Larry “Tumbleweed” Littleton
by Margie Shaheed
“Step on a crack
Tumbleweed woke up this morning in a good mood. Sleep wasn’t on his mind. Winning was. He‘d been waiting for this day to arrive all month. What started out as a joke between two old men had somersaulted into a main event. I’m a marketing genius, he thought to himself. Now all he had to do was win. Everyone at the bar had dubbed it the big race. It was set to begin at 6PM sharp in order to give folks enough time to get off of work. He ran downstairs to get his bacon and eggs left on the stove by his wife who had cooked it for him earlier that morning. By now, she was at work, but she promised to leave school early today so that she would have time to stop and pick up a bucket of chicken for the bar, and is at the race on time to cheer her hubby on.
Tumbleweed and his friend, Bald Eagle, owners of neighboring bars, were sitting one day reminiscing about their high school days as star athletes. They started talking mess to each other. “Man, right now? Ah bet chu Ah can run faster than you,” said Tumbleweed. “Shit, Ah bet chu you caint,” countered Bald Eagle. Before the conversation was over, each man had challenged the other to a race. They agreed to run the length of three city blocks on a side street within walking distance of the two bars. They shook on it. Stakes were high—besides $100 being won, the winner would host the after party at his bar, which meant brisk business on an otherwise slow Monday night. The loser would have to buy enough pizza to feed the hungry crowd. The news of the race caught fire. Folks immediately started making bets between themselves, and speculating on who they thought would win the race. With both men well into their 60’s, people kidded that they should have a paramedic on call.
A carnival of faces greeted the men as they arrived a little early to warm up. People paraded up and down both sides of the street, taking last minute bets, laughing, talking loud, and cheering. It was a zoo. Folks were busy positioning themselves on the sidewalk so that they could get a better view of the race. Someone stopped by the bar to pick up the cowbell -—it rang out constantly. Whistles were blowing too. The people who lived in the houses lining the street hung out of their windows to watch the commotion, and passersby threw curious stares at the swelling crowd. A few spectators even stopped by the liquor store before they got there, and so they discreetly took sips from bottles hidden away in purses and pockets. The cheering squad was made up of a handful of women who where regulars at the bars. The day before the race, the women took a shopping trip together where they bought matching outfits consisting of tight low-cut red busty tee-shirts, and dark blue denim shorts. One woman stood on the sidewalk, shaking dust out of a pair of pom-poms she found in her attic. Terrence, the misfit who cleaned up and did odd jobs at both bars, was also an artist. He sold poster-sized signs he had made featuring caricatures of the runners for spectators to hold up in the air. The race was on.
Larry got the name Tumbleweed because his hair is a snow white prickly bush. He’s known for bar hopping, and has the capacity to drink a lot of liquor. He’ll be drinking and talking with you one minute, and the next minute, you’d look up and he’d be gone in the wind, without ever saying good-bye. Bald Eagle, whose real name is Marvin is just the opposite, he soars above his buddies. He’s quiet, fun loving, and polite—classy in fact. He always dresses neatly in an open collared button down shirt and dress pants. He keeps his bar fully stocked and he is always about his business. That’s more than you can say about Tumbleweed whose bar is always low on liquor.
It was time for the race to begin. Everyone started cheering. Clarence, one of the regulars, had been appointed mascot. He pulled Tumbleweed and Bald Eagle away from the crowd so that they could take their positions at the starting line. Like children, the men placed the tips of their sneakers on the white chalk line. They looked like a pair of polished wooden toy horses as they waited for the starter gun to sound. POW! They’re off! The excited crowd paused, turning their attention to the street.
The men ran neck to neck the first block with each one’s fans cheering them on from the sidelines. Little by little, Tumbleweed inched ahead of Bald Eagle until he was a whole city block ahead of him. The crowd grew louder. It looked as if they already had a winner. Bald Eagle supporters looked like an island of misfit toys. Then, all of a sudden, the bear jumped on Tumbleweed’s back. In the Mid-South, people say that the bear is an imaginary animal that sits on the sideline in a chair, reading a newspaper. Just when a runner begins to show fatigue, he jumps on their back, taking them out of their misery. Tumbleweed’s legs buckled beneath him, he couldn’t believe he was falling. This hadn’t happened to him since he was a child. He tried to break the fall but only stumbled more, and with his arms flailing air, he fell flat on the ground, PLOP—scraping the skin off both his elbows. Stunned, he wiped the blood from his arms. The woman with the pom-poms hollered as she jumped up and down, “Git up Tumbleweed. You betta not make me lose alla mah damn money. Ah ain’t playin’. Git up!” Others started shouting for him to get up too. “Run faster, you can catch him!” Bald Eagle supporters rallied. Tumbleweed had been on the ground for only a second, trying to recover, when a gust of reality shot straight through his body. Business had been slow and he knew that he couldn’t afford to lose $100 to Bald Eagle, and buy pizza for the crowd? He had to win he told himself. Miraculously, he stood straight up, and with great difficulty, he took off running. The crowd went crazy—shouting and cheering, throwing their fists up in the air. Bald Eagle who had taken full advantage of the situation was running on his heels. Tumbleweed pulled away. Both men ran so fast you could hardly see their legs moving. Bald Eagle tried to catch up but it was useless. Tumbleweed was in his element—he was in the wind. And, he didn’t stop until he reached the finish line first.
Out of breath and sweating the two men shook hands as they laughed and hugged at the finish line—glad the race was over. They congratulated each other for running a good race. Tumbleweed held the cowbell up in the air and rang it loudly to get everyone’s attention. As was the deal, he told the ecstatic crowd between labored breaths to walk over to his place for food and drinks. The swarm opened a path for the runners, they walked through with their arms on each other’s shoulders, and in Pied Piper fashion everyone followed them to the bar.