A Brief History of Tribes - by Steve Cannon

Steve Cannon, 1988

It was on Bastille Day in the summer of 1990. The house where I live was set afire. And, since I was rapidly losing my eyesight at the same time, I didn't know what to do and threw my hands up in utter disgust. I was in the middle of teaching a summer course at Medgar Evers College, and was committed to fulfilling my obligations so, no matter what decision I made, one thing was certain: I had to finish teaching the course.

Around the same time thanks to friends and acquaintances, I was in the process of getting my play produced at the Living Theater.

Luckily for me, through a friend, I had met a young lady who gave up her Saturdays to help me complete a novel and a play. Ironically enough the name of the play was  \work{The Set-up}, and these people I knew at the Living Theater gave it a life.

Aside from that, I was also seriously considering starting a new magazine. But the trouble I was having was trying to find someone to co-edit it with me. I had had an idea for a magazine for quite some time but thought it might be wiser if I were to get younger writers to edit  it. For various reasons things did not work out that way.

It was through a friend of mine, Jose Fuentes, that I met Gail Shilke. He took me to a reading that she had put together at the old Knitting Factory. That night she was having Hettie Jones to read from her biography. I was surprised to learn that a younger writer had given an older writer a place to read from their work. Anyway, Gail turned out to be just the kind of person that the magazine needed.

Since I had been around the writing scene on the Lower East Side for over twenty years,  and had connections with writers on both coasts, I figured I would have no trouble soliciting work from my generation of writers and since Gail was close to half my age, and in touch with the writers emerging on the scene, I figured she could solicit works from writers of her generation and for a while it worked out just fine.

With the help of people like Katherine Arnoldi, Jim Kellough, Julie Greenwood typing up the manuscript and laying out the magazine, our first issue was published in the fall of 1991. It was a rousing success.

Meanwhile, I was busy putting my house and my life back in order. The house damage from the fire had been estimated by the insurance company to be $175,000 and because of uncertain circumstances, I decided around the same time to give up my teaching position and before I realized what was happening, one of the people I owned the house with absconded with the insurance money from the fire. From a financial point of view this made life very difficult to say the least, and unlike Scarlet O'Hara, I had to think about it then and there and not wait until tomorrow and again, with the help of my friends, things started coming back together.

It's been ten years since the above events happened and now the house has been repaired from the damage and the magazine is about to publish its tenth issue.

It was one of those hot summer nights when the temperature teetered at about ninety degrees and the humidity kept the body soaking wet. I had been arguing with the writer John Farris and a fellow professor, Keith Gilyard, about the contents of a book which had recently been published criticizing the Reagan administration, by Kevin Phillips called The Politics of Poverty.  In the book, Phillips demonstrated how supply side economics benefited the rich and added to the suffering of the poor. At that time, not only was I estranged from my wife, but, so I thought, in the middle of a divorce.

The three of us were arguing  on the top floor of the building where I lived.  Zoe, my estranged wife, who lived on the floor below me with her boyfriend, her daughter and her daughter's friend, was on her way to Boulder, Colorado the following morning.

Zoe came upstairs to handle some last minute affairs before she left. She told me to remind  her daughter go down to the City Hall and pay the back real estate taxes on the building, which were long overdue. She also mentioned that if her boyfriend should show up that night, to say that she is not around, but had gone to Colorado. I felt that those where not my responsibilities and told her so in unadorned language. She slammed the door and went back to her floor. Later that night, after returning from a fish dinner at a Cuban restaurant on Avenue D, John Farris and I were sitting on the stoop in front of the house talking. Zoe appeared from out of nowhere and repeated the same demand.  "If Whatshisname comes by, tell him I'm not here. Tell him I'm gone," she said.

I got so pissed off, I turned and charged after her, saying, "I won't tell him anything of the sort. That's your responsibility." And again she slammed the door in my face and went up to her floor.

John and I decided to retire for the night. He went across the street to sleep in the basement of the Living Theater. I got out my keys and went up to the third floor where I went to sleep on the futon. Around four-thirty in the morning, closer to five, I was awakened by a voice on the television repeating over and over again, "The word. The word. The word." Suddenly I was wide awake and started searching for the remote to turn the television off. It was a tele-evangelist giving a sermon in the wee small hours of the morning. I finally found the remote and clicked the sound off.

And it was then, before I could figure out what my next move was to be, I heard the bell on Zoe's floor ringing. I knew right then and there it was her boyfriend at the front door, trying to gain entrance to the building and her apartment. Instinctively, I dialed 911. Below I could hear him pushing the front door open, dislodging the lock, and ascending to the second floor. And, while I was talking to the operator, I could hear him knocking on her door and a female voice on the other side murmuring, "Zoe is not here."  By this time I was busily trying to explain to the 911 operator the ethnicity or the race of the intruder, his height,  weight and build , what he was wearing and his age. This took some doing, and, by this time, I heard Jean,  Zoe's ex-boyfriend, descend the stairs and leave the front door unlocked and I knew he wasn't going far and would be back. So, no sooner had I finished giving the information to the operator, then, after turning things over in my mind, I picked up the phone a second time and called the fire department and it was a while talking to them. I heard Zoe's boyfriend re-enter the building and start a fire on the second story landing, the cracking of computer print-out paper. My heart sank to my knees. Without thinking any further, I put the phone back in its cradle and walked out the back door of the top floor, sliding down from the roof onto the back porch of the building next door and then to the garden behind the house. I stood there watching and listening to 26 years of my life go up in flames, manuscripts, books and all.

Zoe and her roommate were standing there observing the same sight when she noticed me. She came over  and wrapped her arms around me and burst out in tears. I said nothing, but pushed her away.

By this time, the firemen were axing and sawing through the roof of the building, drenching the house with water. I stood in that spot for at least a half an hour, just observing. Finally, I was able to get back to the front of the building by going through the neighbor's apartment next door. When I arrived on the the street in front of the house, the people standing there broke out in a loud cheer. Some thought, I was later to learn, that I had been burned in the fire.  Zoe was sitting in the back of a police car sobbing with a handkerchief to her nose. Anne, who had just moved into the Parlor floor stood on the stoop with a look of shock on her face. Fireman were running all over. Without any shoes on, I walked across the street to the women's shelter, wanting to use the phone. Cisco, who lived in the basement apartment, stood in the middle of the street, yelling at the top of his voice, "Jean did it. He set fire to the building." I had told Zoe to chase Jean away from there a long time ago. I walked in my stocking feet down toward Avenue C to the Living Theater. There John let me use the phone.  I called my step-daughter in Amherst to tell her what had happened. I tried to get through to Jeff Roven, the other owner of the property, out in California to let him know what had happened. I needed  to know if our insurance policy was still active.  I left a message on his machine. Back outside on the street, I answered questions from the fire Marshall and told him in detail what I perceived had happened. He took down my name, age, social security number, street address, telephone number, and place of employment. He gave me his card and told me if I had any questions to call.

Within twenty-four hours Jean, Zoe's boyfriend, had been picked up by the police at his mother's house in Brooklyn and confessed to arson. We testified at the Grand Jury hearing  and, through plea bargaining, Jean's sentence was reduced to two and a half years, to second degree arson.

First of all, it was on a visit to Nicaragua in the summer of 1984 that I discovered I was losing  my eyesight. I kept  stepping on flowers growing at the side of the sidewalk. I had gone there with Zoe and a group of doctors to observe the Sandinistas in action, listen to them talk about their problems and the solutions they had in mind and, more importantly, how they had overthrown the Somoza dictatorship. And, once back in the states, I had my eyes examined and found out I had a serious case of glaucoma.

I went to all the doctors of every persuasion, eastern and western, holistic, the works.  In my case the disease had been discovered too late and there wasn't much the doctors could do.

So, by the time the house caught fire, and we were starting the magazine, and the play was about to open, my peripheral vision was rapidly disappearing. I had gotten to the point where I could not see movies any longer, so because of my physical situation, I found myself having to make some serious choices about my future.

Once I had thrown up my hands and said, "I'm out of here," it was Joe Overstreet, an artist friend of mine from east 2nd street who shouted,  "No! You haven't finished what you started. What you came to New York to do. You can't leave until the job is done."

All of my life, since I was four or five years old, I loved nothing better than reading books and looking at pictures. I can remember sitting on the living room floor on Sunday afternoons with my brother looking at the funnies and bursting out laughing at the captions and dialogue and even today, in my solitude, I love nothing better than being absorbed in a novel or histories or biographies but the situation today has changed because now my sight is completely gone.  I spend more time listening to the radio and oftentimes others drop by to read to me.

So, considering my situation, I felt a spark of joy when spoken word poetry exploded on the scene. This was especially true when the Nuyorican Poets Café reopened its doors in the fall of 1989.

And when someone read the articles to me by Evelyn McDonnell of the Village Voice on the Café and its possibilities, I was thrilled to the bone.

Not only were they to have a place for poets to read their works and all would be welcome with open arms, but they also had plans to have a bookstore, a recording studio, rehearsal space, space for workshops and enough room for visiting poets to stay over night.

These exciting possibilities brought home to me the truth as to why a magazine was so urgently  needed, to document some of the best poets that could be heard from the smallest stage in the world.

When the house had been set on fire, another truth was immediately brought home to me. People in the community, who I had been in touch with for many years, rushed to my assistance. This was especially true once it was known that one of the co-owners of the building had absconded with the insurance money. And it was then I realized that most of my friends were artists, writers, musicians, and dancers who made up the artistic community on the Lower East Side.

The making of the magazine was a way of saying thanks to them for their help. So with the poetry scene spreading all over the country, I knew then and there that I would have no problem hearing poetry any time I wanted to and, in starting the magazine, I knew that it would keep me in touch with reality on the level of the imaginary that would make me feel like I was part of a larger world.

So when I met Gail Shilke, I had no problem convincing her to join me as a co-editor of the magazine. And it was one night while sitting in the Nuyorican Poets Café that I mentioned the idea to the conceptual artist David Hammons. He jumped up off the bar stool and broke into a dance and said, "Great idea! That's exactly what's needed down here,"  and I had no trouble getting Jim Kellough, Julie Greenwood and Katherine Arnoldi to participate in the making to the first issue.

It was Elizabeth Nunez, a fellow professor and novelist at Medgar Evers College who suggested I should attend a Writers's Conference in Paris in the Fall of 1991.  At first I didn't want to go. The reason, of course, was my blindness.   The idea of someone leading me around Paris was the most absurd notion in the world.  There I would be  a burden on whoever's chore that was.   But it was Ishmael Reed, a friend and writer from California, who not only insisted I go and participate in the conference, but  who also volunteered to get me from place to place. I took a deep breath and called on all the strength of my existence  and made up my mind to go.

But I had one slight problem. In the case of Elizabeth, she had no problem whatsoever.  That year she was on sabbatical from the college.  And in the case of Ishmael Reed, who was then teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, he would simply have his student aids to cover his classes. I planned to do the very same thing.

The plane from Paris was departing from New York the same day that classes were starting at Medgar Evers College. I had briefed my student aides and told them exactly what to do with my classes. Take attendance. Hand out the syllabus. And in one or two courses, start showing them the video of Antigone and in the other Shakespeare's Coriolanus.

But apparently word had leaked out to the Dean of Faculty that I would not be in the classroom on opening day. He threatened me with dismissal if I would be absent at the beginning of the semester. My response was simply to call in sick. I had a friend of mine who was a psychotherapist to write a note to the dean to say that I had fallen into a great depression and off I went to Paris. The conference was a marvel unto itself. Co-sponsored by the Sorbonne, Harvard, and Rutgers Universities,  over 2400 scholars were in attendance from all over the world and writers who were not only present but were also asked to participate numbered in the hundreds. The subject of the conference centered on the work of Richard Wright, Chester Himes and James Baldwin. Its focus was the work that they had produced while living in exile in Paris.  I was asked to be a respondent on papers presented on the life and work of Chester Himes.

In the midst of it all, I kept getting phone calls and faxes asking when and if I planned to return to the college.

Upon my arrival back in the States, the Dean of Faculty met me in the offices of the Humanities division on campus. He forbade me from teaching my class. I was later to learn that two adjuncts had been hired to cover my classes in my absence.

And in conference with the Dean of Faculty and the head of the Humanities Division, I was told that I was to be on Campus the days and hours that my classes met, but to be present in my office only. The joke around the campus, of course, was that I was now Professor Limbo.

I used that time to get out publicity on my play, The Set-Up, which was to open that spring at the Living Theater.  And further more, this gave me more than amble time, along with Gail Shilke, to solicit work for the second issue of Tribes. Meanwhile I was busily trying to find funds to repair  the damage the house  had suffered during the fire.

Thanks to Julie Greenwood, the play The Set-up had been written over a period of about two or three months at her apartment. We would get together on Saturday mornings and work for two or three hours. I would cab it both ways.  I would dictate to her and she would read back to me and we would make corrections as we went along. I had done all the research beforehand and since I was dealing with contemporary topics, that is current events, the information was right there in the daily papers.

The play for the most part dealt with corruption in the financial markets and effects that corruption has on our every day life. It was the Solomon Brothers who were  in trouble with the government for fixing the price of Treasury Bonds and it was BCCI (The Bank of Croaks, and Criminals, Inc) whose credibility came under question and authorities in higher places were indicted. The play turned out to be a political satire.

It was Norman Douglas, a young writer that I knew at the time, who took it upon himself to get a cast together and put it in production.

The play opened at the Living Theater, which was then across the street from my house on East 3rd Street and was an instant success. We held the after party in the ruins at the house on East 3rd Street.  Even Ann Marlowe made her apartment available for the party goers.  Subsequently, the play was presented at the Nuyorican Poet's Café and in the lobby of Joe Papp's Public Theater and scenes from it were also presented at Tower Books and Records on Lafayette Street.

The latter presentation was in conjunction with the publication of the second issue of Tribes.

Since the play had such a long run and most of the actors were friends and acquaintances of Norman, over a period of time they also became friends of Tribes and mine. They were to go on to successfully work on other plays which I was to write.

The day I found out that one of the co-owners of the house, Jeff Roven, had absconded with the insurance money to the tune of $175,000, I felt a weakness in my knees and a sickness in my stomach, but I knew I had to go on.

Luckily, I was able to get a loan from the Faculty Credit Union and an additional loan against my retirement, which put me in a position to start making repairs on the property.

And it was one night at the Nuyorican Poet's Café, that I ran into the poet Diane Burns and her husband Steve. Steve was skilled as a plumber and electrician and a carpenter. Since my funds were less than one quarter of the total amount that the damages had been estimated at, I was able to get him to do the work to the tune of  $100 a day for his labor and with me supplying the materials.

Before he came on board, the two top floors of the building were a horror show. There were electrical wires hanging down from the ceilings, totally burnt out stairs leading to the top floor apartment and water logged ceilings, floors and walls.  The house still smelled of burnt materials and smoke.

With the help of Thom Corn, who was assisting me on a daily basis around the house, within three to four months, Steve had made the second floor livable-replacing walls, re-doing the wiring and putting in a new toilet.

Norman Douglas, by this time, had taken up residence on the third floor and it was on him to do the repairs up there.  But I found myself having to replace all the windows on the top floor and the windows facing  the street on the second floor.  I found a Pablo, young  carpenter in the neighborhood, to do that part of the job.

And for the stairs leading up to the third floor I got a Japanese friend of mine who knows about structures and buildings of this sort to rebuild the stairs and install a cross beam to make it sturdy.

And it was around this time that Gail Shilke in her anger decided to jump ship from the magazine.

Meanwhile, the Stoop poetry workshop had started meeting on the third floor where Norman then resided. I had met Christian Haye at the Nuyorican Poet's Café where he was a bartender at that time.  I found out through conversation with him that he had grown up on Long Island and was a philosophy major who had dropped out of his junior year at New York University.  What we both had in common along with Gail Shilke and many others who were on the scene at that time was a great love for literature and more importantly, in the case of Christian, not only was he well read, from a multicultural perspective, but he also was an extremely critical reader and he had no qualms in articulating his ideas.

A book on the films of Spike Lee had recently been published and in talks with Gail, the two of us decided that Christian should write a critical review on the book as well as the films of Spike Lee.  He did such a wonderful job, Gail and I decided that we should ask him to become an editor of the magazine. Christian gladly accepted.

Our meetings at that time were scheduled to happen once a week.   There we would go over selections for the upcoming issue and discuss in detail those manuscripts we had questions about.

Gail had called such a meeting and for some reason Christian could not be there, nor had he read the works in question.

Gail arrived on the premises ready to start the meeting and as habit would have it, since he did not have a phone of his own, Norman Douglas was checking his voicemail on my telephone.  While this was happening, I patiently explained to Gail as to why Christian was not present.  She got pissed and demanded that I get him on the phone. But that would take some doing since I first had to get Norman to get off the phone. And while we were waiting, I explained to Gail that Christian was not ready to discuss the work, meaning that was why he was not at the meeting.  I dialed Christian's number and handed the phone to Gail. They participated in a dialogue and Gail handed the phone to me and Christian wanted to know, "What the fuck is wrong with that bitch." In my coolness, I passed on Christian's quote to Gail.

She threw the envelope full of manuscripts at my head, slammed the door, which I had just had Steve to install for $175 and charged down the stairs, shouting, "That's it, I quit."

Norman who seemed to be dazed and stunned by the whole event, raised his head from the telephone and asked, "What's wrong with her?"

And if the magazine was to continue, I knew right then and there I would have to find other editors and it was then that I recruited Jenny Seymour and my step-daughter, Melanie Best, to work on the magazine.

And it was during this time, once I had made up my mind to take an indefinite 9leave of absence from the college, that I ran into Ilah.  There I was,  cooling my heels in Tompkins Square Park,  listening to the birds  and rapping with the fellows, and Nathaniel Hunter Junior, who had made his home in the park for close to five years,  and who held court there every morning. A few of us would gather, have our morning refreshments (breakfast) and discuss the stories in the newspapers, and various things that had happened in the community overnight.

It was after one of these sessions, that Ilah, suddenly appeared, seated next to me on the bench.  I had met her several years earlier through Jeff Roven and later, Cisco, who introduced her to me as someone to clean my apartment, which she did for about a year.  Unbeknownst to me, she had just returned from a two year hiatus out in San Francisco, and needed a place to stay.

She offered to pay me $400 a month, plus kick in something for the gas and electricity and phone bill, provided I shared my space with her and since I was having trouble making ends meet at the time, I accepted her offer, but laid down the law, no overnight visitors, and she should stay out of my hair, and, over and above that, it was on her to help keep the place tidy. She accepted my offer gladly but had an additional request.

She had brought with her from San Francisco, a young man, "her lover," who she wanted me to allow to stay there with her.  I took a deep breath, swallowed my pride and said yes, providing of course, that he, too, obeyed the laws.

Things did not quite work out that way and rapidly deteriorated from bad to worse.

Ilah, who I liked to call "Ms. Escort Service" at that time was a sex worker by choice, even though she did not work the streets, corner bars and alley ways of the neighborhood. She was more sophisticated than that.  She worked out of lavish apartments on the Upper East Side and usually went to work about 8:00 at night and would arrive back at the house about 8:00 in the morning.  She worked as a call girl.  And, upon returning, with a pocketful of dough, or no dough at all, depending on how many tricks she turned that night, she would be bubbling over with stories of her misadventures of the night before.

Her boyfriend, who, by the way, was half Dutch and half Japanese and claimed to be a classically trained pianist, would spend the time while she was at work running around the house claiming to be concerned about her safety and whether or not she'd make it back in the a.m.

Then it got to the point where she had a girlfriend to move in with the two of them who just so happened to be working her way through the New School as a dominatrix to cover the cost of her tuition and books and she also had her boyfriend, who would drop by from time to time. Obviously, the place was becoming crowded and the noise level overbearing.

Meanwhile the Stoop Poetry Workshop was still meeting every Friday night on the top floor and since Miss Escort Service had no qualms about talking openly about her trade, many a time, she tried to encourage the young female poets who were short on cash to come up and work answering the phones. One or two of them took her up on the offer.

But things got ridiculous and totally out of hand, when she started, without my approval, to bring Johns to the house.

And it was about this time, that I met Dora Espinosa. I had gone to an opening and party at Gerald Jackson's loft on the Bowery.  My friendship with Gerald goes back over at least twenty-five years.  I had met him when he first came to the Lower East Side directly from Chicago and later got to know him better once he moved into that loft on the Bowery where he's been living for over twenty years.  The fact is, I even stayed there the summer before I moved into this property on East 3rd Street.  That night, Gerald, who by the way is an artist,  had organized an open house with a fellow artist by the name of Willie Birch, who just so happens to be from New Orleans, the same as me.

I went to the opening with a dear friend, Jose Fuentes, and my step-daughter, Melanie.  Before we could settle in good, and by this time my sight was rather pitiful, and procure food and drink, this young lady ran up to me and said,  "I understand you are an English Professor. I want you to teach me how to read and write and speak correct English." That was my first encounter with Dora Espinosa.

On the way home that night, Jose expressed his excitement about her and her possibilities for Tribes, since he found out that she was a photographer and spent some time in the art world.  Where as Melanie, my step-daughter, took an immediate dislike and distrust of her.  My position, simply, was that I needed all the "healthy" friends I could find and Dora struck me as being "healthy," of mind, body and spirit.

Dora began to come by and visit me at 285 East 3rd Street from time to time.  She would talk about her life, both down in Peru and here in the States and what she wanted to do in the future.  Presently, she was renting a room from some Serbian in Long Island City and was earning her keep by working in the catering business.  But her first love was always art and she herself was a photographer.

Sometimes she would bring along a girlfriend, a cousin, or whoever and the three of us would go over to the Nuyorican Poet's Café.

It was she, more than anyone else at that time, who demanded that I stop living in filth, clean up my act, change clothes and take baths more frequently, keep my beard trimmed and my hair cut and, most importantly, act my age. And it was she, also, since she had 20/20 vision, who insisted that I get "Ms. Escort  Service" and her friends out of this house, since, according to her, we were all living in "filth." And, aside from living in the space, who knows what else they had been doing back there, including shooting dope. Since I couldn't see, I didn't know.

The sex workers and their boyfriends reluctantly vacated the premiseswere within a week. Ms Escort Service and her boyfriend moved into the basement of the Collective Unconscious on Avenue B.  And it was there where a fire happened during their stay and they were accused of setting the fire, and out they went.   Later, her boyfriend moved to Montreal and Cisco gave Ms Escort Service money to go back to California. It was then I was able to bring in Steve, Diane Burns's husband, to renovate that space on the second floor where Ms Escort Service and her friends had been living.

And once that was done, it was Dora's idea, with my agreement, to turn that space  into a small art gallery and the small room in the front into an office.

Meanwhile, Norman Douglas had moved off the top floor- but that's another story- and Christian Haye along with Pamela Sneed had taken Norman and Viveca's place.

And it  was around the same time that I found money in my needed budget to have Helen Kim, an actress and childhood friend of Christian Haye to work in the office, for at least ten hours a week. In the case of the first two issues of the magazine, luckily for me, I had friends who believed in the idea just as much if not more than I did.  And in the case of the conceptual artist, David Hammons, he backed up his credibility with a check for a thousand dollars. This paid for making ready and printing the first issue. We printed no more than 750 copies,  gave away at least one third of them to contributors and friends and sold the rest of them for $3.50 each.

And it was Andrew Carstrucci, an artist who lived across the street in Bullet Space, an acquaintance of David Hammons, who came up with the bright idea: why not have David make a limited edition of 20 silk screens of his cover art on the first issue, autograph them, and have Jack Tilton market them.

Knowing David and his whims, it took me some time to build up the courage to ask him for such a great favor. But he conceded to do it without ever blinking an eye.

One way or another I found the three hundred and fifty dollars to print the 20 copies plus another 80 posters on paper to paste around the neighborhood.

Of the twenty, we gave away eight to those who had helped on the projects. The other twelve, Jack Tilton, through his gallery and his connections in the art world, sold them for $400 each. This gave us more than enough money to print the second issue of Tribes.

For the cover, we used an image of the front of Bullet Space, with an off-brownish-orange background and Gail got two of her friends to do the layout and design.  By this time, Felica Monroe, who worked in production with major publishing houses here in the city, volunteered to work with us as Tribes production manager.

And we found a great printing house on the edge of Chinatown, who did a great job for us for a reasonable price.  We increased our press run to a thousand, had a great promotion party and reading.  Things were looking up.  But as the old folks say, every time things look good, brace yourself, because something bad is on its way.

Things at the house were falling into place.  With one of the editors, Christian Haye, living upstairs and working full time at the Jack Tilton Gallery,  and another, Melanie Best, living at 133 Avenue B and working as an art handler, things were doing quite well.  And in the case of Jenny Seymour, luckily for her, why, she was going through graduate school on a fellowship and had no problems whatsoever in the money department.  For chump change, she worked at a restaurant on East 6th Street between First  and A, called Caravan of Dreams.

But right before they came on board, Kimberly Brown, who was both widowed and pregnant, worked with me on the magazine.  It was just the two of us that summer until it was time for the baby to be born, then along with Melanie, Jenny, and Christian, through Katherine Arnoldi, we got Mia Hansford to join the staff as one of our art editors.  This issue was financed in full by the New York State Council of the Arts, thanks to Melanie and Christian and their skill in writing grants and staying up until the witching hour to make sure it was handed in on time. The cover for that issue was done by the artist Al Loving and looked like a coral shell.

But the two who laid it out, Chris,  who was a friend of Susan Scuttie's, and a young lady filmmaker from Canada, seemed not to know much about justified type.  The text appeared jagged and uneven as if the person who did the job had no idea what they were doing.  Felicia and her English boyfriend were not around at the time the magazine was ready to go to the printer's, but were off on a bicycle trip through Algiers and Morocco.

But things were heating up in the city: multi-culturism as an idea, was under attack in academia, especially in the borough of Queens.

Sara Ferguson, who was in the process of writing an article for the Voice on Tribes and the role I, among others had played in its development, gave us a "Voice Choice" when the issue was to be celebrated.

We were to have the party in a new club in town, the Fez,  located on Lafayette and Great Jones Street.  It was known as the in place.  Much to our amazement, I got a call from the photo editor from the Voice to get all the performers together for a group photo for the promotion.  I called the native American poet Diane Burns, the Canadian singer and poet, Angela Lukacian, the Jewish poet Jennifer Blowdryer, and the Filipino poet and mother Jessica Hagedorn, and a half Japanese/half German poet Kimiko Hahn.  We all sat on the stoop at 285 East 3rd Street and the Voice staff photographer took the picture of us there and in some weird way, Thom Corn and Miss Escort Service's boyfriend, David, inserted themselves in the photo, along with Christian Haye, who was supposed to be there anyway.

By this time, Nischi from Guyana, who I had met through Hal Sirowitz and Jose Fuentes at the Nuyorican Poet's Café, had taken it upon herself to be the office administrator.

Helen Kim, who had been running the office was in middle of getting a divorce from her English husband and had moved in with Christian Haye.  She could no longer work at Tribes.  In order to continue to get money from her family, she had to enroll in school. She choose to study acting at NYU, and she did continue to act in my plays.

And Martha Cinador, who had been a long time resident of the Lower East Side and had her own literary show on the radio station WBAI was also no longer able to help out in the office.

Because of astronomical rents she found that she could no longer afford to live on the Lower East Side. She found a place for her and her daughter in an abandoned and renovated school in Spanish Harlem and to come down here three times a week was not worth it.

Nischi, on the other hand, was not only working full time at the law library at NYU but was also taking a couple courses at night.  However she lived across the bridge in Greenpoint with her mother and younger brother.

It seems to me, if memory serves me right, that she ran the office off and on for at least two and a half years during about the years 1991-1993.

She would show up after putting in a full days work at NYU and do what was needed in the office until 10:30 or 11:00 at night.  And on Saturdays, she would put in a full day and during days off from school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, when classes were not in session, she would give of that time to me here at Tribes.

She had one of the most pleasant personalities of anyone who ever came in and out of this place.  And since her background was in administration, she had no problem putting Tribes in order.  Everyone who came around got along quite well with her and in the case of me, she did not bite her tongue when it came to putting me in my place.

The only problem I had with her was one, when Dora tried to get her to give all her time here to working on Gallery projects and let the rest of the work remain undone. Nischi complied. When Helen and Martha had been working in the office they left the work for the gallery to be done by Dora and anyone she could get to help her at the time and that's when Dora started to  bring in Renée from time to time.

But Nischi had an urge of wanting to get married and the first person who walked in here who was young, handsome and intelligent and also had a job, she snagged him and made him hers. That more or less ended her stay here at Tribes.

But before that Nischi had taken a liking to Angela and the two of them had become the best of friends in spite of the fact that their life styles were totally different. Nischi looked up to Angela like a big sister and Angela made it a point of guiding her through the morass which was then Tribes.  The fact is, Angela encouraged her to take on a bit part in the Set Up  and subsequently in one or two of my other plays, including Now What? What Now? and also The Top of the World.

And after Nischi started spending more time with her future husband,  she started spending less  and less time at Tribes. And besides that she was in the middle of changing jobs at NYU, quitting the job at the law library and taking up a position of running the residence program for faculty and students.

Meanwhile, since I needed someone to run the office, I talked Angela into taking over the position. This is about the same time if not before, that Nischi and Angela and Renée insisted that I get rid of the booze. They threatened not to come around and help anymore if I persisted in continuing to drink.  So it became a question of do I or don't I for the benefit of both my health and Tribes.  I met their demands.  And things became clearer for me.

We had been lucky with Angela now running the office.  We had put in   a grant to the North Star Fund and with coaching from Paul Bartlett, who was working as a consultant there at the North Star Fund, we got our first grant, to the tune of $4,700.

With the money, we decided to spend less of one third of it producing my play Now, What? What Now?, which was thinly based on the tragic story of Judge Wachtel, the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of New York State and what led to his demise.  With the another third, we decided to use it towards the bringing out of the upcoming issue of the magazine. The rest of the money which was roughly $1500 we decided to pay Angela  to run the office.

Before that time I had personally paid Helen and Martha out of pocket to work for me anywhere from ten to fifteen hours per week in the office and in the case of Nischi, she had volunteered her time and demanded nothing in return.

But the problem with Angela: not only was she doing two or three things at the same time and having problems with her boyfriends, but she was also working full time for an upscale entertainment lawyer on 57th Street and 7th Avenue. The other problem is that she did not have a work permit.

She had been here on a student visa from Canada, studying Drama at the New School, but had taken the year off .

Her rhythms were totally different than Nischi.  We made an agreement that she would work three days a week, four hours a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, after putting in a full day at the office uptown and, if she missed any one of those days, she would make it up on the weekends.

Not only  did Angela find herself running the office, but over  and above that, she was also acting in my plays and helping to organize a benefit at the Nuyorican Poet's Café.  And it was somewhere around this time, it seems to me, that everything came to a head.

First of all, we had gotten ourselves into a rhythm and everything was going along quite fine.  There was a team of editors running the magazine.   Martha Cinador and Sheila Alson, Stacy Brown and Ron English and with Randall Hunting doing the layout and design everything was hunky-dory.

Up to that time, Dora had her own team running the gallery: she, Julio and Renée. They were putting on a new show every six weeks and in the case of theater, Tribes Productions, Angela had taken charge of that.  But as the old folks say, every time things look good, brace yourself, because something bad is on its way.

Dora decided to take a job as curator for a new gallery that had opened up on Broadway run by a super rich guy by the name of Danzinger.  And she had convinced me for a price to put  a reproduction of a painting by his mother on the cover of Tribes with an interview of her by Lee Klein.  By this time I smelled a rat.  First she had persuaded Mia Hansford to come and work with her at Danzingers.  Next, Lee Klein was hurriedly on her trail, and it was a rainy Saturday afternoon that I got wind that she was trying to recruit Angela to jump ship here and go over and work for him, too.

Meanwhile, Margo, as a triple threat, had started coming around Tribes.  Not only, like Angela, was she a dancer and a singer, but also an actress and musician, and she had no problem persuading me to utilize all her talents in performances, some of which she herself organized.   And it about this time that the situation with the house was rapidly moving from bad to worse.  It was Kathy Arnoldi, who insisted that I should pay off the debt of the house because that would be the only right thing to do, but my problem and all of my money had gone into renovating the property and, what little I had left on a monthly basis was being used for my subsistence and the mini entertainments I allowed myself, such as going to the Nuyorican Poet's Café on a Friday night or going to the Knitting Factory to hear jazz.   Papers showed up at the door from the courts  saying that the house was about ready to go up on the auction block if the outstanding debt was not paid.   Angela and I hustled to the lawyer Ben Kaplan's office on Avenue B, who for a thousand dollars, assured me that I had nothing to worry about.  But Angela and I went even further.  She got a friend who was in the building business down in Tribeca and brought him over to the house.  I laid out the situation to him.  The only thing that he would agree to is that he would put up the money to pay the debt providing that I let him have one quarter of the house, but that was an impossible task, since the deed was in three names and the house was tied up in the courts.

I had told Angela from the very beginning, since she could be here only at night Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I would have to get someone to come around during the day from time to time and do whatever-check the mail, make deposits or withdrawals, check the email and respond to any telephone correspondence that needed attention-during business hours. That person turned out to be Renée.  Like I said before, I had met Renée through Dora Espinosa.  Dora had been working in the catering business and had met Renée at one of her catering jobs.  She found out through conversation that Renée had a degree in medieval art and had spent some time working at a gallery in England and had persuaded her to do some volunteer work at Tribes.

Renée had helped Dora organize the Woodstock show.  For that show Dora had more than fifty photographers participate.  Not only did she use all the gallery space but also the other two rooms on the floor for the slow.  But she also had photographs on the wall leading up to the second floor and the wall facing the landing.  Mainly the people who helped Dora with that show, aside from Renée, were a photographer Julio Gonzales, a long time friend of Mia and Dora, and Tom Donovan, a curator who worked with a Japanese gallery uptown.  The show turned out to be quite the success, with over one 'hundred and fifty people present at the opening.

Then along came trouble. Renée, who had been homeless for quite sometime, that is, sleeping on this one and that one's couch, had finally found her own apartment down in SoHo on the edge of Tribeca.  For money she was not only working at the catering service but also for headhunters as a partime or freelance receptionist.

Within thirty days of getting the apartment,  she found herself short on cash to pay the rent.  She came over and asked me to advance her the amount for her rent from the Tribes account.   She would make it up by working off the hours.  I told her that I would do it but she would have to explain to Angela why I had given her the advance.  She agreed. That night after Angela had finished doing her work in the office she came out and asked me what was this check that had been written to Renée.  I explained to her that she'd have to talk to Renée personally.  That she could do a better job of explaining it than I could.  She dialed Renée's voice mail but did not get a response.  That night before she left, she wrote a note for Renée.  The note simply asked Renée to log in the hours that she worked here at Tribes, the time she started, the time she finished and what she did during that time.  The next morning Renée came in, read Angela's note and wrote on the bottom of it, "Piss off."   She told me that if Angela insisted on giving her a hard time, she would report her to the immigration authorities.   I said nothing.  We worked through what had to be done that day and before Renée had finished, Dora arrived.  Renée told Dora the same story about the note that Angela had left for her, her response to it, and her threat to report Angela to immigration.

Dora, who, by this time, had gotten a job working as a translator in the immigration courts, gave Renée a dressing down, saying,  "Don't ever, not only think that, but don't ever say you will report someone to immigration. You can get killed by even threatening to do something like that. It's like threatening someone's life."

Renée finished for the day and went home.  Dora continued doing whatever she was doing in the office. Angela called, like she always did, from her office uptown and said she'd be down no later that 6:00pm and make sure the computer is free.  I told her okay and went back to the office and relayed her message to Dora.  Dora assured me that she'd be finished using the computer by the time Angela arrived.

Dora, at this time, had moved into an apartment in Harlem. Word had it along with her new landlord, she was planning to open up a gallery up there.  How much truth was in this proposition I had no idea, but when she got ready to leave, I questioned her about it.   And while we were talking I heard Angela ascending the stairs. About that time, the phone rang in the office.  Both Dora and Angela ran back in the office to answer the phone. Who called, what was said, and who the phone call was for, I have no idea, but I could hear the two women whispering.

A few moments later Dora came out from the gallery to the living room, said she had to leave, had an appointment, a dinner date and would probably call me later on that night or in the morning and furthermore, she would talk to her friend Richard Goldberg about the situation with the house.  No sooner did Dora leave, then I heard Angela's heels clicking toward the living room.  She was in a full blown rage.  Before I could even say anything, through her crying, sobbing and sniffling,  she announced that she was quitting.   She told me what Dora had told her, that Renée had threatened to report her to immigration.   I tried to cool her ddown, by telling her that Renée was only bluffing, but she wasn't having any of it.  Earlier that day, she had had me to get two hundred dollars out of the Tribes account to pay her for the hours she had put in for Tribes.  Before she left, she told me that I had to choose between her and Renée, I tried to give her the two hundred dollars Tribes owed her, but she refused to take it.  I ended up stuffing it in her pocket.  She slammed the door and was gone.

The next morning, upon awakening, I called Dora and told her she had goofed up royally.  I told her to immediately call Angela, that Renée was only bullshitting, that she didn't mean it and was only blowing off some steam.  In other words, I tried to  explain to Dora that it was her fault that Angela had walked out on me, because she had told Angela what Renée had said.   She asked me for Angela's number at her apartment.  I gave it to her but by this time Angela was at work.

When Renée arrived, I told her the very some thing, that she had  really blown it.  I told her and she knew already that there was no love lost between her and Dora and that Angela was her own person and that since Angela had flown into a rage and walked out on me the night before,  it was on her to call Angela, apologize, and try and clean up the mess she had created.

But as far as Angela was concerned she had no plans to return to Tribes, unless I got rid of Renée.

Thank God the new issue of the magazine was finished and was now at the printer's in Vermont.  In spite of myself, I wanted to get a more mature person to run the office.  I cut a deal with Renée to take Angela's place. This was about the beginning of 1994.  It was an uphill struggle all the way.  Renée had no idea as to how to be an administrator.  So I had to sit with her on a daily basis and walk her through all the tasks including how to talk on the phone, write letters, etc, step by step.

The upside is that she loved escorting me to openings at the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art and since she herself had an interest in art, she befriended the visual editors for the magazine,  Stacy Brown and Ron English, and would go off gallery hopping with them.  But the down side, is that she had no interest in poetry or performance art whatsoever and the most difficult time I had with her was treating each person who had something to do with this organization with equal respect.  Renée lasted here for roughly two and a half years and when all was said and done, she, too, like Angela left in a huff.

The Stoop Poetry Workshop came into being quite differently from the magazine. During the second season that the Nuyorican Poet's Café was open, in the fall of 1990, Bob Holman approached me one night. We sat on the stoop at 285 East 3rd Street and talked about the possibility of starting a poetry workshop. Since the Café had first opened its doors in the fall 1989, I would often go there on a Friday night, sit near the end of the bar, and heckle those poets whose work did not stand up. Slowly, thanks to Bob Holman, I was getting to be known there as "the heckler" and other times as "The Professor."  So Bob came up with this idea to start a poetry workshop at the Café. Only a certain number of poets would be allowed to attend, no more than ten at the beginning. They would pay the regular $5 at the door to get into the Café, and climb to the third floor where the workshop would take place form 7:30 until 10:00 and afterwards be free to stay for the performance that night on the first floor.  I agreed to give of my time. He and I decided to co-chair the workshop, and since the agreement was being put together there on the stoop at 285 East 3rd Street, we decided to call it the Stoop Poetry Workshop. The first two or three meetings at the Café included Dael Orlandersmith, Dana Bryant, Tracie Morris and perhaps Indigo and Carolyn Peysor, but because winter was on its way, and because  the third floor of the Café lacked heat, I was asked if it was cool to have the workshops in the building I owned at 285 East 3rd Street between C and D, there on the third floor.

There, at that time, Norman Douglas had just recently moved in. The poets sat around a round table with an electric light bulb dangling from its cord from the ceiling and made themselves comfortable on milk crates, boxes and broken down chairs.

Rapidly, the workshop expanded from four or five poets to at times, ten to fifteen at any given session. Poets like Edwin Torres, Susan Scutti, Ra, Lee Klein, Jenny Seymour, Nate Tate, Sheila Alson, Carol Diehl, and many others would drop by from time to time.

They were high energy, rowdy affairs where each poet around the table would get in their say-so about any given poem that was being work shopped. After the workshop ended those nights, as a group, we would descend the stairs and stroll over to the Café for the Friday evening performances: the Spotlight, Slam and Open Mic.

And once every six weeks the poets who were part of the Stoop Workshop xeroxed copies of their favorite poems and had a collating party and then set up a reading for their work at the Nuyorican Poet's Café. The name of their selected poem collection was called The Fuse. Mia Hansford, who had started coming around, barged in their first reading at the Café and got everyone pissed off at her because she wasn't part of the workshop. The purpose of these readings was simply for the poets from the workshop to showcase their work.

It was during this time I got a call from Butch Morris from Tokyo, Japan. He had an idea. He wanted to get a minimum of fifteen or twenty poets together to perform on New Year's Eve at the Whitney Museum. I told him it was possible and we would talk more when he returned. Upon his arrival, he had a meeting with the poets from the stoop workshop. They were eager and enthusiastic about the idea.

The assignment: each poet would write their own individual poems, say, on a given subject, such as winter, spring, summer or fall. They were given two weeks to get it together and there were to be a minimum of three rehearsals. They rehearsed in the gallery here at Tribes.  Mr. Morris taught them his hand signals. They were to be the chorus, he the conductor.  Mr. Morris demanded that they look in his eyes during rehearsals and subsequent performances.

They had their first trial performance at the Poet's Café around Thanksgiving, 1994. On December 31, they performed to a standing ovation there at the Whitney on 42nd Street and later that night, at Joe Papp's Public Theater.

And subsequently,  the Chorus of Poets performed at Lincoln center as part of the Bang on a Can Music Festival.

The clash came when I got a phone call from Carol Diehl and she wanted me to send her the list of poets who were part of the choir to perform as part of Downtown Arts Festival under the name of Simon Says.

Everything was hunky-dory until Renée , who was presently running the office got wind that Angela would be one of the poets. She threatened to quit if I allowed Angela to participate.

I explained to her over and over again that I had no control over who Mr. Morris wanted to perform in his Chorus. Ultimately the decision was his. For some odd reason, for Renée, that didn't seem to stick.

Not only did she not attend the Simon Says performance, which was held in a hot Saturday afternoon at Metro Pictures on West Houston and Greene Street, but that Monday morning, she announced that this would be her last week at Tribes. Much to her surprise, the Poets had gotten together and made a gift of a dozen roses to be given to Tribes. Angela called that week, wanting to know if Renée was in the office. I told her yeah. She rushed right over, went back to the office and closed the door and the two of them had it out. When the meeting was over, Renée still insisted she was quitting.

That Friday, I put together a surprise birthday/going-away party for Renée with the help of Michelle Morgan, a poet, singer form Australia and Sarah Jones,  and Gloria Williams, who Renée had befriended and we invited a gang  of our friends.

But Renée still insisted on quitting.

But there was only two problems. Number one she was short on cash and number two she was in trouble with her roommate. The two of them got into an argument over the telephone bill. The woman accused Renée of making long distance calls that Renée claimed she never made. And during the process, Renée discovered a rent receipt from the building's manager. And it was then she realized that the roommate was only paying something like $350 for the entire apartment, whereas she had been charging Renée $750.  Renée confronted her with the evidence and the roommate threw her out. And because she had no other place to go, she ended up sleeping on the gallery floor here at Tribes. During that short period from the time she quit and the time she came back, I had hired Sarah Jones to take her place. Meanwhile Sara also got evicted by her landlord and found the door locked and her stuff on the street and had  gotten beaten up by her boyfriend. So for the next twenty four hours I was stuck with two potential office managers at Tribes when I had only work enough for one. Sara then moved in with her sister who was later to be found dead of a drug overdose, and got a job temporarily working as a secretary for Derek Walcott and Paul Simon on the Broadway musical, Capeman.

Later, I got a call from one of Tribes board members, Frances Greenberger, who wanted to know what had become of Sara. I brought him up to date. He asked me to have her to call him. He gave her a job as his secretary and, included in the deal, was a rent-free apartment. Sara went on to work there for at least three years, while still organizing readings at Tribes, until her one woman show, Surface Transit,  took off, in about 1998.

In the case of Renée, the deal I had cut with her is that she would only stay at Tribes for six weeks to two months until she found a permanent place. And once that was taken care of, she would no longer work at Tribes but would find another place of employment. Things did not quite work out that way. She was here from the middle of September 1996 until February 1997.

The situation became so unbearable I had no other choice then to ask her to leave.

She finally went back to her parents home outside of Austin, Texas and hasn't been heard from since.

It had been around that time, about 1992, before Renée and Angela , when Helen was running the office, that the group put on my second play.

It was Christian Haye who was one of the editors of Tribes and still working as a bartender at the Café  who suggested that I put together a  play that he could direct.  I told him  since Julie had moved to the country that I had no one to dictate to. Besides that, I had to give it some thought.

He suggested Judy, a young Korean American with whom he had come of age out on Long Island. Judy at the time was living around the corner on 4th Street between A and B.  And the deal I cut with her was the same I had with Julie, that is, we would work on Saturdays and in return I would take her out to lunch. It took about a month and a half to bring the play to completion. Christian put it in rehearsal and got Edwin Torres among others including Judy, to play various roles.

The idea was to have it performed for two weekends running at Dixon Place on the Bowery and then later bring it to the Café. The name of the play was Chump Change and the way it was staged was as though the audience was surfing TV channels and each scene was juxtaposed against the preceding scene. It was  discontinuous as all hell, but apparently made sense to the audience because of the chaos we find ourselves living in everyday. Unfortunately the play was never mounted at the Poet's Café for the reason that Christian was accused of beating them out of their money-taking money out of the cash register and cashing checks that were made out to the Café.

In spite of the fact that I knew he was bad news, I took Christian in and allowed him to reside on the top floor.

Things seemed to be getting off the ground about this time. The magazine was in its second or third issue. I was about to publish my first book of poetry, the selected poems of John Farris, and Kimberly's husband, Juan, was about to mount a new play of mine with both Angela and Kim in big roles.

Ironically the play came out of the news I received that Jeff Roven had beat me out of the insurance money. The name of the play was Nothing to Lose.

It had a successful run at the Charas Cultural Center on East 10th and Avenue B for four consecutive weekends in 1993.

By this time I considered these three plays starting with the Set-Up, Chump Change and Nothing to Lose to be a trilogy. And it was through Helen that I was to meet Amy, a girlfriend of hers who moonlighted as a photographer. She was brought on staff to work with us to photograph the actors and the scenes from the play. Nick, a friend of Johnson, who had been around since the Set-Up and a was part of the Living Theater, videotaped the play for our archives. Subsequently, Nick, too, was brought in as a director for another play I was to write called The Top Of the World. This play started Angela Lukacian as the leading lady and it played at the Nuyorican Poet's Café and Context Studios on Avenue A.

As far as the theater group was concerned we had a very enthusiastic group working with us at that time. We even had the play produced at Medgar Evers College for the students and faculty.

And since Butch Morris was on the search for something more to do with the poets, he suggested I write another play and this one was called "Now What? What Now?: and it was Tracy Morris, Edwin Torres, Emily XYZ and David Henderson who wrote their own poems to go along with the play.  It was somewhere around  this time that this mess happened between Dora, Renée and Angela, which brought an end to the theater group as it was formed at that time. I found myself picking up the pieces, taking time out from play writing and regrouping again.

Luckily for me, Margo, who had been highly critical of the staging of A Top of the World, entered the picture and she insisted that I allow her to direct one of my plays. By this time, a new person helped me type up the plays.

My stepdaughter Melanie's high school friend, Sara Andrews, who works commercially as a video editor, took on the task.  She had helped me to write The Top of the World and then , later, she took down the dictation for Marvelous, the play that Margo directed. It tuned out to be quite a mixed media treat.  Not only did she use three televisions where the actors could see themselves performing on stage, but she also brought in someone, a friend of hers, to play the piano. And for her cast she choose the poet Harold Bowser, Clara Sala, Pasquel Norris, and a young poet, actress, dancer named Dora Greene. The play was performed first one night only at the St Mark's Poetry project, and then it had a successful run at  a photo studio on East 20th Street, which was owned by a couple of Margo's friends. But the after party turned out to be a drag since Pasquel and Margo got into an argument over who was going to pay for dinner.

In spite of its ups and downs the organization seemed to be moving at its own rhythms. The magazine was under the editorial hands of Martha Cinador, Sheila Alson, Stacy Brown, Ron English and Renée was working as the managing editor.  Margo, for what it was worth, along with her side kicks, Vipin and Mia Hansford, was holding the theatrical thing together. I was working individually with the poets and had by this time had not only published a book by John Farris, It's Not About Time, and by Eve Packer, Skull's Head Samba, but also one by Michael Carter, Broken Noses and Metemphychosis. Since Renée had virtually forced Dora Espinosa out the door, Renée was also running the gallery with the assistance of the artists Randy Bloom and Al Loving.  Things went along in this fashion for roughly two and a half years.

And it was then that the Village Voice decided to publish a long piece  written by Sara Ferguson. The piece described all the aspects of Tribes, which included and told in detail not only how we came about, but also what we stood for -- diversity in action, a multi-cultural America. The only problem still at that time was the situation at the house.

The finances for the house were in a terrible shape. I was in the process of trying  to get Christian and Helen to move from the top floor or have them pay rent close to market value. At the same time I increased Ann Marlowe's rent by at least $200, but there was not much I could do about Cisco, but that's another story.

Since the days of Angela, thanks to her friend Mel Rosenthal. Before I met Mel Rosenthal, Angela's friend,  I had gone from lawyer to lawyer trying to get legal help and, it was through Mel that I met a lawyer who charged me $2,000 but who was not able to help me with the situation with the house in the end.

One day after an editorial meeting with Martha and Sheila, I brought up the situation with the house. What it amounted to is the lawyers who now owned my ex-wife Zoe's interest in the property wanted me or someone to buy them out. Since Jeff had run off with the insurance money, I felt compelled that his name should be off the deed.

We were talking figures totalling $29,000.

Martha suggested why not get everyone involved and have a big fundraiser. Being  a poet of course she suggested a poetry reading. And before I knew it, over twenty five poets volunteered to read.  Martha dropped out and Eve Packer took over. Clara Sala put together a second reading at the Nuyorican Poet's Café.

Dora got artists who had shown at Tribes Gallery to give their work to be auctioned by Tribes. Jack Tilton organized the silent auction at the Jack Tilton Gallery. Carolyn Peysor put together a phone-athon.  We did a mailing and printed up flyers to the tune of over 2,500 to let everyone know not only about the situation, but the benefits and fund raisings, and also what we were doing about the situation.

The first reading with the twenty five poets, which had been cut back to fifteen, was held at the Knitting Factory and the space was given free of charge. But unfortunately, it was the first snowstorm of the season, and it kept the audience at home. The city closed down for two days. Dora's auction went absolutely nowhere. Nothing was sold. Jack Tilton introduced me to a Wall Street lawyer who did nothing aside from running his mouth, telling us the names of big time clients he represented. Clara Sala, who worked both night and day recruiting poets for her reading at the Café and getting the word out, packed the Café and made over $800. Jack Tilton and his silent auction was able to raise $18,000. Sheila Alson made me a loan of $5,000. But the lawyers who Zoe owed the money to were having none of it.

It was Randy Bloom and Peter Bradley who suggested I go and talk to Frances Greenberger's lawyer, Dan Swartzman. Randy, Peter and I went up to Frances Greenberger's office. Randy laid out the story to them. Dan listened carefully, took notes, said he would write a memo to Frances and get back to us. Two days later, he called to say that they would handle the case.

Meanwhile, Fly By Night Press had published Star Black's book of poems and held a party at Tribes for both Star Black and Hal Sirowitz's book, Mother Said.  Frances Greenberger and his wife Judy Willows attended the party. It was my first time meeting Frances, who was a friend of Star Black's. He assured me I had nothing to worry about concerning the house. The case was in good hands. Several days later, on a Friday night, while waiting for Kiki and Greg Coates, along with Peter Bradley to pick me up and take me to an opening of Joe Overstreet's retrospective in New Jersey, I got a call from a person named Peter Frank.

He said he was a friend of Martha Cinader and had heard about my situation at a reading he had attended with Martha in West Beth. He wanted to help.

He came over and in the presence of Sheila Alson, Renée, and myself. I explained the situation to him. He said there was nothing to it. He knew how to get us out of it. I told him also that I already had a lawyer and whatever decisions that were made would have to be approved by Dan Swartzman. He agreed, said he would handle the case Pro Bono. And added that the only thing he wanted out of the deal was for me to give him names of poets that he would represent as an entertainment lawyer. I told him I had no control over any poets, that they were free agents and made their own decisions. All I did was publish a magazine, books of poetry and occasionally put on readings. But the poets themselves were their own persons. I don't know to this day whether he heard me or did not, but I think he had other problems that consumed his energy, time and money.

After that things got pretty hairy and that's when my paranoia started building up. I got to the point where I didn't know who to trust and the only person I could confide in at that time was Renée. It got so awful, name-calling and all, that we tried to get Peter Frank's name off the books of attorney of record. I had tried talking with Randy about this situation, but she was 100% behind Peter Frank since she had a crush on him. I tried talking with Dan Swartzman, but his answer was that Peter was the attorney of record, there's nothing you can do. Meanwhile Zoe's lawyers had petitioned the court for the house to be put on the auction block. Peter's job was to show cause as to why it shouldn't happen. Actually, it was Dan Swartzman's job, but Peter had usurped Dan's powers and signed the legal papers as attorney of record.

It was then that he started charging me for his services. A thousand dollars every time he appeared in court. It got to the point when I was just about broke, he refused to attend court unless I came up with $1,500.

We were having a show of Linda Cross, who worked here at Tribes. She was on the staff of the Frances Greenberger Foundation, Art Omi.  The fact is she was Art Omi's director, but also a painter.  And it was at her opening that I ran into a long lost forgotten cousin of Jeff Roven who was also a painter and a friend of Linda Cross. I told her what Jeff had done. She was not surprised and told me of a lawyer she was using.

So when Peter Frank froze on me and refused to show up in court, I got in touch with her lawyer. He took one look at the papers and said they were in utter chaos. I dashed off a letter to the courts explaining as to why I was not represented and sent the same to Zoe's lawyers. I then talked to the people at The Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, but they were not able to help me because the house was in my name and not in the name of Tribes.

And subsequently it was at another opening here at Tribes for the painter Alice Zinnes, who was an acquaintance of Hal Sirowitz, that Frances Greenberger put in an appearance. I explained the situation to him in detail. He told me he would he would have Dan Swartzman to handle the case and make an offer to Zoe's lawyers.

By this time, Zoe's lawyers had sold their interest in the property to a third party. He demanded a hundred thousand dollars. Francis was willing to go along with the offer but we wanted to get Jeff out of the picture at the same time. We went over the figures, and Frances decided that the most that Jeff should be offered was a hundred thousand dollars. Jeff rejected the offer outright. By this time Renée was long gone and Amy Ouzoonian, a young poet from upstate New York, was living here, helping out in the office. She went with me to the closing for Zoe's share of the property. It took five hours. But at least Amy was able to make a poem based on her observations. The next morning I called Frances and thanked him and he said, now it's time we go after Jeff.

Frances's plan was simple. Since Dan Swartzman, because his wife was having a baby and he had to play the role of house daddy, and would not be available, I had to get another lawyer. Frances suggested another lawyer who he knew should handle the case. The retainer was $5,000. His name was Jack Rose and his wife's name Carol Uele, who had one time worked in the Lindsay administration. The idea was to force Jeff to put in a showing in court. Instead Jeff called Frances directly and said he would accept a hundred thousand.

We went for the deal and Carol represented me at the closing. A young painter from Estonia had taken me to Frances's office by cab, and then Maria Santes, a photographer and curator form Spain, picked me up after the closing and took me to a memorial at the City Museum of New York for the downtown painter, Martin Wong, whose life was taken by AIDS.

Afterwards, I realized  what kind of bind I had gotten myself into. Hell, I had to pay this money back. The irony of the situation is of course that originally I had bought the property for $35,000 with Jeff and I splitting the cost and my sister, who later died of bone cancer in Philadelphia, kicking in another $10,000 at the closing and then of course there was Zoe, who I cut a deal with: she put my name on her property in Amherst, Massachusetts and I put her name on this property in New York, for a quarter ownership.   I did not think too highly of this deal, especially after the property had burned down and Jeff had taken off with the insurance money and Zoe, my ex-wife, had taken off to God knows where, leaving me holding the bag  --  a partially burnt-out  house with the majority of my possessions gone, my records, books, manuscripts and with me, not feeling like I could ever begin again and with me, lost,  not knowing what to do, except to jump in the East River and head south straight for the harbor, the Atlantic and keep on going and whatever you do, don't look back.  But then, as I already mentioned, the answer was to stay and finished the unfinished work which I had started.

Hence the house, the organization and all these crazy people in and out of here.

Since I first moved to the Lower East Side in 1962 and lived at various apartments here and there, I had up to that time,  experienced neighborhood changes. From bad to worse, to better and to worse, depending upon your perspective and, of course, your pocketbook.

Over a period of thirty years, the population of the neighborhood shrunk form approximately 375,000 people in 1962 down to 172,000 in 1975.  At the end of the sixties, thousands of people, for one reason or another,  jumped ship and it continued until the nadir and the situation slowly reversed itself.  And then of course there was always the case of tenements and buildings mysteriously burning down.  They were replaced with empty lots full of garbage. The old women, some of whom I still know, grandmothers in fact in their sixties and seventies,  got their heads together and got the city to clean out the lots, which were piled shoulder high with garbage and overrun by rats.  The old women turned them into gardens. Young folks, from God knows where,  showed up and joined in on the garden phenomenon. They thought it was delightful and wonderful that there were so many open spaces on the Lower East Side filled with plants and flowers. They wanted to be part of it and they did join in. White, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, you name it.  It gave them a sense of community  --  of being a part of something larger than themselves.

But then gentrification set in and things haven't been the same since. That's why  a building that cost me $35,000 originally could be mortgaged nowadays for $200,000. That's why the poor in this neighborhood, the people in the squats, the homesteads, low income housing and the projects over on Avenue D are half out of their wits with paranoia. Condominiums are popping up all over down here. People with fast bucks on the high end of the economy, into the information and technological age, are busily running and buying up apartments without any questions of how much real estate developers and their owners demand. And then of course, there's always those who have trust funds and are either in school at Columbia, NYU or the New School and are recently graduated whose parents are footing the bills. It's like that.

And how does Tribes fit into the picture? The house? Me, with my blind self?

So far here's the way it works.

By the time the second issue of Tribes was being put to rest, with the facade of Bullet Space on the cover with all its posters and an article inside on the movies of Spike Lee by Christian Haye, and a poem by Lester Afflick, who recently passed away, Sara Ferguson, who I had met in the company of Nathaniel Hunter, Jr, approached me and said she would like to do an article on Tribes for The Village Voice.

Along with Gail Shilke, the two of us had a rondevous at Gail's apartment on 2nd Street which she had named Stray Dog. Sara asked questions. We gave the answers. I told of my first arrival on the Lower East Side in 1962 from England and the various personalities, artists and otherwise, who I had met down here through the years. This included of course, my brief encounter with the poets and painters, musicians and political activists involved with Umbra. Gail, for her part, told of her arrival on the scene down here including the time she spent being involved on some level with the crowd at ABC No Rio and subsequently, curating Wednesday nights at the Nuyorican Poet's Café.

Suddenly, I got the word that my father was dying in New Orleans. This put the interview and Sara Ferguson on hold until that ritual was performed, his wake, the funeral and the aftermath. When I arrived back in New York City, it was time to go forward with the plays, the Set-Up, Chump Change and Nothing to Lose. But around that time, I had come up with the bright idea, why not write a play concerning instant fame, that is, signifying about the spoken word poets but framing the play in the context of an actress without talent, who would do anything to be on top.

Sara Andrews, the video editor and friend of my daughter Melanie, took down the dictation for that play, for preparation I had her to look at the movie A Star is Born starring Judy Garland and the two of us together read the new biography on Judy Garland's life.

We simply took elements of the actions among the various poets which were then taking place down here -- who was doing what to who to get over. And we knocked out the scenes and the dialogue for the play in a matter of weeks. I named it Top of the World starring Angela Lukacian. Nick, a friend of Johnson, jumped at the chance not only to direct it but also to do the casting. And it was while it was in production that first an article appeared about Tribes involvement in the the Stoop Poetry Workshop in The New York Observer and another article appeared in the New York Times magazine section on the explosion of word poetry with my name included. Sara Ferguson put pressure on the editors at the Voice and finally the article with photographs she wrote about Tribes and its history and my involvement on the Lower East Side over the last twenty years finally appeared in print.

This of course, brought all kinds of interested people to Tribes doorstep -- both wanted and unwanted: curiosity seekers, artists, and a bunch of hangers-on. Charlatans as Renée would call them. It increased the audience of Tribes at least fivefold if not more.

By this time, as mentioned before, Renée was running the office and the magazine, the publishing company, and the gallery were doing quite well on their own.

And it was Vipin who around this time volunteered to put up a website for Tribes. In other words, it was Vipin with his expertise and knowledge of computers, who brought Tribes into cyberspace, that is, into the twenty-first century.

Q: Why did you transfer the property from A Gathering of the Tribes and Calvin S. Cannon, to Calvin S. Cannon (a.k.a Steve)? (that is, why was Tribes as an entity removed from ownership)

A: Well, of course, I could say it all started when someone arsoned the property in 1990. It was discovered after the fire that there was a lien on the property when it was co-owned by me and Jeff Roven.

Because Jeff absconded with the insurance money from the fire, there was no money in the till to pay off the lien.

Subsequently, Francis Greenburger made a bridge loan to cover the cost of the lien($100,000) and to pay Jeff for his share of the property ($100,000). The result was removal of Jeff Roven from the deed and to remove the lien from the property.

But the deal that Francis cut with me was that the only way he would loan me that money was to add A Gathering of the Tribes's name to the deed. This certainly was not in my interest. But since I had no other choice, I went along with his offer.

The interest rate on his $200,000 bridge loan was 12%.

Through his office, Time Equity Realtors, I was able to get a regular 30-year mortgage to the tune of $400,000 at an interest rate of about 8.5%. Two hundred of that four hundred was used to pay back Time Equity its money. The other two hundred was split between myself and Tribes to take care of expenses on Tribes and the property. (We have papers in our files that attest to this fact.)

Since I am retired, and live on a fixed income, the only income there was to cover the monthly payments on the first bridge loan and 30-year mortgage was the income from tenants in the building.

I had raised their rent to the level which they "could afford," which, by the way, was below market value.

Since both Tribes and Calvin S. Cannon, aka Steve, were on the deed, that meant that both parties were responsible for the expenses as well as the income of the building. The way it worked out is that the expenses of the building were covered by the tenants, but that left no money for Tribes to fulfill its mission.

We struggled through dark periods and were only able to continue through loans from me, Steve Cannon, and funding from various charitable organizations such as NYSCA, the Lef Foundation, and help from private donors here and there.

So when Greenspan at the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to about 3%, I was offered a mortgage at about 5.5%. I jumped at it. The current secretary, Maryloo, escorted me to the closing in Brooklyn for the new mortgage. At the closing, the lawyer mentioned that the only way I could go through with the mortgage would be that I remove Tribes's name from the deed. He asked if I had the authority to do so. Unfamiliar with the state laws, and in my role as executive director, I told him yes. Therefore, he filed a "quick deed" with the city of New York (September of 2002).

When all was said and done financially, Tribes and Steve Cannon were in debt to the tune of $600,000. At the closing, I walked away with a check for $59,000. That amount was split between me and Tribes. Tribes used its share to pay off its overdue debts and to remain afloat, and I did the same with my share.

What changed, obviously, was that Tribes was no longer responsible for debts on this property. All of that was then in my hands.

But, being who I am, I made the space available to Tribes "free of charge."

Some will say it's a tax deduction, which of course it is. According to the market of the time, this floor was worth about $2600 a month.

Since I recently sold the building to Lorraine Zhang, with the agreement from the new owner that I can remain on this floor for the next 10 years and share the space with Tribes, that means both Steve Cannon and Tribes "are responsible" for the monthly rent on the space ($1000/month).

The above are the facts as I remember them, and if anyone has any questions or requires further documentation, please let me know.


Calvin S. (Steve) Cannon

Steve Cannon