Josh Kilmer-Purcell,
I Am Not Myself These Days:
A Memoir

(Harper Perennial, 2006)

"I'm a drag queen. I'm a celebrity trapped inside a normal person's body."

It's New York City in the mid-1990s, and our author is an advertising agent by day and a wild drag queen with fish-filled breasts at night. He performs nightly as his Aquadisiac alter-ego, staying out until the wee hours of the morning fueled by vodka, and crams in work the next day before starting all over again. Fortunately, no one can smell the vodka coming out of his pores. Much of his time is spent reconstructing the night before, figuring out where he is waking up and trying to remember who he talked to and what he did. His advertising campaigns come in brilliant bursts of last-minute energy.

Then comes Jack, the gay male escort who sweeps Josh's life into a semblance of order. Jack loves Aqua and Josh loves Jack. Midway through the book, the reader will realize that all the over-the-top orgies, Jack's S&M clients, the drug use and the rampant alcohol abuse are just fluff around a true love story. Sure, it's titillating to get a glimpse inside alternate lifestyles, but this is truly the story of two misfits who complete each other. This is a book that will teach you how a drag queen hides his private parts (an entire chapter is devoted to the deconstruction of the male and invention of the female persona), give you every detail about the process of preparing crack in a NYC penthouse kitchen, show you the true friendship that develops between Josh and one of Jack's CEO clients who spends weekends tied up on the penthouse floor, and crush your heart with the agony of loving someone who is addicted to drugs.

Josh, with his 10-plus vodka-a-day habit, seems like the messed up one in the beginning, but it is Jack who succumbs to addiction, leaving Josh to helplessly look on.

So we have sex, drugs and club music, mixed up with a love story that got me in the gut by the end of the book ... what more could you need? Josh tops this all off with a hilarious and over-the-top narrative voice. When depressed, he fantasizes about being in a Lifetime movie, so he drinks vodka in bed and walks around the apartment alone making declarations about a marriage, mortgage or the kids. When he lies for a co-worker, he changes his story half a dozen times to make it more "realistic," nevermind that the facts are completely different. He's not an alcoholic, he's a social catalyst, someone who gets paid to illustrate the chemical process of drinking to other partygoers. When he wakes up to a crack-high Jack standing over him with a knife, Josh complains that he just got the expensive knife for Christmas. Jack changes his mind about the murder-suicide he had planned and Josh goes back to sleep, reminding him to put the knife back in the rack so it doesn't rust.

As over-the-top as this narrative is, it is in no way implausible (I need to make this statement because James Frey wrote a cover blurb). The story of Jack's present to Josh for his first New York Christmas will touch even the most hardened reader. Truly, this book is Josh's tribute to a man he loved for one unforgettable year in New York City. If you enjoy this, try the darker tale of Ron Nyswaner's love for a male escort in the book Blue Days, Black Nights.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
27 May 2006

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