Start writing here…SILENT LAUGHTER
Highwood Publishing Copyright © 2020 Marco Adornato
All rights reserved.
For Joelle, who stood by me and encouraged me the whole way through.
For Junior Spera, who’s eyes will never see these pages, our friendship will always be eternal! I’ll find you on the other side.
For my family, for putting up with me!
For my father Nicodemo, I hope you are proud.
Special thanks to my editor Tereza RacekovaFounder / Senior Editor
Member of Editors Canada
Special thanks to Louie DeMartinis for illustrating the cover.
Special thanks to Daniela Adornato for all the advice.
Joey stood on a small stage in front of a packed house. He was a Cubano with a round belly and thinning grey hair. He was in his 60s and spoke with a raspy voice due to all the pot-smoking he had done throughout his life. He was making jokes about the wild times leading him to the stage, never forgetting the madness of some of his coke binges. His jokes were on point; he was a grizzled veteran of comedy, a legend some might say. The crowd was packed tightly in what was a relatively small room. The stage was made from old training mats piled onto each other, and there was no microphone.
Joey, despite talking about wild and crazy events, controlled the volume of his voice and the crowd struggled to muffle their laughter with their hands. The struggle was real; Joey was hilarious, and the crowd labored not to make too much noise. Suddenly, the back door swung open, and a redhead with long straight hair and pale skin except for her face that was burning fire red shouted, “They’re on to us! Get the fuck out of here!” She tried to repeat her warning only to have a large gloved hand grab her head and muffle her mouth. The large hand yanked her backward, and she vanished. The crowd was now on their feet and screaming. Sadly, there was nowhere to run, and the police began shuffling their way through the door, pointing guns at everyone present. They were followed by stern-faced men in suits who shouted, “Get down on the floor and you won’t get hurt. There is no escaping, you will all be regulated!” The crowd obeyed their commands and lowered themselves to the ground as more police came in. Joey did not see any of this; once he saw Rosy’s beet-red face, he knew the jig was up, and lucky for him, there was a secret door hidden behind a curtain that acted as a separator from him and the crowd. The door led to a tunnel dug out by the Irish family that had owned the pub for more than a century; it was an old prohibition gateway for speakeasy clients and the distribution of booze. Now, it may have saved Joey’s life. Joey was old, but he ran as best he could into the darkness.
Bill Gallagher was dreaming. He was running his hand through his thick red hair until his alarm clock rang, and he sprang up, only feeling skin on the top of his head. It was a good dream, but his grumpiness took over like it did every morning. He put on a robe and headed to the kitchen. His wife Mia was chatting with his daughter Emily, and they didn’t say a word to him as he sat down, knowing better to give him time. Bill grabbed the remote and turned on the small TV in the kitchen and changed the channel to what used to be the sports station. He grunted when he remembered it was now a news channel. He missed watching his favorite sports teams, and he missed yelling at the players through the TV. The lovely Mia got up and brought over his breakfast with a worried look on her face; she knew trouble was coming. With a gentle voice, she said, “Bill, have you heard the news yet?”
Bill shook off the cobwebs of sleep and answered, “No, what of it?” He then grabbed the daily paper lying face down on the table and turned it over. On the cover of the Times was his old friend Joey Garcia with the byline: “Wanted dead or alive!” Bill was stunned and said, “What the fuck?” He then looked up at the TV to watch as the news began. The top story was being shown, and Bill watched a crowd being led handcuffed into the downtown Regulation Center. The journalist spoke over the images: “The crowd was apprehended last night at an unsanctioned comedy show; these lost souls were enabling the vile comedian Joey Garcia!” The newscast cut to the studio, and Bill watched as twelve journalists nodded in disapproval at the main desk. The opening journalist continued with the report: “Regulators have informed us that Garcia was performing a grotesque comedy act last night, containing hateful and shameful speech. He glorified abhorrent behavior we dare not mention on air! Unfortunately, he managed to escape the authorities. The State is now asking for your help in catching this vile man, so if you have any information about his whereabouts, please contact your local Regulators! Be warned: He is very funny and, therefore, very dangerous.” Bill had crumpled and twisted the newspaper in his hand and threw it to the ground.
“Oh, Joey, where did you go?” Mia asked aloud, concerned. She rested an arm across Bill’s shoulders and added, “Poor Joey, what is this world coming to, Bill? I’m worried about him, but I’m more worried about you! You have a show tonight. Maybe you should lay low; there is a lot of heat out there!”
Bill turned to Mia and gave her a soft kiss. He was no longer grumpy or angry. Instead, he looked determined and confidently replied, “I have to perform; these assholes can’t shut us up, they can’t tell us what’s funny or not! I’ll be careful, I promise.”
“I’m scared, Bill,” Mia said.
Bill hugged her. “I know, I am too, but I’m not giving up now, and besides, I could talk to some of the boys and see if we could help Joey in any way.” There was silence around the table, and Bill’s daughter had tears in her eyes. Bill turned off the TV.
Bill knew he had a terrible day ahead as he walked to the Regulation Center in midtown. He arrived at the massive building that was one-part prison, one part “hospital” and one-part offices. The building was surrounded by tall white security fences, and there hung placards that read: Together for a Better Society, and: Free Speech is Hate Speech. Bill hated that one the most.
When he arrived at the security gate, the guard in his small booth looked him up and down and said, “State your identity.”
Bill replied with no emotion, “I am Bill Gallagher a cis white Irish heteronormative male, recovering comedian.”
The guard’s face scrunched up, and he said, “You disgusting human. Do you have anything offensive on you?”
Bill was annoyed and tried his best to keep his cool. “No, do I look offensive?”
The guard’s eyes lit up. “Yes, you’re a rotten comedian, and you’re lucky they give second chances. If you get three strikes, though, there won’t be funny punchlines anymore.”
Bill became angry, and through his teeth, asked, “Can I go in or not?” The guard pushed a clipboard towards him, Bill signed in, and the guard hit a button and watched him with cold dead eyes as the gates opened. Bill made his way to the building towards the treatment center area. As he passed the countless employees, they either looked down at the ground or scoffed at him.
Bill sat in a waiting room, surrounded by white walls. A small coffee table stood in front of him, and Bill sifted through the magazines that lay on it. There were no old magazines that managed to linger; everything was up to date and safe. One magazine, The State, had a Regulator on its cover with the byline: “Heroes”. Another was the ever-popular Identity, and on it was what looked like a group of doctors in white lab coats with the byline: “Doctors prove speech is violence!” Bill winced and swallowed his pride and anger. Leafing through the pile, he settled on a magazine called the Outrage Chronicles with an obese woman on the cover with the tagline: “Woman wins Mr. Universe.” Bill turned to the article and began reading: Despite all the outrage, Monica Millhelm managed to smash traditional rules and reminded everyone that muscles and tanning oil are passé and that a woke society sees the universality of size. Bill muttered, “What the fuck?”
“What was that, Bill? Not being supportive of large beautiful women?” Bill was startled by his doctor, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and was now standing eerily close to him.
Bill quickly changed his disposition and said, “Of course, I am, I... I... I was mad because it took so long for the Mr. Universe competition to catch up with reality, you know, what the fuck?”
The doctor looked at him with suspicion and said, “Watch your language, Bill. Now, please, come into my office.” They walked into the office, which wasn’t much of an office at all. It only had a large table with two chairs. They sat down face to face, and the doctor broke the ice, “So, Bill, tell any good jokes lately?”
Bill did everything in his power to calm his mind and replied calmly, “No, not one, but I came close, Doc, but I resisted!”
The doctor raised an eyebrow and said, “Please explain what happened? How did you almost tell a joke?”
Bill sighed. He knew bullshit was coming. “Well, I saw this woman struggling with her baby, the kid didn’t want to put his pacifier in his mouth. I was with Mia, and I really wanted to tell her a crude joke about things going in mouths, but I held back, I shut up, and I didn’t say a thing!”
The doctor smiled for an instant and returned to being cold, “Very good, Bill. That’s progress, I suppose. Still, I wonder.” The doctor paused and stared at Bill for a couple of seconds and continued, “Were you Joey Garcia’s friend? Yes, I believe you were. Have you seen the news, Bill?” The doctor didn’t give Bill a chance to respond, and continued, “…Joey Garcia closely evading his third strike, telling dirty vaginal jokes. I say we will not tolerate such trash. Do you hear me, Bill? If you know anything about his whereabouts, we will reduce your fine by $10,000. So, Bill, is there anything you would like to share?”
Bill sat quietly, and his imagination exploded. Yeah, I have something to say, you piece of shit with no balls. Your mom should have had an abortion twice, just to make sure there was no chance of you coming into existence! Bill thought. Then another thought emerged, and Bill imagined himself jumping on the desk and kicking the doctor square in the face, and pouncing on him, beating him and yelling, You get close to Joey, and I’ll kill you. You stay away from us comedians!
The Doctor broke the spell Bill was under. “Bill, are you still here?”
Bill blinked and calmly answered, “Yes, sir, I mean, I’m still here. And, no, sir, I haven’t heard a thing. If I get any news, you will be the first to know, ’cause, you know, Doc, 10k goes a long way.”
The Doctor nodded his head in disappointment. “I was hoping for more than a promise. Now, get out of my sight!”
Bill stood up and left the office and made his way home.Chapter 3
Bill was digesting his supper as he walked the streets of the city. He never took the same path twice. He headed down to the subway and got in one of the subway carts and headed north. There weren’t too many people inside the cart, but he still chose to stand; he had energy and was pumped for the upcoming show. He watched a teenage girl reading a book titled Villains in Plain Clothing. Bill wondered what it was about. He knew that if she was reading it in public, it was State-approved. The title should have been Villains in Suits.
Bill missed his stop, but he intended to. He got off two stops later and doubled back via the streets towards a secret location. After a brisk walk, he had arrived. The venue turned out to be in the basement of a Chinese restaurant in the downtown core. Wangs was the name, and it had a very phallic dragon for a sign. Bill was always amazed at how Cindy Ha, the owner, could get away with it. The Regulators were weary because they didn’t want to appear as though they were oppressing a minority culture. Bill walked into the restaurant, and it looked like any other Chinese restaurant. Most of the tables were filled, and the air smelled like ginger and soup bouillon. Bill walked to the counter, where Cindy managed the cash. Cindy smiled and said, “Here for takeout?”
Bill smiled, “Yeah, man, got any of those udon noodles?”
Cindy grabbed a bag from behind her counter and handed it to Bill, saying, “Only the best for my favourite customer!” Bill handed over ten dollars and got one hundred back in change—a quick and easy way to get paid without anyone noticing a thing. Bill thanked Cindy and made his way to the washroom. On the way there, he took a detour and entered the kitchen. The beautiful odours were more pungent in here as Cindy’s elderly parents cooked. They turned and smiled at Bill. Cindy’s mom said, “Hello, funny boy.”
Bill laughed and replied, “Hello, sexy mama.”
Cindy’s dad threw him a dirty look and launched a sliced onion at Bill, saying, “My sexy mama, funny boy.” They all laughed, and then Bill made his way to the basement. The stairwell was old; the wood was mouldy, and the steps creaked as he walked down. The room had twenty-five people crammed in tight, mostly standing, and everyone was holding a glass of sakein their hands. Those were the house rules; you must drink Cindy’s booze! Bill carefully walked through the crowd, trying not to step on anyone or bump anyone too hard. The fans didn’t clap or say a word; they only smiled as he passed. It was an eerie quiet, and all that could be heard were Bill’s shuffling feet and the occasional creak of an old chair trying to bear weight. Bill saw some of his fellow comedic friends. The boys were sitting out front, grey and haggard. Joe Como was still in great shape, but even he couldn’t escape the wrinkles of time. Tom Hernandez was a little round in the belly and looked more like a pleasant grandpa with a thick white beard. Bill was the youngest of the bunch, yet they worked together for decades. Bill acknowledged them as he stood on some boxes of bleach with a couple of small lamps with their shades pointing up, acting like spotlights. Bill looked at his watch and scanned the crowd. The room was dead silent. Bill found who he was looking for. Cindy was standing midway on the stairs, looking at her watch. She then began counting down from five with her hands. Five, four, a drum snare rattled on the three, and an Asian jazz trio began to play up above, two, one, and Bill began his act. Silence no longer filled the room; instead, laughter filled the room with energy. His act killed!
Bill was sweating, and so was everyone else as he thanked them for coming out. Bill stepped off the stage, and the crowd fell silent; the band upstairs also finished their act. The patrons left in small groups and Cindy guided the whole process. She whispered in some of the fan’s ears, “Friday, 7:30 p.m.” The crowd easily got mixed up with the clients upstairs, leaving after the jazz set.
Joe and Tom sat quietly in the front row, and Bill pulled up a chair, turned it around, and sat down. He wiped some sweat off his face and said, “Man, I love this room; people can laugh without worrying about getting caught. Cindy really is a genius.”
Tom agreed, “Yeah, one of the better rooms for sure, but I still miss playing the Belly Room.”
Joe chimed in, saying, “The Icehouse too.”
Bill interrupted their nostalgia. “Guys, what the fuck are we going to do about Joey? Anybody hear from him?” Joe nodded, and his wrinkles showed how worried he was. Joey was one of his closest friends, and this hit too close to home. “I haven’t heard a thing; no one has. We gotta figure something out. We need to find him one way or another!”
Tom agreed, and there was plenty of worry going around. “He has no more strikes. If they get him now, who knows what they will do.”
Bill scratched his bald head and asked, “Any word on his family?”
Joe let out a breath of despair, “They are being held at a Regulation Center. You know how it goes; Joey infected them, and they need to treat them. It’s more like blackmail if you ask me.”
They all looked down and thought about their loved ones. Cindy interrupted them, “Guys, I know it’s not looking good for Joey, but you need to go, the restaurant is almost empty, and you old farts stand out. Sorry guys, one at a time, OK?” The comedic trio looked up and agreed it was time to leave. Bill was the last to go. He looked inside his takeout bag, and there was nothing but fortune cookies. “That crazy woman,” he muttered, smiling to himself. He made his way up the stairs and acknowledged the band as he left the restaurant. Bill took the long way home, constantly looking over his shoulder. He was glad no one was tailing him.
When he finally got home, Mia was waiting eagerly for him. She hugged him and kissed him as though he had just returned from war. Every time he left to perform, there was a chance he might not come back. Bill squeezed her tight. He knew what he was risking, he knew how painful it would be to lose them, but he couldn’t let the State win. You can’t win the war without sacrifice; you can’t win the war without winning some battles first.
Joey had a serious look on his face. He was standing on a balcony overlooking the city. “Fucking cock suckers, my poor family, my baby girl,” he muttered to himself as he sparked a joint and headed inside. He walked into a beautiful apartment, rewards were strewn all over the walls. Jim, a tall blonde with piercing grey eyes, joined Joey in the living room and said, “Should you be smoking pot right now?”
Joey took a long drag and exhaled, “I’m too stressed; leave a brother be. This place of yours sure is something. I guess clean comedy pays off!”
Jim reluctantly answered, “I guess I’m lucky, but, man, do I miss seeing you guys perform. Anyway, what are you going to do?” Joey looked down and took a short puff of his joint. “They have my family; I know it.”
Jim gently responded, “They do, I saw it in the paper. They are getting regulated as we speak.”
Joey balled up his fist and almost punched a wall only to hold back at the last second. He took a puff instead, his eyes filling with tears. “I know what I gotta do. I owe it to them; they saved my life, Jim. They can’t suffer because of me.”
Jim agreed, “Yeah, it is a tough situation, but I’m sorry, Joey, you can’t stay here tonight. I have the production heads coming over, and you know there will be a Regulator with them. We’re making a new movie. I’m sorry, Joey.”
Joey nodded and smiled. “Brother, you already took me in, and I love you for it. I’ll finish this joint and head on out.”
Jim became emotional; he was certain this would be the last time he’d see his old comic friend. He hugged Joey and said, “Take your time, buddy. We still have time.” They both sat on Jim’s couch, and Joey passed the joint. They sat there for a little while, lost in their heads until Jim stood up, and Joey knew it was time. Joey got up like a beaten man and said, “Thank you for everything. I know what I gotta do. I’ll see you around, kiddo.”
Jim kept his emotions in check, “We sure will.”
Joey left the condo, and Jim now stood on his balcony, wondering where Joey would go. The moon was rising, and Jim sighed.
“And nowww introducing America’s most wanted comedian!” The crowd was hooting and hollering. “Here’s Joey Garcia! The crowd went wild; they knew this was an exceptional show, and Joey wasn’t even slated to perform. The venue was in the bowels of the city, so there was no need for restraint. Joey stood in front of the crowd and let it rip; he showed no signs of stress and began to tell all his best jokes. This was no ordinary fifteen-minute set, and no one cared. The laughter filled the room, and as Joey’s set winded down, he got emotional. He sputtered some of his lines and fought the tears running down his cheeks. He even joked about it, saying, “These aren’t tears; I’m so fat, my eyes are sweatin’,” he said with a broken smile. The crowd could see it was hitting Joey hard, and they fell silent, not out of fear of State interventions but out of empathy. They applauded and began to cheer the loudest they could. Joey was nearly in shambles. Having the crowd react like this was what he needed. He hushed them and said, “Thank you, my friends, but I gotta run.” The crowd erupted, and laughter was born again. Joey bowed his head, left the stage, and headed into the backstage, where another dark tunnel awaited him.
Wake up, wake up, Tim, it’s 7:30 a.m. Time to wake up, Tim. Tim’s alarm kept repeating itself until it switched from calm suggestions to loud metal music. Drums began to blast loudly, and finally, Tim reluctantly gave in and slowly sat up and yelled, “I’m up, I’m up!”
His alarm was state-of-the-art, and replied, “Good morning, Tim. Time for breakfast, and don’t forget to exercise, get on that bike.”
Tim grumbled, “Fuck your bike and breakfast.” He stood up and stretched.
“Vulgarity will not be tolerated, and will be reported, Tim,” the home monitoring system replied. Tim nodded his head, annoyed as he grabbed his phone and disabled the HMS. All Regulators had to have one in their homes. The State constantly upgraded the system and promised that in the next year, the system would monitor 24/7. The Regulators had no choice to comply; otherwise, they would face scrutiny or worse, a demotion. Tim grew up in a fundamentalist household, non-religion in the sense of classical religions like Christianity or Islam. His parents were religious in their political ideology whose primary pillars were the outrage culture and signalling one’s virtuousness. They were dedicated to the State. Tim’s mom used to joke about how he was born in a protest line. She couldn’t miss the protest; it was too important to help change society, she would say. “We had to protest the grotesque behaviour of Comicon for permitting the cultural appropriation of Cosplay and the over-sexualization of women. His birth was important but not as important as the protest, and besides, he was a male; he had enough privilege already, and he needed to see the struggle immediately and firsthand. His parents raised him to be judgemental and call out every form of microaggression, every injustice—real or assumed. Everything needed to be routed and changed. He was raised to be a fighter for social justice, so naturally, he had to become a Regulator. His latest job was monitoring the comedic scene, making sure the comedy out there was virtuous and clean; no one needed to be uncomfortable or insulted for a laugh. Some comics were even rewarded with praise, even if there was no laughter from the crowds watching. One of his favourite comics was Heather Blake, who had “jokes” that had no punchlines but instead scolded all those who did wrong in society. She certainly put men in their place. A normal 20th-century fan would assume she hated men, but that was not the case; she wanted to save them from their awful selves, at least that’s what Tim thought anyway. Another favourite of Tim’s was Shawn Brady, a pretty boy, but that’s an offensive way to describe him. He was a put-together male who wore makeup to bring out his cheekbones. His humour was mostly about Donald Trump. At one point, all his material was on the late president. It was acceptable to swear or use vulgarity because Trump deserved it, and the State approved it. Tim never questioned why the same rules didn’t apply to other politicians who caused just as much harm. Tim spent many years following many of these State-approved comedians. The Regulation Bureau demanded they set the bar comedians had to follow. They would help create the model, and Tim would have to enforce it. He would follow the comics and compare them, ensuring the quality and content of their acts were acceptable. The Regulation Bureau felt confident Tim was ready to go undercover, find dissident comics, and bring them to justice for their transgressions. While eating his breakfast, Tim wondered what he would do if he ran into the latest most-wanted comic, Joey Garcia. Would he vomit upon the sight of him? Would he laugh at him and say the joke was on him? Oh, how he would have enjoyed placing a muzzle over his mouth! Tim had no idea what comedic crimes Joey had perpetrated with his jokes. The Regulation Bureau was careful not to share those details; they did not want to hurt their members with his vulgarity. Tim just knew he had broken the rules, and it was his third strike. He needed to be brought in for justice to be served. Tim felt he was the man to do it. Tim got on his stationary bike and began peddling. He flipped on the TV and changed it to a morning talk show only to have it interrupted: “Breaking news! This just in; Joey Garcia turns himself in! Joey filled the screen. He had an electronic muzzle over his mouth, and the footage showed the police dragging him into the Regulation Bureau. As he disappeared into the building, Rachel Yang, the tall Asian public relations expert, walked toward a small podium to make a statement. “Today is a great day for humanity. The vile and repugnant humour of Joey Garcia will no longer infect our society. He will stand trial, and although his guilt is clear and evident, he will enter the maximum-security regulation facility in a day or two. It is uncertain whether he will ever see the light of day, but if he does, I want to assure the public that he will be fully cleansed and unable to exist without his muzzle. His silence will be a gift for us all, and a warning to those who do not serve the State. Thank you, and a good day to us all.”
Tim laughed and caught himself off-guard. He wanted to laugh uncontrollably; joy filled his being. Joey would face justice! Tim was thrilled but felt somewhat deprived of the opportunity to find Joey himself. He felt so inspired that he got off the stationary bike, sat at his kitchen table, and turned on his laptop. He logged into the Regulator’s network and began looking up “two-strike comedians”. Several faces popped up on the screen. He looked at the mug shots of Bill Gallagher, Joe Como, Lewis Shwartz, the list went on. Tim looked at the screen intently and said, “I’ll get you all, every last one of you!”
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