Thursday, February 28, 2013

Returning to the glamour of the present

            Just quickly, so the headache doesn't intrude. The headache is intruding. Just quickly, so that I can get some words on this page, maybe I can talk about the headache. Maybe it began when I went to that meeting to start a Seattle chapter of Queers against Israeli Apartheid, a meeting where it specified on the announcement that this was a scent-free space and whenever a public space says scent-free, in this case the new Queer Youth Space, a lovely place started by and for youth, but whenever something like that says scent-free I'm immediately suspicious. Because there is no public space that is scent-free. And in this case maybe there weren't any scents except for the horrible toxic poison of the new paint on the floors, maybe some paint in the hallway also but mostly I think the horrible smell I noticed in the hallway right when I got upstairs was the smell of the paint on the floor of Queer Youth Space draining into the hallway because their windows were closed. And in a going to that meeting was so much more awful than if it didn't say scent-free because I kept sitting there thinking it must not be that bad, right? And after their windows and front door were open there was a breeze through the place and it felt better. But then the huge heating mechanism went on and made all this noise and someone closed the window and then I could feel a headache starting but still I looked around at everyone else and thought oh, no one else seems to be bothered, it must be all right.
            The one thing about my health that's better in Seattle is that I don't always have a horrible pounding sinus headache, I mean I didn't. Before that meeting. And then afterwards it was back, and everything would trigger it, the new carpet in my feldenkrais practitioner's office, the new office that's so much easier to get to than the old one but now the new carpet. What else? Anything else, really, but this isn't the headache I'm talking about. The headache I'm talking about now is different, it's triggered by light, can you believe it, light? Like when the sun came out one day a little over a week ago and I thought oh, I should be out in it as much as possible, just to get the light through my eyes, right, to reset my system, and then.
            And then this headache, like bruises behind my eyes, like my eyeballs are stuck or maybe not quite stuck but slower in moving. Maybe I just notice them more because of the pain behind my eyes. And then a sharp pains all over my forehead from a glimpse of the sun and is this a migraine? I've never had a migraine, I don't think, so I read a little bit but it doesn't sound like a migraine because it's even, maybe an eyestrain headache, that's what the acupuncturist says. I talk to people with migraines: they say it's a migraine. I can't look at the computer screen for more than 5 minutes, so I haven't been able to write at all. And now the thing that makes me the most calm, going on a walk in the morning, now it's scary, because the sun might come out at any moment or even not the sun but just the glare, and what if I don't have my sunglasses or what if I do have sunglasses but it's not enough, and then at night when I turn on the computer all that vibrating white of the screen pounding into my head and I have to turn all the lights off in my apartment, maybe not that light, no, that one too, turn off all the lights in my apartment and sit at my table in what do I do? What do I do, because I can't read, that hurts my eyes, struggling to focus brings on the headache, and I can't write because of the computer screen, I can turn the radio on or listen to music or talk on the phone but I can't talk on the phone too late because then I'll get wired and yes, the darkness is calming outside, calming at night when I go on a walk except what about those lights, street lights, can someone turn those off?
The most comforting thing today is that I realize the voice activation software has been so slow and unreliable because that's what happens when there's lots of text in the document, like the document that’s the first draft of Sketchtasy, the one I focus on writing, the one I'm sad about not being able to access the last week or so, since this headache started, but anyway now I realize I can split that document in two and probably it will be faster, the software I mean, okay I better flee the computer before the headache overwhelms.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews (one of the big publishing industry trade magazines) has never reviewed one of my books – until now!!! And it's lovely -- here's the complete text …

An outspoken, gender-ambiguous author and activist reflects on her halcyon days as a wild child in San Francisco. . . . The powerful opening chapter of Sycamore's (So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, 2008, etc.) deeply personal portrait finds the author (then 'Matthew') alternately sobbing at her father's deathbed and demanding acknowledgment of the sexual abuse he’d visited upon his only son. It’s a raw, sobering scene that sets the tone for this introspective chronicle charting Sycamore’s zany gay youth zipping from one coast to the other in the heady 1990s. Sartorially eccentric with pink dyed hair, the author spent her restless youth commanding a 'secret world' drugging and dancing in gay nightclubs and then cruising for men online and in sex clubs from San Francisco to Boston to New York City. She writes of becoming gleefully seduced by the gender fluidity of San Francisco’s house music–powered club scene circa 1992 and participation in AIDS activism with ACT-UP. Her efforts to create a San Francisco counterculture with political activist movement Gay Shame only reiterated how much she’d outgrown the Bay Area. There are moments when Sycamore’s youth captivates with unapologetic, stream-of-consciousness tangents about bygone club life or street hustling, while in other spots, she is poetic and tender, as in describing her own exasperation with gay attraction, wishing sexual desire would 'become something else like lying in the grass and holding the sky.' Delivered in a free-form, associative writing style, Sycamore’s effort to exorcise the demons from her past is blunt, dynamic and original. . . . A blisteringly honest portrait of a young, fast and greatly misunderstood life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


First class is better than flying coach, that's for sure, but it's not as much better as it should be. Leather seats, more legroom, free cocktails – is that really all you get? More air, it does seem like there's more air.

Everyone thinks I'm Ned’s son, even though we look nothing alike. But I guess I don't look like my actual father either. Not like anyone's going to see us together, ever again.

Why are the beer nuts on planes always so good? And everything else is shit, total shit — they should take this beer not recipe and apply it to everything else.

I can't believe I'm doing this, going on a trip with Ned. He wanted two weeks – I told him we would hate each other after two weeks. I said I couldn't spend two weeks alone with anyone, but then he asked about JoAnne, so I lied and said she spent half the time with her girlfriend, even though she doesn't have a girlfriend I mean she just has Tina. Maybe Tina is her girlfriend, except JoAnne only spends time with her when I'm with Ned.

But then Ned switched tactics and kept telling me I needed a vacation, with all the studying I've been doing, staying up so late at night, every night, and I really couldn't argue with that because studying is the excuse I use not to hang out with him too much, so then finally I agreed to go to Florida for six days.

Ned got some weird horny old man look on his face and started talking about seeing me in a Speedo, how all the other guys would be jealous.

Gross — I am not wearing a Speedo.

At least we’re not going to Fort Lauderdale, that was Ned's first idea. Someone told him that's where gay people go in Florida, but I think they mean gay people over 60. So we’re going to Miami for three days, and then some resort in St. Petersburg for New Year's. St. Petersburg? I have no idea.

            JoAnne said: How am I going to spend six days with Tina? That means six AA meetings in a row, I'm going to need heroin for sure.

I could tell she was joking, because she was laughing. And then she said: I know I'm supposed to get a job, but it just sounds so awful.

And I said: That's because it is awful. As long as this weird thing goes on, just call me sugar mama.

            The worst part about flying is the landing, that's always what rips my ears apart and then we're driving through the Everglades and my head feels like it's filled with steel wool. I can't believe how ugly everything looks, how hot it is outside, but then we get to the hotel in South Beach and it's kind of cute, a renovated Art Deco building from the 1920s. I didn't even realize anyone lived in Florida in the 1920s.

            Should we go to the beach? I guess that's why we’re here, but first we stop at some weird health food store so I can get carrot juice and a bunch of premade wraps to put in the refrigerator. Good thing I wasn't looking for anything else, because the rest of the store just looks like rotten vegetables and protein powder.

But actually these wraps are good, yum, maybe I should've gotten more. Ned says we can always go back.

            I can't believe it's the end of December and I'm only wearing a T-shirt and pants but I'm sweating. I need to get a bathing suit, so we stop somewhere and Ned keeps pulling out the Speedos so I decide I'll humor him and try one on, not the tiny ones but the square-cut one’s that aren't so ridiculous and Ned’s got that perverted look in his eyes again. Did I just say perverted?

The rest of the bathing suits are either tiny thongs or huge baggy surfer shorts, and I figure I'm not going to run into anyone I know, right, so I go with aqua Speedos. And then I ask Ned to buy me some sandals made out of an Astroturf material because I need something other than combat boots in this heat, right, why didn't I think of that before?

At first he tells me these sandals are too expensive, I should just get regular flip-flops and I feel like I'm arguing with my father. But then he takes the sandals to the register and we go back to the hotel room to change.

I guess it's too late for the beach, but maybe we can watch the sunset? I never realized how tall palm trees were, strong trunks too except when it gets windy these big pieces fall down from way up high and what happens when one hits you?

The beach is so large it looks fake, but as soon as we get there, and I take my sandals off to walk in the sand, I feel like a little kid so excited, maybe Ned was right and I do need a vacation. Ned reaches over for my hand and I make sure no one's looking. We go to a restaurant on some pedestrian street that I guess is trying to look like Europe, angel hair pasta and a salad is all I can eat although the pasta is actually really good with broccoli and pesto and yes, a few cocktails, and then Ned reaches over for my hand again, and I move my hand to my lap. I know we hold hands all the time when we’re at his house, but now we’re in public and it feels gross and possessive and I'm trying not to freeze.

When we get back to the hotel, Ned has a lot of back pain from the plane, so he lies down on the carpet, says that helps, then he takes some pain medicine and gets in bed, which is great because that means we don't have to have sex. Five nights to go.

I go on a walk and I can't really figure out why people think this place is glamorous. Screaming drunk suburbanites driving down the main streets in convertibles, and then near the beach every hotel bar has a line around the block. Eurotrash in designer suits and stilettos, some women are even wearing fur coats although it still feels like it's 90 degrees out. People look at me like I'm trash because I'm wearing a T-shirt. Maybe I am trash.

      There are supposed to be gay people here somewhere, but I have no idea where. Maybe where we were earlier? The waiters were gay, but waiters are gay everywhere.

The next day it’s even hotter, and I'm finally ready to go to the beach with Ned around 2 pm. I don't want to go out earlier anyway because I'll just get burnt. I'm so glad I got the sandals. Strangely there's almost no one around on the beach, but we change into our swimsuits and lie in the sun and damn it feels so good. All this sun and light, so much light that you have to squint even with sunglasses. Should I go in the water? Ned snaps pictures of me in my embarrassing bathing suit, and I hope the sun doesn't bleach out my hair. I spent a long time getting the purple and red just right, and JoAnne helped me with the orange in back.

After a while, I notice that Ned’s chest is already bright pink so we better go inside. Should we go to the same restaurant again? But first we need to rest a while — lying in the sun is tiring. We don't get to the restaurant until close to 10, since Ned takes a nap and then we both need showers. Turns out there's a gay bar right there, so we go inside afterwards and oh no, it's like the worst Boston suburban preppy nightmare. Someone's even doing the ooh ooh dance, and there's so CKOne you could open an outlet store. But then the DJ puts on “Divas to the Dance Floor,” and yes that song has been tired for at least a year now, but honey I can't resist, especially once Ned hands me another cocktail and I realize there are some cute guys around, I mean once you get past the frosted highlights and bleached eyebrows and lycra.

Ned comes on the dance floor and at first that's fine, right, whatever, just some old guy I happen to know and I can shake a few moves in his direction like I do with the whole room, but then he gets really close to me from behind and pulls me to him and honey, I don't like grinding with anyone on the dance floor, but especially not Ned, I try it for a moment just to be friendly but then I pull away and try to make it seem like I just want to twirl around I mean I do just want to twirl around but also I'm watching people to see if they're watching me, watching me with Ned.

I get some water, and then I look at Ned and he's starting to sway. I don't usually see him get this drunk, maybe it's because it's past his bedtime so I ask him if he wants to go. In the cab he reaches over for my hand and I close my eyes and think breathe, Mattilda, breathe. We get back to the hotel and Ned starts pulling off my clothes and I'm kind of annoyed. I guess he notices, because then he says what, you don't like being seen with the old guy on the dance floor?

I don't know what to say. I look him in the eyes and start kissing his liquor breath, and then I remember the big tub in the bathroom so I say let’s sit in the jacuzzi. Ned keeps grabbing my dick, but I can't get hard. What's the matter, what's the matter, he keeps saying, and I really just want to smack him. But then he starts to look like a lobster, says oh, I'm getting overheated. I'm getting overheated, he says again, like I didn't hear him the first time.

Better take a cold shower, I say, and I stay in the tub until he looks at the clock and notices it's 1 am, says I’ll see you in the morning, comes in to kiss me good night and afterwards I sit there until the tub gets cold, then I let it drain and fill it up again, three more times until all my skin gets crinkled up and I'm ready for bed too, except I don't want to get in bed with Ned so I pass out on the sofa until Ned wakes me up in the morning.

Ouch, my back, ouch, damn, this shooting pain like I'm going to split in half, this used to happen when I was a kid but not for so long and Ned says I should get in the tub again but instead I just stumble into bed and sleep until it's time to go back to the beach.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The world is waiting

Not that this would be their definition of sober, but anyway, the most important part — it’s here, our art show: The 12 Steps — DON'T GET BLOOD ON THE CARPET.

1. We admitted we needed a power vacuum.

2. Came to believe that a power vacuum could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Vacuum as we understood Vacuum.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of every brand of power vacuum, including ourselves.

5. Admitted to Vacuum, to our own vacuum, and to another vacuum the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have Vacuum remove all manufacturing defects, including character.

7. Humbly asked Vacuum to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all vacuums we had harmed, and became willing to make amends by vacuuming.

9. Made direct amends to such vacuums wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or other brands.

10. Continued to take personal inventory of the vacuum industry, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with Vacuum as we understood Vacuum, praying only for knowledge of Vacuum’s will for us and the power to vacuum that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to vacuum all our affairs, including anyone who doesn't believe in vacuuming.

Don't worry, you don't have to remember these 12 steps. Yet. It's all written on the shade. Just as you enter our apartment. And I do mean shade. Turn the corner, and, of course, the runway. Remember how I looked and looked for that white carpet? Well, I couldn't find the right remnant until I noticed the hallway runners – yes, yes, can you believe it? Seven feet of pure white now featuring big black letters on the sides saying DON'T GET BLOOD ON THE CARPET.

And that leads you right over to the table and chairs, covered in cards, remember?

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU'VE JUST BEEN RAPED: Fix your hair. Brush your teeth. Smile. Make dinner. Fix your lipstick. Shave. Make coffee. Get ready for work. Tie your shoes. Find new buttons. Wash your face. Get groceries. Trim your nails. Take a Xanax. Do the dishes. Do push-ups. Abdominals. More deodorant. Go shopping. Watch a movie. Vacuum. Pour a cocktail. Read the newspaper. Take out the garbage. Wash the sheets. Rearrange furniture. Buy flowers. Drink juice. Read a magazine. Get the mail. Turn on music. Make tea. Clean the toilet. Organize your room. Weed the garden. Air freshener. Take a Valium. Go to work. Go to school. Go to bed. Go dancing. Smile. Do laundry. Get a tan. Go to the gym. Pour wine. Drink a beer. Go out for cocktails. Eat a salad. Get a haircut. Take a shower. Remember to floss.

I know — that’s a full deck of cards. And yes, there is overlap. We all know about overlap. And then, you look up at the wall and oh, honey, JoAnne's snakes — slithering in every direction, layered in paint and oil pastel and marker and scratches and spit and blood and cigarette ash and glue. Snakes of every messy gooey oozy cracked and exploding color but all the faces are blank, some with smears and smudges but otherwise pristine white with words in the middle made from newspaper cutouts: Medusa Oblongata, Medusa Fermata, Medusa Desiderata, Medusa Stigmata, Medusa Tomato Insalata, Medusa Carne Asada, Medusa Yada Yada, Medusa Piñata, Medusa Regatta, Medusa Dada, Medusa Messiah — and, of course, Medusa Matzoh.

But which Medusa represents which step? Darling, choose your own adventure.

And, no, I have no idea why we decided they all have to rhyme. Or, maybe messiah doesn't rhyme with matzoh, but close.

When the Medusas end, a lovely area of neutral sandpaper on our plush purple walls, and on the sandpaper in tiny letters: your skin is so soft. And, on the wall just above our lovely vacuum cleaner perched next to the sofa, the mirror with HELP in razors. And, the unfinished jewelry box on the mirrored card table, it’s almost at HEL. What to do when you've just been raped, indeed.

The music, of course, is Armand Van Helden — because, work me, goddammit.

Pictures, we need pictures!

Wait, I'm the photographer.

And I'm the choreographer.

And I'm the dealer.

And I'm the healer, stealer, feeler and concealer.

Dealer, how much for Medusa Matzoh.

You're the dealer.

Not. For. Sale.

Please, please sell it to me.


Pretty please, with slivers of gold and arsenic on top.

I said never.

A million dollars.

I won't take less than 1.2.


            Frida, we have an offer of 1.15.

Franz, Fritz, Felix, Fabus, Frankie, Felice.

Gilda, Gertie, Gabriel, Gavin, Goldie.

Hans, Hector, Horatio, Herman, Herbert.

Igor, Ivy, — oh, who else?


With a Y.

Jayson. Jeremiah. Jackson.

Miss Jackson if you're nasty.

Ooh you nasty girl.

Kelly. Kylie. Kevin. Kate. Kara.


That's a C. As in cunt.

You said it.

Takes one to know one.

Welcome to Boston.

Where are we, where are we?

Liam. Leila. Lani. Lisa.

Medusa. Medusa. Medusa.

Oh, good, I'm frozen.

Too good to be true – we sold out the whole show. So much for our opening.

Oh, I'm ready for bed.

You're never ready for bed. We're only getting started.

Wait – did I show you the final cover for The End of San Francisco? Yes yes – here it is (coming at the beginning of April)…

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wait, maybe this is time for your friendly reminder that most of the writing I'm doing right now on this blog is for the new novel I'm working on, Sketchtasy, which takes place in Boston in 1995-96...

Whatever you do

When JoAnne was staying with her mother in Issaquah, her mother insisted that she go to AA meetings. Every day. It was pretty dramatic, because all the guys there, and they were all guys, for some reason, all the guys were her father's age, and, not only that, but some of them actually knew her father. And they would ask: How’s Bud? How's Bud?

            And they would even tell stupid anecdotes about when her father was drunk and she was only this tall, or whatever, until one day JoAnne said listen, every time I think about my father I think about heroin. So that shut them up.

            JoAnne says that was one of the worst parts of living in Issaquah, not as bad as her football-player brother beating her up and calling her a fat dyke, even though she weighed like a hundred pounds, calling her a fat dyke and throwing her down on the bed and punching her, just because that's what he thought was fun. But JoAnne says the worst part was the drive with her mother over to those AA meetings and it was so embarrassing, she couldn't believe she'd put herself in a position to be stuck in a room with all these asshole talking about God and how they were going to turn their lives around.

            JoAnne isn't an atheist like me, I mean she doesn't think religion is the stupidest thing in the world, just most religion. So these guys at the meeting would say God or a higher power or whatever, and JoAnne would think Goddess and her own power. She says: I know that's not enough, that there is so much more filtering and figuring out that I need to do, but I got used to the meetings, at least they got me out of the house, they became familiar, something to do, a ritual.

One of the first things JoAnne did after she moved in with me was to go to an AA meeting in East Boston. She said it was kind of like the meetings in Issaquah except everyone was poorer and not everyone was white but then as soon as the meeting ended, all these guys wanted to walk her home and that creeped her out so she decided to find the lesbian meeting, even though beforehand she said she didn't want to see any lesbians for a long time, lesbians just made her want to shoot up.

            But then she found that lesbian meeting in JP, and I guess she started to like it because now she goes the few days a week, especially when I head over to Ned’s. She says it makes her feel more confident that she's not going to do anything stupid just because she's lonely. So whenever I spend the night at Ned’s, she even stays the night over her sponsor’s house. Her sponsor is this older dyke who wears overalls and smokes cigars and live in a big old house she renovated herself, sounds kind of like her daddy in San Francisco, the one she used to shoot all the drugs with, but when I asked about that she said oh, no – Tina is nothing like Brenda — and she started laughing hysterically.

And then a week later, she came home and said guess what, I slept with Tina.

You slept with your sponsor?

Yes, Mattilda, she said, and started laughing again.

But isn't that against the whole program?

Mattilda, JoAnne said, I go to AA, and I drink almost every day. I'm lying about everything. What's the difference?

Well, I didn't know what to say to that — I've only been to an AA meeting once, and that was just so I could forge someone’s signature to get general assistance and food stamps. But, I thought the point was that you aren't supposed to replicate the same dynamics of your alcoholism, right? Although JoAnne isn’t even an alcoholic, somehow she finds it comforting listening to people talk about how alcohol destroyed their lives, made them lose everything, brought them to the brink of death, somehow listening to all of this makes her proud that she's not shooting dope, that the cocktails she drinks with me are part of the healing process and she is almost at the four-month point, so that's pretty incredible. I guess like they say in AA: whatever you do to stay sober, right?


Friday, February 15, 2013

The rest

And then in the same city but a different world there's Ned, who didn't come out until he was 50, I mean he was married with kids and everything. He says he's 53 now, so even though he’s more than double my age I have way more experience as a fag. I think that's one of the things that makes him listen really carefully: he knows he's clueless. At first I just talk about bullshit anyway, like the college I don't really go to, the sugar daddy I never really had, and maybe a bit here and there about Boston and my life but then he just keeps asking questions, so eventually I start talking about things that actually mean something to me, and since he actually listens I keep talking. I can't tell if it's a good idea yet, but I figure it's worth a try.

I tell him about JoAnne and heroin and our life together and he doesn’t act surprised, so then I even talk about how sometimes I miss drugs but I don't want to say anything to JoAnne because I don't want to fuck everything up.

Ned says he’s never been around drugs, he hasn't even smoked pot. He certainly knows how to drink, but I don't think he sees that as an addiction. It's just a habit — you get home, and pour a cocktail. I'm always ready for a cocktail, especially here at Ned’s place on the white sofas studying the lighting, how it can be so soft but not dreary.

When I first started coming here, I only glanced at the art because it just looked like pompous old European garbage — you know, nudes and crosses and God, but then I realized that everything gets flipped in these paintings, like in the one that looks like Adam and Eve from the distance, but then you get closer and they both have two heads, Picasso-style, one male and one female, and then coming out of their mouths are snakes instead of tongues, intertwining in the middle. JoAnne would like these snakes, maybe I’ll show her sometime.

And it turns out that that Adam-Eve and Eve-Adam are standing in supermarket bins of apples and oranges and pomegranates and pears, labels from all different countries. The piece is called "Bruised." Ned says it was the first one he bought, and then after that he started going to all the artist’s shows in New York.

Somehow I can't picture this pasty old guy with a ratty grey wig at some fancy New York opening, but he sounds so excited about it that I tell him sure, I'll go to the next one, whenever that is. Apparently this artist only has a show every few years, so I have plenty of time to change my mind.

And then upstairs, remember the first I just assumed all those photos of naked men on the walls were tacky gay garbage, and yes, some of them are definitely cheesy, but one day I find myself looking at this one of two naked dancers or gymnasts and the way their shadow plays out behind them on the wall and I realize I’m impressed by the lighting, by the way the photographer manages to capture the in-between expressions you're not supposed to see.

Then there's the one of some nude guy bending down to grab onto his ankles, his ass and legs forming a giant upside-down V against the sky. Yes, he's outside, and there's something amazing about all the variations in tone you can get with black-and-white film. Like the way the clouds are not exactly the same color as his inner thighs that somehow shine in the light, and the part that’s shining isn't exactly the same color as the bright white underneath this guy's head, and even that white isn't the same in the center as it is on the edges.

And the hairs on this guy’s legs, the way sometimes you see them, and sometimes you don't. And, how is it that his ass juts out, I mean that he bends that far over but we don't see any of the details of his face? We can see his balls hanging down like plums, I guess they've been shaved. And, what is that bone at the base of his back — I never noticed the way that one sticks out, I guess I've never stared at a guy in this position for so long. I can't decide if it's hot, the way the composition is so formal that it almost becomes abstract. This is the photo that's in my field of vision while I'm fucking Ned, this one or the one on the wall to my right of some guy bent over on his hands and knees, pulling his stomach in and that one’s hotter, more details of the hairs on legs and maybe the sneakers he's wearing add a kind of excitement. In the photo studio with blank walls. Are these photos old, or new?

And sure, the tennis shoes photo isn't as spectacular as the one with the sky all around us, ass in sky and that’s the one I end up staring at mostly anyway, since it's right in front of me. I start thinking about grabbing onto that guy’s back, kissing his neck, holding him and not Ned with the flab and liquor breath.

Every time we get ready for the bedroom I start to think how on earth am I going to get hard? Because all he wants to do is lie down while I fuck him. He's not even good at sucking cock. He doesn't know how to have sex at all. I have to coach him to do exactly what will keep me hard – yes, put your hand under my balls, even if I'm fucking your ass from behind. No, put your other hand on my thigh, keep it there, yes, right there.

Usually once I’m actually fucking Ned it's okay, I can just keep pumping away and grunting and moaning and rubbing his back and looking at the photos on the walls and the shadows the crystals in the ceiling lights cast over the walls, the way this room kind of glitters until I pretend to come in the condom and then pull out and lie down on top of him for a few minutes. He doesn't even care about coming. I wish he didn't care about the rest.

Oh, my, look – you can read the longest, most rambling chapter of my forthcoming book, The End of San Francisco, in the journal Eleven Eleven...

What do you mean, I said. Andy said Mattilda, Kathleen Hanna came to your reading. That wasn’t Kathleen Hanna, I said—her name was Kathy. Andy said Mattilda, that was Kathleen Hanna, and I figured he must be right because Kathleen Hanna changed his life, changed a lot of people’s lives actually, but by the time I found out about her music and all the other Riot Grrrl bands, that wasn’t the kind of music I liked anymore. Punk was something I was trying to be in high school, I went to Fugazi shows and swayed in the back corner, as far away from the slamming as possible. I had pretty much every album by The Clash, and even wrote a story named after their song “Stay Free” that described the kind of friendships I fantasized about, “We met / when we were at school / never took no shit from no one.” But I was too much of a faggot to be accepted as punk, this was DC at the end of the ‘80s and I wasn’t out I mean I didn’t know anyone who was but everyone knew about me.

When I discovered dance music, it was such a relief—I didn’t have to feel like an alien just because I wanted to look styley and twirl around instead of slamming into people. Sometimes I slammed into someone, but it was an accident. And then when I got to San Francisco in 1992, I was suddenly surrounded by music that called itself punk again, punk music and slam-dancing, except now it was queers who were slamming, queers who sneered at any mention of house, techno—so repetitive, they would say, but really they were saying only fags listen to that, the wrong kind of fags. So I danced to house but lived in a different world, a world of dykes and a few fags who held each other and talked about rape and feminism and thrift stores and veganism and surviving childhood abuse. We made ‘zines and chapbooks and dyed our hair and painted our nails and wrote manifestos and stuck nails through our ears and organized protests and competed with one another for shoplifting excess, shared recipes and tips on sexual health and got angry and crazy and depressed together, but we were in San Francisco so we looked down on Riot Grrrl and everything else we associated with Olympia, and even Kathleen Hanna—we thought we were tougher and smarter and more original.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


One night Sean wants to get ready at our house. It's her first night out in full drag, she wants to borrow one of Abby’s wigs. I guess someone might as well use them. JoAnne and I serve cocktails and stirfry with peanut sauce, cashews, dill and liquid amino acids. That's JoAnne’s special. Sean arrives with Avery, who won't even look at me so I say to JoAnne: Avery thinks I'm going to give him AIDS.

And JoAnne thinks that's the funniest thing on earth. Do you want some AIDS in your cocktail, she asks. Vodka, cranberry juice and AIDS.

Avery doesn't know what to do, says he'll be back to pick Sean up.

Bye, honey — enjoy your AIDS.

Sean is so coked out she hardly even notices what's going on. Sean, I keep saying, do you want something more to eat? And she says Mattilda, do you want a bump? And: When are you going to stop with the straight-edge thing? JoAnne and I love that one — straight-edge, my ass — honey give me that cocktail back, okay?

When she's done with her makeup, Sean comes out with some blonde wig I've never even seen before, all curled like it's fresh from the store, and I say honey, at least you look gorgeous, and she holds out her hand and says Anita.

Pleased to meet you, Anita.

Anita Bump.

Oh, honey —of course.

Once Anita leaves, JoAnne wants to make sure I'm doing okay with all the coke around, and I say I'm fine, maybe a little wired, so we go on a walk through the dark streets of East Boston, around the perimeter of the airport, but this isn't so glamorous — maybe next time we should walk in a different direction.

            JoAnne loves my list project — she keep saying it's so inspiring, Mattilda, you're so inspiring. At first I think she's joking, but then one day she takes the cardboard from one of my underwear packages, and paints it gold. Then she sticks her fingers on the sides, fingerprints forming a frame. After it's dry, she takes a smaller piece of cardboard or paperboard or whatever, and glues that piece to the center of the other one, starts drawing with my oil pastels and markers, two figures, one with purple hair and the other pink, facing in opposite directions in the corners like on a playing card. It's the two of us. I'm the one in pink, and she cuts out the word TREASURE from the newspaper to go over my lips, TRUTH to go over hers and then all these swirling designs, the word "framework" from one of my lists, I'm not sure what I was saying exactly but I can recognize my own handwriting. And then, at the bottom corner, in small letters, also cut out from the newspaper: smokescreen?

When JoAnne smokes, she goes outside, which I think is funny because I don't really care about smoke, even though I guess it's been six months since I quit I still get angry when we go to a café and there isn't a smoking section: what's the point of a café without smoking? But JoAnne says listen, I'm not going to give you cancer, not after you quit, so she goes out on the balcony that we have on one side of the kitchen. And I actually forgot all about that balcony. When JoAnne first goes out there there's a big pile of sawdust that she ends up sweeping down to the street in a big cloud, and then eventually we pick up one of those big garbage can ashtrays from outside some business that used to exist, or maybe it exists sometimes like a lot of the businesses in this neighborhood. One day, all of the sudden — a restaurant. And then next day: gone. Speculation says it's all a mafia front, but maybe I spent too much time in Providence, where the most popular joke was about someone who came home and all their belongings were gone, they'd been robbed. So they called the cops. The cops said we don't know what to do. And so they called the mafia. The mafia said sorry, there's been a mistake, we'll be right over.

Actually, it wasn't a joke, the way people told it, but eventually you realized there couldn't be that many people with a friend who had their furniture accidentally stolen by the mafia, right?

But I was telling you about our art — yes, JoAnne and I are on a roll. I find one of those big gaudy jewelry boxes with a ballerina on top and a big mirror inside, a gorgeous soft red velvet interior. Slowly, I'm spelling out the word HELP on the mirror with contact lenses, I've been saving them for a while but I still don't have enough so I'm trying to think about whether I should ask other people for theirs, or whether it's important to only use mine.

Then I do the same thing with used razor blades, on a simple wall mirror. I have plenty of used razor blades. And my main project is called "What to Do When You've Just Been Raped." I'm going to take playing cards, and glue them to the top of a card table and a set of chairs. Each card will say something like "Fix your hair” or "Brush your teeth" or "Clean the house" or “Go to a movie.” Or, of course, you can sit down and play cards.

And then I want to do another piece that's just a big square of white carpet, with a sign like you would have for a wet floor except it will say "DON'T GET BLOOD ON THE CARPET." Once I find the right table and chairs and carpet, maybe I'll put it all in one corner of our living room and it'll be an installation. JoAnne's already started a series of faces that she tapes to the wall. They’re all different versions of Medusa, staring at you from the purple walls right when you turn the corner into our living room: freeze, bitch, freeze.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Keep walking

This is our life, our life together. Visiting all the nail salons in East Boston to find the brightest greens and yellows, purples and blues and fuchsia, magenta, orange. We even start going to this one restaurant without a name really, I mean it used to be called Luigi's when it was Italian so  that's what it still says out front on the sign with the Italian flag. But JoAnne went out one day to find beans and rice without lard and Luigi's was a place she found. So we drink margaritas at big red booths that remind me of La Rondalla where we used to drink margaritas in San Francisco but I don't say that because we try not to talk about San Francisco. Instead I say it reminds me of the place where I went with Erik and Kayti for margaritas in high school, we would drink pitcher after pitcher and not eat anything except an occasional salad. At Luigi’s or whatever it's called, we eat beans and rice and drink margaritas and laugh so hard at the world and everyone stares. Sometimes when everyone's drunk the men ask if JoAnne wants to dance, but she always turns them down, and then they point to me and we all laugh again, maybe not together exactly but not quite apart.

            The kids in the neighborhood aren’t outside as often now that school’s back in session, but on weekends it's just like old times except now JoAnne has replaced Abby and the kids are confused. Where’s your friend, they keep asking, and I ignore them. Finally I say: This is my friend. Then they look more confused.

The kids don't carry sticks anymore, but they still stare and point and comment on our changing hairstyles and we laugh some more. We even laugh when people think we’re a couple: how could the world be so stupid?

            It's fall now, and we go to the park on the piers with extra layers for the wind, staring at all the colors in the water. It's kind of like we’re on vacation except this is our life, our life together. Sometimes we drink too much, and then we start talking about San Francisco: JoAnne says she can never go back because otherwise it would all be over, this would all be over, so I'm starting to think that I can never go back either.

            We go to Bread & Circus and create the most elaborate meals from the salad bar, filled with the most expensive things like artichokes and smoked tofu and grape leaves and quinoa and then we walk right past the registers and sit down in front and eat everything. Afterwards we buy broccoli and tofu and pasta, scallions and carrots and tomatoes sauce, rolled oats and brown rice and fresh dill, basil and mushrooms and sweet potatoes, and then we stuff all the expensive things into our bags.

            We dream a lot. I dream about my parents and dark rooms. I dream about hanging from the ceiling without legs, without a head, what is left in the middle? I dream about the ocean pulling me out. I dream about shit smothering my breathing passages, my father's hands, flying off a cliff in a car I don't know how to drive. JoAnne dreams about her father smoking in the bedroom, and everything burning down. JoAnne dreams about someone else's heartbeat. She dreams about getting stuck in the refrigerator, pounding on the door but no one can hear.

But when we wake up, we paint our nails and soak our hands in ice water, create elaborate new hair dye possibilities, go to Bertucci's and ponder the rolls made out of pizza dough. We chop vegetables and make carrot juice with ginger and put lemon juice on our faces for acne. Oh, how it burns.

We talk about drugs, and whether they’re really in the past. Whether they ever really will be. We talk about how funny it is that we live in Boston, such a horrible place but we’re kind of starting to love it. Or, I'm starting to love it. JoAnne started right away, right when we got to our house and she said this is what I always thought San Francisco would be like.

What do you mean?

A house with you, us against the world.

Yes, it's us against the world, so when things aren't working, we come up with elaborate rituals. JoAnne's rituals, until I realize we can let go of cheesy spiritual bullshit and do whatever we want, right? Yes, JoAnne, let's smash all the CDs and tapes that make you think of heroin — goodbye Hole and Belly and PJ Harvey.

But have you ever tried to smash a CD? Damn it's hard.

And, what to do with the remnants, finally, remnants? Should we make a path from the T station to here, like Cinderella except these breadcrumbs will last? Although, maybe they won't last too long. How about a glass bowl on the table in the living room? Let's sit down and chew on the plastic and talk about digestion — no, that tastes horrible. Should we go to the beach and sprinkle it all in the sand? No, bury it, but where?

So we go on a walk until we find enough dirt, just outside the airport fence. Except we forgot to bring a shovel. So we come back, but this shovel isn’t strong enough. Let's throw it all onto the runways. Yes, yes — the runways. JoAnne quotes Belly: “Poor thing, poor thing, do you have a sister?” And Hole: “Someday you will ache like I ache." And PJ Harvey: “Lick my legs, I'm on fire. Lick my legs of desire.”

I always thought it was lick my legs, I'm desire — but, I'm no PJ Harvey expert. I was always trying not to pay attention.

This ritual needs some runway. So then I say okay, now we need to walk like there's no tomorrow, I mean we need to walk until tomorrow, I mean we need to walk until we can't walk anymore and then we need to keep walking until it's all over.

So then we walk.

And it is over.

At least for a few minutes.

Friday, February 08, 2013

What matters

I almost couldn't believe it when JoAnne told me she was really going to move here, that her mother thought it was a good idea, that she would pay for the ticket but nothing else. She didn't want to give JoAnne any money, since the last time she gave her a thousand dollars and JoAnne spent it all on heroin. JoAnne actually agreed with her mother, she said I shouldn't give her any money either, that she couldn't be trusted.

            So I said I would pay for everything for two months, since I knew JoAnne would need some time before looking for a job. I think she just thought I was offering to pay rent and then she would have to figure the rest out, but we already know that didn't work the first two times. Sure, that was in San Francisco, but still.

When I first made the offer JoAnne actually said no, she didn't want to be dependent on me. What if she failed, would I think she was a horrible person? She didn't want to endanger our relationship.

And I said I'm sure I would be angry, but I wouldn't think you were a horrible person. I know all about addiction, right? You're the one who keeps telling me that.

So then she thought about it and eventually said okay, as long as I can pay back.

And I said no, I don't want you to pay me back, and she asked why. And I said we both know how horrible it is to find a job, and I don't want you to be in more stress because more stress will just mean more heroin.

And she started crying and I wasn't sure why exactly, and then she said okay.

Thinking about all of this is making me edgy. No, thinking about it is making me excited, but then waiting is making me edgy– should I take a Xanax or a Valium? Luckily Ned has so many pills it's a joke. Everything. And that first night he said take what you want, take anything, and then my eyes rolled back.

The best part is that Ned goes to bed around 10 or 11, and I’m rarely ready before 3 or 4, so really I only have two or three hours of lying in bed with him when I stay over, two or three hours before he gets up to get ready for work and then I can really sleep. 

            Wait, I can't believe it, the plane’s here. I almost don't notice, but then I realize I’m looking at new people, not the same ones who have been sitting here the whole time, and some of them actually look like humans. Like that skinny punked-out woman with bleached hair and junky makeup, she even smiles at me in kind of a shy-but-not-so-shy way. Do I know her from somewhere? Mattilda, don't be ridiculous. Where's JoAnne?

I wait till the very end, but still I don't see her. Could she be on a different plane? Just when I think I better call her mother, I realize that woman with bleached hair is still staring at me, she has nails in her ears like JoAnne, and then I realize wait, I'm an idiot, that's JoAnne!

            And she says: I didn't think you were going to recognize me.

And then we're hugging and she feels so small. You look great, she says — your hair is amazing. I start to say you look great too, but she says don't even try it, I know I look like a junky mess. I've lost like a hundred pounds.

I can't believe you're here, I say, and then we both start crying and we're hugging each other and she says: I would say let's get a cocktail, but I already know we have rules.

And I say yes, rules.

And we look at each other and it's all so hard to believe.

            And she says: You live near here, right?

I say yeah, in the airport. I live right here.  

And JoAnne says: It looks like a nice neighborhood.

And I say: Don't even try to pretend that I didn't warn you. Let's get a taxi.

            When we walk into the apartment, JoAnne starts jumping up and down and giggling, laughing at my lists on the wall and saying it's beautiful, Mattilda, it's beautiful. You're beautiful. Then she puts her bags down in her room, and comes back out with some sage: Do you have somewhere where I can burn this?

You are not burning sage in this apartment.

Mattilda, I have to burn sage — I need to clear the energy.

Let's open up the windows then. That New Age garbage needs to stay on the West Coast.

Mattilda, it's not New Age — it’s a Native ritual

And you’re Native now?

I can't believe we're arguing already.

We are not arguing. You can burn sage in your room, but not in the rest of the apartment.

Mattilda, we are arguing, but I love it. We’re arguing about what matters.


Tuesday, February 05, 2013


So here I am at the airport, waiting. I can't believe there's another hour, now that the flight has been delayed. What am I going to do for another hour? I kind of want a cocktail, but I haven't had anything to drink in two weeks, I mean anything to drink except with Ned. There's no way I could get hard to fuck him without a few cocktails. I mean JoAnne didn't say anything about not drinking, she actually said she thought drinking and pot would be okay, and I said are you sure? And she said yes, I've never been drunk when I shot dope, what would be the point? And I said but pot, what about pot? And she said oh, you're right.

            So I guess our agreement is that neither of us is going to do any drugs, but we can drink: we’ll get cocktails together but not on our own. And I said wait, how about if we only drink when we’re having a meal, so that it’s part of a ritual that doesn't involve drugs? Maybe that was more for me than her, since I'm the one who always wants drugs when I get cocktails. But the word ritual, that was for her, she’s the one who likes rituals.

            I can't wait until JoAnne sees the new living room. I painted the whole room purple, just for her. With magenta trim. And then I painted the windowsill in Abby's room purple also, Abby's room which will now be JoAnne's, unless Abby comes back and then JoAnne will move into the third bedroom. And I painted my windowsill purple too, and I painted one of the walls in the third bedroom magenta. I was going to paint the whole room, but honey, painting takes forever, and I got tired. Maybe it looks better with just one wall anyway.

            But then I needed to find some furniture for the living room. One day I noticed signs for a yard sale a few doors down. There wasn't anything in the yard, but the front door was open so I went in and there was a really old lady who said: I like your hat, ma'am.

I guess she meant my hair, so I said thank you.

Feathers, she said, I like the old-fashioned kind. And I smiled.

Looking around I noticed the most hideous gold sofa set, Louis the 14th style, no maybe not Louis the 14th, but some king who made a sofa set so hideous that it was gorgeous. Maybe it's more 1970s then 19th century, now that I think about it, with the brocade swirly paisley tie pattern. But anyway I asked if the sofas were for sale. And this old woman said yes, everything in this room, my granddaughter is redecorating. And I asked her how much. A hundred dollars, she said, and I had $100 of hooker money in my pocket so I took it out right then and counted it for her. And she yelled Vito, Vito, can you help this nice young lady?

            And Vito came down, and looked at me like where is the nice young lady, but he didn't say that, he just said do you live nearby? And I said yeah, just down the street, 146 Webster. And the old lady said the sofa set, with the table.

I didn't realize I was buying the table, some atrocious mirrored thing, a big block of solid glass right out of some ‘80s coke party, but Vito said no problem, I'll bring it right over, and I went back home and waited. And he did come right over, with another middle-aged Italian guy, maybe his brother, and they said this is kind of a funny color in here, did your wife choose it? And I just smiled as they put the sofas and table in my new living room, and I couldn't really believe how over-the-top it looked. I was a queen before, but look at me now.

I called JoAnne right away and she said you know, you don't have to do any of this, you don't have to do any of this for me. And I said I know, but I'm doing it anyway. And she started laughing. I hadn’t heard her laugh like that in a while.

Then I started to get manic, or maybe I was already manic but anyway I realized there was nothing on the walls, so I took all of my lists that I've been saving, saving for something but I didn't know what, and I taped them all together, maybe 6 feet across and 5 feet tall, tricks’ names and numbers and grocery lists and INCEST and who knows what else, all of that, my life for the last few months, and then I taped it to the wall but something was missing, a frame, where should I get a frame? Then I remembered that Goodwill in Cambridge has great frames so I went over and got this huge gold thing.

But actually the lists were bigger than the frame so I hung it off-center like a frame without a frame no I mean art without borders, right, a new campaign slogan for the end of 1995. And it's funny how now there's all this gold in here because I hate gold. But it looks hilarious. Especially now that I keep adding lists so the art is growing underneath the frame and I can't believe I waited this long, waited this long to decorate the living room, what’s next?

Oh, don't forget the rubber tree — I got a rubber tree that someone left on the street, a really big one that was half-dead, but then I took off all the brown leaves and at first it looked kind of strange because there were leaves on one side but not the other, I mean it still looks strange but not any stranger than anything else in the room, and we do need a plant, right? I guess the landlord said we could only paint neutral colors. Oh, well — purple is pretty neutral to me. We can always paint it over later.


Monday, February 04, 2013


I can't believe I get to the airport early, but then of course JoAnne's flight has been delayed so I'm pacing back and forth and it's definitely not as glamorous to be at the airport without a little bit of K or coke or some other delicious nose candy, right? I keep going to the bathroom anyway, but it’s to check my hair, even though there’s so much spray in it that it doesn't move, what am I thinking? That JoAnne’s going to get off the plane, and say honey, your hair’s a mess, I'm going back to my mother's house in Issaquah?

            What is wrong with the airport? It's like all the worst people from around the world. Ned pages me. He asks if I want to get together tonight, and I say not tonight, because JoAnne is arriving and he says oh, I'm sorry, I forgot that was tonight, I'm very excited for you. And when I get off the phone I kind of feel calmer, which is ridiculous. At least I've been very clear with him. Starting right when he first said he really liked me. And he said he wanted us to spend more time together, but he didn't want the pressure of paying me by the hour, he couldn't afford that, and yes I wanted to laugh and say girl, that chandelier in your entryway probably cost more than my entire life.

But instead I looked him right in the eyes and I said I like you too — and it's true, I do like him, I mean he's amusing enough, it's interesting to hear about his life, he actually listens. I definitely don't like having sex with him, that's for sure, but of course I didn't say that. I just said: I want to make it clear that I wouldn't be spending time with you except for the financial dimension.

And he said he understood. But he wanted to know about the possibility of an arrangement that would allow me to stay over a few times a week, something more informal that offered flexibility for both of us.

            Right then I knew that I was playing a high-stakes game. I mean ever since I called him after seeing him that first time, called him back and said that was really fun, do you want to get together again, ever since I did that I knew I was breaking all my rules because I never call tricks, or almost never, because they're supposed to call me, right? I'm the hooker. But now there's the issue of supporting JoAnne for a few months. So when Ned asked if we could arrange something, of course I tried to act casual, but my brain was racing to figure out the right thing to say.

So I said: I used to have a client who paid me monthly.

            And then I started working out all the details in my head, about how that was when I was really young, I didn't know exactly what I was doing and so we didn't have enough boundaries, we both ended up getting hurt. I even started thinking about the house we used to live in together, in Georgetown, a big brick townhouse not that different from this one, with a beautiful little garden in the back, but more crowded inside because he and his wife hadn’t renovated, yes his wife but they were divorced, no, separated, and how I enjoyed living with him but the whole situation was precarious because I was underage and my parents didn't want me there.

No, underage is taking it too far, maybe this happened when I first got to Boston, that's who was paying my tuition at BU when I first started going there, it was his idea, and then he’s the one who figured out how to get me a scholarship.

No, I hate school — I can't say that.

            Anyway, I didn't have to say any of this, because Ned already looked like he was ready to sign on the dotted line. This whole posture had changed, more and less comfortable at the same time, like we were in a business meeting. He said: I wouldn't want you to see anyone else.

And I said oh, well, that wasn't part of my previous arrangement, I mean I'm not interested in monogamy.

And he said no, it's okay for you to see guys your own age, I understand the need for that, but I wouldn’t want you to be escorting.

Oh, I said, cautiously — well, you do understand that this is how I make a living. I would need to be sure that all of my expenses would be taken care of. And he said of course, he understood that. And I said well, $3000 a month should cover my basic needs.

            That's the place. That's the place where I got a little high, I could feel my eyes rolling back just a little. And he said: I don't think I could afford that. And I felt my stomach pull in.

            There's this thing about talking to rich people, right? You have to act like the most ridiculous things they say about money are actually true, like you're taking their needs into account, so I tried to look thoughtful while sipping on the remnants of my drink and when he noticed it was gone he went into the kitchen to get me another. He's never stingy about alcohol. And when he came back he said: How about $2000, that's what I can afford.

That's when I knew it was a deal. Rich people like to bargain. It means you don't think they're rich.

            And I said I think I could do it for $2500.

And he paused for a moment, and then smiled and said it's a deal. Then he raised his glass in a toast and said should we start today? And I said sure. And he said let me write you a check, is Tyler your real name?

            And I knew he was testing me, because if we were going to have this agreement he wanted to know my legal name. In case anything happened.

But I'm not worried about my name.

He said is it okay if I call you Matt?

And I said sure, like we had established a new element of intimacy. Even though Matt is no more intimate than Tyler for me, I mean I actually chose Tyler, right?

So then I added: I do prefer Tyler.

            So Ned still calls me Tyler. Most of the time.

            And then when he went upstairs for his checkbook, I got up for the first time to look more closely at one of the paintings. From the distance it looks like some kind of Renaissance nude, rising out of flowers but then when you get up close you realize that even though the woman looks like she's laughing you can see all the bones in her body and her skin is gray. It's not flowers she's rising from, but melting ice cream. I looked at her expression again: pleasure, or pain?

And just when I was thinking I’ll have to study the art more closely, Ned came down and says that one's really special, isn't it? She's one of my favorite artists.

And that's when I thought maybe this will be fun, getting to know this rich old man like we're friends. He was handing me the check, I said thank you and we kissed, I wondered if I ever wouldn't be disgusted by his breath. Maybe I'll just start pretending that I have an Altoids habit, do you want one? Or no, not Altoids, something without gelatin.

And then we sat back on the sofa arm in arm, not like we were a couple, but like we were a couple, and I was trying to figure out how to say that I didn't actually have a checking account.