An old Chelsea babysitter writes:
Though I never lived at the Chelsea Hotel myself, I used to babysit for a young couple who lived there back in the early nineties. They were not artists. The man was an engineer and the woman owned a small business and I’m not sure why they chose the Chelsea. Perhaps because they liked to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle (they had an active social life) or maybe they wanted to be thought of as artistic or daring. Or maybe just because it was cheap. That’s the only thing I can think of. I was a teenager at the time, and since they were gone all the time I babysat for them nearly every day one summer, and they went out a lot at night too.
Their little boy was six or seven years old. They were very protective of the child, and tried to keep him away from the dubious characters that roamed the halls of the Chelsea, and they were always complaining to Stanley about somebody doing something immoral. In fact, that’s probably why they hired me, because I came from outside the hotel.
Now, what I’m going to say is the God’s honest truth, though the couple won’t admit it and they called me a liar to my face, but one night they had gone out to a cocktail party and they came home really late with another couple and they were all talking and joking around out in the stairwell. I wanted to leave and I was waiting to get paid. The cocktail party was in the hotel I think, or at least there was some sort of party on one of the lower floors. All I know is it was really loud. They lived on the tenth floor.
The boy, for obvious reasons I don’t want to say his name, came out in his pajamas. When we noticed him we all said, what are you doing out here, go back to bed, but he wouldn’t. Instead he went to the railing of the stairs and looked up at the skylight. He just kept looking up and finally he said, “Mommy, who is that man up there?” His parents just laughed and said, “Oh, what are you talking about?” But instead of dropping it, the boy became increasingly excited, pointing and screaming: “Mommy, why is that man up there?!” “There’s nobody up there honey,” his mother said. “That man! That gray man up there!” “There’s nobody up there,” his father said sternly. “Get back to bed.”
Then the boy got quiet. He kept staring at the skylight, but he was quiet. I probably should have taken him to bed, but it was late and I really wanted to get paid and go home. “He’s just tired,” the parents said to their friends, who said their goodbyes and got on the elevator and went down. But while we were distracted watching them leave the boy had somehow managed to climb up on the railing and stand there, I don’t know how he did it, balanced on the top rail.
Luckily, they saw him. “Oh my God!” they said. “What are you doing?!” the mother said, and the father grabbed him back down from there before he could jump or fall. The boy started shaking and shivering all over as they both held him, almost having an epileptic fit, and he peed in his pants. The parents were drunk and had been smoking pot I think, but that really sobered them up quick. I didn’t even get my money that night but I guess after that I forgot about it and really just wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible.
Like I said, they say I’m a liar about this. But what they can’t deny is that their son changed after this incident. I can’t prove anything but I personally think he was possessed by some kind of spirit that night. He was a really sweet kid before but after that he was either like a zombie or else he would go into a violent rage. They told me to keep sharp objects locked up and not to let him out of my sight and not to go anywhere. They were keeping him locked in his room at night because he would try to sneak out and one time he turned on all the burners on the gas stove and almost killed them all. When you took him out him out you had to hold onto him because he would go for the railing, not rushing for it but like pulled to it in a trance. And he was strong too. A couple of times he got away from me and tried to climb up onto the railing, whether to jump or what I don’t know, but I was able to pull him back down and get him into the elevator thank God. I don’t know if he was trying to get to the man or to throw himself over but it was clear that if he kept doing it he would fall eventually. Darkness was bad, but an overcast day was the worst. He tore his room all up when he went into his violent rages and he graffitied all over the walls in crayons in gibberish or an unknown language.
After a few days of this I wanted to quit but the parents begged me to stay and said they couldn’t get anyone else. These days they would probably say the child had ADD, and they got a doctor and medicated the child and it kept him quiet but he still couldn’t be left alone or he would go out into the hallway and head for the railing. I lasted about two weeks, it was not worth the money even though they agreed to pay me double.
Now I’ve done some research on this issue since then and this type of possession is never straightforward. (Though I was a babysitter then I went on to get a college education and studied psychology and parapsychology.) The boy was smart and he knew what was happening to him in a way though understandably he would often become confused and I think this was the source of his violent rages. Sometimes he thought that adults were trying to lead him to the railing or even to throw him over. He would scream and run away and hide in his room. I guess in these instances he was not possessed and maybe he even thought the adults were the Gray Man. When he was like this then you couldn’t get him out the door for anything.
I mention this because of what happened next. I was trying to take him out to the dentist one day. His parents were stupid for making me do this but they insisted because they wanted to pretend that nothing was wrong. I knew better by this time and I kept a tight grip on the boy and kept my body between him and the railing as I steered him toward the elevator. This time though he didn’t go into a trance like usual and try to make it to the railing. Instead as soon as we got near the railing he started screaming hysterically and struggling against me. I held on and told him to shut up as I pushed the elevator button. But he bit my hand and got free and ran back to the room and started struggling to open the door, turning the handle and pulling and pushing against it. Of course it was locked but he started screaming at me and cursing me, calling me a fucking bitch and every other name in the book, telling me to open the door and let him in or he’d kill me. Alright that’s it, we’re not going anywhere I thought, and I got the key out of my pocket and opened the door. He burst in and before I could get in he grabbed the door and slammed it on me. I got my body in the way and stuck my foot in the door so he couldn’t close it all the way but he was freakishly strong and I couldn’t push it open. He got the chain on somehow and he ran back into the apartment. I couldn’t just leave him in there because who knows what he was going to do so I tried to stick my hand in and get the chain off. When he saw that he ran at the door but I had my foot in it and though it hurt like hell he couldn’t close the door. Where he got the scissors I’ll never know, but the next thing I know he stabs me in the hand! I screamed and pulled my hand out and my foot too, and he slammed the door and threw the dead bolt.
So then I was standing there bleeding and I didn’t know what to do. I was bleeding profusely and I couldn’t even leave to go to the hospital because what if the kid got out and killed himself? Or killed himself in there? I tried calling for him in my confusion, begging him to open the door but of course that did no good. Finally I banged on all the neighbors doors and finally somebody opened up and gave me a rag to wrap my hand in. I told the lady to call the mother at work and she came home and tried to act like it was no big deal and I was the one who was crazy and caused the problem in the first place. I don’t think anybody believed her, but still! I was the one who was trying to help! I had to get five stitches in my hand at the hospital.
There was no way I was going back after that, and I told them they should get the child institutionalized. They didn’t appreciate that one bit but there wasn’t much they could say after the kid had just stabbed me. The man paid me, overpaid me by several times, trying to pay me off I guess, to buy my silence and it’s true I didn’t say anything to anybody for nearly a year after that and by that time they had already left the Chelsea. And New York, I think. The reason I didn’t say anything was not the money but because they made me feel like I was crazy for even mentioning it. I was just seventeen, remember.
They got another babysitter, a girl in her twenties who I knew from school, and the kid drove her crazy. She started taking drugs, maybe she had been taking them before, and eventually she had to get psychiatric help. I think she may have even spent some time in a mental hospital. The couple tried to blame her for their child’s condition, saying she was a junkie, but she had nothing to do with it since like I said the child was like that before. I feel more sorry for her than for anybody to tell you the truth. Except for maybe the child. He was supposed to start school in the fall, but they held him back and I doubt he was ever normal again.
Since then I’ve often thought of the Gray Man, wondered who he was, perhaps the ghost of someone who committed suicide by throwing himself down the stairwell. Or maybe a more elemental spirit, a sort of evil pied piper of children. When I asked the boy one time who the Gray Man was, he said he was smoke. I don’t know whether this makes any sense or not, but this was when the boy was in a good, or rational state of mind. The parents and their child disappeared into middle America and obscurity, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the Chelsea as possible. The boy would be in his early twenties now which is typically when a dormant mental illness manifests. I assume they’ve had him on medication all this time, but now that he’s an adult what if he decides to stop taking it as often happens? There was a powerful attraction working on him, that I know, pulling him toward that railing and that skylight. And so I have to ask, is this paranormal force still drawing him to the Chelsea? Will he return to the scene of his childhood and his lost innocence? And what form will his madness take in adulthood? It seems only time will tell.
Wow, this place is even scarier than I thought. Junkies and schizophrenics are one thing, but elemental spirits are more than I can handle. Almost makes me want to live in the suburbs! And this woman seems pretty authoritative too; after all, she’s studied parapsychology. Keep your doors locked tonight! (Ed Hamilton)
Monday, Oct. 30, 7:00 p.m.
Ray Sette, whose book, The Planets Align So Rare, examines the ancient art of astrology, will give a seasonally enjoyable reading at the Half King on the day before Halloween. Sette’s book explores the human potential in its relation to and its various dimensions within astrology. Sette will entertain the audience even further by giving us astrological readings! Free.
The Half King, 505 WEST 23RD STREET, NY NY
TUESDAY OCT. 31, 10:00 pm
SUSANNE BARTSCH INVITES YOU TO OUR CHURCH HALLOWEEN co hosted by MONSIGNOR KENNY KENNY masters of sermon: LARRY TEE, RYAN & GUEST DJ'S SAINTS: DIRTY MARTINI, THEODORA, ASTRO, KIM AVIANCE, LADYFAG, AMBER RAY, MUFFIN, IGGY, BRANDON, LAVINIA, JUN, NICKY LONDON, JULIE ATLAS MUZ & MORE. MOTHER SUPERIOR: AMANDA LEPORE: GATE KEEPERS: ADAM & CYNTHIA
AVALON, 20st & 6 (Back at Happy Valley Next Week)
Tuesday, Oct. 31, 7:00 p.m.
It's the 33rd Annual West Village Halloween Parade. A couple of friends from the McBurney Y enjoy last year's parade. On 6th Avenue from Spring Street to 21st Street
Friday, Nov. 3, 8:00 p.m.
Ballet Hispanico offers an interesting program featuring Palladium Suite — an affectionate flashback to the larger-than-life characters who filled the original Palladium nightclub in its red-hot prime.
The Joyce Theatre, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, NY NY
Nov. 3rd, 4th, and 5th, 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
It's WFMU's annual record fair. Not only can you purchase rare records from more than 200 vendors you can hear live music and catch their awesome DJ's in action. Well worth the $6.00 entry fee. Here's the complete schedule of events. Select events include: Sat. Nov. 4 from 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. Velvet Underground: Under Review Obscure footage, interviews, critical analyses, and some private Warhol footage. (85 min) WFMU is an independent freeform radio station broadcasting at 91.1 fm in the New York City area, at 90.1 fm in the Hudson Valley, and live on the web.
Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, between 6 & 7th Avenues
If you like a good horror tale for the Halloween season, but you’re tired of the refried Steven King pabulum that was bland as hell even the first time around, then Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the book for you. Most people wouldn’t even consider this a horror tale, and it’s certainly not horror of the jump-out-and-get-ya variety. The book is not even horror in the supernatural sense—no zombies of werewolves here--though it’s certainly suspenseful, and I for one have always been of the opinion that there’s enough horror in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people to scare Count Dracula half to death.
We’re not exactly in the mundane world here, however: in The Road we enter a familiar post apocalyptic wasteland in which the sun is blotted out by a gray pall of fallout that cloaks the land in a nuclear winter. All plants are dead and nothing grows; there are very few living mammals, human or otherwise, wandering about. Black ash coats the land, rivers run black, and when snow falls it is gray. Through this world we follow an unnamed man and his son as they make their way south—pushing a grocery cart filled with their worldly possessions along the titular road--to escape the increasing cold of the coming winter. Dirty and haggard, half-starved, they hunt for cans of food in farmhouses and handfuls of grain on the floors of barns, hiding in ditches when other humans come by, huddling under a tarp to sleep when it rains.
Anarchy has gripped the land: bands of bloodthirsty cannibals have sprung up to hunt those lucky, or perhaps unlucky, enough to have escaped the initial, unnamed, calamity. One of the scariest scenes of the book occurs when a band of these desperate characters pass by on the road a mere thirty feet from where the man and boy lie hidden:
When he raised up to look he could just see the top of the truck moving along the road. Men standing in the stakebed, some of them holding rifles. The truck passed on and the black diesel smoke coiled through the woods. The motor sounded ropy. Missing and puttering. Then it quit....They could hear the men talking. Hear them unlatch and raise the hood. He sat with his arm around the boy. Shh, he said. Shh....He raised his head to look and coming through the weeds twenty feet away was one of their number unbuckling his belt. They both froze.
The book goes on like this from start to finish, and it’s hard to put down. I read it all the way through over a two-day period, and I’m not really a fast reader.
McCarthy is very good at description and plotting, though not so good at characterization: the two main characters, the man and the boy, are mere symbols. Although the novel purports to explore the moral dimension of survival in a post apocalyptic world, it’s parameters are overly simplistic (there is, for instance, no examination of the moral structure of the cannibal society: they are just “evil”), and at the end we are left with a rather pat and predictable reaffirmation of convention moral values. This book is thus not for science fiction fans, who will feel like they’ve been here and done this countless times before. The Road is a trash novel for the literary set: it’s not great literature by any means, but it gives you a break from D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Wolfe and takes you on a hell of a frightening joy ride. (Ed Hamilton)
Well, the secret is officially out! Even The New Yorker knows the Chelsea Hotel is the entry point into hell. We used to get a goth punk or two in here maybe once a month to burn a candle in front of Sid's room. But now they're gonna be lining up down the block.
My first day in Hell is drawing to a close. They don’t really have a sunset here, but the fires seem to dim a bit, and the screaming gets more subdued. Most of the demons are asleep now, their pointy tails curled up around them. They look so innocent, it’s hard to believe that just a few hours ago they were raping and torturing us.
The day started off at a party at the Chelsea Hotel, where some friends were daring me to do something. The next thing I knew, I was in Hell. At first, it seemed like a dream, but then I remembered that five-Martini dreams are usually a lot worse. (MY FIRST DAY IN HELL, by JACK HANDEY) (via CherryRamone)
Larry the Ghost is perhaps the Chelsea's most famous resident spirit. Our Anonymous Hotel Chelsea Blogger # 3 interviewed several live residents in order to come to the following conclusions about Larry:
The main thing about Larry is that he never stops talking. This is upsetting to the other ghosts, because they're eager to tell their stories once they find someone who can hear/see them. But Larry always pushes his way to the front and starts lecturing in such a loud voice that the others can't get a word in. What he wants people to know, mainly is:
1) It's what's inside the Chelsea that's real. Everything out there, in the so-called city, is an illusion.
2) There was something there long before the Chelsea was built that is the source of the place's creative power.
3) It's not about the product--the specific art that's created; it's about the life that is led at the Chelsea Hotel. "That's what's important, man," says Larry.
Though skeptics in the world at large might say that the residents who claim to have encountered Larry are a bit on the batty side, we take solace in the wisdom of Larry himself: he would have no doubt as to whom was really crazy. (photo link)
We're always glad to be of help to folks in the neighborhood. Here's an e-mail from a reader who'd like to connect with someone who lives in the Chelsea.
I was walking west on 23rd Street yesterday (10/25) whistling along with a recording on my iPod of an amazing “Shakedown Street” from the Grateful Dead’s 10/25/79 show, and a blonde woman turned around a few times and looked at me. I thought she was going to tell me to stop whistling, but instead she asked if I was whistling Shakedown Street. (That surprised me; usually my whistling is unrecognizable.) She said something about seeing a Shakedown at Ventura in 1986 or 1987 (it was 1987 and I was also there). The woman exchanged waves with the guy closing Chelsea Guitars for the day, and turned into the Chelsea Hotel. I asked “do you live here” and she said “yes.”
If you recognize yourself, please contact this guy via Craigslist.
We always knew the Chelsea was filled with ghosts. There's just too many frustrated artists roaming the halls for it to be otherwise, too many lost souls with unfinished business. But leave it to our Anonymous Hotel Chelsea Blogger # 3 to bring a medium to the hotel in order to provide the definitivie proof of this otherworldy infestation. If you've ever felt the hairs on the back of your neck bristle as you've walked these halls late at night, then delve into this terrifying document at your own peril, for you may well see your deepest fears confirmed:
I remembered some more ghostly things that my "medium" friend saw at the Chelsea. We took a tour from first to top floor, so I'll try to remember everything she said was there (provided to you anonymously, of course):
Lobby: There are half a dozen to a dozen spirits hanging around the lobby, hoping every day that someone will notice them, but almost no one ever does. They're lonely and very anxious to be recognized.
Elevator: Definitely someone lurking in there, just watching from the corner.
A room on the 3rd floor, West End: Something terrible--a beating or murder--happened in the bathroom. Best not to go in there. Another friend who was with us ignored this warning and took a shower there, and found deep scratch marks on her chest afterwards.
Writer Sparkle Hayter, who lived for quite a while on the third floor had this to say about these findings: A hard drugs dealer lived there for a while (he was also into bestial porn, we later learned) and the cops came one day to say they had a report he was keeping a woman there against her will. After he left, a lot of star-crossed lovers stayed in that room – had wall-shaking arguments, soul-rattling arguments. When it was empty however, and I was away on a book tour, people would hear someone typing, on a typewriter in my room. I often saw the shadow of a crouched woman in a corner of my room late at night and heard weeping, when I walked towards it, she disappeared. Any connection?
And speaking of ghosts, you know about Sid haunting the east elevator? And about the man in the hat ghost (ask David Bard about the latter.)
Fifth floor, west end, one of the little halls leading north: An 1880s-era woman spirit, elegantly dressed, stands before a non-existent mirror touching up her hair, over and over, eternally. She's anxious about a meeting she's about to have.
One of the middle floors (6th?): A little boy-ghost in Thirties-era clothes kicked my friend in the shins hard enough to make her limp the rest of the way upstairs. She actually had a bruise there later.
A higher floor (7th or 8th), west wing pretty near the elevators: A spirit tried to lure my friend into a "womb-like purple room," telling her soothingly that she just needed to rest. My friend was sure that if she followed the spirit she'd be suffocated.
On one middle floor (I think), at the west end, someone had put up voodoo veves--colorful magic symbols--all over the walls, to counteract bad energy. My friend said the person had an excellent reason to do that, but that the veves weren't working.
Around the 9th floor or so, west end, narrow corridor (I think it was leading north), there was something so upsetting that my friend started crying and ran upstairs to get away from it.
In the cellar--in a corridor leading away from the back (perhaps that tunnel that's supposed to lead to 22nd Street) there's a primal, powerful force too scary for my friend to go near. Maybe that's what inspired DeeDee Ramone to put Sid Vicious' ghost down there in "Chelsea Horror Hotel."
Drifting through the halls is a young girl in a white Victorian-style nightgown, weeping helplessly and desperate to tell her story to someone. She tried to talk to my friend, but Larry, the famous hiptster ghost, kept interrupting.
As you can see, we had a great tour. (Interesting that she didn't mention seeing anything in the east half of the hotel, except in the cellar.) Overall, she said it was the most haunted building she'd visited in New York, except for the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. The list here looks pretty negative, but she said there were a wide range of spirits, good and bad, happy and unhappy. Also, she had the impression that many of them were able to come and go from the hotel. They weren't stuck inside the building. So it's apparently a crossroads for spirits as well as artists.
Anonymous Hotel Chelsea Blogger #3
The Chelsea has a reputation as being a welcoming haven for spirits--of both the living and the dead variety. We asked longtime resident Tim Sullivan what he knew about the ghosts who inhabit the Chelsea.
Tim is a big man, with a gray tuft of beard and brown hair—which you don’t usually notice since he almost always wears a baseball cap. A rock guitarist, Tim comes off as a regular guy, plainspoken, without pretension. When asked about the primal force that is reputed to inhabit the basement, he says, “That wouldn’t surprise me at all. Parts of that basement are like a cave. I’ve seen some really weird stuff down there.” He goes on to add, “This area is the lowest point on the island, marshland. Some people believe the Chelsea may be sitting on top of an ancient Indian burial ground.”
Tim discovered the Chelsea in the early eighties when he was checking out the Guitar store on the ground floor of the building. He looked into the lobby and sensed a weird energy; it drew him to the place, and when, a few years later, he had a chance to move in, he didn’t hesitate. “The Lobby has always had a very sad vibe,” Tim says, when asked of ghost sightings there. “It used to be filled with down-and-outers, drug addicts and punk rockers hanging out. This used to be a very bad neighborhood.” Tim believes that ghosts are just powerful memories. (And he doesn’t intend to leave one!) “It may be that the ghosts come with the guests,” he says, which would explain the more recent lightening of the vibe in the lobby. “Now this neighborhood is like Columbus Avenue,” Tim says. “Once they painted the lobby and brightened it up, it released the bad energy and a lot of the spirits moved on.”
We’re betting there are still more than a few left! Tim had three specific ghost stories to share with us:
In a room on the fourth floor, a tourist awoke late one night, sensing a presence. Getting up, she chanced to glance in an old mirror, and was startled enough to call the front desk and demand another room. “Oh my God!” she said. “Who lived here before? I looked in the mirror and saw an image of a woman who looked like Betty Boop!”
Though the tourist couldn’t have known, the desk clerk she spoke to did, and her words sent a chill down his spine. The room had belonged to an old woman named Tatianna, who had been a prostitute in her prime. She had indeed looked like Betty Boop, wearing the clothes of a flapper, the bobbed hair, and the old 1920s era hats. She had died 16 or 17 years prior to this incident.
“If you live here all the time you get used to the energy, so you may not see it as an apparition,” Tim explains. “Guests, on the other hand, can sometimes see the real spirit behind the energy.”
Tim doesn’t believe that Sid killed Nancy. He thinks instead it was a drug dealer named Rockets Redglare, a notorious bastard, who lived, coincidentally or not, in the room right next to the Betty Boop room. In any event:
After Nancy was killed, Stanley had her apartment split up between two other apartments so punks wouldn’t come around looking for it. He tried to rent the rooms out to people who didn’t know about the tragedy. I was visiting a couple in one of the apartments and I noticed that they had a room closed off, so I asked them what was in there. They said nothing, that they didn’t use the room at all and didn’t keep anything in there. They said that the room had a bad energy, and the wife said she had seen an eerie glow in there. They were Portuguese and had never even heard of Sid and Nancy.
The guy who lived in this apartment next tried to sublet it when he went to stay in France, but the woman he sublet it to called him as soon as he got there and said she absolutely refused to stay there another minute.
This next one doesn’t take place at the Chelsea, but it’s a good one, and it happened to Tim himself, so we include it:
I was at a friend’s house in California. He gave me my own room to sleep in. That night I dreamed that a big, stern-faced old man, dressed in black, was sitting on top of me, pushing down on my chest. I awoke screaming, really terrified. I didn’t mention it to my friend at the time, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought about it for three or four months. When I finally mentioned it, my friend said it sounded like his grandfather, who had been a preacher in life, in a Holy Roller church. The old preacher had been sleeping in that very same room when he died, and I had been there on the anniversary of his death as well, which my friend remembered because it had been Father’s Day.
I’m glad that old preacher isn’t floating around the Chelsea! Although, who knows, maybe he followed Tim here. This is a hotel after all, and ghosts, like guests, seem to be able to check in and out at will. So I don’t know about you, but I still plan to be on the lookout!
Tim Sullivan's latest CD is due out early next year. I don't think it will be about ghosts, but without a doubt it will be influenced by the rockin' supernatural energy of the Chelsea. So stay tuned to the blog, and we'll let you know and maybe even have a snippet for you to play.
Novelist Susan Swan visited the Chelsea last summer, staying in Thomas Wolfe's old room (you remember Thomas: he wrote "You Can't Go Home Again" in room 829). She considers Wolfe a literary father-figure, and, as you can see from the following story, her stay at the Chelsea was for her a profoundly spiritual experience.
Thomas Wolfe doesn’t knock. Why bother? He’s home. I hear his tubercular cough as he lets himself in. He floats through the wood and on down the curving vestibule until he is right where he wanted to be. Of course I scream and clutch the sheets to my chest. "It’s just me…a shade of my former self" His ghastly head inclines back and forth and I realize he is laughing at his own joke. Then he says: "Something feels amiss." I follow his eyes and say, "They divided your rooms in two. A musician lives in the other half. But I’ve got the best section. See? The fireplace still works." "Nothing like a fire." He stares at the silent blaze of my log. "Only those synthetic things give me the willies."
My Feet Hit The Floor with a Smack
I was raised to be the master of any social occasion. My feet hit the floor with a smack. Still clutching my sheets, I throw him a groggy stare: "Do you want a Scotch?" Again in the darksomeness, the silvery head moves back and forth: Yesssss.
Extending My Hospitality
I come back with a drink tray, the ice cubes in the tall glasses, sloshing and jangling. "You’re awfully quiet," I say. "Please talk--it makes me uncomfortable when people stare." He accepts his glass politely and sits down in an armchair by the fire. I seat myself on a nearby stool. "Forgive me," he says in a very faint voice. He has been gaping at me, trying to decide if he finds me attractive.
Thomas Wolfe on Me
He thinks the distracted look on my face suggests the abstracted devotion of a young nun. He can imagine a cowl draping my head. It’s a very literary way of looking at me, as you might well imagine.
A Shade of his Former Self
Frankly, Thomas Wolfe hasn’t had much success lately with his own writing. Did he mention that? He can’t concentrate long enough to start the flow. It takes all his energy just to hold himself together. Increasingly, he feels like someone lightened of every tissue and synapse.
Once his writing was synonymous with American prose. But today his books are an "undergraduate indulgence." He read that phrase somewhere and God, it stung. Today his name is so faded on the mattering map of American literature that it is no bigger than the bottom row on an ophthalmologist’s chart--the tiny letters that only those with perfect vision can see. Thomas Wolfe, not Tom, I say to young friends who haven’t read his novels.
His Size Thirteen Shoes
"Somebody came here last week and took away your shoes," I tell him. "They had to be yours. Size thirteen--a fan, I think." He sighs, the sound of his gratitude like a whoosh of traffic noise.
I, Too, Worry about my Reputation in American Letters
I, too, worry about my reputation in American letters. Especially now that my book had been savaged in the Times. Following a silence of 15 years, I had brought forth a new work and heard it dismissed as "inconsequential, plodding novel & neither original nor memorable. " Brittle & overwhelmingly self-pitying " had been some of the dismaying phrases. "At least they didn’t say I couldn’t write my way of a paper bag." Thomas Wolfe replies. "The only thing a writer needs to concern himself with is staying open to experience. If we aren’t vulnerable we can’t write."
Thomas Wolfe on the Writing Life
No one thinks about what happens to writers after they lose the attention of their public do they? Writers either peak early or last too long. And who, more than Thomas Wolfe, dares to argue? He was raised to win but now he says losing is the art writers need to master.
When Thomas Wolfe was a resident, Purdell Kennedy, the bell captain, was his best friend. Purdell would bring him free coffee with a dab of Scotch every morning and say, "A little hair of the dog, boy?" Poor Purdell, dead and gone so long now. He loves the hotel’s façade of rufous brick--its spidery balustrades and Victorian gables. How many nights did he cover the floor of his suite with manuscript pages? And sweat-stained shirts, fortified by raw gin? One thousand four hundred and eighty? Or was it only six hundred and two? And now he’s back to finish his manuscript.
His Last Masterpiece
He left the Chelsea in the summer of 39, planning to return to put the final touches on his last masterpiece. Instead he fell ill in Baltimore from acute pulmonary tuberculosis. To give him relief, the doctor bored a hole into his skull and fluid had spurted three feet into the air. Those were his biographer’s very words. He couldn’t remember what went on in the operating room. Just his brother remarking, "You’re going to be fine, boy." "I hope so, Fred," he’d replied. And look what happened!
Thomas Wolfe on His Critics
I can still remember every word of my last review. …Placental material--long, whirling discharges of words unabsorbed in the novel, unrelated to the proper business of fiction & raw gobs of emotion, aimless and quite meaningless jabber…" Thomas Wolfe stops. He realizes he is getting distraught. And once he starts, he can’t help himself. He can recall every word. They all do. We all, he corrects himself. "If only that critic could hear me now! I don’t have a clue how I lost my biblical cadences," he says. "But after all these years I am turning into a modernist like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. They were enemies of mine, you know."
"Time transforms everyone," I reply. "No reason to think you will be any different."
Thomas Wolfe Plans to Fix the Critics
My next book will reassert my old prominence. It’s going to be a living diaogical--is that the right term? I shake my head. "Dialogical."…a living dialogical mural that fictionalizes the life of every man and woman in Eastern America. I will go back to my old Biblical cadences and put in every beauteous cranny of the world I love. Do you believe me? I put up my hand in protest. "I think you should know that I read one of your old journals last night and it made me cry." I’m sorry."Look, no need to be modest with me. I know the passage off by heart." I begin to quote: ‘No one owes the writer anything for writing…he may regret the stupidity or ignorance that keeps his work unknown, but he must accept it as one of the possible conditions under which he must work.’
Ah, Now He remembered
Ah, now he remembered. He wrote those words as a young man. When he didn’t know better. I see his eyes move to his old desk. Surely, now that I have welcomed him so hospitably, he can get on with his writing. At least, that’s what I think he’s thinking. "Don’t you want to hear the rest?" I ask aware his attention is straying."Oh god, no," he says. I give him a sympathetic look. "You know, I think you need to hear it. I take another gulp of her Scotch: "’No one asked the writer to write…let him expect nothing’”. My voice quivers slightly over the word nothing and then I compose myself. He extends his silvery hand for another Scotch and says, "Thank God, I am still a sentient being in some respects at least." (to be continued next halloween)
Susan Swan is a novelist, journalist and one of York University's most prestigious public intellectuals. She is the author of six books of fiction including The Wives of Bath, a finalist for Ontario's Trillium and the Guardian Fiction Award in the UK.
Her most recent novel, What Casanova Told Me, was nominated for the 2004 regional Commonwealth Prize and as a Globe and Mail, Now Magazine and Calgary Herald best book for 2004. (more information on the reception to that novel can be found here)
The Whole Foods on 7th Ave. and 24th St. in Chelsea is a nightmare in many ways—please, don’t get me started!—but if you get there right when the doors open at 8AM it’s bearable. They have
good coffee at their coffee bar in back of the store, and a wide variety of hot teas. They have a good selection of muffins and scones in their bakery department, including, most importantly from my perspective, sugar-free ones. Since the closing of the much-missed Taylor Bakery on 18th a few years back, Whole Foods has been the only place in the neighborhood to find such items.
So you can imagine my consternation when, for two weeks running, the store didn’t have any sugar-free offerings. I finally complained to the bakery manager, a woman, that they seemed to have stopped carrying their sugar-free muffins and scones. I pointed out that they used to have a sugar-free cranberry muffin, but now they had something that looked just like it, but was labeled “Vegan Cranberry” and had maple syrup in it. She told me that that was the same muffin they had always carried, and that they had never carried a sugar-free cranberry muffin.
This wasn’t the first time they’d tried to discontinue the sugar-free products, so I had complained before. I knew that you had to keep after these people, because they’re always trying to put sugar into everything because it’s so cheap. In a sugar-free muffin they have to use costlier ingredients such as eggs and butter and cream—and fruit juice as a sweetener--in order to make it taste decent.
My girlfriend Debbie also called and spoke to the bakery. After being repeatedly put on hold, she finally got through to a man who identified himself as a bakery employee. He said that sometimes they ran out of ingredients—though it’s funny they never run out of sugar--and that he’d call her back once he found out what had happened.
Though he never did call Debbie back, a woman named Femima (possibly the same woman I spoke to) did call the next day. Femima explained that the muffins had been mislabeled all along, that in fact they had never been sugar-free, but had always contained maple syrup. That’s why the sugar-free cranberry muffin looked exactly the same as the vegan cranberry muffin: they were the same!
It’s the same with the “sugar-free” currant scones: never actually sugar-free, they are now labeled “No-sugar Added Currant Scones” and contain Agave Syrup (though that still sounds like they are adding sugar).
What’s more, it seems that in past instances when I complained that they had appeared to be discontinuing sugar-free products, it had been the same thing: they had just changed the labels to reflect the true ingredients. And when I raised a stink they just changed the labels back! How’s that for customer service?
Thankfully, I am not a diabetic. For someone who is, this mislabeling could lead them to eat something that could induce a potentially life-threatening condition. I don’t see why everything I eat should have to contain sugar. But really, my reasons for wanting to avoid sugar are immaterial: the bottom line is, Whole Foods shouldn’t be mislabeling their products.
Today we kick off our blog-of-horror week. Everyday, leading up to Halloween, we will be running ghost stories set in our favorite spooky, old hotel. So don't miss a single scare!
It’s well known that underground filmmaker Harry Smith was also a painter, folklorist and ethnomusicologist, and that he collected string figures and paper airplanes. Less well know is that, during his time at the Chelsea, Harry kept a Zombie. A disciple of uber-Satanist Aleister Crowley— whom he often claimed, much to his mother’s embarrassment, to be his real father—Harry was a consecrated bishop in the O.T.O., the Ordo Templi Orientis, a mystical order founded in Germany in 1902 and reorganized by Crowley in 1912. The order is fairly eclectic, embracing all world traditions of magic, and that’s what led Harry to the study of Voodoo. Traveling to Haiti in the sixties in order to fully immerse himself in the dark art, Harry soon attained the rank of Houngan, or Voodoo priest, amazing even seasoned practitioners with the ease with which he channeled the spirit of the powerful snake god Damballah Wedo.
Raising the dead, however, is another matter altogether, and it would take Harry the greater part of the next two decades to attain the competence necessary to negotiate the intricacies—and to avoid the myriad perils--of the arcane reanimation ceremony. (In Harry’s defense I should note that he did have a lot of irons on the fire.) Finally, by the end of the eighties, he was ready to give it a go. Knowing that the only place in New York that would tolerate such an abomination was the Chelsea Hotel, he made an appointment to see our illustrious proprietor, Stanley Bard, and he was moving his stuff into the Dowager of 23rd St. that very afternoon. Now, all Harry lacked was a suitable subject for his diabolical ministrations.
Luckily, in my early years at the Chelsea, there were still several residents around who remembered Harry and the Zombie, and by questioning them at length I have been able to reconstruct the events surrounding the Zombie’s tenure at the hotel. I spoke with a man—for obvious reasons he chooses to remain anonymous--who was involved in the actual ceremony, and what follows is an account, in his own words, of that terrible night:
At the time I was Harry’s disciple, so when he mentioned the idea to me I was all for it, since I figured with a Zombie slave around that meant less work for me. One night this deadhead dude came over, and Harry sat him down on the bed with a big bowl of reefer and a bottle of Jack. I had never seen the dude before and I don’t know where Harry picked him up. But while he was busy with the pot and the liquor, Harry went around lighting all the candles around his tiny junked-up room, dozens of them, stuck with melted wax onto every flat surface. Then he put on a ratty yellow robe and a cardboard headdress, and started chanting and dancing around, and it wasn’t long before he was possessed by the spirit of Daballah Wedo.
The deadhead didn’t seem to care, or even to really notice, what was going on, until Harry began to anoint him with cat’s urine and a greasy, foul-smelling pitch-like substance. “What the fuck, man!” the deadhead dude said. “Smoke some more reefer, dude,” Harry said. “Try some bong hits this time.” Harry drug a bong out from under the bed. It should come as no surprise that the bong was shaped like a skull, except this was a real skull, bored out and fitted with a pipe stem and mouth piece. “Try a couple of these Quaaludes, too,” Harry said. “OK, don’t mind if I do,” the deadhead said.
Harry pulled a cage containing a live chicken from under his bed, and grabbed the chicken out by the neck. It was squawking and flapping and making a hell of a racket, but Harry quickly put an end to that, holding it down and sacrificing it with a sacrificial knife on a sacrificial altar made from the cabinet of an old stereo speaker. “Alright, man! Fry it up!” the deadhead said. “I got the munchies like a motherfucker!” Harry squirted blood from the chicken’s all over the deadhead, and in general all over the room, and then he threw the headless chicken down and it ran around slamming into boxes and rolling in the cat litter. “Hey man, be careful with that thing!” the deadhead said. “Where’s the skillet. Put that shit on the stove.” Of course, Harry’s room had no kitchen, but that’s another story.
Producing a handful of white Zombie powder, Harry blew a huge puff of it in the deadhead dude’s face. The dude started sneezing wildly and blowing his nose on the blood-and-urine-stained sheets, but soon he grew quiet. “Far out man,” he said. “I’m hallucinating my ass off. Where can I get hold of some of that shit?” But soon he stopped speaking altogether and his eyes glazed over and he flopped back onto the bed. I then helped Harry to strip off the dude’s clothes and prepare his body for the final stages of the ceremony.
Now of course, as everyone knows, a Zombie must be buried in order to “die” and subsequently be reborn in his new incarnation as the living dead. And further, as anyone who has had to keep dead pets in their freezer knows, it is not easy to find a place to bury a mammal—even a small one--in New York City. Harry was able to accomplish this feat in the rooftop garden of the Chelsea. Although he caught hell from the woman whose tomato plants he uprooted, in three days time Harry was able to dig up the deadhead and reanimate him beneath the light of the full moon as a fully-functional Zombie. (As you might imagine, it was incidents such as this that led Stanley Bard to restrict rooftop access.)
Over the next few years, Harry used the Zombie to go out for beer and cigarettes and the occasional sandwich. Sometimes he sent him on more nefarious errands as well--I suppose that goes without saying—such as to stand in line at crack houses on the Lower East Side. Toward the end, Harry’s legs hurt him and he didn’t like to walk down the hall to the bathroom, so he took a dump in a plastic bag and had the Zombie take it to the trash bin late at night. The Zombie slept standing up in the hall closet, though sometimes Harry, a drug addict and somewhat forgetful himself, would leave the door ajar and the Zombie would get out and roam the hotel. One time he was discovered huddled in a corner of the basement, nearly catatonic, his eyes glazed, blood and gore caked on his face and arms, the remains of a devoured cat strewn about him. Stanley gave him a stern lecture and sent him back up to his closet.
Now you might wonder at this last incident, as you might well wonder why none of the other hotel residents seemed to notice that there was a ravening, bloodthirsty Zombie in their midst. Well, most likely, everybody who encountered him just thought he was a particularly down-and-out junkie. For in truth, the Zombie—whose name, by the way, was Paul--was actually quite a bit more cogent and well-put-together than many of the nuts who were running the halls of the Chelsea in those days. And besides, you know how self-involved these creative types can be.
Only the hotel maids, hailing as they did from Old World cultures steeped in mysticism, understood what was going on. They wouldn’t go anywhere near the Harry’s room, wouldn’t even clean the transient room next door to Harry. Godfearing Christian women, they held no truck in Voodoo. But eventually Stanley began to put pressure on them to clean the rooms in that corridor, as the area was beginning to smell like a privy on a hot August day. Pushed to extremes, the maids knew they had to act to wipe this ungodly scourge off the earth. Biding their time, they waited until one day when Harry had stumbled into his room and collapsed in a drug-induced stupor, and then, armed respectively with broom, feather duster, and bucket and mop, the three large, formidable women advanced into the dingy corridor to clean out once and for all Harry’s filthy den of perfidy.
Knowing enough to go after the master rather than his servant, the maids found Harry passed out on his bed, immobile and seemingly lifeless. They lit sacred deodorizing candles and took up their positions around the bed, chanting in the words of darkness forbidden by their religion of light. After several minutes of such noise, Harry still did not stir.
“He’s dead,” the maid with duster said, leaning over Harry.
“Don’t get too close!” the one with the broom cautioned.
The duster-wielder put her head to Harry’s chest. “There’s no heartbeat.” She poked him with her duster. “He’s dead! He’s dead!”
“He’s dead, he’s dead!” the two of them chanted, dancing about the bed, poking Harry repeatedly with broom handle and dust mop.
The third maid, wanting to get in on the fun, raised her sopping mop from the bucket. “Should I give him the holy water?”
“Yeah! Give him the holy water, sister!” the other two sang out.
And the third maid raised her mop from the bucket and swung it over her shoulder in a broad arc, strewing soapy brown water all about the walls and ceiling, and brought it down with a resounding SPLAT! right square in Harry’s face.
Sputtering and cursing, Harry sat bolt upright. His detailed knowledge of the occult allowed him to immediately intuit the gravity of the situation. Grimacing at the worst hangover of his life, Harry reached under his bed and then sprung to his feet. And then the tiny, bearded, gray haired man chased the three big maids down the hallway in his underwear, wielding a Ceremonial Aztec Dagger that he had stolen from the Met.
Harry’s anonymous disciple had this to add:
The problem was, they forgot to sacrifice the chicken! Can you believe it! Anybody knows that! For anything related to Voodoo you gotta sacrifice a chicken! In Voodoo you gotta sacrifice a goddamn chicken to get outta bed in the morning! What a laugh. Harry and I spent many a night howling with laughter at their ignorant gaffe.
In the end, however, the maids’ spells, amateurish as they no doubt were, seem to have weakened Harry. For he gave up the ghost not long after, famously singing, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying!” as he bubbled with excitement at the prospect of moving on to the next plane of existence.
Naturally, Harry made one final attempt to exercise control of the Zombie from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, he had spent too much time on filmmaking and ethnomusicology, and not enough time on necromancy. It’s a competitive art, and those who succeed in it these days are generally narrow specialists. Harry was one of the last of the Renaissance men, and ultimately he paid the price. Alas, his like will not soon be seen again.
After Harry was dead, as is well know, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs came to collect Harry’s papers and films and other artifacts. Among these items was Paul the Zombie, still holed up in the hall closet. Ginsberg, in an attempt to draw Paul back to the world of the living, attempted to coax him into a lotus position and persuaded him to chant a few mantras, but this had no lasting effect. Burroughs, on seeing someone so down-and-out that even he could draw no inspiration from his existence, finally decided to sell out, and the result was his infamous Nike commercial. In the end, not even these giants of literature could figure out what to do with Paul, so they just left him in the closet, where he seemed happiest anyway.
Although the rent on the hall closet was actually fairly low, especially since Chelsea was a depressed neighborhood at the time, Paul the Zombie could not afford it; still believing himself to be dead, he saw no reason to get a job. And so, after a few months of hounding him, Stanley had no choice but to have Paul evicted. Since then, in between stints in the mental hospital, Paul sleeps in a cardboard box on 22nd street, sneaking back into the Chelsea periodically, or, when he manages to save enough money through panhandling, checking into one of the more modest rooms for a night or two of ungodly revelry. (Ed Hamilton) (Zombie Photos -- here and here)
In the latest apparent triumph for the fans of gentrification, the Allerton Hotel on W. 22nd St. is rumored to have been sold to a developer for $17 million. It's not a very attractive building so of course the initial reports indicate that it will not be torn down. Though few will miss the scuzzy crew that hangs out in front of the building, the Allerton is a unique Chelsea institution with it's own bohemian history. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived in the Allerton briefly after a short stay in a loft on Delancey St. and before moving to the Chelsea. The Allerton is where Patti reportedly wrote "Sister Morphine." (via blogchelsea)
On the assumption that you live just across the street, I'd like to invite you to visit my apartment and share a free and frank exchange of views on the development of the Y (you might find our views on this more similar than you think). I've only lived in Chelsea for eight years, but I love this neighborhood too and would like to meet you, if you can bring yourself to face Imelda in the flesh! All best wishes, Cindy Gallop
Sure, we'd love to come over. But why should we alone share in your bounty? Why don't you host a cocktail party for 10 to 15 of our friends from the Old McBurney Y. We'll be more than happy to invite Christian Miller, and maybe you can tell him how to get us some of those monogrammed towels.
Tuesday, Oct. 24, 10:30 p.m.
Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny invite you to Happy Valley Tuesdays. SHOW: Ann Magnuson & Jer Ber Jones. DJ: Princess Superstar & Robbie D. Downstairs: Ryan & Kim Ann Hosts: Miranda Moondust, Kim Aviance, Theodora, Astro, Ladyfag & Amanda Lepore.
14 East 27th St. NY NY
Wednesday, Oct. 25, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. opening reception
"Cast A Cold Eye: The Late Works of Andy Warhol," draws together many of Warhol's most iconic paintings from the following series executed during the 70s and 80s: Mao, Ladies & Gentlemen, Hammer & Sickle, Skulls, Guns, Knives, Crosses, Reversals, Retrospectives, Shadows, Rorschach, Camouflage, Oxidation, The Last Supper, Self Portraits and more. Comprising of works from the last eighteen years of Warhol's life, "Cast a Cold Eye..." includes masterpieces that have been rarely or never before seen in New York.
Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th St., NY NY
Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.
Alesh DuCarmo performs an energetic celebration of song, drums, dance, and rhythm. Readers who belong the the McBurney YMCA will recognize DuCarmo as the Brazilian guy who shakes his booty in the aerobics classes. Well, tonight he's shaking his booty on stage. We've seen his show a couple of times and it's worth going downton to check out. (FREE)
Tishman Auditorium, 66 W. 12th St., NY NY
Thursday, Oct. 26, 6:00 - 10:00 p.m.
"Hotel Chelsea Series 2006," an exhibit by David Combs, AKA "The Guy Who Paints in The Lobby" or "Cowboy Artist" opens today. He's also been known to paint in the stairwell.
Chelsea Hotel, 222 West 23rd St., NY NY (Room 219)
Friday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. - 9:45 (Tours begin every 15 minutes) Obie award-winning Les Freres Corbusier transforms St. Ann's Warehouse into an authentic multi-chambered Hell House of horrors. Part installation, part performance, part haunted house, Hell House culminates in a celebratory hoedown with bands in the “Christian rock” tradition, punch, and a friendly game of “Pin the Sin on Jesus.” Alternately hilarious and horrifying, come celebrate like the true believers.
St. Ann's Warehouse, 38 Water Street, DUMBO Brooklyn
If you have an event that you want listed on All Tomorrow's Parties please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Tharpe, a neighbor who lives down the hall, and I decided to head down to the West Village to Sweet Rhythm to catch long-time Chelsea Hotel resident Sathima Bea Benjamin’s 70th birthday concert. And what a birthday party is was! (Learn more about Sathima at her website)
Sweet Rhythm is not your typical down in the basement, dark, dank, smokey jazz club. The club is at street level and has a modern airy feel, with exposed brick along one wall and large windows near the front of the club. Nearly all of the tables were full for the 8:00 set.
Sathima looked great! She stepped up to the stage dressed in an elegant black gown which featured a glittering neckline. Dangling ruby earrings and brillant red nails completed her look. Accompanied by her long-time band members, Victor Lewis on drums, Buster Williams on Bass, and Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano she opened the set with a series of classic love songs beginning with “Love’s Own Sweet Song,” and featuring a silky rendition of Ah, Sweet Mystery of Love. Drummer Victor Lewis was able to show his chops to an appreciative audience during Music is the Spirit. Sathima’s final song of the evening, a wonderful, heartfelt rendition of her own Africa, was a big crowd pleaser.
To cap it all off the band played Happy Birthday and the crowd, which included some of our celebrity neighbors -- Merle Lister, Storme Delarverie, Dalhia Weinstein and Nicky Nichols, who managed to get roped off seats in the VIP section – sang the loudest of all.
If you missed the show, buy her cd, SongSpirit. You can try it out first over on MySpace. (Photos courtesy of Stefan Cohen)
As some of you may have already heard, the fabulous Nicky is threatening to escape from NY! Though LA could certainly use him, we can't let Nicky leave the Chelsea! If Nicky goes, so goes all the fun and a lot of the hotness. Isn't the photo on the left the hottest resident picture ever? And, it's not just about Nicky. What about Wallace? He's dog-hot! Everybody always looks forward to Wallis' big birthday party. We hear that Stanley Bard has a "Keep- Nicky-Locked-in-the-Chelsea" petition at the front desk. Be sure to stop by and sign it. The bottom line is, it's just not fair that Nicky can leave, when the rest of us have to stay!
Even if you get a tattoo of the Chelsea, you still won’t have Artie Nash beat. He has two! Be sure to read page two of Artie’s interview or you’ll miss some exciting stuff like his encounter with the Mafia at Mamma Mia!, how he and Arthur Weinstein witnessed a gang riot and his obsession with beat writer Herbert Huncke. After reading his interview, we’re thinking of changing our name from “Outlaw Chelsea Bloggers” to the “Purse-Snatching Chelsea Bloggers.”
What do you do?
Well I'm essentially an independent curator, which may only mean I'm a frequently unemployed, frustrated artist type; but what I do essentially is assemble social history exhibits on topics that I find intriguing for one reason or other, possibly subjects that I've have had some more intimate connection with over the years, or both. So while my background is in art and antiques, in the past I've messed around with everything from club promotion to investigative reporting to --this is my personal favorite-- I once ghost-wrote a NYC dining column for a critic who hadn't digested solids in about twenty years. But these days I tinker with the historical objects, creating what I hope are meaningful juxtapositions between them and then try to find an audience that does, as well.
Tell us about “Made in America”
"M.I.A." is the first (that I'm aware of) public exhibition strictly on the topic of the Mob, and its a three dimensional retrospective on the impact and significant influence that this breed of criminal has had on U.S. pop culture since they were 'reborn' in 1931 as a truly 'organized' outfit bent on subjugating the law, hand in hand, on a broad scale. And to illustrate this "M.I.A." showcases the genuine artifacts, documents, photographs and ephemera that help to retrace this rich tradition of corruption. We're a society whose rate of violent crime outstrips virtually every civilized nation on the globe, and we're a country that has as many different types of criminals as we have crimes. Yet from the ranks of robbers, murderers, rapists, arsonists, pedophiles, bunco artists and so forth, there's really only one variety of bad-guy that captivates us to no end, and thats the gangster class. None of those other guys, really. You're not very likely to spot a kid on the street sporting a t-shirt that reads 'Purse Snatcher'. Instead, its 'Wiseguy'. Its the outlaw who we find irresistible. I mean, you two aren't just run of the mill bloggers--you're 'Outlaw' bloggers, right? With one word, you've imbued this avocation with a promise of adventure. So the gangster folklore really saturates our everything -- our publishing, our films, our airwaves, our culture. For reasons not well understood, and I'm certainly not sitting on whole answer, there is something in the perceived makeup of a gangster that has huge appeal to the masses. We as Americans tend to yield to the type of personality who challenges real authority, who takes what he wants without apology. (Photo: Abel Ferrara at MIA)
How’d you score your apartment?
Stanley took pity on me, basically. Is there any other way? He'd just turned away a couple of pretty good names, so nothing was for certain. And I've blown through a couple of apartments since then; the first was on the second floor, two twenty six, then Stanley put me up on nine, a big corner room that I liked much more, real peaceful except for the occasional electric guitar jam in the hallway at 2 am, with fast creeping, very agressive ivy invading from every direction. And an upright piano, which was nice. I don't play but found it was a really good place to stash things and it kept the cats entertained, usually whenever I was trying to get a nap in. I shared a bath with Rene Ricard for awhile, that was interesting. At least. He loved my room, he said; the good light, the relative silence, then assured me that 'only the very best people' had committed suicide there. That part had me worried for awhile, a couple of weeks, but fortunately it was all bullshit. Its true the light was good. Anyhow, by August the ivy had become dessicated and Stanley decided to renovate my place, so thats how I scored the room I'm in now, in what--it's been written--was one of Bob Dylan's first. I think it used to be bigger. I don't get any of Bob's junk mail, but a writer from SNL had this apartment before me and a few weeks ago Colin Quinn called up drunk from the lobby. Which was no consolation.
Do you think the Chelsea has a creative spirit?
Without question. There is real magic in this place. I would say "ask anybody" but its hard to explain, you either get it or you don't. I've brought friends of mine here who couldn't wait to leave. This past week there was some creep in the lobby complaining to Stanley that the Chelsea wasn't what he 'expected' from a four star hotel, or whatever. Bard had the cops on the guy so I'm thinking to myself 'god only knows where he spent the night.' And then there are those for whom nothing needs be explained. If you're open to it, you can get caught up in a creative undertow here, that pulls you in directions that aren't familiar. Or not.
What’s your favorite Hotel Chelsea story?
Personally I never tire of the story about a certain popular actress with the initials AJ on the ninth floor all hours to catch the H train. But there's always a new favorite around the corner.
Can you tell us about your future projects?
Sure. Right now I'm developing two other social history exhibits, and one of them is on the topic of Capital Punishment from the turn of the century, essentially since executions were permanently removed from public view in the face of the abolitionist movement. It will include rare unpublished Photography, important documents tracing its evolution and then, of course, the actual implements of death--for instance the electrocution chair from Tennessee where Maurice Mays is said to have been wrongly executed in 1922, and a lethal injection machine that malfunctioned while in use here in the northeast. It only came to this collection after the State that owned it refused to pay the repair bill.
According to a recent article in USA Today, hotels are spending billions on upgrades. Here at the Chelsea, we do seem to be upgrading gradually, but this mainly involves just getting decent furniture in some of the rooms. Back in the 90s we replaced the florescent lights and the checkerboard linoleum in the halls, so I guess that counts for something too.
The article goes on to note that, as hotels upgrade, oldtime features are abandoned, things such as:
Floral, synthetic bedspreads: Yes! We still have them! And they are more hideous than you can imagine. (Photo: A tourist relaxing on her floral bedspread.)
Toilet Seat Sanitizer Bands: never seen them here, nor sanitized toilets either, for that matter.
Ashtrays: we have clear glass ones, and I still see them floating around from time to time. (Note the glass ash tray on the table in the tourist's photo)
Wake-up calls from real people: nope, they’re automated here.
Brass room keys: we still have them.
Postcards and Stationary: you would have to ask for stationary at the desk, and they may or may not give it to you, depending on what kind of mood they are in. Good luck getting a postcard.
Windows that open: we still have these, unless they have been painted shut.
Logo Towels: are you kidding!?
Wall Mounted hair dryers: you have to ask for a hair dryer at the desk. I have seen people get them on rare occasions when they were very insistent.
Shoehorns, sewing kits, shoe buffers: I believe I’ve seen a Chelsea shoe buffer. I actually own a Chelsea shower bonnet!
It’s pretty much hit and miss here. But all in all, we are doing pretty well, I suppose, for a hotel that didn’t have computers until 1999. (Ed Hamilton)
A middle-aged woman and her two teenage daughters had checked into the room next door to us at the Chelsea Hotel. The woman, blond, Midwestern, overweight, was cheerful and seemed open minded—good qualities to have around this place. Speaking to her in the hallway outside her room, I had to draw her out a little bit to get her to talk about her impression of the hotel. After I got to know her a little bit, I asked, “So how do you like this place?”
“It’s kind of idiosyncratic, isn’t it,” she said, tentatively.
“I’ll say! Although ‘Insane’ is more the word that comes to mind.”
“Well, that’s not exactly what I meant,” the woman said. “The people here have certainly been very nice. I was referring more to the physical state of the hotel.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of run down.”
“Mmm hmm. They showed me another room before I took this one, but for one reason or another it was unacceptable.
“Surely it couldn’t have been any worse than this one,” I said.
The woman looked at me askance. “Well, I hate to say anything, since you live here.”
“Oh come on, tell me,” I prodded her.
She kept her voice low. “They didn’t see it,” she whispered, indicating her daughters in the room behind her. “It was a nice room, nicer than this one, clean, and it had its own bathroom, which was a definite plus.”
“That’s for sure,” I said. The room she was in now shared a bathroom with our room and two others.
“But there were condoms scattered on the bed,” she continued.
“Oh no!” I exclaimed.
“No, listen, let me finish. I didn’t mind that. They were unopened. And my first thought was: Oh, that’s so sad, the poor people didn’t even get to have sex. But isn’t that nice of the maid to leave them for the next guest.”
“Yeah, that is,” I said.
“And then I looked on the floor on the other side of the bed and saw the USED ones!”
I cracked up laughing, and the woman, too, was unable to stifle her laughter. Hearing us, one of her daughters called out, “Mom, what are you doing out there?!”
We chuckled a bit more quietly. I asked, “Now was it Stanley who showed you this room?” I was rather hoping that it had been. Stanley Bard is, of course, our illustrious proprietor.
“Oh no, it was just one of the bellmen.”
“And did he see the condoms?”
“Yeah. He didn’t bat an eye,” the woman replied. “He just shrugged his shoulders and brought me up to this room.” (Ed Hamilton)
Monday, Oct. 16, 11:00 am - 9:00 p.m.
The Shake Shack begins its new fall hours, which means it will be closing earlier and offering some new custard flavors. After reading this article about the "Shack of Grime," you may prefer to stop by Taco Bell.
Madison Square Park, 23rd & Madison, NY NY
Tuesday, Oct. 17, 8:00 & 10:00 p.m.
"South Africa's greatest jazz singer" and Chelsea's own Sathima Bea Benjamin is performing two sets to celebrate the release of her new album, SongSpirit!.
Sweet Rhythm, 88 Seventh Ave, NY NY -- Cost: $20, $10 drink minimum
Tuesday, Oct. 17, 10:30 p.m.
Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny invite you to Happy Valley Tuesdays. Show: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet DJ: Ryan, Kim Ann, and Nita. Hosts: Miranda Moondust, Kim Aviance, Theodora, Astro, Ladyfag & Amanda Lepore.
14 East 27th St. NY NY
Wednesday, Oct. 18,
For the right price, Anastacia is willing to part with her see thru tiger top designed by Zaldy.
Thursday, Oct. 19, 9:00 p.m.
Seats to "Guilty Pleasures," Norman Gosney's new burlesque show sell out quickly so contact Norman or Amelia to get your password and reservation ASAP. (photo by Linda Troeller)
Friday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m.
For our readers in Texas, Anders Bransen's film Le Mis Popote will be shown at 24fps short film + video festival.
Paramount Theatre, Abilene, Texas
Saturday, Oct. 21, Tours begin every half hour from 7 pm to 10 p.m.
It's never too early to start getting your scare on. This week we recommend the Grim, Gruesome & Ghostly: Tour "Manhattan's Most Haunted House" by candlelight. Ghost storytellers will recount true tales of spirited happenings at "Manhattan's Most Haunted House."
Merchant's House Museum, 29 East 4th St., NY NY
Sunday, Oct. 22, 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Attendees of the GLADDOut Auction will have the opportunity to bid on more than 140 pieces of unique art including a print donated by Rachel Cohen. This organization is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation
Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, NY NY
If you have an event that you want listed on "All Tomorrow's Parties" please e-mail email@example.com
Double Exposure recently interviewed the Chelsea’s own Lothar Troeller. Lothar got his first camera at age seven and never looked back. He met his wife Linda in Salzberg where she was teaching. Linda asked her students if they wanted to participate in her new project, “Erotic Lives of Men” and Lothar was the only one daring enough to volunteer. (Those other guys really missed out!) He came to New York in 2001 to ease our shortage of math teachers, and was soon reunited with Linda. For the past five years Lothar has been working on a book of photographs of Linda, and a smaller project of cell phone images. He and Linda plan to open a gallery, called Room 914, in the Chelsea Hotel sometime in the future. The Gallery will show the couple’s own work, and give international photographers a place to exhibit as well. It sounds like a great idea—and what better place for it than the Chelsea?--so stay tuned to the blog, and we’ll give you more details as soon as we learn them. (Photo: Lothar at age 9)
Our guy in Australia has come through with this fabulous footage of Jobriath tickling the ivories and talking about the Chelsea's creative spirit. Jobriath is credited as being the first mass-marketed glam rock star, and the first to be openly gay. This clip is from Nigel Finch's 1981 BBC documentary. Jobriath spent his last days living in the pyramid at the top of the hotel until he died of AIDS in 1983.
Yikes! You’d think that bed bug worries would be horror enough! The Conrad Hotel in Chicago is showing classic horror movies such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” on Sundays and Mondays in October. A program like this would not go over so well at the Chelsea, as it would hit too close to home. We have real ghosts and monsters stalking us through the halls of this hotel. Beginning Tuesday, October 24, "Living with Legends" will present daily accounts – from guests and residents a like – of the various ghoulies, poltergeists and apparitions that have haunted the Chelsea over the years. Highlights include: the report of a medium who recently explored every floor of the hotel looking for psychic activity; the tale of a child possessed by a spectre haunting the tenth floor skylight; an account of the time that underground filmmaker Harry Smith attempted to reanimate a corpse; reported sightings of the Betty Boop ghost; and for comic relief, video of Miss Amelia performing her rendition of “Dracula.” Be there and be scared. If you have a ghost sighting to report send it to firstname.lastname@example.org (Photos: bluehour and Chelsea Hotel ghosts)
It’s getting ridiculous to see the extent these fuddy-duddy hotels will go to show they’re rock-and-roll, now that old rockers have money to spend. Here’s an article about a really rockin’ hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, of all places. They have a list of all these over-the-hill rockers like Ozzy and Jon Bon Jovi and Neil Diamond who have stayed there over the years, though obviously they did so because there was no place else in town. The real question is, what the hell were they doing in Des Moines? Who would attend their shows? I doubt that there’s even one person in Des Moines who rocks, and if there is, I’m sure he’s doing his damnedest to get the hell out. (Photo: Tiny Tim at the Hotel Fort Des Moines)
Even the Holiday Inn has a more authentic rock pedigree than this place, Hotel Fort Des Moines. And though I’m being facetious, the article actually goes on to consider the claim that the Holiday Inn is a rock-and-roll hotel. And answers, bizarrely, in the affirmative.
Here’s the best example they could come up with of an actual, real life “rocker” who will admit to staying at the Fort Des Moines hotel, some guy named Tim Reynolds. For some reason they mention that he drinks a six-pack of pineapple juice a night. That’s right, pineapple juice. Dude, there’s your problem. Chug some Jack Daniels and snort a line of coke if you wanna rock. What kind of half-assed rock-and-roll could possibly be fueled by pineapple juice? Oh, now I see: he plays for the Dave Mathews band. That explains that. And since when does pineapple juice come in six-packs?
The pineapple juice is emblematic of a larger problem here. Why on earth did they even mention it? Well, I think there’s a dual message here. First of all, they want to validate the lifestyles of all the old farts out there who can’t party anymore: look, codgers, even the rockers are drinking prune—er, pineapple--juice. Secondly, it’s an attempt to convince you that rock-and-roll, though cool, is safe. There will be no naked groupies wandering the halls of the Fort Des Moines, no TVs tossed drunkenly through the windows at midnight. Another hotel mentioned in the article has a tanning salon because, “Even rockers with violent onstage antics require a good tan.”
Well, excuse me, but I for one demand that my rock gods live life in the fast lane. Otherwise, what kind of gods are they? It’s simply part of the job description. If they don’t like it, they can go back to school and study accounting.
The reason our attention was drawn to this article is that it claims that Sid Vicious died at the Chelsea Hotel. This is false: Sid killed Nancy here, but he himself died in a house in Greenwich Village. (Today, in fact, is the anniversary of Nancy’s death.) Obviously this serves to erode the rock-and-roll street cred of this article’s author, but more importantly, it goes to show to just what shameless lengths these hotels will go to demonstrate that they are cool. Book a room at the Fort Des Moines, the article implies, and perhaps similar spectacular events will occur during your stay—or at least you can view the scene of the crime.
On the other hand, “Several years ago Reynolds and his crew rejected spooky digs where they spied bloodstains on the walls through the window.” Now that was a rock and roll hotel. Sounds suspiciously like the Chelsea. (Ed Hamilton)