Newall: Owner of beloved Philly pony told to feed him less, or 'he's going to die'

Kazem Nabavi owner of Kaz Tire Center, with his horse, Skippy.

The construction workers arrived at Kaz’s Tire Center in Port Richmond in need of some Goodyears and an answer to a burning question: “Where’s the pony?”

Coco. The pony of Port Richmond. The delight of East Somerset Street. The chestnut gelding rescued from an abusive fairground that lived behind the tire shop and grew fat and happy from 15 years of love and attention lavished by Kaz Nabavi and his wife, Sedighah.

Too fat, unfortunately.

Kaz and the construction workers sat in the wood-paneled waiting room he keeps decorated with a shrine to his hero, John Wayne.  

He would tell them the whole story. He always does.   

“The horse,” said Kaz, solemnly, “had to go on a diet.”   

I first met Kaz a few years ago on a whim. I heard a pony was living behind a tire shop. I met Coco. More important, I met Kaz, who is 72 and about as close to a living embodiment of joy as a human being can be.

The Iranian immigrant left his homeland in the early 1960s, fleeing the brutality of the shah. He loves his life in America. He loves Sedighah and their two children -- a doctor and a lawyer. He loves the Duke, and Teddy Roosevelt -- “cowboys,” he said. He loves working the polls on election day, with his carefully selected slate of candidates, both Republicans and Democrats. He loves the tire shop and the animals he keeps on his land behind it. His Chilean chickens that lay green eggs. His gorgeous peacock and dearly departed rescue goat. The parrot that liked to ride on Coco’s back.

Sometimes, Kaz and I discuss politics. And sometimes, when all the ugliness makes even Kaz’s smile fade, we’ll talk about his pony. Kaz always returns to his pony.

Sitting under a portrait of the Duke, Kaz regaled his guests.

One afternoon in late summer, the story goes, Sedighah hurried into the shop. Coco had fallen. Or at least lain down very fast. She wasn’t sure. Kaz went to Coco. There was just no denying it anymore. Coco was too fat.

For months, he had been telling his wife as much.  

“One lap of hay in the morning,” he’d remind her. “One lap of hay in the evening.”

“The horse doesn’t like that,” his wife would say, leaving Coco a feast of a whole bale.

At the market, for every piece of fruit his wife bought Kaz, she’d buy two for Coco.

Watermelons and cantaloupes. Apples and carrots. Bananas, even.

“This is not a monkey,” Kaz would say. “This is a horse.”

And exotic fruits that Kaz had never tasted, let alone could name.

“Who is the boss of this house?” Kaz said. “Is it the horse or me?”

He tried spreading the hay out so Coco would walk for it.

 “The horse doesn’t like that,” Sedighah would say.

Then there were the endless snacks from the neighborhood kids who ignored Kaz’s sign: “Please, do not feed the animal (Horse). Thank you.”

Once, Kaz would ride Coco from Port Richmond to Penn's Landing, stopping along the way to give kids rides. Sedigah would ride him, too, with the parrot on the back.

But now, Coco was growing old and round enough that Kaz could no longer fit his legs around him.

He called a doctor.

“Give him less food, otherwise he’s going to die,” the doctor said, prescribing a year of exercise.

Sedighah wasn’t impressed.

“The doctor doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” she said. “The horse likes to eat. Give him food.”

Kaz thought of a friend who owns a farm, near a lake, with a cozy barn and roomy paddock. Coco could get the exercise he needed.

“We put it to pasture,” Kaz said. “It’s the best thing. Of course, I miss him."

 Kaz has visited Coco twice. He doesn’t look as if he’s lost any weight. But they take good care of him. And that makes Kaz happy.

But without a pony, things weren’t the same on East Somerset. Sedighah was sad. So was Kaz. And all the kids missed him, said Danny Beck, a roofer across the street, who liked to feed him apples -- despite the sign.

“You got rid of my Coco,” one little girl told Kaz, who tried to make her smile. “I said: ‘I didn’t get rid of him. You did. You fed him too much food.' ”

Kaz knew what had to be done.

On Thursday, once the snow ended, Kaz put on his jacket and began to clean Coco’s old stall. He wants it to be nice when he brings home the brown and white painted pony he bought for himself and Sedighah -- and East Somerset Street.

“Beautiful,” he called it. He’ll bring it home when the weather breaks. He'll let the kids name it.  He showed me a picture. It looked a little fat.