Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Broken Water, Shaken Confidence

Others would die from the anthrax attack - but not Tumbleweed. He had had the misfortune of catching a miserable cold during an anthrax attack. The experience did force Tumbleweed to finally tidy his condo a bit and put any video or other evidence into a bag that he could, if necessary, drop into the trash chute down the hall before dying the next time. Back on the job it was the monthly advertising meeting night. At the prescribed time everyone stopped what they were doing and headed to one of the conference rooms in the building. Tumbleweed along with the rest of the advertising department moved through the cubicles like zombies heading for some fresh flesh. In fact there would be food at the meeting and drinks as well. Of course, it wasn't like back in the old days when every meeting had a full bar. The liquor was top shelf and the food was catered, mostly leaning towards the crab and shrimp end of the food scale far from the wieners and potato chips. In the old days, at least according to Randy who been there since the 1960's, the smell of reefer burning in the hallways was common. One worker at the paper ran a liquor store out of his locker at work if anyone wanted a bottle of booze or beer after the liquor stores closed early in the evening. Driving to PG County to get late night liquor wasn't necessary if you didn't mind the limited selection. There was a great deal of sex at work at the paper. Dave's manager had told him about the time he had sex with one of the cleaning ladies late at night. Randy was always telling stories about how it use to be at the paper. The pay was great and the work was easy. There was no internet, cable, etc. If you wanted to advertise anything it was in the paper. The paper had a virtual monopoly and raked in the profits year after year no matter what the economy did. It was recession proof. Those were the heydays.

As the workers filed into the bigger auditorium each was handed a red package. Everyone made their way to the immediately for the food tables that still had pretty good faire at that point in time. This night they would eat food catered from the cafeteria. It wasn't teriyaki steak on sticks or crab balls but it was good old wholesome meat and potatoes stuff from Carol in the cafeteria. She knew how to cook so this was just fine for Tumbleweed especially since the paper closed the cafeteria at 7 PM nowadays. Management said it was a cost saving measure which the workers were informed of at a meeting just like the one they were attending on this very night. Everything concerning the direction of the paper was presented to the workers in meetings down the chain of command to people like Tumbleweed and me. Of course there was the official line and there was what was really going on which we could find out from Randy. Randy knew the right people at the paper to get the real story. Randy had mentioned to Tumbleweed earlier in the shift before the meeting that management was going to hand out some kind of kit. After loading his plate with food Tumbleweed returned to his table. He started to eat as he opened the velcro flap of his kit. He was sitting at the table with Randy, Dave, Rodney and Crystal an ad makers. One by one his fellow table denizens sat next to Tumbleweed who was busily removing items from this little red package. This was some kind of emergency kit. As Tumbleweed plucked items from the package he stated for his table mates what he found before laying it on the table next to his plate. "Flashlight, surgical gloves, emergency poncho, scissors." Tumbleweed stops to take a bite of his long neglected food. Savoring the taste he unzips the front of the pouch and pulls out a flattened container that was at one time apparently filled with water. Now it had all leaked out before ever reaching Tumbleweed who without thinking muttered, "My water broke." To which Dave responds, "I didn't even know you were knocked up." Rodney laughs and remarks, "Tumbleweed I thought you had glandular weight problem." Everyone at the take exploded into laughter. Everyone with the exception of Tumbleweed of course who was busy claiming repeatedly that he wasn't pregnant though no one heard his pleas. 

The meeting began and as usual various managers explained the statistics each was responsible for monitoring. The table was still giggling about Tumbleweed who they were referring to now as "Broken Water." As they did they raised their hand like the 1950's television Indians. Ronnie cleared his throat looking sternly towards the table freezing everyone's laughter instantly before giving the numbers on the write-offs.  Fortunately the write offs for screw up were continuing to decline each month. What use to be several million dollars each year for write off was now down to a couple hundred thousand and dropping. That was a good thing too because so were the amount and size of the ads making it to the page these days. But the most ominous detail was the drop in paying subscribers. In the old days if anyone wanted lots of information conveyed to their customers they needed to spend tens of thousands of dollars for full page ads. These days a full page ad might cost over one hundred thousand dollars depending on the circumstances. Sadly for the paper's bottom line fewer and fewer ads of any kind were being sold. Classified ads especially had been decimated by the internet. No one was willing to pay the paper thirty dollars to print three small classified lines when they could have paragraphs of advertising classified information using craigslist.com complete with pictures of the items for sale. The first time Tumbleweed heard craigslist mentioned at the meeting he immediately went to the site after it ended. Sure enough, free ads. That can't be good for business Tumbleweed reckoned. As usual Ronnie thanked everyone for having a great month and that only a few minor write offs occurred. These were the fault of Sales so they didn't even fall into the staff's laps.

Finally, Ronnie begins explaining the emergency kits given to each of them by the paper. He explains the reasoning which to some in the room like me and Randy sounds like the duck and cover drills back during the Cuban Missile Crisis at school. Each drill seemed more about pacifying nerves rather than increasing safety. Still everyone listen in somber, silence as Ronnie continued continued to explain things like the emergency escape routes from the building should an airplane or something attack the paper. Ronnie pulls items from the emergency package explaining the purpose for each. However, when Ronnie listed the emergency package of water it was more than Tumbleweed's table could stand and they all began giggling once again in a room filled with people who were being reminded of the 9/11 attack. "Is there something funny we should all know about?" Ronnie demanded in his no nonsense tone. Randy spoke up hoping to break to tension while in fact telling the truth replied to Ronnie's question, "It's just Tumbleweed." Randy grabbed the flatted empty water container and explained calmly, "His water broke." The rest of the room was just beginning to laugh when Ronnie replied, "You need to see the nurse Tumbleweed?" By this point the entire room collapsed into pandemonium. Everyone was laughing so Ronnie said over the microphone for anyone with questions to ask their managers and adjourned the meeting. Slowly everyone filed out of the room still laughing and calling out to Tumbleweed who was being referred to by everyone now as broken water.

The crew had only been back at their desks for a short time before the psst was being passed around on the floor because it was Crystal's birthday. The workers at the paper never missed an opportunity to have a celebration so everybody got a little party on their birthday with cake, ice cream, balloons and the Happy Birthday song sung by a collection of good and very bad singers. Though recently stuffed at the meeting the crew had no problem downing more. They were the definition of foodies. Everyone but a couple exceptions loved and lived to eat. Most had the obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes to prove it as well. Though they did not find themselves as bad off as Tumbleweed. Still young, Tumbleweed had already been diagnosed with signs of pre-diabetes. Even so, everyone was waiting in the conference room when they brought Crystal in with the made-up excuse. Everyone began to sing happy birthday. After the initial niceties had been dispensed with, everyone got down to what they were really there for - the treats. The crew file around the table taking their turns grabbing cake, ice cream and whatnot. Dave having been one of the first in line sat eating eating his dessert as Tumbleweed hopped by him with a little plate piled high with delights. Just a second after passing by him, Dave notices a balloon following behind Tumbleweed. He sees that the ribbon tied to one of the decorative balloons and has a paperclip tied to the other end. That clip has been hooked to Tumbleweed's belt loop in the back. Immediately, Dave turns in Randy's direction knowing what a practical joker he is. Randy is already looking at Dave nodding his head smiling as if to say, "Yeah it was me alright." Dave busted out laughing as Tumbleweed carried his plate of dessert out of the conference room - his balloon friend following close behind. Where ever Tumbleweed went the balloon was sure to followed. Tumbleweed sat back at his desk and the balloon came to rest hovering several feet over his head. Randy walk by singing, "Up, up and away. In my beautiful my beautiful, Baaaalooooooon." The floor began to giggle except for Tumbleweed of course who still hadn't realized he was sporting a parasitic twin overhead. Tumbleweed got up several times and hopped here and there but never noticing his companion. Finally, he darted quickly in one direction but realized he needed to go back to his desk first and ran straight into the balloon catching it between the palms of his hands. He grabs the ribbon reeling it in until he realizes it's attached to his belt. Detaching the clip he comments, "That's not funny, Randy." To which Randy throws his hands apart claiming innocents. "I thought you were making some kind of fashion statement, dude."

Randy was the master practical joker, to be sure, but like the old lion, the younger upstarts were nipping at his heels. The worst position anyone on the ad operations floor could find themselves in would be to turn around and find Randy silently standing there smiling. Those in-the-know would immediately begin checking themselves for kick me signs or other jokes of varying deviousness. If you heard Randy or anyone singing, "I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle," it's best to immediately check the back of the heels of their shoes to see if Randy may have taped a pair of pink paper cutout spurs there. Or if people started referring to you as "partner" or saying "howdy sheriff" then there was a better than average chance Randy had taped a pink paper badge on your shirt and a cutout of a gun on your side. But Tumbleweed having released his balloon friend to the universe went back to closing his sections. As the evening progressed and the work flow ended for most of the crew on the floor, people began gravitating around Randy's work station. Alan, a gay man who built ads walked over and asked, "Hey what's the name of that evangelists...?" But before he can finish his inquiry Randy shouts, "Jim Jones!" To which Alan replies, "No." Then Dave follows with "Jim Bakker." Alan shakes his head no. "Jimmy Swaggard!" Alan says, "No not him." "They Righteous Brothers!" Someone screams to which Alan says no shaking his head. "The Andrew Sisters." Shouts someone else. Laughing Alan says, "No they're not evangelists - they're singing groups." But Dave interjects, "Oral Robert." Alan replies "no not him either." "Anal Robert!" Dave responds and the whole groups starts laughing. "No," Alan laughs shaken his head and wagging his naughty finger. "There's no such person as Anal Robert."

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