Mr. Pignati is a lonely, widowed, retired electrician who lives alone in a messy house in John and Lorraine's neighborhood. John describes him as in his late fifties, "pretty big" with a "bit of a beer stomach" (5). He and his wife, Conchetta, had shared a love of jokes, gourmet food, and wine. He is lost without her and mourns her deeply. In fact, at first, he tells John and Lorraine that Conchetta is simply on a long trip to California. Why does he lie like this? Is it because he doesn't want John and Lorraine to feel sorry for him, or because he can't face her death himself?
He is very lonely, and most days goes to the zoo, to visit a baboon named Bobo whom he calls his best friend. Lorraine says the Bobo is the "ugliest, most vicious-looking baboon" (6), and a zoo attendant is of the same opinion: "That baboon had the nastiest disposition around here" (14). But Mr. Pignati treats him like a baby, calling him sweetly, tossing him peanuts, and crooning, "Bobo want a peanut?" (6). Why is he so obsessed with this mean baboon?
Mr. Pignati has a collection of ceramic pigs, which he proudly shows John and Lorraine on their first visit to his house. John is amazed:
There were pigs all over the place. It was ridiculous. I never saw so many pigs. I don't mean the live kind; these were phony pigs. There were glass pigs and clay pigs and marble pigs. (5)
Mr. Pignati and his wife began the collection when he jokingly gave her a ceramic pig as a pun on his name.
Mr. Pignati and Conchetta never had children, and perhaps this is why he is so excited to take Lorraine and John to the zoo, to take them shopping, and generally to treat them like his children. His is desperately lonely, and his friendship with John and Lorraine seems to fill a huge void in his life.