The Chelsea Hotel, Chubb Rock, and you can never go home again.

It was three in the morning and the girl was crying on the staircase between the 7th and 6th floor of the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street. I lived on the 9th floor. I walked past the girl and I desperately wanted to talk to her. I was going to be her hero. And whatever got her crying I would be able to wash it away. They say when you even brush against someone in the street its evidence that you were husband and wife in at least a million past lives. How many past lives had I been intertwined with this weeping angel on the staircase?

On another occasion I took the elevator down. I heard a guy asking me to hold the door. Chubb Rock, the rapper, stepped in. He was huge and he mutilated the space until I had to squeeze into a corner. I asked him what the freakiest thing he had ever seen on our floor was. He told me about a girl who was a few months late on her rent. Stanley Bard, the owner of the hotel, called her and asked her where the rent was. She said, “Its ok. I’m coming right down.” And then she took a running leap out the window and ended up all over 23rd St.

“Come to think of it,” Chubb told me, “that was in your room right before you moved in.”

12 years later I was living in the Chelsea Hotel again, after separating from my wife. I thought for a second that everything would be ok if I just moved back to where I lived before I had been married. Mollie, my youngest daughter, six years old at the time, was visiting me. Things weren’t the same. We were walking down the stairs and I had to make sure she didn’t step on a used condom. There wasn’t a door on our bathroom. The heater made a clanking sound in the middle of the night. I woke up and I thought workers were banging on the pipes until my head hurt. The art on the walls, which once looked exotic and real to me, now looked like collages made by kindergarteners. Mollie’s shock of red hair lit up the whole building in a way I never saw before.

But first, the girl who was crying from 12 years earlier. I walked around her without saying a word. I really wanted to talk to her. Anything could happen. She kept on crying. How could beautiful people be so sad? When I was two floors lower I thought I should go back up and maybe talk to her. Agony! Why couldn’t I talk to a crying girl at three in the morning? Agony like this is only reserved for the things we’re too afraid to do.

Timor, who worked at the front door, told me a few weeks later that the crying girl had once made a movie where she was tied up and wearing a mask that barely let her breathe while another girl dripped hot wax onto her vagina for two straight hours. “You missed the party,” he told me. “It was at that club, you know the one.” He waved his hand in the air, conjuring up a memory we never shared. “They showed the movie on the wall for two hours and we all had to buy two drinks before we left. “

Back in 1995 I had just finished my first website. I built a website for a Russian diamond dealer. The Russian gave me a bag of $17,500 in cash. It’s the first time I ever had more than $500 to my name. I went straight over to the Chelsea Hotel and got myself a room for a year, paying completely in advance. “What kind of work do you do?” Stanley Bard asked me when I handed him the bag of cash. Back in the 90s people didn’t know what to do with their money. They were giving it away.

Everything’s different now. I can’t tell if its because I’m older or if more shades of gray have entered into the universal color palette. A few years ago management changed at the Chelsea Hotel. It was going to become more upscale. Now, the latest I’ve heard is that someone is going to do some sort of buyout of the place. When I last moved into the Chelsea Hotel (in 2008) I was going through a major life change and needed some place I recognized as “home”. When I finally left the hotel a few months later I had been completely refreshed. I had spent weeks at a time talking to nobody. I scribbled down ideas and then crossed them out and quickly forgot about them. I had a fever once for a few days where I thought my brain had been turned inside out and left to dry on the radiator. Sometimes it’s good to go home to get a completely fresh start. In those few months the slate wiped completely clean for me. I hope I never have to go home again.

  • soolebop

    Nice post…from the outside looking in, not having read anything from you outside of market thoughts you seemed square, like L7, but you lived in the Chelsea in the 90’s and even more un square the 2000’s.. nice.

    btw, if you’ve blogged about the thought process behind your decision to turn down Paulson back in ’08 link me to that, if not I was curious if you would.

  • James Altucher

    @soolebop, here’s a page from Zuckerman’s book on Paulson, “The Greatest Trade Ever”, which explains why I didn’t make the trade.

  • I’m not a finance guy. I have never heard of you until I read this post. I live near the Chelsea Hotel so the headline on Twitter picked my interest. After reading this I became curious and learn more about your life and work. You’re a rare breed of rock star.

  • Thomas

    Your writing style reminds me of your hair style. I’m not sure if you’re doing it on purpose or if it’s just because you’re writing about things other than finance but this stream-of-conciousness is pretty fascinating.

  • Severus

    If only this had been the version of Catcher in the Rye I’d read. Guess Salinger just passed me on the stairs.

    BTW, yours is my favorite addition to my blogroll this year. Big ups to Downtown for the advert.


  • Adam

    One of my favorite songs around is Ryan Adam’s “Hotel Chelsea Nights”.
    Sounds like a similar experience.

  • pjc

    Congrats on keeping your marriage together James. Nice post, as always.

  • James Altucher

    Well, pjc, actually it didn’t. But it all turned out for the best.

  • Steven Goff

    “The Russian gave me a bag of $17,500 in cash. It’s the first time I ever had more than $500 to my name. I went straight over to the Chelsea Hotel and got myself a room for a year, paying completely in advance. “What kind of work do you do?” Stanley Bard asked me when I handed him the bag of cash.”
    LOL LOL LOL….it’s weird that we are very similar in many ways James….For I have done the same thing a few times in my past. It’s always a prudent and good idea to clear your mind and pockets of life necessity cost while you have the funds to do so…at any given time. I have a few times paid my rent for a whole year in one shot. I also used my advantagious position to negotiate a better deal for a lump sum payment up front. If ya can save $1000 by giving them $11,000 right then and there…most landlords will take it. And ya just got a month for free in essence. CASH IS KING and CASH TALKS! I am in a deal like that right now in fact. My next rent payment aint due until well next year 2011. Now my mind is focused on other objectives. Like getting months ahead on child support……when people asked me what I did for a living to generate cash….I replied “I am a currency replicator….from others pockets to mine”… My cash came from Poker….in most cases ;)….via a tournament win or a cash game I killed in one night.

  • Steven Goff

    “How many past lives had I been intertwined with this weeping angel on the staircase?” ~James A.
    ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh past lives orrrrrrrrrr an alternate plane of existence?
    I would think “past lives” is indicative that you believe in reincarnation? Do you? Are you a Buddhist and didn’t let anyone know? Mainly the Rabbi….lol
    Also with regards to planes of alternate existence…..Have you ever read The Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy? A trilogy obviously of novels by Robert Anton Wilson consisting of The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat, and The Homing Pigeons. Some great economic themes you would like in it. Like taking money out of society and challenging everyone in society to make a machine/device/idea to replace your job. And in it, the Govt first removed all daily and life burdens of bills, debts, and cost of living. They paid for and gave everything. And by them doing this. People eventually got board of just sitting around doing nothing. Eventually(quite soon actually) creativity and innovation made a transitional and exponential leap forward. From people finally have the clear mind and resources to work on ideas and dreams. They money people were issued to pay bills expired in a certain time period. This prevented hoarding in society. Social utopia developed. Great Book!

    The best and most classic line in the book comes from female President Hubbard
    “never underestimate the power of a good blow job”

  • Steven Goff

    Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, usually described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. The thought experiment presents a cat that might be alive or dead, depending on an earlier random event. In the course of developing this experiment, he coined the term Verschränkung (entanglement).Schrödinger and Einstein had exchanged letters about Einstein’s EPR article, in the course of which Einstein had pointed out that the state of an unstable keg of gunpowder will, after a while, contain a superposition of both exploded and unexploded states.

    To further illustrate the putative incompleteness of quantum mechanics, Schrödinger applied quantum mechanics to a living entity that may or may not be conscious. In Schrödinger’s original thought experiment, he describes how one could, in principle, transpose the superposition of an atom to large-scale systems of a live and dead cat by coupling cat and atom with the help of a “diabolical mechanism”. He proposed a scenario with a cat in a sealed box, wherein the cat’s life or death was dependent on the state of a subatomic particle. According to Schrödinger, the Copenhagen interpretation implies that the cat remains both alive and dead (to the universe outside the box) until the box is opened.

    Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility; quite the reverse, the paradox is a classic reductio ad absurdum. The thought experiment serves to illustrate the bizarreness of quantum mechanics and the mathematics necessary to describe quantum states. Intended as a critique of just the Copenhagen interpretation (the prevailing orthodoxy in 1935), the Schrödinger cat thought experiment remains a topical touchstone for all interpretations of quantum mechanics. How each interpretation deals with Schrödinger’s cat is often used as a way of illustrating and comparing each interpretation’s particular features, strengths, and weaknesses.

    Mr wiki

  • I agree with this article. Chelsea is an awesome place indeed.

  • 2move

    sad story, even 17K cash …