Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode V: Meet the Neighbors

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2002 December 2.)

Well, it’s Pisgah town in mid-July: the sun is hot and your throat is dry. But at the Old Home Café the air temperature is at a comfortable 75 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 19 degrees Celsius, for you modern readers) and the electric meter on the back wall is singing like a buzzsaw. Yeah, it’s a hot day.

There’s a truck with a liftgate parked outside, and two guys doing their best to unload a 60 cubic foot refrigerator with stainless steel doors. Inside the Café, a carpenter is assembling the last of the new wooden booths that line three walls of the room. The walls glisten with a fresh coat of light blue paint, and over in the corner Jon Bach is wiping down the equipment behind the counter. The Bunn coffee maker is shining almost as if it’s new; the Coke dispenser is actually dispensing Coke, and root beer and orange and something that’s sort of lemon-lime. The counter itself sports eight new stools with red vinyl cushions.

The Old Home Café is almost ready for business, but not quite yet: the county inspectors haven’t yet done their inspecting, and Jon was expecting that those inspections would be done this afternoon. A couple of signatures to go and that business license on the wall would finally be useful.

Jon heard the back door open as the new refrigerator was wheeled in. He stepped into the kitchen and pointed to an empty spot by the back wall. “Right there,” he said, “next to the freezer.” The freezer was also new; but on its right was the old Westinghouse unit that had served as the refrigerator for the last eighteen years. The old fridge was still plugged in and crammed with the perishable necessities for a restaurant. Anticipating the opening of the Café, he’d done some shopping and had a few deliveries made. Except for bread, he had everything that he needed to supply the meals that were listed on menu.

Jon returned to the dining room. “How’s it going, Bob?” he asked the carpenter.

Bob was down on one knee, attaching the cushion to the bench seat. He stood up from his crouch and stretched, shaking out a cramp in his right leg. “Almost done,” he said. “A couple of screws in this back panel, and then I can bolt the tables in. I’ll be done by 2.”

“Don’t rush,” said Jon. “I’ve got you for the whole day, anyway.” He pointed his right thumb back over his shoulder. “Want something to drink? I’ve got the Coke dispenser working.”

“Sure,” said Bob, taking a bandanna from his pocket and wiping the sweat from his face. “And use lots of ice.” He walked to the counter with Jon, then sat on one of the new stools after checking his back pockets for tools. No sense in puncturing the new furniture, he thought. “Still think this’ll work?” he asked.

Jon continued to pour the sodas. “This restaurant? I hope so.” He turned towards the counter, two cold drinks in hand, placed them on the counter and slid one over to Bob. “It’s needed. There’s nothing like it until Mondamin.”

“But the previous one failed,” said Bob, sipping the Coke. “The population here isn’t what it used to be. Are you hoping for tourists? You won’t get them in the winter.” On the counter was yesterday’s edition of the local newspaper, the Pisgah Occasional. Above the fold, headlined at the top, was the article “Old Home Café To Reopen.” “At least you’re getting some press.”

“Yeah, any publicity is good,” said Jon. “You know, until last week, I didn’t even know that Pisgah had a newspaper.”

“Now as for tourists, I figure on a few. I’ve seen a lot of people drive through Pisgah, but not many stop. The resale shop across the street gets customers, though.” Jon looked out of the front window. “There’s three cars over there now. Someone must be thirsty.” He watched three men exit from the shop and begin to cross the street towards the Café. “Like them,” he said, calling Bob’s attention to the approaching group.

The men were dressed typically for the season: sunglasses, baseball caps (one was obviously a Chicago Cubs cap), t-shirts and denim jeans. There was nothing distinctive about them; they could be local residents, or tourists. They were obviously young; Jon guessed their ages to be around twenty years, give or take a year.

The front door opened and the group of three entered. The lead man removed his sunglasses and cap and paused a moment, looking toward Jon and Bob at the counter. “Excuse me,” said the man, “are either of you gentlemen the owner of this fine establishment?”

Jon was intrigued. That was very courteous speech; it hadn’t sounded sarcastic, but genuinely inquisitive. “I’m the owner,” said Jon, walking from behind the counter to greet the man. “Jon Bach.” He extended his right hand in the gesture of a handshake.

The courteous man shook Jon’s hand. “Hi. I’m Larry Barry, and this,” he said, motioning toward the man now standing to his left, “is my brother…“

At this moment, Jon experienced what can be best described as a brain fart. The synapses were firing, the thoughts were flowing, but from somewhere deep in his brain came a trivial bit of information that should have stayed buried wherever it had been lying. And before he had fully comprehended what he wanted to say, he said it.

“Darryl?” asked Jon.

Larry looked surprised and quite puzzled. He stopped dead in his introduction, and didn’t continue for at least five seconds. “Uh, no,” he said. “Jerry, actually. Why did you think ‘Darryl’?”

This time, Jon thought before he answered. “Old joke,” he said. “You didn’t watch much television during the ’80s, did you?”

“Not really,” said Larry. “I was too busy helping my dad on the farm. Anyway, this is my brother Jerry, and a friend of ours who is, coincidentally, also named Jerry.” Jerry and Jerry tipped their hats. “Hi,” said Jerry. “Hey,” said Jerry Two.

Larry continued. “We noticed that you’re reopening the cafe, and wondered if you needed any help. We’re sort of general handymen.”

“Well, the floor needs mopping,” said Jon, “and the grounds are messy. Do you have any objection to cleaning the sidewalk and the backyard? And what do you charge?”

“Minimum wage,” said Larry. “We’re just home for the summer, and any odd job will do. I’m entering my fourth year at the University of Omaha, and Jerry’s second year. Jerry Two just got laid off from the local auto repair shop.”

Bob the carpenter had been silent; now he rose from his stool and stood beside Jon. “Told you,” he said, nodding towards Jerry Two. “The economy here isn’t too good. The old businesses in town are shutting down, and you’re opening a restaurant? I appreciate the work, Jon, but you’re going to have a hard time making a buck here.” He took another sip of his Coke. “Unless you’ve got a secret weapon, that is.”

Jon shrugged. “If it dies, it dies. But I’m going to try. Let me tell you,” he said, “I’ve got a friend who runs a web site, and he’s making enough to live on. When he started that site, there wasn’t one like it anywhere; he had the subject all to himself. He doesn’t advertise his existence, but word of mouth leads people to him. They’re interested in what he does, and their support is just enough to keep him in the black. For this Café, I’ll settle for the same: good service for good customers. The phrase ‘wildly successful’ may never apply to here, but I think that I’m supplying a needed service.” Jon paused, then turned back to Larry. “So, you want a job?”

Larry nodded. “I’ve no problem with swabbing decks,” he said, smiling. “Jerry, can you and Two handle the outside?”

“Not a problem,” said Jerry. “We’ll need some implements of destruction, though. Do you have your own, or should be bring some?” he asked Jon.

Jon reached into his pocket for a key and handed it to Jerry. “The garage in the back,” he said. “Shovels, rakes, water hose.” Jerry took the key, and with Jerry Two following him they headed outside to the garage.

Jon looked at the sidewalk outside of the southside window. “By the way, Larry, do you know anyone who does concrete work? I’m thinking about replacing the sidewalk. It’s a bit cracked.”

Larry examined the walk. “Cracked? Looks like you’d need a Jeep to cross it. Yeah, I can give you a number tomorrow. In the meantime, where’s the mop? I’ll get started on the floor.”

“Back end of the kitchen,” said Jon, pointing to the door behind the counter. “There’s a utility closet back there. And…” Jon began to say, when he happened to again look out of the southside window, towards the bank across the street.

At that moment a woman had exited from the bank and started to walk north past the Café. It was the same woman that he’d seen on that Saturday when he had first driven into Pisgah. He’d seen her several times since them, usually at the bank. Maybe she worked there. “Larry, do you know who is that woman?” asked Jon, pointing to her.

Larry squinted into the bright noon sun. “Avis Granelli? She lives a couple of houses down the block from me. She’s an accountant, I think. My sister is friends with her.”

“You have a sister, too?” asked Jon. I know that I’m going to regret this, he thought, but I’ve got to know. “What is her name?”

“Merry,” said Larry, and spelled the name. “Do you want to meet her? For a new guy in town, you’re moving fast.” He chuckled.

“I’ll consider the offer,” said Jon. “But right now, let’s get this place into shape. I’ve got two inspectors arriving at 1 o’clock, and the Café needs to be ready. Bill, despite your misgivings, I’ve got a restaurant to open. Let’s go, boys.”

That day did have a happy ending. Bo bfinished the booths, Larry scrubbed the floor, and Jerry and Jerry Two trimmed the vegetation around the building and picked up the trash. The free-standing tables (which had been stacked over in the area of the bar) were placed in the dining area. The building and health inspectors arrived and the Old Home Café passed its inspections.

At 5 A.M. the next day, Jon opened the doors of the Old Home Café for business. He didn’t expect to see many customers — which was just as well, as he hadn’t yet hired a cook — but as he unlocked the front door, he saw Avis Granelli jogging along 1st Street. Jon didn’t believe in omens, but if he had to believe, then the appearance of Avis was a fine omen to him.

In our next exciting episode: Opening Day at the Old Home Café: Hamburgers, Hells Angels, and Heinken.

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