( By Matt Shea )
There is a space that separates a worker from the family man. From there, a corner exists way out in left field that only guys would understand. This territory is usually found in a tavern. In these gin mills men bond to prove their manhood and further control their spouses, or so they think...
Larry Floans maintained his perfect batting average by being the first employee to officially be off the time clock. The master turned around to his co-workers and said, "Last one at Milt's Bar is a rotten egg!"
Voices from the regiment said, "See ya in a few."
Larry was popular. It seemed that at work he was the 'power behind the throne'. He had all the answers and gave advice to others, even when they didn't ask. It would be an understatement to say that Larry was confident.
Larry took the brisk walk to his pickup truck and instinctively drove three blocks to Milt's Bar. The parking space of choice was vacant. As usual he beat the Friday happy hour crowd by minutes. The short stubby man parked his car and entered the bar. Without thought he secured the best seats in the house; a booth in the corner. It seemed that everything always went Larry's way as he sat down and lit up a cigar.
Steve, the bartender called out to his regular customer. "Great to see you, Larry! What can I get you?"
Larry moved fast; by getting the first round of drinks, the night would be his. "How about four pitchers of beer, your famous chicken wings with lots of glasses?" answered Larry.
"Right away," replied Steve.
Larry's booth had a panoramic view of the entire room including the parking lot. Soon a familiar car entered the lot followed by others. Some were friends from work, others were strangers. But it didn't matter, Larry had already staked the claim.
In moments the Friday after-work crowd rushed into Milt's bar. Larry's friends were at ease; they already saw his truck and knew that their favorite table was secured. The celebration of the weekend was now underway.
"Great job, Larry!" cried out Dan Hansen as the seasoned machinist patted him on the back.
"Old reliable has done it again!" said Greg Jennings as he slid into the booth. Soon twelve men surrounded the table as glasses of beer were being poured. It was now time to relax and share stories. As usual, the male bonding started off with Larry telling a joke, leaving the entire table doubled up with laughter. Then he drew everyone's attention to the closest television screen that hung from the ceiling.
"Look at that!" said Larry as he pointed at the screen. The men all looked and saw a sexy woman on an exercise bike. Her radiant smile was everlasting as she demonstrated the product. A diagram of a female body was then illustrated showing how the bike can melt off unwanted pounds.
"I need to get my wife, Agnes one of those," said a lustful Larry. "She was a beauty when we first dated." Larry's eyes bulged in ecstasy as he devoured a greasy chicken wing.
"Well speak of the devil," said Dan Hansen. "There is an exercise bike exactly like that on my next door neighbor's front lawn. I noticed it this morning when I left for work. I have no idea why it's there. It's as if it's looking for a home."
The wheels started turning in Larry's head. "Do you think it's still there?" he asked.
"I don't know, but it might be," said Dan.
"I am going to drive by your house and see if it is," said Larry. "Save my seat, I'll be back in awhile." Larry knew a good deal when he saw it. He also knew how to manipulate his wife.
The evening quickly turned into a business venture. Without hesitation, Larry Floans dashed out of the bar; to meet fate. He drove the eight blocks to his friend's neighborhood. As he approached Dan's property he saw the gallant machine on the far corner of his neighbor's front yard. It was sitting tall like the RCA dog in all its glory. Larry smiled in victory as he parked his truck next to the abandoned exercise bike.
Leaving the engine running, he got out of his vehicle and walked to the back. He opened the gate of the pickup and lowered it. Larry whistled as he walked toward model ZR7794P and declared ownership. Like the ad on television, this exercise bike was lightweight and could give anyone a new life; even Agnes. The proud owner placed the bike in the bed of his truck and secured the gate closed. Like the winner he always was, he entered the truck, closed the door and drove straight home. He wasn't about to give anyone a chance at stealing his new exercise bike.
About forty-five minutes passed until Larry arrived back at the bar. Within moments, the commercial with the young, sexy woman was being played again. Larry used this as a prop to draw humor. He pointed at the beautiful woman and called out, "Agnes!" His friends laughed hard until Larry interrupted. "I guess I was wrong , but soon my Agnes will be looking just like that!" said a smug Larry as he laid back in his seat puffing a cigar.
"What do you mean?" asked Greg Jennings.
Larry was in his element. He was the center of attention and giving advice. The short, heavy man with the mustache clasped his hands behind his head as he looked up in thought. The table was quiet. He removed the cigar from his mouth and began to speak. "You just have to know women," he said in a cocky tone. "I will soon have the most beautiful, sexy, dynamo woman out there; without having to say a word."
"How can you do that?" asked Greg.
"By controlling her surroundings," said Larry. "Her thoughts will be focused on what she is surrounded by and what I show interest in. That will motivate her to lose weight." With confidence he winked at his audience.
Larry continued. "Tonight I employed the final ingredient needed to set the stage. Thanks to my good friend, Dan, I was able to get the very exercise bike the dame on TV works out on; for free. When Agnes was in the bathroom I placed it in our home and left quietly. I have already taken measures by buying Jane Fonda Workout Tapes and stacking them on top of our VCR."
Larry continued to share his strategy. "My garage has the calenders with the Sports Illustrated centerfolds pinned up. I often call out to her while I am in there to assist me on a project. When we watch a movie, or are out in public, I let her notice how I look at attractive women. Now she has a state-of-the-art exercise machine in our living room. This all puts the idea in her head to look like those gorgeous women on television!" Like Archie Bunker, Larry sat back impressed with himself.
"You're a genius!" exclaimed Greg. Larry could only look back nodding in agreement.
The tempo in the room changed when a neighbor of Larry's entered the bar. It was Mike Fields and he noticed Larry. "I want to thank you for the nice exercise bike, Larry," said Mike.
Larry put his beer down and looked at his neighbor. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"That exercise bike that was on the corner of your front yard," he replied. "I just carried it into our house before I got here. I want to thank you for leaving it out so that someone like my wife can get use of it."
Larry sat low in his seat staring at his glass of beer. His eyes were dilated as he calmly said, "I didn't put it there."
Mike looked perplexed and asked, "Do you think Agnes had anything to do with it?"
Larry thought for a moment and looked up with a puzzled expression. "She didn't have time to try it out because she had an appointment with her hairdresser." The room silenced in bewilderment.
"Do you want me to pay for what it cost you?" asked Mike.
Larry was pinned in a corner. He was just bragging in front of the guys on how he got it for free. He couldn't take advantage of him at that moment. He was forced to respond with class. "No, that's alright. It's yours now," he replied.
Larry wanted to maintain his composure and invited Mike to join his friends for a beer. He changed the conversation with more stories generating more laughter. An hour passed, then the mystery of the bike arose again.
Mike was sitting next to Larry and noticed his brother-in-law, Stan pull into the parking lot. It was obvious that he was aware of Mike's presence. When he entered the establishment, he looked around until he saw Mike. "Hey, I want to thank you for the exercise bike."
A dumfounded Mike slowly turned and looked at Larry. Larry sat still looking at his beer, absorbing the message. Mike looked up at Stan and asked, "What are you talking about?"
"The exercise bike that was on your front yard. It was close to the sidewalk, so naturally I thought that you wanted to get rid of it," replied the in-law. "I was going to get one for my wife, Susan, but you saved me a trip and some money."
Mike stiffen up and calmly remarked, "I didn't put it there."
"Maybe someone broke into your home and put it there," suggested Stan.
"I don't see how; we always keep the doors locked," said Mike. "Besides, my wife was attending a Tupperware Party across the street and would have seen any suspicious activity." The room sat still in wonderment...
Finally, Larry spoke up. "I have an idea. Let's drive through our neighborhood and see if it has moved again." Mike and Stan were curious and agreed to ride with Larry. "We'll be back in a few," said Larry. The three neighbors left the table to further inspect this phenomenon.
Night had arrived with a fall chill in the air. Fog was setting in this community as the three detectives entered Larry's truck. "This is getting spooky," said Larry. They left the parking lot and drove the few blocks to their homes. As Larry rounded the last corner to make his final approach, the three men gasped in horror. Riding on top of the fog like the Flying Dutchman was ZR7794P! It was now floating on the edge of Stan's front lawn for all to see. It's shiny metal frame was moist from the elements and glistened as it defied boundaries.
Larry grasped the steering wheel with both hands and accelerated down the street.
"Did you see that?" exclaimed Mike.
"We all saw it," muttered Larry.
The trio returned to Milt's Bar and reunited with their friends. "You won't believe what we just saw!" said Larry. He then told of the supernatural occurrences that surrounded the exercise bike that evening.
It was now time to have a meeting of the minds. The group of men sat quietly at their table and took turns with their theory on what was happening and why.
Pete Wilson was always the quiet one of the group. He spoke first. "Larry, do you think that you are cursed?"
Larry leaned back in his chair and pondered on that thought. He then questioned, "Why would I be cursed?"
Another voice broke the silence, it was John Carolson. "Do you think that your son from your first marriage put a spell on you?"
Larry digested the probability. In defense he answered. "That teenager is the luckiest boy in the whole world! Every Christmas I out-spend his mother and their entire family. I also never write him unless I put money in the envelope, and get this; every year I take him to Disneyland!"
"Wow," said John. "You have class!"
The men raised their beers and cheered Larry for being a great father.
Steve Hayes spoke next. "Do you think that after the bike was manufactured that it was flown over Stonehenge or the Bermuda Triangle?" The table was stunned as they slouched over and looked at one another in fear.
It was now Rick Schroder's turn. "Maybe someone that's a member of a cult tried using it as a demonstration model and decided not to buy it. But they did touch it!" Heads nodded with the understanding that that's all it would take.
Stan stood up and said, "Well there's one thing for certain; I won't have that evil machine in my yard!"
"Where are you going to put it?" asked Mike.
"In your yard," said Stan."That's where I found it. Our house will be haunted until I return it to its natural burial site!"
"But, it wasn't originally there," replied Mike. "I found it on Larry's property!"
All eyes were on Larry. In a quivering voice he said, "I found it in Dan's neighborhood!"
"Do you think that it's following you?" asked Pat Gibbons.
"Maybe it's centuries old and haunts the entire planet until Judgment Day." suggested Phil Write.
"I'm getting it off of my property right now!" exclaimed Stan. He finished his drink and left the bar.
The congregation stayed behind pondering on the spirituality of the exercise bike. Within ten minutes Stan's car returned to the parking lot. He entered the tavern with a pasty white face and bulging eyes. "It vanished!" he proclaimed. "It must have floated away in the fog!" The room was petrified as they stared at one another. All were in silence.
The moment was interrupted when Stan's brother, George entered the bar. He walked up to Stan and said, "I was happy to take that exercise bike off of your hands. Now it's just a matter of getting my wife to use it," he said. "She is at the Tupperware Party tonight with all the girls. She will be surprised when she gets home and sees it in the living room."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," remarked Mike.
It was getting close to seven o'clock. The guys decided to order a pizza and have a last round. Nothing more was needed to be said about the traveling exercise bike.
Milt's specialty was his house pizza. It was served in a jumbo size extra-large pan; enough to feed a small army. The men devoured the tasty meal and 'bottoms up' their glasses. Each patron opened their wallets and littered the table with bills. There was more then enough to pay for the evening with a handsome gratuity for the server.
Larry looked at his friend, Stan and asked what his plans were for the weekend. "I want to get in Paul's Thrift Store before the crowd gets there."
Larry's face contorted as he asked Stan, "What crowd?"
Stan grinned at Larry and asked, "Don't you know? This is Paul's Three Day Weekend Sale. He does this every year. There are always long lines in the morning when he has his three day sale. It's like Macy's when they kick off the holidays!"
Larry never knew of such a sale and wanted to know more. "If it lasts three days then it must have started today," he said.
"It did start this morning, but being Friday not many customers will come," said Stan.
Larry asked, "Aren't they opened until ten at night?" He looked at his watch and said, "It's only a quarter to nine, let's get in there right now!" They shook their heads in agreement and raced to the parking lot. "I'll meet you inside the store," said Larry.
Larry arrived first with Stan close behind. It was the calm before the storm at Paul's Thrift Store with the parking lot almost full. Together they hustled in the store and filtered in with the crowd. The lines to the cash registers were several customers deep with the donation bins and backroom being emptied to fill depleted shelves. Larry's jaw dropped when he saw the marked down prices of the used merchandise. Using his instincts, he raced to the department that held exercise tapes and equipment.
Larry was like a kid in a candy store! Pink dumb bells, with matching sit-up benches graced the room. Posters of Hollywood celebrates endorsed their workout videos with money back guarantees. A multitude of diet drinks and health bars crammed the shelves. He turned around to see Stan staring at him. Larry cried out, "We struck it rich!"
Behind Stan was the windows that outlined the front of the store. The dark autumn night gave the glass an obscure, rippled look; serving as a mirror. Larry was momentarily distracted when he saw his own reflection. He suddenly reached a state of panic when he saw ZR7794P zeroing in behind him! Larry knew that it was the spirit of the haunted exercise bike trying to get him and turned around to flee.
A long metal platform on wheels used to transport items was coasting towards Larry with the bike on its bow. The exercise machine appeared to be in the same stance a bull would use before charging a matador. It was placed on the very front of the cart with old clothes underneath it. The bike's rear end was elevated as the structure slightly weaved back and fourth from the motion. Its pink handle bars seemed to be pinned back; ready for attack. He was now face-to-face with this demonic metal contraption and fainted.
The exercise bike was being put on the market once again. Soon another husband with bright ideas will buy it in attempt to motivate his wife. Like a fruitcake during the holidays; it will make its rounds as a gift throughout the office and entire neighborhood. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
Many of the women who attended the Tupperware party knew of the bike and were disgusted with it. As far as the lovely Agnes goes; she didn't attend the party and was at the beauticians. Did she actually play a part in this stray machines life and know a few secrets she's not telling? One must ask thyself:
"Does she, or doesn't she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure..."