When Anthony Bourdain strolled through the streets of Iran no one threw bottles at him. There were no parades of hijab-wearing terrorists clamoring for his blood. Instead, he was met with kindness, warmth, and love.
“This is not a black-and-white world — as much as people would like to portray it as such,” Bourdain said about his time in the continually mislabeled country. He’s been on my mind a lot lately, I’ve been wondering what he’d be saying about our daily madness, complete with peeled open eyeballs, Clockwork Orange-style. No matter what the situation, Anthony Bourdain kept a propensive clarity of mind. God, we could use some of that right now, because I don’t know if you’ve looked around, sanity’s in short order.
When I initially sat down to write this essay, the premise was straightforward: there’s only one Anthony Bourdain. Stop trying to copy him. Straightforward like a burger without any fancy bullshit: meat + bun + cheese. But, the more I thought about it, the reason we cherish Anthony Bourdain isn't that he was super cool, it was because he searched for truth. Meanwhile, over here in Covidonia, I’m searching for oranges and Pedialye to keep my immune system buzzing, all while looking like Charlie Manson in a cheap tuxedo on his best day at church. (Seriously, I look rough.)
I hate this Camus-inspired hell. I miss the bar, I miss flirty servers, cheap tacos and meeting new people. And for the last few weeks, my Facebook has become a wasteland of political bickering and Tiger King worship. We get it. Carol Baskin fed her husband to a tiger. There will be an investigation and chances are, Ms. Cool Kitty Cat will wind up in cuffs.
I’m trying to think about all of this from a bigger point of view. I broke out mala beads, I’m reading books on Buddhism and Krishna again. I keep coming back to that maybe we need to stop fucking up the joint. We should take a moment to reflect on a world we’ve been treating like a garbage dump. Just food for thought while scrolling through my timeline where strangers in a service industry group are binge drinking and sharing naked photos of one another. 2020 is a horror show.
We’re the only generation who’s still got time left in the hourglass and somehow lived through the world’s most famous terrorist attack and now a global pandemic. And here I was thinking the Cubs winning the World Series was finally ushering in the apocalypse. Low and behold some dude in China decides to feast on a charbroiled bat for lunch and now we’re all hoping we can still do the 4th of July.
Roll the tape back
Anthony Bourdain was a self-admitted middle of the road journeyman chef. He wasn't going to get his name on the door in this lifetime. He was a working cook who got lucky. He understood his break and it stoked his internal fire. Like David Bowie or Beyonce, Frida Kahlo, or James Baldwin, Bourdain stands at a crossroads of personal introspection and a thirst for knowledge. He knew that he was never the smartest in the room. This is the lesson.
"I always entertain the notion that I'm wrong, or that I'll have to revise my opinion. Most of the time that feels good; sometimes it really hurts and is embarrassing."
I’m a writer and a guy who’s actively shopping a television show in good ole’ sketchy as fuck Los Angeles. It was important to stop looking at Bourdain’s life as a pinnacle. His career is one that comes once in a lifetime. He’s like Black Sabbath or Miles Davis, we’re all seated at the foot of the masters and hope to glean just a little bit of their magic into our own projects. If anything, my hope is that he’s the Oprah to my Ellen.
Anthony Bourdain slurping noodles against a Vietnamese sunset was never the message, the message was the stories of the people who led him there, which he drank in. He saw the value of chance encounters, ones that last as long as a PBR tallboy and a sloppy All That Jazz po' boy while standing on the corner of Ursulines and Decatur in the French Quarter. Bourdain knew this was an illusion. He understood the dynamics of humans just wanting to talk a little shit.
I struggle with self-worth. I feel like the guy who knows his name will never be on the door. All I can do right now, while the world is on hold is put in the work, take swings in the batting cage. This is the time to do those sit-ups, take a quick jog, and get back to the computer. If Bourdain was still with us, do you think he'd be sitting idle, wasting away on his couch, no, he wouldn't. He'd teach us about cooking on YouTube. He'd be telling us stories - he'd look to us as his inspiration.
Go out and move
He is our guiding principle: see the world with open eyes. Experience friends and family without checking texts first. Challenge points of view. Check privilege, understand our place. Understand joy. Delight in the simplicity of ice cream on a hot summer. Don't take those things for granted, but cherish their honesty.
“Maybe that's enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom ... is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go."Robert Dean is a journalist living down in Austin, Texas. His work has been featured in Forbes, Consequence of Sound, Austin American-Statesman, Mic, Fatherly, Daily Grindhouse, and Farce the Music, to name a few. He's also been on CNN and NPR.