Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

The best part was that I could walk out into the vanity area

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | January 06, 2008 10:32 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay youth, homophobic behavior, incest, kids, larry clark, lgbt youth, misogyny, nc-17, people are still having sex, psychiatry, queer youth, raves, scandinavian design, underage drinking, Washington D.C.

Remember that movie Kids? There are a lot of things wrong with it, and everything by Larry Clark, starting with the way there's no possibility for kids to actually learn anything, ever, they just play out their mistakes for all the adults watching the NC-17 screen. But what I thought when I saw the movie back in 1995, aside from the way it made me hopeless and yearning to take a train somewhere, anywhere, was that I'd never seen the horrifying brutality of boys on the edge of teenagerhood portrayed so well on screen, unflinching. Boys with privilege trying to exist in somebody's margins not their own, and especially the way they prove themselves with a neverending stream of homophobia and misogyny and living to inflict. I knew those boys, starting with the playground at age 4 when they started calling me sissy I never again had a place, a place I'd never had.

Later I looked at boys and wondered what they were doing -- I couldn't relate. It was safer with adults, I believed in their logic, except when their logic excluded me. Which always ended up happening. Girls were the safest, they tried to look out for me we tried to look out for each other and for the stickers we traded at recess. I looked at other kids to learn how to laugh, oh this is how your face is supposed to look. By junior high I'd perfected it, I couldn't understand how anyone could do drugs I don't need drugs because I'm happy. Move cheekbones up and out, retreat to the bathroom when no one is looking, relax.

It's funny the bars you go to when you're 16 and you think you're 21...

Looking back I see pictures and it's hilarious, but I think what helped is that we really believed it. But what an odd assortment the bars that would serve us, I guess we were an odd assortment too -- Erik and me and six or seven Holton Arms students, that was the girls’ school in Potomac actually, but these were the girls who knew which bars to go to, they never asked us if we were faggots. We went to Tucson, where we ordered pitchers of beer with the dartboard and a bunch of frat types. The Vault was my favorite, because it was a club and we could dance way into the afterhours, smoke bowl after bowl of pot and steal other people’s cocktails -- sometimes it was hard to get in, so Heather would flirt with the doorpeople and Pouneh would speak Farsi to them, that usually did the trick but sometimes we had elaborate strategies that involved pretending we were photographers for Vogue and we were on the guest list, right? I can't remember if we ever tried those tactics. I just remember the first time we went to the FAZE warehouse party, this was before raves and I was living for Everybody Dance Now, then they put on People Are Still Having Sex -- Lust Keeps on Lurking. People Are Still Having Sex -- This AIDS Thing’s Not Working -- I was up on one of the boxes in the middle with my black long-sleeved t-shirt that had white stripes on one side and fluorescent green on the other, then a short sleeved black t-shirt that said BLACK in huge puffy letters but they were black too so you had to get close to see it, then in tiny white letters it said shirt. I still wonder if it really was the big woman with bleached hair and a smiley face lunchbox who was the drug dealer, doesn't that seem too obvious?

The weirdest place was the Zoo Bar, right across from the zoo we'd sit outside with red-and-white checkered plastic tablecloths and order pitchers, this was to start the night. With Erik, me and Kayti, Las Rocas became our favorite – pitcher after pitcher of margaritas so much better than beer, who really liked beer anyway it took so long to get drunk. We’d argue about everything just to argue, but we all agreed that we were doomed and then we’d get overwhelmed and say why do we drink, it just makes us sad, catch a cab outside for my father's office and you remember -- Jane Says, I'm Done with Sergio, He Treats Me like a Rag Do-Oll...

But let me tell you about my father's office, I was just there so I can describe it exactly. I mean I feel like I was just there, just there compared to Las Rocas which isn't around anymore, I guess neither is my father's office but it was there just over a year ago when I went to see him before he died. He wasn't in his office, first he was in the hospital and then he was in the hospital bed in his house that once I called mine, my house, home.

His office: you walk in and there’s a hallway leading to two red chairs with chrome legs, ‘60s like you're waiting in an airport lounge except the carpet is firmer and less absorbent, to the right a red plastic magazine cart on wheels, the magazines are Time and New York Magazine instead of the standard therapist’s New Yorker, my father thought the New Yorker was too pretentious, that's one thing we could agree on. Behind the waiting room chairs, one of my grandmother's collages from the ‘60s, something kind of Cubist, and then to the left an elaborate and colorful drawing she got from a market in Mexico, to the right a collage with her signature gold cut-out windows over layered paper shapes.

Of course the therapist's double doors so no one in the waiting room can hear, you enter and on the right is the teak desk, situated diagonally from the wall so that my father could sit behind it and look out at the whole office, you can do that in a big room. Teak trashcan behind the desk, ‘60s modern floor lamps. The far wall is all windows, in front is the analytic couch with a slight curve at the top so I never slept on it I slept on the floor. Next to the couch, my father's chair, a black leather armchair with a matching foot rest, facing another chair that used to be the same one in cordovan but now it's been replaced with something ergonomic and navy. Two small, round teak endtables with orange surfaces and a square box of tissues on each. Everything is Scandinavian modern, therapists love Scandinavian modern but the difference here is definitely the large oil painting by my grandmother on each wall, gorgeous paintings with a lot of brushstrokes and color -- she obviously chose them for the room, because they look like they’re in conversation. In the back left corner is a small kitchen, Mounds and Almond Joy and Diet Coke in the refrigerator, a file cabinet in the back corner.

I almost forgot the bathroom, just across from the closet in the front, a split bathroom so that there’s a large vanity and another closet in one room with the same office carpet, and then the shower and toilet in another room with grey tile. I used to love taking showers there, the water pressure was super-strong and everything would get all steamy, but the best part was that I could walk out into the vanity area and I never worried that anyone else would be around.

Mattilda blogs at

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