Destination: Hotel Chelsea, West 23rd St.
Guide: Debbie Martin and Ed Hamilton, hotel residents, amateur historians.
Another invitation came to me over the email tubes recently, this time from two strangers who graciously offered to show me around their little corner of New York. Everyone back home said this city was full of rude, xenophobic pricks, but I knew they were wrong!
"Would you like a tour of the Hotel Chelsea?" read the email.
"Absolutely," I replied. "By the way ... what is that?"
I quickly remembered that this is the place where Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend, but it turns out that some other stuff happened there too. Hotel Chelsea is filled with stories of tortured artists who did a lot of drugs and died young, and while I'm not really into the whole bohemian punk thing, I do own a couple of albums by The Clash, so I figured what the hell.
It seems one of the Hotel's biggest draws is writers and literary fans, like current residents Ed and Debbie, who greet me at the front door when I arrive for my tour.
"We're going to show you Thomas Wolfe's bathroom," Debbie says excitedly.
"Oh, I've heard of him," I reply. "He's the guy with the white suits, right?"
They quickly explain that there's another famous author with the name Tom Wolfe (what are the odds?) and that people come from all around the world to do just what I'm doing—crawling out on to the fire escape to look into his bedroom window. Well, it's not technically his bedroom anymore. It belongs to whatever out-of-town guest happens to be staying there that night, but honestly, the young lady in there at the time couldn't have been happier to find me peeking in her windows.
From there, we go up to the top floor where you can look down the main staircase; an ornate, wrought iron masterpiece that winds it way down ten stories.
"Quite a few people have thrown themselves down this stairwell," Ed helpfully points out. I can see why. It looks like a lovely place to kill yourself.
"Now we're going to show you Dee Dee Ramone's bathroom!" What is it with these people and their bathrooms?
Ed and Debbie explain that Dee Dee was their neighbor, as they lead me to the small community bathroom where he used to his business. "You could never get in to use it though," Ed adds, "because there were always junkies in there shooting up." That must have been annoying, because I know how much I hate it when my roommate takes too long in shower.
As we wander around checking out the crazy art scattered on every wall, my tour guides rattle off the names of some of Hotel Chelsea's other famous inhabitants. Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Arthur C. Clarke, Alan Ginsburg, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Ethan Hawke. Ethan Hawke!? Holy crap, this place really is a landmark!
We finish the tour back in the lobby, where Debbie and Ed sit me down for awhile and ask if I can "feel the spirit." Debbie explains that "Some people go crazy if they sit down here too long. They just get overcome by the history and atmosphere. There are a lot of ghosts in this place."
I have to confess that I did not feel anything special. I also confess that I had not taken any drugs, which is too bad because I really would have liked to talk to Ethan Hawke's ghost. I have a few questions to ask about Reality Bites.
Earlier: Central Park Zoo