Thursday, February 23, 2017

"I remember you well at the Chelsea Hotel!" and other recollections of Dad at the Chelsea Hotel

Dad, this writer, and number one during his last stay at the Chelsea Hotel, January 2011.

I remember you
well in the Chelsea Hotel,
you were talking so brave and so sweet...
Those were the reasons and that was New York

While Leonard Cohen remembered Janis at the Chelsea Hotel,
I remembered Dad, who would have turned eighty this week.

But as Leonard writes,  he "got away..."

In the last few weeks, we've thought a lot about Cohen in New York.
Dad gave me my first Cohen album.  I guess I stole his. And we went
to the tribute for Cohen a few weeks ago.

And then my brother wrote me yesterday about Dad.  Don't forget to
pour a beer on the sidewalk for him he reminded me.  

And so we did last night for old Jack Shepard, the mixed up beat poet.

And I recalled those days when he used to come to stay at the Chelsea
Hotel.  It was his home here for almost a decade.  For Dad, it was
the equivalent of the old Beat Hotel at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur in the Latin
Quarter of Paris.

When we first moved to Sackett Street, Dad used to stay with us.
But that didn't work. Two new parents and an infant in a crowded
New York apartment were too much for him.  It almost came to
blows the last time he tried to sleep over, Dad cursing me, putting up
his fists and running out into a snow storm when I could not get the volume
correct for Shakespeare in Love. He was not going to come visit
again and certainly not stay at our place again soon.  We explored
a few bnb's but they did not work.  Dad is not a good bnb person.
He didn't play nice when he needed to.  He was frequently grumpy,
or drunk.

But then he came up with a solution.

"I know where I can stay," he said to me one day. "Book me a room
at the Chelsea Hotel" on 23rd Street.

When I found Dad at the hotel, he was smiling.  He'd made friends with the
desk clerk, found the liquor store down the street, and make plans for us
to eat at El Quixote next door. Dad had it all worked out.

That first night, we just talked and talked and talked for hours in the old
hotel.  There was an enough energy in the space to keep him engaged,
enough art on the walls to keep his mind whirling.

Over time, we fell into a simple ritual, of meeting in the room and going
out for a bite and then go back to the room and talk.

One night Dad told me he stayed up all night watching a porno movie
projected on the building next door, the light ebbing and bouncing
through the night.

He was able to smile here,to reflect, and feel a connection with the
beat history of his life.

"I want to live here," he used to say.

"Why don't you?" I'd ask.

And he'd inevitably go back to Texas where he felt he belonged, to
take care of Beverly, his wife with Alzheimer's.

But he came three, four times a year.  And each trip we'd toast
to the world, talk about books, his parents, Mom, my brothers,
and I.  We'd watch football games at El Quixote,
as we'd done whenever we traveled to Mexico or New Orleans.

I have a particular memory of watching Seattle beat New Orleans
in the wildcard round in January 2011.

That was a rough trip.  Dad had a great time at the game. But
it was harder and harder for him to make to it to New York.
His mind was eluding him.  He was drunk at noon.
He wouldn't be back, shuffling off three years later.

Now when I hear Leonard sing about the old hotel, I always think
of Dad.

When I talked with my brother, he said he was drinking a Negra Modelo,
conversing with Dad, who loved that beer. Being
dead means you don't have to talk back, he mused.

I'd give anything to go meet him tonight at the dusky rainy old Chelsea

Images of Leonard, Janis, the lobby, the characters, and the girls at the Chelsea during Dad's last visit.
Bottom Photo by Caroline Shepard

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