Well, for one, Taylor Kitsch no longer peers at us so piercingly from under his Tim Riggins hair now that he’s on True Detective and the matchless Friday Night Lights are fully extinguished. And in my house, Property Brothers has been banned because of the stream of filth that used to come out of my mouth whenever the twins were onscreen together, or just alone onscreen but wearing a tool belt. So Drew and Jonathan Scott must be counted out, too.
Still, Anthony Bourdain’s being the sexiest guy on television is even more about his unique appeal than it is the competitive field. He is worldly, hyper-verbal, funny. On Parts Unknown, his CNN show, he visits exotic places like Madagascar and Uruguay and, while revealing strange political histories and hanging with local journalists and poets, slurps hearty meat soups, drinks beer, tosses off wry comments to his cameramen, wears the same couple of shirts over and over—even as I type this, those shirts are spinning in a dryer somewhere—and has for five seasons now. Ladies! Gay men! Straight men who wonder! This could be your entire weekend! The first couple seasons are waiting for you on Netflix right now, not to mention all the seasons of his previous work in No Reservations and The Layover!
Isn’t this the fantasy we all have for our own lives? Not the hours in front of Netflix, but the offbeat, intelligent adventure. At least it’s the fantasy I have for mine. This is what makes Bourdain so attractive—along with his dark past, knife skills and string of novels and memoirs. He’s like the Most Interesting Man in the World, chef-author edition.
It points to a deeper truth, too—one that should be a source of enormous relief. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only older men whose personal qualities can help them transcend the typical sexual handicaps of age. My own mother, after 40-odd years of marriage and seven children, still gives off such an aura of profound sweetness and good fun that, on the rare occasions I can convince her to step inside a bar, she is liable to get the eye—mostly, it’s true, from that type of potbellied lush/lost soul in a captain hat and boat shoes without socks who you find in almost any place in Virginia with a license. The point stands.
In Anthony Bourdain, we see that our long-ago teenage aspiration—to be a person with a past—is both achievable and worth achieving, though not, and this is crucial, by any means inevitable. In his breakout 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain writes of once being in a cab with three other junkies. They’ve just scored, and suddenly he remembers the statistic that only one in four heroin addicts ever gets clean. “And right there, I knew that if one of us was getting off dope, and staying off dope, it was going to be me.” His three friends dead, he relates this as the sole survivor, now on his second chance—or 32nd, as the case may be.
There is so much heedless, unthinking triumphalism in our culture’s notion of a “survivor” that the subtler pleasures to be found in second chances tend to get obscured. For starters, while the pressure may be equal or even higher, the resulting happiness is more intense. Speaking for myself, I have never gotten anything right the first time unless it was by sheer accident or through an instance of my inattention somehow working for me. Whereas the second time around, not only do we have the gift of practice and pertinent life experience, but the pace is familiar and thus more forgiving. You’ll know this is true if you’ve ever been reunited with a lover after a longish absence. The best time is not the “come over here now” but the “darling, let me look at you properly.”
Viewed in this light, aging, pain and failure show themselves to be indispensable. This isn’t facile sentiment, though it is both comforting and true. As you drink your own beer tonight in front of Parts Unknown, don’t forget to raise your glass first. Here’s to you, Anthony Bourdain, and here’s to all of us, too.