An Oral History of Myself #13: Mato

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In 2005 I began interviewing people I grew up with. Because I left home at thirteen and spent four years in group homes, my social network was significantly wider than most people of that age. What’s most interesting about these interviews turns out not so much to be the things we remember differently as the things we remember the same. Read the rest of the interviews here.

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Mato – Actor

I went to a Catholic school. I was a shy kid and got beat up by girls. I would express myself through drawings; that’s how I made friends. So when I transferred to the public school in fifth grade I had this chip on my shoulder.

You were the biggest kid in class. On the first day of school we were writing notes about all this violent shit we were going to do to each other. Mrs. Scott found the notes and kind of talked it over with us. We ended up becoming really good friends. The other kids knew not to mess with us, because we would fight.

We got into pornography very young. I think we were ten. You showed me a porno of a naked amputee. You were obsessed with black women. I was too. Maybe every white guy is. You said you had this fantasy about black nurses and asked if I ever had fantasies like that. And I said, Now that you’ve put it in my head…

I remember coming to your house to meet your mom. She had an English accent. I met  your dad too. He didn’t say much to me. He had that brown leather jacket and always wore sunglasses, even indoors.

Your dad cheated on your mom and I thought it was weird that you knew that. You would repeat things he said to you, like, Well, a guy’s got to do his thing. You didn’t sound like it bothered you terribly but I think it did. This was right before your mom died.

We ditched school to see a ninja movie. We were the only white kids there. It was downtown and people were smoking weed in the theater. I think it was called American Ninja.

The French teacher lost his voice and was using a microphone and he left the room and we took his microphone we were doing imitations of him for the class. He came back and kicked me out. We were always getting kicked out of class for being disruptive.

Pretty much all of our friends were from broken homes. My home was probably the most stable and we weren’t even allowed to have friends. None of our parents were really involved in our lives. My parents tried but they were both working hard and they had too many boys. I ran away for three days and my parents didn’t even notice. I don’t think any of us were into sports. We were into punk rock.

In eighth grade I was wearing a Mettalica shirt. No one knew who they were. We were the youngest of our group, always hanging out with older kids, like Pat, who were more up on music. We would have roof parties at my house because my mom was working every night. We were drinking, doing acid, smoking pot. It was dangerous actually because the roof was angled. We would shoot off fireworks. We were like wild animals.

You were a mess when your mom passed away. You internalized a lot of it. I remember jumping roofs. We’d jump from roof to roof, tagging stuff late at night. I distinctly remember you were going to kill yourself. That was eighth grade. You came over and you were bleeding and had this fucked-up mohawk. Your dad had handcuffed you to a chair or radiator, I’m not sure, and had tried to shave your head, but you had ducked down or something and made it difficult and your hair was all fucked up.

At the end of eighth grade we moved to Arizona. My mother was very unstable. She’d been hospitalized before for a nervous breakdown. She was incredibly depressed. I got some of that from her. So we moved to Arizona and it actually made a difference for a little while.

There’s that line in There Will Be Blood, “You can run away from your past, but will it let you?” All of a sudden, in Arizona, all the ghosts from our past showed up. First MB. He showed up after we had been there a month. He might have drove. He was the most screwed up person I ever met. His father had left him when he was a baby. His mom was an alcoholic lesbian so he hated lesbians. If we were odd he was the oddest. He would stick his finger down his throat in the middle of a store and throw up just to get a reaction. He arrived with a shitload of acid, maybe forty or sixty hits. He was doing incredible amounts of acid at the time. He had a battery in his ear as an earring. I think it was a 9-volt. He was always talking about revenge.

Toward the end of the summer you and John showed up in a limo. You looked like you were in a band or something. You said the limo was the cheapest way from the airport. My parents weren’t too happy about it. They told you you had to leave. You broke into the house and they kicked you out. I gave you $20. I remember you saying you were going to get to Los Angeles and live on the beach and write poetry. Then you left.

We came to Chicago the next year and stayed with my cousin. By that point you were in group homes. You said, “The shit that goes on in there you wouldn’t believe.”

Next time I saw you was 1994 or 1995. I wasn’t married to my first wife yet. She was just my girlfriend. You were in college, on a scholarship. Then I saw you in 1998 and I was divorced and living with my dad. You knew I wanted to be and actor. You were talking about writing a play about a gay guy and said I’d be perfect for it. My dad wanted to know what the hell you were talking about.

I stayed in Chicago, bought a three-flat with my dad and mother-in-law. We bought another a block away. Now we rent these two properties. We got saved by Obama’s loan modification. That’s helped us move to California where I’m pursuing an acting career.

In acting, you’re kind of at the mercy of what’s thrown your way. You want to do stuff that interests you. I like strange stuff, like weird comedies. My wife works for a mortgage company and I go out on auditions. I was playing a terrorist for a student film. I got a promotion. I went from the guy who was playing a follower to playing the Osama bin Laden type, the guy who’s giving the orders.

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Rumpus original art by Kevin Thomas.

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Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including the memoir The Adderall Diaries and the novel Happy Baby. He is the founder of The Rumpus. His feature film debut, About Cherry, was distributed by IFC. More from this author →