Writers & the City: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and San Francisco

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore‘s forthcoming memoir The End of San Francisco releases in April. Sign up here to be the first to know when it comes out.

from So Many Ways to Sleep Badly


This trick sold his house today; tomorrow he’s moving to South Africa. Tonight he’s smoking crystal. Broke up with his lover of ten years and so they sold everything: San Francisco, Miami, somewhere else. While I fuck him, his legs push against me with so much force that it hurts my back. He’s one of those tricks who thought I was shorter, from the one-column-inch photo in the paper. We’re both allergic to the same lube, plus latex—lucky for him, I’ve got polyurethane condoms and oil. He pays me one-forty-eight plus two dollars in quarters.

Outside, everything’s cardboard, reflecting and absorbing the floating i a.m. light. I feel so calm, must be the crystal in the air— the dangers of secondhand smoke. At home, the oven’s still on, but the roaches don’t look dried out at all. Can I fall asleep without eating first?

Rue wants to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, but when did she get into extreme sports? Zan and I go to American Rag, where they’ve got a ratty peach cardigan with hand-sewn patches made of old sheets—peek-a-boo, I see brown spots! $52.95—what a steal—I mean deal, ’cause if I’m gonna steal it’s not gonna be that.

Zan finds black corduroys to replace her black corduroys. Outside, there’s a truckload of pine trees—what a feast for the senses! Twenty Shopping Days Until Christmas. Miss Thing, Miss Thing, lost her diamond ring—see, diamonds aren’t forever. Rue says it’s not your business what other people say and think of you—how postmodern!

Zero calls from Provincetown, she’s moving to the West Coast in the spring, or is it the fall? She’s deciding between Santa Cruz and San Diego. Are you kidding? Rue says what’s the difference between a Mormon and a punk? Well, punks have better clothes, and the music’s different.

Once, I tried to get into the Mormon Temple. Benefits: healthier, softer skin and hair. On the bus, this guy watches me eating beans from a plastic container—right on, he says. He’s a yum-yum treat, shaved head and cute piercings, do you want to sit down? Damn—he’s getting off at the next stop, five seconds longer and he could have been fucking my face. The girls next to me want to know where the fabric store is, we just passed it but it’s closed.

Actually, the girls have been talking about the fabric store since I got on the bus—do you think it’s open? They seemed excited by the possibility that it might not be open, I wanted to let them ride that possibility. Yum-yum asks them what they’re looking for—but he doesn’t know about that kinda thing. Pop quiz: is he cuter now, or was he cuter before?

Rue says pigeon beans don’t taste like pigeons, and he’s right. Another interview with Hilary Swank, still recovering from playing Brandon Teena: these are my tits, this is my husband, these are my tits, this is my husband. At yoga, I turn the cord of lights across the ceiling into an elongated trapeze, I’m flying ’round and ’round so fast that my body becomes a blurred circle of enlightenment. Afterwards, I’m a little tired. Zan and I go to a butoh performance called “Cockroach,” it’s nice to see that roaches are so artistic.

When I wake up and my stomach feels like it’s in my back, which way does my head face? All this rain, pain, serotonin drain. Imaginary mice crawling across the floor, what happened to the imaginary cats? My ears are so clogged with wax—if Drano doesn’t work, I’m gonna have to call the plumber.

When I come, it shoots from one room to the next, if only some- one were here to watch. Afterwards, I’m so bored. Is it time to go back to bed yet? At yoga, the heat is way too high; I get a rash by the corner of each eye like I’ve been crying. When I turn from my stomach to my back, entire waves of sweat roll off. The instructor is Julie the Cruise Director with a fascistic streak.

I realize it’s Saturday, people go out on Saturdays. I watch them through my windows, it looks like it’s raining out but it’s not. I make toast, this bread’s better than the one I ate before. The trick who left me waiting outside his house calls: sorry about that—do you want to come over? As long as you pay me for last week. All he’s got is a hundred in cash, but he can write a check, his checks are good.

I just love the way a night of sleep makes my whole body hurt— new day, new promise! But wait, Cristian Vogel’s taking me somewhere, I guess the bitch did name the album “All Music Has Come to an End,” so I should have expected something frantic. I put on Bernard Badie’s “Love Explosion” to relax, but what was I thinking—oh how can I even begin to describe this rat-a-tat-of-course-I-look-gorgeous-no-matter-what-I-fucking-do beat? Legend in a box—I could play this song over and over, and just walk around my apartment for the next few years.

Of course I can’t ever seem to get out of the house before 4 p.m., though at least today there’s some sun—I stare at the tops of buildings, hoping sunlight will reflect off them and regulate my pineal gland. I’ve been up for three hours, I need a nap. I go shopping— everything’s ugly. My shoes are too small. I go into the plant store—full-spectrum lights don’t work.

This trick could be fun, except he’s so nervous that I can’t stay hard, and his crotch smells like rotten eggs. I wake up holding my head and thinking let’s engage, let’s engage, let’s engage. When my mother says you need to go to the root of your problems—get me a shovel! Lilie says: I like when you talk about incest because you can laugh about it. I go to the bookstore to look for Disco Kloodbath.

Chrissie says I’ve got these pictures of you in drag taped up on one side of the bathroom mirror, and on the other side are these pictures my mother sent me of the countryside in upstate New York—I look at you and the countryside in the mirror every morning when I’m brushing my teeth, I talk to you both and we collaborate on how we’re gonna take over the world and things.

The skin underneath my fingernails starts itching, are there lice in there? Drugstore Price Wars, I just want the fucking photos they lost. Everything that itches: gums, eyes, thighs, nose, scalp, urethra, toenails turning yellow then black. Eating toast again, something’s burning, that eternal question: cultured pearls or fresh-water pearls? In my dream, Rue’s having a birthday celebration in Torino, but why Torino? Honey, she’s thirty-five, she wants something special. Luckily, it’s only a four-hour drive and the party’s at 8, we don’t have to leave before 4. What’s four hours from Torino? I need a map. Milan? No, that would be awful. Okay, Reno—of course Andee keeps telling me London is the answer—bitch, I’m not moving to London just so it’ll be easier for you to visit me. . . .


“Sycamore kicks mainstream literature in the teeth.”
San Francisco Bay Guardian

This exhilarating novel is about struggling to find hope in the ruins of everyday San Francisco—battling roaches, Bikram Yoga, chronically bad sex, NPR, internet cruising, tweakers, the cops, $100 bills, chronic pain, the gay vote, vegan restaurants, and incest, with the help of air-raid sirens, herbal medicine, late-night epiphanies, sea lions, and sleeping pills. So Many Ways to Sleep Badly unveils a gender-bending queer world where nothing flows smoothly, except for those sudden moments when everything becomes lighter or brighter or easier to imagine.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore‘s forthcoming memoir The End of San Francisco releases in April. Sign up here to be the first to know when it’s out.

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