I don’t do celebrity but I did Anthony Bourdain. His death by suicide this morning was a gut punch.
Like most folks, I met him via his book Kitchen Confidential. He immediately seemed like a fellow traveler. Punk as an ethic. Not afraid of hard work. In fact he loved it. Dark, smart, honorable with a wicked sense of humor. We were about the same age. He graduated high school the year I did. When I saw him on television, I thought, “We are both aging well, aren’t we dude?”
I could give a fuck about food. It’s fuel. But I love edgy cooking shows. I like the effort and the passion it takes to make fine food. If some fine food appears in front of me I eat it and enjoy it. I never go looking for it. Never. Bourdain gave me that appreciation and, most importantly, he traveled.
My own illness has meant I don’t travel much. For a time, not at all. Bourdain became my traveling doppelgänger. I could watch his shows and imagine I was there. In great part because his eye, his sensibility and ability to write about what he saw was something we shared. And then there was his walk.
Tall like me, Bourdain had a tall man’s walk. Loping is the best way to describe it. The way he moved said both I am here, just passing through and, by the way, don’t fuck with me. Yea, and it was cool.
When I am agitated, I speed up and dart about. The unwanted energy in my body is looking for a way out. I stole Anthony Bourdain’s walk. For years, when I am beginning to disconnect from my movement I tell myself, “Just walk like Bourdain.” Slow down. Look around. Tell the nerves to fuck off. Keep moving forward.
My bookshelves are my biography. I can see where I was and what I was thinking by the books I chose to keep. The shelves seem random to everyone but me. Just off my right shoulder when I sit to meditate every night is Kitchen Confidential. It came out in 2000. I crashed in 2000. That was a book I read for “fun” in the middle of my depression tornado.
I went home for Thanksgiving vacation that year and didn’t return to work for around 6 months. Life ganged up on me and I was anxious and deeply depressed. When I heard Bourdain had committed suicide, I walked about just saying “Fuck” over and over. I was angry but I understood. In the depth of depression, suicide is medicinal. It’s a cure. He both didn’t care, and cared too much, about his 11 year old daughter and others he loved. He had to know his friend would find him dead. It’s a disease that can make all connections meaningless.
I lost a favorite Aunt to suicide. Her name was Joy. She was her name. But in the depths of disease it didn’t make any difference.
I was saved by connections. Sally gave up much to keep me going. Therapy. Drugs. Family. John. And…ultimately…I am just fucking stubborn. Fighting depression is exhausting. A physical battle. But I was willing to fight until I was out of energy. Rest. Then wake up punching again. And on the other side, much that I love about myself is the result of that battle.
With depression, silence is the killer. I saw a tweet this morning that said that depression does its best work when people are alone in hotel rooms. That’s where they found Bourdain.
Even if you are alone, there are total strangers sitting in rooms 24 hours a day just waiting to listen to you. If you don’t feel like there is an ounce of fight left in you, admit it. Let someone help you find the strength. It takes just one act of will, of self-preservation, to unleash another act…and another.
Anthony Boudain’s world-weary joy in the company of others will always stick with me. He was genuinely interested in people. His puck rock DIY ethic made him a voice for people who we would have never known. I will mostly miss knowing he was out there somewhere, doing things I can’t and likely seeing them much like I would.
And, fuck off Tony, I am keeping the walk. A memory of a stranger still alive with every step.
Note: I was asked. That is punk legend Iggy Pop with Bourdain in the picture. Iggy kind of invented punk.