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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

This is only about sports insofar as your ardor about your college team is linked to the good times you had in college, but Hello Faz has died and I feel something must be said.

Faz Husain, 1952-2006

During the six year span of my career as a Michigan student, I must have seen hundreds of examples of a particular genre of grainy photograph. They were all alike at their core: one celebrity, face frozen in a rictus halfway between bemused and alarmed. One extremely hairy, beaming man impossibly overjoyed to be in the same photo as Muhammad Ali or Gerald Ford or Bob Hope or (yes, this is true) Ghandi. A caption: "CELEBRITY X says HELLO FAZ." Exhortations to pizza scattered around it.

This was the Hello Faz flyer, which neatly summarized why people protest Wal-Mart stores in their neighborhood. No corporate chain could approximate a hundredth of Faz's charm; any attempt to do so would either be lame or offensive. Because when you're the type of person I am, the idea of a half-deranged pizza magnate who stalks celebrities and regards spelling and grammar as a peculiar anality of Daniel Webster (e.g., "WE TAKE ALL PIZZA PLACES COUPONS WITH EXTRA $1.00 DOLLAR OFF") is one of the most delightful things conceivable. As a result, Hello Faz got a lot of orders for pizza with chicken and pepper rings from 1331 Geddes.

Every time we called, we hoped we would get Faz himself instead of one of his dour employees, as we had learned that the wide-eyed ardor displayed in the photographs was no act. Faz was a bouncy, generous man who loved being Faz. At one point we called in our usual order -- three large pizzas, two toppings, twenty bucks -- only to find that the price had been raised. When we brought up the discrepancy between the sheet and the price quoted, Faz

  • lamented the increasing price of business,
  • immediately cut the price back to the previous level,
  • excitedly inquired as to whether we were regular customers, and
  • invited us to drop in the restaurant any time for lunch on him.
This was odd enough. But when the knock on the door came it was Faz himself. Hello, Faz. He swept into the room like an extremely specialized Indian Santa, radiating facial hair and joy. He smiled. He laughed. It was delightful. The whole thing lived up to our impossible expectations. When he departed he left behind three pizzas and a picture of my friends in that college house I'll remember fondly the rest of my life. In the center of that photo was Faz, a man who made that year better. So, yeah, we've taken the death of a guy we met for all of five minutes irrationally hard. That was Faz, though: he left an impression.

My cellphone has slowly obliterated all knowledge of phone numbers from my mind. I couldn't begin to guess at the actual digits via which I reach my best friends. I do know this number: 741-7777. But Faz won't pick up any more, and life is in some small way poorer.