Silas Washington’s opinions were no different than anyone else. Like most people, he said whatever came to mind regardless who he offended. He didn’t intentionally offend anyone, but he didn’t worry about it if he did either. Why worry? In BS 16 (before shoulderboards), every spoken word or sentence, no matter how innocent or politically correct offended someone somewhere. No matter what was said, around the clock organized groups specializing in the study and contextual dissection of words and phrases turned anything said into something offensive to someone. In a common sense world, this should have made people choose their words and comments very carefully or shut up all together, but in a conspicuously combustible society such as America, the opposite occurred. People threw common sense aside and became increasingly free with their opinions. However, by BS 11, people across America, including Silas, finally said enough is enough. They demanded something be done to reel in an opinionated society, and bring a semblance of sanity back to the nation.
Believing the federal government was largely to blame for the insanity, the 51 state legislatures took on the task of setting things straight. However, Cuba, the newest state, a state motivated by the tobacco tea industry and a surreptitious government rumor mill designed to invigorate tourism, declined to participate. The 50 remaining governors called a convention in St. Louis in November of BS 11 to discuss and collaborate on measures to resolve the problem, but the meetings were cut short after only two days due to an overabundance of self-serving opinions on how to handle the situation. In March, BS 10, Mississippi became the first state to introduce a solution. The GOPAU (Good Old Politics as Usual) Party in Mississippi introduced a law forbidding opinions of any kind, especially those not favorable to the convictions and beliefs of the authors of the law. HB 1313, as the law was called, was so simple in design and content, that other states enthusiastically adopted it as well. By the summer of BS 8, anyone with an opinion – with the exception of select membership in the GOPAU – was subject to a $100,000 fine and solitary confinement in a state or federal prison for up to ten years. It was not the best of times, but like the majority of people, Silas was not overly concerned.
By fall BS 6, with opinions banned, social media collapsed, and all elections were canceled since it was illegal to vote for the candidate of choice. Rather than hold elections, elected offices were filled by drawing names from a fruit jar, which proved to be much more efficient and credible than the old election process. Anyone Tweeting, texting, or sending a message that could not be supported by hard data was arrested for an opinion crime. Since all beliefs were classified as opinions, churches closed and converted to one choice bicycle shops, and libraries, a viable source for opinions for the few people who actually used them, were sold to storage vendors. Television was relegated to unopinionated news and weather reporting, The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, and Sponge Bob Square Pants. All other programming was strictly forbidden. As a consequence, and shortly after all musical instruments were re-classified as blue devices and outlawed, the entertainment business declared bankruptcy and ceased to exist. No one had an opinion on anything, or at least they kept it to themselves, which Silas thought wasn’t such a bad thing. In Mary Kay vs The United States of America, the Supreme Court ruled wearing makeup was an opinion crime since a person would have to be of the opinion their natural complexion needed adjusting to be acceptable. Not even the stock markets were spared as thousands of stockbrokers on Wall Street were locked out of the exchange – speculation was most definitely an opinion crime.
With people tight lipped and prisons growing into gigantic city states, life was pretty hard boiled in The United States – that is until The Great Caffeine Rebellion. Silas thought the rebellion was a good idea, but of course, he kept the thought to himself. The rebellion began and ended April 1, BS 3. The limited news reported thousands of people gathered in DuPont Circle and surrounding streets and restaurants in Washington D.C. to peacefully protest HB 1313. With their plain black coffee – the only choice allowed – hoisted high in the air, the people slowly poured their drinks over their heads in protest of the discombobulation of America. In Hot Coffee, Mississippi, several people, mostly kin, gathered outside Knight’s General Store and poured hot coffee down the front of their pants in protest against the law. Other than a couple of nasty sticky comb overs in D.C. and some reports of serious shrinkage caused by scalding in Mississippi, no one was seriously injured in the protests. Fox News staged an illegal analytical forum as to the effectiveness of the rebellion, but the government shut them down citing the forum as a violation of HB 1313. As far as a rebellion, The Great Caffeine Rebellion of BS 3, wasn’t much, but the idea of once again being able to make simple choices such as the color of clothes worn, being able to choose to salt or pepper food, have an opinion on what was pretty, ugly, fat, skinny, acceptable or not acceptable, as well as have a choice in friends was so overpowering that in BS 2 the 30th, 31st , and 32nd Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America were presented before Congress.
Ratification of the Amendments was tricky. As long as HB 1313 was law, the states could not ratify any new Amendment since the law strictly prohibited a change of opinion on the law; therefore, the nation’s lawmakers found themselves in a catch-22. As a last effort, Congress released the Amendments to the states for individual consideration, but under HB 1313, the states were just as powerless. However, one state, Mississippi, had no problem ignoring the law they created and becoming the first state to ratify the 30th Amendment to the Constitution. Once again, the rest of the nation followed Mississippi’s lead. Silas marched proudly in the July 4 Emancipation of Opinions parade. The next day, newspapers across the nation were filled with local, state, and national opinions and wonderful blatant gossip. It was a great day of celebration in America!
The 30th Amendment struck down HB 1313 as well as closed all loopholes or questions as to the patriotic heritage of opinions by linking them forever to the First Amendment and the American pursuit of liberty and happiness. To once and for all resolve proprietorship issues concerning opinions and establish opinions as a sovereign right, the 31st Amendment established the right of first opinions with guaranteed copyright protections and benefits regardless of position, wealth, entitlement, political correctness or degree of sensitivity. The 32nd Amendment protected individuals from incarceration for being opinionated. Finally, to assure everyone happiness, conformity, and whatnot, the government contracted with Disney, Intel, and a newly invigorated social media to develop a Personal Integrated Sensory System Imagined Network Grid, or PISSING Network for short. The first prototype was a monstrous insect-looking virtual reality helmet, which frightened little children and the elderly. The helmet gave way to a more user friendly and breathable device, although slightly more cumbersome, known as a shoulderboard. Wearing the shoulderboard guaranteed people in their everyday life the same anonymity and lack of accountability they had loved so much with the old social media. The device was such a hit with the public and government officials that The United States Congress passed the Disassociation Act requiring shoulderboards be worn during all hours of the day except when sleeping.
Silas despised the four sided digital shoulderboard that sat on his shoulders surrounding his head, but he had to admit the apparatus was an ingenious time saver. Get up in the morning, unplug the unit from its charging port, slip it over the head, and punch in the desired look for the day. Presto! No more hours doing makeup, shaving, or fussing with hair. The manufactures still highly suggested bathing the rest of the body at least twice weekly, but from the shoulders up forget it. To become whoever a person wanted to be, all that was required was to simply speak into the Intel 2022 mic or punch in a descriptor on the nifty Intel sychromatic wristband, and instantly the desired image appeared on the board in amazing Disney Realmation 3D. Not only did the boards provide a look, but wearers could express any opinion or say anything they desired without physical association or accountability just like they did in the old days of social media. People could literally be whoever they wanted to be; or at least who they wanted everyone to believe them to be, and therein was the problem for Silas.
Silas was a little man, and the shoulderboard hurt his shoulders, but that was a minor problem. He was an old soul, and simply wanted to be. His few friends told him to relax and let the shouldrboard work for him, but it simply did not work for him. No matter how he tried to fit in with the shoulderboard crowd, that world did not click for him. He tried a macho muscle man image on his shoulderboard for several days, but just as he was getting use to the part, a gust of wind sent him toppling into a nearby shrub with his feet kicking frantically in the air. For children and smaller adults like Silas, the boards made a person top heavy and prone to tip over, which in Silas’s case did not speak well of his implied masculinity. Another time, he presented himself as a square jawed, no nonsense cowboy with Southern roots. He was opinionated, conspiracy loving, and ultra conservative. As long as people believed as he believed, he championed their cause. For several days, he had a blast criticizing opinions disagreeing with his and warning that stocks would plummet and the world would end if people failed to share his beliefs. Nevertheless, after a couple of weeks of being better than everybody, he grew tired. He was just not the in your face type, so he turned off his shoulderboard and set it aside, and didn’t bother to plug it into its charger. He had no intention of ever wearing it again. Three days later his home was surrounded by SWAT teams, helicopters, foaming at the mouth dogs, the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security. Poor Silas was taken away in chains.
To make sure everyone tuned in, Silas’s trial was held on a Sunday afternoon in Federal court. The government determined they would make an example of him that the people would long remember. The prosecuting team was confident his treasonable act of refusing to wear his shoulderboard would be a slam dunk case in their favor. The defense team agreed. They were envious of the prosecution’s case, and hoped for mercy at best. Unless something went terribly wrong, by the end of the day, they fully expected to be home watching their client on the ten o’clock news as he was ushered off to prison in chains.
In spite of his attorneys protests, Silas refused to wear his shoulderboard in the courtroom and appeared natural – unshaved, hair knotted, and unwashed. Warnings were flashed across shouderboards around the nation that some images (mainly Silas) might be too intense for small children and pregnant females. Although his unkempt appearance frightened many young children, embarrassed his family, and sickened the majority of onlookers, not a single person turned away. The nation was captivated by him. For many in the watching audience, he was the first nonviolent individual they had ever seen held accountable for anything.
The court room was packed with people wearing shoulderboards – all except Silas. Everyone expected Silas’s attorneys to challenge the Constitutionality of his arrest under the 32nd Amendment. In fact, most observers felt the trial might be more about the Constitution than Silas. Therefore, the Honorable Joseph Summit, the foremost authority on the Constitution, came out of retirement to convene the court. The President of the United States, with Ronald Reagan smiling warmly from his shoulderboard, sat directly behind the prosecution table along with several national, local – including the Governor of Mississippi, and even foreign dignitaries. Silas’s family and friends sat directly behind the defense table; several of them had flashing banners scrolling across their shoulderboards that read “We are so sorry, Silas was brought up better than this,” and “Please, don’t judge us by our cousin’s actions.”
Silas sat with one elbow on the defense table with his chin propped in the palm of his hand. Five defense attorneys with shoulderboards depicting Teddy Rooselvelt, Samuel L Jackson, Brett Favre, Jerry Clower, and Clarence Darrow, hovered around him all talking at once, begging him to take the government’s offer of five years in solitary confinement and a meager $25,000 fine. They insisted he could not hope for a better deal. Silas thought differently and refused to discuss the offer much less accept it.
As soon as the judge was seated, Bobby Joe Stalwart, aka Clarence Darrow, the lead defense attorney and a six four former linebacker for Mississippi State, jumped to his feet. “Your Honor,” he said, “I move this case be thrown out by virtue of the 32nd Amendment.” The crowd in the courtroom and at home sat up straight. There it was; the case everyone had expected. “My client,” he continued, “was unlawfully incarcerated, and he is owed an apology by The United States of America.” The crowd nodded its approval. Sitting directly behind the President, the Governor of Mississippi, Theodore G. Bilbo smiling from his shoulderboard, pumped his fist proudly. It was nice to see a Mississippi boy take it to the feds, even if it was in a losing cause. There was no way Silas was going to walk out of court a free man; not when a 450 million dollar deal for a shoulderboard factory in Issaquena County was on the line. A rebel like Silas could ruin everything.
“Mr. Stalwart,” said Judge Summit, Judge Greg Mathis looking very serious from his shoulderboard, “first, you are out of line, and second, the 32nd Amendment applies to incarceration for opinions and does not apply to this case. The defendant has been charged with the treasonable act of refusing to wear his shoulderboard in direct violation of the Disassociation Act. His opinion is of little concern to this court.”
“Oh,” Bobby Joe said, and he and Clarence Darrow sank into his chair next to Silas.
“Oh,” gasped the crowd. They had not seen that coming.
The judge stared Bobby Joe into his seat, and then turned his attention to Silas. “Mr. Washington, will you please rise?” he said. Silas stood. As his attorney, Bobby Joe halfway stood, decided better and sat down, thought better of sitting, and started to stand again. The judge watched him a moment. “Mr. Stalwart, please make up your mind to either stand or sit?”
“If it pleases your Honor,” Bobby Joe said, “I sure would like to stand with my client.”
“Then I would sure like for you to stand with your client, Mr. Stalwart,” said the judge. “Just be quick about it.” Bobby Joe stood, towering over Silas. “Mr. Washington,” the judge continued, “do you understand why you are here today before this court?”
“Yes, sir,” Silas said, “because you people won’t let me be.”
Judge Summit and Mathis smiled. “And, what would you like for this court to let you be?” he asked.
Silas held his chin high. “Alone,” he said.
From the back of the room, Jessie, Silas’s second cousin on his mama’s side, who had a 3D image of Dolly Parton smiling sweetly from her shoulderboard, yelled, “You tell’em cus!” The courtroom erupted with laughter.
Summit and Mathis frowned with remarkable synchronization. The gavel pounded the sound block several times to restore order. “If there is another outburst like that, I will clear this courtroom!” Summit and Mathis shouted in unison.
“Your Honor,” Bobby Joe said, “if I may speak?”
“Go ahead, Mr. Stalwart.”
“Your Honor,” Bobby Joe said laying a hand on Silas’s shoulder, “as this court and everybody in it and at home can plainly see by my client’s continued refusal to wear his shoulderboard, his ragged appearance, and his lack of clarity to your Honor’s questions, Mr. Washington is not of sound mind or body. Therefore . . . .” Silas brushed Bobby Joe’s hand from his shoulder, reached up and grabbed him by the base of his shoulderboard, pulled the much larger man down to his level, and whispered to Clarence Darrow. Clarence Darrow jerked erect, red faced. He stared in disbelief at Silas for a moment, and abruptly sat down at the table.
“Mr. Washington,” the judge said, “there will be no secrets or whispering in my courtroom. What did you say to your attorney?”
“I told him to shut up and sit down,” Silas said.
“That is highly inappropriate,” the judge said. “Mr. Stalwart is your attorney.”
“Sir, no disrespect intended toward you, but this court is inappropriate, and Mr. Stalwart is not my attorney. I also told him he was fired.”
Ronald Reagan coughed loudly, and everyone sitting on the first row behind the prosecution table began high-fiving and slapping each other on the back. Everyone else in the courtroom sat in silence, not believing what had just happened. Without a lawyer, they knew Silas had probably cheated them of the courtroom drama they came to see. The judge pounded his gavel to bring the room under control. “Mr. Washington, are you sure this is what you want to do?” he asked. “I highly recommend you reconsider.”
“No doubt in my mind,” Silas said.
“As you please, but Mr. Washington, if at any time, you wish to reconsider let me know.”
“I object!” the lead prosecuting attorney, Elrod Gladstone aka Vince Lombardi shouted.
“To what?” asked the judge.
“Your Honor,” Gladstone said, “you can’t let him change his mind later if it suits him.”
Judge Mathis sat back and laughed. “Yes, I can,” said the judge. “This is my courtroom, and I’ll do as I please. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” Elrod and Vince said, and sat down quickly.
“Thank you,” said Judge Summit. “Now let the trial of Mr. Silas Washington on the charges of treason against the United States of America begin. We will not hold his foolishness to dismiss his attorney against him.”
The judge turned to the prosecution table. “Mr. Gladstone,” he said, “as lead attorney for the prosecution, the floor is yours.
Elrod Gladstone stood slowly. He looked at Silas and shook his head sadly. Walking toward the twelve jurors, he stopped halfway and looked back over his shoulder at Silas and again shook his head sadly. The jurors watched him intently as he walked from member to member of the jury sitting in the first row of the jury box. Six times he stopped, looked over his shoulder at Silas, and turned back to the juror to shake his head sadly. “Your Honor, Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I will not take any more of the court’s time than is absolutely necessary. Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, it is the opinion of the prosecution and The United States of America that the defendant is guilty of treason against the United States as outlined by the Disassociation Act, but to avoid a long and costly trial, the prosecution wishes to exercise its protected right of first opinion as promised by the 31st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.”
The judge nodded. “Mr. Gladstone, I was wondering how long it would take you to get to the bottom line in this case. Your point, Sir, is well made. By virtue of the 31st Amendment protecting your right of first opinion, the judgement of this court must rest in favor of the prosecution. I therefore find the defendant guilty of treason as charged.”
The President was the first to his feet. He grabbed the Governor of Mississippi, and kissed Bilbo square on the lips. He then turned to the Governor of North Carolina and lay a fat slobbering kiss on the shoulderboard image of Andy Griffith. The room was in complete bedlam. The judge pounded his gavel, but no one heard. The defense team of Rooselvelt, Jackson, Favre, Clower, and Darrow stared in disgust at Silas, but he looked straight ahead unconcerned. After several minutes, the room settled down and order was restored.
“Mr. Washington,” the judge said, “do you have anything on behalf of your defense you would like to say before I announce your sentence?”
“Yes, your Honor, I do,” Silas said, and stepped forward to face his judge and jury. “Your Honor, I am not a treasonable fellow . . . .” A snicker escaped from the row where the President sat. “Sir, I believe in the United States of America. I respect the Constitution of this great nation, and I respect the prosecution’s Constitutional right of first opinion in regard to the verdict in this case. However, I also have right of first opinion as to how the sentence is determined. Therefore, Sir, it is my opinion, I should be held harmless of further incarceration or penalty.”
A deep silence hung over the courtroom. The prosecuting attorneys and the President and his pals looked back and forth at each other not believing what they were hearing. Judge Summit raised and pounded his gavel. “Mr. Washington,” he said, “your point, is well made. By virtue of the 31st Amendment protecting your right of first opinion in the sentencing phase of this trial, sentencing is hereby established as time served without further penalty. Well done Mr. Washington. Case concluded. Good day.”
“You can’t do that!” the Governor of Mississippi shouted jumping to his feet. “That’s not right! The right of first opinion can’t be used twice in the same case.”
Judge Summit stopped at the door to his chambers. “Sir,” he said, “it was used once for the verdict and once for sentencing, which is very permissible under the law you helped write and the Constitution.”
The President turned to the Governor of Mississippi, “I thought you said this was a done deal? You said your 32nd Amendment was flawless.”
“This doesn’t change anything,” Bilbo sputtered.
“Wrong! This changes everything” Reagan hissed. “Andy!” he called after the Governor of North Carolina who was walking to door. “Andy! Do I have a deal for you!” Ronnie called, and hustled after the shoulderboard that had just turned to Barney Fife.
The heavily influenced government newspapers didn’t know what to print, so they didn’t print the story at all. The Bureau of Bureaucratic Syphoning, BS for short, hurriedly rushed prepared statements to all the television, radio, and shoulderboard networks, thanking everyone for tuning into the realistic legal docudrama pilot that was scheduled to be broadcast on television in the fall. A week after the trial, a follow up bulletin was sent out saying the pilot had not lived up to rating expectations and future shows had been canceled. Three months after the trail, no one remembered the bulletins much less the trial.
Silas continued to refuse to wear the shoulderboard. Due largely to the misinformation pumped through the networks after the trail, there were no reports of others following his example and casting aside their shoulderboards. Six months after the trial, he walked outside one morning to pick up the paper from his driveway, and noticed a helicopter just above the tree tops. “That’s the guy!” yelled a man in the helicopter through a megaphone. Within seconds, Silas was surrounded by SWAT teams, helicopters, foaming at the mouth dogs, the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security. Once again, he was arrested and taken away in chains. The government had decided they could not just let him be. He screamed, kicked, and shouted his rights under the 32nd Amendment, but this time it didn’t matter, the Mississippi Legislature was back in session, and change was once more in the air.
©Jack Linton, July 17, 2016