Thursday, April 11, 1996
Sanctuary for the politically incorrect

The Cincinnati Enquirer

When I read about the ninny in Washington who got a cashier fired because she called him Baby, it reminded me of Pat and the Babydoll Cafe.

Officially, the restaurant is named Eighth and Elm, and you should not go there looking for tofu burgers or a maitre d'. ''If somebody stands around waiting to be seated, they're new,'' Pat Jackson says.

She would know.

After I had visited the place exactly once, she greeted me by name and took my order. Then, as I was no longer new, she called me what she calls everybody else: Babydoll. She remembers what I like to eat and who I came in with the first time.

Not to make too much of this because she is simply a woman doing a superior job and doing so with unflagging good humor in a world that seems to have a permanent scowl on its face, but I love her. And when I go into this tiny place - seating available for 38 - I know how Norm felt when he walked into Cheers.

The woman in Washington, Bernice Harris, 58, received a sexual harassment complaint from a young Senate staffer after she called him Baby. As it turns out, that was an accurate description, but she didn't know it at the time. That's what she calls everybody.

When genuine insult is so easily available, it seems wasteful to go looking for it. And when so many people work as though someone is forcing them to do it at gunpoint, why not honor cheer?

Anyhow, Ms. Harris beat the rap and is back at work where she is apparently unrehabilitated, continuing to call Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell ''honey'' and another patron ''my sugar-wugar.'' Call the police.

I'd like to see somebody blow the whistle on Pat Jackson. There would be a chorus of shrieks beginning at City Hall and building to a crescendo of outrage as word reached the regulars from Legal Aid and AT&T and WLWT and WCPO. So don't try it if you happen to have sensibilities so delicate that you can't bear to hear endearments from a 53-year-old woman who is just trying to make you feel welcome.

A charming blur

Maybe the shrieks would start right inside the kitchen. Brothers Sam and Mounir Khouri, who own the place, say they don't know what they'd do without Pat. ''You don't find someone like her every day,'' Sam says. No kidding. I watch her charm two conventioneers, polish a table, sweep up a spill and make change. Rich, brown skin. Short, very short, dark hair with a gold overlay. She's a blur.

''Only teen-agers have bosses,'' she says with sass. ''We are all adults here. We know what to do.'' When the lunch crowd hits the door about 11:30 or so, she swings into high gear, propelled by 8 ounces of Mountain Dew with three packs of Sweet'N Low.

About 150 people come in here every day, and they're usually served within 10 minutes. ''My regulars depend on me,'' Pat says. ''They don't have time to wait around. They're busy people.'' They choose from specials, such as Friday's macaroni and cheese with fried fish, as well as chili and sandwiches with fries - curly, home or french.

A woman at City Hall swears her cold-weather drug of choice is the chicken noodle soup, made on the premises. Most checks are under $4.

Pat's day is short but intense, from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. When the weather is nice, she walks from her home in Queensgate. ''Takes about 10 minutes if I'm in a good mood.'' If she's not, ''I try to put it aside.'' Then, after the lunch rush, she wipes off chairs, stacks dishes and whatever else needs doing.

After that, she heads back home. ''I take off my shoes, put on my raggedy house dress and watch Jenny Jones.''

While you're at it, put your feet up. You've earned it, Babydoll.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.