I returned home from work last Monday night to find a chaotic scene of destruction in the Troll Museum that is my home. Every surface was soaked in water, while warped paintings lay on the floor along with shelves and cabinets ripped from the walls by intense heat and steam. It was hard to see or breathe, a situation not unlike being in the rainforest habitat at the Central Park Zoo. I half expected to find a two-toed sloth swinging from one of the large holes now embellishing my ceiling, but my first concern was my Chihuahua, Rev. Jen Junior (aka JJ), who, despite being husky for her breed, could not possibly survive a cabinet falling on her or prolonged exposure to such conditions.
I called her name but she didn’t come. I kept calling and searching to no avail, screaming for someone to dial 911. Because Con Ed had been there two days earlier to fix a gas leak I was certain the building was about to blow up. Sobbing wildly, I felt more like Shelley Winters in Poseidon Adventure with each passing second. Eventually a courageous and sexy Latina neighbor appeared to help me and a few minutes later she found JJ huddled behind the toilet, shivering, wet and terrified. JJ might not know how to "give paw" or "roll over" but she had enough common sense to find the coolest spot in the apartment. Cradling her, I fled down the stairs with my neighbor just as the fire department was coming up.
That’s when I learned the entire incident had been a steam pipe explosion caused by the building super’s failure to change a rotted valve in the basement. Because I’m on the top floor and also because God hates me, mine was the only apartment affected.
After the fire department left, I surveyed the damage. A troll in a sailor outfit lay on the floor with his pants down and a chandelier on his head. Next to him, three trolls stood blinded, their eyes singed out of their sockets. My computer was dead along with my TV and iPod. Worst of all, my Steven Tyler autograph made out to "Rev. Jen: the Most Uncool Person I know" was soaked, making it even less legible than before.
As a drop of filthy water fell from my ceiling and rolled down my cheek like one lone, hot tear. I remembered the good old "aughts" when I used to date a-holes who would invariably try to ruin my life. Nowadays, it seems, my life exists in a state of ruin without my even having to lift a finger (or open my legs). And this, I think, is because the Universe wants me to write page-turners. As my friend, author David Henry Sterry, recently said to me, "The two most important things required to write a good memoir are horrible shit has to happen to you, and you can’t die."
With this in mind, I decided to refrain from drinking myself to death with Bud Light. Instead, I would forge on and make art while also capitalizing on the calamity with fun commemorative products. Inspired, I got to work organizing a "Troll Hairdressing" party in order to deal with the matted state of my 400 trolls’ formerly luscious manes. This I scheduled for Friday night, which gave me three days to clean up the wreckage, re-hang shelves and go to work. (The recession, along with the money-sucking disasters that happen to me daily, necessitates that I work six days a week.)
By Wednesday I was exhausted and disillusioned, answering phones at one of my many soul-crushing jobs while silently rethinking my existence of bohemian extremism, when I got a call from my trusty editor at Artnet.
"I know it’s last minute but there’s a ‘Bring Your Own Art Show’ at the Old Dia Space being put on by X-Initiative. It started at 11 am today and goes till 11 am tomorrow. You could bring your work and display it or you could just go check it out," he said.
Despite my weary state, I have one rule and it’s this: never turn down any assignment that pays any amount of money. Of course, it’s not like I’m a war correspondent or anything so this rule is fairly easy to follow. Plus the "Bring Your Own Art" concept appealed to me. On the one hand it sounded like a recipe for extremely bad art, which is always more fun to write about than good art. And on the other, it sounded like a decent opportunity to show my work without putting forth the time and effort traditionally required to show in galleries. How can I be expected to write an artist’s statement when I am so busy being an artist’s statement? It appeared BYOA might satisfy both the critic and artist in me.
Even though I wasn’t sure what I would write my article with or how I would email it (my computer being dead and all), I figured I could get home in an hour, change out of my "Clark Kent Mode," grab some art and be in Chelsea by 11 pm. Maybe I’d go "old school" and write it using a pen and paper!
Once home I found some glamorous clothes that weren’t growing mildew and threw them on along with my elf ears. In terms of what art to bring, my choice was simplified by the fact that most of my canvases were now hideously warped. A small, somber painting depicting Reverend Jen Junior and me leaving Elfland in a swan boat (much like the elves headed to Valinor in Lord of the Rings) was remarkably unscathed. Tucking it under my arm, I headed out the door, calling my photographer friend, George, on the way. He’d been at a Knicks’ home game earlier so I knew he’d probably still be near Chelsea.
Sure enough he met me on 22nd Street and though he didn’t have his camera with him, he did bring me a flashing-light Knicks’ souvenir cup. It served as a beacon while we made our way across the tiled ground floor of X-Initiative toward a cacophony of punk sounds coming from the event’s open stage. There, an extremely muscular man in red manties named Alex Calibur screamed into a microphone a la Henry Rollins while a tiny man clad in spandex running shorts played guitar. Blood dripped from Alex’s leg as he hurled himself maniacally around the stage while hipsters in silly glasses danced and cheered him on. Another pile of hipsters stretched out on the ground next to a smattering of bloody knee stains. They raucously kicked their legs in the air, laughing. It was nice to see hipsters having fun for a change. They always look so sullen.
The problem with the open stage was that I didn’t want to leave it to look at art or even hang my own. But, being on assignment, I had to. Upstairs, I found some empty wall space where I hung Leaving Elfland, which everyone ignored, possibly because other pieces were motorized, large and sitting in the middle of the floor.
I ran into a friend, performance artist Dominic Cloutier, who once appeared on my show Electra Elf. He pointed to an empty plastic bag on the floor and told me it was titled Empty Drug Baggie. Also lying on the floor, in a small pile of sawdust, was a sock bunny, which is similar to a sock monkey only it’s a bunny. Someone had left a clump of ice on its legs, probably because it looked injured. Across from the injured bunny hung a piece called External Memory by an artist named Ellen Rose: a collection of colorful little knickknacks owned by the artist, displayed in plastic bags and organized by the Dewey Decimal system.
I almost had a brain aneurism trying to remember how to use the Dewey Decimal System before giving up and moving on, whereupon I noticed something very strange: a fancy champagne bar. Considering the "No Drinks Upstairs" signs posted everywhere, it was like hallucinating a lake in a desert -- too good to be true. And being an expert on open bars, I noted that it was clean and untouched, a sure sign that it had to be a setup.
Sure enough, the "bartender" John Bonafede (who also happened to be the artist) denied drinks to everyone who approached, creating a punishment not unlike that doled out to Tantalus by the Gods. The aforementioned hipsters stood by looking very disappointed. In an attempt to incite a youthful rebellion I convinced one of them, a young man named Eric, to try to steal a bottle of champagne. He made a sneaky effort but was eventually foiled and the champagne ever-so-gently wrestled out of his hands. For his valiant effort, I invited him and his friends to my Troll Hairdressing Party (which, by the way, turned out to be an incredible success.)
Unlike Jerry Saltz, who I was told had been there for five hours giving energetic critiques, I can only take so much art. After less than an hour I wanted to go back downstairs and see if there were any more sweaty men dancing around in their underwear. Finding none and feeling about as energetic as a maimed sock bunny I decided to collect my art and head home.
REVEREND JEN is the author of Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen (Soft Skull Press, 2009), available on Amazon for $10.17 ($14.95 list price).