Ok, its around 2 AM, New York time. Our ride from JFK to Manhattan was pleasant enough, but lately it seems that just flying across the U.S. takes up an entire day, considering the layovers, which seem to be getting longer and longer, which I’m sure is in direct proportion to my finding cheaper and cheaper flight packages online. In any event, after spending the day and evening traveling from SFO to JFK, my wife and I rolled out of that shuttle van feeling like two pieces of stale Cajun beef jerky.
However, as quasi-worldly people, I can say without any reservation, that the minute we stepped from the sidewalk at 222 W.
23rd. St. and into the Chelsea Hotel , we were immediately awakened by the decor of the lobby, which underscored our purpose for being in NY- to finally experience th’ city at a leisurely pace via its Fine art and food, and our first art experience was a real eye-opener, for how many other hotels display a major work (Dutch Masters), by former resident and world renown artist, Larry Rivers, in their front lobby? This was exactly the sort of “juice” energy we had anticipated finding throughout Manhattan Artdom, and it was impressive!
As a practicing artist for over 30 years, and recently retired college Art Instructor, I, and my wife, an avid reader, were both elated as we stood at the Registration Desk of this truly historical and sometimes home of many world class artists, musicians, dancers and writers, some of which,(Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Henry Miller, Thomas Wolfe and Brendan Behan), are recognized with individual large brass plaques at the front entrance of the hotel.
Other celebrities/residents such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Sid Vicious and others are not recognized with brass plaques, but are certainly remembered more for their “brass balls” and/or notoriety.
The first room we were shown, had a slight problem, in that the clerk had some difficulty working the lock to get us in, and as he was leaving, I attempted to close the door behind him only to have the entire door knob come off in my hand! My mind immediately flashed back to Bob Dylan’s lyrics from “Desolation Row”:…”about the time th’ door knob broke…”, which for some perverse reason, made me feel “chosen”.(?) However, the clerk apologized and took us to another room, which he said was larger, as it had a kitchenette, but we could stay in it for one night at the $239 rate we were offered when we originally made our resos.
As soon as we entered the second room, we could have cared less if the door worked or not, for we felt that we HAD to stay in this room, if just for a night, and to this day, I still refer to it as the Kafka Suite: Most of the walls had been painted an ultra-gloss bile green color, which would normally repulse me, but atop this weird slime-like background, were large (6″ up to 14″) stencil-painted cockroaches, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, spiders, dragonflies, moths and water bugs…each one painted a different fluorescent color!
Needless to say, we were definitely awake now, as we stood and stared in awe around the room while thinking about Franz Kafka’s famous short story- Metamorphosis.
This being our first introduction to local unrecognized art energy, made us realize that in order for us to take full advantage of the situation by experiencing dreams/nightmares about Metamorphosis, we would need to have a late meal of sorts, in order to guarantee restless sleep. In short, something that came served with a side order of onions. So, we tossed our luggage aside and scurried back downstairs and out the front door into the city that never sleeps.
We only had to walk a real city block before we came to a small bar- b-que joint on 23rd. where we experienced for the first of several times,”fried onion strings”, which are 1/8″ wide fried vidalia onions, delicious beyond belief, and are served by the half- pound…with a fork. Just another small thing that makes NY such an unforgettable experience.
About a pound of onion strings and several beers later, we waddled back to the Kafka Suite in eager anticipation of encountering Gregor Samsa during the night, but fortunately/unfortunately neither of us ran into him during the next ten hours of completely undisturbed sleep. I point out undisturbed sleep, because when the Chelsea was built, it catered to the visual and performing artists, so to make sure residents could live and work in their room, the walls are 12″
That morning, before we set out to tour the entire ten floors of exhibited art, we first stopped at the Desk and asked if we could stay in the Kafka Suite, and were told that it normally rented for $400 a night because of the kitchenette. So, we opted for a smaller room on the third floor, and proceeded to transfer our luggage.
Although visually much less interesting than the Kafka Suite, this room certainly proved to be more “interactive”, which after that morning’s unplanned but very necessary “roomarobics”, prompted me to label it the Circus Room, but first, a short Preface:
Like San Francisco’s earthquake retrofit ordinance, NY adopted a similar ordinance with a 2007 dedline for businesses to comply.
Welllll, (as Jack Palance might whisper), most businesses, like the Chelsea, waited until the last minute to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for necessary repairs, thus the presence of all that scaffolding you now walk under throughout Manhattan and other boroughs of the city.
So, each morning promptly at 8:01, workmen were on the exterior scaffolding making repairs to everything from the large neon sign, to the window frames, to bearing walls. This is not a problem if you don’t mind showering and dressing, or trying to talk while listening to workmen testifying about the ups and downs of their lives and career paths over a background accompaniment of an even louder daytime talk radio program. (Just in passing, there are signs posted throughout manhattan warning motorists about a $300 fine for honking their horn, yet workmen can play radios at full volume until they get off work?
Like all rooms in the Chelsea, the ceiling was 12′ high and the window was about 3′ wide and 8′ tall. The material used to make the curtain for this particular window, had to have come from Ringling Bros., as it was as close to striped canvas as any painting I’ve ever stretched or seen. It’s colorful(?) striped pattern was somewhere between what Roy Lichtenstein might have chosen for pajamas, and a bar code as seen through the eyes of a rabid dog. However, the most interesting feature about this curtain panel, was the fact that it was originally made for a window seven or eight feet wide. And since it was also lined, it probably weighed in at 12-15 pounds!
We wanted to use the air conditioner whenever we could, so we tried to pile or stack the bottom four feet of the curtain on top of the a/ c unit so that the vents could actually allow cool air into the room.
But withing a minute or so, the vibrations from the a/c “walked” the curtain pile over the edge, and crashing to the floor, completely covering the front of the a/c, as well as several inches of the floor below. Rather than wrestle with this donkey all day, we remembered why we were in NY, and decided to deal with it when we returned that evening.
So, with Frommer’s “NY-’06” in hand, we left the hotel and walked the 20 blocks to Grand Central Station, where we bought Metro cards for seven days of riding on any public bus or subway. And once we figured out which streets have Metro stops, getting around Manhattan was a snap. We first took in the DaDa exhibition at the MOMA, then the Met and the Whitney, as we walked and rode through and on both sides of Central Park. We soon realized that you could find any sort of food made on this planet somewhere in NY., and we had everything from world famous Papaya Hot Dogs, to the ultimate thin crust pizza, as well as full course meals near the museums.
Walking is the only way to see NY, if you have the time to spare, and after a while, I wondered: “Where the hell are all these people going. Doesn’t anyone have a job to go to?” A friend once told me that NY was like getting a drink from a fireman’s hose, and he was absolutely right, because just watching the crowds and automobiles “do their thing” when the intersection light changes, can be an event on occasion.
We stopped on 42nd.St. for lunch, and after we re-thunk the curtain problem back at the room, went into a Duane Reade Drug store (there’s one every half-block throughout Manhattan), and bought the largest safety pins we could find. And ambling back to our room, we also stopped at the Chelsea Food Mkt., which serves both hot meals as well as a selection of fruits and veggies that could rival L.A.’s Farmer’s Market.
Each afternoon after the housekeeper made up our room, we would return and wrestle the bottom four feet of the curtain into a quasi- roll, like raising the flaps on a tent, and use the safety pins to hold it up. And every morning before we left, we unrolled that beast and piled it atop the a/c, so that the housekeeper would find it on the floor, as she expected.
That evening, we did climb the ten floors and check out the art on each floor and stairwell. An amazing collection of paintings, photos, drawings, sculpture, prints and a couple of on-site installations,…we think. On one floor, there was even a curator, of sorts, on duty, in the form of a calico kitten who slept directly under a large painting whose subject matter suggested that Mao Tse Tung still holds the title: Extreme G.I. Joe.
Sunday morning was another unexpected treat for us as we walked to the Bagel Deli on 7th. Ave, we could hear louder than normal street sounds. As we reached 23rd @7th., we saw that 7th through 10th Av.
was blocked off for a weekly street fair/market, which we walked through, and where one could buy everything you could possibly want to eat, wear,listen to, hang on the wall,play, pet, wind up,ride or transport your offspring in.
There are presently over 300 art galleries just in the Chelsea District, and over the next several days, we visited probably one- third of them, and while we would probably choose to actually live in Brooklyn, you owe it to yourself to spend your first day in NY in the Chelsea District.