by Brittany R. Clark

A young woman struggles with a strange phenomenon, as she is rocketed back and forth in time whenever she hears the
Cheers theme song.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



"Mary was too spunky, it would've driven Bob mad. Bob would never go for someone like Mary," I stated matter-of-factly, trying to get comfortable sitting on the floor of my apartment.

"But Mary was hot, and Bob was totally her type. Mature, successful, a little bumbling," Fiber Bar replied in his usual cocky way, enjoying his comfortable spot on my new leather sofa.

We were deep in argument of whether or not Mary Richards of the Mary Tyler Moore Show would've ever hooked up with Bob Hartley of the Bob Newhart Show. Had Bob been single, had they been in the same city and been approximately the same age, that is.

"Oh, who cares about out-dated sitcom characters and their love lives?" Viv exclaimed, sighing. "Can't we put in a movie like we said we were going to two hours ago?"

"Sure. How about Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure?" Fiber Bar said, purposely giving me a sideways glance and the smirk he was famous for.

Fiber Bar, a Yuppie who changed his name a few years ago to spite his bleeding-heart hippie parents who had named him Sunshine, was my best friend and the only one present who knew my secret. Though he didn't believe it. Honestly, I don't blame him. I probably wouldn't believe me either.

"How about something that's actually funny instead of just so-stupid-it's-funny?" Rick suggested.

It was Friday, the day we all gathered together to let off some steam and relax after a week of slaving away. Viv and I were roommates our freshman year of college and had, somehow, never grown sick of each other. Rick was her boyfriend. They were almost never apart. Fiber Bar I had known since practically forever.

Fiber Bar winked at me and immediately I knew he was about to do it again. That bastard. Never tell anyone your secrets. Especially secrets like this and especially to someone like Fiber Bar.

"Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got…" He began singing. "Taking a break from all your worries / sure would help a lot…"

"Yeah!" Rick said, joining in. "Wouldn't you like to get away? / Sometimes you want to go / where everybody knows your name…"

I couldn't believe it. I knew Fiber Bar didn't believe me, but this was the third time this week. It was getting ridiculous and the joke was wearing thin, though it wasn't ever really funny to begin with. I was fed up and wasn't just going to stand there and let it happen again. Not this time.

I crossed over to where Fiber Bar was sitting and grabbed his arm, looked directly into his eyes and pleaded with him to stop. He may have a famous smirk, but he could hardly resist my pleading face.

Then I blinked and as my eyelids shot open again I saw that I wasn't standing in my living room anymore.

"Damn it," I said. Somehow I had been hoping, in vain of course, that it wouldn't happen again.

You see, whenever I hear the theme song from the show Cheers I travel through time. I have absolutely no idea why. And I get stuck wherever I go until I hear the song again, and, unfortunately, not by singing it myself. Once I do, I then miraculously travel back to the very moment I left, not having aged a single second. Impossible, you say? Yeah, I thought so too at first. But it happens, and I can't really explain it. So now I just take it for what it is.

It was kind of cool at first, you know. Traveling through time. Seeing history being made. Occasionally meeting people of particular influence. But let me tell you, all that gets old pretty fast.

I remember my first time. I went to the Old West. Woke up in the middle of this small, Blazing Saddles-looking town, sweating so much I could've sworn I was losing pounds every second I stood there, and covered in dust or clay or whatever was on the ground. Thinking I had dozed off hanging out with my friends, I spent three days sleeping in back alleys. One of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, let me tell you. It smelled like piss-drunks, decaying meat and gunpowder. Finally I just admitted to myself that something wasn't right and this couldn't just be a dream. I spent the rest of that day panicking and trying to figure out how to get back home. Which mostly meant looking for the real-life equivalent of Doc Brown from Back To The Future. Or at least someone crazy enough to believe in time travel. There wasn't one, so, hopeless, and slightly depressed, I headed to the only place I felt appropriate: the saloon. That was where I met ol' Rob.

"Hey there, little lady, I haven't seen you in these parts before. Where are you from?" he said, slurring his words and sounding like he was doing a bad John Wayne impression.

It's a good thing I was drunk, because the next few things I said were likely to get me shot if I weren't.

"Me? Oh, I'm from the future. An' I got here, well, I'm not really sure exactly how I got here. I was just sitting there, watching tv with my friends… Fiber Bar an' Rick an' Viv… I miss Fiber Bar… It was Friday, see, an' we always get together on Friday. To sort of relax after the week and whatnot. We decided to watch Cheers because that's one of our favorite shows. We were going to watch the one where Coach dies, which is my favorite episode. I cry every time. But did I get to see it? No! I didn't even make it past the damn theme song. The next thing I know, I'm waking up in the middle of this place, trying to figure out how the hell to get back home."

Ol' Rob just glared at me with his eyes all glazed over and said, "The future, huh? Well, that's one mighty strange tale of woe you're telling me there. But what the hell, I'd like to buy you a drink anyway."

A few drinks later I went into my drunken rendition of the song and three or four times through I got Rob to join in. That was when I magically appeared back home, the episode where Coach dies just starting.

I once tried to figure out why I hate time traveling so much. I mean, you would think I would love it, right? And there is the obvious reason that I've always hated history classes and that most other time periods are kind of a drag compared to the one we live in. Let's face it, I'm just not used to living without technology or showering every day. I mean, the guy who invented deodorant was a genius, because most of history is repugnant. Repulsive. Disgusting, even. And aside from all of that there is the fact that I have to hear the Cheers theme again before I can come back. Seriously, you try getting someone from the Great Depression to sing it. It's not always as easy as getting someone completely sloshed, though that's usually the best bet. And it has nothing to do with language barrier. For whatever reason, wherever I go, I am able to not only fluently speak, but also completely understand what someone is saying to me.

And I've been around history's block a few times. I saw the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression and people jumping off of buildings because their lives were shattered. I've nearly been shot in both the American and French Revolutions (trust me, Napoleon is just as much of a pig as you think he is). I've worked on a community farm in Communist Russia under Stalin. I was at the parade where JFK was shot and checking into the Lorraine Hotel when MLK, Jr. was killed. I met the Beatles before they hit it big (my second shortest trip, because George was always excited to hear and try out new songs). I've chatted in the park with Kurt Vonnegut about his new novel, Breakfast of Champions, and helped Henry Ford pick out a tie for the opening of a new factory. I bootlegged during Prohibition. Hell, I even got to witness God creating the Earth. Coincidentally, that was the shortest trip I've ever been on. God's a big fan of Cheers. Or, he was in his mind. I guess it took him all that time to finalize the concept of a show about a bar. But I've never been to a time where the people knew the show. Anyway, I'm rambling.

The first things I tend to notice when I reach a new destination are not, surprisingly enough, my surroundings. Oh, I do eventually notice those, but the first things that catch me are how I feel. I mean, there is the usual jet lag, or whatever the equivalent is for time travel, but there is also heat and cold. In this case, for example, it was how ridiculously hot I had suddenly gotten. Scorching. Like being ten feet away from the sun, or something. And looking down at what I was wearing, I quickly figured out why. It was a short wool coat with fancy buttons all down the front, a long wool skirt with a dark plaid pattern woven in, wool stockings, little white gloves, what felt like ten pounds of undergarments and the most ridiculously uncomfortable little black boots ever. I mean, at least during the rise of the Roman Empire I got to wear sandals. Seriously.

The other thing I tend to notice right away is smell. A lot of places in history smell horrible. But they all have their own individual smell of bad. Medieval England smelled like livestock, refuse and salt. The 1950s smelled like cheap perfume and baked goods. Ancient Greece like sweat and incense. This place, well this place had a slight 'grandma's attic' smell to it. Kind of musty and old wood-ish and sort of mothball-y.

I hate it when I can't figure out where I am right away. The Roman Empire, the 1960s, the French Revolution, those were all easy to figure out. They looked just like the pictures in textbooks. But where the hell was this? I couldn't remember ever seeing a picture that looked like this place. The houses near me had an old, but vague architecture style to them, and were all lined up neatly on the edge of a dirt road. The street lamps were giving off a weird glow and were lining the streets. That wasn't much to go by.

To be completely honest, the only reason it matters where I am is because it helps me figure out how to get back home. Like I said, it's not always as easy as walking into a saloon and singing the song myself two or three times. Imperial China, the Salem Witch Trials, those were bitches to get back from. Sometimes people just don't feel like singing. Sometimes they just don't like the Cheers song. Sometimes they chase you around the countryside with pitchforks trying to decapitate, hang, burn, drown, stab, shoot, bury, stone, beat or just generally kill you in any of the other various ways their sick and twisted minds can conjure up.

"Holy Shiite," I heard a familiar voice behind me say. "What the hell just happened?"

"We're not in Kansas anymore," I replied, reveling in this just a bit.

"What the hell did you do to me?" Fiber Bar asked as I finally turned to face him.

"What did I do to you?"

"You're the one that brought me here," he said, almost offended.

"Yeah, but whose fault is it we're here? Believe me now, don't you, Raisin Bran."

There was a brief moment where it looked like he was going to stare me down, but then he just continued, "Where is 'here' anyway?"

"I'm not entirely sure, to be honest."

"What? You're a time traveler, you've seen everything. Can't you at least guess where we are? And why the hell am I with you?"

"Well, I've never seen a place like this before. And as for why you're with me, your guess is as good as mine. Though I was holding your arm and looking into your eyes when it happened. Maybe that has something to do with it. Who knows."

"So, how do we get home?" he asked, a slight tinge of worry creeping into his voice.

"We've got to get someone to sing Cheers."

"You've got to be kidding me. Seriously?"

"Hey, you were the one that sent us here, why don't you try singing it?"

"Uh. Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got / Taking a break from all your troubles sure would help a lot / Wouldn't you like to get away? / Sometimes you want to go / where everybody knows your name…"

I blinked as fast and as much as I could while he sang, but nothing happened.

"Are we home yet?" Fiber Bar asked.

"No. That's strange, it should've worked. Maybe because we're both here it doesn't work if you sing it. I mean, it doesn't work if I sing it, so maybe we still have to find someone besides us."

"Great… So what do we do now? It looks pretty late."

"I don't know, it doesn't look like anybody's out tonight. I guess we need to find somewhere to sleep until morning," I said.

"Hey, wait, there's somebody over there. Look!"

As he said it, a tall shadow passed by quickly as if he were running late for something. As fast as my uncomfortable feet would move, I approached him, Fiber Bar close behind me.

When I got closer I saw that it was a taller gentleman in a very tailored black suit and a top hat who was carrying a large chunk of wood. He didn't notice us at first, which gave me a moment to compose myself. By the time I had finally reached him I had started to hum the song I hate so much.

"Excuse me, sir," I said as politely as possible, "is there somewhere around here I could possibly get a drink?" Who knew, maybe the bar was still open for the night.

He just stopped right where he was and stood as stiff as a soldier, turning around with a slightly terrifying military precision. Fear suddenly shot through me like a cool breeze running down my spine. Especially when I saw his eyes run over me without a single movement from his head.

"Uh, Trixie, I think maybe we should get out of here," Fiber Bar whispered in my ear.

Still stiff-jawed, the man replied, "I'm sorry, madam, but I am not that kind of gentleman. Please take your services elsewhere before I feel it necessary to call upon the police."

I shook a bit, trying to mutter something to this suddenly towering figure as he turned, with the same precision, and walked away. When he was out of sight again, I relaxed a bit and saw Fiber Bar motion for him to piss off.

"F.B., stop it," I said, moving his hand back down to his side.

"What? That guy was an ass to you."

"Look, let's just follow him, see if he can lead us somewhere. Like a downtown area or something. Somewhere where there will be a lot of people."

Luckily for my already sore feet, it wasn't too far. Just a few daunting looking houses made even more frightening by the weird glow of the street lamps. With the blanket of warm darkness around us, I found it difficult to figure out exactly where we were in relation to the town, even after my eyes had gotten used to the darkness. But when the sound under my feet changed from a sort of soft thud to a loud clacking, I knew we were somewhere. Unfortunately, there was no one around. Not that I would've been able to see them anyway. The only purpose the street lamps seemed to have was to make the place more ominous looking. The absence of sound didn't help that much.

"This place looks like something out of an early Kubric film," Fiber Bar quietly said, looking around. "It scares the hell out of me."

Personally, I would've gone with a poem by Poe, but he was right. I was spooked by the very thought of this place myself.

"We need to find someplace to sleep," I said.

We wandered around a bit more, unintentionally walking slowly. I think Fiber Bar was surprised when I choose an empty alley to sleep in instead of looking for an inn or motel or whatever the equivalent was for this place. But I didn't have any money on me and suspected that Fiber Bar didn't either, so it was time to make ourselves, well, cozy between a barrel and a building.

"Trixie," he quietly said, "I'm sorry I got all pissed earlier."

"Forget about it. I remember my first time. I was freaked out too."

"Yeah, but why me?"

"Who knows. I asked myself that same question and I have yet to come up with a decent answer… Get some rest, F.B. We have a long day ahead of us."

We didn't say anything for a few more minutes and just as I was starting to drift off into my own peaceful slumber I heard shoes on the pavement getting steadily louder. I crouched as much as I could to avoid being seen. But they kept getting louder. I squeezed my eyes shut and ducked my head down into the tops of my knees and prayed that we wouldn't be discovered. Lord only knew who was out at this hour and what they were doing.

"Shit!" Fiber Bar whispered. "It's Jack the Ripper! We're going to be brutally murdered!"

"It's not Jack the Ripper," I said, trying to convince myself.

"How do you know? How do you know we're going to be all right?"

"Because we're not in England. And Jack the Ripper was in London."

"How do you know that we're not in England?" he asked, panicking.

"Because that guy back there didn't have a British accent. And he seemed like a local. Chances are we're in the States."

"How do you know he wasn't an immigrant? Huh? How do you know…"

"Oh, shut up, will you? The more you keep yammering on, the more likely it is we'll be discovered and murdered."

Just as I finished the last syllable of 'murdered' I felt Fiber Bar's hands grab my shoulders, pushing my body toward his, and a pair of dry lips caress my own.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I don't want to die alone. Trixie"

Then without warning, as if I wasn't startled enough, I felt someone trip over my thigh, roll over the barrel next to us and land with a thud that just sounded painful. Whoever had fallen over us had separated our bodies, leaving me stunned by both turns of events.

"What the hell was that?" I asked, unsure whom I was talking about.

"Oh dear, not again," a game show host-like voice said.

I saw him stand up without cleaning himself off, oblivious to what he had tripped over. He just kind of crouched down and waddled into hiding in the same corner we were occupying.

"Mother fu," Fiber Bar screamed.

"What? Who's there?" His head quickly darted back and forth until he saw us.

"You're on my hand!" Fiber Bar said, gasping in pain.

"Oh, so sorry. But would you mind keeping it down a bit? You see, I'm afraid I have an angry mob after me and I'm trying to get home before they catch me."

"Angry mob?!" Fiber Bar asked in alarm.

"Great," I mumbled to myself. "Another angry mob. Just what I need right now."

"Oh, you have an angry mob after you too, eh? How interesting. How terribly interesting."

"No, I don't have a mob after me. Not until you showed up, anyway. But I have in the past and, well, let's just say I'd rather not have one after me again," I tried to tell him, even though I knew he wasn't listening. I couldn't really see his face all that well, but I could tell by the way he talked that his eyes were probably halfway out of their sockets and that he had a Cheshire Cat smirk on his face.

"Okay, so here is what we are going to do. All we need to do is confuse them. Make them run into each other. They'll get so lost in the entanglement that we'll be able to safely make our escape. How's that, brilliant, no?"

"No, because we don't have an angry mob after us." Why was I even bothering to tell this guy that? I didn't even know who the hell he was.

"Then what on earth are you doing in an alley at this hour?"

I thought for a minute, trying to come up with something he might believe, but not knowing what time period I was in, I came up blank. So I simply said, "Trust me, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Oh, but my dear, I am the king of the unbelievable…" he started to say but was interrupted by the mob in the distance, who had finally caught up with him. Whoever this guy was he must've done something pretty bad because these people sounded furious. It was almost deafening to hear, like an angry parade or something. Their harsh footsteps echoed against the ground and every once in a while I caught an obscene word sticking out of the frustrated shouts. The closer they got the more I saw the flames that danced above their heads on the long torches they held and the glare of the pitchforks against that light. This was getting way too close for my comfort and I became suddenly aware of my fingernails digging into the palms of my hands and that the jacket I was wearing was sticking to my back.

"They've caught up with me. Damn. Quick, out the back way!"

Trying to be as quiet as possible, we scurried around the various objects in the small alley that cast shadows out onto the streets. For a moment I stopped, wondering why Fiber Bar and I were running. These people weren't after us, they were after this strange man who had stumbled into our lives uninvited. Kind of like how Fiber Bar entered my life, now that I think about it. He stumbled into my life when we were in first grade. I had been hiding in the supply room after having been reprimanded by the teacher for stealing something I hadn't actually stolen. He came in, playing hide and seek with his imaginary friend. He never did find that friend again, but he found me instead, so I guess I was a good enough trade. But then I remembered that it was an angry mob that was after this guy and if they discovered us they would probably think we were in cahoots with him. And I only imagined how kindly they would take to that.

After probably five or ten minutes of sneaking around like in those old Looney Toons cartoons, he proudly exclaimed that we were wherever we were supposed to be. A slightly disturbing looking house sunken back a few yards from the street and the other buildings around it. In the dim streetlight I was just able to see the house. It was short and slightly wide with fancy woodwork embellishments lining the curve of the roof. I had never seen anything quite like it and Fiber Bar seemed almost mesmerized by its presence. It looked flamboyant but also like it was trying to fit in with the buildings and houses around it, though it wasn't succeeding very well.

"Don't just stand there. They'll find us. Quick, into the house," he said, gesturing to us from the doorway.

I looked around once more, still wondering what the hell I was doing. Then I looked over at Fiber Bar, who shrugged and followed me inside. Who knew, maybe this guy could help us get back.

The walls inside the small entrance way of the house were lined with various posters advertising random and strange people and things. "A Wonder of the World!" Most of them proclaimed in large, bold letters.

"My wife won't let me post them anywhere but in this room. Says they aren't proper house attire. Bollocks, I say. Magnificent, aren't they?" he said, noticing me staring at them.

"Are these all yours?" I asked, confused and a little more frightened.

"Of course. That's the game I'm in. Though, I must say, some people don't exactly take to some of my tricks, as evidenced by that angry mob after us. And I thought for sure the Fiji Mermaid would be a big hit."

"Angry mob after us?" Fiber Bar whispered to me. "And Fiji Mermaid? Who the hell is this guy?"

"P.T. Barnum's the name, my boy, and hogwash is the game. Surely you've heard of me."

"The circus guy?" Fiber Bar blurted out.

"Circus? Circus!" He sounded slightly offended. "Why, I would never dabble with those folks, sir. I am the Prince of Humbug. Surely you would never associate me with those sorts of low life tricksters."

"Oh, just wait…" Fiber Bar whispered to me again.

Giving him a look telling him to watch what he was saying, I apologized to Mr. Barnum. "Of course not. That was a mistake. He thought he read something about it the other day, but I was sure to correct him. He, uh, humbly apologizes." I was trying to pick up on the way he was talking.

"Good. I don't believe I caught your names, by the way."

"I'm Fibe,"

"Filbert! His name is Filbert," I said, cutting him off just in time. This guy wouldn't understand a name like Fiber Bar, I was sure of that. "And my name is Trixie. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Of course it is. Trixie, eh? Now that is quite an unusual name. Tell me, is there a story behind that? Was your mother a raving lunatic cast asunder from the depths of Bora Bora by pirates and forced to live among the natives, where she picked up their native tongue? Actually, that is a pretty good spin, if I don't say so myself. I'll have to remember that…" I could see him drifting off into his own magical world again.

"Well, I wouldn't say a raving lunatic, exactly. She was just crazy about the 1920s, uh, she was a real throw-back, um, I mean, she liked unusual names." I wasn't doing so well.

"Fascinating. Simply fascinating… Look at us, standing around like a bunch of foolish people being chased by an angry mob. How terribly rude of me. Come in, come in. The rest of the house is much nicer, I do promise. My wife really is a terrific decorator."

His short, round body wobbled over into the next room, which was slightly homier and less intimidating than the one we had been in. Warmly lit with a softer feel to it, I at least felt somewhat comfortable. And now that I was getting a good look at him, I thought, for a brief moment, that he looked a bit like Danny DeVito. Had Danny been a bit taller and had curly reddish hair. At least now I knew where we were. The late 1800s. That was helpful.

"Would you like some tea?" he offered, motioning for us to sit at the type of couch you always see in pictures on the History Channel. It had wooden legs that had claw-like feet resting on the burgundy carpeting.

"Sure, that'd be great," I said as he left to fetch us some.

"Filbert?" Fiber Bar asked once he knew we were alone. "Where the hell did that come from?"

"You really think that guy was going to be able to comprehend a name like Fiber Bar? I don't care if he is 'The Prince of Humbug,' or whatever he calls himself. He probably would've laughed himself silly and then taken out his shot gun."

"Why didn't you just call me Raisin Bran again? Maybe he would've gotten that," Fiber Bar said, offended. He was touchy about his name.

I just sighed.

"Trix, what are we doing here?"

"F.B., if this is your 'what is the meaning of life' crisis moment, now is not really the time. As for this guy, I know he's creepy, but he might just be able to help us get back home. So watch what you say and play along. We'll be fine. I've been in much worse predicaments than this."

A few minutes later Barnum returned with a pot of tea and a tray of cups, which he clumsily handed to us.

"So, tell me," he said, sitting in a faded red velvet chair across from us, "what were folks such as yourselves doing in a dark alley at this hour?"

"Trust me, you wouldn't believe me if I told you," I said again, trying to buy time so that I could come up with something he would believe.

"Darling, you're forgetting who I am. I'm P.T. Barnum. I make my living making people believe the unbelievable." His eyes pressed me even more than his words did and were filled with the curiosity of a seven-year-old child.

"We're from the future," Fiber Bar blurted out again, feeling the pressure get to him.

"F. B.!" I said, surprised at what he was saying. "He doesn't mean that. He means we're from, um..." I couldn't think of anything. Just when I needed to, I was so stunned by Fiber Bar's sudden honesty that I couldn't think of anything to say.

"Fascinating!" Barnum said, now more curious than ever. "Simply fascinating. Time travelers, eh? Tell me, how do you go about it? Traveling through time, I mean, of course."

"The Cheers song," Fiber Bar continued, much to my horror. "Whenever we hear it we travel through time and are stuck wherever we go until we hear the song again. Well, really it's just Trixie. But this time around I came along. Don't know why, it just sort of happened."

"What are you saying?" I tried not to shout at Fiber Bar.

"Tell me, have you two ever thought about going into show business? I could market that and make you quite a substantial fortune, you know."

Make himself quite a substantial fortune, is what he meant.

"No, but that's a great idea! Trix, why didn't you think of that before? Oh, my God, I could be rich."

"No, thank you, Mr. Barnum, we're flattered, but I'm afraid we can't do it. All we really need right now is to get home."

"I can see it all now. We'll have a big banner with bright cherry red, no, gold lettering: 'The Amazing People of the Future!' Oh, you'll get costumes of course, made from only the finest silks from India. It's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Makes me wonder why I didn't come up with this before. I do hope I'm not losing my touch..."

"We're not interested," I said, though no one was listening.

"Just a banner and costumes? Surely the Prince of Humbug can do more than that. We need mass marketing. Think big scale," said Fiber Bar, suddenly getting excited.

"Oh, well, we'll have lectures from only the finest scholars around, under my employ, of course. Well put up posters all about town and get people who will have claimed to have seen you say that you're the most amazing thing they've ever seen or met. That should get their interest well enough," Mr. Barnum said, slightly offended that this young man was calling him out on his own game.

"We need t-shirts and much more advertising than just posters. We could have toys for the kids! We need to get them hooked, almost addicted. They can't just want to see us, we have to make them feel like they need to see us. Make them love us no matter how crappy our act really is..." Fiber Bar continued.

"I see. Let me get something to write all of this down," Barnum said, a little confused, as he walked into the next room.

"F. B., where the hell is all of this coming from? Since when are you so into all of this crap?" I asked, slightly offended that he was even considering this.

"Just think about it for a second, Trix. We could be millionaires. We can finally pay off our debts. We won't have to do anything anymore but enjoy the life we have been jipped out of because of when we were born."

"There is more to it than money, F. B. I'm not willing to put my life on the line so that you can pay off your student loans. Get a job!"

"I feel like you're not really thinking this through. Let me put it to you this way, think about this as an investment in your future."

"What? Listen to yourself, you're starting to sound like The Man. You hate The Man. And I'm going to wind up dead."

"Why do you automatically assume that we'll be killed?"

"Because I don't know this place. You just assume that because I've time traveled before I know what every place is like and what the inner workings of it are. I don't know this place. I don't know what happens if I die here. And who knows, this thing started out of nowhere, it could end just as quickly. And how do you even know that the money will travel with you back to the present? You could be a millionaire and have all the latest perks of the 19th century. Just think, in a couple dozen years, you could have a car! Well, I mean, if you're still alive, that is. Who knows what the life expectancy is here. You could die from Cholera in two days."

"Did you really just call me The Man?"

"Go to hell, I'm leaving and finding a way back. Good luck to you and your millions."

"No, hold on. Think about this for a second, Trixie. There is no such thing as the American Dream anymore. But I want it because I was promised it. For once in my life I want to be known and appreciated for what I can do. I want things I can't have in our society. I can have them here. Don't you understand? I want to be The Man."

I was stunned, but if that was the game he wanted to play, I could play too.

"Listen to yourself, F. B. This isn't some stupid tv show or movie that you can just exploit. Very likely this doesn't have a Hollywood ending. This is reality. You wouldn't last two days here. You're too conditioned to enjoy the things we have. I hate time travel, and you know why? Because I miss mini malls and giant movie theaters showing a thousand movies at a time and fast food. And there isn't anything wrong with that, because that is just how we are. The American Dream isn't gone, it's just different. Stay here, are you kidding? You don't even like camping. Try roughing it in the 19th century."

Mr. Barnum waddled into the room again with the same child-like smile on his face.

"Wouldn't you know it, I couldn't find anything to write on. Just my luck. Oh, well, I don't suppose you won't forget those ideas of yours anytime soon, right, Filbert? So where should we start? Probably with your story. How you got here and why you are here, that sort of thing."

"Actually, Mr. Barnum, I was hoping we could work on this tomorrow. We're pretty tired right now. Time travel really takes a lot out of one, you know," I said, looking for a way out of this mess.

"Well certainly, my dear. That sounds like a splendid idea. It is pretty late and it'll give us a chance to sleep on some of these ideas."

"Yeah, right. Well, thank you for your hospitality. We'll be back bright and early tomorrow morning. Come on Filbert, let's go."

I could see the look on Fiber Bar's face that told me he did not approve of my tactics.

"Oh, there's no use in you going all the way back to that alley for the night. We have a lovely guest room right here. Finest in all the city. If you don't mind sharing a room, that is."

"Oh, well, if we have to share. I'm not sure that would be proper for"

"It's fine." Fiber Bar cut in. "We don't mind sharing if you don't mind letting us stay."

"Not at all. Not at all. It's my pleasure to host such wonderful folks as yourselves. You know, Tom Thumb stayed in that room once. Fine young fellow, that one."

Mr. Barnum led the way down a dimly lit hallway with tacky wallpaper into the guest room. Inside there was a canopy bed with large drapes hanging from the posts and a single chair without armrests. Barnum helped us with the lights and than said goodnight, leaving us alone.

"I get the bed," Fiber Bar said, as if he were in sixth grade.

"And I'm getting out of here," I said, unlatching the window.

"You're crazy. You're going to get killed out there."

"Better than being exploited by someone like you."

"Oh, right, because now I'm suddenly a bad guy. Just because I've figured out how to work the system."

"What system, F.B.? You're going to sell yourself to make money. That's not working the system, that's becoming a prostitute."

"That's how the system works. You have to sell yourself. Look, our generation doesn't have any practical sense anymore. We rely so much on pop culture that we've all just become buyers and sellers. We're products of our society. Look at me, Trix. My parents were products of the 1960s. They gave up their dreams of peace and love for a sensible car and a nice house. But they held onto their dreams just enough to name me Sunshine. And I'm so much a product of the buyer/seller/pop culture generation I changed my name to Fiber Bar. Fucking Fiber Bar. Sure, I had my reasons and I don't regret it in the least. But what am I, Trix? I'm a fucking product. Don't you get that? I'm tired of that mentality. This guy, this Barnum guy, he's got some ideas. I like him and the way he thinks. But he could be so much more if he only knew how to exploit his audience to the fullest the way we do. The problem is that his intentions aren't for money or that precious fifteen minutes of fame. It's genuinely to entertain. And I'm sure the pay is great, but he's about more than that. He wants something I'm convinced people don't even understand where we're from. How can you not just love that?" There was a look on his face that I had never seen before. It was passion and desperation and excitement.

"Are you done monologuing now, Mr. Philosophical Voice of a Generation? You need to understand and get it through your head that we don't belong here. That is what is wrong with our society. There's nothing to what you say. Sure, they're great sentiments and you have good intentions, but it doesn't go any deeper. You're not going to do anything about it. It's all talk because you, like everyone else, have just had some great major revelation. But you're going to go back and get caught up in the mass culture consumerism. And the only difference will be that you'll feel a little bit of shame knowing what you know. You're too apathetic to actually do anything major about changing your life. And in the mean time, you're going to try and get me stuck here, convinced that this place is 'more pure,' or some shit."

He didn't say anything, but I could tell I had somehow offended him. But, as far as I was concerned, that was fine. He needed to snap to reality and get some sense into him. So I just sighed and went to turn out the lights.

"Get some sleep, F.B., you're going to need it," I said, making myself comfortable on the floor next to the bed.

After a moment he finally replied, "You don't have to sleep down there, Trix. I'll sleep on the floor."

"No, you called it. Take it."

"Trixie," he said as I finally reached a comfortable position on the floor, "how're we going to get home?"

"Making your way in the world today..." I began, just as I started to drift off into my own slumber.

The next morning Mr. Barnum came stumbling into our room to wake us up.

"Time to get up, folks. Big day ahead of us. We're going to get the costumes tailored and the sign made and all the details finalized. It's going to be a splendid day, indeed!"

After we were up and slightly more awake, and just on our way out the door headed for the tailor's shop, Fiber Bar did something I wasn't expecting.

"Hey, Mr. B. I was wondering if, before we leave, you'd like to hear the song that makes us travel. I mean, it would be really good for when we're working out the details," he said.

"Oh, absolutely. It's brilliant, I hope. Unlike anything these people have ever heard before. Exotic and"

"Yeah, well, it goes like this: Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got / Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot / Wouldn't you like to get away? / Sometimes you want to go / where everybody knows your name..."

"Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. That's wonderful. Really resonates with the working class. You really do have a gift, my boy. I hope you'll work with me some more after this. You really could have a future in this business, you know." He drifted out again, into his own little world. "Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got..."

As he started to sing, I couldn't help myself. "F. B., what happened? I thought you wanted this. I was prepared to have to fight you all day about going back," I said as I grabbed his hand to ensure we would both return home.

"Well, the more I thought about it, I realized this guy is kind of creepy and that you were right. My beliefs were keeping me from actually acting on all that shit I was talking about. I don't really want to be a prostitute. Even though it would be nice to be out of debt."

"Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot..."

"Well, I'm glad, Fiber Bar. That's it, Mr. Barnum. Wouldn't you like to..."

"Wouldn't you like to get away? / Sometimes you want to go / where everybody knows your name..."

I held onto Fiber Bar's hand as hard as I could and looked directly into his eyes. Clutching my skirt desperately with my other hand.

"No, no more '70s sitcoms. I've had enough of them tonight," Viv protested.

We were back. Thank God.

"Technically," Rick said, "Cheers is early '80s."

We were back in my apartment. And here were Viv and Rick, still bickering about what to watch.

"Too late, season two is already in the DVD player," Rick said as if that were the end of it.

Then it hit me and I remembered what was going on.

"No!" Fiber Bar and I shouted simultaneously, running over to stop the show from starting.

"How about Welcome Back Cotter instead? That's always good for a laugh," I said, hoping they'd go for it. "Early Travolta, Horshack. You know, the old gang."

"No!" Rick and Viv shouted, exchanging glances. "I mean, maybe we should just watch Bill and Ted after all."




Copyright © 2008 Brittany R. Clark

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Brittany R. Clark: I am an undergraduate writing student at Western Michigan University, hoping to graduate in the near future. I am also co-president of WMU's premier happiness organization, Whimsicality Club. I enjoy reading just about everything and am fascinated by both politics and late 20th century pop culture.

--  O N L I N E  |  F O R U M  |  P R I N T --