What should be a rare confluence of events has become way too common in our daily lives. The profound loss, helplessness, and agitation at a new normal many of us are incapable of recognizing is palpable.
I worked in the restaurant industry for 15 years first bussing tables and eventually moving up the ranks to serving in some of the nicest places in San Francisco before "retiring" as I wrapped up one of my last postgraduate degrees. Along the way I learned a few things--hard work is necessary, a thick skin can serve you well, and people just want to be seen, entertained, and gratified.
Anthony Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential describes the gritty reality we all experienced. I always knew I was passing through. I worked throughout my graduate and postgraduate school years often referring to patrons as patients as I glanced through my index cards of notes and diagrams between tables.
The famous folks like a good meal just like the rest of us. Frank Gifford laughed heartily when I described my childhood neighborhood with NFL street names and specific memories related to his eponymous stretch of suburbia. Arnold Schwarzenegger slipping me a $100 before his family meal to make sure everything went just so. Or the customer joking as I reached for his plate that I would pull back a bloody stump--I gambled and retorted, I would beat him to death with the nub--he handed me a wad of bills after the meal grinning with mischief and appreciation of a worthwhile battle of wits.
It is a weird universe to inhabit. The excessive drinking, sexual exploits, extramarital affairs, scatologic language and blurred decorum created an environment you either leaned into or observed with a piqued curiosity. Perhaps this made me gravitate to the boundless creativity of Anthony Bourdain.
One of my loyal podcasts, The Splendid Table, published a short conversation with Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller, and Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Anthony's branny voice and embouchure morphed from a lifetime of smoking, faded away as the depth and cunning choice of words transfixed. My professional mind unpacked his aesthetic to learn a little bit more--push a boundary or learn not to care about externals.
I was thinking of Bourdain years ago when requesting press credentials for medical conferences. Initially I was told "no" unless I was willing to commit to a story idea and schedule interviews with keynotes and paid luminaries in the field. My response was a little Bourdain-like if I say so myself. I wrote to many that I was not interested in well-rehearsed treacly soundbites. I was interested in the attendees. Why were they there? What did the pharma executive share in small panel discussions? What were the Q&A questions asked at the microphones in the aisle? I wanted to pick up the "rock" and investigate the wriggly bits squirming beneath the surface.
I remember a bunk house in back of a fine-dining restaurant where Chinese kitchen workers were living in a quasi-forced indentured arrangement. Many immigrants of varying legal status worked tirelessly across a variety of restaurant jobs I had for the decade plus in the business. I taught many of them English and in exchange I have quite the saucy repertoire of authentic Mexican slang.
I will miss Anthony Bourdain. Not for the tofu jokes--I get plenty of those--for his authenticity. It is rare in healthcare or in any sphere of influence. So many posture around doing the "right" thing but when prodded or exposed it is actually about profit. Anthony had inner demons, clearly. I have mental illness and drug addiction very close to home and have walked those hallways and know the compromises made to stay focused on being alive. He always cared about the people. The real people doing the work, making the sacrifices, and living on the edges.
Novelist, playwright, essayist, academic, and human rights activist Ariel Dorfman spoke to a small crowd at our local bookstore/cafe.
He said something along the lines of this:
We have beautiful moments. A lovely Mozart symphony, a beautiful dance, art, or maybe in my case--a swim in a serene lake or a run on a trail but in the context of the universe and our time on earth it is meaningless. It is ethereal.
Why not spend it well? Make it count in whatever manner possible. That is what I learned both from Ariel and Anthony Bourdain.
I don’t have an agenda, but I do have a point of view, and it might change from minute to minute--Anthony Bourdain
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In a world of "evidence-based" medicine I am a bigger fan of practice-based evidence.
Remember the quote by Upton Sinclair...
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”