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Authors: Lois Ruby

Pig-Out Inn

BOOK: Pig-Out Inn
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Pig-Out Inn

Lois Ruby

For Benjamin, Aviva and Kalervo

ONE

Of course, Pig-Out Inn wasn't what it said on the neon sign out front. Klondike Cafe and Cottages was the name. Momma looked up the whole case history of this place before we made our down payment. She went down to the Spinner Town Hall, where no one had looked up anything in probably twenty years, and the town clerk was just thrilled. She gave Momma a pile of yellowed papers. We found out that the buildings went up the summer of '54, when it never fell below 100° for twenty-nine consecutive days. So the Klondike name must have been a joke of the carpenters.

The first time I walked into the diner and saw the flouncy pink curtains and the overstuffed, lopsided hot pink booths, I thought it looked like a place where the Three Little Pigs would have supper. I was hooked. I picked up a gummy, dog-eared menu, scratched out K
LONDIKE
, and wrote in its place P
IG
-O
UT
I
NN
. I happen to be a world class pig lover. I've got stuffed, glass, wooden, pewter, plastic, and paper pigs of all persuasions. I even have a hand-knitted pig, and a purple one that's big enough for a nursery school kid to ride.

As soon as we moved into the Pig-Out Inn I started decorating the shelves and walls and booths with my personal collection. On every wall there was a poster of a pair of pigs caressing each other's snouts, or pigs rolling in the mud, or pigs holding cloven hoofs and dancing with big pink bows on their curlicues. Johnny, our cook, said it was all disgusting, but there was no question, when the customers started coming in, that this was pig country, and that they were lunching at the Pig-Out Inn.

That's what we called it, from the first day on, in our restaurant family. The family includes my mother, my father (who services computer hardware), and Johnny (who isn't a relative, but is the one professional, since he once took a course in hotel and restaurant management at Butler County Community College). And me.

I am Dovi Chandler, age fourteen. If Dovi seems like an odd name, it's an improvement over what my mother first had in mind: Dove-of-Peace Chandler. My parents are half-baked Quakers (officially called Friends), but even for Quakers, my father said, Dove-of-Peace was carrying things too far. He thought Dovi would be quite enough to make the statement.

The name confused my teachers. My first-grade teacher in Kansas City insisted on pronouncing it Dough-Vee. By third grade, in Salina, I was called Duv. I had a teacher in Dallas who insisted on the European pronunciation, Duh-
vee
, which she invented. By the time I hit eighth grade in Wichita I insisted on the original, but it's a stupid name and I'll probably change it if I ever move to New York.
Dominique
. How does that sound?

We move around a lot. We're restless people. My parents met at Friends University in Wichita and were married before they got their bachelor's degrees. I wasn't too alert yet, but I heard we managed an apartment house near the campus, in exchange for free rent. But my mother kept forgetting to collect the rent from the tenants, and my father didn't know much about plumbing (who does?), so he went to work for NCR, National Cash Register, learning computer hardware.

Then my mother heard she could get a Tupperware distributorship in Kansas City, and she'd supervise a whole flock of eager saleswomen. She learned to burp Tupperware to get all the air out of the lettuce crisper and so forth, but she never learned to love Tupperware. Then she got wind of a venture in Salina, a bookstore that was going broke. It came with a cozy building—an old house with a fireplace—and a complete inventory of books. All it needed (the owners said) was fresh capital and some sound management.

Well, we didn't know much about capital, except what we could borrow, or management either, but my mother sure knew books, and we all read a lot, so we loaded everything we owned into the station wagon and drove to Salina. We lived above the bookstore. The only problem was, I don't think anyone in Salina read, or at least read things that didn't come in paperback from the grocery store, and we ended up having to sell the station wagon along with the bookstore.

Dad has a great talent for computer hardware, and he can always find a job. So the next stop was Dallas, where Dad went to work for IBM, and Momma learned to make beeswax candles in a little shop next to Neiman-Marcus, which is a very fancy department store. Momma liked the beeswax, but she couldn't tolerate the customers from Neiman's, and she wasn't sure that beeswax did much for the human condition anyway, so at the end of the school year we went back to Wichita and NCR.

I was thirteen, not quite obese, but far from scrawny. Tacos and fries were my downfall. Momma and I ate out a lot while my father was on the road fixing computers. We were in a mom-and-pop restaurant on Twenty-first Street in Wichita, slicing through a bowl of heavy-duty chili, when my mother said, “You know, Dovi, it wouldn't take much to run a place like this.”

I glanced over at Mom and Pop. Pop had a bald head glistening with sweat as he hovered over the steam table; Mom had purple varicose veins, and she shuffled from table to table, filling sugar dispensers.

“A few decent recipes, a consistent method of ordering supplies,” my mother said, “a little imagination. Oh, and plenty of change in the cash register. We'll have to remember to get rolls of nickels and dimes and pennies from the bank.”

“Are you telling me we're going into the restaurant business?” I asked, not a bit surprised.

“Hmmm … You remember Johnny, don't you?” Pop came and refilled our iced tea. His apron was splattered with gravy. Mom shuffled to the phone, which Pop didn't even seem to hear.

“Six
A
.
M
.,” she barked. “Eight
P
.
M
. Well, what time did you
want
to eat?” She slammed the receiver down.

“Johnny Buttons, from the apartment complex. Do you remember him, Dovi? He was the one with the brown Brillo-Pad hair, the one who never paid his utility bills, and then had a fit when they cut off his lights, remember?”

“Sort of.”

“He went over to El Dorado for a restaurant course. I think I'll just give Johnny a call.” She pushed back her chair, which scraped across the worn wooden floor.

“Can it wait till we get home?” I asked. Pop was slapping the Venetian blinds shut and glaring at the clock every time we looked in his direction.

“Oh, certainly,” Momma said. Her head was spinning, and I read the familiar signs clearly.

Goodbye Wichita, goodbye hanging around Towne East Square, goodbye air-conditioned apartment, goodbye two years in a row at the same school, goodbye friends. I knew we'd be in the restaurant business by summer.

Sure enough, as soon as school was out, I slammed shut the yearbook that all my friends had signed (
See you next year, and don't sweat too hard all summer, Love, Dorrie
…
To the smartest girl in school. I like you even though you get A's in algebra, ha ha ha! Love ya, Maria
). I closed my eyes to try to forget their faces. Already I couldn't remember whether Maria had blue or brown eyes. I probably wouldn't ever open the yearbook again. Besides, next year I'd have a Spinner High School yearbook to pile on top of the others.

TWO

While we were waiting for the Pig-Out Inn to fall into our hands, Momma and Dad discussed details. “We'll order white nylon uniforms,” Momma said, but eying me with a frown, she changed her mind. “No, white isn't Dovi's color. How about pink, to match the curtains?”

“Listen, guys,” I said, “why don't we just wear jeans with whatever we've got on, on top?”

Momma shook her head. “It wouldn't look professional.”

“But it would be cheap,” Dad reminded her.

“Well …” Momma began, weakening slightly. “Maybe jeans and a white shirt. Oh, and a cute red cowboy hankie tied around our necks.”

“I'm glad I don't have to dress up that way,” my father said, laughing, “like a rodeo dropout.”

“Oh, Mike, you're such a stick-in-the-mud.” Momma stood on her tiptoes to kiss Dad's neck. “You'll love the restaurant business, I just know it.” Momma flirted and pouted, but Dad stood firm for once.

“I'm never giving up NCR again. We need some steady income while you're blowing our money out here, Marilyn.”

So we agreed to let Dad stay in a rooming house in Wichita and come out to Spinner every so often on the weekends. He didn't really think we'd be in Spinner too long before we lost our shirts
and
our neckerchiefs.

“I am inordinately fond of uniforms,” Momma said dreamily. “But you're right, I guess. Dovi would look better in jeans.”

Uniforms are one thing, but clothes in general mean nothing to Momma, maybe because she's the sort of lady who looks terrific in anything. I've seen pictures of her when miniskirts were in, and she looked like a darling little plaything. Then, when long skirts were the fashion, she'd make a point of spinning around and having the bottom of the skirt swish around her, like it was late in catching up. She could also look sophisticated and businesslike when she had to in a gray flannel suit, like the day she went for the reading of my grandfather's will. Incidentally, he left her a few thousand dollars, which is what we used for the down payment on the Pig-Out.

Jeans? Oh, Momma's a knockout in jeans, with her tight little hind end and long cowgirl legs. She isn't that tall, but she's all legs. People look at her, then at me, and figure I'm adopted.

My hair is lighter than Momma's by three shades on the Miss Clairol chart, and you'd think my pants were leaded the way everything seems to sink to the bottom. Elsewhere, the news is better. I look pretty good in a sweater—meaty, but not jiggly. Where other girls pride themselves on a flat belly or silky hair or a dainty pair of ankles, I've always thought that my most gorgeous feature is my hands. I've got naturally perfect nails, which comes from lots of homogenized milk and Jell-O, and I've got these long fingers that I tend to curl in toward my thumb to emphasize a point.

BOOK: Pig-Out Inn
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