The death of one of his literary heroes leaves Jackson Biko wondering about the meaning of all this.
I won’t say where I was seated having a drink. But I will say that it was in Westlands. And I was alone – for a while, at least. It’s an old bar with furniture that smells of the 80s and cryptic art pictures of red hearts with swords plunged into them on walls. It’s old tan wood. Smoky mirror in the loo. As a rule, I don’t drink alone. I never pass a bar and think, “let me nip in for one or two then head home.” I want to drink with another human being. Preferably one who can talk. But I was alone because when I came out of a meeting nearby I found my car had a flat so while I waited for the car rescue guys sort it out, I decided to wait in this nearby bar, three minutes walk away. It’s a bar known for drunken expats and humanitarian hacks and a unique brand of women of the night who follow these breed like sharks after a trawler. But it was only 7pm, so I figured these cast wouldn’t be here until 10pm at the earliest.
I was in the mood for something smoky so I ordered a double of Laphroaig. Neat. Then I opened my Esquire magazine app on my phone and lowered my head for a reading. After twenty minutes I went into Twitter and discovered that Anthony Bourdain had killed himself a few hours earlier! And it basically knocked me off my seat. Not literally, of course, I’m not that dramatic, but figuratively. I always see celebrities as some rare birds in a faraway forest. A virtual forest. I’m never attached to them. I wouldn’t die for them. Or cross a road to get their autograph. Unless it’s Samuel L Jackson, because he’s a badass.
If George Clooney, by some strange and horrible fate died, I don’t think it would affect me much. I’d think it’s tragic, yeah, but I don’t think it would knock me off my seat. Denzel Washington? Maybe just a little. Matt Damon? Nah. Will Smith? Not awfully. Snoop Dogg? Well I’d feel bad because Snoop would die with the nostalgia of the 90s that was defined by teenage angst. But Anthony Bourdain? My goodness, it stabbed me in the heart. Maybe it’s because he was such a mercurial writer. And I admired him and I always think that God will not let people I admire die.
I read his bestseller, “Kitchen Confidential”, before anyone in my cycle knew who Bourdain was. I then read “Medium Raw” soon after. I then bought “No Reservations” but didn’t finish because it didn’t have him in there. He was missing in it. Maybe he was already famous and didn’t feel the need to break his back writing it. I haven’t watched “Parts Unknown,” because my relationship with TV is lazy. I was ruined by his death. The only other time I felt like this over the death of a celebrity is when the intrepid Times UK writer, AA Gill, died of cancer last year.
I sat there at that bar feeling different emotions for this person I had never met. It just seemed odd that someone so successful and having the time of his life would kill himself. Then I called a friend of mine and asked him if he heard and he said, “It’s not about happiness, it’s about meaning.” I looked around the bar and wondered what all these meant. These meetings and this drink and that guy nodding off in a bar at 7:30pm, and the music and I opened my calendar for the next day and stared at my meetings and thought, what is the meaning of all these? At night I lay still in bed, staring at the ceiling and I thought what is the meaning of anything? Then I slept and when I woke up, I had less answers and more meetings.
Then Katy, the editor, whatsapped me and said this copy was due and if I didn’t send it right this moment things would go pear-shaped quickly so I sat down and stared at the Word documents and thought, “what is the meaning of these deadlines?”