Until about 5AM this morning, this week’s blog post was going to be about something completely different. I was going to write about taste, snobbishness, and keeping it in check.
But last night, Em and I decided to go to our first movie in a theater in over a year. It was a toss-up between Black Widow and Roadrunner, and Em decided she could see Black Widow another time. She wanted to see Roadrunner with me. We were both glad for that because in the back of the Laurelhurst Theater, over pizza, popcorn, and spilled beer, we both cried our eyes out.
I came home with mixed emotions and tried to write that blog post about snobbishness… but as of 5 am, aware of the discourse and controversies surrounding the movie, I knew I need to write this all out while it was still fresh in my mind. One of the problems with being a writer is that words vanish from your mind faster than feelings in your heart, so here we go.
One last story from my beloved doomed bastard of a hero, Uncle Tony.
First, let’s stomp on the bits that have made the news lately.
Yes, they use AI deep fake for Tony’s voice at one point. It is about two seconds long, really obvious, and is just the words “Are you happy?” I’m not sure exactly what the director thought they were going to pull off with that, but it fell flat. Whether it’s disrespectful or egregious is kind of a moot point for me. Whatever impact it was meant to have in the narrative didn’t come off, and it was just a little jarring and annoying.
No, they don’t interview Asia Argento, Tony’s last girlfriend. They discuss his last relationship a lot, include footage of them together, and the effect it had on Tony’s personality and creative output toward the end. The documentary comes very close to painting her as Tony’s “Yoko Ono-” driving him nuts, changing his personality, etc- but makes it very clear toward the end that his relationship with Argento was a by-product of his decision-making, not the cause of it. One person suggests that his relationship with her was his “final addiction”- one more milestone in his long habit of self-destructive behavior.
Personally, I can understand not wanting to interview her too much at the cost of hearing from longer-term friends and associates. The focus of the documentary was on Tony. Wading too far into their relationship would only paint Asia as that Problematic New Girlfriend and make viewers lose the point of the movie.
Anthony Bourdain was an addict. He got clean from coke and smack, he quit smoking for a while, but he found new obsessions and addictions because he never truly dealt with the insecurities that led him TO addiction. Those new addictions- the ones that killed him- were overworking, overcommitting, and relationships. I am all to familiar with them.
A Man That The World Could Not Slay
It is telling that the movie opens with a dissection of Tony’s ethos as a writer and a couple of famous ones associated with him- particularly Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway. Both were famously misanthropic and antisocial, but were beloved anyway because they had the power to turn their shenanigans into great stories that people loved.
It is also telling that, like Hemingway and Thompson, Bourdain was described as a perpetual romantic. He saw the world through the movies and novels he lost himself in. His long-time creative partners Lydia Tataglia and Chris Collins mention how, in their first projects together, Tony was incredibly silent and shy but would liven up to references from classic cinema. Hunter Thompson was also posthumously described as an idealist, and both ran into the same problem- that reality could not and would never live up to their expectations.
Life is not just like a movie. There is no riding off into the sunset behind the end credits. That victorious hero eventually has to deal with the rest of the world outside the frame. HST wrote his own end with a short note, a quote from Irish poet Eileen Dubh O’Connell, and a bullet in his head:
“My rider of the bright eyes,– Eileen O’Connell, “A Lament for Art O’Leary”
What happened you yesterday?
I thought you in my heart,
When I bought your fine clothes,
A man the world could not slay.”
Tony spent a long time grappling with his disappointment, self-loathing, and insecurity. He hid from it in addictions, in work, in relationships, but never dealt with that pain. He just kept running… and that’s the bit that struck me hardest.
The Roadrunner and Me
Tony loved food and travel. He loved telling stories and talking to people. He was the kindest, sweetest guy to those he met and always seemed to have time for you. He always had to have a project, he could be surprisingly quiet and reserved, and was always very candid about his own flaws and failings.
Tony suffered from textbook Anxiety and Depression. As my friend Rachel said, “it takes one to know one.”
I know too well that feeling of “always needing to be doing something” and “urge to always be rushing and leaving.” I love losing myself in conversations with food people. I have stories to tell, and I joined the culinary industry at a point when- despite all evidence to the contrary- I felt like an unloveable outsider. I have never been addicted to hard drugs, but I have had problems with caffeine and overworking/over exercising to cope with my anxieties and stress, which are listed forms of self-harm.
Like Tony, I also know what it’s like to run from your problems until your coping mechanisms- even new, healthy ones- finally fail you, and where it leaves you in the end.
Tony didn’t just resonate with cooks and “the working man” because he himself was a cook. He wasn’t a particularly great one, and he’s nobodies culinary hero. It was because those urges, addictions, and afflictions are all to common not just to cooks, but to modern workers.
As I sat in the theater last night, Emily clung to my hand. I clung back so hard I lost feeling in my fingers because I was watching my own worst future for myself. That success would never be enough. That the “perfect life” would only be an interlude on the way to more pain, that I couldn’t run forever.
After the movie, we walked for a bit, and Emily reminded me that the reason I started this blog was to prove Tony wrong about one thing- that people like he and I could “never be normal.” We’d always be chasing the next project, the next thrill, the next job until it destroyed us and left us feeling alone.
I do have a few advantages on Tony. I got and am getting help for my anxiety and depression. I’m on medication that helps keep me level, and I’ve proven to myself that it wouldn’t change what makes me me. I still write, and I left a crappy job for a better one. I am happier, better, and more patient.
I admired Tony’s work and his attitude toward food, people, and life- but I hope I can keep myself from emulating him too much. The fact that fame and globetrotting exacerbated his isolation and problems is not one I have to contend with for right now.
After this post goes up, I will go for a run- one of my coping mechanisms that I am learning to take it easy on. I will have lunch, and get ready to go do work I love in my new bakery tomorrow, in my new job as a pastry chef. It is work I love- work that Tony showed me I COULD love- but I will remember that I can only run away into it for so long.
I love and will always miss Tony’s work- but the people in my life can’t afford for me to be a roadrunner.