Steel Brandenburg III sat at his desk in the newsroom of the Berlin (Wyoming) Daily Times. The cursor on his computer blinked, impatiently waiting for him to start writing a story for the next edition. But Steel’s mind was blank, numb and only slightly jolted when Veronica Eyes came thundering in and threw her cluster of reporter things down on her desk before shedding her coat with the furry collar and placing it on the back of her chair.
“Ugh,” she groaned. “I hate when the mayor has these lunchtime meetings. They’re so ridiculously boring.”
Steel turned his blank stare toward her as she sat down at her desk on the other side of the room. “Then don’t go to them,” he said, flatly.
She distractedly moved her head to look at him at the same time she was shuffling through papers and notebooks and files splayed across her workspace. “What?”
“Don’t go to those meetings if they’re so boring,” Steel repeated.
She scoffed at his remark. “I have to Steel. It’s my job. It’s boring but important. People want to know what the mayor is up to. And, you never know, he could choke on something during one of these stupid luncheons. People would eat that kind of stuff up. And like I said, it’s my job. It’s what a reporter does. I’m a watchdog. I’m a bulldog.”
Steel felt that last bit was aimed at him and how she felt about his work performance. He didn’t match her expectations. He didn’t match anyone’s expectations. “But sometimes you just have to let go and crawl out of the coffin,” Steel said, but he really didn’t understand why. It was just the way he was. Strange. Different. His thoughts were continually muddled, sloppy, slippery, like a plate of warm spaghetti, domed and buttery.
Veronica made a strained face and shook her head in puzzlement, her dark, loose curls wobbling. “What does that mean… Never mind. I don’t have time for this.” She clamped on her headphones and turned her attention to the pile of chores in front of her. Steel suddenly envied her abilities as a reporter. She was a real journalist, he thought. She knew what she was doing. She was a leader in the newsroom. She was experienced. She hustled. She was smart, motivated, often aggressive but still professional… And perhaps somewhat of a fox, he finally admitted to himself. She came from a family with money and could be a pretentious bitch, but he liked her soft face. He liked the way her mouth stretched out and showed off her big sparkly teeth when she smiled or laughed. They reminded him of polished ivory Chicklets. That is, when she smiled or laughed. It was hard times at the Daily Times of Berlin, Wyoming. Steel sighed deeply and went back to staring at his blank computer screen and the blinking cursor cried out to him, “Feed me, feed me, feed me lies.”
Jarrod Creep was a blood-hungry thorn. He was the publisher and the editor of the Berlin (Wyoming) Daily Times, and he sat in a wooden and glass box in the corner of the front office and flipped through that day’s edition. The afternoon pale golden sunlight filtered painfully through the windows behind him.
Steel watched his small stupid head move as his eyes with glasses danced across the pages. Once in a while he would glance up at Steel, but he wouldn’t say anything. Sometimes he would sigh. He was a small man injected with vinegar. He was a loudmouth who was his own idea of greatness. His beard and moustache were slightly unruly. The hair on his grape-shaped head was never fully groomed. He had one tooth that was crooked. He wasn’t an attractive man, but he had a wife. They were talking about having children, as he would mention in casual conversations with staffers. He liked Thai food and watching college basketball. He had no close friends, but countless acquaintances that he collected like stamps.
Jarrod Creep eventually closed the newspaper, folded it neatly and set it at the corner of his desk. He got up to shut his office door. The glass slightly rattled in its frame. It was an old, time-worn building that had a faint scent of mustiness about it. Carrie Gould, the overweight office manager with the straw-colored bob, tried to drown the smell out through the overuse of fruit-scented sprays, but everyone believed it was to drown out the foul smell of her own body.
“What’s going on with you?” he asked Steel after he sat back down, like a king would settle into his throne.
“Going on with me?”
“You don’t have anything in the paper again. I asked you several times for a story on the public access initiatives and impacts at Moore’s Ranch. I still don’t see it. Why?”
“I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the story. I’m still trying to figure it all out,” Steel answered as he uncomfortably shifted in the uncomfortable chair.
“Figure it out?”
“Yes. It’s all very complicated.”
“Have you attempted to uncomplicate it? Have you even talked to anyone yet?”
Jarrod Creep was losing patience. “Why not!? This is an important story. People want to know about this, and they expect us to give them the answers. That’s what we are tasked with. It’s a great responsibility.”
“I get nervous,” Steel blurted out.
Jarrod Creep chuckled, but it wasn’t because something was funny, it was because something was unbelievable in an angry kind of way. And the something unbelievable was Steel Brandenburg III and his inability to perform his basic job duties. “‘I get nervous’ is not an acceptable answer… Not to me or anyone else on the news team. I’m just going to come out and say it, Steel. You’re on thin ice here. Real thin ice. You’re dragging the news operation down and I can’t have that. I saw promise in you when I first hired you. Have I completely misjudged you? I’d really like to know.”
The publisher’s words were churning Steel’s guts. His throat was going dry, his heart and mind pumped nervous and warm. He wanted to jump across the desk and stick a knife into Jarrod Creep’s bitter, self-righteous heart of Christmas coal. “I’m just not excited by anything that goes on here,” Steel surprisingly began, like slowly rising warm steam from a vent in the earth. “This town is bleak. The people are bleak. There is nothing here that grabs my soul and makes it worth my while to wake up in the morning. I hate it here.”
Jarrod Creep’s eyes bloomed like a liquidy bubble blown through a hole in a plastic stick by a wonderous child. He glared at Steel intensely but let him keep talking. They were the most words Steel had spoken to him at one time since he hired him five months ago. And in that time, Jarrod Creep had grown to dislike the man, his seemingly new hope for bolstering readership. But he felt uneasy around him. Most of the staff felt uneasy around him. There was something off about him. There was something dark and painful about Steel Brandenburg III and he hid it well. He was shrouded in so much mystery and awkward elements of the unknown. When he did smile or laugh, it was filtered through the mesh of a broken soul, a battered history.
“You don’t value life outside of work,” Steel went on. “You expect people to dedicate so much of themselves to this bullshit organization that they have nothing left…”
“That’s a false claim!” Jarrod Creep interrupted. “Absolutely false.”
“No, it’s true.” Steel snapped. “People here are burnt out. They’ve run out of joy. This town is bad enough but then you pile it on even more. Backs are breaking. Minds are snapping. My mind is snapping. And that’s why you haven’t gotten your stupid story!”
Jarrod Creep tapped a pencil on his desk as he stared and glared at Steel. “Well, that was a bit overdramatic. Do you feel better after getting all that pent-up frustration out?”
Steel slumped in his chair and looked away. The office was getting too warm. He was beginning to feel sticky beneath his uncomfortable office clothes. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever be free of it.”
Jarrod Creep leaned forward and tried to lighten the mood with a poorly acted smile. “I appreciate your honesty, as rough-edged as it was. You spoke with passion. I must tell you, Steel. I was planning on firing you today, but your quote-unquote passion has changed my mind. I’m going to give you 30 days, and in that time, I want to see you refocus that passion toward your work here. I want this newspaper to succeed. I want it to be the best it can be, but for that, I need people with laser-focused passion. Look at me.” He leaned back in his chair and interlocked his fingers behind his head like a phony showoff. “I didn’t get where I am today by constantly complaining about my conditions in life. I’m a success because I want to be a success. I need to be a success. I want those around me to be a success as well. I know I can’t always expect everyone to perform at my level, but I believe those under me should at least strive for it… And if you’re not striving for success, there’s no room for you on my team. Our team. Berlin, Wyoming’s team… How do you feel about all that?”
Steel wanted to scream and run out the door. But instead, he said, in weakness and stained conformity, “I’m excited about it.”
TO BE CONTINUED
3 thoughts on “The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 3”
Really enjoyed this. Thank you.
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