We Are Alive, After All

     I have been voraciously devouring every piece of Anthony Bourdain media I can get my hands on for the past couple of weeks.  I really knew nothing about him prior to this - the extent of my knowledge about him was that he was that famous chef who traveled the world for a CNN show and he committed suicide a couple years back.  I was randomly thinking about him some nights back, and wondered if he ever did an episode of his show(s) in or around my home city, so I checked him out and was hooked.

    One thing I find about him is that I identify with him an almost frustrating amount.  He, like me, seems to take some level of joy in inflicting chaos and self-destruction in your own life to the point of self-flagellation, pulling yourself up out of whatever burnt down ash-ridden husk you emerge from, and finding ways to romanticize it later on.  Teetering on the edge of oblivion, but never quite losing your balance.  Constantly fighting a battle against yourself against laziness and the constant need to just want to sit around, do drugs, and watch old Japanese horror movies all day.  I envy his ability to have found the passion that facilitated a way of keeping him out of trouble - the constant sensory rush of working in high-tempo restaurants seems like a patently healthy way to keep the adrenaline/endorphin needs kept in check.

    However, at least in my case, it was (usually) never necessarily about subservience to any addiction (mental or physical) or some self-aggrandizing high-school-student-who-just-watched-Joker-and-learned-what-anarchy-was philosophical ineptitude, or even some misbegotten sense of hedonism.  Rather, I can sum it up easily as: when I'm laying in my death bed, I want to have as few "I wish I did that"'s as I humanly can.  I used to describe this in more detail as I laid in my death throes from lung cancer smoking my last cigarette, but I unfortunately managed to kick that habit about a year ago.

    Bourdain talked about this in one of his books, too.  His analogy was slightly different - in his, he was pinned and dying underneath a car that hit him - but the spirit of his line of thought remained more or less the same.  I'm a fan of a good time, of a bad time, of an interesting time, of an awful time, of any time that I can come out of detailing a narrative to my friends on the drive home.  Angry, happy, or heartbroken, any experience that can be woven on the loom of storytelling is something invaluable to me.

    “My love for chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature colors the behavior of my charges, most of whom are already living near the fringes of acceptable conduct.”

 - Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential


This quote is towards the end of the book, and is a succinct feather in the cap of madness that preceded it.  It got me thinking about a movie, Melancholia by the inimitable Lars von Trier.  A movie about a depressed woman who is in the midst of her wedding night as humanity discovers that Earth is about to become annihilated by an oncoming asteroid.  I will spare the details (mostly because I haven't seen the movie in close to 10 years), but one thing that always stuck out about it for me was something I read about it either from von Trier himself or someone else.  In essence, it was describing how the movie encapsulates the feeling of depression incredibly well vis a vis the total comfort-in-chaos feeling that someone who is affected by depression might feel.

    I think I've had some level of low-grade depression ever since I was very, very young.  Not debilitating to the point to where I can't function or can't get out of bed in the morning, but more of an omnipresent background radiation that acts as a stopgap whenever things might be getting "just a little bit too good."  It has more or less painted my view on the world, myself, and others.

    But occasionally I will think about that, and think about how comfortable I feel when everyone and everything around me has tipped the scales a little bit too much on that localized entropy and madness starts coming out the other end.  When shit gets rough or disordered and the situation calls for someone to grab it by the balls and run with it, I'm your man.  That background radiation of depression that is constantly making my line of thought tend towards disorder, anarchy, and pandemonium.

    I can think of a pretty specific, although low-grade, example of this.  In my mid-20s, I used to live in a duplex with two other friends.  This duplex was full of the debauchery that clouds most peoples mid-20s: constant booze-fueled house parties, sex with strange women on the couch of your very public three-tenant house, ash trays filled to overflowing everywhere, and all of this done in an incredibly cheap house that was constantly trying to find clever ways of killing you.  Leaky section of pipe that just so happened to be right above the incredibly heavy mid-20th century plaster?  Better believe that ceiling tried to fall on someone checking for beer in the fridge.  A bathroom with a faulty GFI that would puzzlingly shock the piss out of you every time you ran the shower and touched a piece of metal?  Didn't get that one fixed until a contractor complained to our landlord.

    I was standing out on the duplex porch one afternoon smoking a cigarette and talking with my duplex neighbor.  A relatively kind African-American girl about my age who was also taking classes at a local college late in her life.  We got along pretty well, and she even defended me when I accused her sister of ripping my buddy off for some weed one time.  Mysteriously, the missing few grams he had bought ended up under the recliner we kept on our porch.

    In either event, I used to hang out with my dog on the porch as I smoked.  She was never one for wandering, and generally kept pretty close to me.  I didn't tempt this, so any time she would wander a bit too far  from the porch - usually just to take a piss - I would call her back and she'd loyally saunter right back.  I hadn't been paying too much attention this day, and didn't notice that she had wandered damn near to the sidewalk while I was talking with my neighbor.  I called her to come back multiple times, but my dog is stubborn and doesn't like to listen all the time.

    We lived right on a main thoroughfare to get to the downtown section of the city.  Cars would travel up and down constantly to get to and from downtown to one of the trendier parts of the city.  I didn't live in the trendy part, but I did live in the slightly questionable, almost ghetto midriff.  Busy street, cars constantly coming and going, speed limit about 45MPH.  With my dog adamantly ignoring my calls to come, my volume getting louder and more panicy by the second.  This busy street had street parking, so anyone driving on the street would not see my dog wandering into the road and she would be obscured by the cars parked in front of our house.

    Finally, I made one last "C'MERE, DOG" - more frantic than commanding at this point.  She looked back at me, ears laid back with her eyes that fiery glow of independent defiance that I have come to appreciate in her as she's gotten older, and walked right in to the street.  I will never in my life forget the car flooring the brakes, slamming in to her, and her sliding 15 feet down the street into another parked car.

    Immediately the "okay, chaos brain, here's what we're trained for, take action" part of me took over.  Rather than sit there and scream and cry like my neighbor did, I sprinted as fast as I could towards my dog.  My brain ran down a hastily invented checklist of "no blood - good.  pick her up and get her out of the street now.  fuck, she's stiff as a board and her tongue is lolling out the side of her mouth - not good.  wait.  okay, she's breathing, good, get her inside and on the couch, something soft.'

    I carried her in to my house, barking at my now sobbing neighbor to quickly find the closest emergency vet to our house.  My roommate came downstairs wondering what was going on.  I told him "dog hit by car, look up emergency vet for me."  I am simply pressing my fingers down very, very gently on certain spots to see if anything hurts or is broken.  I am winging it, I have no idea if I should be doing this.  Okay, she seems out of shock and is breathing, and now the pain is coming on.  Hold her still.  Fuck, she just pooped on the couch - roommate, go get me some paper towels please.  A knock on the front door.  Oh good, it's the guy who just hit my dog with his car - "hey man, I couldn't see her, I'm sorry, she just came out of now-" interrupt this guy and tell him to get the fuck off my porch and he knows where to find me if anything comes up.  Roommate back with paper towels.  Clean up dog poop and look up emergency vet myself.

    You get the idea.  In moments of stress and panic I snap in to action and feel comfortable and ready to make decisions.  Whether or not these are all good decisions is immaterial, I am simply ready to take up the reigns when things are going south and people don't know what to do.  I don't know why this is, but I always just go back to that background radiation and the disorder and overall tumult that I feel like is going on inside my head all the time.

    So maybe that's why I generally like chaos.  Chaos is comfortable, chaos is freeing, chaos is my chance to rip off the chains and engage the part of my brain that lies dormant aside from it's wanton need to kick shit at me all the time.  This is getting far too ramble-y and far more unstructured and disorganized than I had originally intended, so I should probably cut myself off.

    The dog is fine, by the way.  Still alive and kicking many years later, and only had a bruised shoulder after her little tete-a-tete with the car.


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