This has not been an easy thing for me to face, but it is entirely possible that I am The Anti-Chic.
For someone who values style over substance in all things, it has been a bitter pill to swallow. In much the same way as two magnets are instantly repelled by each other, it seems a physical impossibility for chic to exist in the same space with me. I have often wondered if other people find that the very act of wanting something too much pushes it forever out of their reach.
On arriving in New York in 1982, finding a place to live was challenging. I could only find two places that met my strict budget needs. The first, a tiny cell at the Chelsea Hotel — tightly packed with a rusted iron twin bed and a sink on the wall — failed to excite my bourgeoisie sensibilities. The desk clerk insisted it was the very room where Sid and Nancy had done themselves in a few years before but even a newly arrived country mouse like myself sensed he made the same claim about all the rooms he showed to all the rubes who sought shelter in his establishment. But a few mysterious stains on the bed and walls could very well have been the faded blood of punk rock royalty. Who’s to say?
Even if the desk clerk had shown me the room where Dylan Thomas died, or the one where Arthur C. Clarke wrote “2001” or even the one where Arthur Miller escaped from Marilyn Monroe’s neediness to write, I would have passed because the sink may have been on the bedroom wall but the toilet was down the hall. And there is no way I was going to share a toilet with a bunch of junkies. Not going to happen. Not then. Not now. Chalk it up to the fact that there’s no snob like a poor snob.
So I foolishly passed up the dingy bohemian charms of the Chelsea and the lifetime of cachet that tales of a residence there would have earned me. It was as if the storied hipness of the Chelsea repelled me as effectively as a cross repels a vampire.
The room I did choose after rejecting the Chelsea’s tawdry splendour was at the Seville Hotel, a residential hotel on East 29th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, a location which sounds nicer than it was. My room was large enough for a double bed and a tiny refrigerator but its best feature was a window overlooking 29th Street and The Little Church Around the Corner.
Technically named The Church of the Transfiguration, it was in fact just around the corner from Fifth Avenue, and was a favorite destination for show-biz folks who wished to remarry after an unfortunate divorce, what with the Anglican Church’s more liberal position on divorce than that of their Roman Catholic colleagues.
When I looked out my window, if I chose not to focus on the discrete architectural charms of the Little Church or incognito celebrities in search of wedded bliss, but instead opened that same window, shimmied up onto the window sill, wedged my feet in behind the radiator for stability and leaned as far out the window as I possibly could without tumbling to the sidewalk seven floors below, it was possible to barely, just barely, glimpse the East River in the distance at the far end of 29th Street.
At the tender age of 24, I had a river view in New York City and no one can ever take that away from me. What I did not know at the time was that the Seville, in all its grimy Beaux-Arts majesty, was to be the apex of my residential resume. Chic’s repulsion at my presence would take care of that.
Needless to say, within a year after I left, the hotel underwent a Cinderella-like transformation, and after having its limestone gargoyles and putti primped, pampered and sandblasted, it reopened as the preferred NYC resting place for dodgy Euro-trash in Gucci shades. It could never have happened as long as I lived there.
After decamping from The Seville for Brooklyn and the siren song of more space — i.e., not sleeping in the room in which I cooked — 10 years of domestic bliss ensued which resulted in marriage and a child. But a child brought the need for more space and I yearned to become that thing which I had previously despised. A suburbanite. In Jersey, of all places. It was clear by now that the tonier suburbs would not have been welcoming to my kind.
And you all know where this is going. After two centuries of housing humble immigrants and hordes of working class folks in a sprawling proletarian stew, Brooklyn became the hippest place on Planet Earth, seemingly within minutes of my exit. It hurt. I won’t claim that it didn’t.
After my Jersey experience came to an end and I left Montclair, Starbucks came to town. With all that that implies. Need I say more?
My current residence, Jonesville, has been spinning its wheels for decades trying to reverse the damage caused by the closure of the Chatham mill in Elkin. Nobody knows as well as I do the economic advantages of chic and the prosperity it can bring. After all, I’ve seen it in my rear-view mirror time and time again.
I have been suggesting the town re-brand itself as “The Other Left Bank.” We are on the south bank of the Yadkin so it makes sense. But even if the town gave it a try, the sad fact is it wouldn’t work as long as I live there.
The solution is simple. All they need to do is pay me off in return for my exit. Before the year ends, somebody will probably be breaking ground on a casino that will make everyone in town rich, or something else equally marvelous will happen.
A sum suitable to fund a modest retirement in Belize, naturally in one of the sketchier neighborhoods, would probably convince me to hit the road.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.