I am a fan of memoirs, and I have been a fan for a long time now. Oh, I know that readers are not supposed to trust memoirs and believe that they actually contain nothing but the truth, etc. Common sense, after all, and knowledge that our own memories of the distant past are clouded at best, tell us that what we are reading is simply an author's understanding of what happened to him, what shaped him into a person now willing to share a version of that truth with the rest of us. Memoirs are written for a variety of reasons - some memoirists want to boast about their achievements, some are hoping to extend their unexpected 15-minutes of fame, some seem surprised that they are still here to tell us about their lives, and the best ones are so honest with the reader that, for the time it takes to read their story, we become part of the world that shaped them.
Jamie Brickhouse's Dangerous When Wet falls into that last category. More than a decade before Jamie did, I grew up within minutes of the author's Beaumont neighborhood, but the world he lived and grew up in is one I barely recognize. My Jefferson County was a world of rednecks, beer drinking, Friday night football, and hoping one day to escape the place for good. Jamie's world was the other side of that coin, the side that, at the time, I barely suspected might even exist. But Dangerous When Wet is so well written, and so frankly written, that for a few days I found myself living in Jamie's world - and it was a powerful experience.
About midway through the memoir, Jamie Brickhouse describes himself this way:
"I have red hair. I'm a sodomite. I like to drink. Okay, I love to drink. That's who I am: a redheaded, gay, functioning alcoholic. As long as the word functioning is in front of alcoholic, I'm okay. I saw this as a healthy form of self-acceptance."
Unfortunately for Jamie and those closest to him, the word "functioning" would not remain in front of "alcoholic" forever and its disappearance almost cost him his life.
Even as a child, Jamie Brickhouse knew that he was living in Beaumont (and eventually studying at a San Antonio university) only in preparation for his eventual move to New York City. He had big dreams and goals and New York City was the place he needed to be. Even his mother (dubbed by Jamie's friends "Mama Jean") recognized Jamie's move to the city as inevitable - and she loved the city so much herself that she knew it was the best thing for her son.
|Author Jamie Brickhouse|
Jamie made it to New York and he achieved many of his dreams despite the often reckless decisions fueled by his alcoholism. He worked his way into important publishing house positions only to throw it all away for booze and drugs. Through it all, though, his friends, his partner, and his parents were there for him when he needed them most. And it is, I think, the quality and the degree of loyalty of a man's friends and family that reveal who that man is. Judging from the actions of his friends and family, Jamie Brickhouse must be quite a guy.
Dangerous When Wet is as outrageously frank and honest as a memoir gets. It is funny (Mama Jean almost steals the show sometimes), poignant, and gut wrenching - often at the same time. But, above all, this is the story of one man's fight to beat the addictions that almost killed him: drugs, booze, and reckless sex. (And I can't but help wonder how Mama Jean would have told the story; that would have been a hoot, I suspect.)