Monday, January 04, 2016

Dangerous When Wet

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.)


  1. What an interesting review and commentary. I confess that I am suspicious of memoirs; they too often become "creative nonfiction" (e.g., Tennessee Williams' memoir was one of the most infamous "creations"). Of course, only the writer of the memoir knows the realities. Or maybe not.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. You know, sometimes I think that the last one to know the realities is the author of the memoir. I'm certain that would be the case if I were ever to write something like a memoir. I'm reading a George Jones biography right now that will be published this April and I'm finding out how tricky memory is. I witnessed an incident or two from the book and I'm finding that my recall is only about 75% accurate when it comes to the least according to this author. But, of course, even George and other key players involved couldn't agree on all the details.

  2. I grew up as hls next door neighbor and remember him and his mother well. Back in the late sixties and early seventies I did not notice anything odd about him he was just different.He wanted to play dress up with my sister ins of playing with boys.He ended up taking dance lesson s from my aunt Bonnie (ups).I did not end up seeing him till his book signing and realized everything about his life.And seeing how well he had overcome his problem,s.And making me so proud to know him and call him a friend We still keep in touch and talk. Reading his book explained things I was to young to grasp as a child.

    1. It's surprising what we only understand about our childhoods so many years later. Those childhood bonds are forever, though. I've had a couple of experiences similar to what you describe and was really surprised to find how easy it was to pick up the relationship after a gap of several decades. Thanks for stopping by.