Fleapit: the Movie

By Gary Indiana

An unaccountably terrorizing dream in which I have overstayed my welcome in somebody’s sleek, well-ordered, poshy loft, in what appears to be the Chelsea Hotel, sacred fleapit of Bohemia, though the building itself migrates from one quadrant of the city to another, eventually from one city to another, throughout the dream. After what I believed to have been a congenial dinner party, my hostess introduces a cluster of new arrivals, invited for coffee after the meal, among them a young man—at first he’s French, black-haired, and radiantly fuckable, but in each unfolding scene he becomes plainer and more freckled-American-farm-boy bland and blond—who offers to move my belongings, in a van parked outside, from the guest bedroom of this loft, across town—which town?—to my apartment.

I’ve brought my whole wardrobe and scattered junk over to this woman’s place, and dumped it in her guest room. Some of it’s in a state of wild disarray. There are, for instance, four jumbled pairs of shoes under the bed, including some white canvas espadrilles that I don’t own, but in waking life wish I had thought to buy yesterday when I saw them in Shoe Mania. Other items, neatly folded, include a bale of sweaters and pastel T-shirts, which my new friend carries out of the room, returning minutes later without them. He begins tossing odds and ends into a crude black wooden trunk that fastens with a hook latch. This belongs to the owner of the loft. I am about to protest that we can’t carry such a large object out to the elevator and then up six flights in my building, as that would turn a glancing favor into a major undertaking, which I would then feel obliged to pay for. Besides, how did everything I own get into this woman’s apartment? It looks like my stuff, but maybe it isn’t. I’m given to understand that I must leave certain items behind for safekeeping. The hostess, meanwhile, has disappeared into her bedroom after pretending to enjoy my company all evening and, judging from all these clothes, has been pretending this continuously for several weeks. I catch a glimpse of her face as she slips out of sight; it’s obvious she can’t even stand to see me there another second.

It’s true that someone at dinner last night lives in the Chelsea Hotel, and for years, as it happens, I regularly visited a friend there who has an enviably spacious apartment on one of the upper floors. But the last times I went there the new owners, who I’m told are embroiled in endless cross-litigation with ex-owner Stanley Bard, had taken all the art from the lobby walls and the staircases, padlocked the unrented rooms, and kicked out everyone except the rent-stabilized, permanent tenants. I’ve heard he’s an Orthodox Jew with no affinity for or cognizance of the hotel’s illustrious history, and has a reputation for half-assed, never-completed renovations of buildings he acquires and then abandons.

I knew Jakov Lind and Arnold Weinstein and Shirley Clarke and Viva and Pierre Clementi and Rainer Fassbinder and Gus Van Sant and Robert Mapplethorpe and many others who once lived in the Chelsea, many of whom are no longer with us. I acted in a movie shot in one of the rooms in 1980, and shot some videos of my own in a different room a few years later. For over thirty years, El Quixote was one of two default restaurants of choice. I’ve eaten lobsters and swilled margaritas there with every imaginable person. I’ve copped drugs at the Chelsea and done drugs at the Chelsea and met a wide assortment of people at the Chelsea and even had sex a few times in the Chelsea, though I always had an odd superstition about spending a whole night at the Chelsea, and never did.

I have no nostalgia for the Chelsea Hotel. I never lived there. I don’t care about it now that its day is long gone. I never cared all that much about it ever, even if it was, once upon a time, a sort of comfort zone. There was a time to care about its landmark status, its long history of la vie de bohème, the luminous names who passed through it. However, once all such welcoming places for nonconformists and eccentric creative types with little money in Manhattan began getting wiped off the map by vulture developers, enabled by our recent mayor-thugs, Manhattan had clearly abandoned any pretense of nurturing artistic culture, or caring about the arts at all, except as revenue vectors for tourist dollars and art dealers, and trying to preserve bits of nostalgic residue in the form of physical real estate is a fool’s errand. If you’re wise, anyway, you should never repine for any “good old days,” because they weren’t as golden shiny as you’d like to imagine, and have only taken on a sexy afterglow for people who weren’t around at the time, or if you yourself are so old at heart and over the hill that your feelings are all posthumous and your brain has stopped doing anything except pickle itself in memories.

What’s important now is to find a completely different kind of person to be mayor than the last two, preferably different than the last four, and to perform audacious acts of vandalism on hideous new shit like the Citibikes, a dubiously legal blend of corporate advertising and municipal corruption.

Two years ago I got snookered into being a talking head in a documentary film about the Chelsea Hotel. I didn’t want to appear in this film and kept trying, politely, to exclude myself from the cast list. But the person who made it is a lifelong frenemy—in the strict sense that Jessica Mitford defines the term—who has attached to me a completely cartoonish picture of who I am for over 30 years, and who insisted, for months and months, with implacable obliviousness, that I incarnate this cartoon figure in her movie, until I could only relent and agree to be at the Chelsea, to blather on camera, on a specific afternoon.

I planned to simply not show up, and to stay unreachable for at least a month. On the day in question, though, I happened to be on Eighth Avenue not far from the hotel, with J., my closest friend. I was filling a prescription at a compounding pharmacy. J. advised me to walk over to the hotel and just do the fucking movie and get it over with, and to view it as a good deed, even if it really wasn’t one. I always follow J.’s advice, so I did.

A doctor had gotten me addicted to Klonopin, the fashionable antianxiety drug. He had written renewal prescriptions for the maximum dosage of Klonopin (generic name, clonazepam) for many years, insisting I could, and should, take it every day, with no fear of addiction or harmful withdrawal symptoms. Doctors told Eminem and Stevie Nicks and a million other people the same thing.

I sometimes traded Klonopin for a friend’s surplus Adderall, since I always had much more Klonopin around than anyone except a pharmacy should possess at one time, and never had much speed in the house at all. For about two years, I occasionally took Adderall in the morning, Klonopin at night. (Adderall is not the glorious pharmaceutical speed we all took in the 60s and 70s, but a kiddie amphetamine salt for speed wusses, just as today’s crystal meth bears no chemical relation to the meth of yesteryear, which did not routinely promote homicidal rampages and irreversible insanity from being synthesized from Ajax and other cleaning products in a bathtub.)

Over time, not only did the Klonopin stop working for me, it started actively working against me. Once, when I tried going cold turkey, I had an epileptic seizure in an elevator. Not just any elevator, but an elevator in the CBS building.

Adderall stopped having any effect whatsoever, and I kissed it goodbye without any trouble. Except that I then navigated in a thick Klonopin hangover fog all day, and an even thicker one at night.

A cameraman I knew from a cable show I occasionally appear on told me he’d been weaning off Klonopin for months with the help of a psychiatrist on 57th Street, following a plan of incremental withdrawal. However, fractionally reduced doses aren’t available from the makers of Klonopin, Roche Pharmaceuticals, who aren’t interested in getting people off their product. You have to step their wonderful drug down by an almost microscopic notch in weekly pinches, in what is known as benzodiazepine taper. If you sign on to the web site Benzo Buddies, you will discover that hundreds, even thousands of people, on any given day, everywhere in the country, are in some form of mental and/or physical extremity from miscalculated Klonopin reduction, reporting bizarre auditory hallucinations, twitching limbs, seizures, panic attacks, suicide attempts, blurred vision, temporary blindness, and other dire withdrawal effects. You will also discover that getting off Klonopin is a way of life for many people more addicted to the internet as their only form of social existence than they ever were to Klonopin, but that’s another story.

I saw the cameraman’s psychiatrist. He wrote out a stack of prescriptions and sent me to the one pharmacy, on Eighth Avenue, that could fill them (the only compounding pharmacy, or so I was told, for a city of ten million people), one week at a time. The completed withdrawal took eight months. There is a natural wish, toward the end, to just weather the remainder without that last teensy molecule of Klonopin, but you can’t. You will have a potentially fatal seizure. Or so they say.

And so it transpired that I was filmed, planted on the stairwell to the roof of the Chelsea in a canvas folding chair, one sleeting winter afternoon, with a plastic bottle of seven .02 mg Klonopin in my pocket. The director’s genius was such that there wasn’t any script. She hadn’t even prepared any questions to ask, and told me with her customary mumblecore vagueness to “just talk about your life at the Chelsea.” I reminded her that I had never lived at the Chelsea. “But just talk about the Chelsea, what it means.” “Well look, you’ve got to ask me some kind of question, I’m not a fucking vaudeville act.” “Oh, you talk better on your own than what I would think of asking...” I wanted this over with as quickly as possible, so proceeded to say anything about the so-called sweet bye-and-bye and its hotel headquarters that came into my head, with absolutely no help from the director. I frankly don’t remember a thing about this, since I haven’t seen the film and would rather not, except that it was the bleakest “film set” I’ve ever been on, and I have been on quite a few. The crew, for one thing, looked like film students working for nothing. They acted much too enthusiastic about what they were doing, considering what it was. The hub of this production, in my frenemy’s flat, had a leaking ceiling, with plastic tarps on the floor and slung over all the furniture, and an overall look of total desolation. There were no “craft services,” not even a cup of coffee. The whole atmosphere promoted the unpleasant feeling that something sad and stupid was taking its course for no discernible reason, and two hours later, my relief at fleeing this scene was immense.

I’ve been told the film came out well and I’m even rather good in it. I can’t imagine that’s true, but to each his own.

The dream had propelled me back to that once-fabled terrarium where Nancy Spungen bought the farm and Virgil Thompson composed his greatest hits at the age of 140. I’m aware the new owners are scumbags, and that they’ve enlisted other scumbags to their side in the current brouhaha about the fate of the hotel. Still, I don’t think it’s a controversy of global magnitude. The once-French youth in the dream, after morphing from flat-faced farm boy into a not-too-bad-looking surfer type, led me to the sea and began walking into the surf, embracing my laundry. Then he disappeared beneath the waves.

Previously by Gary Indiana - Cries and Whispers in Obamastan