Stabbing a Broken Heart: How Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) Screwed Over Timothy Herrick

Copyright 2020, held by author.

Jersey City Theater Center (JCTC) is a nonprofit arts organization I worked for.

My grant writing resulted in more than $100,000 in grants for JCTC. My press release writing and public relations work resulted in more than 5,000 separate media impressions for JCTC.  Barely making a blip after forming in 2006, JCTC soon went on hiatus until 2014, when I became Communications Director, their first staff member and the only original staff member left.  JCTC is now a recognized brand by grantors, the public, the Jersey City & Hudson County governments not to mention theatre companies, artists and arts organizations worldwide.

Nobody knew what JCTC was back then, now everybody does. That my work as Communications Director made that fact possible is indisputable.

No one can take that away from me.

JCTC thanked my years of service by kicking me in the teeth.

 

I was compensated for maybe 70 percent of this work, always cut-rate pay – lower than any rate I’ve received for writing, which is how I’ve made a living – often barely – since the 1980s. I agreed to work on a volunteer basis at first, and continued to put in volunteer hours throughout my tenure.

Do not work for free, my friends advised. Once they know you will work for free, they’ll never respect you.

I didn’t listen, and paid the price. Never did I suffer so much for so little.

The suffering?

I am proud of the work I did for JCTC. I wrote good copy that achieved results. JCTC programming had real aesthetic value. From subject matter to the diversity of artists and genre,  no single arts organization has the programming scope of JCTC; Obviously not in Jersey City, or New Jersey and New York, but really the entire country. I know. I’ve done the unpaid research.

Despite the no-pay or under-pay, it was rewarding and I was very good at it. JCTC has made a difference and a positive impact on Jersey City, where I’ve lived since 1991.

Why do I suffer now?

I still feel pride about JCTC, but it’s almost completely overwhelmed by sorrow and regret. JCTC causes me to taste bile. Life is hard, happiness is difficult to discover and usually fleeting once found. JCTC forever contains a memory of exploitation and persecution.  Well, that’s most of life isn’t it. Little is unmitigated, feelings always mixed. JCTC has left a hole in my heart that will be with me through the end of my days.

With the COVID Pandemic shutting down everything, the same week I got the rare John Bathke channel 12 interview for Olga Levina, Artistic Director – JCTC screwed me over.

Maybe someday I will tell the entire story of my time with JCTC, the highs as well as the lows. Here, only the lows, the last act and final betrayals, will be told. JCTC made sure the lows outweigh the rest of my JCTC experience and that’s how I now remember JCTC.

JCTC screwing me over wasn’t a one act show that happened in July of 2020. For more than a year, I was made to feel ostracized. Every opportunity to humiliate me was taken. It caused me severe depression that gradually made me physically ill until the final death blow.

***

Paul Dennison is mainly responsible for leading and implementing this anti-Tim campaign and forcing me to have a nervous breakdown in July.

“Paul hates your guts,” Olga told me, on numerous occasions. His actions never made me doubt her words.

Paul joined JCTC as board president about three or more years ago. He resented me from the beginning, we got off on the wrong foot. He never appreciated or even recognized the work I had done and was doing for JCTC and he let that be known to me and to everyone connected with JCTC from day one. He went out of his way to ensure I felt alienated from everything I helped create.

JCTC broke my heart, then stabbed that broken heart.

“No one has worked harder for JCTC,” Paul once admitted, at an informal get together for my birthday, when he was new to JCTC.  It was the only time he came close to respecting the accomplishments I achieved and the effort it took on my part to achieve them. Looking back, it’s clear that out-of-character compliment concealed a deep reservoir of personal ire.

He never said anything nice to me or about me before or since and spent much of his time as Board President working diligently to make my life at JCTC uncomfortable and humiliating until finally forcing his hire, the ceaselessly obsequious Beth Cope, Managing Director, to cause me relentless grief followed by a lethal blow, a mission she fulfilled with glee.

Why does Paul have a hatred towards me that is borderline pathological?  Well, the T in JCTC stands for theater. Chekov advised, if you have a loaded gun in the first act it must go off in the last act. Trust me, I will reveal the root of Paul’s animus towards me, but you need to hear this story first.

I also need to tell it. I must at least attempt to purge this conflicted negativity from my soul.

***

The vast majority of people I worked with at JCTC, those who went through the revolving doors as JCTC staff as well as the hundreds of artists and arts professionals who I interacted with, were wonderful. At the best of times, it was collaborative and fascinating. My writing got media attention, attracted audiences and found funders. Even after Paul poisoned the well and let his rage against me change JCTC on an operational level, there were still moments that were professionally and personally gratifying.

Work situations always change, always come to an end. The good turns not so good and the bad rarely get better before getting worse. I am sad and angry,  resentful of the unjust treatment, but in the end it’s just a job. A work situation that got shitty, that’s nothing new. Douche bags can be found anywhere, they outnumber us. Why should I be surprised so many populate the arts scene?

Not simply surprise, disappointment. Grad school was probably where I first pondered the connection between morality and creativity. I was taking an MFA in creative writing at the New School, where I was accepted as a fellowship student. I remember talking about this duality with my fellow students, and it has come up in other conversations since then.  Honor, integrity and morality always mattered to me. Knowing what is right and wrong behavior, striving to always be a better person, delineating a division of good from bad – never pre-judge a person, especially on aspects they have no control over: – where they’re from, gender, age, race, sexual orientation – do unto others even when they have no intention of treating you with the same respect and decency.

I had been hanging out with artists and writers in various circles for years by then. Some were real assholes, others had similar attitudes to mine. I felt that as I improved my writing, I also was becoming a better person – was this commonplace or an anomaly?

How can someone be a real shit, yet still create unique beauty? It remains a paradox to me.

I was torpedoed at JCTC. I had worked for 30 some odd years in the magazine publishing business, as well as a few other related type office jobs. Workers torpedoing other workers was not new to me. It’s happened to me before, or at least attempted, and I’ve witnessed it many times. What happened at JCTC was just another work incident. An under-paying job whose rewards in the end fell far short of the hurt and aggravation I endured, but just another job in the scheme of things.

Have I ever torpedoed anybody? No, never. Screw over a fellow worker – either for your own gain or to fulfill a personal animus or a combination of both – that would be crossing a line of morality and honor I would not cross even at the risk of death, certainly not for some silly job. The people who cross that line are more than likely just being who they truly are. If you can justify crossing that line than you probably never drew such a line in the first place.

We all have many selves – work, friends, family, lovers, the mirror – all different selves we show to different people at different times. Someone can treat you like shit, yet other people in their lives love them. This may not mean they’re evil, but I believe your worst self is your real self. If you are unjust and vindictive to anyone for any reason, that self is who you are. It’s the one the mirror shows you.

I was never good at playing office politics. Anything I would say about you to someone else I would say to your face. This attitude seemed to be held by me alone at JCTC.

Corporate publishing professionals were flawed and often unlikeable, but they do not wallow in self-absorption so commonplace  among those in the arts – and the arts administrators are far more shallow and egocentric than the artists, especially at JCTC. Even when the backstabbing was comparable to what I saw in the business world, the pettiness and egotism at JCTC, exploded  after Paul came aboard. It was like nothing I had seen in any prior job experience. Before Paul, JCTC had a team that despite a decaying relationship between myself and Lucy Rovetto, the visual arts coordinator, the dysfunction, incompetence and backbiting that Paul encouraged and/or inspired was absent.

Through JCTC, I became acquainted and involved with the Jersey City arts scene and at least I can report, JCTC is far from the exception when it comes to pettiness and egotism.

Olga Levina and Ben LoPiccolo –  founders of JCTC and owners of White Eagle Hall – asked me to join JCTC at a time when the only other team member was Diana, Ogla’s daughter.  I had written about White Eagle Hall on Dislocations, my old blog. After reading the essay, they asked me to meet with them.  Ben and Olga came to me. They needed a writer. Articulating JCTC and Olga’s artistic vision was an enticing prospect. I am always looking for new challenges as well as writing gigs.

Most everyone else looked at JCTC and says, what’s in it for me?

Paul Dennison, Beth Cope, Atim Annette Oton, and Lucy Rovetto – the four “JCTC Colleagues” whom I am focusing on here – always put JCTC second. It’s never about the project, it’s always about their ego.  For them, integrity is irrelevant. I doubt they even understand the concept.

This difference between my me-second perspective and their thy-self-above-all-else attitude probably formed the core of their conflicts with me.

Communications Director meant I’m annoying and I can be pretty persistent at being a pest.  For grants, press releases, other writing, I need material, like your quote and input and photographs. I can’t just make it up. If you are working on a project, I am going to need feedback, opinion, and thoughtful discussion in order to produce the necessary copy.  I am at the mercy of the news cycle and press rooms, which are understaffed and overworked.

Paul, Beth, Atim and Lucy were rarely easy to work with; cooperation the exception not the rule. Their reluctance to work with me, at times just barely showing me respect as a colleague, indicates how little they felt about whatever project we were working on or the meaning and mission of JCTC. Their professional behavior stands in vivid contrast to the almost uniformly pleasant and often truly wonderful experiences I had collaborating with the dozens of arts and theater companies about their press releases and other promotional copy.

I will write about all four of them separately, with Paul as promised being last. But JCTC’s Screwing Over of Timothy Herrick intertwined all four of them and while none of the other three possessed the extent of  hatred for me Paul feels, they all fed his anger.

They all worked to eradicate any joy I ever felt from JCTC.

They succeeded.

***

Beth Cope is a southern transplant, from a wealthy Virginian family, not FFV but her forebears wore the gray and owned slaves. My great-great-great-grandfather Albert Herrick fought for the North and the family supported abolition. There was bound to be trouble eventually.

Paul made sure of that, but it had nothing to do with secession or the sins of her ancestors. He hired her specifically to torpedo me. The excuse was to bring in a manager. Beth’s background is in politics, she worked for liberal causes. She’s a democratic and worked with nonprofits, publicity and grant writing.

No, Tim, we still want you as Communications Director, Ogla and Ben assured me.

Oh by the way, please put all your grant documents on google drive.

Within a month of coming aboard, Beth asked me – are your press contacts JCTC property because I would like them. Don’t worry, we still want you to do the press.

I had lived long enough to know that as soon as someone says or implies you have no reason to be paranoid, paranoia is justified. Even paranoids have enemies.

A few weeks or before Paul hired his minion, after much discussion, JCTC purchased DonorPerfect, a fundraiser program. I had Constant Contact experience, which DonorPerfect interfaced. I was producing most of the e-blast copy, seemed a logical next step. I took the webinars and got to work, uploading the excel files, which included city and county chambers of commerce and attendees to a fundraiser honoring Bill LaRosa, retiring director the Hudson County Cultural Affairs department. With DP, you flag entries to categories like fundraiser tickets sold via a board member, those who paid full price, those who paid artist rate, Hudson County Cultural Affairs rate… how deep do you want to go in terms of flagging attendees… blah blah blah type interchange. I needed direction to make the database be in-synch with the board. You’d think I asked him his personal pin number.

We survive yet another Paul explosion and I do what little he eventually tells me. The database is setup. Months go by, Beth appears. Add Beth to DP. Nothing more about DP or being compensated for the time I put into setting up the system.

Subtle… fine, I get it… but I thought Beth and I had appeased Paul’s animosity toward me and had figured out what my new limited yet vital role was. We were working well together, which just made her July assault, viscous and sudden, more personally devastating.

There seemed to be an agreement between us reached by 2020.  We finally seemed to sustain our rapport. COVID disrupted all programming for 2020, the team hunkered down and I thought we were making it work. We had more productive phone calls that focused on specific issues. Her  need to repeatedly discuss the obvious had dwindled to only three or four times a week a dozen. Even her compulsion to belittle me seemed curtailed.

I  was a beaten man by July. I thought we both knew that. But just being abject was not enough for her. What fun is wounding if you don’t pour in the salt.

Having to endure dozens of conversations about the Amanda List takes a lasting toll. Beth insisted on having the same conversation about the same topic again and again, instead of having a new conversation that could resolve the issue. It was like being caught in a time-loop – didn’t you ask me that question yesterday because the answer hasn’t changed.

The most exhausting example is the Amanda List. Olga always wanted more grants to apply to, there are hundreds but the research is time-intensive. Amanda was an intern Olga hired in the summer of 2019. She went to the Foundation Center and  developed a list of grantors, but only contact information. The list needed to be researched, edited to find out which ones we could apply for – one important criteria was if they required a Financial Audit – Paul had promised audited financials as Board President, but failed to deliver. What to do with this list? We either do the research necessary to apply or we don’t.

Simple right?

Not for Beth. She would need to talk about this list incessantly, even though her thoughts had never evolved. By the third conversation I had to christen it the Amanda List, which at least brought some semblance of focus to the scores of Amanda List conversations Beth needed to reprise, again and again and again…

By the lockdown, finally I got the greenlight to work on the Amanda List. We had some new potential grantors, knew the grant cycles, which ones required the Audits, etc., etc. … by now though, COVID had shutdown most foundations as well, so following through on the Amanda List – now, more than a year old – would be almost entirely futile.

Her Rain Man-like tic of repeatedly going over the obvious was probably not part of her Psych-Op battle plan. That onslaught of slights and insults towards me was unrelenting and if I complained or said anything, the reprimands always ended with a threat, I could always just get somebody else.

Psych-Op examples:

On Facebook, when thanks to staff posts were posted, I was no longer tagged. Everybody else gets tagged, but not Tim. The social media banishment began within a month of Beth starting.

I was refused business cards—Beth insisted all the staff have cards – except Tim. I had long run out of the less than 100 cards I had received years ago. Last fall, everybody else got nice new purple business cards in time for the postponed fundraiser. I was even sent a card to proofread, but they were never printed. No explanation, then all my queries were met by Beth’s irate silence. I stopped asking.

When Beth was hired – the only staff member who never first volunteered – she managed the main show production of Lines in The Dust. I needed to write the press release, and wanted to read the script first.

Beth found this unheard of – reading the script if you weren’t in the play. Why should the PR person read the script?

A ridiculous question, but purposely offensive, intended to diminish all the years I spent publicizing JCTC. I’ve read the scripts of every JCTC main stage production for the very same purpose: the more you know the better the writing will be. Also, maybe it’s a good idea the Communications Director is familiar with the programming?

No, JCTC giving Tim a Lines in the Dust script to read was an impossibility and the very fact I asked for a printed copy insubordination. Every actor and stage hand and the entire crew  got scripts, scripts were printed out for everyone at Staples. Not Tim. We had Hewitt Packard on the file cabinet, but it couldn’t print out 70 pages. Beth made up a new reason why every time I asked. Go to Staples yourself Tim, but don’t expect to be reimbursed.

Beth had taken over the paychecks, implemented an imperfect but workable system, I was getting more hourly work, research and whatnot. Regular checks, I liked that. Reminding Olga to write a check always came with an outburst. At least there was now some consistency in the compensation.

But Beth kept making actually getting the check as close to impossible as she could. It will be at Merseles by 5, I go there, it’s not there… oh, my meeting got cancelled can you come by tomorrow? I can’t mail it, if you want your check come to my condo building on the waterfront and I’ll leave it at the front desk… just stand in line with the Uber Eats guy I have a very nice doorman… what’s demeaning about that? Eventually she found a consistent system – apparently, direct deposit for Tim was simply beyond JCTC’s accounting system – then the mailed checks are lower than the submitted invoice. Oh, I made a mistake, don’t worry it will be only another week.

Once or twice… okay, hey it happens… but she made snafus nearly every check. Her pattern was unmistakable. She went out of her way to inconvenience me; every payment extracted a toll, came with a price. It was so blatant that I wonder if this pattern of always making the actual transfer of funds from JCTC to me a hassle was by order of Paul or her own neurosis.

Don’t play games with paying staff…. unless, these are not mere mistakes and your real motive is to further weaken your prey by publicly showing him only disrespect and making that disrespect systemic within the organization.

She issued her most heartbreaking blow within a month of being hired. I was moving some chairs at Merseles and she clucked let Fernando do it, some stupid petty shit like that, making the point to belittle me in public. She was the new managing director, and one of her duties was to demean me at every opportunity. Paul had made that part of the job description. She was giving me an order and made sure all who heard knew she was the boss of Merseles and I was at best a local lowlife here only by her whim.

I didn’t say a word, but I knew that any pride or happiness from JCTC was gone, or at best so diluted it was better to spit out than savor.

Merseles Studios was a part of me – I helped with the original black box theater painting it black – I used to run Puppetworks, a marionette theater company that left the summer Paul become board president… but no… the more comfortable Tim is, the less alienated he will feel and that is not what Paul wants… you are not allowed to even touch the furniture, don’t you know that yet?

You’re not part of JCTC anymore, Tim, a message that was best conveyed by making sure every time I was with her at Merseles she made sure I understood who was in charge and that I was no longer wanted. When Olga introduced a show and thanked the staff, my name was no longer mentioned.

In the early days of COVID at least we got some grant research completed, even though the pandemic made nearly all non-COVID relief grants null and void.

I had learned my place, and I say that with all the bitterness left in my heart. It’s not just bitterness though, even now.

The two grants for the 2020 season were from the New Jersey Council on the Humanities and from NJ Tourism. I write them, Beth does the budget and I work with Beth on the budget. She never gave input on the actual proposal.

We were applying for the Lighthouse, a project we received grants for but done nothing except writing deceptive grant reports implying we had. It’s a great project, getting more and more complicated as more components were added. We had gotten two $4,000 grants for The Lighthouse from Hudson County under their history program, but we had done nothing of any substance towards even starting the project, much less construct the project timeline HCCA had criticized us for lacking.

Getting the NJCH grant was critical in actually starting a project we let HCCA believe was well underway. In fact, nothing was done and the funds received Paul spent elsewhere. The Hudson County grant money was spent on everything but The Lighthouse and was long gone. We needed the NJCH Grant to make the promises that we made to Hudson County a reality.

In February, NJCH was holding a grant writing workshop on the grant we want and I wondered if I could get compensated for attending.

Beth issued her order: no, you are forbidden to attend. Only Ogla and I are allowed to go.

I already registered. I’m writing the grant and the workshop is on the grant writing.

They attend, I’m told nothing about it, not even one suggestion about the actual writing of the grant. Beth tells me nothing about her workshop adventure with Olga. No feedback, no guidance, no opinion worth sharing… Tim, just stay in the servant quarters until summoned.

This year, NJCH was letting you submit a draft then have it critiqued by Gigi Naglak, Grant Manager for NJCH, a woman I’ve worked with for years. With grants, you have to write these narratives answering questions such as, How Does Your Proposal Further The Humanities. But as you answer these convoluted prompts, you also must convey the nuts and bolts and most important, the achievability of the project. The narratives are the most important part of the overall grant, but I also was in charge of the entire grant, attached documents like letters of support and pictures of JCTC programming, etc. The opportunity to ask Gigi specific and detailed questions about the grant was rare indeed – she was permitting me 15 minutes.

Beth goes on another email rampage. She insists on being part of this phone call. I need to get into the nitty gritty, I explain.

I want to network with Gigi! She insists.

This is not a networking opportunity, it’s about the actual grant and the comments she made on the draft I had written.

Despite a shrillness of tone unusual even for Beth, I actually prevailed. Maybe my gee I don’t know how to set up a conference call act actually worked.

We were well into the lockdown when the grant was completed. March, April, May, June… it’s a blur on the exact calendar… by July, Beth would complete Paul’s mission against me.

As far as JCTC was concerned, I was a dead man walking.

Certainly, what help make JCTC’s actions so devastating was how Beth’s attack was so unexpected. I thought we had become friends and her need to constantly demean me seem to have abated.

Beth finally got to kiss-up to Gigi on the pretense of making sure everything was submitted okay. Gigi went out of her way to compliment me, telling Beth that no one asked the level of questions I had. Beth didn’t have to convey the compliment, and when she did I thought hey, maybe things could improve at JCTC.

I did not gloat nor force her to admit the Beth Show would’ve disrupted my necessary detailed discussion on the first draft submission with the key grants contact at NJCH. Passing along the compliment was recognition enough – why tarnish our new working relationship. I thanked her for passing along a compliment and moved forward instead with the publicity work and writing the New Jersey Tourism Grant.

With the COVID, all the grants submissions calendars had been disrupted. We’d gotten the Tourism grant last year for this year and were allowed to apply again even though the funded project “Voices: International Theatre Festival” was up in the air due to COVID.

If this pandemic didn’t happen, the marketing plan – the grant is only for marketing – I created would have been implemented.  But now no festival was happening, which  made writing the 2020 grant for a 2021 project gnarly. How do you create a theater marketing proposal when the future of public gatherings and international travel is utterly unknown? Very stressful writing.

Since Paul had worked with me the year before he was CC’d on pertinent emails about answering the grant questions. Grant writing is a chore and a half. Paul had changes, lots of ideas that I had to write up anew.

A significant portion of the grant was going to be lifted from last year’s proposal. Now because of Paul’s last-minute input, the grant had to be created from whole cloth – he didn’t have any comment about the marketing plan itself, the core of the grant – he wanted to add a bunch of other material, which then had to be worked into the plan, mainly stuff about demographics of Jersey City

“He just added more than a day of work,” I told Beth.

“Paul is being very inappropriate,” she said. “I will have a talk with him.”

… see, that’s my problem, I focus on the project, I like the work… once you’re in the mindset it’s creative and engaging and you can easily tell what is essential and what is useless to completing the project… so I didn’t comment on the fact that when Paul sent his massive amount of changes to Beth, he would not even acknowledge my existence. His email ordered Beth to make sure all his changers were in the grant. He didn’t even address me in his instructions.

Even though it was obvious that Paul’s changes were more about his ego than the actual marketing plan being developed, the changes while time consuming weren’t all dopey. They needed to be fleshed out, interwoven with the overall proposal, then related to the objectives outlined in the proposal.

I pushed freelance work aside to complete this crucial grant by deadline.

The grant submitted, Beth and I had a celebratory talk. Best of pals.

I prepared for the Independence Day holiday. I live alone, I get down on the holidays. I’m prone towards depression and was in psychoanalysis for seven years. It takes everything I have to  make the best of any holiday. But I love July weather, so even under the lockdown I could have some nice strolls through my favorite city.

The very next day, Beth fires her torpedo – clearly she and Paul timed it to follow the tourism grant. No grants immediately pending, time to take out Tim.

A cold-hearted, cryptic email.

The board decided to take this action of taking away my director title for six months, claiming unprofessional behavior. But no public unprofessional behavior was cited, not one incident, because there isn’t any.

Beth said she reprimanded me several times about this unprofessional behavior. I’ve never had a conversation with Beth where she reprimanded me for any behavior or incident. I have never behaved unprofessionally at a JCTC or any event or any time during my career. Unlike Paul and Beth, I never even drink at JCTC. I never drink on the job and if I’m at a JCTC event, I’m working.

Without an incident to reference, instead Beth cited an “antagonizing email” to Atim and Lucy, and an unspecified complaint received by a Stories of Greenville participant.

I was devastated. The Greenville complaint was not explained in any detail, and I suspect she was referring to the Qua Incident, which will be told later.

The charges were unjust and unfounded, I demand a hearing. Explain the charges in detail, listen to my side, then issue an opinion. Make a ruling under at least a pretense of fairness. Why this drastic measure without even a warning first?

I at least wanted to hear the exact complaint. On the surface, the vague notion of complaint seemed specious at best, something Paul fabricated at worst. The so called antagonism in email charge overlooks the obstacles Atim and Lucy created for me at the time. Also, I’m not sure what she meant by antagonism. Discuss the emails with me before rendering the judgement. Explain why you waited five months to say something!  At least point out what in the email so alarmed you.

All I wanted was some kind of hearing, a professional consideration my work at least deserved. How can you demote someone without even a discussion with him, especially a dedicated worker with years of experience and a multitude of positive feedback.

A hearing… by the board… well before Beth’s assault, more than a dozen times at least, I asked to talk to the board, go to one meeting – Paul refused all requests. He never let me talk to the board, or the board to me. Whatever the board knew about the communications director, they knew from Paul

Meeting with board always seemed like a reasonable idea. I have the history with the organization, maybe they have questions for me. The Communications Director, most veteran JCTC staff member, but not good enough to meet with Paul’s board. Not before and not now because Paul wanted a public execution.

Ben called me the next day, I told him how depressed I was, how beat up I felt, after all that I’ve done and am doing this is the kind of treatment I get? He agreed that I deserved a hearing, but didn’t stand up for me. He’s on the board, he started JCTC, but standing up to Paul was something he was not interested in doing.

The creepiest thing is the one step, two step strategy Beth deployed. Step one, be the good buddy trustworthy colleague – Tourism grant done, now pretend to be glad that we’re basking together in her self-confidence – I can play that game, she at least seems less demeaning. But then, step two, surprise attack. Strike without warning, Ninja style.

Let’s watch Tim bleed. How more dignity can we remove? Why settle for mere groveling when we can enjoy a complete debasement for the bargain price of $20 an hour.

Everything in my life right now is making me suffer. I have terminally ill family members and loved ones, plus endless annoyances related to being poor and old. There’s fewer places than ever I find any happiness these days… and now the one place, the one maybe not sure thing but steady of late – JCTC – kicks me in the teeth.

Now I get to spend the entire lockdown holiday brooding about how much abuse do I have to take before death becomes a practical and preferable option to JCTC.

I had to do my COVID July 15 taxes. The accountant I used last time disappeared. So, I did the Tax program thing, the first time I’ve not used an accountant since 1992.

I had immediate JCTC work, publicizing new JCTC online programming… we got great press, culminating in the rare John Bathke Channel 12 interview. He’s the leading arts television reporter in New Jersey and he rarely covers Jersey City. I get Olga interviewed on statewide television.

Not good enough for a hearing or discussion about the demotion email.

Why would Paul and Beth go out of their way to ruin someone’s holiday? Why not just wait until after the holiday? The basic inhumanity so apparent here that to be ignored seems a deliberate tactic – wallowing will only weaken him, maximize his suffering… that’s the way Paul wants it.

I had twitches and cold sweats, immobilizing spells of depression. I keep increasing the insulin, but the blood sugars won’t budge below 200.

Friend one day, assassin the next.

You’re so worthless in Paul’s eyes that you don’t have a side. My sister is dying but your ego still needs another 20 lashes. How much more must I bleed?

“Beth needs everybody to kiss her ass,” said Olga when Beth started, which I suppose now was a warning.

“I can’t even kiss your ass.”

I submit my hours for the Tourism grant. Beth pulls a new Psych-Op tactic, arbitrarily lowering my pay. “We want to pay you less, even though Paul gave you more 1.5 days extra work.”

I had given JCTC almost all I had, but one shred of dignity is still dignity.

I need money, I’m poor. My income is way down due to COVID.  But what is the price you put on your own dignity?

Paul and Beth are sadistic. They needed to witness my twisting in the wind. I needed to stop thinking about JCTC at all, in any way, not just brooding about the title nonsense, but any of the looming projects.

If COVID didn’t happen, maybe things would be different, the projects were on hold. But maybe not so different, Paul had this maneuver in the works for a while, long before shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Compassion merely an avoidable inconvenience.

You can’t use the title director anymore. You’re just a paid contractor. So cold and demeaning… that’s the treatment I deserved after all I’ve done.  Obviously Paul  had devised his July 4th torpedo to inflict the maximum amount of pain, suffering and humiliation.

A call first, a hearing, some common decency to a veteran employee… some proportionality.

Taking away the title without a hearing, based on one email in February & one from last August? That drastic an action is necessary now, why?

What title do I use now when I’m dealing with the press and other official communications? Besides screwing me over, do you have any other plans for my future at JCTC.

Nothing about that, no call about that, the years I spent building JCTC every chance, thousands of volunteer hours, not just the early writing but manning tables and distributing cards. All ignored…

It’s not enough just to work, you also must fulfill Paul’s need to know you’re publically humiliated. But humiliation was no longer enough for Paul, he’s a ten eyes for an eye guy.

I have some health stuff going on, diabetic and also this knee and leg thing that is not responding to physical therapy. My foot keeps swelling up… more than the message, the way it was handled to elicit maximum pain… I can’t get over the hurt… the so called charges – the Atim email especially – were ludicrous.

Paul always was out for my blood, but his thirst could never be satiated.

I refuse to give JCTC, Paul and Beth that extra pound of flesh, the last piece of my heart.

Yes, JCTC owes me money, but pay me or not pay me, Beth and Paul will always be the people they are. If it wasn’t for my more than a half-a-decade’s toil at JCTC,   the position Beth was in to knock me down then kick me in the face would never have been created.

Ironies abound

Tim acted so unprofessional after we took away his title without warning, made charges without merit, offered no chance for a hearing or even discussion, that I had to no choice but to do  my customary fucking with his check act.

With Beth’s ego, you’re never sure where the self-delusion ends and her coldhearted cunning begins.

We only get one life. It’s too short to keep giving Paul and Beth their jollies.

***

To understand Beth’s allegation of an “antagonistic letter” to Atim let me brief you on Stories of Greenville. I wrote the award winning $85,000 grant; Paul received a $2,000 finder’s fee.

Essentially, JCTC would bring art to Greenville while also give exposure to Greenville Artist all as a means to establish art as a catalyst for economic development in a the specific corridor of Greenville. It’s a fantastic project, on paper, but in getting off the ground there were some misfires. The guiding light is the I Love Greenville plan, a very noteworthy document about the neighborhood, filled with data. Fascinating study. I’m a journalist, I’ve read dozens and as far as these studies go, this one is  particularly well done. I needed to ask Gillian Sarjeant Allen, who runs the grant program and help created the plan on which the program is based, very involved questions.

It was the first time they were inviting arts organizations to participate, Gillian needed to learn as much about the arts and JCTC as  we did about this urban revitalization, public/private project. The conversations between myself and Gillian were among the most intellectually stimulating of any I had at JCTC. I’m still the only person at JCTC who ever read the I Love Greenville plan.

We used part of the grant to fund a play and a few other events at NJCU. The NJCU theater  is technically still Greenville, but not within the specified corridor. JCTC needed a project that brings both Greenville residents as well as visitors to that corridor in order to be in compliance with the grant.

I like Atim – on some level I like Paul, Beth and Lucy as well – if there’s hatred in my heart it’s controlled enough to be unable to overcome reason – that seems to only add to the pain. Oh humanity, alas we still with faith always find that with increased knowledge comes increased sorrow.

I met Atim last November. Paul designated her as JCTC’s new curator and her first show would be for Crying Jack Raven, a dear man and great artist. The press release was rather smooth going, she was cooperative, nearly fun.

JCTC’s famous for thematic shows, the art show kicks off these multi-genre series on one theme. Olga hadn’t finalized the themes yet for 2020. Atim has a gallery in Harlem, the talk was of having more art shows than just the series opening. Atim was gung ho on sales and the gallery would be more about sales than having the art relate to plays and other shows.

“I’m not here for fun and games,” she told Olga.

Atim is Nigerian, and ironically I had finished Things Fall Apart the day before we met.  I took that as a good sign. A long time Brooklyn resident, she recently moved to Greenville in Jersey City and quickly got networked in with Paul.

Being from Brooklyn, she’s an authority on everything. Still, aside from the hubris and egocentrism, Atim’s story can make for great publicity. Harlem Gallery now curating in Greenville – that’s a good hook.

I wanted to write a press release spotlighting her, but we needed to have at least some sense of the shows and dates in 2020 to include in the press release. We can’t introduce a new art curator without also announcing the upcoming shows she’ll curate.

The only problem is that JCTC was having its awesome holiday fundraiser. Nobody wants to think about the 2020 season and besides, the holidays suck up any remaining energy. The then 2020 calendar simply had to wait.

Opening was on Friday, by Sunday Atim begins bombarding Ogla and I with emails – her bios and pictures and web addresses – when can she approve the press release?

Olga asks what the emails from Atim are all about. I tell her about my brief in passing conversation about the possibility of doing a press release profiling our new curator, like we had done for Lucy in the past.

“You were going to send out a press release on Atim without asking me?”

“Never. I mentioned this idea in passing to her. I told her I needed your approval.”

“I can’t think about anything but the fundraiser, I told you I don’t know the themes and dates for our next season yet.”

Atim had made Olga upset with me, which wasn’t difficult. She kept the pressure up, further annoying Olga.

But soon, in early December, another news story made the Atim profile press release moot. A couple went on a shooting rampage in Greenville – members of a radical anti-Semitic group, the couple murdered people in a Kosher supermarket as well as a police officer. The Greenville section of Jersey City was suddenly known around the world. Then the slain policeman’s funeral is scheduled for the same day as the JCTC fundraiser so the fundraiser had to be rescheduled. I had to write up press announcements.

Then we had many talks about what JCTC and the Stories of Greenville project could do followed. Such an awful time, everyone in the city was upset about this horrific slaying. No one was holding a public Christmas party in town, bleakest holidays in recent memory.

One day I see on Facebook Stories of Greenville Art Walk – the idea is that we entice people to walk around the corridor and look at art in bars and shops, listen to music. January 5!

Nobody talked to me about the event, but it was so hastily organized, maybe the less attention on the first one the better. Since it was a monthly program, the objective was to build up the program and then do real blowouts when the weather was warm and more walkable. It’s a good idea. The Art Walk is through the designated corridor outlined in the I love Greenville Plan. Local businesses would hang art and/or have performances, residents and visitors would come and experience the art and spend some money and start the revitalizing wheel rolling. The concept has worked in urban neighborhoods across the country. JCTC was finally doing something we promised in the original grant and would offset any flak for using the NJCU theater as a Stories of Greenville venue.

Some press contacts, including John Bathke, call me up about the January Art Walk, the first Greenville event since the shooting. I arranged quotes and stuff, interviews with Olga and Atim. Turned out, the first one didn’t need a press release – we got stories promoting it, which  you want, but with an ongoing project like, the gold ring is a reporter actually reporting on the art while in Greenville. Bathke said should be able to make the next one.

First Sunday of every month. Ongoing programming! 2020’s going to be the best year ever! Tim, write a press release for the February Art Walk.

Art as healing… a neighborhood still in shock – I’m eager to promote a monthly program and the angle is appealing: topical and positive. The New York Times and North Jersey.Com, who have like one reporter for Hudson County, now sent dozens. I did massive research, finding contact info  for each reporter covering the shooting story.

The Greenville shooting lingered in the news cycle for weeks. How can I use this to JCTC’s advantage in framing the next Stories of Greenville Art Walk press release?

My first question is about pictures. What kind of shots did we get in January?

I go through what we had. Dismal. Greenville has heart and soul, but naturally photogenic it is not and nobody on Team JCTC seemed even to be trying. I doubt there were more than half a dozen to choose from, and more than one look like phone shots.

One didn’t suck. Nyquazah Hawkins, owner and founder of Qua’s Creative Art Center, an art space with classrooms and  gallery that presented mainly children’s art programming.

Qua is the nickname, what everybody calls her, what she invites me to call her. She’s 27, an artist and mother, and was ready to open her art center, which was affiliated with the I Love Greenville program.

As a publicist, I couldn’t ask for a better focal point for a press release about art and neighborhood revitalization. I interview her and we have a great rapport. Thickest Jersey City accent I’ve ever heard, but such a fantastic story – born and raised in Greenville, wants to give back to the community, create something she never had growing up. Great quotes. I interview people on phone for a living. She was one of my best interviews ever.

“You gave me great, stuff. And, nothing will go out without your approval.”

The press release featured Qua and her center, talked about art healing the neighborhood, then promoted the Art Walk. I sent the first draft to Qua as well as Atim and Olga, per protocol.

Qua sends back the word document with thick black slashes through every quote from her and any mention of Qua’s Creative Center. She took out every Qua-related word. Nothing was salvageable. I now had no press release. I write her back, explain my situation, and asked if we could talk about it before I do another draft or can I do another draft and you might like that one better or at least be on a way to start there. All cordial and polite. I know if she explained to me why she reacted the way she did, I could write a better release.

I go for a walk then come back to read Qua’s reply, a scathing email, about how she didn’t appreciate my mentioning Urban Dictionary or making fun of her name – she had two different spellings of her first name on the documents I had. I did double check her name. I never made fun of her name. I’m in shock. Nothing like this has ever happened before, a total bail. I’m nearly choking.

Atim calls me, pissed as pissed can be. Qua called Gillian… the squall was now a tropical storm.

“She does know it’s just a draft,” I asked. “Press releases go through drafts.”

“You downtown people think you know all about Greenville.”

“Qua is not the first person from Greenville I’ve met. We had a great interview. I’ve never had anyone react like this before, nothing even close. It’s just a draft. I’m stunned.”

“I didn’t get involved, I wanted to see how you would work with Qua.”

“If you intervened when you saw her email it would have prevented all this. Now we have to find a whole new angle and your other pictures are terrible.”

“You shouldn’t have mentioned the shooting.”

“I struggled with that, I barely mentioned it, less than one sentence. It’s a first draft. I was trying out an idea.”

“Greenville doesn’t want to be reminded of the shooting.”

“Healing through art. The shooting happened whether Greenville wants to be reminded of it or not. The Art Walk is going to get more attention because of it. I want to use that to our advantage. Deny it all you want, the shooting has made any news in Greenville more newsworthy. Is there anything in the press release that you did like, that I might keep… hello?”

She gave me nothing, but we agreed that in the future we have the protocol, Atim will okay the press release drafts until they’re shown to Greenville collaborators. Exhausting phone call. I took more than a few punches. No one could have predicted Qua’s response, I was incredulous… a first draft… never in my career… I had become nearly catatonic. Atim thought I should have known how Qua would react.

So, you knew how she would react but didn’t say anything to me when you read the press release, yet I’m at fault for not using my mind reading powers.

Atim was mean, her conversation had nothing to do with salvaging Art Walk PR. It was just an unmissed opportunity for her to fire a barrage of  insults at me, mainly about my gender and downtown Jersey City. But, despite her meanness, the phone call came to a cordial conclusion.

I email Qua an apology. I wrote a sincere note.  I took responsibility for the entire incident, even if the offense was inadvertent and unintended. I also wrote a full account of the incident and my interview with Qua that I sent to Olga et al. Then I went to work on the replacement press release, in between moping through another weekend, deeply depressed about this whole Qua situation.

What did I miss? I couldn’t find an answer but I still asked the question… it was a draft…

Monday evening, Qua has emailed me. She not only accepts my apology but invites me to her official opening, the one the Feb. Art Walk press release was meant to promote. It was a real nice email. As my despair dissipated, I nearly wept. The connection we made was genuine no matter what she thought of the initial press release.

My next email to her addressed the Urban Dictionary controversy. During our interview, Qua’s flowing, telling me about the kids and arts and the classes and she mentions SLIME, which is some kids toy that I never heard of before, I didn’t recognize the name and we had a bad connection or something and I heard F when she said S. I was taking notes – I can type as fast as most people talk – I went to google typed in F-L-I-M-E while we were talking. I was trying to get a better picture of the Creative Center, so this point of the interview was wide-ranging. The first google was FLIME Urban Dictionary. I read it aloud when it appeared, and she said, laughing, it’s not an urban dictionary thing. I clicked the google screen off and moved the conversation in other directions. I didn’t get any sense she was upset. The interview ended with a fond farewell. In her email, she said I said Urban Dictionary and obviously I can see how that  might have racial overtones given that we were strangers and I’m a middle aged white male and she’s a young black woman. After I explained what happened, she said it was all a misunderstanding. She found it funny. It is very funny. The air was cleared.

Bygones be bygones, no hard feelings, said Qua.

We had a beautiful back and forth.

When I sent out the February Art Walk and March Art Walk press releases, I sent them also to Qua. I kept her in the loop with JCTC press releases since then as well.

I would have loved to have attended her opening, but I was the only one available to host SELL ME: I’m North Korean, a one-woman show that was taking place during the Art Walk. I had arranged for Voice of America Korea to cover this international show.

John Bathke from Channel 12 wants to do a story on the February Art Walk, but it won’t air until mid-March. Per my suggestion, He interviews Qua, but it can’t air until mid-March. By then of course, COVID shut down channel 12 studios, no art coverage for months… the July show I nabbed for Olga was one of the first episodes after resuming programming for Bathke. But back then, the first week of March, hope still sprang eternal.

The Bathke Qua & Art Walk spot could fuel the April Art Walk. Hey… here’s a crazy idea… let’s plan further ahead than two weeks … the warmer months will be prime time for the Greenville Art Walk… alas, alas, what might have been.

***
Was it when the Jersey City Arts Referendum idea was first introduced that Atim and I were together at City Hall?

Anyway, we’re in city hall at a winter meeting of everyone in the arts scene to hear all about this new ballot initiative. We’re in a large meeting room that’s not quite large enough for the amount of people gathered within it.

Christine Goodman, the director of the Jersey City Cultural Affairs is there. Christine and I had spoken the day before about the Art Walk and Greenville. She had called me, she wanted to know more about the project. She loves the project.

One of the problems is Mary Bethune Center has some regulation against opening on Sunday. This community building is within the corridor and has gallery and performance space. Atim, Olga and I have discussed the center. I asked Christine about getting the center open on Sunday, but she tells me it’s out of the mayor’s sphere of influence. However, the city controls the new  Mary Bethune Park right across from the center due to open in July.

The referendum meeting ends and we’re packed into this large meeting room, but people were leaving. As the crowd thins I was between Atim and Christine and I introduced them, she’s curating the monthly art walk we were talking about, blah blah blah… real networking, city support… maybe we can coordinate an art walk with the opening of the park this summer. It was by way of introduction or something like that.

Atim bellows: I am the curator of the Art Walk. I am the curator, not you!

You should have seen Goodman’s frown, her cheeks going gray. Atim’s public insult  to me appalled Christine, who sighed and pretended to listen as Atim rattled on. I tried to back away. Anyone could see what Christine was thinking: another arrogant New Yorker here to save the Jersey City Art Scene with their superior hustle.

Atim sends me contacts, publications to send press releases. Art publications and black publications, like Blavity. Not phone numbers or reporter names, just emails copied from websites. I’m sure she spent nearly 15 minutes googling. Send to these publications (more than half of which I know of and already send to).

I welcome it. Great idea! I research the websites. I ask Atim some questions, such as any of these do you particularly like or read. She ignores me. I add them all to my press list, formatting them for email, a very minor detail that will be important later.

Time for the next Art Walk press release. What do you want to do about this press release, can you send me a quote, do you have any pictures… the usual queries… Atim and I are  in more frequent contact than ever before – not only the Art Walk, but we’re finally doing some art openings at Merseles. Everything last minute. About a month, six weeks is better, it gives you the better chance of widening the JCTC coverage reach.

Atim declares, I’m not giving you a quote until I see your story.

I can’t write the story until I have your quote. That will give me some idea of what angle to take. It’s your program, Atim.

No quote. Story first.

The round and round of texts was insane. No one has ever refused to send me a quote. What could be the motivation for that?  I asked her for just some ideas to go on, what’s on your mind.

No, nothing until I see what you write.

Her illogic astounded me, especially since we had been doing this dance a while now. She always sent me a quote, even a few other ideas.

“Olga always give me the quote first,” I implore.

“I’m not Olga.”

I beseech her one last time. Beg. Why are you giving me nothing to start with.

“Qua!”

“Qua? She invited me to her opening. We’re friends now.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

What did that mean?

It was around this time that I wrote the so-called  antagonistic email, which was mainly begging for the most minimum cooperation from her for the press release.

At the time, I ask for some help from Beth. She had been CC’d on all the Atim emails.

I don’t want to get involved she replied.

Something else Beth failed to mention when she cited the email as a reason to demote me.

***

Olga tells me that Paul and Atim are playing the race card with Gillian and the board about this Qua business.

How are they playing the Race Card?  Qua invited me to her opening.

They just are, she said.

I had no response except to say that such a thing is beneath contempt.

I sent Olga my correspondence with Qua, but apparently to no avail.

Noreen Collins was a JCTC Board Member, a wealthy lawyer, who talks in street slang, which is forced and unconvincing. She antically gesticulates when she talks, swaying side to side. She’s in her fifties, which makes her incessant 20-something slang sound peculiar.

Paul hates you but everybody else says you’re good at what you do is how Noreen introduced herself to me.

Noreen’s Atim’s ultra-advocate. She purchased a painting that Atim exhibited as an Art Show she curated, the only art Atim sold at JCTC.

At the Art Talk for the show, the duo debated whether or not all men are oppressors, as Atim insisted, or only most men, Noreen’s position. Both agreed with Atim’s main assertion, that all masculinity – not just what we call toxic masculinity – is responsible for Donald Trump.

Under Atim, JCTC’s artist talks had hit a new low.

The Qua incident seemed not to have as lasting an impact as Atim hoped, so Noreen invented the racist question theory.

Some quick but relevant background: I had conducted not just the promotion, but dozens of Talk-Backs for dozens of plays, including high profile shows about Shirley Chisholm  and W.E. B Dubois. I started and conducted the conversation, skills I’ve honed and something I both enjoy and take quite seriously. I ask great questions, whose responses evolve into more discussion. I was a go-to Talk Back moderator for many shows, but particularly those with African American content.

The first and what turned out to be only play reading of 2020 was this very funny African American play, a series of vignettes about dating, sex, and romantic tribulations. I was only an audience member. The post-reading discussion veered into the issue if the play was too black.  Play readings are about play development, the writers want feedback. I disputed the too black argument by offering a comment along the lines that the more specific it is, the more universal the play becomes, making a point about authenticity. I remember the playwright thanking me, real nice guy.

That’s about all I remember. It was a good night. Pleasantly inconsequential.

Noreen had heard something else. She demanded the board fire me. She claimed I had asked a racist question. Olga defended me by saying I have never seen anything or heard anything even remotely racist from Tim.

But Olga would never tell me what the racist question was.

I’m unable to ask a racist question on purpose. I can’t even imagine what a racist question might sound like. The idea is so preposterous that I can’t help but be intrigued. I’d like to know what a racist question is so I could least notice it on Fox News.

Look, this is 2020 America, issues of race are a constant. Maybe I said something that can legitimately be called into question, taken issue with. There’s a first time for everything. Maybe I breached some insensitivity line I hadn’t noticed or wasn’t sufficiently aware of, it’s possible. I recognize that possibility. I welcome a discussion

Why not just talk to me about it, at least for starters. Why can’t Noreen just email or reach out to me and tell me what I said that made her so uncomfortable that the only charge must be racism?

Why jump to the conclusion that there’s meanness in my heart?

A few days later,  Olga informs me that Atim and Noreen have a new allegation of racism against you. They claim I was not sending press releases to the publications Atim gave me and that makes me a racist.

Yes, Blavity and Art Forum aren’t writing about Atim or picking up the press release about an event less than two weeks away because they were never sent the press release.

Stop the presses, Atim is curating next week. If the presses don’t stop, Tim must be a racist.

Her logic is so absurd that it goes beyond even hubris.

Olga asks, can you prove that you emailed the press release to Atim’s list?

Why would I lie?

Noreen and Atim need proof.

How do I prove I included an email in the  bulk email I sent?

I sent them text files. Atim emailed me a list in the body an email, no attached document. I like to upload emails on the text format, commas between them, so that’s how I format email lists before I upload addresses. I emailed Olga, Noreen, Atim and Beth the text files to show that after five years at JCTC I wasn’t a racist liar.

By the way, so one of Atim’s publications was Art Rabbit, the only one to respond in any way to the press releases I sent them. Their reply was an automated invite to put the event on their calendar. I sent this to both Beth and Atim. Atim said please take care of it. The fact Art Rabbit responded was proof that I contacted Atim’s list.

I had actually forgotten about this when Olga told me that Noreen and Atim accused me of not sending the press release out to the publications she gave me.

So did Atim and Beth… ironic.

One must wonder how much better JCTC could be if Paul and his cronies instead of spending their energy trying to take me down, they used it for fundraising, or community relations or other matters, like boards not driven by their president’s obsessive hatred.

***

Lucy Rovetto never liked Paul Denison. I can’t trust someone who won’t look me in the eye.

She was right about Paul’s offsetting quirk. He looks to the side of you. He never looks you in the eye.

She often ridiculed Paul to me, mentioned this not looking in the eye habit more than once – it was a popular trope for Lucy, I’ve heard her say the same about other people she disliked many times. She repeated it during our last meeting, one of the last times we were on speaking terms. This bitter meeting about this upcoming art show, it would turn out to be her last, and such a weak effort, too.

She groans at me, I’m so over JCTC.

But she would only say that to me. A week later she would tell everyone else she was quitting JCTC because of me.

I thought we were good friends and her change towards me I still can’t make sense of. Now, this former friend bad mouths me every chance she gets. She’s the bartender at Madame Claude’s, Jersey City’s French bistro and central JCTC hangout, so she gets a lot of chances.

But once upon a time, I assumed we were close.

We exchanged birthday gifts, made Christmas phone calls to each other. Maybe this best demonstrates the real Lucy: My mother and her parents died within the same span of time. I wore my nice clothes to their wakes, had masses said and gave her sympathy cards. Lucy dressed like a grape picker, loudly chewing gum in the viewing room  for all my mother’s mourners to hear. I still can’t figure why she would drive to Paramus just to be an obnoxious presence.

A friend of mine whose judgement I trust once visited Jersey City and attended a JCTC art opening. Her impression of Lucy: She’s a smug asshole whose art isn’t that good.

I admire most of her art, but I’ve met no one smugger, I’ve no doubt of that. She lets you know she’s above you. Her smugness is certainly related to another trait – Lucy is an incessant gossip. We talked a lot about art, went to openings and what not. But it’s not like she also talks about the news or politics or favorite films. Instead, She has an opinion on everyone. Who she dislikes, why she dislikes them…I’ve never known anyone who talks about other people as much as Lucy. I have to admit, I learned a lot about the different art circles in Jersey City just by each dis, judgement and insult. We would attend an opening together, make small talk with someone and as soon as they’re out of earshot Lucy would say something like she thinks her shit don’t stink. She has a nearly obsessive need for disparagement. The only thing more constant was her need to talk about other people she knew – it’s not she is always putting them down, but it’s her main subject matter. This shallowness could be wearying.

Lucy had returned to her hometown of Jersey City after years in South Africa, she was one of the first artists to rent a studio at Merseles Studio. She came up to me at our very first event, Personal & Universal, “when I see you here I know that what we’re doing is real.”

A while later, she was at an outside table at LITM and I was walking by, I waved and continued walking but she calls me over and informs me, you’re not allowed to see me without talking to me.

A friendship was born. We went out for pizza! The series were the main focus of JCTC in those early years and we needed a consistent curator. Olga & Ben came up with the theme idea – have a series on one theme, like Identity or Origin – and Olga would curate play-readings, monologues, performance art, dance etc. – whose content relates to the theme. Merseles Studios has an L-shaped hall, which we called a gallery – hey, why not, the track lighting was museum quality we were told by the company who sold it to JCTC.

The art shows would need an art opening, and like other gallery openings, there would be a reception and Art Talk with the artists. Multiple genres was a JCTC trademark, and visual arts are low cost with a big payoff, especially for JCTC – low overhead compared to theatrical productions – and the Hudson County grants support local artists –  gallery shows had a dozen or more artists, and it was inherently diverse. I love writing about art. I produced good copy. The series always needed a blurb and other writing besides the press release. Working with Olga and Lucy on various aspects of the shows was enjoyable and creative.

Lucy needed to be cajoled into being a curator. Ogla asked me what I thought of the idea. I was for it.  She has a good eye, she possessed some charisma but more so, a gravitational pull. She had started Girl Group, a Lesbian networking organization that seemed to be a new idea at the time. The LGBT chunk of Jersey City Artists coalesced around Lucy like moons orbiting Saturn, at least back then.  Ben, Olga, Diana and I met with Lucy and we convinced her.

“What you bring to JCTC is your network,” Ben told her at the meeting.

We tried previews of upcoming shows or other performances for these openings, but the fact is people were coming for the art show. Thematic series made for great copy, but the JCTC reality is that the audiences were segmented by event, little if any of the anticipated audience crossover,  making cross marketing between events eventually futile. Art openings – with their free wine, cheese and crudités – attracted a nice-sized crowd – most artists brought friends and family. The thematic Art Show might have kicked off each thematic series, but let’s just keep the opening event on the art. Lucy will do the Art Talk.

Her freshman opening attracted people and nothing about the art irritated me, but the Talk was horrendous. Lucy had the artist stand against the wall, like prisoners about to be shot. She’s waving her hands like a clown or mime, introduces the artists quickly, then says, “are there any questions. Good, no questions, bye.”

Immediately shuts down the proceedings. She was angry, not in the spirit of the event at all, but as art opening parties go, it was as good as what’s typical for Jersey City. People liked being in the then new space of Merseles. Let’s do it again.

JCTC’s mission is to inspire or spark – depending on which mission statement Paul approved –conversations about the issues of our times… we hope that community dialogue can lead to positive social times. How can we better live up to our mission at the art opening.

I suggested two things – have the people sit instead of stand – and show projections of the painting on the theater wall,  so we know which artist goes with what work, instead of the artists being introduce and them just saying my painting is near the end of the hall by the bathroom.

Lucy was clearly uncomfortable in front of audience, but she has that off-kilter magnetism that draws attention. So, it was decided that I would help out – Lucy would be the host, be on stage and I would sort of prompt the audience or ask artists questions, basically tend to, fuel and encourage the conversation that was our mission and our brand.

We follow this format for three or four openings. As importantly, we’re holding creative meetings to assess each opening and plan the next. Everyone likes the artist seated format, engaging the audience, having the discussion. Lucy likes being the center of attention. We expand the projections to include previews of upcoming JCTC events – and to show the logos of our then sponsors – so we have a slideshow in the theater during the reception as well as projections during the Art Talk. We’re doing fun Facebook posts on the artists and event – one show, I asked Lucy her reaction to each piece, used her answer for the basis individual Facebook posts. We were creating good content. JCTC is finally a creative and professional arts organization.

Lucy asks me to help her with some personal writing. I ghost write a recommendation letter for Winifred McNeil, an NJCU professor Lucy was networked with, and a recommendation letter by Olga for Lucy in order to get city sponsored studio space at 150 Bay Street, a big deal for local artists. The application required a personal essay, which I also wrote. I had her read it to me saying the punctuation marks so the proofreading would be as thorough as possible. Free writing for a friend… there are two categories of friends – those who you do what they ask if you can and those who you just do what they ask – Lucy was becoming more the former… what’s a few hours of life to help a friend out… blessing, mitzvah, karma, right?

We’re also going to gallery openings and hanging out together and talking about Art and JCTC – we’re communicating multiple times per week about JCTC, the openings, etc. … we even drink together at Healy’s on Saint Patrick’s Day. I’m getting her interviewed and profiled – the well-traveled Greenville artist now curating the city’s newest gallery, the only one integrated with a theater – shapely stories that hit a Jersey City sweet spot.

White Eagle Hall finally opens. I’m doing the publicity, she’s chief bartender. The mutual acquaintances  she can sneer and snipe about multiply.

We’ve seem to have solved the Art Opening / Art Talk riddle. Lucy’s comfortable in the spotlight, I seem to have a niche, on the outskirts, prompting the audience. We’re having good assessment and planning meetings. Every opening is better than the last. We make a good team.

My mother passes away that August and a few weeks later, another art opening. I’m navigating my way out of the grief and my two sisters, Elaine and Suzanne, come to Jersey City for the first and only time. They worry about their brother after the passing of mom. I was updating on my life in the Jersey City and I was more upbeat about life than I had been just a few years ago. I play an Ed McMahon like role to my colleague’s Johnny Carson, I tell them.

The opening is lively and well attended. A good selection of artists, the promotions we did got some attention. I’m enjoying introducing my sisters around. Art Talk starts… we shoo the audience to their seats and invite the artists to the “stage area.”

I lug some chairs to the front but Fernando moves them back. Lucy told us no chairs.

That’s impossible, I say

Lucy waves me away, let’s start, let’s start.

What about the chairs, I say, flabbergasted.

I want them standing.

Why.

I just do.

We talked about this a hundred times. We’ve had meetings about it. The last two Art Talks we had them seated. Why are you changing the format we created?

I don’t want them seated, let’s start.

You just decided that without telling me.

The exchange may sound more spectacle than it actually was. We’re not the Guggenheim, the space is the second floor of a locksmith. Any event is informal and no matter how great you make something, it’s a wine party for dedicated amateurs. This public spat was mostly overlooked.

The Art Talk is done with the artist standing. Lucy has pushed us a step backward.  So much for the  community dialogue JCTC claims as our distinguishing attribute. People were bored, watching a police lineup  is dull. Another mess, but at least over in less than an hour.

Lucy embarrassed me in front of my sisters. Given the amount of meetings we had about these openings, Lucy could’ve only put an arbitrary end to the artists seating in order to humiliate me in public. It wasn’t to improve the Art Talk, by any objective measure it sucked. We had so many talks about the damn format, why change it and why be so inconsiderate to the person you work with that you don’t even tell him?

After my sisters leave, I confront Lucy about it and she plays the innocent one, I didn’t know they should’ve been seated… some passive aggressive memory loss about the Art Opening Meetings – with Olga, not just me and Lucy… we found a workable format as a team, at the last minute Lucy preferred just to shit on me.

You’re saying that after all the discussions we’ve had about openings?

We parted in anger, walking in separate directions out of the Merseles parking lot. I had had it, I stopped talking to her. Tension in the ranks had turned into open hostility.

Peace is needed for the JCTC cold war. Olga becomes a mediator of sorts, Lucy and I are talking to each other through Olga.

Olga was in on the meetings, she agreed with me about the seating of artists.

Olga, if she did this with any other person o, change the format without telling them before hand, what would you do? How am I not in the right here?

Olga is quiet then loudly sighs. If Lucy has to apologize to you she says she’ll quit. Do you want to lose Lucy?

Olga convenes a summit between Lucy and I. Everything gets resolved eventually.

Do the whole Art Talk alone, I don’t care. But if you want my help, I don’t want to work on shit and you doing it off the top of your head is lame and I won’t be part of that. You want shit, do it your way. You  want me to continue working with you on the Art Talk,  I want an outline to what we’re doing, at least a minimal format. For a conversation, you need them seated. You want something else, you’re on your own.

No, she doesn’t want to do the Art Talk alone and agrees to my simple request of some semblance of format. Olga tells Lucy that Tim’s right, it’s better when they’re seated.

We’re never the same friends again. We meet at openings instead of meeting beforehand and going in together. We develop another project together, ARTSpeaks, an Art Talk type event that profiled two or three artists.  Lucy again the star, which is what I want. But nobody is coming. She insists on holding one on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, even the artists couldn’t get one of their friends to come. Another time, she has trio of the most popular artists in town, again nobody. I ask Lucy why.

“Nobody likes coming to Merseles anymore,” she says.

We have some other falling out – she’s pulling stunts like blowing off meetings with me.  She has taken all the fun out of working on the art shows. We’re not doing any blurbs or marketing. I ask her about what she wants to do and she says stop annoying me.

We finally have a meeting. She declares she doesn’t want to be interviewed anymore for press.

You’re the curator, it’s part of the job. You’ve been doing very good interviews.

“Do you think I want to be curator? I never wanted to be curator.”

I didn’t really have an answer for that. I talk to her about her animus against me. I mention a few examples of her hurts and insults.  I thought we were friends.

“Your education intimidates me.”

This line still haunts me. We both went to a New Jersey state college.

You know, one time we were talking about literature – not that she reads, she’s ill-read at best – she asked me to give her contemporary literature to her. Because They Wanted To and Two Against One were b-day presents. Fun and easy reading, culturally significant fiction, thoughtful gifts. Not one word about them again. Did she read them and not like them or not read them at all? I valued her opinion – we talked about art so often and in depth – you would think she’d say something just to not be rude.

Her obstinacy grew stranger. She didn’t want to do any more ArtSpeaks. She takes over all the Facebook Marketing for the shows, then posts nothing. The paintings seem thrown together just to fill empty wall space.

Olga constantly calls me up: “What is wrong with Lucy?”

“Why not ask me how high is the moon because trying to fathom Lucy is a fool’s errand. Her dysfunction has become less interesting with time.”

The shit she did pull on me got more inexplicable. I was trying to improve the Facebook content. So around this show I made a series of posts, and scheduled them. Let’s announce the event on the same day I send out the press release. I told her when I was alerting the media. It was all I asked, I thought she saw the sense in the synchronization.

The day before the agreed upon date for the press release she posts the event. I asked her, we talked about the timing the social media with the publicity. You agreed to it. Why are you going out of your way to undermine me and the project?

Is it just for the hell of it, or is this some retaliation and if so, for what?

“Oh, I just forgot.”

When she wasn’t blowing me off, she was sticking her finger in my eye. It was Lucy who first made me realize what a fool I was for loving JCTC.

Her last show was Privilege. We’ve living in political times, White Privilege, Male Privilege – the word was in the news. I was finding quotes on the theme, which  I posted on FB, scheduling them so we have a consistent presence. It actually cause some Facebook engagement, people began posting their own Privilege quotes.

That’s another… thing… forgiving Lucy for the sake of JCTC, ignoring her insults and slights so the project could be done. One does what one must. With Privilege, we had a hot one, topical and relevant. I again put aside my angst and resentment and did some good work for the greater good.

But of course Lucy had the artists standing, wouldn’t give me two minutes to go over some minutia, just ignoring me, insulting me, her smugness off the charts. I haven’t spoken to her since. I was asked to moderate the next Art Talk – after Lucy quit – but I declined. She had drained any pleasure I got from working on that event. I’ll do the press release and put the coverage links on Facebook and that’s the extent of it.

Something went askew with the Privilege Art Call, so instead of selecting the best of many she was scrambling to fill space. Her creativity now null and void, she had lost her eye. Nothing more she could do  –  or wanted to do – with that hall JCTC declared a gallery. Lost in a malaise, she could barely go through the motions. She kept complaining to me about having to talk with Olga every day, how she couldn’t escape JCTC by going to her studio at Merseles, and because she was dealing with the loss of her parents and the selling of the Greenville homestead, she desperately needed some form of sanctuary. But Merseles now provided the opposite. Every time she’d be painting, she told she’d get sucked into another Olga conversation, which if it wasn’t about JCTC, it was about White Eagle Hall.

Lucy wanted out of the game and threw me under the bus instead of telling Olga the truth.

Remember the 150 Bay Street Essay and Ogla recommendation letter – they finally worked. Lucy got the studio space. She would be leaving Merseles, thanks to me. She had revamped her webpage to include a page for her time as Visual Arts Coordinator at JCTC, a list of various news coverage – all directly to my press releases and publicity work – most of them done as a volunteer because JCTC was establishing itself and couldn’t pay me.

So  how did Lucy Rovetto thank me for all my writing that got her into the top tier artist studio space in Jersey City?

“I can’t work with Tim. I’m quitting JCTC because of Tim.”

She didn’t just tell Olga, she spread this through the grapevine. I can’t express how infuriating this is. Beth and Paul are practically Madame Claude bar flies. The board drinks there as well.

I’m not sure what “antagonistic’ letter Beth was referring to when she gave me a nervous breakdown. It was last August… I had only sent two emails to Lucy, one was a response to some very strange email by her about not saying hello to me at an Art Show and how her unprofessional behavior was my fault – I swear, that’s almost exact quote of her bizarre thinking – blaming her behavior on me when obviously an apologizing is in order– she admits to being unprofessional than says it is my fault and leaves it at that, no explanation why I deserve such blame. … but that was another email that came from me to Olga. So like in 2018 I was trying to talk Lucy into doing a Pride art show in 2018 – People were already talking about the Stonewall Anniversary – she kept blowing me off. It could  better network us into Hudson Pride, maybe bring in a new artist and a veteran – there are many gay artists of all generations.

So, a few months after moving out Merseles, stepping down from JCTC and blaming me, she’s participating in a Pride Art Show by Art House, JCTC’s chief rival in Jersey City. I informed Olga by email about this coincidence and CC’d Lucy – this may be the so called “Antagonizing” letter Beth cited but refused to quote, point out what her problem was, or hear my side at all.

Olga told me that Lucy showed the email to everybody. “They all know what happened between you and Lucy.”

No they don’t! What they know is only what Lucy told them. Maybe she explained why  she went from affection to animosity. She never told me. Or maybe under Paul, JCTC is more high school than professional organization and Beth and Noreen and Bang only listen to Lucy’s side because she’s popular and I’m not. Nobody cares about truth or justice and being in the right is meaningless. They just want to sit at Lucy’s table in the cafeteria so they can be cool kids too.

Alas, I remain not just hurt by the actions of someone who had quickly become one of my closest Jersey City friends, a friendship she initiated, but also baffled… and disgusted.

***

Paul is detail adverse. He thinks he knows everything of course, Mr. Data Driven, but ask him a detailed question, he’s lost, easily angered, nasty.

When Paul descended upon JCTC, it was a time of turmoil. One of the main enticements was White Eagle Hall – I would do the publicity for the restored venue and get paid – it amounted to 10-20 billable hours per week, sometimes more. This went on for about 11 months – I was informed I was no longer needed on a Friday, the day before my birthday – the same month I got the venue a cover story for a local magazine – they brought in a new promoter and me and the existing marketing department was replaced. JCTC resumed programming the same time the White Eagle Hall restoration project was announced and it was writing about the announcement and the history of the hall on my blog that led to my being hired by Ben & Olga.

Like most construction projects, there were a lot of delays. Meanwhile, Ben & Olga opened Merseles Studios, directly adjacent to the hall and reanimated JCTC, who would be programming at White Eagle Hall, and so much of what we were doing for JCTC also resulted in audience development and public relations for the impending opening of the hall.

The good news for me was I had a small but steady income from White Eagle Hall, the bad news was I had to do all the JCTC press and grant writing for free. I made about $14,000 at White Eagle Hall, I’m grateful but that’s below poverty. I had to put in as much time for JCTC as I did for White Eagle Hall. It was expected and any complaint by me, Olga replied White Eagle Hall is paying me.

When the changeover happened at White Eagle Hall, I started getting paid $500 per month for all JCTC work. I was not working free, just well below minimum wage.

JCTC wasn’t fundraising much and the only revenue was the grants I was writing. But there were many grants we hadn’t applied for and Olga said, we get paid, you get paid.

But Paul has grant experience. He writes grants for his job for a nonprofit in Newark. He’ll help you.

Paul and I get to work. Actually, I get to work and get to consult with Paul. I research grants we can apply for – we don’t have audited financials, which narrows down the pool… which should we apply for… apply for we can, he says, apply for all we can.

He knows all about the grants. Apply for all grants he says, but every grant I try to talk him about makes him incredibly passive aggressive.

“That’s a very competitive grant,” he’d say, just in case I was under the delusion we were the only arts organization in New Jersey. “We’ll never get it.”

Still, we apply, you have to apply just to get on the radar, even if rejection is certain

“That grant requires an oversight we’re not prepared to do,” he’d say about another one.

Should we do it? Yes. I ask a detailed question only he can answer regarding the collaboration with a government agency. It wasn’t a long question, just a specific one and one that needed to be answered before I could begin the application. He doesn’t answer. Weeks go by, Olga asks me about the grant, but the deadline has passed. Paul never spoke to her about the issue only he could resolve.

Paul would gather the staff for these meetings. It was focus group type nonsense, actually. I have nothing against those sort of studies, just the needlessly annoying way Paul would run them… and the fact they went on for hours and never felt like anything other than a complete waste of time.

He would pose prompts to the team, such was what does JCTC mean to you. We would answer, but were forbidden to talk about programming. It was strange. There was nothing to be learned from what we had done, which was by then consistent. I had articulated the vision of the organization for each program – the staff had worked hard putting them – nobody was doing thematic series with separate genres – how does one ignore the programming when you want us to dig deeper into the meaning of JCTC – for the idea of getting better at what you’re doing had no relevance. Don’t talk about the programming, he insisted squelching any substantive dialogue.

He’d issue me orders for no reason, compensation never mentioned – which made getting paid really arduous and often it was, get you next time. For the Bill LaRosa dinner – the day before – he says, I need to write an unpaid bio on Bill LaRosa. I put aside a paying job to assemble this – I had some the material, googling got us more, I fact checked with his wife. Paul tells me I have to get it in at a certain time so they can incorporate it into the evening’s schedule, as part of the presentation.

I had done tons of work already for this fundraiser, reaching out to politicians to get letters and declarations… press releases of course… what I got ticked about was the last minute orders, vague and open ended. I get it in, feel good about it and at the Fundraiser… nothing is use… and they replaced it with… nothing… they just have people come up and speak about Bill LaRosa, like a living wake. The man was suffering from brain cancer and everyone who knew him wanted just to be with him.

So, why did Paul order me to write something for a formalized presentation when there was nothing formal, nothing apparently planned for the stage. Strange night, no other tables but the two Hudson County tables right next to the stage, everyone else floating around elsewhere in the hall. Anything on the stage was slap-dash and amateur-hour, barely commemorating Bill’s life and legacy.

After all the work I did on it, Paul piled on an extra assignment that was useless. Any sort of engaging, even professional presentation commiserate with the accomplishments of the man JCTC was honoring was nonexistent. Even the discussed segments promoting JCTC to its scant supporters had fallen by the wayside.

Paul is prone to sending out these convoluted emails – I would often send them back corrected – hitting reply all. Perhaps this didn’t endear me to Paul, but I’m not good with fuzzy ideas.

So, I’m doing the Bank of America grant, which we never got, but it was the first of a few corporate grants I was working on during early summer, three years ago? Paul is doing the budget, but also giving me feedback With grants it’s about framing your organization and its programming into narratives, for this one it was about building communities. I had the programs, but organizing them into the narrative I needed some feedback on, I needed direction to write them. He blew off two meetings, then we finally talk he’s like I don’t know, listless. This wasn’t atypical. I needed some clear direction in order to gain traction. The narrative arc for this proposal we was going to be the prototype for a series of grants due successively.

At a meeting with Olga, specifically convened to iron out what programs to be included in upcoming grant, I’m asking questions, Paul is saying I don’t know, no interest in participating in the conversation. As Olga and I talk, he’s looking at these papers, some kind of profit and loss thing, accountant stuff, and making marks. They had nothing to do with JCTC. We’re supposed to be having a confab, we all know the work we have to… art is interesting, art programming is interesting, but hashing out these grants is hard work, not thrilling at all, but if we don’t focus, it doesn’t get done.

Why was he acting this way? Not withholding details. But he resented the asking of details. I think he said some cliché about not getting lost in the weeds. He just didn’t want to get into them, yet I had no one else to help me. We’re supposed to work together, all I’m getting is his obvious displeasure that I exist.

Where did that come from?

I don’t know, but he always had this attitude against me. What I had done with JCTC never mattered. What I was doing he provided no help with. Indeed, he was the opposite of help, throwing up one obstacle, after another, leaving me little time to complete an application before deadline.

Our conversations rarely went well. Not just the grant and JCTC related stuff,  other conversations as well. He was persistently contrarian with me, about weird stuff, until any small talk between was nil. We stopped saying hello to each other entirely. When we got the Greenville grant, he sends out a text to everybody at JCTC thanking the “team” – nobody else worked on the grant but me. His anger kept him from mentioning my name.

His rage against me would not end with mere snubbing.

So he never tried to like you and had no respect for what you had done with JCTC. Why did it turn to such hatred?

That I do know.

The note…

During a particularly testy period, Paul gave me a note… sealed in an small envelope.

He was acting so weird with me. I told him, you want to talk to me, talk to me. I’m not going to read this.

Just read it.

I guess I’m stubborn, I’ve never opened it. It’s still in my little man purse bag I carry around. I am including photographic evidence.

It struck me as a weird power move. Paul always needed to be top dog, I don’t have that mind set. I’m too egalitarian. I hate games. I didn’t want a note. I only wanted some useful input on the Bank of America grant.

He gave me a funny look when I saw him again, which was like the next day. He said nothing. That was interesting, I thought. Yet, it made me less interested in reading the note. Life goes on, there’s more work to do, and even when JCTC is going good, it’s still just a job. I write to  pay my bills so I can write stuff from Timhrklit. I wasn’t intrigued by what could be in the note. For whatever reason, weeks go by without any Paul interaction. He had no input on the publicity. Paul’s passive aggressiveness and detail adversity made any Paul work aggravating and the less thought about him, the better.

I guess there’s a thin line between honor and pigheadedness.

I hated the idea of more confrontation – I dislike confrontation, I’d rather go about the work – and there was plenty of work at the time. Forgetting about the note required no effort. Just more Paul’s alpha male  bullshit.

I honestly didn’t think about the note again until Ben told me that Paul forced Beth to fire her torpedo.

Meanwhile, Paul let his hatred towards me be known. I have conveyed what was filtered down to me, I can only imagine what his rants about me to Olga or the board were really like.

We need to talk, let’s talk. I felt the note inappropriate, I didn’t want to read it because I didn’t want the confrontation, then after a while, reading it just became pointless.

That’s my theory as to why Paul’s resentment of the work I had done for JCTC transformed into pathological hatred. It’s why he has spent two years at least ensuring that my life at JCTC got more and more demeaning until I was physically ill.

Nothing’s simple. I’m old Jersey City – well, I’m not born and raised, I was part of the wave of 1990s newcomers looking for rents cheaper than Manhattan. Paul, Beth, Atim, Lucy… they’re gen-x and I’m older by about 10 years, certainly not gen-X. JCTC is now all about the new Jersey City and attracting big donors. Between Coronavirus, Trump and Social Media, we’re at the end of an epoch and no one can predict what’s next.

One day you’re one of the youngest, then another day, you’re the one of the oldest. We all live our lives, experiencing the age to which we’ve been born. Some wind up in Jersey City and try to answer the question, why art?

The envelope remains unopened, the note unread.