Joe Ambrose's Chelsea Hotel Manhattan - extreme travel writing concerning the time that Joe spent in the legendary boho hotel - is out now from Headpress. This is the second exclusive outtake from the book to appear on outsideleft. This piece was written during Joe's March 2001 visit to the Chelsea.
The long-deserted city boulevards of Williamsburg, the concrete and the clay beneath my feet begin to tremble, give way to slum-level Latino housing from which the inhabitants can view, better than anybody else in this city, the glittering symbols of American capitalism, all the way from the Empire Trade Building to the Twin Towers and on to the Statue of Liberty. I am here to visit a dockside bargain clothes warehouse. To get there I must pass by shark finned Cadillacs from the Fifties and Hispanic young Elvises in pompadoured profusion. The music coming from their poor houses is seductive south of the border taco disco.
A scarred, friendly, flabby JFK lookalike shop assistant in a blue blazer tells me how to find the clothes section in the warehouse where he is planted by the front door, a sort of greeter cum security guard. I make his day by opening my mouth to speak in an Irish accent that remains undiminished though I've lived out of Ireland for fifteen years.
Isn't it grand, boys? Ah, sure it's grand.
How can us Irish recognise one another? But we do. White as sin and you can still spot a Paddy in the middle of five million other whites. I have the ritual conversation with him that I have with all these unfortunate Irish-Americans. Me, that has close cousins living all over the five boroughs, not one of whom I've attempted to contact though all the Ambroses in the New York telephone directory are people that I remember meeting when they visited Ireland long ago, as little kids accompanied by their now-"passed on" parents.
"Passed on"? What a comforting term with which to avoid the nastiness of this living experience of ours, just like "Afro American".
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.