"Learning Experience"

It was a brisk autumn Saturday evening. Balki stood at the window, gazing at the stars in the night sky. The clock had been turned back an hour two weeks before, and the nights were getting longer. Tonight, he was spending a quiet night at home, playing games and watching television with Larry, Jennifer and Mary Anne.

"The commercial's ending, Balki!" Mary Anne called excitedly.

Balki rushed over to the couch and leapt into the empty spot between Mary Anne and Larry, almost causing both to bounce out of their seats. "I was just looking at The Big Zipper!"

"That's Big Dipper," Larry corrected, trying to get comfortable again.

"Oh, right, right! The Big Zipper was Ronald Reagan in that movie about football!"

"Shhh," Mary Anne hushed, "the best part is coming up!"

"I love when Fonzie and Mrs. Cunningham do the Tango!" Balki exclaimed. "That is one cooool dance!"

The four watched the final few minutes of the Happy Days rerun. As Balki began singing with the song that played over the end credits, Jennifer spoke up. "I remember wanting to be a dancer when I grew up!"

Balki faced her. "Did you get to be one?"

"No," she responded as Larry chuckled. "I became a flight attendant."

"Wow!" Mary Anne blurted. "So did I!" Jennifer, Larry and Balki looked over at their friend. Her expression slowly changed from enthusiasm to embarrassment. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"

"I remember on Mypos," Balki began, reverting back to the subject at hand, "I used to be in a dance troupe."

"'Hoofloose', right?"

"Yes. We used to wow the villagers and the flock with the Ox Trot, the Bovine Boogie, the Turnip Two-Step and the Jitterhog!" Balki displayed a modest smile. "My legs were the talk of the village."

"Will you teach me how to Ox Trot sometime?"

"Well, of course I will, don't be ridiculous…..my little ram-and-llama-ding-dong!"

Mary Anne clapped. "Ooooh!"

"Just be careful, Mary Anne," Larry warned in jest. "From what I understand, doing the Ox Trot requires that you sashay across the floor while pulling a cart behind you."

Balki turned to his cousin. "How you did know that?"

"I don't mind, Larry," Mary Anne began. "When I used to dance, all we got to do were all the boring routines – the Tango, the Salsa, the Rumba, and ballet."

"Those are difficult dances, Mary Anne," Larry said. "How long were you a dancer?"

"About eight years."

"You were a dancer for eight years?"

"You didn't know that?" Jennifer questioned.

"No. I guess I didn't."

"Cousin, everyone knows that about Mary Anne."

"I don't think anyone told me, Balki."

"Maybe you just didn't hear. Did you know that Mary Anne's auntie is Wanda Phillips, the famous Jelloist?"

"That's cellist," Jennifer corrected.

"No," Larry said humbly. "I didn't know that either."

"Really, Larry?"

He turned to his girlfriend. "Really. And you and Balki know these things?"

"Gee, Larry," Mary Anne began, "you don't seem to know much about me."

"Well, sure I do. I just didn't know those two things."

"What's my middle name?"

"Ok, three things."

"Cousin Larry, I cannot believe you don't know these things about Mary Anne!"

"So? Do you know every detail about, say, Jennifer's life?"

"Well, of course I do, don't be ridiculous!"

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really!"

Larry leaned forward intensely. "What was the name of her childhood dog?"

"Muffin!"

"Beauregard," Jennifer said.

"How many brothers and sisters does Jennifer have?" Larry continued.

"She have no brothers or sisters."

"I have one sister," Jennifer replied, unimpressed.

Larry pressed on. "What is Jennifer's favorite song?"

"Danke Shoen," Balki stated.

"That's your favorite song."

"Careless Whisper!" he guessed. "Unchained Melody! Billie Jean! Stayin' Alive! Beer Barrel Polka! Jailhouse Rock! The Flintstones Theme!"

"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," Jennifer said.

"Wow, Balki's just as bad as Larry!" Mary Anne announced. She paused. "Well, maybe not that bad!"

"Well, now wait a minute," Larry protested. "So I don't know every detail about Mary Anne's life. I'm sure she doesn't know every detail about mine either!"

"I'll bet I know more than you," Mary Anne said slyly.

Larry looked at her for a moment with a smirk on his face. "Do I detect the hint of a challenge in the air?"

Jennifer jumped in. "Absolutely! Boys against the girls!"

Larry held out his hand. "You're on!" Jennifer took his hand and shook it.

"What going on is?" Balki asked Mary Anne.

"We're going to play a game to see who knows more about the other!"

"A game? I love games! How we do play?"

"I'll tell you what," Larry spoke, "Each of us will write questions about ourselves, then we'll ask each other at random. Whoever gets the most correct answers wins!"

"What should the prize be?" Jennifer asked.

"Breakfast in bed – pig snout pancakes, persimmon syrup and warm goat's milk!" Balki exclaimed.

"Is that for the winners or losers?"

As Balki's mouth gaped open at Jennifer's remark, Larry said, "I think Balki's got the right idea, but let's make it so the winner will actually survive the awarding of the prize!"

"How about the losers have to clean the winners' apartment?" Mary Anne suggested.

"That's perfect!" Jennifer grinned and faced Larry. "I'd love to see you scrub my bathtub, with little rubber gloves on your hands."

"Well, I can't wait to see you dusting my bedroom, with a big feather duster and wearing a French maid's outfit—" Larry suddenly stopped, as his eyes bulged and Jennifer blushed. "Uh, uh..…uh, what I mean is, um—"

"Cousin, are you sure you don't want to play for breakfast in bed? Pig snout is surprisingly good after you puree it into a pancake!"

"Forget it, Balki. It's settled. We'll play for apartment cleaning services. Now, let's put our questions together!"

The four spread out and took the next hour to write questions they hoped would stump their opponents. They then sat around the kitchen table.

"Who first to go is?" Balki asked.

"Well, I think the gentlemanly thing to do," Larry responded confidently, "is to allow the ladies the first shot."

Balki dove to the floor. "You didn't say anything about guns!"

"Balki, get up. Nobody is going to be shooting anyone." Balki tentatively got back into his chair. "I just meant we should allow Jennifer and Mary Anne to go first."

"You may regret it," Jennifer teased.

"Oooh, trash talk," Larry quipped. "I'm going to make you eat those words – along with the dust behind our refrigerator. Alright, what have you got for us?"

"Ok, I'll go first," Jennifer said. "Balki, what is my favorite meal?"

Balki's face contorted as he thought.

"Not ding ding mahchmoud!" Larry instructed his cousin.

"No helping!" Mary Anne snapped.

"Ding ding mahchmoud!" Balki guessed.

"No way!" Jennifer laughed. "It's coco vin!"

"Balki, why did you guess ding ding mahchmoud?" Larry scolded. "I told you not to!"

"I'm sorry, cousin. I thought you were speaking in code."

Larry slapped his forehead.

"Gee, Larry," Jennifer giggled, "I can just see you cleaning our tub now. Maybe I'll get you to wear the French maid's outfit!" Her eyes suddenly grew wide and her face turned red as she realized what she'd just said. "Uh, what I mean is…..uh, well….." She swallowed. "Your turn," she announced.

"Ok," Larry said, looking directly at Balki, "let me handle this one." He turned to Mary Anne. "What are the names of my brothers and my sister?"

Mary Anne looked blankly at Larry for a moment. "You have more than one?"

As Larry smiled smugly at Balki, Jennifer coached her friend. "Come on, Mary Anne. You know he's got more than one sibling. Just think."

Mary Anne squinted as she thought. A bright smile appeared on her face. "Oh, right! I know!" She turned to Larry. "Billy, Elaine, Davey, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Lenny and Squiggy!" Larry burst out laughing as Mary Anne sat with a proud look on her face. She studied Larry's reaction, then looked at Balki, who was trying to stifle a smile. She faced Jennifer. "That's not right?"

"Not even close," Jennifer said sharply. "Ask a question."

Mary Anne looked at her pad of paper, then turned to Larry, who was winding down from his laugh. "Larry, what did I study after high school?"

Larry, Balki and Jennifer sat dumbfounded. They looked to one another, then back to Mary Anne, wondering if she was serious.

"Is that a bad question?" she asked Jennifer innocently. Jennifer responded by burying her head in her hands.

"You studied to be a flight attendant," Larry answered.

"Shoot! You're right!"

Larry chuckled, then faced Balki and his smile immediately faded. "Don't worry, Jennifer. I get the feeling you're about to catch up."

Balki cleared his throat as he read from his pad. "Jennifer, which of the following is my fah-vorite singer—" Larry rolled his eyes and dropped his head. "—Juice Newton, Wayne Newton or Fig Newton?"

"Hmmm, that's a tough one," Jennifer mocked. "I'm going to take a wild stab and say Wayne Newton."

"Very good, Jennifer!" Balki faced Larry. "How did I do, cousin?"

Larry facetiously raised his right hand in an ok sign while his head remained drooped.

* * *

Two hours later, the teams were still tied. The score was 6-to-6, with Jennifer and Larry guessing correctly on each of Mary Anne and Balki's simple questions, and Mary Anne and Balki yet to successfully answer any of Jennifer or Larry's questions.

"Ok, Mary Anne," Larry opened, "what is my culinary specialty?"

"You ride horses?"

"Culinary," Jennifer translated. "Culinary, not cavalry!"

"What's the difference?"

Jennifer looked over at Larry. "Ok, we'll give you that one." Larry nodded. "Incidentally, Mary Anne, it's duck a l'orange."

"What is?"

"Balki, what was Mary Anne's nickname for me when we were kids?"

"Oh," Balki gasped, smiling. "I know this. I know it. It's right on the tip of my toes. It's…..it's….." Larry leaned forward with anticipation. "It's….."

"What is it?" Larry panted.

Balki's eyes lit up as the answer came to him. "Fido!"

Jennifer rocketed out of her chair. "FIDO?! You think I look like a Fido?!"

"Don't ask me. Mary Anne called you that when you were kids."

"She did not call me Fido!" Jennifer denounced as Larry stood up and put an arm around her. She turned to her boyfriend. "Larry, this isn't getting us anywhere. We've been at this for over two hours and we're still tied."

"Ok, ok, it's ok, Jennifer." Larry faced Balki and Mary Anne. "Why don't we just call it a draw? No one here knows anyone any less than anyone else."

"But how we do know who cleans who's apartment?" Balki asked.

"What are you talking about? It's a draw. Nobody wins."

"We never discussed what happens in a draw."

"That's right," Mary Anne agreed. "What are we going to do?"

Jennifer and Larry looked back and forth between their friends.

"I'll tell you what," Larry said calmly. "How about you two go upstairs and clean the girls' apartment, and Jennifer and I will stay down here and think about cleaning this one." Jennifer giggled, trying to hide behind Larry.

"Cousin, now that not fair is!"

"Balki, listen to me," Larry began, sitting down. "I think this game was a mistake to begin with. Maybe I don't know everything there is to know about Mary Anne, but I know that she gets sad when it rains, and that her favorite color is pink, and that she likes oranges with her ice cream."

"And I know that Balki's favorite movie is Bambi," Jennifer offered, "and that his favorite course was American History, and that he likes to sing when he drives."

Balki looked up to Jennifer. "I know Jennifer loves animals, her favorite flower is the tulip, and she doesn't like the sound of coin edges rubbing together."

Mary Anne added, "And I know Larry is allergic to paprika, and that his shoe size is 8 ½, and that he wants to travel to all seven continents."

"You see?" Larry presented. "We know a lot about each other. One of the best parts of any relationship is to still be able to learn more about one another."

Jennifer moved to Larry and placed her hands on his shoulders, looking down at him. "And with each new thing we learn, we care that much more about each other." She leaned down and kissed his forehead while Mary Anne made her way over to sit in Balki's lap.

"I want to keep learning about you," Mary Anne said to Balki. She turned to Jennifer and Larry. "Oh, and you guys, too!"

"Well, cousin, maybe it was not such a bad idea that we played the game. We got to learn that we haven't learn-ed everything about each other."

Larry stood up and wrapped his arm around Jennifer, who returned the gesture. "The four of us have a long, long road ahead." He smiled to his girlfriend before turning to Balki and Mary Anne. "I'm glad I'm walking it with all of you."

"It's like we say on Mypos; kandri eefi ohki, nando piena occha doys. 'A flower is most beautiful when its petals are plenty.'" Balki looked to each of his friends. "You are beautiful flowers to me, and I am happy to fertilize you!"