much of a burden had died, and it was natural also to feel guilt at experiencing that relief.  I decided that Jerry, being a talker, had to deal with his feelings verbally. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)  Next week: Part 2 Sandwiches

December 20, 2005

The Willie Nelson Christmas Album

There are a lot of musicians living at the Chelsea, good as well as bad.  They practice all the time, day and night, and most any type of music is tolerated, from jazz, to classical, to rock and roll.
     Even so, there are limits.  One holiday season, the person living directly above me acquired The Wnxmas Willie Nelson Christmas Album.  This album involved Willie singing the same old standards—Jingle Bells, Silent Night, what have you--only with a guitar and a country twang.  It was a little bit interesting, maybe, the first couple of times.  But it got old really fast.  Like the traditional holiday season, the playing of this album began around Thanksgiving and went on from there—not just once or twice a day, but repeatedly, morning, noon and night.

It was a young guy named William who was playing it.  I could tell by his voice, as he often sang along.  Apparently, he was really trying to get into the Christmas spirit, psyching himself up.  A rich kid who fancied himself a poet, William was the kind of guy who went from one fad to the next, and didn’t do things in half measures, but really went all out.  As soon as one side of the album would finish, he would flip it to the other, over and over again.  The pauses between sides were maddening: maybe this will be the end, I prayed each time.

But I had only been in New York a year or so, and I still had plenty of patience.  Knowing William, I knew that sooner or later he would get sick of the album, and then he would never play it again.  In the meantime I tried to keep my window closed.
         Come to find out, I wasn’t the only one who was annoyed.  When I came out of my room to go to the bathroom one afternoon, I saw Ray standing in the open door of his tiny room.  I had become accustomed to thinking of Ray as the archetypal New Yorker, I guess because of his gruffness, though it turns out he was from Minnesota.  Ray had been working on a canvas, and he wore his paint-spattered work clothes.  His long black hair, too, was speckled with paint.
       “Who in God’s name is making that infernal racket?” he asked, crossly.  “How in the hell am I supposed to work?  I have my art to do, my painting.  How can I maintain inspiration with this insipid garbage echoing through my brain.  Who is doing it?” he demanded.  “Who!?”  He acted almost like I was responsible.

“I think it’s William,” I said.

“That figures!  I’d like to go up there and wring his scrawny neck!  It’s driving me fucking crazy.  It’s like cats yowling!  What is his problem?  Asshole!  Listen to it once, then give it a rest.  And turn down the fucking volume, for Christ’s sake.  Jesus.  Has he got the record player in the window or something?”  Ray gestured toward his window.

Ray’s window, I could see, was wide open.  He had to keep it open when he was working to avoid being asphyxiated by the paint fumes.  In general, there was too much heat in the back of the building anyway.  In the brief pause in our conversation, we heard strains of Willie’s guitar, as he crooned, “Have a holly, jolly Christmas...”       

“Who the hell wants to hear that shit?!” Ray said.  “Nobody could!  It’s inconceivable!”

He seemed to be implying that William was doing it purposely, to drive him crazy.  “Yeah, it is kind of annoying,” I said, chuckling.

Ray scowled at my levity.  “I’d like to tear his head off and shit down his neck!” he said, like some kind of demented bohemian drill sergeant.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I said.

“Yeah, but you’re from Tennessee, right?”
         “Uh, yeah,” I said.  Close enough, I figured, for the sake of argument.

“For you it’s different,” Ray proclaimed.  “For you, that music is a way of life.”

It made me wonder what sort of misconceptions he was harboring: of southerners in general, and of myself in particular.  Like most of my friends, I had grown up listening to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

“You mean Christmas music?” I asked. (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

December 13, 2005

HERMAN MELVILLE AT THE CHELSEA, OR CLOSE ANYWAY

     Around the corner from the Chelsea on Seventh Avenue, a homeless man, apparently drunk, was mediating a dispute between two of his similarly situated buddies: “Nah, you know the story of Moby Dick, don’t you?  They didn’t call him that because he bit his dick off!  He bit his leg off!  That’s why he walked with a peg leg.”
     Well, that clears things up.  No need to use a peg leg just because you got your dick bit off.  I Hm noticed, however, that the man seemed possibly to be confusing Ahab with the white whale.  More importantly, if the name “Moby Dick”—as applied to either man or whale--doesn’t refer to a bit-off dick, then to what on earth does it refer?  I guess I should have stopped and told the men that I too was interested in literary criticism.  Perhaps together we could have solved this riddle. (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

December 06, 2005

Chelsea Style

What is the Chelsea Hotel Style?  My girlfriend and I have been discussing this question lately, and failing miserably to come up with a definitive answer.  Some of our residents look like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine, while others wear black leather and tattoo themselves heavily.  One woman has blue hair, and another guy wears a rumpled suit and manages—whether by design or accident--to look exactly like Dylan Thomas.  Some dress up, some dress like slobs.  And some people, like me, just wear t-shirts and khakis like we’ve worn since college.  Though it may be true, it seems strangely unsatisfactory, a cop out in fact, to just say it’s whatever you want to wear.  There must be some unifying theme.

Keeping this in mind, I was out in the hall by the garbage looking through some magazines that somebody had thrown out, when, looking up, I saw a man walk past me and go into the Madonna Sex Room with a roll of toilet paper looped onto his belt.  I did a double take: what the hell?  I thought my Tp2 eyes must be deceiving me.  While I was standing there wandering about it, the man came back out of the room.  He was a young hipster cat, with sideburns and a trucker hat, stove-pipe jeans, and, sure enough, strapped onto his hip by a black, silver-studded belt, the toilet paper.  A fashion accessory?  I had to find out, and so I followed him out to the elevators.  “Looks like you come prepared,” I said, indicating the roll.

            “Hell yeah, dude,” the hipster said.  “I’ve been to this hotel before.”

We may not have quite found the answer yet, but perhaps, by keeping our eyes open as we root through the trash, further valuable clues may some day present themselves. (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

November 29, 2005

Glass Houses

There was a bum raving in front of the hotel: “these fuckin’ rich people are living in glass Glass houses!  Can’t be throwing no fuckin’ stones!  You see what I’m saying!?  One more terrorist attack and they’ll be out of here!  Out of this fuckin’ city!  Runnin’ scared!  Glass houses, I tell you!  There’s one over on the West side Highway!  And another on the Lower East Side!  They even got one going up on the Bowery!!!”
     It was funny how the man’s metaphor suddenly became literal, as if he hadn’t quite understood it in the first place, or as if his brain was not firing on all its cylinders.  On the other hand, what with all poor people being priced out of their homes in the recent real-estate boom, it seemed also strangely apropos. (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)
(Photo: NYCEnvirons blogspot)

November 22, 2005

Dormority of the Deranged Continued

Part III: The Elvis Altar

Out in the hall beside the trash bin, I found a big, white, wooden pedestal, maybe three feet high, like the kind of thing they would set a sculpture on in a museum.  I think it even had a number on it, so you could check the price of the sculpture to see how badly you couldn’t afford it.  I knew I should hold onto this, though I caught a lot of grief from my girlfriend, who accused me, predictably enough, of junking up our already cramped apartment.  Luckily, later that week I found a bunch of those big hurricane candles in the recycling bin, the ones with pictures of religious icons on them.  More junk to pile up on top of the record player—which I haven’t been able to get to in years.  Though I didn’t at once grasp the totality of the piece, I knew they somehow belonged with the pedestal.

It was a good thing I remembered the Elvis Poster.  On one of the lower floors, someone has Elvis mounted a framed poster of Elvis, from the Vegas period, doing one of his famous dance moves.  Why this is there, in the midst of all the original paintings, I have no idea.  We seem to have had a slackening of artistic standards at the hotel lately—my own work is ample testament to this truth—and apparently one of our deranged dorm-denizens reverences Elvis to a fanatical degree.  But I guess I can see that: he is the King, after all.  I have an idea who the culprit is: there’s this guy with long black hair who goes around in jeans and a black leather jacket, an old rocker.  I never have spoken with him, as he keeps odd hours, but one time an elderly lady told me he drove her crazy with a 24 hour marathon of Elvis Music on the 20th anniversary of his—Elvis’s--death.  “Jailhouse Rock”, “I’m All Shook Up”, “I want To Be Your Teddy Bear”, “Blue Suede Shoes”: the nightmare begins to take form.  Though the lady who told me about the infamous “Heartbreak Hotel” music marathon is notoriously prone to exaggeration, I figure anyway it’s got to be him.

I lugged the pedestal down the few flights of stairs and placed it in front of the Elvis poster, then ran back up and got three candles.  These I arranged atop the pedestal, in a fitting memorial to the man who sang “In The Ghetto”.  It was my most ambitious work to date, and I was quite pleased with myself.  Though the effect would certainly have been heightened had I lit the candles, it seemed like it would have been dangerous to go off and leave them burning in the halls.  But after all, perhaps I should have lit them, perhaps that might have warned off the infidels, for my Elvis altar (though not the Elvis poster!) was ripped down and carted away before the night was done, and by the morning not a trace of it remained.  They didn’t even bother to check the price in the catalog.  It was going cheap too, I can assure you of that.  I believe art should be for everyone, and I’m sure that accounts for some of the hostility toward my work.  The snobs and elites in the art world—they who would strangle the soul of true art--are just not ready for this kind of challenge to their illegitimate hegemony.

The Bastards.  Everybody always puts up their art on the walls of the Chelsea—most of it good, but some quite atrocious--so I figured, why shouldn’t I put mine up too?  I expected my medium, garbage art, to be respected here, if nowhere else.  But genius is just not appreciated in this world, even, apparently, in the Chelsea Hotel.  Maybe they think I’m making fun of the vaunted creative spirit of the Chelsea—which I am, but so what?  Pretension should be mocked.  Let’s not take our art, or ourselves, so seriously.  My “art” is an ironic commentary on the art we find throughout the hotel, and perhaps also some sort of critique of our throwaway society.  But let’s not think too hard about it, because actually I think I just drag things out of the trash for the hell of it, because I have nothing better to do.  On the other hand, this may not be that far off from the reason why many people, including probably many great artists, create art.

Gallerymsg11085251382_1 But now, to get back to the pink ducks: finally, one of my creations is allowed to stand.  At first someone kept knocking them down, but I kept putting them back up.  This went on for more than a week.  Originally I had them turned to face one another atop the transom, but finally I turned them in the same direction, and this apparently satisfied my critic’s aesthetic standards, for the vandalism stopped, and they’ve been up for about a year now.  It feels good to finally have the fruits of my labors recognized—though I’m sure my poor little ducks will be knocked down and stuffed deep into the bowels of the trash from whence they came as soon as anybody from the hotel reads this. (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

(Next Week: No More Garbage Art)

November 15, 2005

Dormority of the Deranged Continued

Part II: The Dysfunctional Sink

Another time there was a design show in the hotel, with small companies selling furniture and wallpaper and bedspreads--what have you--setting up shop in various rooms throughout the hotel.  One of the companies rented the room next to mine and set up a huge sink in the little corridor outside my door—right between my room and the bathroom.  The sink, a huge, solid affair, consisted of a slab of Sink_1 black granite set atop a granite pedestal which stood upon a rectangular base topped with gravel.  The funny thing about this sink was that it had no basin: the water came out of a tall, curved spout and ran across the flat granite slab, then down the outside of the pedestal, into a drain set into the base. That, anyway, was the concept: the sink wasn’t connected to a water supply, so you just had to imagine.  There were a couple of salesmen hanging out who would help you to imagine.

            I kind of liked the sink, since, despite its size, it was sleek and minimalist, and I struck up a conversation with one of the salesmen, a big blond guy named Olaf.  “It costs $15,000,” Olaf said.  Olaf was very proud of the sink.  He spoke with a German accent, though he said he was from Switzerland.
        “Wow,” I said, “that’s a lot of money.  But I guess it’s worth it if you’ve got a fancy restaurant or something.”

“Ja, it makes a big impression.”

“But one thing I was wondering is, won’t the water just slop out all over the floor when you try to wash your hands in it?

Olaf rolled his eyes and said condescendingly, “You must not wash your hands in it.  It’s more for the aesthetic experience: watching the water cascade over the sides.  You should just use it to get a drink, or to let a small amount of water trickle over your fingertips.”

Though Olaf was nice enough, I decided that the sink was ridiculous. 

It annoyed all the residents: a gigantic sink sitting right in the middle of everything.  With the base it set on, the sink was nearly as wide as the little corridor, and you had to squeeze past it every time you wanted to go to the bathroom.  It became a symbol for the real annoyance, which was the crowds of people streaming through the halls day and night to see this and other exhibits around the hotel.  Olaf was giving away free beer from a cooler, and that made his room especially popular: potential “customers”--in actuality mainly young hipsters who just wanted to tour the hotel--spilled into the hall, clustering around the sink, drinking and talking.  John,  a guy from the other wing of our floor, a poet, somewhat of a crank, was driven to distraction and taped up a sign saying: Please Be Respectful Of The Rights Of The Permanent Residents.  (John didn’t even live near the sink, and I’m sure I got blamed for the sign, since the next day Olaf was especially friendly and gave me free T-shirt.)  Carla, a girl from down the hall, had to squeeze past the revelers in her bathrobe every time she wanted to take a shower, enduring off-color remarks.  And at one point, when the noise became especially bad, my next door neighbor, Nancy, a dancer who slept during the day, popped out of her room and screamed at them hysterically: “Get the fuck away from my door you fucking assholes!”

Anyway, to get back to the theme of garbage art: after a week the design show packed up and moved out.  In a pile of fliers and other materials that Olaf had thrown out into the hallway beside the trash bin, I discovered a big mounted poster depicting the sink, and detailing it’s many virtues.  To commemorate the design show, and also to remind us of the finer things in life to which we might aspire, I taped up the poster in our bathroom: a high-end, luxury sink to contrast with our retro-chic, 50s flophouse fixtures.  Where the artistic element came in was in the juxtaposition, of course.  A Chelsea Hotel bathroom seemed to be where the fancy yet dysfunctional sink naturally belonged, serving humans of it’s kind, and I was quite pleased with myself.  It stayed up a few days, and then someone took it down and threw it back into trash bin from whence it had come.  Well, people can’t just desecrate my art, now can they?  It was lucky that I found it before the trash man showed up.  I got it out of the trash and taped it back up in the bathroom, and it stayed up maybe one more day.  This time, someone tore it into tiny pieces and stuffed them into the bathroom trash can.
Ed Hamilton 
(Next Week: Still More Garbage Art) (Click here to read Part I: Dormority of the Deranged)

November 08, 2005

Dormority of the Deranged

Part I:  Garbage Art
Gallerymsg11085251382Recently, someone came and took a picture of my art work and posted it on the web—the world wide web, that is.  In a transom in the hallway—where there was once a stained glass window (a few examples still remain scattered throughout the Chelsea)—I have mounted two pink, plastic ducks, shampoo bottles that can apparently also be used as coin banks once the shampoo runs out.  I found them in the garbage, and this is my art.  I’m a garbage artist, a practitioner of a little known genre of fine art that generally goes unappreciated, even persecuted, in this philistine world of ours, even here in the Chelsea, where you’d think people would know better.  Garbage art is related to found art, but it’s a more specific sub-genre: found-in-the-garbage art.

I can give you a few other notable examples.  For instance, one time I found a duck mask in the trash.  This was apparently thrown out by a rich yuppie family with two small children.  The mask was red and yellow, and composed of some kind of heavy rubbery material, rather than the cheap plastic most Halloween masks are made out of, and that’s what attracted me to it.  (It’s just a coincidence, I think, that it was a duck, though of course this species may indeed hold a deeper psychosexual meaning to my unconscious mind.  There was another mask I could have chosen: a pirate, I believe.  It was thrown out in a whole pile of perfectly good toys.)  It may not have even been a duck, come to think of it, but rather some other sort of bird, maybe a hawk, as it had a hooked beak—but it still looked more like a duck than anything. I climbed up on a chair and stuck it high up on a little knob that jutted out from the wall, slightly above and to the right of the family’s door.  It would be like a totem, watching over our hallway, stern and foreboding, ever vigilant—and yet cartoonish, and therefore strangely apropos, expressive of the playful, tricksterish spirit of Chelsea art as I conceive it.  It looked great up there, and I figured the yuppies would appreciate the fact that their cast off toys had been put to good use in the service of art.  The mask remained up for a couple of weeks, and then someone climbed up and ripped it down roughly, maybe jumping from their perch to do so, leaving behind a small scrap of yellow duck flesh that remains to this day. Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton  (Next Week: More Garbage Art)

November 01, 2005

Nanny by Trade

One of the coolest places in the hotel is the El Quijote, the Spanish restaurant in what used to be the Chelsea’s dining room.  One night we were drinking at the bar, when in walked a girl in her mid-twenties whom we had seen earlier that night in the hotel.  She was scantily clad and heavily tattooed, which was why we had noticed her.  In particular, she had a huge tattoo on her arm of a naked devil girl: bright red, voluptuous, with horns and a tale.  We complimented her on that: it really was a fine piece of work.  She said her name was Courtney and though she wanted eventually to become an artist, in the meantime she was a nanny “by trade.”

It’s a good question as to on earth would be crazy enough to hire this woman to care for their children, though I guess by now the answer is apparent: somebody who lives at the Chelsea.

Actually, however, she seemed perfectly nice, if a bit self-absorbed.  She did most of the talking, and we listened, happy enough to be entertained for the moment.

            The bar was filling up.  A family came in and stood behind us: a father and mother, and three children, the oldest a teenage boy.  As they waited for their table, Courtney struck up a conversation with them.  In particular, she seemed interested in the teenage boy, and started flirting with him, at one point actually asking him to come visit her later that night in her room at the Chelsea.

The boy was much to shy to talk to her, though he did smile, and seemed to relish the attention.  But she was making the rest of the family extremely uncomfortable, and they were visibly relieved when the waitress finally came to seat them.
            We thought Courtney had just been joking, and we laughed and told her that had been pretty funny.  But after a few minutes she said, “I’ll think I’ll go over and talk to those people some more.”  And though we assured her that was not a good idea, she went anyway, and sat at the family’s table with them.  We couldn’t hear what was going on, but after about five minutes the father stood up and appeared to say something cross to her. Courtney came back and sat down beside us once more.  “What happened?” I asked.  “Oh nothing,” she said.  “They invited me out to their home for Thanksgiving.”

While Courtney had been at the family’s table, an artist we knew from the hotel, Dexter, a man in his late fifties, sat down at the bar a few stools away from us.  He seemed depressed, and when we waved and said hi, he muttered something about it being his birthday.  Courtney squealed with delight, and ran over to him and gave him a big birthday kiss, right on the mouth. She’ll have better luck with him, we figured.  Not surprisingly, this did manage to cheer Dexter up.  He promptly tried to buy Courtney a drink, but for some reason that pissed her off.  “Who the hell do you think you are?” she asked him, and stormed away.  “He’s a dirty old man!” she told us, disgustedly.

   The funny thing is, Courtney was right: Dexter had a girlfriend who was almost as young as she was.  (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

October 25, 2005

Two Thefts Continued...

II: Grotesques

     When I came home one night, there was a big party at Serena’s, the club in the basement of the Chelsea.  Serena’s had only been open for a few weeks, and so it was still a novelty with the hotel residents.  Several people from the hotel, including the guys who worked at the front desk, were hanging around outside to see what celebrities had come to the party.  They mentioned a couple of names: Juliette Lewis was one, but I can’t remember what the others were anymore.  When a big white limo pulled up to the curb they all became really excited—though it turned out to be nobody recognizable.

There was only one person sitting in the lobby, as it seemed everyone else had gone outside to check out the action.  Erica Crandle was an older lady, perhaps early sixties, her frizzy black hair, streaked with gray, pulled back in a pony tail.  She had once been pretty, and you could see the outline of her features, still finely chiseled, through the leathery skin of her face.  She had put on weight, not evenly, but in her belly mostly, and her thighs.

I plopped down in the chair next to her, and was going to ask her if she’d seen any celebrities, but then I noticed that something about the whole scene seemed to be getting on her nerves.  She spoke before I could:

“What is wrong with them?  Are they retarded?” she said crossly, wrinkling her long, aristocratic nose.  (Erica was often irritable like this—she had that irascible sort of personality that would be annoying if it weren’t also sort of charming—at least in small doses.)  “Why would they want to see people like that?  What could they possibly get out of it?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe just to tell everybody they saw them,” I suggested.

“But who would care?  Certainly not me.  If they told me I’d think they were idiots.”

“Yeah, I can see your point,” I said.  “I guess I’m more interested in the club itself.  I’d kind of like to go down there and have a drink or something just to see what’s going on.”

“I wouldn’t.  It’s just a bunch of kids going down there.  Why should I care what they do?  I have nothing in common with them.”

“Still, I would like to see what the place looks like.  They say it’s pretty fancy.”

Erica rolled her eyes at me.  “Well, here’s a clue: it’s in the basement.  It probably looks like a basement.”
     When he had got safely out of earshot, Erica said, “At his age you’d think the man would have more sense.”

            She looked to me for some kind of a response, but I didn’t say anything.

            “To get stinking drunk like that at his age,” she went on.  “Falling down drunk.”  She took a draw on her cigarette.  “Have a little bit of dignity, I say.  And he had good reputation, too, in his field.”  She shook her head in dismay.  “To throw it all away like that.  I think he’s burned out his brain on alcohol, and is just wallowing in his sorrows.”

            “Ah, he probably only had a couple,” I said.

            “A couple too many!”

            And then I told her about how Maxwell felt that someone was stealing his ideas--my point being, I guess, that Maxwell was already rather addled.

            It surprised me when she came to his defense: “Well, you can’t really blame him for that, now can you?  He’s worked all his life on his art, and now he’s old and without much to show for it.  He sees these young people doing work similar to his and getting lots of attention for it, and it just doesn’t seem fair.”
         That made me laugh.  “I wonder if they’d let me in tonight,” I said, jokingly.

Erica lit up a cigarette, despite the fact that they weren’t allowed in the lobby.  The way she did it, with her brows knit, indicated defiance of the rules.  I realized that she had probably wanted to go outside to smoke, but felt that she wouldn’t be comfortable due to all the commotion.

As she reached over and flicked her ashes into a coke can on the table, Maxwell, the old photographer, walked into the lobby.  Staggering, visibly drunk, he had apparently been to the party in Serena’s.  “Well, there’s your answer right there,” Erica said.  If they’d let him in, they’d let anyone in.

I didn’t think that was quite true.  Maxwell had probably got an invitation on the strength of his old connections.  Either that or he had  stumbled down there and they hadn’t the heart to turn him away.  Maxwell looked at us and slurred some kind of greeting on his way to the elevator.
    

When he had got safely out of earshot, Erica said, “At his age you’d think the man would have more sense.”

            She looked to me for some kind of a response, but I didn’t say anything.

            “To get stinking drunk like that at his age,” she went on.  “Falling down drunk.”  She took a draw on her cigarette.  “Have a little bit of dignity, I say.  And he had good reputation, too, in his field.”  She shook her head in dismay.  “To throw it all away like that.  I think he’s burned out his brain on alcohol, and is just wallowing in his sorrows.”

            “Ah, he probably only had a couple,” I said.

            “A couple too many!”

And then I told her about how Maxwell felt that someone was stealing his ideas--my point being, I guess, that Maxwell was already rather addled. 

It surprised me when she came to his defense: “Well, you can’t really blame him for that, now can you?  He’s worked all his life on his art, and now he’s old and without much to show for it.  He sees these young people doing work similar to his and getting lots of attention for it, and it just doesn’t seem fair.”

            I was struggling to get a handle on her apparent about-face, as Erica went on: “I hardly call that evidence of derangement,” she said crossly, “Or whatever it is you’re trying to claim.”

Then I told about the more embarrassing parts of our conversation—which I had withheld before--about the gassing and injecting, and people breaking into his room.

But she didn’t want to hear it.  She shook her head and flipped her hand at me dismissively.  She must have thought I was making fun of Maxwell.  “You can’t really talk until you’ve been there yourself,” she said.
    

Feeling like a jerk, I was about to get up and leave, and in fact had half risen from my chair, when Ethan Hawke walked in the door.  He, too, had apparently been to the party.  He was dressed in trucker drag, wearing a Dietsch hat and a red vintage Adidas jacket, and with a dark haired, heavily tattooed girl on his arm.  Our conversation stopped short; I plopped back in my chair and we watched as he and his date walked past us—drunk, cheerful, oblivious to our presence—on their way to the elevator.

“You see that little shit there,” Erica said loudly, while he was still within earshot.

“You mean Ethan?” I asked, speaking softly.

“Yes, the one who made that movie.  That petty, insipid, little movie.”  She said it bitterly.

            “Chelsea Walls, you mean?”
     She nodded her assent.  “That has got to be the absolute worst movie ever made.  The cardboard characters, the wooden dialog: a screenplay written, I suspect, by someone not of this earth.  The tedious repetition, and the pompous droning of the narration!  How can you mess up a movie like that?  With all the material this hotel has to offer, all the history!  It boggles the mind.”

She was taking it all too seriously, I thought.  But I had run into this attitude before among residents: a possessiveness, an almost pathological identification with the hotel.  “Yeah, it wasn’t too good,” I agreed.  “It almost made me want to move,” I added, jokingly, trying to lighten the mood.
     “Don’t go that far,” Erica cautioned, dead serious.  “It’s not worth it.”

Ethan and his date had thankfully gone up on the elevator by this point.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  “At least I thought the cinematography was good,” I said.  “Kind of dark and grainy.  Appropriate for the Hotel.”

Erica wasn’t going to give him even that.  She shook her head in exasperation and disgust.  She said, “You know, don’t you, that he interviewed people from the hotel for the movie, to get material.”

“No, I didn’t know that.”
     “He couldn’t have done it otherwise.  He knows nothing of this hotel.  I’m surprised he didn’t talk to you.”

I didn’t consider it too surprising.  I was thinking, well, that’s good that he did some research.  And I felt certain that Erica would have liked the attention.

“He got a lot of that material from me,” Erica went on.  “You know that scene where the girl is dancing in the stairwell?”

            “Uh, yeah.”  There was a scene in the movie—actually it was several scenes, all roughly the same--shot from above to capture the filigreed rails of the famous cast iron staircase, where a young girl, in a billowing white dress if I remember correctly, was twirling ecstatically at the bottom of the stairwell.

“That character is based on me,” Erica said.
          “Oh really?  I didn’t know you were a dancer.”

This seemed to incense her: “Everyone knows I’m a dancer.  I danced with Martha Graham and many other important companies.  I knew Balanchine, and Maria Tallchief.”

“Wow,” I said.

“Yeah, wow,” she said, sarcastically.

“So you originated dancing in stairwells,” I said, stupidly.
          “Of course not!” she said.  “People have been dancing in stairwells from time immemorial.  
          I’m just saying that I was the first to dance in the Chelsea stairwell. 
Or, if not the first, then at least I did it.  And way back in the sixties too.  And that’s where he got the idea.”
       I didn’t know quite what to say.  “Well, it was a crappy movie anyway.”

“I’m talking about the principle of the matter,” Erica pointed out.  “He used my idea, and do you think he gave me credit?  Well, do you?”

I didn’t reply.

“Well?”

“No,” I ventured.

“Hell, no!”

We didn’t speak for awhile.  I was about to take the opportunity to leave.  There was a commotion outside as some star or other came out and got into a limousine.

Erica used this opportunity to relax, and to consider my words.  “However,” she said, “Yes, as you point out, I suppose I should be glad not to be associated with such a piece of trash.  If I had known what that movie was going to be like I would never have helped him.”

To differing degrees, Maxwell and Erica are both a little bit crazy.   There’s a lot of people like them wandering these halls.  Even if you’re not that way when you get here, all those years of living in the Chelsea Hotel, of laboring in obscurity for the sake of art, will do that to you.  So it’s hard to take their claims seriously.  Nevertheless, in a way, they’re right, and I believe them.  There’s rarely any artistic work that’s strictly original, and if you’re young and attractive and well connected, it would seem fairly easy to get by on derivative work.  As long as it’s reasonably competent, nobody’s going to call you on it.    But then again, and Erica seems to intuit as much, the older artists most likely did the same thing themselves when they were young.  Realizing this, however, probably doesn’t make it any easier to take.  (Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006)

October 18, 2005

Two Thefts - Part I: The Gargoyles

       Maxwell was an old man, probably mid-seventies, with a pot belly and thinning gray hair pulled back from his forehead.  Though he was generally disheveled, his clothes unwashed, his shirttail out as he shuffled through the lobby on his way to the deli for a 40 of beer, sometimes he was more lucid than other times.  He was sitting in the lobby one day, and as I was passing by he motioned me over.  His eyes were bright and he seemed to have his wits about him that day.  “Come look at some of my gargoyles,” he said.  “I photographed them around the city with a telephoto lens.”
     As I sat next to him, he handed me a box of perhaps a dozen eight-by-twelve glossy photos.  I flipped through them.  They were close up shots of the stone or terra cotta heads that adorn the upper stories of various buildings around the city.  They were nicely done, professional; Maxwell was well known in the art world, and in the fashion world as well, which is where he made his mark in the sixties and seventies, shooting magazine layouts.  “They’re grotesques,” I said.
      “Yes, they certainly are grotesque,” Maxwell replied, as if my comment had been incredibly trite.
      “No, I mean they’re not gargoyles.  Gargoyles are animals, rather than humans.  When the stone heads are human heads, they’re called grotesques.”
      Maxwell was taken aback.  “How do you know this?”  He eyed me suspiciously.
      “I don’t know.  It’s just something I picked up over the years,” I said.  I thought about it.  “From reading books, I guess.  I used to study mythology and religion.  Maybe it was in connection with that.”
       Maxwell, who had never paid much attention to me before, started looking at me differently after that: respectfully, somewhat fearfully, I thought, as if I held some secret knowledge.
        One evening I was walking down the stairs.  Maxwell was skulking behind the doorframe and when he saw me coming he came out into the elevator lobby.  “Come here for a minute,” he said, motioning for me to follow him into the hallway.  “I have something I need to tell you.”  He spoke almost in a whisper.  “I have to tell somebody.”
          I had something to do and I was kind of annoyed.  “What is it?” I asked, impatiently.
         “They’ve been gassing me,” he said.  “And injecting me.”  He made a motion as if injecting his arm with a needle.
          “Who has?” I asked.
           “That I don’t know.”
           “Why would they do this?”
          “So they can steal my photographs, of course,” Maxwell said.  “They make a lot noise going through my things, and they have to be sure that I don’t wake up and catch them.  Of course they’re very careful to put things back the way they found them, so that then I might think that I’ve just mislaid the photographs.  But I’ve set traps for them, and so I know when something has been disturbed.”

Huddled together in the dark corridor, we spoke in conspiratorial tones.  I felt I was getting pulled unwittingly into Maxwell’s world of delusion.  Still, curious, I played along.  “Why would they want your photographs?” I asked almost in a whisper.

“Well, it’s very good work.  They can’t do work that good themselves.  That’s why they need it.  For their careers, you see.  To advance their careers.”

            I nodded my assent.  It was becoming clear that he had all the angles figured out on this one.

            “I wouldn’t reveal this to just anyone,” he said, leaning in closer and placing a hand on my shoulder.  “But I have a feeling that you know about such things.”

            I didn’t say anything, but I was becoming uncomfortable, and I wished I could find some pretext to tear myself away.

“I need to put a stop to this theft,” Maxwell went on, “which is ongoing, by the way.  And I wanted to know what you thought I should do about it.”

“Why don’t you tell Stanley?" I suggested, facetiously.  “Maybe he can look into it.”
         “Oh, he would be glad they were doing it!  He wants to get rid of everyone who’s been here for a long time so he can rent out their rooms at a higher rate.”

            I chuckled.  “Now that I can believe!”

Maxwell looked at me crossly.  “I know you think I’m just imagining this, but I have proof.  Just the other day a young man came up to me in the lobby and said they were going to take my talent away if I didn’t start taking photos again.”

            Though expressed in the language of delusion, it was a fear I understood all too well: if you don’t use you talent, it might atrophy; you might wake up one day, needing it, and it would be gone.  “Aw, come on,” I said.  “How could they do that?”

“What do you mean?  They’ll just come up and take it away.  I’m an old man.  I can’t fight them.”

I thought his delusion was causing him to make some kind of category mistake.  “But your talent is something inside you.  They can beat you up but they can’t take that away.”

“No, no no!  I said, my camera.”

“Oh.  That makes more sense,” I said.  (So maybe it had been a Freudian slip on Maxwell’s part.  Or maybe I had actually heard him wrong, in which case it had been more of Freudian listening slip, if there is such a thing.)  “Well, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?  I mean, if you took more photos.  You should just keep taking them.”

“But why should I take more?  They’ll just steal those too.”  They were selling his work for millions of dollars, Maxwell said.  He was sick of others getting all the money and all the glory.  He had seen his own work in magazines, he said, and when he called the editors to ask about it they refused to talk to him.

“I feel like people steal my ideas all the time,” I said, “but I don’t worry about it, or I try not to at least, because I know they don’t know what to do with them.”

“Well, it is shoddy work,” Maxwell acknowledged.  “They change it all around on the computer.  But you’re right that they can’t capture the experience.”

“Well, then, you have nothing to worry about,” I said, dismissively.  I was pushing through the swinging door at this point, halfway through, trying to get away.

Maxwell gave me a look that said, yeah right.  “What do you think I could do to stop this?  It doesn’t do any good to call the police.  They don’t do anything, and in fact I think they may be in on it.”
    
“No, you shouldn’t call the police,” I said with a sigh.

“You think I’m imagining it all, don’t you?  I knew you did.  It’s not going to help for you to tell me that.  Maybe I am imagining it, but it’s real for me.”
      Just when I had almost made good my escape, something about this remark drew me back in.  Certainly I empathized with Maxwell: I saw in him a distorted reflection of my own hopes and dreams, myself in thirty years.  I sincerely wanted to help, but also I was in a sense nervously teasing, when I said, “What this calls for is certain amount of cleverness.  What I was thinking is that you may be able to trick these people in some way.  Maybe when you go to sleep at night you can set out some crappy work so they’ll take that instead of your good work.  If they’re such hacks as you suggest, they probably won’t notice the difference.”

Maxwell seemed to take offense.  “I don’t have any crappy work.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to suggest that,” I said, backpedaling.  “What I mean is, maybe you could produce some.  Just go out and take a bunch of random shots of really stupid subjects.  Then set them in a prominent place like they’re important.”
         "I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Maxwell said.  “It erodes the soul.”

“Maybe you could find some pictures in the trash and set them out,” I said.  “Or maybe get somebody else to shoot them for you.”
           Maxwell thought about it and then said, “Why can’t I just take them to court and let the judge straighten it out.  I don’t have any money, but surely one of these universities would help me, someone who cares about the true value of art.  They don’t care about art much in this country anymore, it’s true, but I believe they care more in  Europe.”  He then launched into a long rant about racism and anti-Semitism, and about how, if I understood him correctly, an outspoken newscaster on the local news had been disappeared and then been replaced by a more pliant look-alike.  I couldn’t bear to listen to him go on like this, and when I got half a chance I made my excuses and said I had to run.  Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton  (Next Week:  Part II The Grotesques)

October 11, 2005

Sid's Room

     Dee Dee Ramone moved around from room to room in the hotel.  He was always dissatisfied with whatever room he landed in, and after a year or two in one room he would move to another floor.  He told me that one time they had put him in a new room, and no sooner had he moved his few possessions in, than he began to feel uneasy.  Though he knew he hadn’t lived there before, he had a vague feeling of déjà vu.  He thought his unease would pass, but as the hours wore on he just couldn’t shake it.

            Finally, nodding off in bed late that night, it suddenly hit him, and he sat bolt upright with a shock of awareness.

            “It was Sid’s room!” Dee Dee told me.  “I knew him!  I lived here when he was here.  He was my friend!  I partied in that room.  I hung out in that room.”

            But it wasn’t really Sid’s room, because Dee Dee would have noticed that at once and would’ve never agreed to move in.  What had happened was that after Nancy was killed in the room,

and after Sid committed suicide, the owner, Stanley Bard, hadn’t wanted the room to become a shrine for morbid punks.  He’d had it carved up into sections, distributing these among several other rooms.  Sid’s room, properly speaking, doesn’t exist anymore.  But Dee Dee had got a window.  And the play of the shadows in the corner, in the half-light of the moon and the streetlights, had been something that the renovations had failed to alter, something that had remained constant over time.
            In a panic, Dee Dee fled the room, refusing to stay there another minute, and demanding to be moved to another room immediately.  They didn’t have any rooms open on such short notice—or perhaps, as Dee Dee thought, they just wanted to torment him--and so Dee Dee ended up drinking coffee in an all-night diner until morning.

            “I knew him!” Dee Dee repeated.  “I knew them both.  They were my friends.  I used to visit Sid there, him and Nancy.  We sat in that room together and got drunk and played the guitar.”  Even in the retelling, Dee Dee shuddered, and seemed genuinely terrified by the incident.  “I told Stanley, how could you do that to me!? (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)  Read more "Slice of Life" columns.
Oct. 12 is the anniversary of the death of Nancy Spungen.

October 04, 2005

Hollywood Knocks on My Door

Chelsea Sound Stage Continued

Unlike poor Hiroya—who’s gone on, by the way, to that Great Bohemian Flophouse In The Sky--once I get into my apartment, I’m usually able to ignore distractions, and just focus on my writing.  The walls are thick, after all.  But one night, Hollywood came knocking, and like a fool, I answered the door.
     It was a girl in her mid-twenties, blond, with tattoos.  “Hey, you want to be part of a movie?” she said, very chipper.  “We need to use your room for a couple of hours.  We want to shine some spotlights down on the street so we can film an outdoor scene.  What do you say?”

I thought about it, very briefly.  “No, I don’t think I want to do that.  I’m busy right now.”

“Aw, come on!  It’ll be fun.  We won’t bother you at all.  We’ll just move our crew in here with the spotlights, and you can go about your business.”

“I’m really not interested,” I said.

“We’d pay you $25.”

“No thanks.”

She made a face like she couldn’t believe my stupidity.  I tried to close the door, but she still wanted to talk.  “Who’s in this room right here,” she asked, indicating the room to my right.

“That’s Mr. Greene.”

“You think he would do it?”

“I seriously doubt it.  But, I can’t really speak for him.”  I knew there was no way in hell.  Mr. Greene was rather reclusive, and he hated the film people as much as anybody I knew.  I heard him stirring behind his door, listening in. 

“What about this other room?” the girl asked, pointing to the door to my left.

“Transients,” I said.  That’s just what we call people who are staying for a few days, guests, in other words.  No negative connotation is intended.

But the film girl didn’t know that; I got the sense that she was picturing junkies or similar lowlife.  She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“They may very well need the money,” I said, playing along.

The girl knocked on Mr. Greene’s door.  I took the opportunity to shut my own door.  I could hear her out there banging away for several minutes.  Perhaps she had been instructed not to return without an affirmative answer.  She never did try the transient room.

After several minutes of silence, I thought she was gone.  I had just gotten back to work when I was startled to hear the banging again, this time on my own door.  When I opened it there was the girl again.  “What will it take to make you change your mind?” she asked.

“I really don’t want to do it.”

“Everybody has their price.”

“I wouldn’t do it for any amount of money.”

“Oh come on, just name a figure.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Come on.  What can it hurt.”

I thought about it.  If she was going to keep bothering me I might as well make some money.  “Alright,” I said.  “Five-hundred dollars.”

“That ain’t gonna happen!” the girl almost yelled at me.

I closed the door on her.  For the next few minutes, I half expected the girl, or perhaps her superior, to return and grudgingly fork over my exbortionate price, but apparently they had their limits.  They must’ve got someone to go along with their plan, however, because soon the street outside was lit up like a Christmas tree, and it stayed that way long into the night. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton )

Click here to read more "slice of life."  Next week: "Sid's Room." Just in time for the anniversary of that notorious crime.

September 27, 2005

Chelsea Sound Stage continued

                                        Naked Models
     On a more positive note, many times I’ve arrived home to find naked models cavorting in the stairwells.  So the presence of the film crews has its upside, though I would feel like a lecher if I stood there watching such a spectacle for any length of time.  Sometimes, though, it can’t be avoided.  One time there was a naked girl right in front of my door.  There were three guys, one with a camera, standing over the girl, who lay prone in the corner of the corridor.  About twenty years old, the girl was quite pretty, with dark brown hair, slim, with a good body.  She had on dark make-up to make her look like a vampire, though she was sprinkled in glitter too, and so I didn’t know quite what to make of her: a glittery, naked Goth girl.  My jaw dropped and I just stood there gawking like an idiot.

“Can I help you?” one of the guys said.

“Uh, pardon me,” I said.  “I need to get into my apartment.”

“No problem,” he said. One of the other guys helped the girl to her feet and they all three moved aside.  When I closed my door I heard them gather back around my door to continue the shoot.  Just another day in the Chelsea.  Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton  (Next Week:  Hollywood Knocks on My Door)
Click here to read more Slice of Life features.

September 20, 2005

Dumpster Dining

                                         Chelsea Sound Stage Continued
     The good news is, the older guys who are actually in charge of these film crews are usually polite and respectful, and if you approach them with a problem they’ll usually take your concerns seriously--although you don’t see them all that much and I sometimes feel they are using the young Spielbergs to do their dirty work.  The film crews will set up shop right in front of a door, apparently oblivious to the fact that people live behind them and will eventually need to get out.  They yell and carry on, and run noisy machinery and blow the fuses.  Their activities drove the Japanese artist Hiroya crazy, raving mad, and since the desk staff knew this—due to his incessant complaining--they made sure to send as many crews as possible to our floor.

            One thing that all the crews inevitably do is to set up their lunch buffets on the trash bin.  Bizarre, I know.  Nearly inconceivable, I realize.  But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  “Don’t you know that that’s the trash bin?” I asked a sleepy-eyed hipster one time.  “There could be roaches crawling out of there, or even mice.”  He just shrugged his shoulders, as if the matter didn’t interest him.  (I think the general feeling among them—somewhat justified, I must admit--is that all the permanent residents are crazy.)  I didn’t mention that people threw cat shit and dirty diapers in there too.  The only thing I can think of is maybe they’ve neglected to bring tables and the trash bin is the only flat surface around, which they then turn to in desperation.  In any event, this weird practice never fails to crack me up, and I always make sure to take out my trash at least once or twice while a crew is on our floor.  “Hey! Hey!” somebody always yells, “That’s our food there!” as I open the lid to deposit my waste, careful not to disturb the steaming platters of delicacies.  (Who’s crazy now, by the way?  The Chelsea insanity is catching.)

      The obvious question, which I heard the writer Jordan Atkinson ask a group of the young film hipsters one time, is, “Can’t you rent a Hollywood sound stage for this?”  They made no response, but for one thing, they get tax breaks for shooting in New York.  Besides that, they want the bohemian cache of the old hotel, and, in general, it’s a fun place to hang out.  (They’ve opted to make “art” that sells, but they still want to think of themselves as starving artists, since that’s way cooler than selling out.)  It’s OK, though; Stanley is hopefully charging them out the ass so he can keep the rents of the real artists low.  He also likes the attention people pay to the hotel, and maybe it’s good advertising too.  And perhaps some of young hipsters will stay on as guests or even residents, and, even as they join us in growing increasingly detached from reality, at least eventually learn not to eat their food out of the trash. Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton (Next Week: Naked Models – The Upside of Film Crews)

September 13, 2005

Chelsea Sound Stage

We get lots of film crews at the Chelsea, shooting videos, TV episodes, and even big-budget Hollywood movies.  They pull up in their trailers, blocking the street so you can’t get across it, and they set up tables on the sidewalk and pile junk in front of the door, so even entering the hotel becomes something of an ordeal.  They crowd the lobby and the stairwells and tie up the elevators, holding them on one floor or another while they load them up with equipment.  At first it’s exciting, but after awhile it gets to be a nuisance.  We have to put up with a lot for the sake of art here at the Chelsea.
     But we do get to see the stars.  Lately I’ve run into David Ducovney, Robert DeNiro, Julie Delpy and Randy Quaid.  I can’t even begin to name all the famous people I’ve encountered in the elevator (Arthur Miller was the best, but then he’s a celebrity of a whole other order).  One time I was riding it down with a girl who lives on our floor, Carla, a playwright, and when we got to the lobby, the door opened, and there stood Sean Penn, surrounded by his retainers.  It was two days after he had won his Oscar for Mystic River, and Carla said, “Congratulations!”  Penn just glared at her.  As we walked through the lobby, Carla, a bit puzzled by his reaction, turned to me and said, “He did win, didn’t he?”  Madonna shot her "Sex Book" here, in one of our more beautiful rooms, but since then she hasn’t been back.  Ethan Hawke is here all the time, so who cares?
      But for the most part these crews seem to be made up of kids in their twenties: trustfunders straight out of college, arrogant, thinking the world should bow down and worship them.  This is probably the first job most of them have had in their lives.  You can tell they all fancy themselves the next Spielberg.  (Not the next Bergman or Fellini, in other words; that would be beneath them.  If they were little Bergmans or Fellinis they would probably move in.)  They think what they’re doing is of the utmost importance, even if it’s just running to the deli for a cup of coffee for Robert DeNiro, and they can be incredibly rude and disrespectful.

One time a crew was filming a scene in front of the hotel. We were all dutifully standing by—residents and passersby alike--because we were told to, and also to see whatever star they were filming appear from his trailer.  It was taking a long time, but finally they got the cameras rolling.  I spotted Sean Penn waiting in the wings, waiting for his cue.  At about that time, Magda, an elderly lady who lives in the hotel, came walking up on her cane, irritably calling out “Excuse me!  Excuse me!” as the crowd parted to let her through.

“Could you please wait a moment?!” a trucker-hatted hipster snapped.

            “No, you wait!” Magda said, and walked right through the scene they were filming, taking her own sweet time, I might add.  We were all very proud of the old girl that day. Ed Hamilton

(Next Week:  Dumpster Dining)

September 06, 2005

Another Chelsea Elevator Story

A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE

            Hiroya, the crazy Japanese painter, was hanging out in the lobby as usual, annoying tourists.  I said Hi to him as I came in the door and walked by him to the elevator.  The elevator was already there, so I got right on, but before the door could close, Hiroya decided he had to tell me something.  He ran after me and stuck his hand in the elevator just as it was about to close, and stood there in the door jabbering away excitedly.  “What?!” I said.  “What is it?!”  He didn’t speak very good English, and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

            It was then I noticed that Magda was standing behind him, trying to get on the elevator.  A dancer in her prime, Magda was now a prim, white-haired old lady in an immaculate green suit.  I saw her trying to get on, but I couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

            But it didn’t matter.  Magda was not one to be intimidated by anybody, that’s for sure.  “Excuse me!” she said loudly.  “I’m trying to get on the elevator.  Do you mind?”

            Hiroya jumped aside immediately.  “Oh, sorry! Sorry!”

            As soon as the door shut and we were on our way up, the old lady asked, “What in the world did he want from you?”  It seemed clear from her tone of voice that she despised Hiroya.

            Wanting to distance myself from him, I said, “I have no idea.”  It was the truth, after all.

            “Hmmm.  He probably wanted to show you his paintings.”

            “Yeah, that's probably it,” I said.  At this point I didn’t dare admit that he lived on my floor and that I had already bought two of his paintings.

            Then all at once Magda seemed to soften toward Hiroya—a fellow artist after all.  “Well, he's new around here,” she said.

            It’s an unspoken rule that you don’t bother the other residents with too much self-promotion.  Everybody here has their own artistic irons in the fire.

            “I'm new around here too,” I said.

            “Well, at least you don't go hawking your wares in the lobby!”

            I laughed.  “No, not yet I haven't.”

            “I suppose there's still plenty of time,” Magda said, rolling her eyes.

            Maybe.  I never did find out what Hiroya was so excited about that day.  Perhaps he had sold a painting, or accosted a celebrity who had come through the lobby.  It was probably nothing, but whatever it was, he took it with him to the grave.

Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

August 30, 2005

CHELSEA BARBERSHOP

       There’s a tiny old barbershop around the corner from the Chelsea.  It must have been there for fifty years, and it doesn’t look like it’s changed much in that time either. The old brown barber chairs are patched with cloth tape, and the linoleum is worn through where the barbers circle the chairs, revealing the many layers of it’s history.  On the counter are dusty cardboard displays of plastic combs and hav-a-hanks.  There’s an autographed picture of Rocky Marcianno on the wall, though not even Vincent, the sixty-year-old Italian proprietor, remembers him ever coming into the shop.

One day I was in there getting my hair cut, when a hip young man in his twenties, a college student, came walking by the window and did a double take, stopping dead in his tracks.  He took an expensive camera out of his shoulder bag and came into the shop, jingling the bell above the door.  Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked at him.

Vincent, overweight, but with a thick head of curly, salt-and-pepper hair, had the chair closest to the door.  “Can I help ya?” he said in his thick Brooklyn accent.

“Would you mind if I took a few shots of the premises?” the young man asked.

“What?!”

“Can I take your picture?”

“Whataya wanna take my picture for?”

“Because you’re picturesque.”

Vincent rolled his eyes and jerked his thumb toward the door.  “Get outta heah!”

Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

August 23, 2005

The Swordsman

THE SWORDSMAN

            I remember my first night in the Chelsea.  My girlfriend and I had just spent hours moving in all our stuff—more than the guys at the desk had ever seen, they said.  I was excited and a bit nervous to be in New York.  Though I was dead tired, I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up into the wee hours of the morning drinking beer and listening to the radio.

            At one point I had to piss.  We shared a bathroom with two or three other rooms, so I put on my flip-flops and walked down the hall.  I rounded the corner to the bathroom and came face to face with a huge, fat guy holding a sword.  My heart jumped up into my throat and I took a step back when I saw him.

            “I was just practicing here in the hall,” the guy said, slurring his words, obviously drunk.  He had long, coal-black hair that hung in a tangle, obscuring his face and making him look completely psychotic. “I’ve got a role in a Shakespeare play.  I ducked around the corner when I heard you coming because I didn’t want to scare you.”

            Nah, that wouldn’t scare anybody: a big man with a sword lurking in a dimly lit hallway. 

Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

August 16, 2005

Another Chelsea Elevator Story

                                                            Knoxville
       Slightly hung over, I was going out to the deli one morning to get coffee and muffins.  The elevator was packed with fat Midwestern tourists, and with one tall, thin Japanese hipster girl talking loudly into her cell phone.  I got on, and as I turned to face the front the Japanese girl screamed in my ear: “OH, NO!!!”

What happened?! I thought.  Something with the elevator?  Did I do something?  It took a moment for it to register that she was simply talking on her phone.  “Why did you scream like that?” I asked, shaken, but she ignored me.

A moment later she screamed again: “Oh my God!  Push 4 for me!”  This time she was talking to me.  I pushed 4.  She went on talking over the phone: “I’m going to the Saturday Night Live after-party tonight!”  There was a pause, then: “Johnny Knoxville is my close personal friend!”

Perhaps this impressed the Midwesterners, I don’t know.  I found myself hoping that Johnny Knoxville and his buddies would hold her down and shave her head.  4 came, the door opened, I looked at her with raised eyebrow, but she didn’t get out.  She rode down to the lobby and got off with the rest of us. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

August 09, 2005

Charles James' Drafting Table

Sarah is an older lady, scatterbrained, though endearingly so, with a wild mane of curly gray hair.  A jewelry designer, she’s lived here in the Chelsea since the sixties, provided gems for the Warhol superstars.
         Sarah’s large apartment/workshop is filled floor to ceiling with a lifetime’s accumulation of dusty junk: tools, boxes of metal clasps, beads, tiles and fixtures, bolts of cloth, old sewing machines, teetering piles of old magazines, you name it.  I’ve offered several times to help her clean out her apartment, which has become so cluttered that there’s not much living space left, but she’s collected all this stuff for a reason, and, who knows, never can tell when it might come in handy.

But one afternoon she called me and said she did have a few things to throw out, so I came down to her place to help her move them out.  Mostly, it just looked like her usual trash, but she had a box or two of papers for me to carry out, and there was a metal cabinet, the drawers filled with ticket stubs and receipts and other scraps of paper, that she thought she could live without.

            When I had carried all that stuff out, Sarah said, “I’ve been thinking of getting rid of this.”

From somewhere in the bowels of her rooms she had drug out an old drafting table.  Of dark wood, the table was worn and beaten but still sturdy and functional, with an ancient, heavy iron mechanism to control it’s slant.

“Wow!” I said.  It was a really good looking piece of furniture, must have been seventy or eighty years old.  But then I caught myself and said.  “Yeah, get rid of it.  And how about some of these old magazines too.”

“Those have my designs in them,” Sarah said.

We turned our attention back to the drafting table.  “I don’t use it anymore,” Sarah said.  “Never have.  But it belonged to Charles James, so I’ve kept it all these years.”

Charles James, a great courtier, famous for his lampshade shaped dresses, who used to live at the Chelsea.  He has a plaque on the fashion walk of fame on Seventh Ave.
          “Oh, did he give it to you?  Did you know him?”

“I did know him, but no, he didn’t give it to me.  I think Viva gave it to me, but I can’t really remember, it was so long ago.”

I made to seize the old table.

“I just don’t know,” Sarah said.  “It seems a shame to throw it away.  Maybe I should just keep it.”

“Sarah, you have to get rid of something,” I scolded.

The upshot of this was that, in order to make Sarah feel less guilty, and just so she could get rid of something—since the piles of junk were threatening to fall over on her and bury her like the Collier Brothers--I agreed to take the table.  (I must admit too, that I harbored a secret desire to own the table—because of it’s origins, because it looked cool, and also because, like Sarah, I’m a pack rat at heart and can’t bear to throw anything out.)

I thought for sure I was in for trouble.  My girlfriend and I had had arguments before about my habit of dragging home junk.  But maybe I was kind of hoping she would bitch me out, so that would give me an excuse to get rid of the table.

            Instead, she had even more enthusiasm than me for the table, especially because of the Charles James connection.  “Oh my God!  That’s really cool.  But what can we do with it?”

“Well, maybe I can use it for a desk,” I said, thinking of replacing the one I had, but knowing all the while that that wouldn’t work at all.  The table was too high, and wasn’t really meant to lay flat.  It was for an artist, rather than a writer.

Folded up as far as was possible, the table sat in the middle of our room for a year.  Everybody who came to visit thought it was really nice, but nobody actually wanted to own it.  Finally, it just got be too much of a hassle to move it whenever we wanted to get into our closet.

            Late one night, when I knew Sarah would be in bed, I set the table out by the elevator with a note on it that said: Charles James’ Drafting Table: Free To A Good Home, and it was gone within the hour.  I was sad to see it go, but glad in a way also because I felt it had gone to someone who needed it, and maybe, with any luck, someone who could tap into the energy of the old designer in a way I wasn’t quite able to.  (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

August 02, 2005

The Bad Coffee

THE BAD COFFEE

My girlfriend likes her coffee with cream, no sugar.  So that’s what I tell them in the deli every morning when I go to get the muffins and coffee.  But you have to watch these guys, because if you turn your back on them for a moment they’ll shovel about six spoonfuls of sugar into the cup, and then you’ll really be screwed.  It’s a moral thing with them: you ought to have sugar in your coffee, whether you like it or not.

            That’s what happened one morning: I was hung over and I must have been distracted; I think I started playing with the little gray deli cat.  So when I get back to the room my girlfriend takes one sip of the coffee and declares that she can’t drink it.

            “Alright, goddamn it,” I said, annoyed.  “Give it here.”  I grabbed the cup and put the lid back on it.  “I’ll take it back.”

“Don’t worry,” she said.  “Go ahead and eat your breakfast.  I’ll get it myself.”  She got up and made to leave.

“Take this with you,” I said, proffering the cup, “or else they’ll try to make you pay again.”

“No, I don’t want the hassle.  Their coffee sucks, anyway.  I’ll just get it somewhere else.”

            “Well, what do you want me to do with this?”

            “Just throw it out.”

            I did just that.  I took the full cup of coffee out to the trash bin, opened the lid, and threw it down in the can.  It landed straight up, without spilling, in the bottom of the empty bag that lined the can.

I went back in and sat down and had a bite or two on my muffin.  About a minute later I hear this god awful racket from out in the hall: “SHIT!  AH, FUCK!”  Then somebody slammed down the lid of the trash bin.  A second or two later somebody opened the bathroom door and a moment after that slammed it shut.

What was that all about? I wondered.  I didn’t put two and two together.  Like I said, I was hung over, slightly slow that morning. Just an unrelated bit a Chelsea lunacy, I thought, nothing out of the ordinary.  My girlfriend got back with an acceptable cup of coffee and we finished our breakfast.

            Then I went to use the bathroom, and when I opened the door I was startled to see that someone had sprayed the place with a milky brown liquid.  It was all over everything: the walls, the sink, the toilet, the mirror, even some on the ceiling.  A real mess, still wet and dripping.  Obviously somebody had got the bad coffee out of the trash and, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, slung it boldly, creatively, in a wide, sweeping arc.  The Jackson Pollack of bathroom slobs.  It was hard to believe there was that much coffee in that little deli cup.

What on earth!?  Who could have done it?  I immediately suspected the trash man.  Who else would have got that coffee out of there?  Remembering the noises I had heard, I figured he had burned his hand, and, pissed off, had chosen to display his anger in a manner suitable to the art-infested realm of the Chelsea.

So why didn’t I feel guilty?  Because I figured it was his own damn fault.  He only needs to empty the trash two or three times a day, but instead he empties it twenty times or more.  He goes around and grabs every little scrap of paper out of all the trash bins on every floor.  A half an hour later he’s back again, whether anybody has thrown anything in the trash or not.  If he had just waited an appropriate interval, until there was liable to be something more in the trash, it wouldn’t have happened: the coffee would have cooled, there would have been stuff piled on top of it, and he never would have burned his hand.

Puzzling, also, was the choice of venue.  Why the bathroom? I wondered.  Why not the hallway—that was the obvious choice—or, if creativity was at a premium, the supply closet, or the elevator?

I decided that it must have been directed at me.  He must’ve seen me come in with the coffee.  This was more than mere paranoia.  Everybody knew I was the crazy bathroom person for this floor (every floor had one), the guy who would lurk around the corner to see who was stealing the toilet paper, the guy who would make sure the lock was changed regularly so no junkies got in.  Apparently, this was a revenge sloshing, and a warning to me to avoid such offenses in the future.

It pissed me off a little, both the part about messing up of the bathroom, and the warning part.  “I’m gonna ask that trash man about this,” I said.

“Just drop it,” my girlfriend said.  “It’s no big deal.  It’s not worth it to get involved in somebody’s crazy games.  That’s how this place sucks you in, and the next thing you know, you’re nuts too.”

“I’m not getting involved in anything.  I’m just curious, that’s all.”  I felt like I had to confront him.

I threw out the deli bag with the remains of our muffins and coffee, knowing the trash man would be around shortly to collect them.  When I heard him slam down the lid I ran out there.

            Hugo, the trash man, was a middle-aged Russian or eastern European man, his face haggard, bloated from drinking, his coal-black, balding hair slicked back with grease.

“Hey Hugo,” I said, “was that you who slung coffee all over the bathroom?

He gave me a dirty look.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  He was probably hung over too, just like me.

“Well, I don’t care.  It’s not me who has to clean it up,” I said.  “But I’m telling Rita it was you!” I said, half-jokingly.  Rita was the maid; she would scream at Hugo and bitch him out.

“You go on,” he said, with real hatred.  “You tell her that.”

I tried a different tack.  “Hey, I’m sorry I threw that coffee in the trash.  I just wasn’t thinking.”

“I burned my hand!  You must be crazy!  Who would do that, throw a full cup of coffee in the trash!?”

“Why don’t you just wait?”

“Wait for what?”

“For there to be enough trash to make a load.  You don’t have to take out every single piece of trash as soon as anybody throws it away.  Wait a couple of hours and then load up you trash cart.  The rest of the time you could just be sitting around, taking it easy.”

            Hugo sighed.  “They’d just find something else for me to do.”

Locked up in this magical fortress of bohemian madness, I had forgotten the simple lessons of manual labor.  This was one of those rare instances of relative sanity around the place.
Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

July 26, 2005

A Second Chance

Stanley Bard says that getting into the Chelsea is harder than getting into an Ivy League college.  He says he does extensive research on each potential resident.  And while I’ve no doubt that this is true, it sometimes happens, even at the best of schools, that the Registrar loses your transcript.

A man in his forties was moving into the Hotel.  He wore his gray hair cropped short, and was slightly overweight.  Seemed respectable enough—in the Chelsea sense, that is: he wasn’t wearing a suit or anything.  He had his van parked out by the curb, and in between carrying in boxes, he stopped up at the desk to say hi to the manager, a tall Hispanic man named Harvey.
         “I used to live here before, back in the eighties,” our new neighbor said.  “Stanley says he doesn’t remember.  ”You remember me, don’t you Harvey?” 
         
“Yeah, I remember you,” Harvey said, though he didn’t sound too convincing, and I thought maybe he just said it to make the guy feel better.
          “I lived here for almost a year, and Stanley doesn’t even remember me!”
          “We get a lot of people passing through here, you know,” Harvey said.  “And sometimes it’s hard to keep them all straight.”

“I was worried about that, whether he’d remember me.”

“Well, he let you in anyway, so he must’ve liked you.”

“Back then I was a drug-addled 18-year-old,” the newcomer said.  “Partied all night.  Totally irresponsible.  Never even paid my rent.  Maybe I paid it once.  Stanley kicked me out himself.”
            Harvey didn’t say anything.  He looked on impassively.
            “But now it’s cool,” the new guy said.  “Blank slate, you know.  Now it’s all good.”

Ed Hamilton

July 19, 2005

THE LONG BLACK HAIRS

            Hiroya was a fat Japanese man, friendly, gregarious, with long, wild, black hair, that hung in a tangle in his face.  He was an artist, and used to show his graffiti-based paintings in the hall.

            Hiroya shared a bathroom with us on the third floor.  Every day he would flood the bathroom floor, and every day the maid would argue with him about it.  Hiroya would swear up and down that it hadn’t been him, that a junky or a homeless person had broken into the bathroom and done it.

            I was coming down the hall one day when I heard them outside the bathroom, arguing:

            “Every day there be two inches of water standin’ on the floor!” the maid was screaming in her thick Jamaican accent.  “Every day I be havin’ to mop this floor!  Every damn day!  I be tired of it!  Next time you mop yourself.”

            “It the homeless,” Hiroya said in his broken English.

            “I know it not be no homeless!” the maid yelled.  “I know it be you, Hiroya, because the long black hairs be a swimmin’!”

Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

July 12, 2005

The Transient Room

The Chelsea is a mix of permanent residents and transients—who could be tourists or businessmen, or prostitutes or junkies.  For the past few years we’d been lucky, and the room next door to us was rented by a dancer—exotic or otherwise, she never did say—who kept weird hours but was reasonably quiet.  But then she found a boyfriend and moved to New Jersey.

About a week later we heard a commotion outside. Someone was rattling all the doors on our floor, trying them to see if they were open.  He rattled ours—locked, thank God.  He seemed to get into the dancer’s room, and then things settled down for perhaps two minutes.  Then somebody banged on their door and we heard Bart, the security man, say, in a loud voice, “If I had known it was you, I would have never rented her this room!”  What had happened was that an old junkie (I had stuck my head out for a look, and seen a thin, toothless, older man), had got his slightly younger girlfriend to rent a room for them, and then he had tried to sneak in past the front desk.  “You were trying to trick me, Tony!” Bart said.

“Ah, no I wasn’t,” Tony said, in a thick Brooklyn accent.

Bart seemed ready to let Tony and his girlfriend stay.  Referring to the bathroom we were to share with them, Bart said, “Be sure to keep this door locked at all times.”  He left them in the room and went back downstairs.

“You told me this was gonna be OK,” I heard the woman say.

“It’s gonna be OK, baby, just let me handle it,” Tony said.  He’s letting us stay, you see?”

But in a flash, Bart was back.  He had talked it over with the night manager. “Sorry Bro, nothing personal, but you got to go.  You’re 86ed from the list, bro.  You want a room you’ll have to talk to the owner, Stanley Bard, he’s the only one who can rent you a room.”

“Stanley’s my friend.  He’ll rent me a room.  Just talk to him.”

You talk to him,” Bart said.  “Stanley ’s in at six in the morning.”

Then Tony’s true feelings toward Stanley seemed to surface, as he exclaimed: “That fucking bastard!”

“So you gonna make it easy or do I have to call the cops.” 

“Yeah, go ahead and call them,” Tony said.  But then he immediately thought better of it and agreed to go.  He was probably well known to the police, and who knows what kind of contraband he was holding.  “We’ll be down in a few minutes,” he said, but Bart wouldn’t leave him for even a minute. 

“Don’t worry, baby,” Tony said as they left, “we’ll go over to a place I know on east 23rd.  It’s much better than this dump.  They have a weight room and everything, and they’re thirty dollars cheaper.”

The woman wasn’t having any of it.  As they walked out to the elevators, she said, “I didn’t know they would call the cops on you!”

We were relieved to be rid of them.  Sharing a bathroom with junkies is no picnic.

Fifteen minutes later somebody was down on the street, yelling hysterically, “I’m done with you!”  He yelled the same thing, over and over, for about a half and hour.  Then he moved on down the street, still yelling, and his voice trailed off and finally died away he rounded to corner.

Later that night I asked the night manager, “Was that Tony yelling in the street?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “He was yelling in the lobby too.  I just wish people would keep that shit upstairs so I didn’t have to deal with it.”
Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

July 05, 2005

The Paintah

            I was walking through the Chelsea lobby one day.  The owner, Stanley Bard, a small, dapper older man in a suit and tie, was standing up by the desk talking to a younger man with a beard and paint-stained overalls--a common type at the hotel.  The man had obviously come to inquire about getting a room.  “So what do you do?”  Stanley inquired.

    “I'm a paintah,” the bearded man said, in a heavy Brooklyn accent.

“That's great,”  Stanley said, visibly excited. 

Stanley was always happiest when given an opportunity to speak of the glory of the hotel.  “This is just the place for you.  We have lots of painters living here.  Famous painters.  You’ll get along fine.  What kind of stuff do you paint?”

The man gave Stanley a quizzical look.  “I paint houses, whadaya think?”

“Oh,”  Stanley said, obviously disappointed.  “What I meant was, abstract or figurative?  I thought maybe you painted pictures.”

“Nah, I said I was a paintah, not an ahtist.”

Ed Hamilton

June 28, 2005

The Stage (Continued from 6/14 & 6/21)

           III. A Threat.

It was inevitable that The Umpire should eventually run afoul of Magda.  A ballet dancer in the forties and fifties, now elderly, Magda was a tough old broad who had cultivated a life-long habit of never taking any shit from anyone.  Magda was famous for threatening junkies—with a pistol—who attempted to shoot up in her shared bathroom.

            I was sitting there in the lobby when Magda came walking through, dressed jazz-age cool, her hair in a snow white bun.  Though she wasn’t frail, she walked with a cane, perhaps for defensive purposes.  As soon as she caught sight of Magda, The Umpire began running through her usual repertoire of signs, unambiguously disparaging this time.

            Most people just ignore The Umpire, or else, if they’re feeling cruel, they make a series of their own gestures back at her.  Magda, on the other hand, advanced right up to where she was standing, and said, “Something bothering you, honey?”

Though showing, I thought, some distress, The Umpire continued to alternately hold her nose and give the old heave-ho.

“You got something to say to me?” Magda asked.

The reply was another series up hand signals. 

I cringed, half expecting her to assault the Umpire with her cane.  Instead, showing remarkable restraint, she marched up to the front desk, and said, “You better keep that woman away from me, or I’m gonna kill her.”

            “Ah, come on, Magda,” the manager said, in his Brooklyn accent.  “Give her a break.  She’s crazy.”

The Umpire had followed, either unafraid, or, more likely, compelled by her madness, and now stood nearby, making her signals behind Magda’s back.

            “I know damn well that bitch is crazy,” Magda said.  “I’m gonna kill her crazy ass.”

Ed Hamilton

June 21, 2005

The Stage (Continued)

II. The Umpire

There’s a middle-aged woman who hangs out in the Chelsea lobby and apparently can’t control her gestures.  (Maybe she has Tourette’s too; unfortunately, I’m not a psychiatrist.)  When you walk through the lobby she’ll let you know what she thinks of you through a series of hand signals: thumbs-down, up-yours, the finger, holding her nose: P-U.  Though she’s really more like a third base coach, giving the batter a series of signals, somebody once called her The Umpire, and the name stuck.  Though she usually expresses a rather negative opinion of people, sometimes The Umpire will actually give the safe sign, or the thumbs up, or even the OK sign.

            One day three tourists came into the lobby, three young women in pastels: two blonds, slightly heavy, and one brunette, thinner.  They were staying at the hotel, and had gone out for the day, but one of the women had lost her sunglasses, and now they had come back looking for them.  They looked around briefly near the chairs where they had been sitting earlier in the day.  But it wasn’t long before they noticed that The Umpire was sitting across the room wearing a pair of sunglasses that looked suspiciously like the ones that had been lost.  (They may very well have belonged to The Umpire, I can’t say for sure, but the tourist women thought otherwise.)  The women huddled and stood exchanging nervous glances, whispering amongst themselves.  They were intimidated by The Umpire, and were afraid to ask her about the sunglasses, because whenever they would look in her direction, she would give them the finger or make some other obscene gesture.  Finally, they decided to tell the manager.

            The Umpire had stood up and come over near the desk to wait for the elevator, so the manager didn’t have to go far.  He came out from behind the desk and asked her, “Are those your glasses?”

The Umpire nodded up in down in reply.

“You didn’t find those glasses sitting here in the lobby?”

She nodded her head back and forth.

The manager threw up his hands.  “Well, if she says they’re hers, there’s not much I can do.”

            As often happens, the elevator was taking a long time to arrive.  The three women, slightly dazed, stood there waiting for it with The Umpire.

Finally, one of the women, the brunette, the one whose glasses had been stolen, couldn’t take it anymore.  “Why are we going back up to the room to look for the sun glasses?!” she said.  “We know where they are!  She’s wearing them!”

            The other women tried to shush her and calm her down  I think by now they had begun to realize that The Umpire was rather off.

The brunette refused to be mollified.  “What?!  I’m just supposed to do nothing while she steals my glasses and then gives me the finger.  I’m just supposed to just lay down and take it?  I don’t think so!”  And she launched into her own series of gestures, imitating The Umpire: “Same to you!  Up yours too!  How you like them apples?”

The Umpire shrugged her shoulders, unfazed.  She gave them a final flurry of signs, and then, as the elevator had by now arrived, stepped on and left the women standing there in the lobby.  (Next Week -- A Threat)

Ed Hamilton

June 14, 2005

The Stage

I. Lobby Mascots

Stanley Bard, our justly esteemed proprietor, always sees to it that his guests are well entertained.  In particular, he provides us with an unbroken series of inadvertent performance artists, appearing daily on that grand old stage known as the Chelsea Hotel lobby.

The first, in my residence, was Hiroya.  A fat Japanese man who dressed in red overalls (though later he got thin, and switched to a suit), Hiroya was a self-promoter par-excellence, in fact almost to the point of mania or psychosis.  He would accost anyone who came through the lobby, art critic, movie star, tourist, whoever, with wild boasts of his artistic greatness, and dogged attempts to lure them upstairs for a show of his paintings.  I suffered through many such shows myself, though I have to admit his work was rather powerful.  In the end it was his personality, rather than his art, that did him in.  (More about this in a future column.)  The desk people called him Annoy-ya.

After Hiroya’s untimely demise, we were treated for a time to stylings of The Angel.  Another Japanese man, The Angel dressed in drag, with feathered wings on his back.  He was usually attired all in white, but sometimes he would appear as a sinful red angel, or even as a black angel of death.  But no matter what color he wore, he was, essentially, a seedy angel.  Though at times he would wear a splendid long gown of a costume, topping it off with a bejeweled tiara, at other times, in keeping with the faded grandeur of the hotel, he allowed his costumes to deteriorate, the lace to get torn and dirty, the feathers of his wings to molt, like an angel fallen to earth.  The strangest thing was that The Angel got mad if you mentioned his appearance.  He just wanted to go around dressed as an angel; he didn’t want anyone to notice.  When it was hot, The Angel would sometimes just wear his frilly panties with a pair of wings on his back—maybe he got the idea from Victoria ’s Secret--and I think that was what finally ran him afoul of management and got him kicked out.

Then there was the long run of Blondie, a disheveled woman with Tourette’s syndrome who would stand out on the street in front of the hotel and make weird guttural noises, and who would generally flee if you approached her—several times she ran out into the street to escape me—though sometimes she would hold her ground and hiss at you, like a snake.  She refused to go into her room—demons lurking in there, apparently--and would sleep in the lobby, or in the hallways.  Periodically, Blondie would disappear for a week or two, apparently to get treatment, and then come back looking more bedraggled than ever.  Her sojourns abroad increased in frequency and duration, and then one day she returned no more.

We seemed to be heading downhill with that third one, I must admit—though some got their jollies by chasing after poor Blondie and running her up the stairs--but lately things are looking up, especially now that we have The Umpire in residence.

(Next week: The Umpire)

Ed Hamilton

June 07, 2005

THE ULTRA FAMOUS INCREDIBLY CHIC CHELSEA HOTEL BAR

There’s a nightclub in the basement of the Hotel Chelsea.  Most everybody who lives in the hotel would rather have a laundry room, or something practical, but instead we’ve got a trendy nightclub where hardly any of us ever venture.  (A real A list place. I saw Monica Lewinski go in there!)  I went in Serena’s once just to see what it looks like, and—surprise!--it looks exactly like a basement, with low ceilings and exposed pipes.  But besides that, it’s nicely decorated, in red and black like a lot of clubs these days.  I have to admit they did a good job with it, under the circumstances.

            The club was started by Serena—I forget her last name—who actually lived here for a time, maybe she still does, in order to cash in on the hipster cache of the Chelsea.  Serena herself no longer owns the club, however.  She sold it, hopefully for big bucks.

One night recently, a thin, pretty, young blond woman, in Manolo Blahnik heels and a sexed up dress, burst through the front door of the hotel, and came running frantically up to the desk. “Please don’t send hotel guests to my club!” the woman said, hysterically.  She was apparently the hostess at Serena’s.

“People come downstairs and ask where the bar in the Chelsea Hotel is,” the desk clerk said, matter-of-factly, “and so I give them directions to Serena’s.”

“Oh, my God!  Please don’t do that anymore!” the woman shrieked.  “There’s a guy out there who’s already been drinking!  And he’s wearing a Kentucky Wildcats sweatshirt!  And now he wants in my club!”

I was standing there waiting for the elevator, and, hearing this crazy rant, I burst out laughing and the hostess turned and glared at me.  “Sorry,” I said.

The hostess turned back toward the desk.  “What am I supposed to do with this guy?” she said, a bit more calmly.

The desk clerk shrugged his shoulders.

“Not our problem!” the switchboard operator piped up from her corner.

The staff likes to play tricks on people.  Or maybe they just get tired of explaining that there really is no Chelsea Hotel Bar.  In certain guide books—apparently written by people who never visited the hotel, it says things like, “Be sure to stop by the Chelsea Hotel Bar, where Dylan Thomas and William Burroughs hoisted beers.”  If they mean anything, they mean the El Quijote, which was once, 80 or 90 years ago, the hotel dining room.  The El Q has more in common with the hotel, and anybody who wants to hoist beers with bohemians would obviously be better off there.  But sometimes I guess it’s just good for a laugh to send an unfashionable looking tourist or two down to Serena’s.


Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

June 03, 2005

DEE DEE’S CHALLENGE

June 5 will mark the third year anniversary of the death of Dee Dee Ramone. He and his wife and dog lived on and off in the hotel during the year preceding his death.  For part of that time, Dee Dee was my neighbor.  Here is the story of how we met.
Deedeeramone 
Somebody new had moved into the room next door.  I had heard him moving his stuff in late the night before, but as yet I hadn’t met him.  He was quiet now, just before noon, apparently asleep.

            Some workers began doing renovations on the floor above us: a lot of sawing and tap-tap-tapping with a hammer. After about a half an hour of this noise, the guy next door started banging on my wall, screaming, “Shut up!  Shut up!  Shut up!” 

            I didn’t think he could be talking to me, since all I was doing was sitting there writing.  But after a few more minutes of banging on my wall, the guy came out of his room and banged on my door.

            I opened the door and there stood Dee Dee Ramone.   I had seen him around the hotel, but never like this.  He wore only his underwear, his white jockey shorts, and he was covered with tattoos: skulls, pistols, dice, black cats, the numbers 13 and 666—over his arms, chest, and legs.

            I was taken aback, and stood marveling at his tattoos. Though Dee Dee was small and skinny, skeletal even, with all the tattoos, he was still kind of threatening.  On top of that he was insanely angry, shaking with rage.

            “Is that you making that noise?!” he demanded.

            “No, Dee Dee.  It’s not me,” I replied.  “I think it’s the construction workers upstairs.”

            Without another word Dee Dee went back into his room, flung open his window, stuck his head out, and yelled up at the construction workers: “Shut up, you motherfuckers!  You do that work later!  Shut up!”

            One of the workers must have looked down from the window above, because then Dee Dee said, “I see you, motherfucker!  I know who you are!  I don’t wanna hear that hammering again!”

            It got real quiet for a moment.  And then from above I heard a very deliberate: TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP!
            “You motherfucker!  I’ll kill you!” Dee Dee screamed.  “You come down here to the third floor!  I’ve got a knife, and I’ll be waiting for you in the hallway!” (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)

June 01, 2005

THE REVELATORY WORK

I found a purse in the shared bathroom one morning.  It contained the usual junk that women carry around, and a wallet with an ID and forty dollars in it.  From the picture on the ID, I could tell that it wasn’t anybody who had any business using our bathroom.  I suspected the worst, that she was a junkie who had broken in to shoot up, and that made me feel like taking the money and throwing her purse in the trash just to teach her a lesson.  But really I had no evidence of that, and I’d seen her around the hotel, so I asked for her room number and took the purse up to where she lived on the fifth floor.

The woman who answered the door was tall, middle-aged, with long, dyed-red hair.  She wore bracelets and a flowing, robe-like, Turkish hippie shirt.  She had apparently been sleeping, or otherwise indisposed, and at first she didn’t understand what the hell I was saying, but when she caught on she was really grateful: “Oh my God!  I didn’t even know that was gone.  Oh thank you so much.  Let me give you a reward.”

            “That’s OK.”

            “No, no.  I should give you something for your trouble.  I’m so scatterbrained!”  She checked her wallet, then said, “Oh, I’m afraid I’m kind of short right now.  I’m unemployed at the moment.”

            “Don’t worry about it.”

            “Actually,” she said, “I’m a poetess.  At the moment I’m composing a long revelatory work of scope and vision that I believe will open the eyes of a great many people around the world.”

            “Wow,” I said, and then, mercenary son of a bitch that I am, asked, “You think you’ll get some money for that?”            

“Perhaps,” she said, with a touch of condescension. “Certainly I’m not in it solely for the money.”

            “Of course not.”

            “Cynthia Blair, by the way,” she said, extending a long, thin hand.

            I didn’t hear anything more from Cynthia for a few weeks after that, but apparently it had been bothering her that she couldn’t give me a reward, because one day she showed up at my door.  “I still don’t have any money,” she said, “but I have this coffee pot.  It’s a nice coffee pot, don’t you think?”

            There was nothing nice about it whatsoever.  It was an old, used coffee pot.  I must have looked rather bewildered, because she clarified her offer: “You can have it if you want.”

            I took the pot.  “Thanks,” I said.

            “I just wanted to give you something for your trouble.”

            Now the strange thing about it was, it was a very small coffee pot, apparently for espresso.  I had never seen one before.  “Uh, how do you use it,” I asked

            “I don’t know.  I’ve never used it before,” Cynthia said.  “I think you just put it on the burner.”

            “Hmmm.”

            “It needs a basket or something to go inside, but maybe you can find one of those.”

            “Oh yeah, I’m sure that’ll be no problem,” I said, unable, despite myself, to suppress a hint of sarcasm.  “Thanks.  It looks real good.”

            We stood there in the doorway for a moment, not knowing what  more to say to each other.  Finally, I asked, “How’s the revelatory work coming?”

“What?  Oh, very well, thank you.  I believe it’s being well received.”

            “Good.”

            “However, as I’m sure you must realize, these things take time to be resolved, and in the meantime the mold is growing thick all around us.”

            Cynthia turned to go.  But then she thought of something and turned back and said, “Oh, by the way, I’d rinse that pot out if I were you.  I had bleach in it.”

            I wondered, but I didn’t ask.  Something for the trash after all.

Ed Hamilton

May 24, 2005

Dylan is 64

Bob Dylan turns 64 today, but I'm not going to do an extensive blog about his relationship to the Chelsea because, as they mentioned in yesterday's New York Time's article, "he is a shill for Victoria's Secret."  Instead, I'll dwell on his cat Smoke who either ran off or went up in smoke, depending upon whose story you believe, during the fire that Edie started in her room. 

In the spirit of Smoke, today's Slice of Life is about those crazy hotel cats.

There’s a big orange cat that comes in our window from the fire escape—which it uses to travel between floors.  One time it got into our room late at night without our knowing it, and just went to sleep amidst all the dusty papers and boxes under our bed.  At the break of dawn it clambered out on the opposite side of the bed—near the wall—scaring the hell of both of us.  We thought a rat must be climbing into bed with us.

There’s no rats in the hotel, as far as I know, but there are plenty of mice.  Lately we’ve set out glue traps, so we have to be careful and not let any domestic animals into the room.  But one time in the middle of the night I had to go down the hall to the bathroom, and, half asleep, I opened the door and a little gray cat darted into the room.  She went straight for the glue trap under the bed—a big one for rats, those are the best—and got stuck in it straightaway.  Howling and thrashing, she leapt wildly about the room, crashing into furniture, until she finally dislodged the glue trap, at which point she darted from the room and sped away down the hall.  I turned on the lights and found the glue trap: the cat had left behind three perfect paw prints, framed in thick gray fur.  At least that kept her away for a few days, though now she won’t let me pet her anymore.

This little gray cat runs into rooms all the time, especially tourist rooms, and gets trapped inside.  Her owner then has to comb the halls, calling out the cat’s name, and listening for it’s piteous cries.  When she finally tracks it down, she has to call the front desk to get somebody to open the room and let the cat out.

We used to have a dog too, Gingie, a fat brown mutt.  Gingie had free reign of the hotel and would ride the elevator form floor to floor.  Whenever I opened a can of tunafish, I could always count on hearing Gingie’s scratch on my door—though it would usually come about an hour later, when the tunafish was long gone.  After this happened several times, I learned to save a small portion for her.  Poor Gingie, alas, has long since joined the ranks of the Chelsea ghosts.
Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

May 17, 2005

On the Nod

Coming back from the deli, a bag of muffins in one hand and a tray of coffees in the other, I rounded the corner to the elevator just as it was opening. There was a man in a black leather jacket in the back corner of the elevator, head down, slumping forward, on the nod.  Without thinking, I stepped into the elevator, and as soon as I was fully on, he fell right into me.  “Shit!” he yelled, loudly.  Luckily, he caught himself just as he hit me; I couldn’t have caught him because my arms were full.  “Oh, sorry,” he mumbled.

The desk clerk had seen what had happened and he called out, “Hey, what’s going on in there?!  Everything all right in there?!”

“Yeah, it’s OK,” I said.  I hit the button for my floor and up we went.  The guy in the leather jacket had apparently slept through his floor the first time he went up, and had ridden back down to the lobby.  Now he remembered what he was doing and hit his button: 4.

“Sorry, man,” he apologized again, seeing the coffee slopped out on my jacket.  “I just forgot what I was doing.  I’m really forgetful sometimes.  I just woke up and I haven’t had my coffee yet.”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” I said.  “I know what you mean.”

“It was one of those senior moments,” he said, laughing.  He was probably in his mid-thirties.  “It could happen to anybody,” he said as he got off.

Yeah, anybody who shoots heroin.
Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

May 10, 2005

Cowboy Doc

We used to have a doctor in the Chelsea.  I needed a flu shot one fall, and, since I had seen his fliers in the elevator, I went to his office, on the first floor.  It was eleven in the morning.  It took him a long time to answer the door, and when he did, a cloud of pungent, exotic smoke wafted from the room.  The doctor wore army pants and a t-shirt, and spoke in a southern drawl.  Classic rock was playing on his stereo.  Though his office hours began at nine, he said he had just got out of bed.

I believe I must have been one of his first patients, and he showed me around the office proudly.  He had remodeled the place to look like an old-time doctor’s office, complete with antique equipment, like apothecary cabinets and examining tables from the fifties, all very cool. (There’s a particular Chelsea aesthetic that many residents seem to share: grandly trashy, worn chic, whatever you want to call it, and he had that down.)  I was impressed.

            I told him I was a writer and he said he’d written a novel: a sort of combination of star wars and the occult, and I lied and said I’d like to read it.  I got the flu shot, and he called me back several times afterwards to make sure I hadn’t had a bad reaction.

Soon after that, somebody took to defacing the fliers he had put up in the elevators, writing “Cowboy Doc” all over them, among other things.  I thought that sucked.  (There’s a dark side to the Chelsea: wherever you have a lot of creative people, there are bound to be some who are bitter about their careers not quite panning out.)  The flu shot worked, however: I didn’t get sick all winter.

I kept meaning to go back and visit him, but I never go to the doctor unless I absolutely have to, and so it wasn’t until the next fall that I ventured back to his office.  He wasn’t there, but the door of his office was open and movers were carrying out all of his antique doctor’s equipment.  He just never got enough business.  Though to my mind he fit right in, probably for a lot of people he didn’t really inspire confidence as a doctor.

I remember our conversation the day I got the flu shot.  He said he had been trained as an all-purpose doctor by the army, and he gave me a long list of specialties in which he had attained competence.  The one I remember was “Emergency Psychiatric Intervention,” and I told him that sounded like it should go over pretty well at the Chelsea.
Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

May 03, 2005

Run

The ancient, groaning elevator is one of the best places in the hotel to meet interesting people.  In fact, you may get to know them better than you’d like to, if, as occurs with some frequency, the elevator breaks down between floors.  One day last week I was in the elevator with Maurice, a classical pianist.  We had just gotten on in the lobby, and the door was nearly closed, when an arm shot into the small crack, and the door sprung back open again.  A young man bounded onto the elevator.  Tall and muscular, he was dressed in an expensive track suit, gold jewelry.  His eyes were wide, the pupils dilated, and he was manic, hyperactive, gesticulating wildly as he spoke in a non-stop stream: “I’m looking for Walter in 536.  I really need to talk to him.  I’m supposed to be staying at his place, and he knows this but I don’t know where he is.  He was supposed to let me in.  I’ve been looking for him all day and I can’t find him.”  Despite his crazed aspect, I thought I detected a note of cunning in his eyes.

“I don’t know him,” I said.

“I don’t either,” Maurice said.

“A short, balding man, with glasses.  Room 536.  You couldn’t miss him.  Have you lived here long?  You look like you have.  You must know him.  I’ve got to find him. It’s very important.”

We assured him once again that we didn’t know Walter.

“If you see Walter, you’ve got to give him my message.  It’s very important, please see that he gets my message.”  He got off on the fifth floor, apparently to wait for Walter.  I noticed that somehow, for all that, he had forgotten to say what the message was.

When the door had closed and we were safely underway, I laughed and said, “Well, I guess if I ever meet Walter, I’ll give him the message.”

“Oh, I know Walter,” Maurice said.

“You do?”

“Sure.  He’s a poet.  Room 536, like he said.”

“So are you going to give him the message?”

“Yeah, I’ll give him the message: Run.”


Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton

April 26, 2005

Performance Artist versus Beat Poet: Last Round Before the Old Folks Home

Sunday’s quiet was interrupted by two aged bohemians who resorted to fisticuffs to settle a dispute over elevator access.  The P.A. was already on the elevator when the B.P.  attempted to get in, along with his bicycle.  The P.A. blocked his entrance and told him to wait for the next elevator.  (The elevators take forever.)  The B.P. tried to force his way on at which point the P.A. called him a “stupid old woman.”  This riled the B.P. who threw his bike at the P.A. and spat upon him.  This would have devolved into an even uglier bout had not a fashion designer run out and told them they were both acting like little kids and shamed them into ceasing.  One of them took the stairs.  This was only the latest round in a long standing feud.  The feud is not over literary or artistic matters, as far as I know.

Note:  The Slice of Life stories are fictional. All characters and events herein are likewise
fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or events are purely coincidental. No animals were hurt during the creation of these stories.  Copyright Ed Hamilton 2006