I have a secret to tell you. Every addiction memoir follows the same narrative arc: a person becomes addicted to a substance or act, a person’s life goes to pieces, a person gets sober. So why read them? Well, in the case of Jamie Brickhouse’s, Dangerous When Wet, the answer is that the man is freaking hilarious. Even though I knew where I was headed, Brickhouse managed to make the journey a delight.
The book’s prologue begins with a thirty-eight year old Brickhouse regaining consciousness in an Emergency Room after trying to take his own life. His immediate concern? What will Momma Jean think? This is the show-tuney mantra of Brickhouse’s life. He even shortens it to WWMJT in a comic stroke of genius that riffs on those hideous WWJD bracelets that were popular for a minute in the nineties.
Jean Brickhouse, the aforementioned “Mama Jean,” is Jamie’s larger than life, domineeringly sweet mom who does not find it below herself to guilt and shame her beloved son into behaving the way she sees fit. She’s the kind of woman who says what’s on her mind, in spite of the fact that nobody asked; the kind of woman who kisses one cheek, slaps the other and squeezes the third. It’s easy to see why she is the central figure in Brickhouse’s life and why he expends the majority of his energy running towards or away from her.
From the Emergency Room, Brickhouse springboards back in time to his childhood in Beaumont, Texas of which he says, “I had no business being a child. The playground and its mewling habitués were not for me.” He yearns to be grown up, to be free from the tortures of childhood swim lessons and PE classes filled with dodgeball games. When he takes his first sip of alcohol he fittingly says, “It tasted like being an adult.”
From there, the story unfolds chronologically as Brickhouse takes us on a tour of his life which includes his move to New York City where he frequents the back rooms in gay bars. Brickhouse is unapologetic about his exploits without being overly graphic, but even still, some scenes are not for the faint of heart. Thanks to Brickhouse, I will never look at a pacifier the same way.
If I had any bones to pick with this book, it’s that Mama Jean takes up too much space. She crowds out the rest of the book’s characters especially Brickhouse’s long time partner, Michael Hayes, who’s one dimensionality left a hole in the story for me.
But overall Brickhouse hits the mark. He manages to use his sense of humor to inject lightness into what would otherwise be a dark and harrowing story, but he doesn’t overdo it, as is so often the case in this genre. In the moments when the book needs restraint Brickhouse obliges, which allows the tender moments to stand on their own. And stand they do.
Dangerous When Wet
The author will be at the Ivy Bookshop (6080 Falls Road) on June 17 at 7 p.m. for a reading and book signing. The event is free and open to the public.
Gay Life June 2015