That’s what time I wake up every day. I don’t know why that’s a thing. I haven’t set an alarm in years. I have a routine. I wake up, stretch, groan. I move my body in ways it isn’t supposed to move — a fruitless attempt to crack the parts that hurt. Once I’ve determined that, once again, that won’t be a thing, I grab my phone, scroll Twitter for a minute, then head to the deck for a smoke. I guess it’s my version of Coffee and The Paper.
Today was different, though. I opened Twitter, decided I wasn’t ready for the day, and rolled over — I went right back to sleep…
I had been cooking professionally for six years — I wasn’t particularly good at it. I was deeply immersed in the restaurant industry, working two sous chef positions, full-time, to provide for my family (which included an infant). I was drinking every single night. Not just a little bit. I was getting wrecked. I woke up feeling like shit seven days a week. I didn’t know anybody in my industry, and most of my friends were graduating college, moving on to work desk jobs. We had slowly phased out of each other’s lives. My family didn’t understand what I was doing. My oldest brother had just graduated, got a job in his field, and, during a family gathering, my father raised a Budweiser and toasted to him, the first of his sons to “get a real job.”
At age 21, I was lost. Alone.
That’s when I bought “Kitchen Confidential.”
I got home, who could say which night, drunk as hell. I flipped through a few pages, retained nothing, and woke up the next morning with the book on my nose. I started reading and couldn’t stop. Not knowing I had cyclothymia, I was in a dark place- meandering through life, mostly apathetic to the concept. I was up to no good, feeling helpless and hopeless, on a one-way train to self-destruction. His words gave me energy. I felt so much less alone. I don’t believe it to be hyperbolic when I say — that book saved my life.
It made me feel like somebody, anybody, understood. Bourdain was open about depression and mental health. He was eloquent and painted a broad enough picture to apply to anyone, while also being specific enough about himself that it felt authentic. That sense of kindred spirits got me through a dark time, and I’m more than guessing I’m nowhere near alone in that. At a time when I was feeling desperately alone, I needed his book.
I never met him, never saw him in public, never so much as tweeted him. I’m regular, just like you. He was regular, just like us. He was unabashed, unfiltered — a voice for an entire industry of people who felt they didn’t have one. A beacon for a subset of people, who, diverse as we are, all seem to have similar issues. We are the industry with the second-highest rate of depression, the 19th most likely to commit suicide. We’re all dysfunctional in one way or another.
But he was relatable to me in more ways than his mental health issues. We thought about food the same. We thought about people the same. We fucked our lives up the same. It felt eerie at the time, like we really knew each other. Of course, now years older and arguably wiser, I know that it wasn’t just me who felt that. It was a large chunk of us. That sort of genuine cultural icon doesn’t just happen in a vacuum.
I had no special connection to Anthony Bourdain. Quite the opposite. Polarizing figures’ legacies are always a mixed bag. I’m not in the business of telling people how to feel. For me, though? I’ll remember Anthony Bourdain this way:
A creative, down-to-earth genius who legitimately cared about people. He was relatable and outspoken enough to help save me — perhaps too burdened to save himself. I’m not capable of the mental gymnastics it requires to reconcile that.
Something has to change.
If you, or someone you know, needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Griffin Paulin is owner and chef at Mirin on Frankfort Avenue.