Coffee Log, Day 244


Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I got Chinese with my roommate then went home to watch Haunting of Hill House. Everyone’s been talking it up. We popped the tops on plastic quart cartons and ran the first episode. They filmed it with a filter that makes everyone look jaundiced. All the actors and actresses looked the same. We stopped the show three times just to figure out who was who.

So anyway, I’ve got lukewarm first impressions of Hill House, but dinner was great. The lady at the restaurant always smiles when she sees me. That’s nothing special, she smiles for everyone. I ordered the Sichuan tofu. It was piping hot. At home, halfway through the show, I had a moment where I got a bit of onion and a bit of sauce, dipped it in steamed rice, and realized I’d die someday.

I’ve been thinking ‘death’ since birth. In 3rd grade I used to imagine I might get reincarnated as the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls. I’d picture myself in his body playing shows. He was the coolest person I could think of. I imagined this every night as I was going to sleep. If I didn’t, it was all cold sweats and heavy breathing, the black wall of inevitability. Like I said, I’m an over-thinker.

So it wasn’t too unusual to think about dying when the slick, red, acidic stuff touched my tongue. But the way it felt tonight was more of a ‘maybe this is okay.’ I’ve been stressed lately. Taken in full, 2018’s done a number. It’s like the third week of school: first is exciting; second’s a breeze; the third is when the tests come, and no matter how you do there’s no going back from the bright red branding of the grade. I’ve been considering next year, and the year after. I feel stretched like good leather.

After the first perfect bite I took another. Some broccoli, dipped. The rich sauce got caught in her green perm. It tasted like something that shouldn’t be so good for you. The stem snapped in my jaw. I washed her down with tapwater.

“I’m gonna die someday,” I thought, “but this is nice for now.”

We finished dinner and the episode. I feel pretty full.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“…food that can burn you down to a charred, smoking little stump.” – Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown, Sichuan episode


Coffee Log, Day 108


On a dark March evening in 2013, lying beside a sleeping woman with whom I’d been collaboratively ruining two lives – mine and hers – I was strung out, lit up, crying, and inspired as the hot blue TV played the Hokkaido episode of No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain was sipping soup. The soup was prepared with fish sperm. Absurdly removed from my nook in North Carolina, that scene confirmed my decision that – no matter where I was or who I was with in a year – I’d follow up on a lead to teach English in Japan. In 2014, I did just that. All that is to say: Anthony Bourdain helped me save myself.

So it was a little disorienting that he hung himself last night in a French hotel.

I went to lunch at China Chef for the third time today. It was less crowded but still full of shift workers. The lady at the counter knew my name, my order, I sat at my awkward window table below a CRT blaring Fox News. I watched cars drive by and ate a good meal. Bourdain would have disapproved of the dish – tofu, no meat – but I think he would have appreciated the restaurant. A mom&pop run by immigrants. Food that connected me to another culture and to my own. I found myself over and over in the hot rice, thick sauce, bubbling-crisp spring roll – this was every tiny Chinese diner I grew up visiting with my Dad. Like my last couple visits, I was the only white face. I felt wonderfully alone and wonderfully together.

Anthony Bourdain was the best thing going for white America. He found a voice in hardship, empathy in privilege. He had power but used it to lift those without it. He wasn’t good, wasn’t perfect, or even all that nice, but he kept his eyes open and ears ready and tongue watering for whatever disagreed with him. He grew. Watch A Cook’s Tour, then watch Parts Unknown. He knew that America looks best when she’s bursting full of language, flavor, culture, color. He knew he’d lived thirty years of advantage so he spent the next thirty traveling the world to understand – and ultimately extend to others – that advantage. He didn’t have a message, an agenda, other than to approach the world on its own terms, however frightening or strange it might seem. He spoke love to the simplest places and cut wickedly at those with corrupting power.

Anthony Bourdain was the best thing going for white America. He was an example of how to be both honest and good. Last night, he hung himself in a French hotel.

I’ve gotta say: what you did was pretty selfish, Bourdain. You probably knew that – you had a hundred dark horses running through your thoughts – but knowledge doesn’t absolve so I have to call you out. There’s no strength in running and no matter how weak you are there’s always enough strength to go on. Take it from me – I grew up in a family of brinksmanship; I’ve flirted with the edge on windy nights. But there’s no justice to bowing out early.

People still need you. Your family surely does. Every immigrant cook in an American kitchen needs you to keep giving their powerful voices a platform. America needs you, especially now as her most dangerous demons bubble up like indigestion. And, like a million other writers, artists, scoundrels, addicts, vagabonds, low-down honest persons just trying to get by, I need you. It was a bad, nasty thing you did last night. It hurt us all; it will for a while.

But I guess I’ll take a page from your book: just this once – inspired by the open way you met the lowest, weakest, roughest hearts exactly where they were, no judgment, just open ears and appreciation – I’ll forgive you.

I don’t know which hell or heaven has you, Bourdain, but make sure you’re too much for them to handle.

“Night falls – like a fat man tripping over his shoelaces.” – Anthony Bourdain