Who is in the photos at right and below?
That’s me, novelist Chris Pavone, and Charlie Brown, a thirteen-year-old cocker spaniel.
What’s the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
Charlie and I are celebrating! My first novel The Expats was published a few weeks ago, and immediately hit the New York Times bestseller list. Charlie, a book-publishing veteran himself (see below), is well aware that this is occasion to celebrate.
I’m having a macchiato at Café O on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, in Greenwich Village.
Any treats for you or Charlie on this occasion?
No. We both ought to lose a few pounds, although only one of us will admit it.
How were you and Charlie united?
Charlie was a birthday present given to my wife Madeline by her mother—with permission and consultation (he wasn’t a surprise, unwrapped, “Oh my God ...”). Charlie is the only dog I’ve ever lived with.
How did Charlie get his name? Any nicknames?
Charlie was our training child—he helped us learn how to be parents, in anticipation of having actual human children. So we gave him the name that we probably would have used for one of our sons. Charlie also has plenty of nicknames, but he thinks we’re crazy if he’s going to answer to any of them. The main one is Yumpus de Grömpus, of the (fictional) de Grömpuses of Belgium, one of the oldest noble families of the Walloon region.
What role has Charlie played in your writing?
None. But I was a book editor before I was a book writer, and Charlie appeared in one of the books I edited. Back when he was a puppy, I hired a well-known pet photographer named Jim Dratfield—who had published a few books of animal photos—to take some portraits of our puppy; this was my birthday present to Madeline. During the shoot Jim and I got to talking about a new project, which I ended up publishing as Underdogs—a book about non-purebred dogs—a decade ago. And even though Charlie is a pure cocker spaniel, Jim and I both wanted his photo in the book. So to avoid clashing with the book’s premise, we put Charlie’s portrait in the Acknowledgments, where he is thanked—by name!—for his role in bringing the project to fruition. All his friends were very impressed.
Does Charlie have a favorite place to go for a walk?
We live most of the time in New York City, but we also have a weekend place in a Long Island village. When we bought the old house, the first thing we did was enclose the yard in fences, to pen in Charlie as well as our twin sons, who were babies at the time. But somehow Charlie has always managed to escape, and he loves strolling around town, living an unsupervised, leash-free lifestyle. We usually find him at the ice cream parlor, or at our neighbors’ houses.
Squirrel, postman, cat...?
Oh, he hates squirrels, but it’s the rabbits that really drive him nuts. Charlie has torn his ACL twice—both rear legs—chasing rabbits. I myself recently had ACL-replacement surgery, and my wife had it twenty years ago, so all the adults in our household have undergone this procedure. I’m afraid our children are going to end up wearing knee braces prophylactically.
How does Charlie contribute to your art?
Charlie is a testament to dedication. He has helped me see that if you devote yourself singularly to something, and focus fully, you can achieve 22 or even 23 hours in a single day of sleep. Awe-inspiring.
Squeaky-top, ball, Frisbee?
Charlie’s longest-term frenemy has been a revolting stuffed-fabric blue bird that we refer to as Crazy Birdie, because he’s got bloodshot eyes, and looks somewhat insane. Crazy Birdie has spent a number of winters outside, developing a richly mottled patina. Charlie absolutely loathes Crazy Birdie, and every year tries unsuccessfully to kill him, then despondently dumps the thing under some bush or another, which is where we find Crazy Birdie during spring cleanup.
If Charlie could change one thing about you, what would it be?
Charlie can’t for the life of him figure out why people shut doors. He would be so much happier if I never again did that.
What is Charlie’s best quality?
Charlie is unobtrusive, which is why our neighbors don’t mind when he shows up uninvited. He likes to just plop down next to you (to anyone, really, he’s not discerning about friends) and hang out calmly and often asleep, keeping you quiet company—“a heartbeat at my feet,” as Edith Wharton wrote. That’s Charlie.
If Charlie could change one thing about New Yorkers, what would it be?
Charlie lived in Luxembourg for a while—we all did—and he appreciated European attitudes about dogs and restaurants (especially in Bavaria): 1, dogs are welcomed warmly; 2, they are invited in; and 3, they’re offered something to drink, and often a bite to eat as well. Charlie doesn’t understand why New Yorkers don’t adopt these attitudes, and he’s offended by the Department of Health regulations; Charlie knows that he spends more time cleaning his hands than everyone else in our family combined.
What is Charlie’s proudest moment?
Charlie once took a much-deserved afternoon break at Les Deux Magots, on the boulevard St-Germain in Paris, where people like Hemingway and Picasso and Sartre and Camus used to hang out. Charlie looked around with satisfaction, and thought, This is the life for me.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Charlie could speak, who should do his voice?
Charlie thinks talking is vastly over-rated—stupid, actually. He would never sign a release for any type of film other than a silent one.
If Charlie could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?
“What’s your understanding of elevators?”
Visit Chris Pavone's website.
The Page 69 Test: The Expats.