My interaction was limited to two words and they weren’t very exciting ones.
I’m not impressed by celebrities. I lived in LA for five years surrounded by them, and other than looking over my shoulder and saying, “Oh, you’re right, there’s Ashley Judd” I kept my interactions to a minimum.
I guess I should say I’m not impressed by Hollywood celebrities, because there are other people with whom I am very much starstruck, people I would wait in line for hours to meet and squee over. Of that very short list, I’ve met two of my greatest inspirations: one is Jane Goodall, who is my animal inspiration. The other is Anthony Bourdain, who is my creative muse.
I’ve always said I am more Bourdain than Herriot, that I look at animals the way he looks at food (not in a hungry sort of way, mind you). He was by all accounts a decent chef, though no one was going to remember his fevered culinary genius in the decades to come. For him, food and people’s experience of it was a door to greater insight about life, love, and the human condition, the framework through which he told his stories.
His prose was wry, self-aware, and acidic. His face was weathered, like a well-worn canvas bag. If you only took him at face value you’d think he was tough as nails, but his words gave him away. When he looked at you, no matter whether you were a Michelin chef like Eric Ripert or a humble fisherman, he saw you. He actually liked you better than the celebrities. He was interested, and he watched, experienced, learned.
When I was asked to record the audiobook for All Dogs Go to Kevin, I panicked. I’m not a voice actor, I don’t know how to read things out loud, but nonetheless I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to narrate my own story. “Let me try it out,” I said to the publisher, and they agreed, so I went to a recording studio, sat down in a big empty room with my book while a producer in LA gave me feedback over Skype, and started to talk.
And do you know what I did? I pretended I was Anthony Bourdain.
No, seriously, I did. He has a very specific cadence when he narrates on his shows, a crescendo mid-sentence, staccato punctuations towards the end. It’s not a natural way of speaking but it sounds fantastic as a performance, and true to form, whenever I got on a roll, the producer would say, “That was great. Do that more.”
Yes, the All Dogs Go to Kevin audiobook is a three hour Anthony Bourdain impression. You wouldn’t know it unkess I told you that, but it is.
When his last book came out, I begged my husband to go to his meet-and-greet book signing in San Jose. After his show, where he continued to rip Guy Fieri a few more times before launching into his reasoning why the Atlanta airport Johnny Rocket’s is the most depressing place on earth, I waited gamely in line with 500 other people to get my book signed.
You could tell the guy was exhausted. I really wanted to tell him my story about how he inspired me and the audiobook blahblahblah, but I also know these stories are way more interesting to the people telling them than the people listening so I figured I would just go and get my picture and that would be fine.
When we got close to the front of the line, the woman asked my husband and I if we were taking the picture together.
“Yes,” I said, “we’re together.”
“Well, a lot of spouses want their own separate photo,” she said knowingly, which hadn’t even occurred to me but it was too late to back out by that point now that I knew it was an option. Next time, surely.
We walked up to Anthony, he gave us a tired smile, and started to sign my book. I said the usual blah blah I travel because of you etc etc expecting a nod, then he turned to me, focused his chestnut eyes on me, and asked, “Where have you been recently?”
I froze like Ralphie on the Santa slide in A Christmas Story. I hadn’t expected a response, but of course that is why he has always been such a big success, because he does that. I honestly couldn’t remember at that point, so there was a long pause where I thought in a panic. It was green, and there were elephants.
“Chiang Mai,” I finally choked out. Pedestrian, I’m sure, to such a well travelled guy, but he nodded and said how beautiful he found the city. Then we took our photo, we went home, and he continued to talk to the remaining hundred or so people. The next day, he announced his separation from his wife, about whom he had spoken of with such admiration and love.
It’s clear as day to anyone who’s swum in the deep blue sea that the guy’s spent his life sailing away from his own demons, and the creative work he left in his wake was only a side effect we happened to like a lot. The world has lost a truly unique humanitarian. RIP Tony, it won’t be the same without you.