Writer’s Roost

Give me three drunken newsmen over one with B.O.



Over the years, my profession has had a general reputation as one that produced some recalcitrants who were inclined, as the saying goes, to “crawl into the bottle.”

I have to admit, there seems to have been a propensity among journalists to have a friendly drink or two or three.

But, I don’t believe I ever had as much problem with a drunk as I did one with, gasp, Body Odor (B.O.).

Three memorable drunk journalists with whom I was associated include a reporternews editor, a copy editor and, ahem, a publisher. We’ll get to the guy with B.O. last so we don’t have our nostrils burning too long.

An East Texas weekly I went to publish had a reporter-news editor on staff that had a reputation as a boozer and he looked the part. He actually was a pretty good reporter and writer.

Anyway, Dan had a habit of keeping a bottle of booze in his car. Several times a day, he’d slip out to the car and take a nip or two or three. I’d also been warned that the local district attorney had gotten his hooks into Dan when the reporter was picked up for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). He told Dan he’d hold onto the DWI as long as Dan didn’t get busted again and that he was to write stories favorable to the prosecutor’s office.

Shortly after I took over publishing that paper, I caught Dan taking dictation at his desk from the D.A., who was standing there dictating a story on a criminal court case he’d just tried. Dan decided to take early retirement rather than be fired.

Shortly after that stint at the East Texas weekly paper, I was hired as the editor of a semi-weekly that, under new ownership, was going to convert to daily. I was given the task of planning the conversion.

I did so and hired the budgeted staff, including a copy editor. The man I hired for that post had just retired from the advertising business in Houston as a copywriter. He was gifted, bright, sophisticated and a recovering alcoholic. Bart explained the difference between reformed and recovering. “There’s no such thing as a reformed drunk,” he said, bitingly. “Being an alcoholic is a sickness, not a crime.” Bart didn’t want to retire, he just wanted out of the Houston rat race.

He also possessed one of the driest wits I’ve ever encountered. He did a splendid job and was never tempted to take a drink plus he kept the newsroom loose and in stitches while he sliced up their writing and handed it back smilingly as he said, “You can do better.”

And, young women just loved that old white-haired rapscallion.

The tippling publisher was the saddest story of all. He was one of the most absolutely brilliant and gifted men I’ve ever known. Joseph invented the “four-martini lunch” and did most of his serious business over such repasts, usually with one staffer in tow. As editor, I was often the staffer designated as driver. Lunch was usually at the country club and lasted three hours. And, believe it or not, a lot of business — including some stimulating brainstorming sessions — was conducted.

Ultimately, however, Joseph got to the point where he couldn’t handle as much booze as he’d been accustomed to drinking and proceeded to become thick-tongued and dangerous behind the wheel of a car. The stockholders fired him. And, now, hold your nose. We’re to the B.O. case.

Albert was hired when I was in a desperate spot for a reporter. And, he was actually a pretty good one. However, I sent ol’ Al home six times during his short tenure to take a bath despite his protests that the drug Dylantin, which he was taking for epileptictype seizures, was causing the odor. However, upon returning to work in an hour from his bath, he smelled comparatively delightful for the remainder of the day.

I wound up having to fire Albert because he went off, on his own time but against my orders, chasing the famous “ghost lights” in a swampy area of the county and wrecked a company car. But, the newsroom smelled a lot better.

There you have it — three drunks and a stinker.

WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper publisher of more than 55 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.

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