"I went to Reverend Jen's Lower East Side Troll Museum and all I got was this lousy tee shirt and a whole new appreciation of trolls."
That's what my T-shirt says; and, with the exception of the "lousy" part, it's absolutely true. When I first walked into Reverend Jen's Troll Museum, I knew nothing about trolls and had never even owned one. But for several days afterwards, I babbled about them, the fantastically wacky troll museum, and the museum's incomparable elfin-eared curator Reverend Jen with the same rapt enthusiasm of a four-year old after her first trip to a three-ring circus.
Located in New York City's Lower East Side, Reverend Jen's Troll Museum is a brightly colored cornucopia of these delightful creatures. Reverend Jen herself guides patrons through the museum and introduces them to her treasured trolls. It's clearly a labor of love for her and her zeal is contagious.
In addition to being a "trollologist," Saint Reverend Jen, "Patron Saint of the Uncool, Voice of the Downtrodden and Tired," is a writer, filmmaker, performance artist, avant-garde icon, and bona fide mail-ordained reverend. Whether she's hosting Reverend Jen's Anti Slam at New York's renowned theater, Collective Unconscious, making a cameo in a Troma film, or just regaling people with tales of her real-life adventures, she is ubiquitous, and some would say legendary, in the bohemia that is the Lower East Side. She also happens to be a nice girl with an easy laugh, an eye for the absurd, and a complete lack of pretension.
I got to sit down with Reverend Jen and her chihuahua Reverend Jen Junior (aka J.J.) to drink some Budweiser, watch a bit of American Idol (she favors Fantasia Barrino), and have a chat about trolls and other passions.
The Mystery of Trolls Revealed
Q. Why trolls?
A. I've always been attracted to things that are cute and ugly and also things that are elemental beings like elves, dwarves, fairiesanything Middle Earth-like, though not necessarily the Tolkien thing. And I like that they're smiling but they're also sentinels. Elves are the tricky, mischievous ones but trolls guard and protect you.
Q. I always thought trolls were the mean, scary things under the bridge.
A. They appear in many cultures in different fairy tales and sometimes they're mischievous, sometimes they're good. And sometimes they're like the troll in (the fairy tale) "Three Billy Goat's Gruff." As a child, that story did scare me, but I saw most "scary" troll things as cutelike that scary little kewpie doll that chased Karen Black around with a machete in Trilogy of Terror. I must have watched that movie a hundred times, whenever it came on TV, because I thought it was so cute.
Q. Wasn't there a really scary movie about a troll?
A. It was called Troll and it was totally un-scary. There are some children's movies based on trolls that are so annoying that they're scary. There's one with poorly made troll puppets singing songs like, "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" and "Don't Worry Be Happy." It's pretty horrible.
Q. What was the thing that stole Jennifer Connelly's brother in Labyrinth? Was that a troll?
A. I don't remember. It's been years and years... David Bowie's an elf... Not in the movie. He's just an elf.
Q. Tell me about your first troll.
A. My first one is Adriana, this beautiful red-haired troll. I got her when I was about 11 or 12. There was just something peculiar about her that I really wanted to buy her. Up until then, Barbie had been my play toy, but Barbie never really vibed with my whole aesthetic of weirdness.
Q. And after Adriana?
A. I was a troll junkie from the very first troll. Whenever I had a little money I would invariably spend it on trolls. I had another friend (also) named Jen who also collected trolls and we would make outfits for them, mostly out of felt or toilet paperscraps of anything we had around the house. I remember taking toilet paper and taping it around their bodies and drawing polka dots on it to make it look like a cute dress.
Q. Do you name all of your trolls?
A. No, they're all nameless except Adriana and a black-haired one that I named Blackie because that was John Stamos's character on General Hospital.
Q. Are trolls considered good luck totems?
A. Yes. Uneeda, a doll company that was formed in 1917, came out with Wishnik trolls in the 60s.
A. Wishnik is a brand name. Actually a lot of people who grew up in the 60s call trolls "wishniks" because that's what they called them during their childhood, but that's a misnomer. They're trolls. Not all trolls are Wishniks.
Q. And why were they good luck?
A. They had Icelandic fleece in their hair and they said that if you rubbed the fleece, you'd get your wish. That carried over into the 90s with a company called Ace Toys who marketed Treasure Trolls. They had little gemstones in their bellies and they said if you rubbed the gemstone you would get your wish. Of course, it's a lie. I have 300 trolls and I have the worst luck of any human being alive.
Q. So it was just a marketing gimmick? It's not based on actual troll legend?
A. I don't know. My main focus has been on collecting and trying to uncover the mysteries of the trolls that came out in the 60s through the year 2000. Sometimes I read legends. I haven't run into too many where trolls are good luck. I've read more where elves are good luck.
Orlando Bloom and Other Beautiful Elves
Q. Speaking of elfin luck, I hear you sell "gently used" elf panties online. Is that true?
A. I used to, but they weren't really for luck. It was sort of making fun of the web boom back when big Web site companies were exploding and having launch parties that cost a hundred grand to put on. Elfpanties.com was sort of this run-down Web site; we had a launch party with a 15-minute open bar that served Milwaukee's Best and Pabst. I set an egg timer for 15 minutes and when it went off, we threw everybody outIt was just a ridiculous performance piece masked as a business venture. I think in two years I made about $90. Then the URL expired and was bought out by a porn site. That's what I get for my laziness. I guess any URL with the word "panties" in it is golden.
Q. You mean I can't get any elf panties? That's too bad. I thought they might bring me luck with my love life.
A. I think elf ears might help with the love life. They're definitely a conversation piece. So guys and girls: If you want to strike up a conversation, just slap on a pair of elf ears. But don't go overboard and wear a whole Lord of the Rings ensemble because that'll frighten people away.
Q. Or attract the wrong kind of people.
A. Yeah, they'll think they can invite you to their next "Magic: The Gathering" party.
Q. What made you decide to wear a pair of elf ears as a fashion accessory?
A. I don't remember 100% where the decision came from. I think I put them on and just thought they looked nice. Of course, I was going to art school at the time, so the thought of "I think I'll wear these elf ears every day" seemed really natural and acceptable. Then it became part of my look, like Tammy Faye and her mascara. I felt un-pretty when I left my house without my elf ears.
Q. Do elves and trolls get along?
A. It depends on who you ask. In my apartment they do.
Q. What do you think of Orlando Bloom?
A. Oh my God! The most beautiful man on earth! But what was up with that weird pony-tailed Brigitte Bardot hair that they put on him?
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