INGWI: Bourdain

A few years ago, my first newsletter attempt was called I Once Scored 100 Points With Penny Hardaway (Penny Newsletter). And yes, I did score 100 points with Penny on NBA Action Starring David Robinson for my Game Gear.

After about 7 newsletters, I started an 8th and never finished. I turned my full attention towards my podcast Hyphen Nation and my podcast collective Hyphen Podcast Group.

In 2019, I started a column on my website called It’s Not Gonna Write Itself in an attempt to write more. By March of 2020, I realized my website was hacked and I had lost almost all of the 10 or so columns I had written. In late 2021, I started this Substack under the premise of writing at least 500 words about different subjects. Those previous columns can be found in this newsletter’s archives.

And what follows will now be the new blending of my previous Penny Newsletter and the 500 word minimum concept. Welcome to It’s Not Gonna Write Itself 3.0.

He just looks so… happy here.

I was visiting my best friend Matt sometime in 2007? 2008? I know for sure that he and his future wife Lisa had an apartment that was right above what is now known as a Suncrest Towne Centre in Morgantown, West Virginia. Matt had invited me over for dinner and normally, these meetups would consist of us playing music, playing video games, and watching some TV or a movie.

He then turned on a show that he was obsessed with. He told me that he and Lisa had been watching it a ton and he wanted to show it to me. A few moments later, a pencil thin gentleman with dirty brunette hair, slightly graying, appeared on the screen. He was in some foreign country, on a boat, being taken around a village of houses that were built on the water. 

This is my introduction and No Reservations and even more importantly, Anthony Bourdain. 

I’d seen travel shows before and I found them to be… okay. And after one episode of No Reservations, my opinion was the same. But then we started the next episode and we may even have started a third before I called it a night and headed home. And it wasn’t necessarily the travel, or the food, or the people that appealed to me by the time I left.

It was that Bourdain guy. How could this travel show host be so charismatic, so larger than life that I couldn’t take my eyes off of him? Instead of immediately going to Google to find out what I could, I shrugged it off and watched No Reservations when I caught it or in subsequent visits with Matt.

In the last 10 years or so, I read Kitchen Confidential (borrowed from Matt). It almost goes without saying that I tore through those pages, enthralled by Tony’s (we’re close) tales of how he had his first oyster, went to CIA after getting laughed out of his previous summer kitchen, and how he was very much a functional drug addict for several years (and eventually married!). I had no clue what the fancy names he used for the behind the scenes stories of the kitchen were. I had never heard of Les Halles before and I still haven’t outside the pages of this book. But something happened as I finished the journey of the arrogant, skinny chef who blared the Sex Pistols every single day in his kitchen. 

I fell in love with him. 

This complete mess of a man (self admitted) had made himself into one of the most captivating celebrity figures I had ever known. Anthony Bourdain became someone I idolized not because of the fame, money, and travel to exotic locales. 

But because he seemed to have not wasted a second of his life. That idea alone is enviable. 

Now, I didn’t get the complete series of No Reservations, set my DVR to record Parts Unknown, or start reading his works of fiction. But I followed him on Twitter, smiling when I saw he had the same ideals as me, laughing at how quickly he’d tear down an account with an egg for an avatar, and admire just how fricking cool he looked all the dang time in his photos.

And the man ate noodles with Obama! They had beers together in Vietnam!

That was in 2016. I think you know how the rest of Tony’s tale went. In June of 2018, he succumbed to the demons of depression and hung himself, alone, in his hotel room. He left behind his daughter. And he left everyone else with questions as to why. 

“Death doesn’t discriminate

Between the sinners and the saints

It takes and it takes and it takes”

I struggle with my mental health every day. Every single day. Most of the time, those demons I mentioned before are minor inconveniences. And other days, weeks, months, it feels like there’s no looking past them. And I’m just little old me writing away in anonymity. I can’t imagine what it’s like to experience depression, anxiety, and fear as a globally known celebrity.

I haven’t watched the Road Runner documentary or read any of the books that’s come since Tony left us. I’ve chosen to honor his memory by rewatching old episodes of The Layover (if anyone wants to give me that complete series, I wouldn’t object), or scrolling through his Instagram from time to time, or more recently ,watching video clips from a fan account I started following on IG. I have a small idea of what he may have been feeling at the end; I’m not ready to go into the deep end with it. Tony was a friendly face and I’m still sad he’s gone.

Which brings us to why I started letting the words fly about my love of Anthony Bourdain: I reread Kitchen Confidential. I was on a long car ride a few weeks ago, and rather than investing in one of the three library books I keep borrowing digitally and then returning unfinished, I went back to an old favorite. 

This book still holds up brilliantly. Having Tony as a guide to take me through his entire life up until this book’s release is a joyous preview of what he would spend his later life doing: showing other people the world. Sure, we’ll never have to prepare a fork to finally get a handsy chef to understand no. Nor will we watch with our coworkers while another coworker is in the throes of passion with a just married bride. We won’t get calls in the middle of our shift demanding we “feed the bitch”. And we certainly won’t have to make that embarrassing phone call to apologize to a supplier for reaming them out the night before for failing to deliver tomatoes that actually weren’t in our restaurant because we ordered from somewhere else. 

But Tony handles it all with style and flair. Good and bad, he lays his life before us and the ride is good. This is the reason I reread the book in the first place. 

My search history has several entries now such as “Anthony Bourdain bigfoot”, “Anthony Bourdain Steven”, and “Anthony Bourdain Adam” as I tried to decipher the characters we meet inside and what became of them. Kitchen Confidential is very much Tony’s world and we’re not even a part of it. He just gives us enough of a peek and exudes so much charisma that you keep coming back, hoping to catch something new this time. And because Tony is as skilled as a writer as he is in the kitchen, you most certainly will. 

There are a few times in the book Tony is surprised that he’s still alive after all the life he had lived at that point. This wasn’t stated from a depression viewpoint; this was a statement of fact.  Hard drugs ruled his days for years, with many of his stories of different restaurants he worked in being dotted with references to how much heroin or cocaine he took during those time periods. By the time of Kitchen Confidential’s release, his vices were limited to alcohol and his beloved cigarettes. 

I wonder what 43 year old Tony would think to discover how his life ended in 2018. “Not the way I would’ve done it,” springs to mind, but that might be a little too on the nose. Would young Tony express surprise that he took his own life? Or would this be an expected outcome from someone who once said he had wanted to be a junkie since the age of 12?

Both of these questions need no answer. By rereading Kitchen Confidential, I got to be Tony’s captive audience again, a feeling of joy he’s provided to myself and others for a long time. It doesn’t make the fact that he’s gone any easier but it is comforting knowing that his legacy goes deeper than the shows, the books, the kitchens, and the drugs. 

Tony was an adventurer. And because he never wanted to travel alone, we ended up being the real winners. 

I miss you Mr. Bourdain.

Item! My YouTube channel is over 120 subscribers, thanks largely to my new Dope! series I’ve been doing on different platforms. Please check that out if you haven’t.

Item! Marc Rob put together a delightful Rasslecast Power Hour Christmas episode featuring great work from himself and Handsome Bane.

Item! Because it’s Christmas Eve, the Hyphen Podcast Group version of A Christmas Carol.

Item! And Just Because: Hyphen Nation 101.

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