a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. All the way from the Canadian side of Lake Niagara, I present for your entertainment and titillation the Mellifluous, Masterful Maker of Mirth and Merriment; the Frolicsome Face of Facetiousness; the Purveyor of Parodic Pleasantry, the Bantering Baron of Buffoonery himself: the one, the only, Bernie Reed!”
Bernie awoke standing on an over-lit stage in front of what looked like an audience of thousands, a microphone in his right hand a walking cane in his left. He looked down at himself and saw that he was wearing a vertically striped, blue and beige blazer over a white shirt, pale blue trousers and patent shoes. The whole look wouldn’t have been out of place in a music hall of the late nineteenth century. Peering at the audience, he noted their dress was uniformly of the same era.
He put the microphone to his mouth and said, “At least I’m not completely naked this time.”
The audience went wild. Laughing, cheering, whistling… all save a group of half a dozen elderly women in the front row who had fainted at his use of the ‘n’ word.
Having no idea why he was where he was, or indeed when he was, Bernie at least knew exactly what he had to do in the here and now. He had to entertain this audience. That was the easy part. What was not so easy was the how. He had been introduced most eloquently in a manner that made clear to him that he was, in this reality, an accomplished and respected comedian. While waiting for the laughter to die down, at least to the point where his voice could be heard over the hall’s antiquated sound system, he wracked his brain to think of something funny to offer the audience. The comedy Bernie knew best was the observational, the cynical, the ‘alternative’ comedy of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. He was fairly certain that he was at roughly the same point in time as he had occupied in his two previous realities, but this was no technological utopia, neither was it a post-nuclear dystopia. What form of comedy were they accustomed to accept? Bernie had, in his first reality as a black woman in Phoenix, Arizona, seen some broadcasts of music-hall extravaganzas, but recalled the comedy to be loud, and part-way between slapstick and the kind of silliness that even five-to-tens from his/her era would have trouble finding funny. Only one thing for it.
“When I was a girl,” he started.
Gasps from the audience.
“Glad to see you’re all awake,” he continued, “except for these six women at the front. Somebody come and help them—”
“Give ‘em a dose of smelling salts,” someone shouted from the audience.
“A sniff of your socks would probably do the trick,” he replied to his heckler, which set the audience off again, giving him more time to think.
Once the laughter had abated, he continued, “I’ve seen some sights in my time, I can tell you,” he said, “things that would make your hair stand on end,” looking at a bald man in the second row, he added, “those of you that have some.”
My, these people are easy to please.
“Let me tell you about the time I outsmarted a hologram,” he said. The hall hushed. Bernie glanced around and saw to the edge of the stage a man whom he assumed to be the emcee who had introduced him. He was drawing his finger across his throat. The next Bernie knew, the curtain was falling between him and his audience.
Bernie walked across to the man. “What’s up?” he asked.
“By heck, lad,” the emcee replied, “I’d heard you go a bit near the knuckle at times, but Hell’s teeth, that’s dangerous talk.”
“Sorry, you’ll have to explain.”
“Have you or have you not been given the list of subjects not to raise?”
“Let’s assume not.”
“Look, laddie, we try to be fair to our turns. We don’t give you an approved list; things you can talk about – not like some halls do. No, we give you a short list of banned topics. Now, I thought you were near the mark with that nudity gag, but most of the audience seemed to enjoy it, so I let it go. But we do not, under any circumstances, joke about holograms, robots, spectral beings or aliens. Is that clear?”
“Let’s assume I’m new here, can we? Explain to me why I shouldn’t talk about these things.”
“I’ll do better than tell you, lad. Follow me…”