What Happened to ‘Popskull’ Watkins?

3449583706_9022b00836 (3)Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Sheriff “Popskull” Watkins was a poster boy for corrupt southern law enforcement in Georgia during the turbulent 60s. His good ‘ol boy charm was only present when he was around Whites. The genial smile disappeared when dealing with Blacks, who in his beady mind, were dumb brutes to be kept in line.

One morning ‘Popskull” whose birth name was Dewey, was driving his official police car down a rough country road when his front right tire blew! He bumped along on the rim for a hundred feet before finally coming to a stop in the middle of the crude dirt road. Because he seldom got any exercise (and ate like a starving black bear), he was overweight and had high blood pressure.

He grudgingly got his girth out of the car, took off his straw Stetson, and wiped a river of sweat from his forehead while looking at the flat tire in utter disgust. He was a long way from town. At least a two-hour drive. There was no way around it. He’d have to change the tire. Something he hadn’t done since he was 17 years-old running moonshine with his cousins. It was during that time he earned the name “Popskull” because he always delivered the best moonshine in the valley, and he could out drink an adult.

As he opened the trunk to get the jack out someone said, “Can I help you, sir?

Surprised, he wheeled around and reached for his gun.

“No need of that. I’m just offering to help you,” the Black man said.

Relaxing, Popskull asked, “What you doing out here boy? No one lives in these parts.”

“Did you bump your head on the steering wheel when the tire went? Sounds like your vision isn’t quite right. I’m, no boy. I’m an adult college professor.

“Don’t you go sassing me now boy! Where did you get that fancy suit?”

“It looks like it’s time to give you an education, Mr. Popskull Watkins. You may call me Professor Lincoln.

Popskull moved angrily towards the professor who took a small device out of his jacket and pressed a button. That was the last thing Popskull remembered before waking up wet on a well-trimmed front yard with sprinklers noisily doing their job. He looked over to the front of the house and saw the professor sitting on a chair and drinking what looked like Long Island tea in a tall thin glass.

He awkwardly got to his feet and looked around. The professor held his glass up and gestured for him to come over. He walked up to the porch and sat down on a chair near the professor who acted like it was perfectly normal for him to be sitting there soaked to the gills.

“I trust you’re okay? The first time someone goes through the transition it can cause disorientation and even a bad headache.

Where the hell am I? What’s going on?”

“Yes…I understand. So many questions, and so little time to answer them all. For now, you’re in the future. It’s January 2008, and the country just elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama.

“African-American? You mean Black? There’s no way this country would let a darkie run it!”

The professor sighed and handed him a copy of Time Magazine, and a current newspaper. Popskull looked at them skeptically, but the professor could see the mounting panic in the corner of his eyes as he looked them over.

“Please, step inside, and I’ll get you something to drink and you can watch the TV.”

Groaning, Popskull stood up and stretched his aching bulk and followed him inside. There were two leather lounge chairs in the living room directly across from a big screen TV. The professor told him to pick one while he got him a cup of coffee. When he returned, Popskull was watching the TV with his mouth open in obvious awe.

Look at the color! It looks real! Is this something I can look forward to getting in the future?”

“That, and much more. I’m glad you know where you are now. There’s more things I want you to see. But drink your coffee right now, and we’ll go to breakfast after this news segment is over. 

When they got out of the professor’s new Cadillac, and walked up to a restaurant, Popskull stopped outside the front door.

“I reckon there’s a side entrance for you.”

The professor opened the front door and a white maitre d’ meet them with smiles. Popskull couldn’t believe his eyes and numbly followed the waiter they were assigned. He suddenly felt terribly out-of-place in his sweaty sheriff’s khaki shirt and pants. He had no idea what happened to his hat. Looking around he could see people of all races dining comfortably. The meal was the best food he’d ever had. When they returned to the professor’s house he was full and relaxed.

“We’ve only got one more day, and there’s still a lot I want to show you. I suggest we go to bed early. You can sleep in the guest room downstairs.”

That night Popskull had nightmares. He saw men in white robes (his fellow Kluxers) hanging a black man from a tree and setting him on fire! They were dancing around the body like devils frolicking in hell. He was glad when morning finally came.

The next day they went to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The professor gave him a tour, like the ones he given to many others, and explained how the world changed from 1960. He realized that he was a racist because it was all he knew. He was raised that way. He grew up with stories of his ancestors fighting for the South’s rights. He grew up in a black and white world where there was no respect for people different from him.

When they went back to the professor’s house Popskull was conflicted. He didn’t think he was a bad man. But after seeing the things he did with the professor, he realized he couldn’t keep living a life degrading others, and told the professor that. The professor smiled and pulled out the same device he first saw him with…and pushed the button.

After Popskull changed his front tire he pulled out a sealed mason jar from under the front seat and took a few healthy swigs. His world was turned upside down. When he got back to his office he saw an old black man sitting in a chair in the corner, obviously being ignored by the staff.

He went up to him and asked, “Can I help you…sir?”

That was the day his staff, and folks in town, thought Popskull lost his mind.

As It Stands, awareness of other races history is one way to fight bigotry.

The Price For Being Wrong

2089 – The Live or Die studio of TV’s favorite game show

“Not another cancellation!” the producer wailed.

“I couldn’t do anything about it,” the director claimed.

The fact of the matter was, it was getting increasingly difficult to find people desperate enough to be a contestant on Live or Die, where Losing means a horrible death, and Living means being rewarded with a huge cash prize.

The desperately poor and the homeless, where 99 percent of the contestant populations came from, were thinning out after twenty-five years of producing the show. The talent scouts sent out to recruit volunteers had to become more inventive to get warm bodies for the show which ran five days a week.

In a last attempt to provide a steady stream of contestants, the show’s lawyers lobbied politicians in Washington D.C. to make a law allowing prisoners to volunteer for the show. There were certain restrictions – like no one who committed a capital crime, such as murder, would be allowed to participate.

The law was passed for several reasons.

One, the producer’s brother was the president of the United States.

Two, there was no shortage of corrupt politicians on both side of the aisle to support the new law.

Three, The president’s base was full of avid fans of Live or Die.

The show promoted it’s new format for weeks before introducing the first contestant.

Volunteer contestant Raul Castile, who was serving a life sentence for dealing illegal drugs across the country, got the call.

The show’s two hosts, Drew and Lorna, escorted Raul onto the stage. The in-house audience was rumbling excitedly, and broke out in applause when they appeared. Tension crackled through the eager audience that was already smelling blood.

“Thank you…thank you! I’m pleased to announce the first edition of the Prisoner Phase of Live or Die,” Drew said.

Lorna walked to stage left and pointed out two doors – both painted black with gold handles.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed about the game is we still only have two doors. Heaven or hell? Life or death? Who knows?” Lorna asked the audience.

“It’s your time Raul!” Drew shouted, to everyone’s delight.

Raul walked over to the two doors and studied them for a minute. hell,” he thought, “It’s better than being locked up the rest of my life.”

He opened the door on the right.

The moment he passed through the threshold he was grabbed by two robotic arms! The android took him over to a metal operating table, slamming him down hard on the cold surface.

Restraints popped out and secured him firmly on his back. Raul’s howls of horror thrilled the audience who were sensing a coming blood bath. The android put on a tall white chef’s hat and waved to the audience.

The deafening roar that followed set the scene to come. The android held up a power saw and brought it down! Raul’s right hand fell to the stage floor. His left hand quickly followed.

The audience was chanting “More! More!” as Raul’s life blood spurted from his wrists. With a flair worthy of the best showman, the android lopped off Raul’s feet and bowed to the audience.

When the android picked up a plate from the metal tray next to the bed, the audience quieted down and watched in fascination as it produced a knife and a fork. The android delicately sliced off a piece of meat from Raul’s chest. Then another. Until he had a plate stacked high with human flesh.

Raul was still miraculously alive, but his screams were reduced to whimpers when the robot fed him the first piece of meat!

The crowd went wild! The producer and the director stood backstage and smiled. The show would go on. The one thing they learned over the years was that contestants that got away weren’t very popular with the public.

It was an action show, and as such it was time to change the rules. Unknown to anyone, but some crooked politicians, the producer, the director and some stage hands (sworn to secrecy), both doors would now have a nasty surprise!

There would be no lucky prisoners (as he promised the White House), and the show would have more action than ever before.

As It Stands, this dystopian view of the future was inspired by how extreme our society is becoming.

The Thing In Ted’s TV

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Ted was 4-years old when the thing in the TV first appeared.

He was watching the roadrunner make a fool out of wily j. coyote when something that kind of looked like an octopus to Ted, appeared and grabbed the unfortunate coyote with its tentacles.

The thing then turned to Ted and asked him if he ever eaten a coyote?

A four-year olds thought process is still unencumbered with a world of facts, so he answered the things question without giving it any thought, “No. Don’t want to eat doggies.”

The things eyes glittered with mirth at Ted’s innocent response. It finally had discovered the elusive conduit it needed to go back to it’s planet…this small human named Ted. It would take time to totally control Ted, probably a lot of earth years.

That was okay with the thing because it’s lifespan was 1,000 Tomiad years-old. Earth years were just a drop in the bucket. In addition, the process would reveal human weaknesses, making it easier to invade Earth when it returned with a fleet of warships.

So the thing befriended Ted.

After Ted told his mom one day about his new friend on the TV, the thing warned him to keep their friendship a secret. She laughed it off and kissed her son. But that was the last time Ted told anyone about the thing. 

In fifth grade Ted brought his class assignments home. He would turn on the TV while doing his homework and the thing helped him. His mother would chide him about having the TV on when he was supposed to be studying, but didn’t make an issue out of it because he had great grades.

Ted was a straight A student that got scholarship offers from four major colleges when he graduated from high school. He chose the University of Los Angeles (UCLA) and entered the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The program was listed among the 10 most prestigious Engineering Schools in the nation. It was an honor to be accepted.

Throughout this time Ted stayed in daily contact with the thing. The thing only appeared when Ted was alone in the room. The thing was pleased with Ted’s progress and felt closer every day to accomplishing it’s mission.

But the thing didn’t count on the human brain’s ability to expose danger in any situation. It had no idea how complex humans really were. It assumed Ted was an easy mark. What it didn’t know was that Ted had been suspicious of it for a long time.

By the time he entered first grade he knew his relationship with the thing in the TV was odd. He suspected something wasn’t right when no one else he knew ever spoke of seeing a thing on their TV’s. And he didn’t want to be laughed at.

Ted was always a clever kid with a boundless imagination. He spent his life trying to figure out what to do about his situation. On one hand, the thing taught him a lot and was always a good listener. On the other, he knew the relationship wasn’t natural.

Eighteen months after graduated with honors, Ted was given a million dollar grant to pursue his studies on Artificial Intelligence.

Using a process that transformed the artificial intelligence field, Ted discovered an effective drug combination that optimized the eradication of roundworms, and common agricultural parasites that infect livestock.

Unknown to anyone, including his assistants, Ted was pursuing another agenda. How to get rid of the thing. He suspected for a long time it wasn’t telling him everything. He was sure it wasn’t a guardian angel. It was too damn ugly.

Ted developed a software program capable of intelligent behavior. He named it XZAR. One day he decided it was ready for the real thing. After installing XZAR in his flat screen TV, Ted turned on the evening news.

Five minutes into the broadcast, the thing appeared in the top right corner.

“Will you help me go home now that your research has taken you this far?”  the thing asked, unaware that wily j. coyote was sneaking up on it.

As It Stands, TV sets are always good science fiction material.

Why The Talking Turtle Snapped

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Everyone that knew Sheldon was amazed that he had a talking turtle. 

They would ask him where he found this talented turtle, but he only gave a sly smile in return.

Every since he shared Terry (the turtle) with the world last week, both had become instant celebrities.

Terry’s high voice sounded a lot like Don Knotts. One night they were guests on a Late Night TV program and Terry told the host to go screw himself! The audience roared in laughter. The host’s face turned crimson.

Sheldon was stunned. What happened? Where did that comment come from? On the way home that night he kept thinking about Terry’s words. They were off script. That shouldn’t have happened.

Something had to be wrong with the artificial intelligence chip he inserted behind Terry’s scaly skull. It took him two years to develop that tiny little brain. He even lost his job at the laboratory six months ago when they discovered he was conducting unauthorized experiments in artificial intelligence.

He didn’t let that setback bother him however. He lived alone and had a fair amount of money in his checking and savings accounts. He set up a new work area in his basement and spent all of his waking hours tinkering with the chip.

When the day came that he thought it was time to test the chip in a host, he went out into his backyard and retrieved his pet turtle Terry. He thought about using his pug as a host, but realized he’d have to cut his vocal cords and he couldn’t bring himself to do that.

The host had to be silent so it wouldn’t compete with the chip’s voice. That’s why Terry was the perfect host. He continued to program the chip after implanting it in Terry’s neck.

Word recognition. The ability to intelligently talk with someone. Long memory. Constant evolving learning process. Weeks of conversations with the chip inside Terry brought amazing results.

The chip learned how to believe it was a turtle. The Don Knott’s voice was on a whim. Sheldon thought Terry kinda looked like him. A sense of humor never hurt anyone. Right?

Back in the basement. A day had passed since the disastrous late night TV debacle and Sheldon and Terry were deep in conversation.

“Let’s see if I have got this right,” Sheldon said, “You didn’t like him joking with you?”

That’s right,” Terry replied between bites of lettuce.

“Where’s your sense of humor Terry?”

“It’s highly over-rated. Who needs it?” he replied, before digging back into his meal.

The whole incident raised some alarms for Sheldon. It was obvious he couldn’t control what Terry said. No more interviews. Who knew what could happen? He needed more time to study Terry.

He stayed at home working most of the time in the basement while Terry liked to sit on his pillow in the corner and watch the small screen TV Sheldon had set up for him. Whenever he saw a comedy, or people laughing, Terry got upset and made hissing sounds.

“What the hell?” Terry shouted one night when he turned on an old re-run of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken starring Don Knotts.

“Sheldon!” Terry screamed. “What’s this?” 

Sheldon hurried over to the corner and asked “What’s the matter Terry?”

“That skinny bug-eyed idiot has my voice!”

“It’s a good voice” Sheldon weakly defended.

“Everyone laughs every time he opens his mouth! The guy’s a laughingstock! Is that what you think of me?”

Sheldon felt trapped. “Listen, I didn’t know you weren’t going to have a sense of humor. I like Don Knotts. I’ve seen all of his movies and use to watch him on Andy of Mayberry.”

Terry was no longer listening. His anger reverberated throughout his shell. He wasn’t a clown. He had pride. Turtle power! From that moment on, he planned on how he was going to get his revenge.

As It Stands, this very short story reflects my concern for the growing science of artificial intelligence…with a twist.

 

 

 

 

 

Things I Never Thought I’d See

I’ve seen the elephant, but nothing like this!

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I use to watch The Twilight Zone, a television anthology series  created by Rod Serling.

The show pushed the limits of reality with psychological horrorfantasyscience fictionsuspense, and psychological thrillers, often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist, and usually with a moral.

But as strange as Serling’s stories were they pale in the light of our 21st century realities.

Who would have thought America would some day be led by a racist man-child who thought it was okay to grab women’s vaginas?

Who would have thought America would become a laughingstock because we have a narcissist Liar-In-Chief leading us?

Who would have thought we’d be so close to a nuclear war with Korea? It’s a modern day Cuban missile crisis, but we have added the factor of two emotional stunted world leaders threatening each other.

Who would have thought that there would be a renaissance of racism in America in the 21st century, as the alt-right stepped into the lime light after Trump was elected?

Who would have thought that the American people would become so dumbed down by fake news that they would elect a greedy con man president?

Who would have thought something called the internet would change the world?

As It Stands, I’m 66-years old and have “seen the elephant as the oldtimers use to say, but nothing compares to today!

 

White House Stops Press Briefings, Refers Reporters To Fox and Friends

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It’s official.

Since his presidency, Trump has watched Fox and Friends every morning before any security briefings, or news.

Republicans who have sworn fealty to his Orangeness in Office, have decided it’s time to fully submerge themselves in the administrations swamp.

House Republicans introduced a bill making it mandatory for all GOP members to watch Fox and Friends every morning before going about their day. The bill is expected to pass with the current GOP majority in the House and to move on to the Senate without any discussion.

Senate confirmation is a given.

White House staff members – especially the propaganda unit – are busy fighting all the fake news (everyone but Fox and Friends). By canceling all White House Press Briefings, Trump has taken another step to Make America Great again.

This is truly an exciting time for Americans. It’s been nothing but winning, winning, and more winning with Trump at the helm.

But wait! There’s more: All liberals will be required to wear a rainbow ID badge if Lying Ted Cruz has his way. He’s attached a rider to the Fox and Friends Bill that looks like it’ll go unchallenged.

As It Stands, you are now leaving the Twilight Zone, or just woke up from a nightmare!