On the line to T-Squat this issue is C-Squat’s Bill Cashman – C-Squat resident and a walking, talking squatterpedia in his own right. We pick Bill’s brain on the history of C-Squat and recent goings-on.
So what brings you to the C-Squat?
Music. That, and the lure of the craziest underground punk rock parties reachable from the New Jersey suburbs via public transit. It’s funny to think of Choking Victim, IN-DK, Banji, or The Dregs as punk rock sirens in the basement, singing and luring in sailors and travellers with their songs. And sticking to Greek legend, many that came to hear those songs have crashed their boats upon these jagged rocks.
C-Squat is kind of like that scene in the Muppets Movie where everyone is in a theater and everyone is going ape-shit. Animal is chained to a chair, some guy is throwing a fish boomerang, a giant monster walks in and rips a seat up and walks away with it. Then when Kermit asks for a moment of quiet and control, someone presses down on a lever that ignites dynamite and everyone goes nuts again. A giant hole is blown through the roof, then there’s this beautiful moment of serenity and unity….until a monster trips falls through the movie screen and shit goes bananas again. I swear I’m sober and that this is a really accurate portrait. And if you haven’t seen the movie already – get to it. It’s a classic!
I remember the first time I brought a bunch of friends there that have never been to anything like it before. The police came and everyone in the show got barricaded inside. Not by the cops, but by the squatters, to make sure the NYPD didn’t get in. It was terrifying but also very exciting. It was more than a show where bands played, it was a sort of political statement. Ten years later, I still haven’t figured out what that statement was exactly, but I liked it.
How long have you been squatting for?
I have lived at C-Squat for four years. Sorry to disappoint but I never technically squatted here, that UHAB (Urban Homesteading Assistance Board) deal happened a decade ago (a deal brokered to legalise the squats). But I will gladly share the experiences I have seen. I became friends with a band called LEFTOVER CRACK and toured with them slinging merch for years and running various other errands. Errands like driving them to hospitals for setting themselves on fire in Illinois, getting them to recording studios, or jumping off cliffs in Hawaii.
Anyway, as legend has it the singer, the S.T.Z.A., flew south one winter and asked if I could watch his apartment. I said sure and never left. He let me crash on his couch for two years but the building said that was hurting my posture and it was bad for my back. The building said : “get a real bed, grow up” . Soon after, the building gave me one of its rooms. I was honored and plan to help the building as best as I can. As a result, my posture is better and my back isn’t so sore anymore.
Do most people stay in the squat for long periods of time or do they stay for a short while and then move on?
It varies. The people whose rooms are ‘their’ rooms are pretty steady. There’s a revolving door of official/unofficial house guests and room-mates, though. There is also the sad reality of people being forced to leave for various reasons. That’s another black cloud that sort of hangs around. I unfortunately moved in a on a cloudy day.
I believe that it used to be a more transient thing but has mostly stabilized over the past couple of years. The basement was an infamous lawless ‘temporary autonomous zone’ for a long time. Anyone from the crusty scene who was travelling and needed a place, you got shelter here. That was the vibe. You can imagine where that went – “Camp-Run-A-Muck” and we’re the counsellors (but also the unruly campers). We still take in travellers but the basement is way more closed off then Ye Squat of Olde.
Entering into this awesome process of acquiring the land via legalization, you have to start stabilizing your home from all different aspects. One being the craziness living in the pit down below you. I mean, there would be some really shady characters showing up & roaming the halls, kind of like in a George Romero flick. “Oh shit! is that a zombie walking upstairs? Is he going to eat my brains?….oh no wait…that’s one of the guys from the show last weekend, just never left yet….phew
While that is awesome, because I really love horror movies and all, with shady characters come shady practices. While to each their own (with respect, in their own home and in their own space) – it’s weird when strangers come to your house, fuck it up, get high, and then leave a mess. It’s kind of like that birthright trip to Israel – a rite of passage for many young crusty Leftover Crack fans, which seems to be the pattern. But what’s a little heartbreaking is that people get pissed when you tell them “no”! It’s like this place didn’t live up to their expectations. I hate being a part of any disappointment, especially with ‘the kids’, but some disappointments are just for the better. If you don’t like this space, go out and make your own squat – somewhere else that puts this one to shame.
We still get some awesome basement guests. There was this guy Chris who started staying down there last summer and he just radiated positivity. He just kept gathering more like minded friends and fellow buskers, all armed with acoustic instruments. Every night there was a giant acoustic jam party in the basement. It was wonderful. The era of UHAB has brought a lot of weirdness to the space but this really felt like a unifying, positive thing.
Are most squatters there squatting as a kind of social statement or is it more out of necessity?
I’d say both. Although replace ‘squatting’ with ‘living’. Check out that video I sent you: Your House is Mine
We’ll call a brief intermission on the full interview for you to check out Bill’s favourite squatter doco Your House is Mine by Caroline McCaughey on the history of squatting in the lower east side of Manhattan from the early 1980s to 2004. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the full interview with Bill on our blog and for more Q&As with the C-Squat crew in upcoming issues of T-Squat.