The Chelsea Hotel

 

by Ann Spiers

Have I told you about my honeymoon? It was perfect.

When I stepped out of the taxi into a pile of dog poo, I knew I was in New York City. I slipped out of my wedding shoes and left them curbside, proceeding barefoot in my wedding dress into the Chelsea Hotel lobby. Being so unshod was possible back in the great and late 1960s, the hippie days. The Chelsea was perfectly seedy, stinky, badly lit. I was a poet. Dylan Thomas drank upstairs.

The desk clerk, being solo behind the battered boat of a register desk, asked us to wait. He would escort us to our room when someone came by to relieve him. Time ticked. We had things to do. This was our honeymoon. And certainly waiting for us upstairs were the spirits of Leonard Cohen and Janice Joplin, the songsters celebrated in Cohen’s “I remember you well / in the Chelsea Hotel…”

The clerk finally abandoned his post. Let the world have the Chelsea lobby. After unlocking our room, he stepped in, and Click! the door closed behind him. Unfortunately, there was no inside door handle to let him out. He jiggled the hardware, but he was caught with us in the room. He used the room phone to reach the front desk, but alas, no one had replaced him. He let the phone ring nonstop. Perhaps the ring would irritate someone enough to answer and locate a screwdriver to release the third wheel from our honeymoon suite.

A trio, we looked around the room. It was perfectly shabby, although the bed looked freshly made up. The rug, however, had a patina of dark brown, sorta the color of old dried blood. Sid Vicious would inhabit this room. Leonard and Janice must have booked this room. And Dylan Thomas must have died in this room. But just as the evening was slipping from perfection into gloom, someone answered the phone and arranged to let the clerk out. A threesome on any honeymoon — even Sid’s or Janice’s — was really not groovy according to my personal mode of hippiness.

We were fresh from our wedding ceremony in Washington, D.C. We had wanted to get married by the Quakers, the Society of Friends, in D.C., known for their anti-war politics, support of conscientious objectors, and a nice garden for weddings. But they wanted us to spend some weeks having “marriage lessons.” I had known my true love for one year, lived with him for eight months, what did I need yet to consider? And I wanted a May Day wedding — just us and a few friends. Undeterred, I fell back on the Jesuits, the priests of my youth. I went to their local church rectory, knocked on the door, and said, “I want to get married on May Day.” The priest responded, “Okay. Bring $25 for the bishop.” This culture was one of which I was perfectly familiar. My fiancée wore “good clothes” to work the week before the wedding, not wanting to get arrested in the biggest Viet Nam war protest ever and be in jail on our big day.

Planned for us in Manhattan was an evening “reception” hosted by a Seattle friend. He was adept at seizing opportunity, and for our benefit, he shifted his already-planned May Day party into our wedding reception. Later, he got a brief mention in The New Yorker as a friend of a rising artist and, much to everyone’s delight, he was referred to as “a wealthy friend.” Wealthy or no, my friend’s reputation includes the title “cheap bastard.”

But what a heart he has! Upon our arrival at the May Day party, he presented us with a cake, a sheet cake — not done up with wedding bells, but birthday clowns. However, the words, “Happy Wedding,” were writ across the cake’s icy field. Earlier, while tripping through Manhattan, our friend happened upon this cake in a bakery window. The place was about to close. Our friend never missed an opportunity, having been honed to survival as captain of a fishing boat in Alaska’s Bering Sea, the world’s most dangerous fishery. The baker conceded, “Yes, the cake was a display cake,” and “Yes, you can buy it marked down, and “Yes, at no extra cost, the words can be changed.”

How perfect the evening. Our friend’s large loft was separated by makeshift walls and furnished with objects found on the streets. A poet read from the claw-footed bathtub on a raised platform in the kitchen area. She sported lovely floating booblets. A ballerina pirouetted through the crowd. As forerunners of performance art, a pair of heroin addicts slept naked on the couch, one stacked atop the other. We marveled that white folks could be so white all over. And in spite of sweating so profusely, they did not slide off or out from under each other.

Later, back at the Chelsea, the screwdriver was left in the door hardware for our convenience. We read Dylan Thomas — “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age. . .Love drips and gathers. . .” We toasted Thomas’s wraith, coalescing from the fumes of stale booze and cigarette smoke
left over from his last stay, the downing of his eighteen final whiskies.

It was perfect. The rest was ordinary: We spent our honeymoon night in the regular way. We are still married forty-some years later, have a good time, are set well for retirement, and are blessed with grandkids. How I miss the perfect days.


Ann Spiers is Vashon Island’s (Washington) inaugural poet laureate. The Peasandcues Press (Vancouver, Washington) recently published her poem Rain Violent as a letter-press broadside, designed and printed by Joseph and Marquita Green. Her latest chapbook is Bunker Trail (Finishing Line). Visit Ann at annspiers.com.

 

Published in Raven Chronicles, Vol. 21, 2015.