In Tribute to My Friend Marvin
The first time I ever ate the exquisite pizza at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles was also the first time I met Marvin.
We lived on opposite ends of the state. Me in Silicon Valley, and he in the Arts District of Los Angeles, which was appropriate given his long career as a sound editor on movies ranging from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” to “Basic Instinct” to “Erin Brokovich.” It wasn’t movies that brought us together, though, but food, of course.
When I was the food editor of the San Jose Mercury News, I would often get emails from loyal readers far and wide, especially right after the food section published each Wednesday. None captivated me more than those from Marvin, who always had a thought or two about any story I wrote.
First off, you had to love the fact that his email address was “KitchenSynch.” That alone was enough to make me smile whenever I saw it pop up in my inbox each week. Second, he shared my love of sweets and ginger; so how could I not feel a kinship with him? He’d often send me recipes he’d come across that he tried and knew I would like — for brioche buns, loaded ginger muffins, and “Babette’s Apple Cake.” He’d even send me care packages at the newspaper of ginger candies, ginger jams and ginger sodas he knew I’d appreciate. Third, he would email me recommendations for movies. Often obscure, many times foreign, ones I’d never heard of. But all were worth seeing in their own right. And last but not least, when my parents passed away in the same year, within two months of one another, it was Marvin who wrote the most touching words of comfort to me, lifting me from the shadows of devastating despair.
After months and months of these email exchanges, I figured it was high time we met in person. My husband and I were headed to Los Angeles for a long weekend, so I emailed Marvin to see if he would like to meet up at Pizzeria Mozza. He agreed, readily.
On that afternoon, my husband and I pulled up a little early to the restaurant, in search of nearby parking. As we did, we saw a bespectacled, white-haired man, old enough to be my father, already sitting patiently on the bench outside the restaurant. “How much do you want to bet that’s Marvin?” my husband asked with a chuckle.
He would have won that bet, too, because it was indeed Marvin. We greeted each other with hugs, then went inside to share our first tastes of the chewy, crisp, divine pizzas we had read so much about and longed to try. We talked about movies. We talked about food. Mostly, we just talked. It was that easy, that natural, that unencumbered.
So much so that when we had finished the last slices, my husband and I had already invited him to join us for lunch again two days later at a Japanese restaurant not far from where he lived, just before we would drive back home to the Bay Area.
Like the first one, that lunch was full of laughter and warmth, the kind you experience only with old friends, even if he and I had just met.
Over the years, Marvin continued to email his thoughts on food, though less so as time went by. We saw each other again when my husband and I took another trip to Los Angeles. And even after he retired, he would still on occasion send me titles of films to seek out on DVD or Netflix.
I’d send him a Christmas card every year, though I don’t think he ever sent one in return. But I know that not everyone is into that holiday tradition.
So this past Christmas, when I put a card in the mail to him, I didn’t think anything of it when I didn’t hear back. Not until the card returned a month or so later, marked “Undeliverable.”
“Hmm…” I thought to myself. And left it at that. Maybe because I just didn’t want to contemplate its meaning.
Last week, when my husband and I were driving around the streets of Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but think of Marvin, especially when we got take-out pizza from Mozza. So when we returned to the hotel, my husband opened up his laptop and Google’d Marvin’s name. And there it was. His obituary: Marvin Walowitz. He had died of cancer in September of last year at the age of 79.
Even though the news wasn’t necessarily a complete surprise, I still felt pangs of sadness at the reality and finality of it all. There would be no more shared pizzas with Marvin. There would be no more KitchenSynch emails to look forward to. There would be no more recipes to discuss. Marvin was truly gone.
It got me thinking about people who complain that they have no time to read. I feel bad for them. I really do. I think about what they’re missing that they’ll never have a clue about. It might be news with the gravity to change the world. It might be a mere frivolity that evokes a laugh to lighten the day. Or it might just be missives on food, films, and family that lead to a touching friendship to be valued for all time.
Here’s to Marvin, who taught me that — and so much more.