The Ghost of Bourdain

All I wanted was a hard cover copy of A Cook’s Tour, one of Bourdain’s early books after Kitchen Confidential, for my personal library. I noticed that eBay had a nice selection of books for fairly cheap and some places offered free shipping. If I could get a good copy for a few bucks instead of waiting for a local shop to get one in then I would buy one online. I found a copy by a library bookstore and they were offering free shipping. I figured throwing a few dollars to a library was a good investment for everyone. I placed my $8 order and waited, and waited, and wondered if it would ever come. Today I came home after running some errands and found some packages on the porch, one of them was for me. I opened the package to find my copy of A Cook’s Tour. I flipped through the pages to see if it was a first edition and found the signature first. The loud obnoxious “Hello!” was in my face and I turned the light on to see if it was real. Flipping the page over there was that indentation of a pen being pressed against the page. I had seen these before, the early signatures being simple and a quick scribble of his name, during a time he wondered if his fame was a fad and if it was all going to fall apart at some time unexpectedly. This was before the knife or the skull and the addition of “cook free or die” written on the page. I have found gems like this before. A signed first edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with an inscription by the author Michael Chabon was on the shelf at a local store of $1. I bought it and took it home feeling little guilt happy to know it would stay in my collection for decades to come. This was the first book I read where I thought to myself “this is what writing is all about.” My taste has changed over the years but that one book has always stayed with me. Other have come my way over the years, John Updike is a common occurrence, Jim Harrison is on the list, and the local Bonnie Jo Campbell is a dime a dozen in town but I don’t pass them up. This by far is the best find I have come by after seeing dozens of Bourdain’s signed books online for hundreds of dollars and wondering if I would ever be able to own one. I couldn’t help but wonder if his ghost swiped its hand and said “ya know, he’s always been a big fan, stuck through until the end, here you go young man.” I had been looking over his estate auction wondering if I could buy part of his personal library, but this is so much better and in my price range. Somehow, someway, this book came my way, and that need for a person bit of Bourdain’s history being in my life is complete. From now on this book is not for sale, it’s staying on the shelf, I’ll take it out for moments of inspiration and when I die the kids will likely donate it to the local goodwill. I hope I raise them right. Maybe it’s time to get that “Cook free or die” tattoo.

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Letters to Harrison: 11

What may seem like poverty to one man will appear to be a paradise to another. The photos of your friend “Bud” were eye opening, seeing the farm and your writing space in the granary. I noticed you were writing with a Comet and knowing how horrible those machines are it is no wonder you chose pen to paper instead.

That moment was captured when you read the letter saying Wolf had been accepted for publication, the cigarette in your hand with a spiral of smoke hanging in the air.

The Library of Michigan put on a decent show although the cheese and crackers might have been an insult to a man of your appetite and taste. Still free food is free food and for some reason I could not partake of the offering. Your desk was on display sealed in by a glass wall with your legal pad and pen sitting the way you had left them. A picture of Yesenin framed to the side, given to you by a friend.

Your assistant was there telling tales of the man only she knew and spoiled the fun of all the emails you had not sent over the years but labeled with your name. Many confessions come out after death and not by the deceased. The tale of Brown Dog was explained with a postcard you had sent.

Your distaste for things modern is well known. Coming to know you has expanded my reading list tenfold. Thomas McGuane, Rick Bass, and Peter Matthiessen have been added to my shelves, thick books that I have no idea when I will get to them. For some people writing is more of hobby instead of a lifestyle. And let’s face it, if it was my profession, I wouldn’t have time to read anyway. I would have some agent, publisher, or bill collector breathing down my neck wanting to know when the next book will come out so they will get their next check. Reading is for the young and I squandered that time with comic books and horrible movies nobody cares about anymore. The art of reading is dying while everyone thinks they are a writer. There are too many chiefs and no Indians to follow the pages being published these days. The world of literature has become a twitter storm of everyone trying to be heard and only the dumbest of comments being recognized by all. Tonight, I celebrate seeing a glimpse of your life with a bottle of Tresor de la Riviere Cotes du Rhone from 2014. I fear it might have gone bad since it was on sale at the local grocery store. They try to be upscale and I can’t fault them for trying. I figured a French wine for under ten bucks couldn’t be too bad, or could it. I guess if I don’t wake up in the morning, you’ll know what happened. Dinner was a meal of French onion soup with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top and a sherry cooked into the onions. Stuffed buttercup squash baked in the oven until the goat cheese was roasted brown. It might not have been woodcock or quail but it was a meal to be enjoyed. I started reading Wolf yesterday and life for a young man was different from the environment today. A generation wasting away while a handful of assholes run the place into the ground. To do anything declared manly is to invite trouble. In this day and age men would have to form knitting circles and learn how to lactate in order to gain any attention from women. The whole thing is disgusting and yet in some ways they have not changed. No one should be surprised to see that the bestselling book during the height of the women’s me too movement was an abusive piece of garbage that was so bland the title was even grey. In a colorful world the simple-minded try to turn everything into black and white while the rest of us are forced to form into a pattern of good and bad, male and female, black and white, without asking us if it is okay for us to just be who we are. You weren’t good at life but you knew how to live, getting the most out of everyday until your last.

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Letters to Harrison: 10

How is it that the dead are able to stay with us for so long after their body is buried, covered by the earth? Business is never finished and that is true also for the dead. It has been over a year since my father in law has passed away and we are still handling his possessions. Those who don’t believe in immortality have never dealt with an estate after death. Items remain, bill collectors come calling, houses sit dormant, family photos with people unknown to those who remain are tossed into boxes and stored away in the hopes that somebody still knows or cares about the ghost in the pictures, and there are the clothes. A family of foxes have taken up residence at the old house and it is hard to say if this is a good omen or bad. The fox is known to be sly and could be mocking us at our choice to sell the place, or it was a warning to get rid of the property as soon as possible. Either way you never know until you are looking at the end result and hind sight is always 20/20. Immortality is different for writers, successful ones that is. While your books will appear on store shelves for the next hundred years mine just started to appear in the used book stores. There was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in seeing my book sitting in a pile of donated material but it was sad to find the bookmark halfway through. The person who doesn’t finish reading your book is the ultimate critic. I was listening to a book yesterday called Inadvertent and the writer, a superstar from Norway, was talking about why he writes. The goal in his mind was to express an idea on paper and to say it so clearly that anyone can understand it. Then in a separate interview he talked about how his essays and books are about nothing and how well he can write about nothing. I started to wonder if these were the same thing, after all in this world where you can find anything on the internet and it would appear that anything that had to be said has been said, then is nothing the new thing to share that people can understand? Nihilism is the new cool and I can tell you this coming generation does not care about the people who came before or the ones who will be here in the future. The 80s notion of not caring because we are all going to die in a burning inferno of our own doing is alive and well, without the cocaine. I’m waiting for the day that someone out there writes a book called “Nothing Matters” and when you open the pages to start reading you find a title page and everything is blank afterwards. That would push the point home. Of course, the book would be declared a piece of genius, the critics would ask the symbolism of why it was 350 pages instead of one or two hundred. People will spend ungodly amounts of money for a signed first edition and people would still spend money to download and almost blank file onto their phones and computers because it is the cool thing to do and nothing matters. Physicist will claim this was the breakthrough they were looking for in quantum mechanics and wars would stop for five minutes. Then one person, the only one who can still think for themselves, will point out that the book is a fraud and that the world had been swindled by a giant hoax. In the end the author, whoever it may be, will still live long after death in the public mind for the grand book they never wrote because it didn’t matter. I laugh at these professors who try to say what the author really meant and what the story was really about. You and I both know that the author wanted to write. If the book was published it was good enough to make money on. If the public liked it, then it was a good story. If it becomes a classic then it was written well. In the end it comes down to the author needing a paycheck, needed to fight boredom, was trying to get out of his own life, or heaven forbid they were hearing voices. People are not perfect and we know that writers are far from that. Will Self is too lazy to write in paragraphs. David Foster Wallace was bitten by the Thomas Wolfe bug and thought good writing was determined by weight and not style. The Russians found a way to make depression a communicable disease. As for you, well we know how you felt about nature, sex, and food. Things that anyone, especially the French, could understand. Through a book we can learn what a person was thinking about at a certain time in their life. In that sense a part of us lives on. Is there anything more we could hope for?

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