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Reverend Jen

by Walter Robinson
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Every once in a while a book comes along that cuts through all the sugar-coating and gets right down to the chewy chocolate center of things. Such is Reverend Jen's Elf Girl, the rollicking memoir of the sweet Lower East Side life of the self-described “sex symbol for the insane.”

Our good Rev, whose sparkly charm is only amplified by the elf ears she wears, the tiny Chihuahua that accompanies her everywhere, and the Troll Museum she assiduously maintains in her Ludlow Street tenement apartment, writes an occasional column for this magazine titled “Diary of an Art Star.” A beacon of performance art even now, Jen most recently sponsored a special “Cher Day” on Feb. 14 and still mounts regular “anti-slams” at the Bowery Poetry Club (next one is soon, Feb. 22, at 10 pm)

But wait! Elf Girl is not merely the hippest new entry in the postmodernist canon -- its first few chapters, covering her early life, turn out to be second-hand, since as a child she suffered Scarlet Fever and forgot all the details of her halcyon youth. Sad.

Elf Girl also serves as a handbook for aspiring Art Stars everywhere, with tips and clues and, more importantly, jokes on every page. The lessons are many, but I will give you one: Carry through on even the craziest ideas.

The book contains an inventory of varieties of Budweiser found in LES bodegas, from the 7 ounce pony to the 40, which rules. As it happens, beer plays a not insignificant role in Jen’s story. For instance, ask her the origins of her famous elf ears, which she’s worn since 1992, and she’ll tell you she’s forgotten the details. “The only thing I can remember from 1992 is that a forty of King Cobra cost $1.63,” she reports.

Make no mistake, this young lady has done more than enough stuff to fill up a 278-page book. She sold Bob Ross paint kits at Pearl Paint, wore a frog costume at the Central Park Zoo, was an elf at Christmas at Bloomingdale's, entered the first-ever MTV VJ search, and worked as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum. And that was just to earn a living.

As for making art, she has written plays and musicals, started a religion called Hal (short for Halitosis), a band called Pop Rox (wearing a brown “shit suit” and making fart noises), and haunted the open-mike nights at Lower East Side clubs with names like Collective Unconscious and Surf Reality.

In 1990, when Rev Jen first arrived in the city (from Maryland), she stayed -- where else? -- at a Salvation Army residence on Gramercy Park South. One time, to protest New York’s cabaret law, which forbids dancing in bars, she attempted to defect (unsuccessfully) to the Cuban Embassy.

I mean, has Hollywood optioned the book yet? It has material for half a dozen Rom Coms, each wackier than the next. One of Jen’s lovers -- a guy with his own religion, one that forbade sexual congress -- departed leaving a note behind, reading, "I know I'm not boyfriend material, but neither was the last Messiah.”

A special feature for Manhattan bohemians who remember the East Village ‘80s is what must be the first and only detailed description of the sex technique of another one of her lovers, the LES film auteur and vampire Nick Zedd (he bites a lot).

So, if you’re not in love with Rev Jen already -- and many, many of us are -- you will be by the time you finish this book. In the words of a fan who first met her in the Beth Israel Hospital emergency room, “you had on elf ears and a Barbie nightgown, so I was kind of fascinated.”

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.