I am not myself these da.., p.1

I Am Not Myself These Days, page 1

 

I Am Not Myself These Days


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I Am Not Myself These Days


  I Am Not Myself These Days

  A Memoir

  Josh Kilmer-Purcell

  For Brent, who wants you to know that he had nothing to do with any events in this story. (But, I assure you, has everything to do with its happy ending.)

  Let the wenches dawdle in such dress

  As they are used to wear, and let the boys

  Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.

  Let be be finale of seem.

  The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

  “THE EMPEROR OF ICE-CREAM”

  —WALLACE STEVENS

  Contents

  Epigraph

  Prologue

  I’m freezing. The door to the balcony is wide open.

  Book I

  1

  I’ve just dropped my vodka glass and am having that…

  2

  Coming to” and “sobering up” are two distinctly different states…

  3

  White.

  4

  I’m working the door at Jaguar, a small club two…

  5

  Maybe I could do what you do?” I say to…

  6

  I drop my keys onto the sidewalk for the second…

  Book II

  7

  The Tempest has passed. So to speak.

  8

  It’s two nights after my party and somehow I’ve recovered…

  9

  Even though we had prepared for weeks, the morning of…

  10

  I am not an alcoholic. I’m a social catalyst. People…

  11

  This is how I become not me:

  12

  I double-check the address that Jack had written on the…

  13

  Jack and I watch Blue’s Clues every morning. Or at…

  14

  Here’s what I don’t like about Japan: there are thousands…

  15

  The apartment is a shithole.

  Book III

  16

  Why didn’t you call me? I told you to come…

  17

  It’s just the TV,” I tell my mother on the…

  18

  It’s a week of cactuses and hearts.

  19

  I can’t stand silence.

  20

  Contestant, make your choice, I think to myself stepping out…

  21

  Thanksgiving.

  22

  What do you mean he won’t talk to you?” Laura…

  23

  Look. It’s obvious I’m fucking things up,” Jack says, sitting…

  24

  Isn’t it Boxing Day or something? Shouldn’t you be home…

  25

  I’m surprised at how not empty the apartment feels once…

  26

  This is what I am dreaming:

  27

  Every vodka has a story. And the ending is reliably…

  Epilogue

  Hugs and Fishes.

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Praise

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  I’m freezing. The door to the balcony is wide open. The wind has blown the bedcovers completely off my feet, and the room is dark except for the faint orange glow from the skyline outside. I can’t feel my toes. On the forty-second floor, the wind never stops blowing.

  My boyfriend is standing over me with a knife. Two nights ago, after he had come home from a three-day crack binge, he decided that I could have the rest of the month to get my stuff together and move out of our, well his, penthouse. He then returned to his regularly scheduled cocaine programming and hadn’t come home since. Until now.

  “Why’s the door open?” I ask.

  “I was getting ready to kill you and then jump off the balcony,” Jack says as calmly as if he were telling me what movie he was planning to see.

  “With that?” I gesture toward the Wüsthof chef’s knife in his hand.

  “Yeah.”

  “But I just got that for Christmas.”

  It’s a very expensive knife. I don’t have many good things, but my parents send me one good knife each year for Christmas even though I’ve never used a single one for anything other than display. I think I mentioned that I wanted to take a cooking class to them once. “I haven’t even used it yet.”

  “Sorry. It seemed like it would work best. The other ones are too small,” he says, idly running his thumb over the blade.

  He’s right. All the other knives we have in the apartment are discount-store quality and mostly dulled from the dishwasher. They could probably do the job, but the Wüsthof would guarantee success in the first stab. Would likely go straight through and pin me to the mattress. Wüsthof! I imagine that’s the sound it would have made as it arced through the air and then pierced my lungs, explosively releasing the air into my chest cavity. Or maybe it would have been more of a farting noise, like a balloon deflating.

  “Anything holding you back now?” I ask. I doubt that he’s going to go through with his plan now that I’m awake. He seems a little deflated, like I’ve spoiled the surprise. I’m not nervous at all. He’ll do it fast if he decides to. I’m so completely exhausted after this last month we’ve had together that it’s hard to muster up any sense of panic or impending doom.

  “I just remembered which doorman is on tonight and I didn’t want to scare Pedro,” Jack says.

  Pedro’s a Puerto Rican guy in his early seventies. He’s a little slow, so they put him on the late-night shift. Being a gay male escort, Jack sees him a lot on his way to and from clients. Jack likes to practice his Spanish with him.

  Pedro would’ve been seriously upset if Jack came crashing down onto the circular drive in front of the building.

  “Are we done? Can I go back to sleep?”

  “Yeah. It wasn’t a very elegant plan,” he says. He says things like that. Elegant plan. This is why I still love him.

  “Okay. Put the knife back in the holder. Don’t leave it in the sink; the handle will rust.”

  “Okay.” Jack starts walking back into the living room.

  “Can you shut the door too, please?” I point toward the balcony. Jack’s beeper goes off. Thursdays are the first busy night of the weekend. He shuts the door, grabs the cordless phone off the end table, and punches in the number on his beeper display.

  “This is Aidan. You called me.” Jack’s voice drops an octave when he talks to a potential client. Personally I’ve always thought his normal voice is much sexier.

  “What are you looking for?” Pause. “How long?” Pause. “Some toys are extra.” Pause. “I can arrange that.” Pause. “Do you need any party favors?” Pause. “Four hundred an hour.” Longer pause. “Look, you’re a scum-sucking piece of shit who probably can’t get it up. You’re lucky I even have time to come kick the shit out of you. It’s three hundred seventy-five dollars, or you can jerk off to cable porn.” Pause. “I’ll be over in ten minutes.”

  I fall back asleep while “Aidan” packs the proper dildos, restraints, lubes, toys, etc., into a backpack and heads out into the January night.

  The last thing I notice before falling back asleep are the white Christmas lights strung across our balcony. From my vantage point on the bed, the little bulbs merge with the lights of the skyline behind them. They’ve been burning night and day for weeks and should have been taken down already. But like any chore not directly related to day-to-day survival, they’ll probably stay up and lit long into spring. Things in New York City sparkle a lot longer than you’d expect before they burn out.

  BOOK I

 
1

  I’ve just dropped my vodka glass and am having that perennial, silly internal debate about whether I should order another one—since, let’s face it, I have reached the state where I’m dropping full glasses of vodka. A silly debate because it’s highly unlikely that I will be able to keep a firm clutch on the next one, and perennial because I’m going to order one regardless. And then one after that.

  I deserve another one, really. I’ve just broken the record for number of weeks anyone has won the Amateur Drag Queen contest at Lucky Cheng’s. True, I did reuse the same song and wore the same outfit as I did on the first winning Thursday, but, honestly, this is uncharted territory here. Six weeks running of being voted the most talented amateur drag queen in New York City. By the audience. Pour me another, the future is stunning.

  Of course I’m not just in it for the accolades. There’s the prize money to be considered. One hundred and fifty dollars plus whatever the audience tips. After setting aside a portion for retirement, I must decide whether to invest the rest in food or two months back rent. Or possibly to retire on the spot and use it all for shots of vodka. I’ve retired approximately eight rounds tonight alone, not including the one that just hit the floor.

  Okay, okay, already. I’ll have another.

  My little secret from the audience is that I’m not really an amateur drag queen. I’m practically a veteran, having been through the boot camp of drag queen training—Atlanta. Where men are men, and women are cartoon characters.

  Not that I would be excluded from the Lucky Cheng’s competition if my professional status were public knowledge. Quite frankly, the host of the contest I’d just won, Miss Understood, has enough difficulty rounding up three reasonably sober, mildly entertaining contestants every week. She’s not going to become a stickler for rules and risk losing a weekly gig that pays her one hundred dollars and a free portion of sweet and sour pork. Besides, I’ve only been in New York for less than two months, so I guess I technically qualify as an amateur New York drag queen. Luckily, I’ve been able to find club work four nights a week, in addition to my day job as a junior art director at a Soho ad agency.

  Miss Understood recognizes reliability, and for the moment, her name is “Aquadisiac.” That’s me. “Aqua” for short. Mostly just “Aqua,” really. Because when I came up with the name I didn’t realize that the average clubgoer wouldn’t catch the wordplay on “aphrodisiac.” Or perhaps because it’s extremely hard to pronounce with any degree of comprehension after two or three drinks. Or ten.

  The name is derived from my gimmick. Every successful drag queen must have one or risk being lost in a sea of clichéd wannabes wearing Halloween novelty wigs and overstuffed bras. My gimmick happens to be fish. Goldfish usually, since they survive longest in my clear plastic tits. Not that any of them ever die in the breasts themselves. They’re lovingly transferred from aquarium to tit, and tit to aquarium before and after each performance. Unless of course I happen to wake up in an unfamiliar environment, say, on a bench in Bryant Park, in which case I find the nearest faucet and refresh the tits’ water supply. My mother raised me right.

  I’m 6' 1" when not slouching, 7' 2" in wig and heels. My wig is blond. I wear three wigs, actually, clipped together and styled like a cross between Pamela Anderson Lee and Barbarella. My outfits are on the skimpy side: thongs, clear plastic miniskirts, vinyl boots, 22-inch corset, and a tight top with two holes cut out where the breasts should be. Into these holes slip two clear plastic domes. I purchased dozens of these clear domes from a craft store years ago. For lesser creative types than I, they were intended to be filled with holiday paraphernalia and then two of them snapped together back-to-back to form some sort of tacky oversized Christmas tree ornament. I’ve reengineered them with flat, mirrored backs and small holes, each plugged with a rubber stopper. They are filled with water nightly, sometimes lightly colored in honor of a holiday (for instance, tonight one’s red and one’s blue for the Fourth of July). The fish are slipped in through the hole in the back and the stopper is replaced. Then the tits are slipped into the evening’s outfit—with small flashlights tucked underneath that shine off the mirrored backings causing the tits, and fish, to glow. All my costumes are very intricate and complicated. Marvels of modern-day engineering, really. Very often duct tape must be employed in order to keep things that mustn’t be seen in places where one won’t see them.

  No fish has ever been harmed during an evening out. Sure, they die on a pretty regular schedule. Who doesn’t? These are dime-store goldfish we’re talking about. Even if I do unintentionally slash a few days off their already negligible lifespans, how many other fish can brag about meeting Leonardo DiCaprio at Limelight? Karmically, I think it’s a wash.

  A boy is tapping on my right breast. I tap him back on his forehead.

  “If I were a petting zoo, you’d owe me five bucks. Or a drink,” I say.

  I have dozens of “buy me a drink” lines always on the tip of my tongue. It’s imperative. I always seem to run out of retirement funds.

  “They’re funny. High concept,” he says, still tapping on the breasts. “What’re their names?”

  “Left and Right. And yours?”

  “Jack,” he says.

  “I’d shake your hand, Jack, but I have an imaginary drink in mine.”

  The boy is laughing. This is good. A drink is moments away. I can taste it. He’s shorter than I am, though by how much, it’s hard to tell. That can be determined later when I get out of the heels. He looks to be on the border of beautiful, but I need another drink to help focus. I’ve been fooled before. And still, I’m drinkless.

  “Let’s play a game, Jack of Hearts. See that long thing over there?” I ask, pointing across the crowded room. “That’s a bar. The goal of this little game is for you to bring the whole thing over to me one cup at a time.”

  “What’s the prize?” he asks.

  “A free pass to the aquarium,” I say, rubbing my fish tits seductively.

  Finally, he heads over to the bar. Without something to focus on, my head starts to spin. I drop my head down to try to stop the mind swirl, and find myself staring directly into my tits. God, those fish are beautiful. The way they roll back and forth in the water. I think one of the flashlights has gone dead. Who cares? I’ve already won the goddamn prize. Fucking wig is so heavy, I can’t get my head to pick up again. Maybe if I just loll it back and forth a little. Get a little momentum going. No, that’s not working. Just shaking loose a little drool. What the hell, I’ll just take a little rest right here. It’s well deserved. I’ll need to make this Jack guy aware of my evening’s triumph. He’ll understand the exhaustion that comes with winning six straight weeks at Lucky Cheng’s Amateur Drag Competition. Why hasn’t he come back with that drink? Thomas Edison took catnaps all the time. Where the fuck did that come from? I think I’m talking out loud. Better shut up. Just shut up and look at the fish.

  2

  Coming to” and “sobering up” are two distinctly different states of being. Each has its own independent schedule, and each comes with its own shocking revelations.

  Most people aren’t aware of this fact since they “sober up” sometime in the middle of the night while they’re asleep, and consider “coming to” as the moment they wake up the next morning. Since my sleep averages about two and a half hours a night, I tend to approach the process from the opposite direction. For instance, on this first day into my sixth week of reign as Queen of Lucky Cheng’s Amateur Drag Queen Contest, I “came to” about nine thirty a.m., and now find myself “sobering up” around one in the afternoon. I believe this reversal of the normal process owes something to the ridiculous amount of backlog my liver experiences on a daily basis. Truly, this is an organ that deserves a vacation. It’s consistently voted my body’s employee of the month.

  “Sobering up,” I find myself in the conference room at the advertising agency where I work. My day job. There are about fifteen people present—some colleagues, some client
s. My copywriting partner, Laura, is sitting next to me with some storyboards that look vaguely familiar to me. I can say with relative confidence that I most likely had something to do with them. What I can’t say is what they are for. The entire board room citizenry are alternating their gaze between Laura, me, and the storyboards between us.

  Oh, and I’m wearing clothes I’ve never seen before. They’re stylish and of good quality, so I don’t particularly mind. I’ll have to excuse myself to use the restroom later and check the tags to see who the designer is.

  “With that, I turn it over to our creatives who’ll present two campaigns for you.”

  This is Margaret speaking. Margaret is a fifty-something partner in the agency who’s seen her fair share of partying herself. She has a reputation for being cold and aloof, but those of us in the booze biz just recognize that as hungover. Anyway, she’s always liked me. For my birthday she gave me a collection of work by Edna St. Vincent Millay, bookmarked on her poem about burning the candle at both ends. I don’t know if it was meant as a warning or as cheerleading.

  People are staring at me with what I interpret as anticipation, although I’m not sure what for. Someone is going to have to step in here.

  “Laura, why don’t you bring us through the first campaign, and I’ll take the next,” I say with a smile at my fellow meeting captives, hoping against hope that there is, in fact, more than one campaign. Laura is my age, twenty-five, nearly six feet tall, full-figured and voluptuous. With her straight jet-black hair and bangs, she reminds people of Betty Page. She smiles back at me in a way that lets me know that there will be a moment in the near future when she will do me bodily harm. But for now I’ve bought myself a few moments to figure out what the hell is going on in this meeting, and maybe even what I’m supposed to be doing here.

  “This first campaign is, basically, a testimonial campaign, about people who use Gleam-a-Lot. It opens in a bathroom with a forty-something father and his three kids all brushing their teeth…”

 
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