Monday, January 18, 2010

Jimmy Schuyler and the Chelsea Hotel

In 1985 I worked as the personal assistant for the Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Schuyler here. Though far from a happening time at the Chelsea, I regarded my duties as an honor and privilege. Jimmy was always thoughtful, caring & sensitive despite all of the hardships he endured. He encouraged me as an aspiring artist and (then) poet. In his Diary (published some years later) Jimmy would remark that I was "...prompt, capable and a pleasure to have around." Prompt? Yes. Capable? Perhaps. A Pleasure to be around? At 24 I seriously doubt it. I began working for Jimmy January 18, 1985. I took this picture Friday the 15th of January 2010 thinking of Jimmy, for he was in my thoughts upon waking and has remained so the past few days.

Sometime in 2013 the poet David Trinidad asked me to write something in regard to the poem One of my Favorite Gardens that Jimmy had written for me in me in September of 1985. The poem was lost for many years and had been found among Jimmy's papers by David.  It was to be published for the first time in Court Green 11 out of  Columbia College in Chicago, Il. This piece Appeared in Court Green 11 - February 2014.

One of my Favorite Gardens was written on the occasion of my accompanying Jimmy to his weekly session with his psychiatrist Hy Weitzen. Something Jimmy always took seriously, dressing for the occasion with proper shoes, trousers, freshly pressed shirt and sport jacket. Yet on this day he wore a suit. Owing it to nothing more than taxi driver logic we ended up heading north on Third Ave from 23rd between 8th & 7th to East 65th street where we were left to walk the block and half just past Lexington Ave to the good Doctor's. It was mid September, the end of Summer on the cusp of Autumn, with shortening days and cool crisp mornings that give way to balmy afternoons with that particular Manhattan haze.

En-route to Dr. Weitzen's we took time to pause alongside The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. There against the dark, sooty bricks of the rectory at the South West corner of the Church yard, I pointed out to Jimmy an immaculate, white statue of the Virgin Mary telling him of the fervent devotion I had had for her during the difficult years of my childhood. He listened attentively, lost in thought until his face lit up. He was drawn to a colorful display of roses, their meticulous arrangement and their place amongst an apple tree, a tomato plant and (as I excitedly pointed out) a singular stalk of maize. He spoke of the roses there, knowing their names and origin, momentarily lost, entranced by the garden's simple yet varied beauty. The noise of midday Monday Manhattan receded as we enjoyed a moment of secular meditation. It was in this silence, in the presence of this breathtaking beauty, that I believe Jimmy and I acknowledged our imminent parting. It simply passed between us, unspoken. It didn't feel particularly heavy or sad for our affection was genuine and respect mutual. We smiled at one another moving on amidst the steady stream of traffic rolling down Lexington Avenue, the busy lunchtime crowds, the changing traffic lights.

There's a wonderful Zen-like immediacy to the poem as Jimmy shamelessly states the beginning and proceeds to (quite literally) pull elegance out of thin air merging our shared history in an arrangement as lovely as any garden ever planted. Cyclic in nature, with great simplicity, he seamlessly weaves one day into many as he graciously renders our walk with a portrait of me - taking note of my work ethic, expressing his gratitude for my assistance. Just like the poem, we had come full circle. This was his offering, his commemoration of our days together. It's also a poem where a door opens (at the end). And for Jimmy, at that exact time, a door had indeed opened. The rough time he had experienced the previous August had somehow, ultimately opened him more deeply as a human being. It gave him courage. In subsequent months he would re-arrange his life, minimize his rigid dependence on others and go on to read and record his work for large, appreciative audiences. Things he had spoken of to me that summer. The impossible now possible. He had crossed Lex.

Jimmy gave me a copy of the poem on Wednesday September 18, 1985 – the last day of my employment. It was neatly typed on his signature tough, gray onion skin paper with his name and date shakily signed in blue ink. Jimmy had an almost religious humility when it came to his work, upon leaving that day he simply smiled as he handed me the poem, saying nothing. We would stay in touch and see each other on occasion up until his death in April 1991 - a time of year when gardens are planned and plotted. A fitting time for Jimmy's passage.

In the short time I worked for Jimmy I found him always thoughtful, caring & sensitive despite all of the hardships he endured. In turn, I regarded my duties as an honor and privilege. He encouraged me as an aspiring artist and poet while showing great concern for my well-being. Jimmy was generous. In his Diary (published some years later) Jimmy would remark that I was "...prompt, capable and a pleasure to have around." Prompt? Yes. Capable? Perhaps. A Pleasure to be around? At 24, I seriously doubt it. However, we seemed a good match. Even after all this time, Jimmy still crosses my mind - on a bitterly cold, clear blue January day (like the one we first met on) or when Winter's endless brown and gray gives way to Spring's first brilliant forsythia. It is at these precise moments that I look across the fields of time and salute Jimmy, fondly remembering our time together. 

Bill DeNoyelles

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