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The Out-of-Towners
(or Get Out of the City!)

Written by:
Paula Wilshe

Larry Appleton took the steps two at a time, bursting into his apartment breathlessly.   His roommate, cousin and best friend, Balki Bartokomous, looked up from setting the table as Larry charged through the door.

"Hi, Cousin, you're home early," he said, folding a napkin.

"Balki, I've got the most exciting news!" Larry began dramatically.

Balki's eyes widened and he drew in a quick breath, waving his hand to silence his cousin.  "Don't tell me, Cousin, I want to guess.  Is it . . . the movie 'Second Sight' was nominated for an Oscar?!"

"No . . . " Larry replied, momentarily taken aback.

Balki furrowed his forehead, thinking hard.  "They're bringing back that Geena Davis show 'Sara'?  I loved that show!  Remember the one where Dennis lost an important case, and . . . ?"

"No, Balki, no -- I've got an interview for a new job!" Larry interrupted, unable to keep silent any longer.

Balki looked at his disdainfully.  "And I was supposed to guess that?"

Larry sat down heavily on the sofa.  "No . . . I was going to tell you . . . I just got sidetracked somehow."

"Oh, Cousin."  Balki sat down next to Larry and patted him comfortingly.  "It's okay.  I know you can't help it.  Now tell me about this job."

Larry struggled to collect his thoughts.  "It's . . . it's a position on the investigative reporting team for Newsday magazine," he said proudly.

"But, you are already on an investigative reporting team.  Why would you want to leave the Chronicle?" Balki asked, shaking his head.

"Balki, you don't understand.  Newsday is a national publication -- it would be a great career move.  But that's not the best part."

Balki raised his eyebrows and looked at his cousin expectantly.

"If I get the job I'll work out of their Manhattan branch, and their main offices are located in New York, too, so that's where I have to go for the interview."  He sat up straighter.  "All expenses paid!  So how would you like to live in New York City?" he asked, puffing out his chest.

"Oh, Cousin, that's wonderful!  But . . . but what about Jennifer and Mary Anne?"

"I've already spoken to Jennifer," Larry said, pleased that he had covered all the bases.  "She said I'd be foolish not to have the interview.  She and Mary Anne come through New York all the time.  And once we're married, she didn't see any problem with the airline transferring her out there.  I guess being Head of the Flight Crew gives you some rank and privileges."  He finished proudly, as if it were his own accomplishment.  "So what do you think?"

Balki shook his head in wonder.  "Well, Cousin, as usual, it seems that you have things well out of hand."

"In hand."

"In hand.  I'm so proud of you.  And New York City, too!  When do you go for the interrogation?"

"Interview," smiled Larry indulgently.  "I leave on Thursday and I'll be back Saturday afternoon.  The interview is on Friday morning."

"Oh," Balki said, hanging his head.  "Friday.  This Friday?"

Larry looked at him quickly.  "We didn't have plans, did we?"

"Oh no, Cousin, nothing like that."  Balki got up slowly and started straightening up the magazines on the coffee table.

Larry bit his lip to keep from smiling.  "Is there something special going on this Friday that I'm forgetting about?"

Balki bustled over to the counter and began brushing away imaginary crumbs.  "Nope.  Nothing special," he said in a small voice.  "Do you need any help packing?"

"Balki . . . " Larry reached into the pocket of his raincoat.

Balki turned around slowly, eyes downcast.

Larry held out an envelope.  "I didn't forget what Friday is," he said, smiling.  "Happy Birthday, Balki."

Balki fumbled with the envelope, pulling out two roundtrip airline tickets to New York City.  "Ohhh . . . Cousin . . . "  He caught Larry in a bear hug.  "Thank you . . . "

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Balki leaned over Larry, looking out the window of the airplane.  "Look, Cousin, I can see Jennifer and Mary Anne in the window."  He waved enthusiastically, catching Larry in the chin with his elbow.  "It's a shame they have to fly to London and can't come with us."  He waved again, bumping his cousin's chin once more.

"Yes, it is," Larry said evenly, pushing Balki back into his own seat.

"Oh, I can't believe that we're really going to New York City.  And for three whole days!  When I come to America, I was only there for a few hours.  And I was so excited and tired and nervous that I can hardly remember anything about it."

"Well, Balki," Larry said smoothly, "I went to New York with the Chess Club when I was a junior in high school, so," he smiled magnanimously, "I guess I'm pretty familiar with the city."

Balki squeezed his cousin's arm.  "I'm so glad.  I hear such things about New York that I think it must be a wonderful city, but a little bit scary, too.  And so big.  I'm lucky to be with someone who knows the way so well."

Larry smiled paternally.  "No problem, buddy."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"What do you mean you can't find our luggage?" Larry began in a tight voice.  "What do you mean it's not on the plane?"  He wiped a thin layer of sweat from his forehead.  "It has to be on the plane."

The baggage clerk punched several numbers into the computer.  "Please, sir, don't worry.  This sort of thing happens all the time.  It's probably . . . "  She shook her head and entered another series of keys.  " . . . probably just a computer error and we'll just . . . uh-oh."

"What uh-oh?"  Larry glanced over his shoulder and noticed Balki drifting toward a gift shop bearing an I LOVE NEW YORK sign.  "Balki!  Get back here!"  He turned his attention back to the desk.  "What uh-oh?" he repeated patiently.

Balki raced up, nearly knocking Larry over as he skidded to a stop.  "Oh, Cousin, you've got to come over there!  They've got these cute little mugs with the Statue of . . . "

"No, Balki, I can't right now.  I'm kind of busy."

"But, Cousin, I just want you to -- "

"Not now, Balki."

"But, Cousin, I -- "

"Balki!  Not now!" Larry shouted in exasperation.  "They're trying to find our suitcases."  He lowered his voice, speaking slowly and clearly.  "They can't find our suitcases."  Larry turned toward the airline representative once more.  "Did you say uh-oh?"

"Well, I did but . . .  Don't worry, Mr. Applegate, I've located your luggage," she said brightly.

Larry clenched his fists.  "It's AppleTON.  AppleTON.  Not AppleGATE, AppleTON."

"Oh . . . Mr. AppleGATE's bags are coming off the plane now.  AppleTON, you said?"

"Yes. Yes. Appleton."

"Oh.  Uh-oh.  Oh!" she exclaimed happily.  "Here it is."

Larry sighed with relief.  "Ah-h-h."

"It's in San Francisco."

Balki gasped excitedly.  "San Francisco!  I've always wanted to see San Francisco!"  He leaned on the counter to address the clerk.  "You know, we went to Los Angeles a few months ago and I liked it quite a lot, you know, the palm trees and all, and the weather was lovely -- especially when we went because it was so cold in Chicago then.  We're from Chicago, did I tell you that?"

"San Francisco?  What is our luggage doing in San Francisco?" Larry struggled to keep calm.  "We're in New York.  Our luggage should be in New York with us.  It's the American way.  Isn't it?"

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Appleton, but apparently the cart containing your suitcases and your . . . " she squinted at the screen, " . . . Myposian traveling rug?"  She looked up questioningly at Larry, who shrugged.  " . . . were accidentally loaded on our Tulsa/San Francisco flight which boarded at the next gate.  The good news is, now that we've located your bags we can take steps to have them re-routed here.  You'll be able to pick them up tomorrow afternoon -- and make sure you hang on to your claim checks."  She smiled brightly.  "And thank you for flying Trans America.  Next."

A large woman standing behind Balki shoved Larry aside rudely.  "It's about time.  I need to change this ticket over to . . . "

Larry tried to regain his balance, then grabbed Balki by the shoulders, eyes wide with disbelief.  "Tomorrow afternoon?  I can't wait 'til tomorrow afternoon!  I have an important interview tomorrow morning!  My suit is in that bag!  My lucky underwear is in that bag!"

Balki peered down at him.

Larry brushed Balki's shoulders and smoothed his cousin's collar down flat while he worked through things in his mind.  "No, it's okay.  You know what, Balki?"

"No, Cousin, no I don't."

"It's not a problem.  I'll find a store, I'll buy a new suit.  I'm not going to let this little setback ruin my positive outlook on the interview."

"Well, Cousin, I . . . " Balki turned his collar back up, "I think that's very wise of you."  He smiled.

"Yes.  Yes it is.  Give me the traveler's checks.  Or the credit card.  I don't care which."

Balki's eyes widened as realization dawned.  "But Cousin, you said that . . . "

"Balki, please don't analyze it, just give me the checks."

"Yes but Cousin, you keep telling me about . . . "

Larry pressed his lips together.  "Balki, I don't have time for this.  I have to buy a pair of lucky boxer shorts.  What's the matter with you?"

Balki stood with one hand covering his eyes, shoulder heaving.

"Balki, what is it?" Larry reached up and pulled Balki's hand away, revealing the Mypiot's woebegone expression.  "What's wrong?"

Balki took a deep shuddering breath.  "You know, Cousin, you keep telling me how that I have to be careful in New York, and you tell me over and over about the plain pockets and . . . "

"Plain pockets?" Larry looked puzzled for a moment.  "Plain pockets?  Oh!  No, PICK pockets, not plain pockets.  PICK pockets."

Balki leaned his head to the side, watching his cousin form the words.  "Oh . . . well, you say it so many times, I want to make very sure that no one gets our money or our credit cards, so I . . . so . . . "

"So WHAT?"

"I . . . packed them in the zipper part of your suitcase," he said in a rush, wincing.

"You packed all the money and the credit cards in my suitcase?" Larry intoned, eyebrows shooting up.

Balki bit his lip.  "Yes I did."

"Oh my Lord . . . "

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"I can't believe you gave all the change in your pocket to that bum at the airport.  Why would you do a think like that, Balki, why?"

Balki stepped up onto the curb next to his cousin.  "Because he said he was collecting money to find homes for homeless animals."

"He was a scam artist."

"No, I'm pretty sure he don't draw pictures of the animals.  He just finds homes for them."

Larry looked skyward and sighed.  "My mistake."

"That's okay.  Boy, New York is a big place.  We must have walked miles by now."

"Just a few more blocks.  Once we get checked in at the hotel I can call the bank at home, explain what happened, and they'll wire us some money.  All our troubles will be over, and I'll bet we can still squeeze in the Empire State Building before dark."

"I hope so, Cousin.  My feet hurt."

"Mine too.  I think I'll take a long, hot bath once we're settled."

"I'm kind of hungry, too.  Can we order room service?"

"I don't see why not," Larry said with a smile, and quickened his pace slightly.

The hotel soon came into sight and the two weary travelers limped inside.  Larry straightened his tie and stepped up to the reservation desk.

"We have a reservation.  The name is Appleton," he said in a business-like, man of the world tone.

"Ah yes, Appleton -- here it is.  May I have your credit card, please?"

"Slight problem with that.  The airline lost our luggage and all our money and credit cards are inside.  If you'll just show us to our room, I'll make a few phone calls and I'm sure we'll be issued a new card in no time."

The man behind the desk looked the cousins over with disdain, and closed the reservation book firmly.  "I'm sorry, sir.  No card, no room."

"But . . . but . . . " Larry sputtered, "The room is being paid for by Newsday magazine.  I mean, I'm paying for it and they're reimbursing me.  I have an interview there tomorrow morning."

"It's out of my hands, sir," he said tightly.  "Good day."

"Good day?  Good day?" exploded Balki.  "We're not having a good day at all."  He turned to Larry.  "Look, Cousin, there's a telephone on the wall.  Can you call the bank from there?"

The concierge made a clucking noise.  "I'm afraid not.  The phones are a courtesy for hotel guests only."

"I don't believe this." Larry ran a hand through his hair.  "What are we going to do?"

Balki thought hard.  "What if we find another phone somewhere and call the magazine.  Maybe they can help us."

"Good idea, Balki, but," Larry checked his watch, "It's after six -- everybody'll be gone for the day.  Actually the bank at home is closed by now, too."  He turned and shuffled toward the door, Balki followed close behind.

"I can't believe this," Larry whined as he held the door open for his cousin.  "We're stranded in New York City.  No money, no food, no place to sleep for the night."

Balki tried hard to find a way to cheer his cousin up.  "This reminds me a lot of a movie I saw with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis.  He had this big job interview in New York just like you, and everything kept going wrong."

"Oh, God, Balki, it's starting to rain," Larry said holding out his hands, palms up, to feel the drops.

"Only they got mugged in the park, and they . . . "

"Of course my raincoat is in the suitcase . . . "

"And he break his tooth . . . "

"Why does this stuff always happen to me?"

" . . . got chased by policemen on a horse, and every time something else happened she said . . . "

"Oh my Lord, Balki . . . "

"Oh, Cousin!" Balki explained happily.  "You saw the movie, too!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Several hours later the cousins stood pressed against the window of an all night bakery near the theater district.  The crowds were beginning to thin out, most productions having seen the evening's final curtain.  A misty spring rain continued to fall, and everyone hurried to get someplace dry, brushing past Larry and Balki, who struggled to maintain their position under the awning of the shop.

Larry eyed a tray of fresh pastries hungrily.  "I'd kill for a crueller," he said sadly.

"I know, Cousin, I'm hungry, too," Balki agreed.  "But at least we found a dry place to stand."  As he uttered the words the shop clerk looked up and, noticing them, motioned them away. " . . . for a while, anyway.  And we still have this," he finished triumphantly, holding up a battered black umbrella he'd found in a trash can.  "Do you want to hold it?"

Larry shook his head.  "No.  With the way my luck has been going, I'll probably poke my eye out.  You can do it."

Balki nodded and opened the umbrella which, despite a few broken spokes, kept them dry enough.  "I cannot believe that everyone we called was not at home.  Except Mr. Gorpley."

"And he wouldn't accept a collect call from us," Larry said bitterly.  "Talk about the kindness of the human spirit."

"We can talk about it if you like, Cousin, but I for one don't think it was very kind of him," Balki frowned, missing the sarcasm.

Larry nodded, beaten.  "You're probably right."  He winced as a stream of water from the edge of the umbrella slid down the back of his neck.  Hunching his shoulders against the dampness, he looked around at the emptying street.  "What are we going to do now?  We certainly can't stay here all night."

"That's the truth," Balki agreed, turning quickly to avoid a group of people emerging from a restaurant.  As he did so the umbrella bobbed, sending another cascade of collected raindrops down his cousin's back.  He turned back, noticing the wet spots now visibly apparent on Larry's back and shoulders.  "Cousin," he chided gently, "You've got to be more careful and stay under the umbrella.  Your suit will be ruined."

Larry glared at him silently, not dignifying the remonstration with a reply.  He grabbed the umbrella from the startled Mypiot and continued walking down the street, Balki hurrying beside him, hunched over to compensate for the difference in their height.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Balki gulped his second cup of complimentary coffee from a table set up in the terminal.  "This tastes wonderful.  Imagine the airline switching to Folger's Crystals tonight of all nights!  Lucky break, huh?"

"Mm," Larry agreed weakly, sipping fitfully from his own styrofoam cup.  "You know, Balki, this is like a nightmare."

"Ooooh.  Don't tell me.  Is it the one where you go to class and there's a test that you didn't know about and everyone else studied for?"

"What?"

"Or the one where you go to work and you forget to put on your pants?"  He glanced toward the door of the airline lounge with a puzzled frown.  "Or . . . is it . . . the one where you dream you see someone you know who couldn't really be there because they're in London?"

Larry sighed a long shuddering sigh and patted Balki's arm.  "It's okay, Balki.  I feel like I'm losing my mind, too."

The pretty blonde flight attendant tugged at the sleeve of her partner.  "Look, Jennifer, don't those two guys over there look just like Larry and Balki?"

Jennifer glanced in the appointed direction.  "Mary Anne, those guys ARE Larry and Balki!  Guys!  Over here!" she shouted, waving.

Mary Anne smiled indulgently at her friend.  "Jennifer," she said patiently, "Larry and Balki live in Chicago.  This is New York.  What would they be doing here?"

Jennifer pursed her lips in irritation.  "They were coming to New York for Larry's job interview.  We put them on the plane.  Remember?"

Mary Anne paused for a moment, thinking hard.  "Oh, right.  Guys!  Over here!"

For a moment Larry, in his worn state, thought it might be a mirage.  It wasn't until Balki jumped up and began shouting, "Mary Anne!  Mary Anne!  Jennifer!  Here we are!  What are you doing here?"

He ran across the terminal and swept Mary Anne into a hug, lifting her off the ground and swinging her around.

Larry smiled a small smile and held out his arms.  "Hi, Jen.  What in heaven's name are you two doing here?"

Jennifer looked him up and down, taking in the now dry, but definitely worse for wear, suit.  "What happened to you, Larry?"

Larry fell back into a nearby chair.  "Oh, what didn't happen?  The airline lost our luggage, Balki put all of our money in my suitcase, the hotel won't let us check in without a credit card, it rained, shall I go on?"

Jennifer looked at Balki, smiling in sympathy.  "Well . . . are you guys all right?"

"We're fine, Jennifer, just a little tired and, well, kind of lost, and very hungry, and . . . no, we're not all right."

Balki laid his head on Mary Anne's shoulder, and she wrapped her arms around him protectively.  "Everything's all right now, Balki.  We're here, and we'll help you."  She pushed him away slightly, so that she could look in his eyes.  "And it's your birthday!"

"No, Mary Anne, that's not 'til tomorrow."

Jennifer held out her watch.  "No, it's today.  It's six in the morning.  Have you guys been here all night?"

"Since about midnight," Larry confessed.  "And what ARE you two doing here?  You never did tell us."

Jennifer sat down next to him.  "We thought it would be really fun if we could surprise you at your hotel tonight and take you out to celebrate Balki's birthday, so we switched with the girls on the London-New York run.  We just got in."

Balki's eyes opened wide in wonder.  "You would go to all this trouble for me?"

"Well sure, Balki," said Mary Anne, "And it's a lucky thing we did, or you would have been sitting here all night.  Actually, I guess you have been sitting here all night.  But at least we can buy you some breakfast before you go to your interview, Larry."

"Yes, Larry, what time is the interview?" asked Jennifer, leading the way to a nearby coffee shop.

"Oh, it's at eight, but I'm not going."

"Why?"

"I can't go looking like this."  He indicated his streaked and wrinkled clothing and hung his head.  "I guess I'm just not Manhattan material," he finished bitterly.

"Oh, Cousin, that is just no true.  Although I think this suit is mostly wool . . . " he trailed off, trying to examine the tag inside Larry's coat.  "No, Cousin, what I mean is, you have worked hard at the Chronicle, and you have always done a good job for them, and that is why this magazine come after you and seek you out.  Just because you have a bad time getting to the meeting does not mean that you are not qualified for the job."

"No, Balki, they'll take one look at me and laugh me out of the office."

"Then they are the ones who are losing out," Balki said in a solemn voice, laying his hand on his heart.  "If they only judge you for the way you look and not for what comes from in here they will be missing out on a very good person.  And a cracker barrel little journalist."

"You know, you're right," said Larry, pausing at the door of the coffee shop.  "I AM a good person.  At least most of the time.  And I DO have what it takes to be a reporter for Newsday.  And I COULD survive in New York, and I'm going to DO it.  I'll have a little breakfast, clean myself up and go to the interview.  And not only will I go to the interview, I'll get the job."  He turned to his cousin and squeezed Balki's arm lightly.  "Thank you, Balki.  Thank you very much.  For sticking with me through all of this.  And for believing in me."

Balki pulled him into a quick hug.  "You're welcome, Cousin."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Goodbye, Jennifer.  Goodbye, Mary Anne, thank you again for all your help," Balki called as he closed the apartment door.  He flipped on the light switch, set down the suitcases he was carrying, and went to sit next to Larry, who was already sprawled out on the couch.

"What a trip.  I am exhausted." Larry exhaled deeply, closing his eyes.  "Let's unpack in the morning, okay?"

"Sure," answered Balki, putting his feet up on the coffee table and leaning his head back against the sofa.  "At least we don't have much laundry to do since our clothes were in San Francisco."

"Be grateful for small favors, huh?"

"Always, Cousin.  Always."

"I'm sorry your birthday present turned out so badly.  We never even had a chance to get a cake."

"Oh, don't worry about that, Cousin.  I'm just sorry that you didn't get the job.  I'm sure it was tough to go through all that aggravation for nothing."

"Well, not for nothing, really.  It made me realize just how important things that I sometimes take for granted can be."

Balki looked over at him, puzzled.  "Like what, Cousin?"

Larry sat up and assumed an identical position to that of his cousin.  "Like . . . friends and," he grinned over at Balki, "and family.  And Chicago.  Home."  He patted the sofa with familiarity, looking around the apartment with new eyes.  "Can I tell you a secret?"

"Of course."

"Newsday DID offer me the job."

Balki looked at him in disbelief.  "They did?"

"Yep.  And I turned them down."

"But why, Cousin?  I thought you wanted it so badly."

"I decided that it wasn't worth it.  Leaving all we have right here."

"But . . . but why you didn't tell Jennifer?"

Larry sighed.  "I don't know.  I didn't think I could explain it right."

"I think you just explained it fine," Balki replied.  "And I think it was a good decision.  And made it for the right reasons."  Balki got up and moved toward the kitchen.  "How about a late lunch?  Maybe a can of soup?"

"Okay.  You really think I made the right choice?  Yes, I'd love some soup.  What kind have we got?"

"I'll look.  Uh oh, only one can left.  Yes, I sure do think you made the right decision."

"I hope so.  I keep waiting for some kind of sign from above to let me know if I've done the right thing or not.  What kind of soup did you say we had?  Balki, what's wrong?"

"Oh . . . po . . . po . . . "

"Balki, what?"  Larry's face fell as his cousin wordlessly held up the lone can, bearing the label MANHATTAN CLAM CHOWDER.  His eyebrows shot up and expression turned immediately to one of pain.  "Oh my Lord . . . . "

THE END