December 2005

Christine Newgard

nonfiction

I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

I Am Not Myself These Days is Josh Kilmer-Purcell's (perhaps generously labeled) memoir of a year he spent moonlighting as a drag queen in New York City, in love with a crack-addicted hooker. Despite the complications of the boyfriend's drug habits and sadomasochistic prostitution, not to mention Josh's rampant alcoholism and gender-bending alter-ego, theirs is a rather simple love story filled with all the usual insecurities, self-doubt, and delusional effervescence expected of any romantic comedy (except the ending).

And it is most certainly a comedy. Josh, and his drag persona, Aqua, is a charming, if not bitchy, everyqueen whose witty and honest narration produces some riotous commentary on the state of American normalcy as he chronicles his storybook-cum-dysfunctional relationship.

We meet Josh during his drunken victory party after winning the Amateur Drag Queen contest at a nightclub in the East Village (where else?) for the record sixth week in a row, and then abruptly shift to see him trying to sober up the next morning while giving a presentation at his day-job as an advertising lackey. Juggling the two jobs on a constant vodka buzz seems less an obstacle than a challenge to Josh, who obsessively, and somewhat self-destructively, lives at extremes, but still battles his "inner-Midwesterner" inhibitions.

Then he meets Jack. The debonair S&M male escort who performs a reverse Pygmalion by offering Josh free rent in his penthouse and balancing his see-saw lifestyle. Their romance of silly breakfasts and tender love notes is nothing if not heart-warming -- despite the chained-up client who weekends in the corner of the penthouse, renting Jack's abuse, or the orgy parties that overtake the apartment, or the couple's fast-growing crack and alcohol addictions. Ah, love.

But as the relationship sinks further into dysfunction, the cycle of fighting and self-pity gets tiresome and boring, (and a little too familiar for anyone who has walked the brink of breakup for too long) and the build-up of the addictions leads to nothing except more worried self-pity. As a result, the last quarter of the book drags (no pun intended) as the juxtapositions of the duo's clashes with normalcy that were so funny in the beginning wear thin and the surreal drag clubs become mundane and monotonous.

But perhaps making his story boring is Kilmer-Purcell's intent to show that "once you've crawled into what's commonly thought of as the underbelly of life, you realize it's all just different versions of normal."

All the same, the ending of the book fizzles in a few unfulfilling and preachy pages that offer half-thoughtful, half-trite maxims, but no real closure to the story.

It may be the result of writing a memoir less than a decade after the events therein and lacking the perspective to draw deeper conclusions from your experiences, but really, how you do you take a story -- even if it is your own -- about an ad designer/drag queen who falls in love with a crack addict hooker and give it a lukewarm ending filled with platitudes like "I've learned that these are things -- this 'right,' this 'wrong' -- these are things that we are told." Really, Sherlock?

Despite his lack of artfulness in belaboring his themes, Kilmer-Purcell's gift is tapping into the universals of a love story and making his seemingly bizarre relationship, and his earnest attempts to make it work, accessible to everyone. While it's true that there's "no movie of the week about a drunk drag queen and a crackhead hooker in love," everyone, at a certain point, is working off an unscripted plot when it comes to love, and is trying to find their niche into what's considered "normal" -- we just don't wear fake gold-fish enhanced boobs as we do it.

I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Harper Perennial
ISBN: 0060817321
336 Pages