Reality TV and the Dead Man
I go to bed every night reading Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw. It is not a particularly deep book but the sentences are elegant. The way he sweeps from rant to interview to praise. He knows that the way to set a scene is to put your body in a place and there is no better body placing act than eating a bite of food. The way he describes an oyster on the tongue. A beef tongue on the grill. A grilled steak that does not pretend to be a substitute-for-meat portobello.
He is dead every day since he died and yet there he is on Parts Unknown swinging his shoulder out of a train window while the theme song sings “Felt the cool rain on my shoulder.” His body is in place and yet it is also rotting in the ground. How do I still love you?
It’s combination of a death rattle and a pulled muscle, my relationship to you and my own body in the late evening. I should go to bed but my own daughter keeps me up at night—thinking about how much she feels about the world. Her friend. Herself. Injustice. Trampoline.
I read you at night dead man, why? To keep myself awake?—am I like you? Is my daughter like you? I saw your eyes in the promo. You looked straight on to the man serving you uni and mako. Do you have to be already dead to serve the dead fishes? Or does it make you a member of the utmost living, eating great swaths of tiny sea urchin. I’ve only had a bite of urchin in my deep dark life. My favorite thing about tiny foods is trying to make each egg discrete. Ah, discreet with a t between the ee’s.
Or do I read to put myself to sleep. Not me not me not me. I love the way words make a lullaby, a rock-a-by that swings up toward death and back toward and away from your mother. Ginger Nile wrote “Got ‘em” when she was reunited with her 12 and 13 year old babies and I said, “Good Catch.” I did not say it to make me famous. I will get famous on urchin roe and child nurturing on my own.
I go to sleep with a number of dead men on my night stand. Which one rocks me to sleep the most? The most recently dead? The long, Shakespearean dead? The dead of my graduate school readings? That dude who wrote Confederacy of Dunces? The women on my night stand, Jesmyn Ward and Robin Wall Kimmerer and Elena Passerello are still alive. I even know a couple of them and/or am friends with them on Facebook.
I read all the books but I keep going back to this recently dead. The recently dead knew something the rest of us don’t. I try to figure out what it is in their writing. Is it the way they go from judging the crappy behavior of people to turning inward and wondering what about them makes them think crappy thoughts of others. Is it the pacing of the sentences? Is it the way they say, “I would die,” throughout the book.
When I was 14, I went through a New Agey phase where I read Shakti Gawain. She said, never think “I’m going to die,” when, for example, you get too much math homework because that will give you cancer later. And always speak positively, even if you’re expressing something negative. “I would like something besides hamburgers for dinner “ instead of “no burgers!” If I could make a concordance of Medium Raw and how many no’s or not’s there were, maybe there would be an excessive number?
Does death, especially suicide saturate everything? In my book, Sustainability, A Love Story, I talk a lot about suicide and planet death and wonder if everything is one big slow suicide. I used to read Anne Sexton just for the suicide clues. I should have read Infinite Jest in 2007 before David Foster Wallace died. But now he’s just another dead guy like Shakespeare and Hunter S. Thompson who might have had something to say about death but now it’s too far away to know. As Bourdain still floats along the airwaves, is still alive on Reality TV, he’s in between life and death and maybe sending messages about both. I read Medium Raw and then maybe I’ll read Kitchen Confidential again and watch Parts Unknown and feel the cool rain on my shoulder. Maybe I’ll go to Tokyo, Bourdain’s favorite place, or one of them, and figure out how to order uni in Japanese and see if that’s what it feels like to live. Or maybe get a hint of what it feels like to die.