Sunday, September 27, 2009


But let’s take a musical break. I don’t know what happened when I first got this CD, the second or third album by Chicks on Speed, really the third because first there was The Releases of the Unreleases, my favorite because it goes from basically noise music into this melodic take on Eurotrash Girl, which was originally some guy singing in that kind of misogynist way and they are that eurotrash girl so they bring it up a few notches. Oh -- and that first album was on K Records, one of those Olympia labels -- what are we doing back in Olympia? But anyway, then they started their own label, in Germany, and this was their second album on their own label, the same label that released the last Le Tigre album, I mean the last album before they signed with a major label, and then that was the last album. I think it took me a while to get this Chicks on Speed album because they didn’t have it used at Amoeba but then when I got it I didn’t listen to it. I mean I listened to it once. Like the last Le Tigre album, I mean the one that was really the last one, the one where you listened and you tried to listen and you couldn’t, it was just too disturbing the way it kind of but didn’t sound like anything. I mean nothing.

But anyway, now I’m listening to this Chicks on Speed album, maybe five years later and what, what was I doing not listening to this? Maybe it was the way their critiques of commodity fetishism felt like part of the commodity, but listen: “paper tiger, this is your call, come with me let’s burn down the mall.” With a runway beat. Then there’s a whole second CD with all these remixes of “We Don’t Play Guitars” that are so obliterating in that 7 am club disaster marathon except with glitchy dj danger beats, each one different, really a different song switching up a vocal that might say “We like gaffer tape, but we don’t play guitars” and really, really, I haven’t been listening to this? Maybe I should listen to that Le Tigre album again -- I mean I just tried.

A few years earlier and I was all about runway, I mean I’m still all about runway there’s just nowhere to turn it. When I say runway, I’m talking about late at night when the queens come out, the queens come out to walk, and when I say the queens and I’m talking about runway, for the most part I mean black queens, they were the queens who were turning the runway when I first gasped. Probably for the first time in San Francisco, but then all the time in Boston, remember Boston, I mean I haven’t talked about Boston at all so there’s nothing to remember yet.

The point is that you walk like no one can touch you you walk like you’re going to die right now so you better walk you walk like you’re never going to die you’re never going to die as long as you can keep walking and you walk like you’re going to kill, kill with this walk and you walk like no one can touch you. And the truth is that no one can touch you, no one can touch you as long as you’re walking. Well, maybe not the whole truth, but the truth in your eyes and that’s the whole truth that matters, at least when you’re walking. Usually at the end of the night, the end of the night before you have to walk home, or onto the subway or into a cab, but that’s a different story.

And sure, you’re also walking like a model, a model on those other runways, that’s part of the turn, pose, but it’s a different kind of model, at least the way I looked at it. Maybe a model for getting away, even if you’re never going to get away you will get away on the runway. Once I did walk in the other kind of runway, this designer in Boston who took used clothes and re-sewed them into high-end designer items, Gabby and I walked in this show because they wanted some freaks, there were club kids working for this designer but they wanted more. My special move where I kick my leg up like I’m going right into the crowd but then other leg behind, twirl around, keep walking. When we auditioned, I remember that the designer or whoever was making the decisions said now walk like normal, no like normal, and my friend who was one of the club kids working there said no, that’s how Mattilda walks.

Boston was where my name became Mattilda, I was a club kid there because there was nothing else. I mean, clubs had always been part of my life, but in Boston they became my life. Clubs, and outfits -- Gabby and I would head as early as possible on delivery days to Dollar-a-Pound, where our only competition was old white women and Haitian mothers looking for clothing for their families, and they weren’t looking for the same type of clothing so I’m not sure why we felt we needed to get there so early, get there so early which meant staying up but oh, the outfits. At one point I accumulated so many wedding dresses, wedding dresses that didn’t fit but why not, why not accumulate wedding dresses when everything is a dollar a pound? So we decorated the dining room with them, yes we had a dining room -- Boston was so cheap at that point, I mean once you left the destination areas it was so cheap that we had a three bedroom apartment between the two of us, plus living room and dining room, and paid $300 each. We never even got a single piece of furniture for the living room, we would just peek through the shutters to make sure all the elementary school kids weren’t flooding the sidewalk before we went out. Before that apartment in East Boston, we shared an eight-bedroom house in Dorchester where each person paid just a little over $100, but I’m getting distracted. The point was that in Boston is where I got the name Mattilda. At the time I was experimenting with the name Rhubarb, since it was my favorite color, the color of my hair, but when Gabby started calling me Mattilda it made more sense.

Anyway, in Boston you really needed to know how to walk if you were going to walk. I mean, everywhere I went, people looked at me like they wanted to kill me, sometimes they would tell me, they would tell me they wanted to kill me, and that’s when I needed to walk. You look at them like nothing can touch you, and then you hope, you hope that nothing. Nothing will touch you. Like, when Gabby and I were walking home, home from doing laundry, and this guy stopped his baby carriage and started screaming at us: what are you doing in my neighborhood? Or, when someone dropped a cinderblock out their second story window, and it fell down with a thud just a little bit in front of us, you keep walking. The most important thing is that they don’t know that they’ve touched you, or at least that was the most important thing for me then.

In Providence, which was right before Boston this time around, my second time doing the New England thing, remember how I went back to Brown? I mean I just left, just left in this story, but when I went back that was after three years in San Francisco that meant everything, I mean I was a different person, an entirely different person at the end, the end of San Francisco. I think I’m trying to avoid getting there, getting there because of all the disappointment and how you change, but then you think about these moments and you’re still there, you’re still there in all that hopelessness and that’s why I’m writing this, I’m writing this to get back there, to get back there so I can finally get away, but first let me tell you about going back, because now it’s all going back, now that I’m further away, but this was a different back, after everything that made me, or everything that made me think that I could make myself no not everything but everything that felt like me, a different person than where I started. Okay, so I got there, and then I went back, back to Brown.

I went back to Brown because I was getting ready to confront my father about sexually abusing me, so I figured I better go back, just to make sure I never wanted to go back. I mean, I wanted to tell my father that I would never speak to him again unless he could acknowledge sexually abusing me, raping me, molesting me, he could choose from these terms but I wanted him to acknowledge. I didn’t think he ever would, he was a psychiatrist so he had access to any means of dealing but I didn’t think he would deal. So I thought maybe I’d go back to Brown for a year to get off academic probation, that’s how long I needed a year, and then I could figure out what came next.

I also wanted to get away, to get away from what San Francisco had become, had become for me, but then after I decided to get away, that’s when it finally felt relaxing and hopeful, isn’t that always the way it happens? It already felt like home, home in that third apartment where I lived that first time, lived in the Mission with first Laurie and Camelia and someone random person, and later with JoAnne and Camelia and another random person, and a lot of other people in between, some of them random and some of them not. It was home because I finally felt it, felt like it was home, felt. In that apartment where we lived on an alley called Sycamore, yes of course that’s where I got my name.

When I went back to Brown, I was stunned, stunned at what people had become. The people I remembered as alienated and quirky, weird and overwhelmed yet expressive, most of them had become pompous and disaffected, shuffling around abstractions in order to gain stature in the battle of ideas. Before they’d just left, home or whatever they called it, and now they were ready to leave again, graduate, they were ready and I was stunned, stunned at what they had become. Looking back, I wonder if I had changed more than they, I had changed and I could barely remember the way I’d been before.

In one of my classes, there was this first-year with a barrette in his hair, alienated and quirky like the people I’d remembered and I kept saying you need to get away, get away before this is what you become. And he left, left at the end of the year, moved to San Francisco. I would walk across campus as fast as I could, rush to my classes and rush away, and then second semester I decided I would live in Boston, that was the only way I could continue going, I would drive down to go to class and then drive back, Boston was only an hour away.

Before I left, there was this club in Providence that was the only place where I could go to dance, I mean there were other places but the music wasn’t that good, wasn’t as good as Babyhead on Sundays which was totally straight and people were always harassing me but I didn’t care, this was where I could really go crazy, crazy on the dance floor -- you remember crazy, right? In a club full of straight people who were also dancing -- straight guys, mostly, since most straight clubs are mostly straight guys, especially the ones that center around the music and I didn’t think about that yet, I probably wouldn’t think about that for a while since I mostly didn’t go to straight clubs unless I was there for the music and this one night it went from from piano to those horns I craved to those beats gliding under me those beats helping me to swim this was the dance floor.

People didn’t dance with me, they danced around me but I knew how to study the shake the hips feet into ground to ground me and this was one of those clubs where everyone watches, everyone watches the dance floor and at one point this guy picked me up and threw me against a metal pole, held me there for a moment and said: I’m going to kill you. Just like that. No one said a word.

It happened so fast and I just got that rush to my head, that rush of fear but remember what I said about runway, the most important thing for me was that they wouldn’t change anything I mean I would not let them know. So I started dancing crazier like my life depended on it, because it did, this was my life this dancing and then when the club closed I went over to my friend, and I said did you see what happened? No, he said, except he already looked scared, his chair was facing the dance floor, facing me. Although he always looked kind of scared, he didn’t want anyone to know he was gay, anyone out in the world outside the school where he went, which was the other school, the other school on the hill, the art school where people in Providence usually assumed I went too.

Actually he was closeted to most people at the art school too, but I said someone just threw me against a pole and said he was going to kill me, would you mind going outside and getting the car? The guys had already left, I was worried they were waiting outside, waiting for me. My friend said no, I can’t do that. I said they don’t even know who you are, they don’t even know you’re gay, they don’t even know you’re with me. He said I can’t, I’m scared.

I didn’t think about the fact that the guys who had threatened me were black, and my friend was also black, and the people he was most afraid of were other black people, other black people who might find out he was gay. I wasn’t sure we were going to be friends anymore. We were new friends anyway, he liked to go out, he wanted me to take him places. I walked outside with a cold rush, yes the air was cold but this was really runway over to my car and there it was with all the windows smashed, or most of the windows anyway. How did they know it was my car? I brushed the glass out of both seats, and drove around to pick up my friend, my friend who maybe wasn’t my friend anymore.


Nick said...

what are we doing back in Olympia?

Back to Olympia!

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

A question of me must keep asking :)

Oops, now I see a link, where does it go...

Oh, no way -- Rancid? I had no idea!

Love --

Claire Cramer said...

I mean, clubs had always been part of my life, but in Boston they became my life.

When your Boston novel comes out, it is going to mean more than is quantifiable to at least one person.

(The paragraph about walking is the important one; I've been talking about and wanting to write about walking in Boston since the first week I got here.)

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Oh, good to hear that the queens are still walking in Boston – maybe there's hope for something – not for Boston, I don't imagine, but for us!

And yes the Boston novel, well that will be a while – this post, however, is integrated into my next book (after Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots, I mean) – The End of San Francisco, that is – see how everything connects?!

Love –