Volume 76, Number 27 | November 22 - 28, 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Taylor Field on the roof of the Graffiti Church, at 205 E. Seventh St.

Of Squid and squats; A novel look back at ’80s

By Lori Haught

Vivid imagery, a mix of memories and fiction, and a twist of faith work to make up the story of Squid and his friends in “Squat: A Novel” by Taylor Field.

Field, who has worked at Graffiti Community Ministries, 205 E. Seventh St., recently took a shot at fiction after the success of his nonfiction book, “A Church Called Graffiti.”

In “A Church Called Graffiti” Field describes first coming to the Lower East Side, taking over the abandoned mosque where the church now exists, renovating it and struggling to overcome the odds in a community overrun by drugs, homelessness and poverty.

“Squat” takes on a similar view of the Lower East Side in the 1980s; however, it looks at it from a very different perspective. The reader is allowed to experience a day in the life of a 20-year-old squatter named Squid.

Squid is an endearing character with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a penchant for never trusting anyone. His friends are colorful characters who wear togas, carry squirrels in their breast pocket and talk using metaphors from classical literature.

Fields said that when he first came to Graffiti Ministries they worked with people in squats a lot. While many of the squats were lost to urban renewal, many of the same issues still face the neighborhood and pose interesting questions for those trying to help address them.

“I’ve worked as director of community service and pastor for 20 years,” Field said. “Almost everything [in the book] is something I’ve seen.”

And by the very definition of a novel, it is all something that he has thought about. This includes the section where one of the characters who is receiving aid is taunting those who are helping him, saying they are creating a co-dependent society.

“People wouldn’t talk about the issue of creating a situation that perpetuates the problem,” Field said about problems people in the ministries faced in the ’80s. He doesn’t address the solution; it is merely there to make people think: “Literature’s point isn’t to provide answers, but to pose the questions.”

Field also hoped to capture how depersonalizing it can sometimes be in the city and how special the people he has worked with for so many years truly are.

“I remember working with a guy who didn’t read,” Field said. “We had been helping him and he finally told us he couldn’t read. We took him to learn and he started crying. And he said, ‘I can’t believe I am somebody.’”

The novel also parallels the story of Jacob in the Bible. Although none of these things are stated outright, a reader understands them as they read.

“It’s where ‘Rent’ meets the ‘The Passion,’” Field said.

He said that what has always fascinated him about the neighborhood is how people with so much can live alongside those with so little. When the church’s Seventh St. home was still an abandoned building, one side was a squat and the other side was luxury condos.

Published by B & H Publishing, “Squat” was released nationally in September. It is fast paced and full of both heart-wrenching and uplifting moments which capture a day in the Lower East Side with historical precision and human emotion. All royalties from the sale of the book go toward Graffiti Ministries and their outreach programs in the Lower East Side.

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