In the late 80s I lived in New York City in the Chelsea Hotel. For those of you who have avoided New York at all costs, the Chelsea has a certain amount of fame or notoriety, depending on how you choose to look at things.
Bronze plaques outside the entrance remind visitors that writers such as Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thomas, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Mark Twain once lived there. More notorious guests needed no placard because everybody who wanted to know already knew about Sid Vicious, Edie Sedgwick, William Burroughs, and Janis Joplin, for example.
Located on 23rd Street, the Chelsea is a 12-story red brick building with businesses on the ground floor. One of these stores sold fishing equipment exclusively. Yes, right smack in the middle of Manhattan, fishing equipment. I never saw many customers in that fine establishment. Another sold all kinds of electric guitars.
The sensation of walking into the overstuffed hotel lobby was discombobulating. It brimmed with art that, I suspect, was not purchased but sufficed as barter for one month’s rent in a moment of pity. However faded the pictures had become, they maintained a certain playful whimsy that characterized the Chelsea.
The atmosphere was definitely one of nostalgia, but nostalgia for what exactly, it would be hard to say–for the carnivalesque, for lost bohemia, for abandoned dreams. Maybe the feeling was not so much nostalgia as loss. In any case, the mood of the place was fraught with the wishes for what it had been before.
The young residents of the Chelsea were, like me, hoping to seize the day in the presence of inspiring spirits that still haunted the hundred-year-old building.
My room at the Chelsea brought tears to my mother’s eyes. It was tiny, lumpy, rickety, seedy with a shared bathroom down the hall. I remember her words precisely: “You don’t belong in a place like this.”
I guess in my mind, though, I did belong in that place. What appealed to me about the Chelsea was that great writers had inhabited it. It symbolized a community that I lacked so I imagined one using the Chelsea’s history to fill in the gaps.
The ultimate goal of this blog is to serve as a digital lobby for writers who are looking for conversation or things to think about, while in pursuit of creativity, art.
I was chatting with my friend Kat the other day, and it turns out she once lived in the Chelsea as well. When I asked her what she remembered most, she said, “Just sitting in the lobby for hours—just like watching a parade.”