Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More War Drums

Everything was changing in Tumbleweed's world. After the attack all air traffic was shut down. This brought an eerie quiet to Tumbleweed's world especially from his condo balcony where normally he could always hear planes roaring by towards National or perhaps Dulles airport. Sitting on his balcony after rising from sleeping alone, he felt uneasy about the blank skies. It was not normal. Tumbleweed loved normal - he craved it. Surprises, especially unpleasant ones, were very stressful. He sat drinking his first diet Coke of the day wondering what it all meant. No airplanes in the sky. He really needed this diet Coke because he didn't sleep very well. It was just too quiet. If the jets didn't start flying soon he wondered how he would get any decent sleep. He took another sip and his thoughts drifted. The day was beautiful and typical for a mid Atlantic September. Tumbleweed sat quietly drinking until finishing his soda. He crushed the aluminum can then chucked it towards the trash bin in the corner of the balcony. "Dammit! Missed again." He mumbled so only he would hear the swearing should anyone else be listening nearby on their balcony. He could sometimes hear people talking or arguing on their balconies so he reasoned they might hear him as well. But no one heard Tumbleweed. He made sure of that because he wanted no trouble from the condo board. The condo board had a million ways to make your money their money. Tumbleweed made damn sure he stayed way clear of those condo constables. His lifestyle was already being crimped to unpleasant levels as things had changed somehow, somewhere though Tumbleweed could not say exactly when. Tumbleweed was still making good money but it didn't seem to go as far these days. He hadn't been past the massage parlor in ages. His thoughts wandered off to several runs he made out of town to as he called it, "titty screw" this lady in Philadelphia. He was bonering up on the balcony just thinking about it though one could ever tell under his tremendous girth. Tumbleweed hears his phone begin to ring. He reckons that this will be his work or his mom. These are the only two calls that ring his phone other than holiday greetings from his brothers and September didn't have any holidays like that. Tumbleweed has no real friends outside of work. That's just the way it is for Tumbleweed.

This time it is work calling asking him to come in early. Tumbleweed eagerly agrees since he can really use the money. Beside this he has nothing else on his plate and always wants to please his bosses even though they barely take notice. Tumbleweed lived to hear the big boss Ronnie remark, "Good catch," whenever he stopped a write-off from getting into the paper. Sadly, most times Tumbleweed found himself sitting inside Ronnie's office with the door closed trying to explain how a classified ad page published with yesterday's copy where today's classified ad copy was supposed to be running. Try as he might only a bit of air would come out of his pudgy cheek, lips flopping silently across from Ronnie's desk. Ronnie's anger would build as he waited for Tumbleweed's explanation yet still no actual words flowed from his mouth. Only attempted words choked off but his fears before ever materializing into something Ronnie could comprehend. Finally he'd blow. "SAY IT! SAY IT! SAY IT!" Ronnie demanded just like Sam Kinison in "Back To School." Though Ronnie was not a large man his personality was imposing...on everyone. Nobody crossed Ronnie. Ronnie was a no nonsense director of operation for the advertising department. Previous directors had come and gone, recently one after the other. A full page telephone company ad would run opposite a page with one of their competitors adverts and BANG! One hundred grand out the window soon followed by Paul. a director of operations. Somebody had to fall on their sword. Perhaps the director would be retired. Maybe they would be laderaled into another position where they couldn't do much damage. In the case of Paul they laderaled him into another position rather than fire him. It was easier and Paul went to the Output Department that sends the finished pages to be printed.

Paul ran a much more relaxed department than Ronnie which probably contributed to his reassignment. He was an old country boy who drove a truck, went hunting and fishing whistling the tune Mayberry tune. He was a bit of a joker as well. Once Tumbleweed attempted to pull a prank on Paul by swiping his bicycle and hiding it. Well Randy got wind of it and turn the tables on Tumbleweed. He tipped off Paul who went and got the bike from where Tumbleweed had hidden it then stashed it elsewhere. After a short time Paul walks over to Randy's desk where he and Tumbleweed are chatting then tells his bit of misfortune to the two. "Well somebody stole my bike." Paul informs them in a drab, matter of fact manner. It was an award winning acting performance worthy of accolades from the snootiest of critics. "Yeah." Paul continues dryly, "I'm going down to security now to have them pull the video tape so we can prosecute the thief." Then Paul turns and leaves the floor. Tumbleweed smiles at Randy then leave to retrieve Paul's bike to demonstrate it was a big joke. However, when he returned to Randy's desk he was no longer smiling. Of course Randy figured he wouldn't be happy when he returned so he remarks, "What's wrong man? Hey where's Paul's bike?" Tumbleweed tries to talk but at first no sound that can be hear are apparent. "What wrong, man?" Randy asks again. "It's gone." Tumbleweed finally replies. "Gone? What's gone?" Randy inquires act so innocent in this conspiracy that ran to the top of Ad Operations. But Tumbleweed can say is the P sound at the beginning of Paul's name. "Pah, pah, pah." "PAUL'S BIKE!" Randy shouts. "You mean Paul's bike is gone?" All Tumbleweed could do is nod his head confirming exactly what Randy already knew. "What the hell do you mean Paul's bike is gone? Where the hell is it." Tumbleweed shrugged his shoulders and mumbled, "Gone." Randy continues the farce. "Gone? Where did it go?" Tumbleweed shook his head, put his palms up in the air and replied, "Gone." Then Tumbleweed realizes the video tape will show him taking the bike from where Paul had left it. "I'll buy Paul another bike." Tumbleweed moaned in agony now that his prank has taken a horrible turn for the worst. "I swear. I'll buy him another one. It was just a joke."

At that very moment Randy phone rang and he picked it up. "Ad Operations. Yes." I worried look appeared across Randy's face. "I see. Yes I will. Yes sir I will. Goodbye." Randy hung up the phone and sat there with his back to Tumbleweed for a few seconds to heighten the dramatic effect. Then he swiveled in his $1200 ergonomically correct chair in Tumbleweed's direction with his eyes cast downward. Slowly he lifted his head making eye contact with Tumbleweed and said, "That was Security. They want you to come to the 1st floor security station. They said to bring your Washington Post ID entry badge too." Tumbleweed choked up knowing what this meant. It was the end for him and his career at the Washington Post. He turned head cast downward in shame and slowly walking away leaving Randy with pretend look of shock at Tumbleweed's apparent run of bad luck. Tumbleweed leaves the Ad Ops floor, turns to walk around the bend to the nearby elevator. Then he grabs the elevator to the first floor and the end of his employment. On the first floor the Security Station is right there where the elevator doors open. When they did open that's where Tumbleweed found Paul sitting on his bike laughing. "Try to pull one on me." Paul said wagging his finger.

Before Paul, Bob Cooper had a brief stint at being director. Tumbleweed readied himself for work thinking about Bob who was the head of operations when Tumbleweed began working for the Post, then one day Bob was an ad maker picking up old ads and editing them for current ad runs. It was real grunt work for a former head of advertising. If a director could be busted down to ad maker overnight then nobody was safe from the ax, reasoned Tumbleweed. He knew he could be fired in an instant, paid a bit of money to agree to just go away. It was how the paper did things. This could be the punishment for making a mistake. However, if you were caught doing something really bad then security would escort you from the building after confiscating your ID badge. Putting on his pants both legs at a time, not being able to stand and put one leg in then the other without tumbling over, he thought about Brian who'd been recently fired. Brian had been feuding with a coworker and poured soda pop all over her keyboard to retaliate in a growing tit for tat escalation. She would yack on the phone all day and Brian couldn't even begin his work until she finished hers. So he was just paying her back. The trouble was the paper had installed those hidden video cameras and recorded the entire vandalization and Brian was gone. Then about a month later the coworker who was his nemesis retired meaning Brian could have still been with the paper if only he could have held out for thirty more days. This line of thinking was more than Tumbleweed could handle and he hurried to finish getting ready for work. There were just too many ways to be fired when Tumbleweed started to think about it. It was better to not think about it.

Tumbleweed hopped out to his Neon for the non stop whistle tour to work. Try as he might to not think about the things he could be fired for by the paper, he found his mind drifting back to the many ways to be terminated by the paper. It sure wasn't like the old days as Randy described them. Tumbleweed put on his blinker then looked into his side view mirror to merge into traffic. He should have looked to his left as well and he would have seen the Hummer right next to his Neon. "BEEP!" Tumbleweed swerved back to the right hitting the rumble strips that contributed to him getting a ticket, the fear of the encounter with the cop freshly etched in his mind. The hummer sped past Tumbleweed allowing him to get into the slow lane. His heart was racing as Tumbleweed was a timid person by nature. Tumbleweed would never be involved in road rage.  Tumbleweed did not like any drama in his life. However, working at the paper on a floor with notorious practical jokers pretty much assured that there would indeed be lots of drama in Tumbleweed's life. He was an easy target with his head down in the ostrich position. He even looked a bit like a young Sergeant Shultz and tried to know nothing that might get him into trouble. But keeping one's head down in advertising operations where the whole floor of workers were hurrying to complete their work to make the deadline then spend hours just hanging around for problems that by that point in time only happened rarely, was a foolhardy folly. Conditions were ripe for boredom fueled practical joking. Even Tumbleweed tried his hand at practical joking but sadly, the joke always led eventually to him.

Tumbleweed before long was crossing the Potomac soon to be at work. He rolled past the guards and into his assigned parking space. After a small tug of war he extracted himself from the Neon. Tumbleweed first stops by the soda machine for a Diet Coke then sits down and logs onto the network. The day shift is on the job this early in the production day. His night crew would not arrive for several more hours to work the graveyard shift. The day shift had one big advantage in that there were plenty of attractive females working in advertising sales and for the top honchos at the paper. The top people could have any secretary they wanted and they usually had a pretty one. In the sales department evidently it was decided that pretty women sold more adverts as the department was crammed full of them and the paper sold lots of ads. That was a historical fact. Tumbleweed could barely get a complete sentence out in front of one of these ladies, they were that good looking. The night shift had a crew that was more utilitarian than attractive. The day shift was flashy like Hollywood and the night people more like bureaucrat minions getting their little individual job done while never understanding the nature or big picture of big plan. Tumbleweed popped open his soda and took a sip. He noticed Ronnie walking by and nodded at him. Ronnie gave Tumbleweed a small thumbs up thanking him in his way for coming in early. Of course this made Tumbleweed's spirits soar into the top floor of the building where only the highest of the newspaper priests of publishing ever dare tread. Tumbleweed starts printing our proofs of any pages ready for publication.

After three hours go by Tumbleweed sees Dave walking through the cubical jungle on his way to his desk next to Tumbleweed's. All of the digital pagination people sat around together yelling orders, statements or questions to one another about the status of the paper such as when they closed a particular section or giving a heads up about a killed ad. Dave nods at Tumbleweed then throws his bag on the floor by the desk. "What's happening Tumbleweed?" Dave inquires looking at Tumbleweed who replies, "My names not Tumbleweed, Dave." To which Dave replies, "You want to be called Tumbleweed Dave? Are you doing something different with your hair?" "No." Tumbleweed says while continuing to print proofs. "You're blow drying your hair aren't you?" Dave accuses Tumbleweed who immediately denies the charge and responds, "I don't blow dry my hair, Dave." Then like an angry prosecutor Dave says, "Answer the question! Do you or don't you blow dry your hair sir?" Dave stands there with both hands on his hips waiting for Tumbleweed's answer. After several attempted responses Tumbleweed reiterates meekly, "I'm not a blow drier Dave." That causes Dave to comment, "I realize you are not Blow Drier Dave. You're Tumbleweed Dave right? And a blow drier! Admit it sir!" Dave demands to which Tumbleweed mumbles, "I'm not a blow drier." Dave asks, "Then how do you explain your incredibly pouffy hair, sir?" Tumbleweed starts to answer then blows the breath out without saying a word.

Tumbleweed has done everything he can do at this point in the shift so decides to surf the net for a spell to see what's going on. What's going on with the newspaper business is much of what they'll offer first thing tomorrow morning for a price, is available right now mostly for free over the internet. Tumbleweed reads all of the budgeting forecast projections and actual outcomes that were given out at the monthly meetings for the advertising department. The meetings were used to make everyone feel part of the team and they came in handy when the management wanted to mass threaten everyone. For example, when one admaker was caught creating ads while at work for another newspapers the employee was escorted from the building. At the next advertising meeting a generic warning went out to everyone not to produce work for the competition especially on their work computers. The staff also received accompanying mass email for transgressions recently perpetrated by just fired workers. Often a worker would simply not be at work anymore with no explanation. Dave also noticed William who sat across the floor about thirty feet from his desk. He was not at his desk for a few days and thought he must taking a few days off. Tumbleweed found his thoughts drifting back to William's empty desk several weeks later. "Wait a second." Dave mumbled to himself thinking William still not at work. So Dave checked with the most reliable source of covert information on the behind the scene workings of the paper - his supervisor Randy. Randy looked both ways and responded softly, "William decided to print out 150 copies of a color printout for his two boy's school project. Well you know how long it takes that damn color printer to printout even one color page - like two or three minutes for each page." Tumbleweed started nodding, understanding where this was going. "The trouble for William is that even though it was late at night some big wig in operations wanted just one color printout before heading home. William's print job was on about number 5 of 150. So the big wig tried to cancel William's print job in the que but only managed to restart it again at number one of 150. William was gone that night. You were here when it happened. Didn't you get the mass email about not using newspaper equipment for personal matters?" Tumbleweed thought about it remembering that he did receive such an email about the time William had disappeared.

Tumbleweed seeing an interesting story on the net comments to Dave, "There is a guy down in Florida who just died from anthrax." To which Dave responds in alarm, "Anthrax! How did he get that?" After scanning the article for a moment Tumbleweed continues. "It say's the man might have caught it in a swamp where he was just camping recently." Dave shout loud enough for the entire floor to hear. "WHAT?" Dave notices everyone on the floor suddenly looking at him and continues quietly. "What do they mean caught anthrax in the swamp?" Tumbleweed cuts and pastes the link into an email then sends it to Dave. "Check your email." Tumbleweed tells Dave. Dave opens his email then clicks the link. Reading it Dave begin shaking his head. "People don't catch anthrax in swamps. Swamps kill anthrax because the anthrax spores depend on dry conditions to exist like out on the great plains. Animals kick up the spore into the air and that's how people can get it. Also in leather processing factories I heard."

Nothing more was said about the anthrax at that time but what Dave was saying about this story come to haunt Tumbleweed? Time would tell and sooner than ever imagined. For the moment however both workers continued closing their sections - Tumbleweed unconcerned about the anthrax since no warning had been posted by the media or by the paper. Everything was pointing to an isolated naturally caused episode in a swamp and Tumbleweed hadn't been to a swamp. What scared Tumbleweed was Ronnie walking by and not having his sections closed on time. FOX had kept Tumbleweed up-to-date about one guy getting sick. Dave, however, was left puzzled and wondering as the story did not add up biologically speaking. All it took was a bit of surfing over the Internet in between closing his sections and Dave felt something really wasn't right about this anthrax story.


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