YOUR WEEKLY COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER SERVING CHELSEA, HUDSON YARDS & HELL’S KITCHEN
RALLY AGAINST RACISM
Photos by Donna Aceto
On MLK Day, Embracing Pride and Rejecting Prejudice (see page 10)
© CHELSEA NOW 2018 | NYC COMMUNITY MEDIA, LLC, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
VOLUME 10, ISSUE 3 | JANUARY 18 - 24, 2018
Chelsea Duo’s Happy Bowls Franchise Brings Açaí to Astor BY ELANA DURE For Grace Figueroa and Amber Kulak, it all started with a Labor Day trip to the Hamptons. The friends had traveled the two-tothree-hour journey to Kulak’s summer place for a relaxing vacation weekend. Taking friends’ advice, the women decided to dine at Happy Bowls in Montauk, a unique açaí bar with “fresh flavorful food” and a “happy healthy” vibe. They each ordered the PB&J Bowl for the perfect blend of açaí (a berrylike fruit), almond milk and an extra scoop of peanut butter. Little did they know the taste of that açaí bowl would mark the start of their next adventure together. Back at their Chelsea apartment, the two roommates couldn’t get Happy Bowls out of their minds. They wanted more of the açaí (pronounced “ah-sahEE”) taste and were determined to recreate the experience at home. Browsing the Happy Bowls website for recipe ideas, Kulak found the chain’s franchise opportunity. After much thought and discussion, the pair decided to start a Happy Bowls location of their own. On Sept. 15 of last year, Figueroa and Kulak opened
Courtesy Happy Bowls
L to R: Grace Figueroa and Amber Kulak, whose franchise brought the Happy Bowls story full circle.
Courtesy Happy Bowls
Purple passion: An açaí bowl at Happy Bowls features bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, coconut and granola atop a layer of tasty and healthy purple açaí berries. You can also “build your own bowl.”
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the doors to their Happy Bowls franchise — in the East Village — bringing their love for açaí to the public. (another Happy Bowls is located in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.) “It’s just been a crazy rollercoaster and it’s like, ‘Wow, now we’re here,’ ” said Figueroa, who manages the restaurant’s daily operations. The roommates, who both worked as accountants, spent the past year collaborating with the company’s owners to open the New York City location. From leases to trash pickups to Department of Health inspections, the women said there was a lot they learned along the way. “We actually said we should write a ‘Franchise for Dummies in New York City’ because there are so many things you don’t realize that come with it,” said Kulak, who is responsible for what goes on behind the scenes. Now, after much hard work and determination, their 1,700-square-foot, 35-person-capacity space offers the right atmosphere for a healthy and natural açaí bar, providing New Yorkers with a getaway that features bright col-
ors and a beach-like feel. And while their spot still sports the signature Happy Bowls vibe, Figueroa and Kulak added personal touches to make the location their own. The menu hosts three unique additions, including The Gramber Bowl, a strawberry and banana blend named for its creators, Grace and Amber. “When we started thinking about the business and whatnot, we wanted to make sure that it was a representation of the both of us,” Figueroa said. “That’s also how The Gramber Bowl was born. We combined the things that we loved and we created a bowl.” In addition to nine açaí bowls, the menu offers build-your-own bowls, oatmeal bowls, poké bowls, smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices and coffee. Their signature bowls range from $9.25 to $10.95, or you can “build your own bowl,” starting from $8.25, and add toppings. Figueroa and Kulak like to joke that their shop brought the Happy Bowls story full circle. The roommates explained that the company’s founding couple consists of a New Yorker and a Puerto Rican, just the same as them (well, technically, New Yorker Kulak is from Massachusetts). “The story is repeating itself,” Figueroa said. “It’s both of us at all times, holding each other’s hands and just making it happen,” Figueroa said. Happy Bowls is located at 61 Fourth Ave. (btw. E. Ninth & 10th Sts., near Astor Place). Hours are weekdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and weekends, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit happybowls.co or call 917-261-6081.
VISIT PCRICHARD.COM FOR A STORE NEAREST YOU 2
Januar y 18, 2018
NYC Community Media
A Speaker Talks: Corey Johnson on District 3, Chelsea, Future of City BY WINNIE McCROY On the evening of Wed., Jan. 3, just a few hours after being elected 48–1 as New York’s new City Council Speaker, it made sense that Corey Johnson would want to celebrate with friends. And he did — by heading over to Mount Sinai West for the monthly full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4). “As your councilmember, I want to thank you for your friendship. I also want to let you know that I’m not going anywhere,” said Johnson at that meeting. “I still live in Chelsea. I don’t own a car. I do my own grocery shopping. I walk in sweatpants and a baseball cap down the street. I look forward to staying in touch with all of you. Even with this new role of leading the Council, I’m not going to forget the neighborhoods that elected me, the people who elected me. I’m not going to stray too far away. You have to remember where you came from — and I will.” Johnson, 35, was raised in a working-class Massachusetts household and made national headlines in 2000 when, as captain of his high school football team, he very publicly came out as gay. A Chelsea resident since 2001, he moved to New York City as a 19-yearold gay man with big dreams, connected to the energy of the city, and soon entered public service as a member of CB4. In 2011, Johnson was elected to chair of CB4. He parlayed his popularity to become the District 3 City Councilmember in 2013, after a hardfought Democratic primary defeat of attorney Yetta Kurland. His 2017 bid for reelection to the Council garnered a landslide victory over Eco Justice challenger Marni Halasa. Now, Johnson is the first leader of the 51-member City Council who is an openly gay, HIVpositive man. But Johnson is not the first speaker to hail from the West Side Manhattan district. His openly-lesbian predecessor, Christine Quinn, served the area for three terms before being elected to City Council Speaker, a position of power in NYC second only to the mayor. During a Jan. 9 interview at City Hall with NYC Community Media papers including The Villager, Gay City News and Manhattan Express, Johnson assured Chelsea Now that his first obligation remained to his constituents, the 170,000 people who live in District 3, saying he would “be a very NYC Community Media
regular presence at community board meetings, block association meetings, tenant association meetings, and local events.” District 3 encompasses West SoHo, Hudson Square, Greenwich Village, the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, Flatiron, Hell’s Kitchen, Clinton, a little bit of the Upper West Side, Columbus Circle, Times Square, the Theatre District, the Garment District, Hudson Yards, The High Line, Hudson River Park, Penn Station, Moynihan Station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, The Javits Center, the Whitney Museum, and Sheridan Square. “It’s a dynamic district, a big district, and I think it has bigger challenges in some ways, because while each district represents 170,000 constituents, the average daily influx to my district brings that up to 2 million people,” said Johnson. “I’m facing challenges other districts don’t have.” Brandishing a sheaf of papers, Johnson began stringing out a long list of his legislative priorities, among them improving the city’s parks, schools, transportation issues, infrastructure projects, land use deals, and subway upgrades. He also promised that he would not neglect his constituents in District 3, for whom he has been a vocal and active presence in issues of landmarking, traffic safety, and tenant advocacy.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR DISTRICT 3
Photo by William Alatriste
The people that you meet, when you’re walking down the street; a Speaker is a person in your neighborhood. Chelsea resident Corey Johnson, headed to the subway for his commute to City Hall.
File photo by Winnie McCroy
From July 2013: CB4’s Corey Johnson (center) and other board members at Fulton Auditorium. Johnson stopped by the Jan. full board meeting of CB4 on the night of his election to the speakership, thanking former colleagues and pledging allegiance to the neighborhood.
The City Council Speaker job comes with a wide scope of responsibilities, including serving as a check against the mayor, approving the city budget, receiving submissions of proposed legislation and setting agendas for and presiding at City Council meetings. But Johnson assured his constituents that these new duties wouldn’t affect his office’s ability to get things done in his home district. Tapping Matt Green, his longtime Deputy Chief of Staff, Community Affairs to run things in District 3, Johnson assured that he would hire additional people to work in his district office, with Green saying, “For staffing, as mentioned by the Speaker when we met [Green was present on Jan. 9], we aren’t going to lose focus on district issues even as we deal with citywide issues. We’re excited to have more resources and staff to address pressing needs of the district.” They will soon SPEAKER TALKS continued on p. 12 Januar y 18, 2018
Beam of Bright: Leo House Lights BY REBECCA FIORE Amy Jackson noticed an unwanted trespasser in her 15th floor apartment, and she’s had difficulty sleeping ever since. Managers at Leo House hostel/ hotel (332 W. 23rd St., btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) confirmed they added new light fixtures outside the building in November, to illuminate their American flags. Jackson, who has been living at Penn South (250 W. 24th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.) for five years, never had light trespassing issues before. “It lights up my ceiling,” Jackson said. “They are down the block and off to the side, they are almost angling at me. I keep my blinds pulled in my bedroom now because it produced more light at night. It’s funny to be keeping the blinds pulled to keep the light out during nighttime. It’s not for privacy, it’s necessity.” Merrill Peress, Jackson’s neighbor, initially thought the fixtures were temporary construction lights. She’s fortunate, unlike Jackson, that her bedroom window faces north. “They are a light polluting eyesore from our windows and balconies, and overwhelmingly the brightest lights on the street,” Peress said. Susan Harder, a light designer and a volunteer for the New York state chapter of International Dark-Sky Association (darksky.org), has been focusing on issues of outdoor lighting and light pollution for about 20 years. She said currently, there are no laws regulating outdoor lighting, except on state-owned facilities. In fact, the Committee on Transportation of the NYC Council introduced a bill in 2015, which would require light-emitting diode (LED) streetlights in the city, on streets, highways, parks and other public places “have a correlated color temperature no higher than 3000 Kelvin” (Kelvin is the unit of measurement used to characterize the color of light emitted). Overexposure to the blue light emitted from LEDs, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, is particularly harmful to humans, as it negatively impacts circadian rhythm, our internal biological clocks, and has even been linked to increasing risks for cancer and other diseases “Even with your eyes closed, if you have light in the bedroom at night, the light still changes your internal mecha-
Januar y 18, 2018
Courtesy Amy Jackson
Seen here on Nov. 22, 2017, the Leo House lights are noticeably brighter than the Chase Bank entry. Some Penn South residents assumed they were temporary construction lights.
Courtesy Amy Jackson
The lights travel up to Jackson’s 15th floor apartment, illuminating more than just Leo House flags at night. Jackson sleeps with her blinds closed to keep the artificial light from getting into her bedroom.
nism and shuts off melatonin,” Harder said. Based off pictures of the lights, Harder said she thinks there’s too much light shining on the ground, making either ends of the building nearly pitch black. “It’s the same thing that happens when you walk out of a movie theater,” she said. “From the dark you come into the bright lights and can’t see as well. Your eyes have to adjust. They have to become accustomed to the brightness again. You can’t see as well after you pass by them, because your eyes shut down.” Jackson said she asked Larry O’Neill, Penn South’s security chief, to go over and talk to the Leo House, after she briefly tried to but was dismissed. O’Neill said he received a letter from Jackson on Nov. 30 complaining about the lights, since then he has not received any additional complaints. Sometime before Christmas, he went down and spoke with two men, Warren Le Cruise, facilities manager/fire safety director, and David Smith, executive director, who brought him to the second floor so he could look down at the fixtures himself. “I believe if they had bigger hoods over these lights it might prevent them from shining upward,” O’Neill said. “They are very bright and they do shine.” O’Neill added that the two men didn’t indicate the need to fix the lights, as they didn’t see an issue. “I don’t think [the Leo House] believes it’s as much of a problem as residents believe it is on their level,” he said. When told that Jackson sleeps with her blinds closed at night because of the light trespassing, Smith said, “I hope she sleeps with her eyes closed.” Smith and Le Cruise said, from their perspectives, they don’t understand how the light could get into Jackson’s apartment, since as they said, the lights are pointed down and have coverings. “We are trying to do everything from our angle, we are trying to do the right thing. Anyone who lives in the city, guess what? You have to deal with lights,” Le Cruise said. He said the only intention of the lights is to illuminate the flags on the building and that there are other buildings in the area that are well lit. “This ain’t the country, this is New York City. This is unfounded. Move to NYC Community Media
Pollute Penn South Neighbors the country Amy Jackson, or pull down the shades,” Smith said. Kate Karakassis, who lives off W. 24th St. at Penn South, said that while her apartment isn’t directly affected, she still finds the lights to be “extremely bright and inconsistent with any other lighting along the block.” “The area is already well lit and Leo House’s new lights serve no advertising or security purposes. West 23rd Street is not Times Square and that level of lighting is not appropriate for this mixed-use 23rd Street area,” she said. “In the summer, when balconies are in use and windows open for air circulation, this problem will only be worse.” Harder said that just because New York is known as the city that never sleeps doesn’t mean that lights have to be obtrusive or cause safety hazards. In her past experience, Harder said she has rarely dealt with a situation like the Leo House, where the managers ignored the issue. “In New York City we are all so close together that there is an implicit ‘be a good neighbor’ law; turn down music
While New York City may not the be City of Lights (that’s Paris), it is the City that Never Sleeps, as seen on the far right hand corner of the image above. Susan Harder from the International Dark-Sky Association said light trespassing is a citywide issue.
or pick up after your dog. But in this case we are going to have to go further because the city doesn’t have lighting laws. It’s not just the Leo House, the problem is all over the city,” Harder said, also noting she thinks that new
lower-leveled fixtures would not only benefit the community, but also more likely than not save the Leo House money on energy. “They’ve got the wrong fi xtures. They are positioned incorrectly, too
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bright. They can light up sidewalks and flags perfectly well with different fixtures, conforming to better light levels,” Harder asserted. Jackson said she initially felt silly complaining, calling it a “First World problem,” but she has since made a complaint to 311, so the city has a file of the issue. “It just seems so un-neighborly of them,” Jackson said. “It’s a Catholic organization that’s been in the neighborhood so long. You’d think if some neighbors contacted them that they might take action, but they haven’t. That’s kind of disappointing to me.” O’Neill and Harder agree that this problem can be easily fixed. “They should really have someone come in and adjust them down rather than pointing in this direction now. Or have someone come in and keep the lights, but put an extension of the hood,” O’Neill said. When questioned whether or not the Leo House would consider changing the lights if asked, Smith said, “No, because he [O’Neill] was already over here and did exactly that [ask].”
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Januar y 18, 2018
Health: Its Own Reward (Lifestyle Change Award Also Nice) Heart disease and stroke causes one in three women’s deaths each year, most due to the lifestyle choices people make. Have you or someone you know made a positive change that greatly improved chances of living longer? The American Heart Association and Macy’s are searching for an inspirational woman from the New York metropolitan area to honor with the 2018 New York Lifestyle Change Award. The Association, in collaboration with Macy’s, a national sponsor of the Go Red For Women movement, created the Lifestyle Change Award to celebrate the accomplishments of women who have made significant and positive changes to improve their quality of life and overall health. Women who have taken steps to improve their health or the health of those around them are encouraged to apply at nycgored.heart.org. The deadline for nomination submission is Fri., Feb. 2, 2018. The winner will be recognized by Macy’s at the 2018 NYC Go Red For Women Luncheon, the premier annual event in New York City focusing on women’s cardiovascular health, on Fri., March 2, at the New York Hilton Midtown. The winner will receive a $500 Macy’s gift card and a consultation with a Macy’s MyStylist. Macy’s executives Molly Langenstein and Anne Dunn serve as Executive Co-Chairpersons of the luncheon. Since 2004, Macy’s has raised more than $65 million for Go Red For Women. Every dollar raised helps fund life-saving research and awareness that
adds more time to women’s lives. That means more time to be entrepreneurs, innovators, and business moguls. More time to be moms, sisters, partners, and friends. For more information about the Lifestyle Change Award and to submit nominations online, please visit nycgored.heart.org. The American Heart Association is devoted to sav-
ing people from heart disease and stroke — the two leading causes of death in the world. They team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. Go Red For Women is nationally sponsored by Macy’s and CVS Health. New York City Goes Red sponsors are Northwell Health and TransPerfect.
ALL THE POWER WITHOUT THE PINCH HEALTH CARE STARTS WITH HEALTHY FOOD. Since 1985, we’ve been cooking and home-delivering nutritious, individually tailored meals to people living with serious illness. Being sick and hungry is a crisis. You can help. DONATE, VOLUNTEER, OR JUST LEARN MORE AT GLWD.ORG 6
Januar y 18, 2018
NYC Community Media
POLICE BLOTTER CRIMINAL MISCHIEF: Blows top, breaks door Sometimes the convenience store doesn’t have everything we need, but that doesn’t give us the right to cause a scene. A 26-yearold man became irate at 7-Eleven (195 Seventh Ave., btw. W. 21st & 22nd Sts.) on Mon., Jan. 1 at 6:35 p.m., and when he was asked to leave he became violent. The man hit the front door and broke the glass. Repairs for the door will cost $250.
PETIT LARCENY: Thief for the memories A woman told police she was out of town and when she returned home on Sat., Dec. 23 at 3 p.m., a package left in the lobby had been tampered with. The incident happened on the 200 block of W. 21st St. The box, which contained a CD with family photos, was ripped opened and the contents were missing. The woman told police that UPS left the package inside the vestibule of the building.
PROPERTY DAMAGE: Meals don’t mix with wheels Imagine having a late night meal in your car and getting jolted by another car. This happened to a 40-year-old man on Fri., Jan. 12 at 10:30 p.m. He was in his parked car on the southeast corner of 11th Ave. and W. 28th St. scarfing up his grub, when a vehicle struck him from behind. Damage was caused to the 2015 black Toyota’s right rear bumper.
LOST PROPERTY: Wallet is an out of pocket expense It is the season for us to walk with our hands in our pocket. Sometimes we take our hands out too fast and end up losing things. A man was walking down Ninth Ave. on Sat., Jan. 13 at 3:30 p.m. Upon arriving at the corner of W. 20th St., he noticed his wallet was missing. He believes the wallet fell out of his pocket — but he knows for sure that he is now missing his license, TD Bank card, and passport.
PETIT LARCENY: The iPhone you took Don’t give your phone to strangers and expect to get it back. An all-too-trusting 24-year-old woman gave her iPhone 7 Plus to another woman at the Highline Ballroom (431 W. 16th St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) on Sat., Jan. 13 at 3:30 a.m. When she asked for it back soon after, the woman refused to return the property. —Tabia C. Robinson NYC Community Media
THE 10th PRECINCT Located at 230 W. 20th St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.). Commander: Capt. Paul Lanot. Main number: 212-741-8211. Community Affairs: 212-7418226. Crime Prevention: 212-7418226. Domestic Violence: 212741-8216. Youth Officer: 212741-8211. Auxiliary Coordinator: 212-924-3377. Detective Squad: 212-741-8245. The Community Council meets on the last Wed. of the month, 7 p.m., at the 10th Precinct or other locations to be announced. MIDTOWN SOUTH PRECINCT Located at 357 W. 35th St. (btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.). Inspector Russel J. Green, Commanding Officer. Call 212-239-9811. Community Affairs: 212-239-9846. Crime Prevention: 212-239-9846. Domestic Violence: 212-2399863. Youth Officer: 212-2399817. Auxiliary Coordinator: 212-239-9836. Detective Squad: 212-239-9856. The Community Council meets on the third Thurs. of the month, 7 p.m., at the New Yorker Hotel (481 Eighth Ave., btw. W. 34th & 35th Sts.). Visit midtownsouthcc.org. THE 13th PRECINCT Located at 230 E. 21st St. (btw. Second & Third Aves.). Deputy Inspector: Brendan Timoney. Call 212-477-7411. Community Affairs: 212-4777427. Crime Prevention: 212477-7427. Domestic Violence: 212-477-3863. Youth Officer: 212-477-7411. Auxiliary Coordinator: 212-477-4380. Detective Squad: 212-477-7444. The Community Council meets on the third Tues. of the month, 6:30 p.m., at the 13th Precinct. CASH FOR GUNS $100 cash will be given (no questions asked) for each handgun, assault weapon or sawed-off shotgun, up to a maximum payment of $300. Guns are accepted at any Police Precinct, PSA or Transit District.
Our Perspective Stop Stealing From Car Wash Workers! By Stuart Appelbaum, President Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW o worker should earn less than the minimum wage, ever. But in many low-wage industries, including car wash, where hundreds of workers are represented by the RWDSU, that’s what has been happening for years. For too long, the so-called “tip Credit” has allowed operators to pay workers well below the minimum wage. In a time when low-wage workers rely on every cent to provide for themselves and their families, tip credit provides employers with an outrageous license to steal. The tip credit is a part of New York State minimum wage law that allows industry operators to pay car wash workers a different, lower minimum wage. In theory, workers’ tips are supposed to make up the difference, and possibly more. And, if workers’ tips don’t raise the level of pay to at least the minimum wage, car wash employers are supposed to make up the difference in additional hourly wages. But tip credit does not work in the car wash environment. It’s a vehicle for wage theft and contributes to systemic underpayment of car wash workers – exactly what the car wash unionizing campaign and car wash workers have been ﬁghting against. Investigations have shown that employers don’t always make up the extra pay for workers when tips are short, and car wash workers don’t always receive the tips customers presume are going into their pockets. We shouldn’t be giving unscrupulous employers additional opportunities to underpay their workers, and that’s exactly what tip credit does in the car wash industry and many others. Tip credit has provided bad car wash operators with an abhorrent loophole that has left immigrant workers susceptible to wage theft. Car wash operators have been ﬁned and directed to make restitution for wage theft to the tune of millions of dollars. In many industries, Immigrant workers are particularly susceptible to tip credit-aided wage theft. Nail salon workers, deliverymen, car wash workers, restaurant workers; all are affected by wage theft, and all are affected by the tip credit loophole that makes it easier for employers to underpay them and even steal from them. It’s past time that the state of New York puts an end to tip credit and makes sure that no worker in the Empire State earns less than the minimum wage. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has directed the Commissioner of Labor to schedule public hearings to evaluate the possibility of ending minimum wage tip credits in New York State. Ending tip credit would raise base pay for workers in a number of industries, and stop a loophole that has been responsible for countless instances of wage theft and contributed to holding entire communities back. The Governor’s announcement is an important next step in ensuring that 5,000 car wash workers in New York now have a chance to earn fair wages for their work, and that no worker in the Empire State is underpaid and impoverished.
www.rwdsu.org Januar y 18, 2018
Democratic Assemblymembers Michael G. DenDekker of Queens, JoAnn Simon of Brooklyn, Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo, and Richard N. Gottfried and Linda B. Rosenthal of Manhattan at the Jan. 11 hearing.
Assembly Holds Hearing on Legalizing Pot BY NATHAN RILEY Demanding that New York State stop racist law enforcement patterns by legalizing adult use of marijuana, advocates told members of the State Assembly, including Health Committee chair Richard N. Gottfried, a Chelsea Democrat, that police stops are traumatizing black and brown New Yorkers. At a Jan. 11 hearing in Lower Manhattan, speaker after speaker insisted that being searched, handcuffed, marched into court, and chained to other arrestees in the morning is often traumatizing. “Marijuana decriminalization has fallen short and will continue to do so,” Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, contended. Even with reductions in stop and frisk, it remains up to the police officer to distinguish between private possession and possession in public view, which can trigger a criminal arrest. Those nabbed, overwhelmingly black and Latino New Yorkers, are fingerprinted and given retinal scans. Police officers have no immediate way of knowing if their victim faces deportation or loss of a job or a scholarship, but no matter what the arrestee is left cowed and confused. Over the past 20 years, more than 800,000 New Yorkers living in a “decriminalized” legal environment have faced criminal charges. In 2016, there were 20,133 arrests, more than 85 percent of them among AfricanAmerican and Latinx New Yorkers and one-third of them under 21. The Start SMART (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated
Januar y 18, 2018
Trade) New York campaign supplied most of the witnesses at a joint hearing of the Assembly Health, Codes, and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Committees. With Codes chair Joe Lentol of Brooklyn out sick, Gottfried presided with fellow West Sider Linda B. Rosenthal, who chairs Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. The three committee chairs have primary oversight of legislation legalizing marijuana that is sponsored by Buffalo’s Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, who traveled to the city for the hearing. The effort is championed in the Senate by East Side Democrat Liz Krueger. Frederique demonstrated the dire need for reform with horrifying stories of marijuana arrests gone wrong. Two New York City detectives were indicted for raping an 18-year-old girl after searching her car for marijuana. Wayne Henderson, a 25-year-old New Yorker died on Riker’s Island after his parole was revoked for marijuana possession. One fifth of all parolees sent back to prison are violated for pot-related infractions. In the Bronx, 69-year old Mario Sanabria died during a no-knock search for marijuana. He was taking care of his 92-year-old brother-in-law, and the man named in the warrant was not at home. According to a July 21, 2017 New York Times story, the city’s Administration for Children’s Services separated Colyssa Stapleton from her children for months before it became clear she was a victim of a false marijuana arrest. Other reasons advanced for legalizing pot included the tax revenue stream available to officials contending with
an estimated $4 billion shortfall in state revenue and the opportunities for enhancing the medical marijuana program currently crippled by restrictions imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014. The hearing included testimony from two police professionals. Sherriff Barry Virts, from Wayne County on Lake Ontario, warned that legal pot would make the drug more easily available to young people, but Major Neill Franklin, a retired Maryland police officer who is executive director of LEAP, an organization of police officers opposed to prohibition, supported adult use. He argued that the illegal sellers use children to sell and deliver product because the young needed the money and if arrested face lighter penalties. The Assembly hearing took place amidst a roller coast ride for the emerging legal pot movement. On Jan. 1, legal sales began in California, but just three days later, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions terminated an Obama era policy of stepping back from federal prosecution of marijuana growth and sales operating legally under state law. Almost immediately, a cloud was cast over legal activities in eight states. The head of Alaska’s cannabis program, a police chief, immediately resigned. In Colorado, however, where pot became legal four years ago, Democrats and Republicans rose in unison to protect their program. Republican Senator Cory Gardner warned Sessions he would block appointments at the Justice Department unless the AG backed down. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, defended California’s new law,
insisting that protection of legal pot sales be in the budget with a bar on federal dollars going to pot prosecutions in states that have legalized. Politico could find no member of Congress willing to speak up in favor of Sessions’ assault on adult-use legalization. The legislature in Vermont responded to Sessions by becoming the second state sharing a border with New York to adopt adult-use. Massachusetts’ legalization will be implemented later this year. And New Jersey, under the leadership of Governor Phil Murphy, elected in November on a pro-legalization platform with 56 percent of the vote, is likely to follow suit soon. The nation’s earliest legal pot initiatives came through the work of advocates who won popular referenda. In New York, the lead will be taken by legislators, not first and foremost the advocates. Following the Jan. 11 hearing, Gottfried, in a written statement, said, “The hearing was extraordinarily informative, and the testimony certainly conveyed the importance of the issue for people’s lives. People need to understand that this is not about just allowing a recreational activity; our current law destroys tens of thousands of lives a year. The hearing made that very clear.” This week, Cuomo announced a study of a “Regulated Marijuana Program” in consultation with “state agencies” that will look at the impact of “legalization in surrounding states.” There was no mention in the governor’s announcement of studying the program in Colorado, which now has four years of success under its belt. NYC Community Media
NYC Community Media
Januar y 18, 2018
Rally Against Racism Sends a Message to the Preside REPORTING BY REBECCA FIORE, PHOTOS BY DONNA ACETO Nearly a half-century after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on his namesake holiday, hundreds gathered together in the freezing cold of Times Square for a Rally Against Racism, held in response to President Donald Trump’s most recent inflammatory and racist comments on Haiti and African nations. Communications Director Cara Noel, of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (which organized the Jan. 15 rally), said in a statement provided to Chelsea Now that the “coalition came together to show the world that working people are taking a stand for our sisters and brothers from Haiti, throughout Africa, El Salvador, and other nations that have been targets of the hatred and bigotry of the Trump Administration.” She said the coalition made a conscious decision of holding the rally on MLK Day to honor King and show “the world the progress we are making towards helping to achieve Dr. King’s dream.” It was one of five rallies that day against the current administration, according to Take Action NYC (takeactionnyc.com), which spanned from Washington Square Park to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Numerous elected public officials as well as members of the public and event organizers spoke out against Trump’s claims, supporting the city’s immense immigration population. Some of the officials included Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, the first Haitianborn person elected to the New York City Council, and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, the first HaitianAmerican woman elected into office in New York City. “Today as we celebrate the legacy, a champion for justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, it is important we come together to condemn the word of the president and offer respect for Haitians, Africans, and immigrants,” Eugene said. “Haiti is the model of liberty. Haiti is the model of human dignity.” Many members in the crowd, draped in the Haitian flag, shouted “1804!” — the year of Haiti’s independence from French colonizers. Haiti is the only nation established as a result of a slave revolt and is considered the first Black Republic. Bichotte, representing the 42nd district in Brooklyn, which has the largest number of Haitian immigrants in the city, explained that not only did the
Januar y 18, 2018
Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, the first Haitian-born person elected to NYC Council.
Many members in the crowd shouted “1804!” — the year of Haiti’s independence from Fren
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte is the first Haitian-American woman elected into office in New York City.
President’s comments come just days before MLK Day, but also just a day before the eight-year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the small Caribbean nation, killing over 300,000 people. “We are still mourning,” Bichotte said. “How insensitive can you be Mr. Donald Trump? But then again, you go around and make money off our backs, off the backs of the countries you call shitholes.” Daphne St. Valliere, born and raised in Brooklyn, came to the rally with her brother, her husband and their two children, ages 4 and 6. She is the daughter of immigrants, making her a first generation Haitian immigrant. “It is deplorable how our president is speaking about black and brown people,” she said. “I’m here in solidarity
SEIU members rally to “show the world that working people are taking a stand for our sisters and brothers.”
with my Haitian people.” St. Valliere was one of many who brought their children, the next generation along with them. Erika Drezner, an American studies teacher living in Brooklyn, brought her son with her. She held up a sign with part of Langston Hughes’s famous poem, “Let America Be America Again.” “I’m patriotic, but I’m patriotic in the context of knowing this country was built on white supremacy. That’s a
tension I struggle with as white teacher every day,” Drezner said. She said she goes to about one protest a week, “We need to put our bodies in the way of this administration, it’s so disastrous and scary on so many levels.” NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson repeated the phrase, “Can you hear us Mr. Trump?” to the enthusiastic crowd and Rah Rah band. “The silver lining is that [Trump] has awoken a sleeping giant, immigrants, NYC Community Media
ent, and a Show of Support to Targets of His Bigotry
Protestors held up signs including “Stop the Billionaire Bigot,” “America is an Ideal not a Race,” and an American flag with the words “Resistance is Patriotic.”
A Haitian Rah Rah band rallied the crowd with upbeat music, as immigrants from across NYC gathered to denounce bigotry and celebrate diversity.
women, undocumented, LGBT people, people of color, poor people, and union members. We are in the struggle together,” he said. “Every time he says this he wants us to feel beaten down, divided. But on a cold Martin Luther King Day, in his name, we are out here at the crossroads of the world, Times Square, standing united, all communities against the maniac in the White House.” Mayor Bill de Blasio took to the podium to remind the audience to not get NYC Community Media
discouraged by the racist accusations coming from Washington, DC and to remember that we are a “society that welcomes and respects all.” “I say to anyone in this city who hears something they find appealing in the voice of the president, that if these same standards were applied to your ancestors, you wouldn’t be here in this country,” he said. “Treat the new generation of immigrants just as we wish our fathers, grandfathers, and great-
The Rally Against Racism had its somber moments, with heads bowed in contemplation of the political climate since Trump took office.
grandfathers were treated, that this is meant to be a place for all.” Protestors held up signs including, “Stop the Billionaire Bigot,” “America is an Ideal not a Race,” and an American flag with the words “Resistance is Patriotic.” Ulysses Contreras said he attended the rally because he felt it was crucial to keep Dr. King’s legacy and dream alive.
“With everything going on in the country, it’s important for us to carry [King’s mission] on and to understand that his death was not in vain,” he said. “We need to do better as a people, be more inclusive, be more respectful. It’s important to be out here demonstrating letting the government and Trump administration know that he can’t divide us, we are still here.” Januar y 18, 2018
SPEAKER TALKS continued from p. 3
announce more about the increased resources for the district office. But Chelsea Now readers know that Green (now working under the title Deputy Chief of Staff, District Director) has been a tireless advocate for Chelsea residents facing harassment from landlords looking to ditch existing rentstabilized tenants, spruce up the units a bit, then jack up the prices to market rate. Green has worked to help tenants facing “harassment by neglect” via a lack of cooking gas, heat and/or hot water, like those Chelsea Now reported on at 311 W. 21st St., 206 Ninth Ave., and 336 W. 17th St. (see the April 2017 article “Knowledgeable Tenants Challenge Lack of Utilities, Shady Landlord Tactics” at chelseanow.com). Johnson’s office said the increasing number of incidents in individual buildings in Chelsea over the past four years are all part of a wave of gentrification that is now being seen across New York City. “Chelsea started to gentrify earlier than other areas of the city, so those development pressures and harassment issues started earlier [here] than they probably did in other neighborhoods and boroughs. So, we’re probably going to see more on a case-by-case basis where we have to work with tenants and buildings,” said Johnson. “Matt and Erik [Bottcher, Chief of Staff] let me know literally when something happens in a building, because sometimes I will call the [Department of Buildings] commissioner myself or show up at the building myself. I will continue to do that.” Johnson will rely on Green to handle individual incidents in District 3, and is “not going to lose sight of helping my district.” But pointing to these housingrelated issues as “the number one issue every single councilmember during the Speaker race told me they deal with,” Johnson vowed that his office would continue to put the pressure on agencies like the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB), NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA), and New York State Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), which handles rent-controlled
Photo by William Alatriste
L to R, from NYC Community Media’s Jan. 9 meeting at City Hall: Speaker Corey Johnson, NYC Council Communications Director Robin Levine, Deputy Chief of Staff, District Director Matt Green, reporter Winnie McCroy, Lincoln Anderson (editor, The Villager), and Scott Stiffler (editor, Chelsea Now).
apartments. He also plans to set up a centralized way that the City Council as a body can serve as a resource for individual councilmembers to get problems in their districts resolved through these agencies. This means pushing legislation, protecting tenants through the land use process, using oversight powers with individual agencies through budget hearings, and ensuring budget resources are allocated to city agencies that work on these specific issues.
PRESERVING OUR HISTORY Following in Quinn’s footsteps, Johnson has worked hard during his time in City Council to ensure that District 3’s historic landmarks are protected. Part of this is his efforts to preserve and expand the Special West
File photo by Sean Egan
From Sept. 2016: Matt Green with a model of a raised pedestrian crosswalk, one of the winning projects from District 3’s first year of Participatory Budgeting. Even with his expanded responsibilities, Green will continue to oversee the PB process.
Chelsea District, running from W. 15th St. between Ninth and Tenth Aves.; West 24th and 25th St. between 11th and 12th Aves.; and W. 29th and 30th
Extra! Extra! Local News – Read all about it!
Januar y 18, 2018
St. between 11th and 12th Aves. He also fought to get individual buildings landmarked for preservation. And he has found success: The third council district now has more landmarked locales than just about any other district in Manhattan, including the Chelsea Historic District, Gansevoort Market Historic District, Greenwich Village Historic District, the South Village Historic District, the CharltonKing-Vandam Historic District, and part of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. NYC Community Media
city making a substantial investment to the MTA with the following caveats: accountability for where exactly the money is being spent with funds not siphoned off to other authorities or the state; setting up timelines; and managing projects in a responsible way so the cost of tax dollars and city levy is being used appropriately. “The subway is probably the most egalitarian thing about New York City: the rich, the poor, people of color, LGBTs, the young, the old — everyone uses the subway,” said Johnson, who vows to continue taking the subway to work. “It’s the thing that affects most New Yorkers on a day-to-day basis. I am not caught up in any political fight related to the subway; I am all about improving service on the short term, and coming up with a long-term plan to invest in the MTA responsibly and for the future.”
GOVERNING WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE
Gay City News file photo by Donna Aceto
When not dancing in the streets, as he did at the 2014 LGBT Pride March, Johnson might be found on Instagram, lip-synching to the work of various pop divas (@coreyjohnsonnyc).
“I’m also really committed to working with Ken Lustbader [co-director of NYC LGBT Historic Sites], who has done a great job at landmarking individual LGBT landmarks in both Chelsea and Greenwich Village, and across the city. The mayor a few years ago landmarked Stonewall, and Julius’ bar needs that status as well, because of its history.” Saying he would need to first consult with building owners, he rattled off a list of perspective sites for landmarking, including the brownstone in the West 20s where GMHC was founded, the building on W. 29th St. that is the only known site of the Underground Railroad in Manhattan (located within the Lamartine Place Historic District), and lesbian poet Audre Lorde’s home in Staten Island. “As the city becomes more gentrified, we need to ensure that these places are protected, not just in my district, but in sites in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island,” he said. “Every borough has these cultural landmarks that deserve respectful, proper recognition and I support doing that in a greater NYC Community Media
way as Speaker.”
KEEPING DISTRICT 3 SAFE Between commuters hurrying to and from Port Authority and Penn Station, charter buses dropping off their charges on Seventh Ave., and trucks delivering supplies to area stores and restaurants, District 3 includes some of the city’s busiest streets. Johnson worked hard with CB4 Chair Christine Berthet to track and mitigate pedestrian and cyclist safety in the district. But after three traffic fatalities last summer, more work needs to be done. “Chelsea Now did a great job covering these very tragic incidents,” said Johnson. “We saw the first Citi Bike fatality on West 26th between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, a young father with two kids, horrible. Then we saw another incident with a senior citizen on West 29th, an older gentleman hit by a bus and killed.” That’s one reason Johnson supports designated bike lines — from the new bike lane on Seventh Ave. to the city’s
first protected bike lanes created six or seven years ago on Eighth and Ninth Aves — even though many constituents complain to him about them, because people’s lives are on the line. “We need to continue to protect pedestrians and cyclists,” he continued. “The motto goes: Pedestrians first, cyclists second, vehicles last. That’s the order or priority in protection as it relates to making our streets safer.” His views toward lessening city traffic diverge from those of Mayor Bill de Blasio, as Johnson is a vocal supporter of congestion pricing. He supports the Move New York plan on lessening the tolls on outer borough crossings to create some equity there, while at the same time tolling the East River bridges, and imposing a surcharge on for-hire vehicles which would go to the MTA to invest in mass transit. “The number one thing we have to do as it relates to congestion and air quality, and pedestrian and cyclist safety, is we have to decrease and disincentivize cars coming into Manhattan,” said Johnson. Johnson said that he supports the
“My mantra going into the new year was to do the most good for the people who need it the most,” said Johnson. “This is a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of opportunity. When I ran for City Council in 2013, it was a hardfought, difficult race. But when I won, I did not feel any different. Today, six days on the job as Speaker, I don’t feel any different. The only weird thing is to have a police detail, a reminder that there’s always someone following you around. But I feel like the same guy who just wants to do a great job.” Johnson said that while it’s too early yet to set his sights on the future, he does intend to work hard and continue serving in public office. He vows to completely support the body of the City Council, while at the same time continuing to be part of the resistance movement, fighting for a better country for all Americans. And above all, he promises to continue working tirelessly for the people in the city, especially his neighbors in District 3. “Every day while I’m shaving, I look into the mirror with a clear conscience,” said Johnson. “And every night, I put my head on my pillow with a clear conscience. I have a clear conscience about my track record, about my experience, and about my life’s work. And if you keep that core, you’ll do a good job as an elected official.” The District Office of Councilmember Corey Johnson is located at 224 W. 30th St., Suite 1206 (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.). For more information, call 212564-7757 or visit coreyjohnson.nyc. Januar y 18, 2018
Treasure Trove of ‘Trinkets’ Paul E Alexander’s musical has heart, sass, ass, and stroll BY SCOTT STIFFLER Ask if he’s a cop before getting into the car, don’t do anything until you’ve been paid, and contain your stroll to the Village side of the Meatpacking District — because the Chelsea precinct? “They will arrest a bitch in a minute.” That’s the job training dispensed by skilled and savvy leader of the pack Diva to juicy but naïve new girl Strawberry, as fellow ladies of the night Mistress Blondie (dominatrix fem top) and Janet (sex siren with real breasts) trade insults and swap war stories. Before long, the whole group is strutting their well-choreographed stuff, and out-bad-girling Donna Summer by singing “Walk, Walk The Night,” a salty/ bittersweet take on the world’s oldest profession. Mary, Dorothy, Toto, whatever your street name is, one thing’s for sure: We’re not in 2018 anymore. It’s the 1990s, and this is the opening scene of Paul E Alexander’s “Trinkets” — an ultimately euphoric but often sobering musical that shines a well-lit, long-overdue spotlight on drag and transsexual prostitutes during an era of uneasy cultural visibility (after the vomit-inducing big reveal of “The Crying Game,” a decade until “RuPaul’s Drag Race” premiered, and quite a few years before the LGBT got its Q). “Bartending, whoring, or being performers. There weren’t many options,” Alexander noted of the musical’s core group of sex workers, whose search for a better life takes them from dangerous streets to welcoming clubs and back again (or, in a perfect world, off to Paris with Mr. Right). “They had this thing inside of them that society didn’t accept or acknowledge,” Alexander said. “There was a struggle: Should I remain how I look, or look how I feel?” That dilemma crystalizes in an exchange familiar to anyone whose parent has appeared, unexpectedly and uninvited, at their workplace. In this case, long-legged hooker Janet (an immaculately assembled Jay Knowles) is forced to defend both job and gender when mother (the diminutive, scenestealing Sharon Niesp) arrives in a car determined to take her “son” home.
Januar y 18, 2018
Photo by Lola Flash
They work hard for the money: Blondie, Diva, and Janet bring down the house during several show-stopping production numbers.
Their Dorothy/Sophia dynamic is effectively played for laughs, until it comes to light that the family has been doing some ghosting. “When Grandma died and we were at the funeral,” Janet recalls, “you never once said to any of your friends there that I was your child… And when I saw the obituary listed every family member by name including all of her great grandchildren, and I was referred to as ‘other grandchild,’ that sealed it.” Here and throughout, Alexander’s ear for the authentic language and urgent cadence of those on the take, make, or defense is no accident: He based these characters, be they close to the bone or composites, on the people whose reallife gains and losses played out during his time spent as part of Jackie 60 — the legendary weekly party that redefined nightlife in the 1990s, pushing back hard against encroaching homogenization by embracing the full spectrum of human expression. Its introduction of spoken word and performance art into the dance and music mix made Jackie 60
more than a destination for debauchery (effectively weeding out those who only showed up for transgressive thrills). True to that spirit, Alexander populates the titular club where much of “Trinkets” takes place with hookers both present (our four girls from the opening scene) and past (an ex-streetwalker who married money and owns the place), as well as muscular backup dancers, lithe go-go boys, no-nonsense drug dealers (of the cash-only and bathroom BJ variety), flat-broke johns, and jealous supermodels — plus a famous fashion designer in search of new adventures and nose candy. Broadly played with reckless air kisses and a not-ofthis-earth accent by the howlingly funny Nora Burns, Bev Everly’s memorable entrance is based on a Jackie 60 velvet rope incident involving Donatella Versace, Kate Moss, and the tough-butfair door policy of Kitty Boots (herself a famous London fashion designer who created Jackie 60 with Chi Chi Valenti and DJ Johnny Dynell; see mothernyc. com for the whole story).
Jackie 60’s decade-long run came to an end on the very last day of the previous millennium, with cameras rolling throughout 1999 for a documentary that never materialized, further cementing Alexander’s desire to use “Trinkets” as a means to explore aspects of that era. “At the time, living it, it was very magical, the good and the bad of it all,” he reflected. Another motivating factor: Like Diva (deliciously played with drizzles of sex, sympathy, and sass by multi-pageant title-holder and nightlife host Honey Davenport), Alexander saw the shifting landscape of his own chosen profession and decided to create new opportunities. Having parlayed his emcee and performance skills from the Jackie days into solo underground dance single success, Alexander gained international notoriety as part of the dance-pop trio The Ones (who scored a #1 Dance and #3 Pop hit with “Flawless”). “Ten years later, after The Ones TRINKETS continued on p. 16 NYC Community Media
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TRINKETS continued from p. 14
slowed down” is where Alexander said he found himself, with decades of accumulated memories and stories to tell — which takes us to the present, the “Trinkets” project, and a casting coup whose story parallels his own experience. “The music business has changed,” Alexander said, in a tone of clear understatement. “No one is buying records like they used to, so we have that in common. What are we going to do now?” The other part of that “we” is fashion designer and nightclub personality Kevin Aviance, whose bold bald look disrupted the drag queen paradigm back in the day and still turns heads (among his hits as a club/dance musician, “Din Da Da” peaked at #1 on Aug. 23, 1997 and spent 16 weeks on the charts; Billboard put him at 93 in their ranking of all-time most successful dance artists). Basically playing the role Alexander assumed at Jackie 60, Aviance’s Mr. Pea is the emcee who presides over club Trinkets (“Come on in and see how it feels, ’cause tonight you’re in Hell in High Heels.”). The veteran entertainer claims the show’s best-produced, executed, and choreographed number: the club-as-church anthem “Bless This House.”
Januar y 18, 2018
Photo by Lola Flash
Kevin Aviance owns the stage as Mr. Pea, emcee at Trinkets.
“We were rivals in the ’90s,” Alexander said of Aviance. “He was the one who inspired me to keep going and
put out another song.” Multiple jitney rides en route to a gig on Fire Island one summer cemented their friendship. Now, having collaborated on “Bless This House” (Aviance co-produced with Uri Dalal, from lyrics written by Alexander over a decade ago), Aviance is “the first one to arrive and pretty much the last one to leave, every single show. He’s taken the backstage role, helping the straight guys who are doing drag. He’s just been amazing.” (Aviance’s presence as house mother has served the show well; the colorful 18-member cast varies in their degree of stage experience, but there’s not one dud in the charisma department.) Asked if the younger members of the cast fully fathom the challenges faced by LGBTQs two decades in the past, Alexander said, “I don’t know if kids can understand the limitations and the struggle. It took these pioneering souls to push forward in a time when it wasn’t de rigueur. I hope they appreciate it now. But I don’t know that they think about history as much as I might have. There’s good aspects and bad aspects of that, because I feel they are who they are; very comfortable in their skins, having transformed at a young age. Whether they be drag queens or transsexuals or gay men, they are living their freedom.” There’s one area, however, where Alexander doesn’t mind playing the “back in my day” card: his uncompro-
mising placement of a power ballad to send the audience out on a high note. “I’m Proud of Me” has the emotionally exhausted but resolute Diva witnessing the convergence of several story arcs and staring down the prospect of her own future, declaring, “I’m proud of me / And if no one else will show it / I’m the one that knows it / I’m proud of me.” “I just needed a song to sum it up,” Alexander said, “an ‘And I am Telling You’-type number. I’ve seen so many shows [musicals] over the years, where it’s all operatic. There’s no song you want to sing from it. ‘Wicked?’ The young queens you see performing these Broadway songs, if you don’t know the story, you don’t get the song. ‘Aquarius,’ ‘Let the Sun Shine In.’ These were songs you could play on the radio. I wanted everyone to walk home singing ‘I’m Proud of Me’ — to be uplifted, to look in the mirror and congratulate themselves. That’s what we need to be doing.” “Trinkets” runs 90 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Thurs. through Sun., 7pm, through Feb. 3 at the Gene Frankel Theatre (24 Bond St., btw. Bowery & Lafayette). Tickets: $40; $30 for students/seniors; 10 tickets for every performance, $20, cash sale available at the door only; no Jan. 25 performance. For reservations, visit genefrankeltheatre.com or call 917-8417567. NYC Community Media
Retro Perspective: Rev. Jen Forges Ahead by Looking Back The spirit of eccentricity she fought to salvage still shines BY REV. JEN MILLER I think it’s safe to say that the best thing about 2017 is that it’s over. Globally, it was a political and environmental disaster. Personally, 2017 was not exactly rainbows and unicorns, but more a mix of “upheaval” and “crushing depression,” which I’ve documented in past columns. Hence, I won’t rehash the details here. Instead, you can read all about them in my next book: “Straight Outta Bellevue.” Let’s just forget 2017 ever happened, burn our old calendars, and discuss why 2018 will be awesome. (It will probably suck too, but at least we’ll be able to legally dance in bars!) Rarely do I ever make New Year’s Resolutions. But after a year of stewing in the filth of my monkey pajamas, watching too much SpongeBob and bemoaning terrible life choices, I stared at the elf in the mirror and decided to make a change. Maybe I can’t fix the world, topple evil regimes, cure diseases or even bother to floss, but I can do one thing, which is make art. So that is precisely what I resolved to do — make the world less boring through art. Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been down, picking up a paintbrush or a pen and just trying to create something lifts my spirits. When I was a wee tot, my father, who taught me to paint, said, “When you make art, all your worries just drift away.” And, he was right. Being creative has done for me what no pharmaceutical has ever done. But even better than the act of creating art is sharing it, sometimes even selling it and making money, which one can then exchange for things! With this in mind, I determined to put on an art show, and not just any art show, but a Mid-Career Survey. Such “surveys” are normally given to more established artists who show in big galleries and museums, whereas I mostly showed my art in the former Troll Museum, which I was evicted from because I am a failure. I contacted a friend who is a curator at Museum of Modern Art, secretly hoping to get a show there, but that will likely only happen when I am dead. (Hopefully, death won’t happen for a long time, but when it does, I’ve requested that my skeleton be donated to the School of Visual Arts so that fledgling art stars can draw me in anatomy class and say, ‘I’m drawing Reverend Jen!”) My friend suggested I email some Lower East Side galleries, which I did, but no one wanted me. And then, out of the blue, I got a Facebook message NYC Community Media
Photo by Anne Sussman
Rev. Jen (left) with 2017 Miss Subways Pageant winner Lisa Levy.
from Martina Secondo Russo, who runs MF Gallery in Brooklyn, asking if I’d like to do a show there. I was elated, as MF Gallery is my FAVORITE gallery in NYC. Years ago, I got to perform there with the band GWAR at their first ever “Crack-A-Thon,” a benefit designed to alleviate the band’s crack debt. I can’t think of any other gallery cool enough to have hosted GWAR, a heavy metal band that was comprised of barbaric
interplanetary warriors. So, I leapt at the chance and told Martina, “Yes!” Because I am prone to hyperbole, I decided to call my art show “Reverend Jen: Best Mid-Career Survey Ever.” Maybe it wouldn’t be the best ever, but I would make it fun, as “fun” is an element too often missing in the art world these days. Growing up, I looked at pictures of Warhol’s Factory and thought that’s what New York City’s
art world would be like: people in leopard print coats and sunglasses, making weird movies and working together in a “scene.” In high school, I wore vintage clothes and oversized sunglasses. I also worked my ass off, painting. When I was 16, the cool kids in my high school responded to my behavior by painting the phrase REV. JEN continued on p. 19 Januar y 18, 2018
Januar y 18, 2018
NYC Community Media
REV. JEN continued from p. 17
“You are a Art Fag” in giant letters on the street in front of my house. (I knew it was the cool kids because of the grammatical error.) The city of Silver Spring, Maryland had to gravel over the graffiti. I was delighted since it meant I was already the most famous artist on my block. Soon after, I made it to NYC to attend School of Visual Arts. But, I got here in 1990, shortly after Warhol died and Michael Musto announced that Downtown was “dead.” Forced to contend with the lamest era in history, I vowed to keep weirdness alive, starting an open mic, sporting elf ears, making movies, and opening the aforementioned Troll Museum. This spirit of eccentricity that I have fought to salvage came alive at “Best Mid-Career Survey Ever.” Friends who have collected my work over the years lent pieces to the gallery: elaborate paintings of kittens with third eyes and Chihuahuas riding unicorns. Invigorated, I also made new work including “Girl (Also) with a Pearl Earring,” which features an attempted replica of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” alongside my beloved, deceased Chihuahua, Reverend Jen Junior, also wearing a pearl earring. And, of course, there are Trolls on display! Despite freezing weather, the opening saw a capacity crowd along with performances by comedic songwriter Rob Paravonian and performance artist, Dylan Mars Greenberg. Performers Laruocco and the Stunt Doubles also made an appearance in grand matching outfits. People danced as we projected my films onto the walls. It was the New York I’ve always wanted. And, if you missed the opening, there is more fun to be had. On Sat., Jan. 20 from 7-10pm at MF Gallery (213 Bond St., Brooklyn; mfgallery.net), there will be a “Creature Double Feature” where I’ll be showing my films “Satan, Hold My Hand” and “Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space.” If you can’t make that, the gallery is open by appointment only until Feb. 14. Call 917-446-8681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book one today! Don’t miss out!
Photos by John Foster
Laruocco and the Stunt Doubles performed at the Jan. 13 opening of Rev. Jen’s Mid-Career Survey (through Feb. 14 at MF Gallery).
L-R: Chris Robinson, Malcolm Foster, Rev. Jen, Jeff Foster, Lisa Snyder, and special musical guest Rob Paravonian (whose selections included the theme song to “The Adventures of Electra Elf,” for which he wrote and performed the music).
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My Mount Sinai is Mount Sinai Womenâ€™s Cancer Program . 325 West 15th Street
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