When we last left Josh Harris – the once high-flying head of dot-bomb Pseudo – he had shut down his exhibitionist Web experiment, “We Live in Public,” abandoned his loft in TriBeCa, and retreated upstate to tend apple orchards. But Manhattan real estate, Harris should have known, has a way of exerting a powerful and dangerous hold on all those who once possessed it. And friends made in the exuberant daze of the boom years are not necessarily the friends you want on the way down. Now a battle is brewing over the dregs of the Internet era – a vandalized basement in the building where Harris staged some of his most memorable late-nineties excesses.
Trouble has come in the form of former Harris protégé Michael Auerbach, who recently issued a press release (not exactly newsworthy, it must be said) titled “Josh Harris’$2 15 Minutes Are Up.” Last winter, Harris turned over his leases in 353 Broadway and his Webcam technology to Auerbach, who hoped to sell DIY kits of Weliveinpublic.com – which broadcast everything Harris and his then-girlfriend did in their loft. (Auerbach’s since given up on the idea and opened a café instead.) It was a non-cash deal, with Harris getting a stake in Auerbach’s company, Panopticon.
So far, so amicable – except for the matter of two tenants who Auerbach says are Harris’s responsibility. Harris had already sublet basement offices to Matt and Mark Enger, twin printmakers from Oklahoma who’d helped him with projects like “Quiet,” his monthlong, half-million-dollar millennial party.
Auerbach tried for six months to evict the “Okie boys,” claiming “they were always trying to harass me.” He finally succeeded, and earlier this month, the pair left. But when Auerbach went down to the space, he discovered that someone had smashed in drywall, poured cement into toilets, hung Confederate flags, and drawn swastikas on the walls. “And there were bullet holes in the TV,” Auerbach says. (Of course, “Quiet” did include a shooting range.)
Now Auerbach says he intends to sue Harris over what he claims was the Engers’ behavior, blaming him for installing them in the first place. And he’s called the police and the Anti-Defamation League.
If authorities decide to investigate, they won’t have to look any farther than Harris’s orchards. “Matt Enger is up here with me right now, and Mark will come soon,” says Harris. He declines to comment on their culpability – or to let Matt come to the phone. Instead, he suggests that Auerbach is really fighting with him over control of Panopticon. And Harris, who was once worth tens of millions, seems unfazed: “In my opinion, he’s violating the No. 1 rule of New York: Don’t ?F’ with the money.”