Crossroads (or, “The Messiness of Existence Is the Point”)

On Friday, I was brought in to re-interview for the same internal position I didn’t get in the winter (an experience that has received quite thorough coverage in this blog). And interview I did, not necessarily more effectively, but from a higher vantage and with less emotional investment.

Later that evening, DP and I were en route to see Roadrunner, weaving through the balmy-summer, post-vax companionship seekers, and I glimpsed my ex with a date, headed off the mall, their path perpendicular to ours. As is my wont, I was unrecognizable; he was absorbed.

It didn’t occur to me till we were actually in the theater that they might have just seen the same documentary. DP had ordered our tickets, so I asked him when the earlier showing had been, and the time – two hours and change prior – checked out.

*

I cannot call myself a travel or food aficionado, nor can I quite label myself a “fan” of Bourdain. Somehow, despite all that, I considered him jacked-up spiritual family of sorts. From the ex and I watching the Fear and Loathing-esque Josh Homme episode of No Reservations years ago in a trashed state and digging it hard, to DP and I watching the same episode sober several years later and it not feeling quite the same, to my obsessive rabbit-holing back in 2018 on matters of his end-of-life backslide and death, Bourdain had just “been there” for a long time, and felt like “one of mine.”

Even as he seemed to know intuitively how to bond with the world, he was an introvert with an emotional distance about him. He had a magnificent gallows humor that only seems disturbing in retrospect. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that he was in some ways a late bloomer and had never really traveled prior to 2000. He lived a large part of his life in fantasy, and reality never measured up. He existed in a state of gray, a degree of ambiguity that most people’s systems would reject but that is the only outlook that really makes sense to me. It seemed his happy chemicals were missing and he was always trying to replace them. He was too brilliant to buy the BS everyone feeds themselves to get by, yet his romanticism made him dumb sometimes. He surrounded himself with bold, somewhat masculine women. He chased extremes and transferred his fevered fixations from one target to the next for his entire life.

Such, I suppose, were the things that made him “one of mine” – that led me and my likewise oddball significant others to seek out his company onscreen now and again. It’s worth mentioning that some blend of altruism and emptiness led my ex in his early twenties to run off and try to teach English in South Korea, only for The Void to eventually show itself there as well; while my DP, at heart a self-protective, anxious homebody, stretched himself as he approached thirty to start traveling overseas alone. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen either of them display what I’d call capital-J joy – the ambivalent inner chatter never subsided enough for that – but something keeps them chasing, in their own respective ways.

And back in 2018, I had found myself disproportionately agitated over the situation with Bourdain and Argento. It sucks when one’s most recent memories of someone generally great are shitty addict behaviors (even if not involving actual drugs). I remember back in school when folks whom I knew used together would act performatively, slavishly devoted to each other in public. So I recognized all the things that were wrong in the Bourdain-Argento scenario, yet I have always felt like an outsider woman myself – intense, sardonic, rough, not conventionally maternal, and therefore easily villainized – so while there were lots of concerns one could legitimately point to, the things the press was attacking Asia for seemed to be all the wrong things. Sexist, low-hanging-fruit things that felt like an affront to me. As I followed the story, I watched myself becoming irrationally defensive.

*


It struck me in the theater that my interview, as could be said of Bourdain’s early TV career, was a curious exercise: a negotiation of how to be determinedly, unapologetically oneself under artificial circumstances. It was uneven, but I left feeling powerful, because I managed this balance better than I had before.

It will be interesting if this moment ends up to be a crossroads of sorts. Though if it doesn’t, I am a better equipped, more impervious person than I was earlier this year.

Obviously this entry is intended more as a personal snapshot than a review of Roadrunner, so here are a couple incisive reviews I am happy to endorse.

Chris McCoy, Memphis Flyer:
[…]the truth about suicide is much more mundane. Cases like Cleopatra, who killed herself because she lost the Battle of Alexandria and was about to be deposed from her throne by the Romans, are exceedingly rare. The answer to “Why did they do it?” almost never has a clear cut answer beyond lifelong mental illness. One day, things just caught up with them. 

Candice McMillian, Seattle Refined:
Like the man himself, the film is neither all-encompassing nor exclusionary. It’s multifaceted. The truth is a complex jumble of perspective, distorted by time and many places. 

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat:
Early episodes found him stiff on-camera, trying to be what he thought a television host was supposed to be. Only when he scrapped that and just exhibited his own personality did the format click. Personal evolution is one of the primary themes of Roadrunner. Bourdain continually adapted to new opportunities by fine-tuning himself. It was, as much as his talent, the element that allowed him to succeed.

Alissa Wilkinson, Vox:
[…] it’s a gutting film. It’s unsettling in spots. It doesn’t offer answers, or at least not answers that make things better. The end of Bourdain’s life doesn’t have a single meaning, a neat takeaway. The messiness of existence is the point.

And that, Roadrunner suggests, is where Bourdain’s cultural significance lies. 

*

I’ll leave you with a mini-playlist of the moment. The first track is “Anemone” by Brian Jonestown Massacre – one of Bourdain’s favorite songs, apparently, and to my sensibilities not nearly as dark as everyone claims it is. The other two just felt right.


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