If you’re a diehard Bourdain fan like me, no doubt you’ve imagined yourself kickin’ it with him over a delectable meal in some stimulating foreign locale, while sipping on a libation that would make you as giddy as the next ironic quip about to roll off his sardonic tongue. If you’re also a New Yorker, like me, you’ve probably wished as hard as a five year old blowing out birthday candles, that you’d run into Bourdain sauntering along a Manhattan sidewalk, give him a big hug, and take a selfie with him. Yet now our fervent aspirations have morphed into the agonizing grief over him taking his own life.
Whether it was “A Chef’s Tour”, “No Reservations”, “The Layover” or “Parts Unknown”, I savored every syllable of Anthony’s acerbic wit. My mouth watered for a crumb of some spicy morsel he chewed, or winced at the ones that were still wiggling when he bit into them.
My own wanderlust began when I was six and got a ViewMaster for Christmas. This vibrant 1960s version of virtual reality exposed me to world wonders like The Taj Mahal, The Great Wall, and my personal favorite, because this was the era of the mod British Invasion, Big Ben.
After I laid my eyes on those gigantic Kodak ads featuring Ektachrome photos of African leopards, the Eiffel Tower and the Sahara Desert, pulsating from the walls of Grand Central on my first trip outside North Carolina, my seven-year old heart was lit to trot the globe. And when I got back to the farm after that brief getaway with my great grandmother, I incessantly imagined myself looking out from London Tower every time I climbed to the top of the chinaberry tree in our back yard.
It took a lot of “Creative Visualization” to get me to jolly ole Westminster three decades later, because I began suffering from severe bouts depression and anxiety when I was a teenager, induced by the somewhat sudden death of my great-grandmother when I was 12. Then, because my mother was afraid I’d lose the social security payment my great-grandfather had willed me if she took me to live with her in New York, she left me to spend two brutal winters with him, as he slowly died of cancer. My budding adolescence. The backwoods house with no running water. Caring for a sick elderly man whose evil bitch of a sister only cooked for him. A fertile petri dish for PTSD if there ever was one.
By the time I started ninth grade up in Port Chester, I was a Molotov cocktail of grief and despair, doused in loneliness and fear. Bouts of hopelessness and crying jags set in, as the urban bully battalion targeted their antics at my southern twang.
Sips of Boone’s Farm became the Kool-Aid of my teens, infusing me with the same ecstasy I discovered when I climbed to the top of that chinaberry tree for the first time. I took my first hit off a joint at fifteen, with a boy I loved more than Gidget did Moondoggie; and lost my virginity to him in the back of his` steel blue ‘73 Riviera. It was the first time since the life I knew ended that I didn’t feel frightened or sad.
After the puffs of peace and sips of joy wore off, the sullen hangover that descended on my soul was enough to sink an aircraft carrier. And my technicolor imaginations became noirish nightmares, until I channeled my emotional despondency into the written word and performance stage. When I wasn’t rehearsing for the latest high school musical, I was curled up in my own corner of the sky with a spiral notebook scribbling dialogue between beings from other dimensions.
So when I learned that Bourdain had kicked a heroin addiction, wasn’t able to pay his rent until he was in his late 40s, and then became a cultural icon by embracing his passion for food and the written word, he quickly became my beacon of hope. But food and word were only Bourdain’s portal into celebrating the art and culture of others. What made dude most dope was his immense respect and humility. Which allowed him to connect with the hearts of people no matter their race, creed or sex.
If only I could have rolled up on Bourdain, and in the spirit of Bob Dylan quipped, “What can I do for you?” Then before he looked at me like I was an unfashionably dressed bohemian prostitute, I’d add, “You need another leg of lamb? A shot of Kentucky bourbon? Some unnamed wiggly meat? I got you, my brother.” Far greater than my wish that George never met Amal, or that I’d never sold my Playa Del Rey condo, is my wish that I could have brought Bourdain some of the joy he brought me.
Virtually globe trekking with Bourdain has gotten me through internal winters of depression and external crossroads of perplexity. Reminding me that there are engaging people, places and things somewhere in the earth realm — and that the world is far bigger than the dark ruminations going on between my ears.
Sadly not everyone’s afflicted brain chemistry allows them the function of such awareness. So I beckon my fellow Bourdain fan peeps to honor his legacy with one simple gesture: Show up. Not just in word, but in deed. Not just in body, but in spirit. Not just for yourself, but for the sincere need of another.
You don’t need a layover in Paris to ‘love on’ somebody today. Simply pick up that shiny thin communication device, which probably cost you more than most people’s mortgage payment, tap a name and say, “What can I do for you?”