Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Tumbleweed Express

Tumbleweed drank down a cold fluoridated city ice water, as terrorists easily penetrated his nation's defense systems. It was apparent to him that his country needed him to get the Washington Post to press now more than ever. He finished his fluoridated, chlorinated elixir that symbolized how superior the American system was to all those Stanley countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and... What were those other Stan countries? He paused to recall he'd seen a story on FOX about there being a bunch of them all collected around themselves in the middle of the east somewhere. "Wasn't Iran right next door too?" He wondered aloud. "Jesus help us." Tumbleweed concluded though he was not a man who went to church on a regular basis - just weddings, funerals and Christmas Eve midnight mass perhaps. He felt believing in God was all he really needed to do to get into heaven if he was doing the right thing. Fighting terrorism fit that definition because what kind of people would murder thousands of Americans?

Tumbleweed was not so unusual from many other Americans in appearance and attitude. He was to say the least a portly man though not very tall. He had a good head of hair which he took pride in. His job was working for one of the last national newspapers not driven under by the internet alternatives and the truth. He essentially was an ad jockey shepherding ads onto the correct page into the correct position on that page but using a computer. Now that this was done on computer by a dozen or so people and not a hundred paste-up people using Linotype and paste-up boards, Tumbleweed felt lucky he was still working and not among those forced out. Those first buyouts were sweet however but they were meant for old men who'd been with the paper for decades. Most of them would not live too long anyway as they all spent so much of their working lives stewing in various poisons required to create a national newspapers in the olden days of the twentieth century. Cancer was big and Tumbleweed, though not realizing perhaps that it was their jobs that killed them, felt real bad for Tom and the others who had cancer. Tom took the buy out and was dead within a year. "I sure hope I don't ever catch the cancer." He muttered to himself. Whether that would be his fate he didn't focus too much or obsess about health issues. Beside being too fat he liked to chew tobacco but be drank diet sodas daily at his desk proving he was committed to getting healthy and losing weight. So heath was a balancing act in his mind. Do some healthy things, do some unhealthy things and it will all even out in the end. But that too was a far away time in Tumbleweed's mind. He only being 37 was in the prime of his life. A lot of good that did him as it had been years since he'd had an official girlfriend that didn't require a cash transaction at the end of the "date."

Tumbleweed played ball in college and was pretty good. Even back then he was a bit heavy but certainly in better shape than he was currently. He has been planning to get back into shape as well but time to workout was limited due to his job requirements. Working late and into the wee hours of the morning then sleeping away the day after watch a couple hours of on-demand porn left no time for exercise except those late night one arm wrist curls. But he speculated that once he found a girl and settled down he could spend those porn watching hours working out with both arms with real weights. Those needs would have to wait now that his nation was calling him. He knew he wanted to do something but had no idea what that might be.

Tumbleweed normally left for work after 5 PM but when he called the boss he couldn't get through. Apparently all the lines were jammed. However, he saw an opportunity to impress his employer. He figured lots of people wouldn't be showing up for work what with the terrorist attack and that included the day crew. The paper would be short handed so he finished dressing, then left his over priced condo for work and glory. He'd decided to get the condo a couple years ago after watching a program on TV said that buying a place would be a sound investment for his future. It was a slam dunk and you could only make money in Real Estate. He hadn't realized when he signed all those papers that the loan might actually go up since it was an adjustable mortgage nor did he realize he would be required to spend hundreds of dollars each month for condo fees. These were details he would come to realized soon enough because after a year of living there both his mortgage and fees went up and Tumbleweed was having a harder time making ends meet. Be that as it may he left his condo, took the ride down the elevator and got into his little Dodge in the parking garage. It only had 13 more payments then it would be all his. He drove out of his garage rolling the window down again hearing that annoying whistling sound coming from the front of his Neon. "What is that damn noise?" He muttered under his breath. Tumbleweed had even taken the car to the dealer to have them fix it but they could not solve the problem either. None of them realized that the malady lay in the wheel well of the Neon where I had taped a whistle like the referees use during a football game. The faster Tumbleweed rode the louder the whistle blew until he reached highway speed. At that point only the local dogs were driven crazy as the pitch became too high for humans to perceive.

September 11 was a gorgeous day for such a heinous act by some kind of terrorists. The ones responsible would certainly soon be discovered by the FBI Tumbleweed assured himself. They never miss catching their man when they want somebody. It's like the feds are actually inside the minds of the criminals themselves. Many times they almost catch them in the act or are onto them and nail them right before they can strike. It's like the FBI knows what their plans are before they happen he marveled. What the hell went wrong this time he wondered? Somebody must have dropped the ball on this one.

Accelerating down the ramp as his Neon bucked then sped onto the highway north he turned on the radio to check the news. The damn annoying whistling having finally stopped allowed Tumbleweed to collect his thoughts. The news was speculating the attack might be Palestinian. "Those goddamn Palestinians again!" He shouted to himself angrily banging the steering wheel then look around to see if the other drivers had notice that he was ranting alone in his car. Luckily none had as traffic was light. Saying goddamn probably wouldn't get him condemned to hell because no one heard him. So it really wasn't a sin in his mind if nobody but God heard it. Besides, he could of just as easily meant dam like the river and nothing in the Bible says you can't dam the river or people or whatever. Well he'd never heard about such a sin in the Bible though the federal government says dams are bad and need to be removed. His thoughts moved to dams he'd seen during his travels when he notices smoke rising from the Pentagon and lots of police and fire trucks before the scene disappear from his view as he rolled past on the highway. "Goddamn! What the hell is going on there?" He mumble as he reached the 14th Street Bridge which ran into Washington, D.C. The Jefferson Memorial came into view and he swelled up with pride just to be an American living in a free country. Tumbleweed's thoughts were interrupted by a police roadblock which he saw ahead at the intersection. He slowed his Neon and began to worry. Police always made him feel guilty. He couldn't help it especially after that DWI he got several years earlier. Pulling up he stops waiting for the approaching police officer to speak. "Where are you going sir? What is the nature of your business?" The cop demands with his hand on his holster. Tumbleweed hesitates momentarily collecting his thoughts not wanting to slip back into stammering like when he was younger and stutter everytime he got nervous. That could make him appear to be a terrorist and he sure didn't want that today. "I ah am go going to the wah, wah, wah, ah work." He began but stammering in a low voice. Jesus Christ he thought. I sound like a filthy guilty terrorist even to me. But before he could say more incriminating consonants the cops remarks, "Oh you work for the paper. Go ahead, get to work sir." Tumbleweed nodded then pulled away. When Tumbleweed arrived at the building he let out a sigh of relief. Then he ponder if the Post itself might be the next target of the terrorists.

He rolled past the security guards who nodded recognizing him wedged inside his forest green Neon. Tumbleweed parked in his assigned space thankful the whistling had finally stopped. He exited his little car then hopped towards work. Hopping is how he walked as he strained under almost three hundred pounds hung on his short frame. By hopping he could swing into a rhythmic walking pattern that used his momentum to propel his girth forward more easily. Tumbleweed swiped his electronic badge then opened the door to the building. He did his bunny bopping to the elevator, pressed the button and waited. When the door opened a dark skinned man was inside who might be a middle eastern or possibly even a Muslim person like an Iranian. Tumbleweed speculated silently and stepped warily to the other side of the compartment. The man smiled at Tumbleweed and he responded in kind but with a nervous twitch which he immediately began to scratch hoping to drive it away. Fortunately the man got off the elevator on the very next floor leaving Tumbleweed in solitude. He could relax now, at least to his usual perpetually frightened timid state of mushiness. Tumbleweed was especially nervous around the fairer sex. When he spoke to anyone with double X chromosomes he could scarcely choke out his words. As much as Tumbleweed weighed gravitationally speaking, he weighed his own words much more so before ever daring to say them out loud especially before a woman. Tumbleweed had very few sexual experiences for a man living over thirty years and most of those were commercial transactions. This left Tumbleweed starving for some kind of physical contact and it showed in the presence of women especially attractive ones. Many women got a sort of creepy feeling around Tumbleweed though most found him harmless and eunuch-like.

The doors open to Tumbleweed's floor and he hopped out of the elevator making his way towards his desk. As he walked down the halls he noticed not many people had showed up for work yet. Tumbleweed speculated that this was due to the terrorist strike no doubt. He sees that Randy is sitting at his desk, of course since he was working the day shift back then. As he passes, Randy says, "Hey Candy ass. The Pentagon terrorists didn't get you?" Tumbleweed walking past Randy replies, "That's not my name, Randy. What Pentagon terrorist?" Randy stands up to keep eye contact with Tumbleweed whose short altitude was rapidly disappearing below the walls of the cubical jungle. Curiosity gets the better of Tumbleweed and he stops and turns back towards Randy who begins filling in Tumbleweed. "Those terrorist son-of-a-bitches just flew a plane into the Pentagon. This is war baby." Tumbleweed realized that was the police activity he saw at the Pentagon when he passed the building driving up 395 on the way to work. "We're at war?" Tumbleweed asks. "They know who did it, yet?" Randy says, "Well the FBI is saying the ring leader's a guy named Atta son-of-a-bitch. They got video of him going through security and they found his rental car with details of the plan." Tumbleweed said no more, turned and finished the short hop to his desk.

Tumbleweed's desk and his general appearance were not conducive to snagging a lady - any lady. Right off the bat his keyboard and immediate Tumbleweed zone was speckled with little brown dots which were composed of his saliva encrusted with chewing tobacco. Unconsciously he grabbed for his chew, pulled off a hunk and jammed it into his cheeks as he sat down at his desk. Immediately, he logged on to the network computer then started checking the web for more news about the terrorism. "Thanks for coming in early, Tumbleweed. Start working on the Daily." Tumbleweed turned and confirmed it was the big boss in charge of all advertising operations, Ronnie. "You're welcome Ronnie," Tumbleweed replied in his timid nasal voice. He wanted to make some appropriate small talk with the boss about events but he was deathly afraid of Ronnie. Ronnie had a paper to get out and had no time for stuttering or other wastes of time. As Tumbleweed started the initial phases of opening his mouth to spend some of his just earned attaboy capital with the boss, his words became snagged in the pit of his stomach, followed by nothing but Ronnie disappearing around the corner. "Damn!" He mumbled under his breath. Tumbleweed loaded his pagination software that would allow him to jockey the various ads that were destined for the pages of the paper.

Laying out the paper wasn't a rocket science job but rather one filled with many details needing to be attended to as possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost advertising revenue hung in the balance. Get just one number wrong, like the 800 number that didn't ring the advertiser but a sex line instead, and that customer would not be paying for that ad. With the decline in the newspaper business the days of plenty were long gone for many papers but not the Washington Post. But taking a hit for not catching obvious errors could get you fired. So as if Tumbleweed hadn't enough things to be paranoid about, real or imagined, he was the last line of defense. He was the offensive lineman blocking screw-ups. Nobody knew you existed until your got flagged for a write-off. When the wrong ad, at the wrong time, with the wrong information published in the paper then heads could roll. He didn't want one of those heads to be his. Tumbleweed was having a hard enough time paying his bills now and surely didn't want to have to apply for a job somewhere else ever again for that matter. Just the thought of it sent a shiver down the length of his short spine. He hoped to retire at the paper like all the old guard who had just taken the buy outs to go away.

His software finished loading. Tumbleweed started to print proofs of the Daily pages that had all of the advertising copy ready to go. These were the pages that published everyday like the Main section, Sports, Business, etc. Other sections would be handled later in the day even though they would not publish for two days into the future. Still, not many people were on the normally busy floor. In advertising the paper employed artists, ad builders, copy writers, sales people, etc. as well as a crew of pagination specialists. All of these employees mostly worked on Tumbleweed's floor and could be seen busily walking back and forth doing their jobs. It was in reality a big advertising machine that manufactured ads then pop them on a computer conveyor belt for publishing. Normally, an ad would be grabbed from perhaps the previous Christmas. The copy about Christmas would be deleted and replaced with current holiday copy, saved and published to deliver current holiday sales for the advertisers. So "Happy Holidays" from Christmas got yanked and replaced with "Get a Sweet Heart Of A Deal" for Valentine's Day. The entire print advertising world revolved around holidays. September was normally the kick off of the busy season for advertising beginning with Back to School specials. This cycle continues through the first of the year then slowly dies off until summer when advertising revenue plummets. After all, advertisers have Memorial Day and Fourth of July until Back to School. Besides that everyone is at the beach and not reading a newspaper. In the paper, Merry Christmas had become Happy Holidays. This season's greeting would suffice for all religions, races and beliefs.

This shift was much harder than Tumbleweed might have imagined. Only Keith had shown up for work and just the two of them laid out the entire paper. Keith was a real laid back guy who was married to the ex wife of Redskin Dexter Manley. Unlike television that loses advertising revenue during these sort of crisis moments like 9/11, newspapers actually increase revenue. The networks cannot cut away from live coverage of the burning towers for commercials or viewers will simply switch to another channel. But newspapers swell with pages giving deeper coverage of current events on the world stage. Advertisers jump at the opportunity to get their information in front of a million readers. Of course this is not so for all advertisers. Tumbleweed had to be reminded that all airline ads and travel ads had been killed for that day and until further notice. The airlines would need time to figure out how to gracefully convince people that the skies were  friendly once again. Fortunately everybody on the advertising conveyor belt before him had done their jobs and no airline or travel ads made it to the pages. All of the space reserved for these ads had other ads filling the space or promotional material describing how knowledgeable, fair and unbiased the Washington Post was according to the paper naturally.

Tumbleweed pulled out the ad space holders for all of the killed ads and filled them appropriately with replacement copy. All that was left of the large pizza he'd ordered was the box and greasy wax paper. His trash can contained a number of the wads of chewed tobacco he'd gnawed through during the day and evening shifts. He was making some big overtime bucks and he smiled thinking about it. He sure could use the extra money. Everything was getting more expensive these days for Tumbleweed. Though he was perpetually low on money, he managed his funds foolishly. Instead of preparing a sensible mean at home to take to work, he ordered takeout every night during the shift. Naturally, with no real personal life and only a few family members like his mom and brothers, Tumbleweed had plenty of time to make sandwiches. Instead he chose to get the fatty, salty takeout with plenty of calories and little nutrition. However, he always got a diet coke with his order to at least give the impression that he was trying to lose weight. Tumbleweed had not taken a sip of soda with actual sugar in it since he was a kid. Aspartame had been a God send to him. Zero calories and very sweet. He drank three or four every night at work always from the vending machine of course. Bringing a six pack from home would have cost much less but then he'd have to carry it and everything. Besides, while making the trip for the aspartame soda often it gave him the opportunity to grab a salty snack saving time. He wanted nothing getting in the way of having the time to do his job correctly so he rationalized these were necessary job expenses even if the IRS didn't see things this way. He sure didn't want to be called into Ronnie's office again to explain why for example the same full page ad published with a big empty box where the graphic had dropped out. "DIDN'T IT EVER OCCUR TO YOU THAT NOBODY IS RICH OR DUMB ENOUGH TO BUY AN AD WITH A BIG EMPTY BOX RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT?" Ronnie screamed. When he made these demands from behind his closed door it meant for Tumbleweed that everybody in the shop and across the whole advertising operations floor could hear Ronnie screaming. No...Tumbleweed definitely didn't want to go there again so the caffeine in the coke seemed a good investment to protect him from having to go to Ronnie's office. Also, without the jolt of caffeine and aspartame Tumbleweed soon started get a headache. He didn't want that distracting him.

The day had been a blur to Tumbleweed. He found himself whistling down the abandoned streets of Washington towards his Alexandria Condo. He thought about everything that had occurred during this historic day. Two skyscrapers filled up with people had been destroyed by hijacked airliners with Muslim terrorists. Another plane hit the Pentagon that was still smoking as Tumbleweed drove south towards his condo. Then there was a fourth plane that had crashed. He would come to learn that one of the passengers led a revolt against the terrorists. He was even a gay dude recalled Tumbleweed. It was covered extensively by the paper of course after being released by the network news. He said, "Let's roll."  The paper would write that passenger drove the plane into the ground rather than let it be used against America as a missile. Once he viewed the coverage, Tumbleweed thought that's the kind of courage he wished he had more of. Just the thought of flying that plane to your death made Tumbleweed forget he was driving down 396 and his car eased off the road hitting the rumble strips. This shocked Tumbleweed back into his reality and he swerved back onto the road - his cars wiggling wildly for a few brief seconds. Unfortunately for Tumbleweed the Virginia state trooper by the emergency turn-around popped on his headlights followed by the scary ones on his roof. The cruiser darts onto the road after Tumbleweed.

Tumbleweed immediately swerves to the side of the road and slams on his brakes stopping by the guard rail. He does this so rapidly it cause the state trooper to overshoot him and the police cruiser comes to a screeching halt, backs ups and pulls in behind Tumbleweed now beginning to tremble a bit. Twice in one day being caught by the cops was very painful for one so emotionally weak and timid. The cop exited his vehicle with his hand on his weapon and approached Tumbleweed's Neon. Tumbleweed had both hands still on the steering wheel in the Ten Two position. The cop gets to his driver side window and motions for Tumbleweed to roll his window down. "Good evening sir. I noticed you swerved off the road just now. Have you been drinking tonight?" Tumbleweed replied, "No, no sir. I just got off work at the paper and they don't allow any drinking on the job." Tumbleweed tries to keep his answers simple to avoid looking suspicious. However, the cop doesn't like his answer finding it to be smug rather than just honest as was Tumbleweed's intent. "May I see your license and registration sir," the cop demand shining his flashlight down at Tumbleweed's eyes looking for the telltale signs of intoxication. Fortunately, this time would not be another DWI because the last time scared Tumbleweed away from ever drinking alcohol ever again. He even started going to Alcohols Anonymous though now it was more about meeting people than staying away from booze. Tumbleweed unhooked his safety belt then began digging for his wallet. Extracting this small piece of leather from beneath his amble bottom was a formidable struggle and was one Tumbleweed never would attempt unless forced by circumstances. He gave one good yank but the wallet flipped up out of his hand causing all of the contents to spill out on the floor including his license. "You want to step out of the car sir." The cop ordered sending a cold chill down Tumbleweed. "Yes sir." Tumbleweed agreed then opened his door exiting his car. The trooper shined his light into the Neon then began sorting through the papers on the floor until finding Tumbleweed's license. He grabs it and leans out of the car shining the light on the ID comparing the picture to Tumbleweed. He looks at the picture then at Tumbleweed several times making sure they are one and the same person. "Is your registration in your glove box?" The trooper asks Tumbleweed who only nod yes. "May I retrieve it from your car, sir? You have nothing to hide right sir?" Tumbleweed says, "No sir." Then realizing he might be misunderstood as saying the cop could not look in his glove box clarified his meaning. "I ah mean yes sir. You can look in the glove box but no nah no sir I'm not hiding anything." The cop leans into the Neon and after a moment returns with the registration. He is visibly annoyed with Tumbleweed. Perhaps it's the trash strewn car of Tumbleweed's that has the police officer on his ass like this Tumbleweed wonders. "Extend your arms out to the side, tilt your head back and touch your nose with your left then your right index finger." The cop orders Tumbleweed while demonstrating the maneuver himself. Tumbleweed does as he is ordered several times then looks towards the trooper for further instructions. "Okay sir," The officer continues as he stands on one leg. "Stand on one leg like this and count to ten." Tumbleweed stands on one leg and begins to count. "One, two, three..." But standing on one leg is not something Tumbleweed practices on a regular basis and he starts to lose his balance. He drops his raised leg back to the ground steadying himself. "Having a problem standing on one foot sir?" The cop asks an embarrassed Tumbleweed who isn't drunk. He's just fat. "No sir, officer." Tumbleweed replies sheepishly. "Should I try again?" "Never mind." The cop says. "Try this instead. Put your left heel in front of your right toe like this and walk in a straight line to this spot here. Then pivot, turn back and return to this spot toe to heel." After the cop finishes his demonstration he waits for Tumbleweed to complete his task. Tumbleweed goes though all the steps and finally returns to the original spot. "How's that sir?" The cop frowns and replies, "I told you to start with your left foot first. You began with your right foot. Are you having difficulty understanding my orders?" Tumbleweed is really getting paranoid at this point. "Ah, sir. I just made a mistake. I ah..." The trooper looking really annoyed angrily responds, "Never mind sir. Blow into this as hard as you can." He hands Tumbleweed the little breathalyzer tube. He grabs it and begins to blow. "Blow, blow, harder, harder." The cop orders. After a few seconds the cop grabs the device from Tumbleweed and holds it up to read the results. "Get back into your vehicle, sir. I'll be back with your license and registration." Tumbleweed asks, "Is the tester saying I haven't been drinking?" The cop in an annoyed voice states, "Remain in your vehicle, sir."

The officer returns to his police cruiser. Tumbleweed sits in his Neon not understanding what is going on. He doesn't realize he angered the cop by pulling over too fast causing the cruiser to overshoot him. Then being twice what he should weigh only made the cop have even more contempt than he would have felt towards him on this late night. What was really bothering the cop was perhaps his wife had had enough of his brutish bossy behavior and had left him earlier that day for another man. Who knows? Somebody would have to pay for this adultery and it looked like it was going to be Tumbleweed tonight. It seemed like an eternity but the cop eventually exited his cruiser and returned to the side of Tumbleweed's cars. "Sign here sir." The cop ordered handing Tumbleweed his ticket. He was to be sighted for failure to pay full time and attention to his driving for running off the road in front of a cop whose wife perhaps had just left him for some other man who was probably doing her right now. However in actual fact, Tumbleweed had no idea why this cop was victimizing him late at night in this manner. He didn't like it but felt it was normal for the cops to act this way because they were only trying to enforce the law. He signed his ticket and handed it back to the officer who tore off Tumbleweed's portion returning to him. "Have a good evening sir." The cop spoke in a tone that said he didn't really give a damn about Tumbleweed or the evening in question. "Thank you sir." Was all Tumbleweed could say grabbing his ticket. He laid the ticket on his passenger seat, started his Neon and pulled back onto the highway. He was relieved not to be going to jail. When he pulled into his underground garage and parked he finally took a peek at the ticket. "A HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS!" He screamed then notices there would be points as well put back on his license. Dammit, he thought to himself. The points from the DWI had just expired. The hundred fifty dollar fine was bad enough but he had not realized his insurance would be going up as well because he had inadvertently permitted his car to drift off the road in the middle of the night. He shoved the ticket into the glove box and returned to his abandoned condo. He put on the cable and began watching FOX to see if any further news about the terrorist attack was being aired. Normally this was his porno watching time but Tumbleweed rationalized that his sex life would need to be put on hold until he could see how dangerous it was going to be to work from now on. He worked in an office building as well. Somehow, watching the news couldn't hold his attention especially since these same reports he already aired numerous times. Soon he fell asleep.


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