In a time when my life consisted of absolutes: my absolute bare bedroom walls, my absolute classrooms at school, my absolute round and round fights with my father, TV offered an escape.
My sister and I would perch on the edge of the bed we shared, and later the bed in her room, and eagerly absorb anything we could find. Sure, there was our fair share of late 90’s/early 2000’s pop culture: MTV, Daria, other modern sarcasm wrapped in pretty cartoon bows, but there were plenty of genuine moments also.
We watched Ab Fab religiously. We dedicated nights to TV Land which ran shows like Green Acres, Sonny and Cher, Addams Family, Rocky and Bullwinkle …
We turned to Food Network to hone the cooking skill we’d been forced to pick up at young ages. Then we found the Travel Channel with its exotic locales we only dreamed of seeing.
I clung to the images flashed across the screen like a child outside a candy shop, salivating at the thought of trading concrete walls for the blue sky’s of the Mediterranean or the sweltering plains of Africa or the bright colors of any brilliant sunset painted on any sky other than mine.
Somewhere between Food network and the Travel Channel, in the early 2000’s, we picked up Anthony Bourdain. He was foul mouthed, unapologetic and beautifully flawed. He skipped the tourist top 10 and dove to the hearts of places my soul longed to find. He revered the lowest and dirtiest spots, places our parents would drag us away from while promptly dousing us head to toe in Lysol.
From the cell I considered my life to be, Anthony Bourdain showed me a world at large. Beyond glistening beaches and material existence there existed a depth I knew others had to feel but forced isolation kept me from realizing a connection to those who did.
In those days I realized that connection lay off that beaten path where Anthony so often tread. His no holds bar, “who gives a shit” attitude and subtle anger gave life to the things I was so often penalized for feeling.
His quick humor, fiery curiosity and ability to weave a story mesmerized me. It gave me reason to believe that someone who was only good at fucking up could be ok at something after all.
If Anthony Bourdain could do it then so could I.
In a time when every thought I had espoused escaping the crushing grip of my parents I recognized in him a fellow escapee. I didn’t know what he was escaping from but I could see through the old flickering tube in our TV that his was a soul on the run.
What he was running from would never matter so much as the fact that he was running. He was constantly jumping from one rock to another, keeping every facet of his being busy so he could never look back. I would never be sure if other people saw it the way I did.
In him I saw myself.
As someone teetering the edge between teen and actual adult I needed someone to connect to. I needed something to aspire towards.
Anthony Bourdain was the adventurer the child in me pretended to be in the backyard. He was the storyteller I wanted to become when I sat under the trees for hours left to nothing but my own imagination. He connected people in a way that is hard to come by now. He was brutally honest, open and always learning. Every wound the man had oozed for everyone to see and he allowed us all to learn from his mistakes as he mused through monologues on his programs.