The trials and triumphs of an evicted urban elf

Sign of her times: Rev. Jen ponders life away from the Lower East Side. Photo by John Foster.
Sign of her times: Rev. Jen ponders life away from the Lower East Side. Photo by John Foster.

BY REV. JEN MILLER | In a recent installment of my written adventures, I made the false claim that it was the most depressing column ever written. I was wrong. This is actually the most depressing column ever written. 

This month I will discuss homelessness, cancer, mental illness, unemployment, and more! Also, I am going to turn 44 in a couple of days, almost a decade older than Anne Bancroft was when she played Mrs. Robinson. When you are female and constantly surrounded by advertisements featuring women half your age, you start to feel like you age — in dog years. So, technically, I will be 308. But even at that ripe old age, there is still a spring in my step and hope in my heart so, as always, this column will maybe make you smile while I curl up in the fetal position and cry.

So, let’s go! I’ll start with homelessness and get to the fun stuff later.

EVICTION! | New York, New York. I did not want to come here. I wanted to attend Virginia Commonwealth University — but I needed a 1,350 SAT score to get a full scholarship. I had something like a 1,300. So my parents signed me up for an SAT course. Unfortunately, I’d just discovered weed and forgot how to do math, thus scoring 800 on my second attempt. I got scholarships to various art schools and my dad said, “If you are going to be an artist, you should go to New York.”

So, in 1990, I arrived here to attend the School of Visual Arts. Because SVA didn’t have dorms, I took a room at the Parkside Evangeline, a Salvation Army residence that looked like a haunted mental institution. No men were allowed to enter. When Irina Dunn coined the phrase “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” I’m certain she had yet to visit the Parkside. It was hell.

Five years later, I found a place on Orchard Street where, at the time, no one wanted to live. In 2000, I turned my home into a “Troll Museum,” given I had something like 600 Troll Dolls and it seemed like a good idea at the time. My tiny “museum that could” soon gained international notoriety and, several men entered.

The Troll Museum on June 28, as Rev. Jen and friends were in the process of vacating her apartment. Photo by Sean Egan.
The Troll Museum on June 28, as Rev. Jen and friends were in the process of vacating her apartment. Photo by Sean Egan.

But after losing my job at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, I fell behind on my rent and spent over three years in eviction court, representing myself. Something like 88% of New York tenants can’t afford a lawyer, while 97% of landlords can. I was rent-stabilized and the landlord wanted my lease the way Gollum wants the ring, since I’d gentrified the neighborhood and turned it into the worst real estate shitshow ever.

The landlord’s lawyer rarely showed up for court. So I spent hours there, hours I could have spent working rather than waiting for the next adjournment. He was so rude that he was made to apologize to me in front of the judge after asking me why I was getting such a “hard-on” over the case. I don’t know — maybe the prospect of losing my home of over 21 years?

Eventually, due to circumstances, a panoply of mental disorders, and life events, I really couldn’t make rent. But the gavel never came down. They never told me I was evicted.

So, it came as quite a shock, one afternoon, when I emerged from the shower, clad only in a towel, to find two men in my kitchen. One was a City Marshal, the government’s equivalent of a mall cop. He told me I had three minutes to leave. Because I know Marshals are allowed to carry guns, I asked him if he had a weapon. He said, “I wish I had a gun to deal with you.”

My friend John, who was staying in the East Wing of the Troll Museum, ran out and had him confess this on video. Even so, there was nothing I could do. I grabbed the two most important things in my life: my cat and my Chihuahua. As I was struggling to get my pussy in a carrier, he said, “Oh, just leave the cat.” What a great idea! Leaving a cat (that’s very stupid) in a 90-degree apartment with little food and water really bodes well for his longevity.

So, I got the critters and ran to a neighbor’s, then bolted to the courthouse, where I was granted six hours, two days later (June 28), to remove my belongings. Luckily, a dozen art stars showed up to help. They rented a van and took my things to storage. Three kind friends offered me a temporary place to stay in what I call “Bedwick” because I’m not sure if it’s Bushwick or Bed-Stuy. I do know it’s across from “Big Boy Deli,” which was recently busted for the sale of K2 (synthetic marijuana), which has led to epidemic hospital visits.

ZOMBIELAND! | John and I actually found a guy overdosed a block away from the Deli. One fellow had already called 911. John called as well while I felt for a pulse, then felt his abdomen. He was breathing. EMT showed up in less than a minute. I said, “He’s breathing.” They said, “It’s shallow” and they took him away in an ambulance.

There’s a new kid in town: Rev. Jen outside of Big Boy Deli, alleged source of K2 zombie sightings. Photo by John Foster.
There’s a new kid in town: Rev. Jen outside of Big Boy Deli, alleged source of K2 zombie sightings. Photo by John Foster.

It looked like he was 23. Next day, the Post’s front page announced my block was “Zombieland.” If Big Boy Deli wants to clean their act up, they should turn into a legitimate “Bob’s Big Boy,” because everyone needs pancakes and coloring contests.

CANCER! | In somewhat better news, my paramour, Joe, is making a recovery from brain cancer, which means he’ll be able to visit and make sweet love to me on my birthday. I can’t think of anything I want more for my 308th except to maybe finally have my wisdom teeth extracted. It’s been a year and if his battle taught me anything, it’s that love really is patient.

TROLL MUSEUM RESURRECTION! | I told you I’d get to something happy. When you go through awful crap, some people turn their backs and some people step right up. The fine people at Chinatown Soup (16B Orchard St.) have invited me to do a gallery show and Troll Museum “pop-up.” Opening night is Aug. 16, 7pm. So please join me for a week of performances, music, art, and trolls.

WEREWOLF BITCHES! | It only took four years, but my latest feature film, “Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space,” is done — thanks to my goddaughter, Dylan Mars Greenberg, who took over filming after my ex dumped me and left the project. One thing I know about art: If you start a project, finish it, even if the end product is terrible. Opening night to be announced soon (at Anthology Film Archives). Check my Facebook page for details (find me at Revjenn Miller). If you like scantily clad werewolf lesbians, gore, and political satire, you won’t be disappointed!