By John McDonnell
It took Larry weeks before he had the confidence to shape-shift into something besides a six foot Eastern grey kangaroo, and for awhile he wouldn’t attempt anything more sociable than a Thomson’s gazelle, prone to stampeding anytime humans approached him.
Murphy didn’t have time to wonder where Larry was hiding; he was busy trying to remove all traces from his bar of the upscale establishment Dolores had turned it into so that he could coax his regular patrons back.
He took down the disco ball and tore out the stage and dance floor. He removed every mirror in the joint, because there was nothing worse for his patrons than to see a reflection of themselves when they were drinking. These were men who were on good terms with anonymity.
“Third place finishers,” Dolores called them. “They have no interest in winning the race; all they want to do is finish.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Murphy asked. “We can’t all be first. My customers know that, and they’re comfortable with it.”
Dolores looked mystified, but Murphy knew his clientele. Gradually they filtered in once Murphy put back the ancient TV with the duct tape holding it together, cut back on the beer and liquor selection, and coaxed Larry back to the kitchen to make his signature greasy meatball sandwiches.
Larry came back because he felt comfortable in the bar, just like Murphy’s regulars. It was a place where he didn’t have to accomplish anything meaningful. He knew that all the men drinking there and watching sports on TV had no fetish for excellence, and that suited him fine. Larry was someone who could get performance anxiety about crossing the street.
He was content making greasy food and tending bar and answering trivia questions. He was very popular with the clientele because he knew the most obscure facts, and even if he was stumped for a moment, he could always travel back in time and find out exactly why the dinosaurs went extinct, for instance, or who had the idea to invent beer. In fact, Larry added some spice to the exercise when he started sending a few of the patrons on little trips back in time, but he had to stop when Patrick Corgan came back missing a few teeth after an altercation with Attila the Hun.
Murphy’s mother-in-law Edna came on slow nights and played checkers with Larry, and although she had no strategy and did not understand the rules she had an uncanny ability to win. It was almost as if she was at a different level of understanding of game theory than anyone in human history, Larry thought, although Edna’s ability to mix up reality with her soap opera plots gave him pause. Then again, she had half the men in the bar placing bets on which aging actress was going to get the young hunk in the next day’s episode.
Murphy would often get pensive in the wee small hours after he closed the bar, and he’d sit nursing his beer and ask questions like, “So, Larry, what’s the meaning of life?”
Larry was usually in the shape of Clancy O’Toole, a 300 pound mustachioed bartender from the Gilded Age, and he’d get a puzzled look and say, “Never thought about it. Why?”
“Because you’re from a superior race of beings, and you fellows have all the answers.”
“Me, superior?” Larry said. “I can’t even get my boss to return my calls. I try to transmit a message to my home planet, but all I get is a recording that says, “Your call will be answered in 400 million years.”
“Do you ever think about God?”
“No. On my planet we’re trained not to think about God. It induces a catatonic stupor, and it’s bad for the economy.”
“But what about all the unexplained mysteries of the universe?”
“Like where socks disappear to after you put them in the dryer? There are some things better left unexamined.”
“Just my luck,” Murphy said. “I finally meet a super-intelligent, shape-shifting visitor from an advanced civilization, and he doesn’t want to talk about God.”
“Well, I’d like to know why Edna beats me at checkers every day, but you don’t see me crying in my beer about it.”
“When you’re right, you’re right,” Murphy said.