The Truth About Bunny Chafowitz
From time to time, I make reference to Bunny Chafowitz. “Who is Bunny Chafowitz?,” people ask. “Is that her real name?”
It can wait no longer. The time has come. I must tell you “The Truth About Bunny Chafowitz.” I must, also, warn you that it will at times be a somewhat sappy story.
On July 2, 1994, as was my custom, I awoke at about 10 p.m., washed myself, dressed, and headed for Harland’s Restaurant. In those days, I lived a halcyon life. Unencumbered by the need to work — well, much, anyway — because I am actually a man of simple needs, I frequently went to bed in the late afternoon and slept until 10 p.m. so that I could enjoy the vibrant nightlife of early 1990s Fresno, California.
Stop laughing, or I’m not going to continue this story.
Harland’s restaurant was, in those days, one of the places to go in Fresno. The interior was actually once featured in Architectural Digest ; the food garnered an article in Gourmet magazine. As Kim “Son of Anarchy” N. has noted elsewhere, “Harlan[d]’s was pretty much the only example of fine dining you could find in Fresno.”
And Bunny Chafowitz was the manager of Harland’s.
I spent many a night partying and drinking with Roy Harland, the chef-owner of the place. Harland’s was the first and sometimes last stop each night on a bohemian circuit that took me from “north” Fresno to the Tower District with Livingstone’s (pronounced “Livingston’s”), Veni Vidi Vici (pronounced “VVV”), the Daily Planet (pronounced exquisite), and a host of others, then down to Tokyo Gardens where the decisions as to after-hours parties were made and invitations thereto extended. (As to the quotations around “north” Fresno, River Park, the restaurants and bars around Champlain and Perrin, etc., did not yet exist; in fact, I’m not sure Champlain & Perrin existed yet!)
Anyway, the fact that Bunny Chafowitz was the manager had somehow escaped my notice.
Until July 2, 1994. The night that would change my life forever.
That night I was looking for companionship. I thought I spotted it in the form of two rather cute chickies seated in the upper-tier area of Harland’s, near the bar. I casually approached, black Russian in hand. Engaging the gals, I was quickly interrupted when Bunny Chafowitz appeared. It seems the cute chickies were friends of Bunny Chafowitz, the manager, and she wasn’t going to let just anyone make a move on her friends. (Besides, as I would later learn, she wanted me herself.)
It was love at first sight. And not just because she had the size and vivacity of a female hobbit. No, no. Bunny Chafowitz overwhelmed me with a powerful presence I had hitherto never seen in a woman of her diminutive size.
Besides, I was already striking out with her friends.
Perhaps it was my over-suave approach. Perhaps it was my cologne. Perhaps it was my 1940s film-noir-style approach to talking about important incidents from my past. Whatever the reason, I was left to the devices of Bunny Chafowitz, then known only as Denise Chaffee, daughter of the late “Doc” Chaffee of the Chaffee Zoological Gardens (so often referred to as “the Fresno Chaffee Zoo” that the name was changed to that in 2006).
Bunny and I soon became inseparable. Within a few months, we moved together to a nice home on the southern edge of “old Van Ness,” just near the start of Christmas Tree Lane. The perfect spot to simultaneously begin Bunny’s “unofficial” conversion to Judaism and our life together.
Although no one ever doubted for a minute — at least we never doubted for a minute! — that Bunny Chafowitz was the Love of My Life, it was a long time before we married. Somewhere along the way, I happened into a store one day in Stockton, California, while on a scouting mission for a new “POP” (point of presence) for an Internet company I was helping to build. As I entered the door, something caught my attention, drawing me like a magnet but with the speed of a collapsing galaxy. My world was suddenly focused on the story of the Little Nutbrown Hare, desperate to show the Big Nutbrown Hare the enormity of the Little Nutbrown’s devotion. The story touched me on many levels, and I knew it would do the same for Bunny Chafowitz.
One thing we both liked about the story — this is the “one level” on which we liked it — was that the story was of a father who cared for, played with and demonstrated his tremendous love for his child. Bunny and I are, in our heart of hearts, drawn by stories that don’t conform to the norm. Another thing we both liked was that it fit with something we frequently said to one another: “Guess how much I love you?,” we’d say. Then we’d each go back and forth topping one another. “I love you from here to the end of the earth,” we’d say. Invariably, one would reply, “I love you there and back.” (Look, I warned you it was going to be sappy.)
And so it was to her I became “BNB,” or “Big NutBrown,” or just “a Big Nut” and “Denise,” became known variously as “LNB,” “Little NutBrown,” or “Bunny.” These days, if I refer to her as “Denise,” she thinks she’s done something to upset me.
So much for “Bunny.” But where did the “Chafowitz” thing come from?
Well, on July 2, 2001 — I picked the date to coincide with the date I first laid eyes on her — Bunny and I married. Her mother (unknown to us at that time) was nearing the end of her life, her mind not as sharp as it had been. With a name like “Chaffee,” we were hesitant for Bunny to give it up. And we joked about how we thought it was odd that a woman should abandon her maiden name anyway, but a man did not have to do the same. We told Bunny’s mom that we’d decided it was only fair that we both change our names. “Chaffee” and “Horowitz” would combine to make us “the Chafowitzes.”
We were kidding, but somehow her mother took us seriously. Just before our wedding day — her mother could not attend — we received a gift in the mail: a check made out to “Denise Chafowitz.” (Somehow the bank actually cashed that check, after an explanation from Bunny. Ah, wasn’t life grand in the pre-9/11 days, when you could actually accomplish things without being blocked by Homeland Security?)
And ever since that day, Denise Chaffee, the love of my life, my own beloved 4’10” tall hobbit, has been “Bunny Chafowitz.”
And, oh, by the way, when she reads this I’ll be dead. Bunny thinks she’s 4’11”.