For Tony

I never met Anthony Bourdain but I always imagined I would.

In some far off fantasy, one laced more with delusion than potential, I imagined us sitting in some cafe in Philly while I extolled the wonders of my underdog city: we were having a Yards and eating Pho at Thang Long under an El that had us pause our conversation until it screamed by every few minutes.  There, I’d tell the famous travel host and chef about Philly’s vibrant diversity, about all of the foods you could eat and languages you could hear while walking its variant neighborhoods.  He’d smile his snaggle-toothed grin and rub a grey, unshaven down before we went on a bender.

It’s not so much that I thought I’d ever be famous enough for Bourdain to want to sit with me at a meal that provoked this imagination; it’s how much I–like, I think, everyone–just thought of him as a friend.  He presented himself in that way: someone you knew.  I remember the first time, on one of his shows, I heard someone call him “Tony.”  I thought, of course, he goes by a nickname…like I do!

Like everyone does.

Because Tony Bourdain was one of us.  Egotistical, sure.  Brash, stereotypically.  Foul-mouthed, take a number.  Wild, cast a stone.  But something in his books and shows made me feel like I knew him; or, better, that he knew me.  What amazed me about Bourdain was he was an artist who made it.  He was a writer and a chef who succeeded in a world that increasingly seems to care less and less about creators.  He wasn’t of that world of cut-throat capitalism and xenophobia.  He was with us, in the trenches, creating, and knowing how special it was that he was known for it.

I watched every episode of his travel shows.  Read two of his books.  Like a lot of people, I romanticized that lifestyle: wanted to move around the world, to meet the people he met, eat the things he ate.  Reality teaches me that such a lifestyle is not conducive to raising a family, to having any sort of anchor to stability, but Tony’s taking a walk around this beautiful world has always kept me content in my relative stasis.  And in the traveling I have done, part of how I’ve interacted with the world (with boldness, with wild adventure) was learned from watching him.  The tender way in which he met other cultures, his resistance to tyranny, his openness to try whatever came at him, all teach me to do the same, even in my small house in Philly.

Unlike most of our heroes, he was someone I’d like to get a beer and bowl of noodle soup with.  I won’t get the chance (probably never had it in the first place) but the emptiness of the lack hurts.  That we’ll never share a meal feels like a broken thing.

He was in the world with us for a bit and in so being here, taught us.  I’m not much of a celebrity-seeker, I don’t know the latest actors or musicians, but this one celebrity, gone, seems to have taken some of the world’s steam with him.  We’ll get it back, of course, and in so, hopefully we’ll live lives close to some of Tony’s ideals: to move and experience.  To create art and consume it, until we’re gone.

I don’t believe in an afterlife; I believe in life.  I believe matter cannot be created nor destroyed.  I believe Tony’s molecules are still in the world and his lessons are still in us.  In that way, maybe, we can eat together.



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