June 19, 2002


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Chavi

OVER THE YEARS people have often told me how lucky I am to be writing about food, as if the heart of the gig were the food and not, as is the case, the writing. But then, writing about food or anything else is solitary and unglamorous business, and very few people – very few writers – have the temperament for it.

Being alone has never been for me a malignant fact – has never become loneliness, with its connotations of isolation and unhappiness – in part because I could only work when alone, and because, for more than a decade, I enjoyed the silent, reassuring company of my muse, a chow chow who came to us as an eight-week-old ball of black fuzz in January 1991 and whom we named Chavi, a slightly off-key Hebrew rendition of "little pal."

Like most dogs, Chavi liked people food when he could get it, especially restaurant leavings – roast chicken and grilled tuna, Havarti cheese and coffee ice cream. He liked to lick cappuccino cups; he did not like carrots. He had a gift for finding me, wherever I happened to be in the house (since much of writing involves aimless pacing and talking to oneself), and if, as was often the case, I was away from my desk, he would look at me with his almond eyes as though to say, Please get back to work so I can lay down on the Turkish rug next to your desk and have my nap. Failing that, give me a cracker.

When I spoke to him, as I often did, he would listen attentively, swiveling his velvety, triangular bat ears in my direction like a set of tiny satellite dishes. Then, when I had finished talking, I would bend down and kiss his muzzle and write something while he went back to his snooze.

Around Valentine's Day, Chavi fell ill. He stopped eating and started vomiting. He lost weight and lost gusto and stopped being with me; I too lost the capacity for pleasure, as my springtime became a blur of weeping, nursing, and writing by force of will. We thought we could save him, but he died on our arms on a warm, cloudless morning – June 4, a Tuesday.

I have often noticed that readers tend to regard writers as inhuman and invulnerable, like dartboards. But if you have read this column and this page over the past four years, I thought you should know that these days the eyes of the man who writes these words are red and tender, for he has lost his muse, and his friend.

Paul Reidinger paulr@sfbg.com