Sunday, August 17, 2008

The total assault cantina, from "Tales of Beatnik Glory" by Ed Sanders.

If Sanders or his publishing company would like me to take this down please contact me at the e-mail address located on the right.

Together John and Paul operated the Total Assault, a nonprofit establishment intensely dedicated toward yanking the corpses of J.P. Morgan's neoconfederates through the amphetamine piranha tank. It was just that way--their agitation kept them walking acrobatic along that perilous thin path of roachclips---one side of which lay Gandhian ahimsa, the other side bitter street battles and the violent insurgency of a potential New York Commune. The personalities of the two operators of Total assault whirled in intellectual combat on the question of tactics. Both wanted to crash that TV tower off the top of the Empire State--but their approaches were somewhat different. It was sort of anarcho-Mao v. anarcho-Tao. The budda-budda-budda- of machine gun fire for John became Buddha Buddha pacing rebels for Paul. Both were convinced for the time being, however, that nonviolent direct street action was the correct Way to proceed.

The first café they had operated was a tiny place on 9th street between B and C. They had called it Cantina de las Revoluciones. They managed to float for about a year before poverty and debt forced it to close. Then they located a much larger space on Avenue A and 11th Street, comprising a whole ground floor with a courtyard. The rent: $100 a month. It was eternity.

It wasn't long before the license inspectors came around, and that meant instant trouble, because John and Paul did not cooperate with the concept of licensing. "Gonna close you down," the inspectors told them. "Can't sell food without a license."
"We are revolutionaries. Taxes don't exist. The Department of Licenses doesn't exist. Why don't you sit down and help us with the twelve-cent soup?" But the licenseers gave them a summons and would not help with the circle of friends peeling vegetables for the Gandhian ambrosia.

Soon they were forced to trek down to the Dept. of Licenses to fill out the forms. They wanted to call the restaurant Café Hashish, a proposal that was immediately banned by the red-tapers. "We're going to the Civil Liberties Union to see about this, you fucking fascists," Paul snorted after a long argument with the officials of the department. But there was nothing to be done.

A few days later they tried again. They were ushered into the office of Mr. William Karkenschul, deputy director of licenses, Liberal Party appointee, a human who was at that time trying to close down coffee houses which offered poetry readings. Mr. Karkenschul read from the notarized business form: "Hmm, let's see" -- mumble muble, "John Z. McBride and Paul A. Stillman d/b/a Vomit, a Restaurant." Karkenschul stared at the two. "You mean you want to start a restaurant called Vomit!?" -- a slight curl of revulsion lifting his lip. "First you come in here last week trying to name your dive with an illegal name, now it's Vomit. Is this some sort of game? "Look here, Karko, we want to call it Vomit. Now what about it?" "It cannot be allowed," he replied. "The public won't stand for it." "How about The Karkenschul House of Puke?" --Paul sneered. That suggestion got them thrown out of the office. "You, Mr. Liberal Party poetry-banner! You show us the regulation that says we can't call out restaurant Café Hashish or Vomit, or anything we want!!"

A few days later they were back at the Dept. of Licenses with a name that sailed through the bureaucratic ocean: Total Assault Cantina. The License Dept. blitzed them repeatedly. They seemed to inspect them once a week. I had a friend that brought the cantina a station-wagonful of hot cigarettes from South Carolina once a month. They were almost caught by the license creeps who certainly would have snitched John and Paul out to the Feds. We carried the taxstampless cigs down into the cellar in the nick of time. As it was, the licensoids required John and Paul to obtain what was called a "License to Act as a Retail Dealer in Cigarettes in the City of New York."

When they began to hold poetry readings, Karkenschul picked up the announcements of the readings from the Village Voice and sent raiders out to issue summonses, informing the two that they'd have to cringe and beg for a cabaret license if they wanted to continue poetry. There was a law in New York that allowed entertainment in a restaurant by no more than three stringed instruments and a piano: allowing no poetry and no singing. Otherwise, a cabaret license was necessary, a bureaucratic nightmare involving bribing building inspectors, and requiring employees to register with the fuzz and to carry cabaret identity cards, and so forth.

Another thing that pissed off the authorities was that Total Assault was unable to resist allowing people to sleep on the floor although it drove the landlord nuts. The police would shine flashlights through the front window in the middle of the night and the floor looked like a packed meadow of sleeping bags. Crashers could only cop about six hours sleep however, because John and Paul had to wake everybody up by 10 A.M. in order to sweep and to get the breads in the ovens in time to open for the noon-hour soup rush.

Total Assault was more of a community center than a mere café. A bu-gaze across the room revealed a kitchen containing a quaking Salvation Army icebox, a huge oven, storage cabinets made of packing crates, and a long varnished-pine serving counter. There was a whole wall devoted to collages and bulletins, leaflets and the like, and in the back near the courtyard was a printing-press area marked off by beautiful black Chinese screens, the origin of which Ptah only knows. The People's Library, as John called it, out of which the people steadily drained the books ne'er to return. There were numerous found-in-street divans placed around a large central table for those who liked to dine reclining. The walls were spotted with can-lids nailed over rat holes. The more serious breaches were sealed off with a mixture of Brillo pads and plaster. Near the front window was an old upright piano, stacked atop which was a neat pyramid of sleeping bags for the nighttime mattress meadow.

With regard to the wall devoted to leaflets and collages, by the end of a year there were maybe a thousand leaflets, new overdubbed upon old, from floor to ceiling. In my cellar I have a box containing all the posters and stuff from the wall. Come and get me, New York Graphic Society.

Meetings meetings meetings, they may have held a hundred meetings a month at Total Assault. They held a New York Times Sneer-in every night at 7 P.M. where everybody took turns singing and declaiming articles from that day's edition, accompanied by great jeers, chortles, and spits of anger. The ten top stock advances of the day were soundly jeered. And when the market went down a few points, there was a tumult of applause. Sometimes when the market really went bad, Paul would put a sign in the window announcing the good news.

I used to love the Town Meetings on Tuesday nights. They were wonderful shouting matches and many a grandiose scheme was hatched in the air. A free medical and dental clinic was born out of these meetings and still thrives, but much of it was kiosks of ego-babble, though I got to practice my yodeling a lot when the debates grew laborious.

In spite of the good Dharma-Commie karma, the cantina was a financial disaster. There was a prophetic sign above the cash register reading: THERE WILL BE NO PROFIT! The biggest money drain was the food scroungers. There was a porcelain bathtub in the window in which John and Paul created a huge, daily vegetable salad. Next to it was a crock of free tea and another crock of soup. People seemed to drift in the door with glazed eyes like food robots and would serve themselves from the salad tub and soup crock, then there would rise quick slurps of filling stomachs, after which they vanished without paying. There were so many hungry. But there were a lot of people with plenty of cash lining up for free food also. I must confess that I too, shekels clanking in my pockets, ripped free hunks of rye and bowls of soup from Total Assault Cantina. At first they tried to hand customers chits but these were left damp upon the tables or used to wipe up spills. Each day John and Paul cooked fresh bread. Humans began to steal whole loaves. They would saunter in, order coffee, and whistle out the door with a loaf, and on the way home from work at that."

In the previous passage you read about John and Paul trying to start a business that served food. What were the problems that John and Paul faced, were they A)....... just kidding.

This was written in 1975 about events taking place between '59 and '66(?). According to Sanders the Total Assault Cantina never really existed as such but he would have liked it to.

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