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I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir (P.S.)by Josh Kilmer Purcell
Chapter OneI'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 club-goer 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 foregoing is excerpted from I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. All rights reserved.
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