More Homicidal Pranks By Pen-Pushing Cranks!
My last column about old newsroom contretemps appears to have amused certain readers who have requested more of the same. One of them, however, doubts the authenticity of the story regarding the aborted steak-knife duel at the then Press Club venue. A reader who signed a missive to me as Solomon Vincent Silva, says he is sceptical over my description of the riotous and raucous newsrooms of old.
Related – Old Newsrooms
He says that there are all sorts of things that regularly happen in movies but rarely take place in real life. Let me remind Mr. Solomon V. Silva that the journos I mentioned were real life people who indulged in actual outrageous antics, far more dangerously exciting than any make-believe movie. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the ordinary stuff is not, because the humdrum normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness. Real life can be more astonishing and difficult to believe than made-up stories.
Many surviving journalists of that era look back fondly on the days of high spirits and remember the passion, the brawling and bawling and most of all the unbridled laughter that echoed through those hallowed halls. Yet, it was also laughter that came with unconscious gratitude that how darned lucky you were to be allowed to work in a place such as this.
Among them were rogues and rascals who tested your patience. In those days journos still drank, swore, and smoked on the job. And yes, we over-drank. We smoked too much. No one was perfect. We were a tribe of rapscallions and reformists let loose on chronicling an imperfect world. Most of us were bewitched by our craft.
Yes, the newspapers mentioned were peopled by a bunch of bizarre denizens, who would not have been offended if you pigeonholed them as ‘misfits.’ Because the environment fitted them admirably and they would never have fitted in or survived in any other mundane profession. Indeed, many of us would have languished like caged wild animals in any other well-ordered or regimented milieu. Yet one must concede that some of the larrikin’ at times bordered on the downright dangerous horseplay ever encountered anywhere. There were all sorts of stunts that are regularly observed in the movies but are seldom seen in real life.
To be perfectly honest some of the escapades were not far divorced from being homicidal pranks. Imagine the utterly terrifying prospect of being dangled out of a building as one drink-fuelled colleague holds you by your feet. It really did occur in reality at some point when an old drunk was subjected to the same hazardous and humiliating high-jinks that silver-screen miscreants are treated to as a means of extracting information.
There was old man Don Peter who had served the publishing firm for a good three decades and later held the enviable position as the Managing Director’s personal factotum. Even after retirement he was not put out to pasture but allowed the privilege of remaining in the company ‘geriatric paddock.’ He had always been a loyal employee but at times became an irritant to the editorial staff delaying or expediting their petty cash chits depending on how well the recipient would treat him at the pub.
Strongman Willie, who was later to serve as a news editor, had a long running grudge with Don Peter. Willie was good natured when sober but could turn violently disruptive when sloshed to a point of no-return. He was usually taciturn with his hallmark brier pipe clenched between his teeth and was capable of scrunching a glass to smithereens with his bare palm. Naturally, his hand became bloodied as a result. His strength may have been phenomenal but he was as mortal as the rest of us. His colleagues gave him a wide berth at drinking sessions, for the particular reason that he would leave an impression of his bloody palm marks on the back of your shirt.
But that was only the soft part of his aggression when in his cups. One besotted evening he caught the equally sloshed Don Peter on the wrong foot, or to be truthful by both feet. Before anyone could move Willie lifted him, carried him upside down toward a widow and held him dangling by his feet while the late night traffic swooshed past some 60 odd feet on the road below.
Film buffs may be familiar with this particular moment you often see in action flicks and cop movies. It’s the kind of drama where the hero is attempting to extract some information from a miscreant of one sort or another. He does so by dangling said villain by his feet from the roof of a tall building. But this, dear reader, was true life drama while a whimpering Don Peter was left teetering on the brink of doom, with only the strong hands of Willie standing between him and oblivion.
The worst was to come when horrified colleagues rallied round the stuntmen and exhorted Willie to draw old Don Peter back to safety. Willy stubbornly refused saying that he was susceptible to tickling and if anyone got too close he would be forced to relinquish his grip on old Don’s feet. To prove his point he released his hold on one of the victim’s legs while adjusting the angle of his pipe between his teeth. Imagining the loosened grip on his leg was a prelude to his death plunge Don Peter gave an unearthly shriek that summoned every tippler to the window.
Willie was promised the grand-daddy of all cocktails if he would only pull the endangered Don back through the window. Eventually after much persuasion he did while drinks were called for all round. But poor old petrified Don Peter was weeping and whimpering in a corner and seemingly cold sober after his harrowing near-death experience. He was an emotional mess and judging by the acidic aroma emanating from his person it seemed obvious that he had wet his pants.
Journalists are the watchdogs of the nation. One of my favourite quotes on that role came from Wilbur F. Storey, editor of the Chicago Times: “It is a newspaper’s duty,” he said, “to print the news, and raise hell.” Chicago Evening Post journalist and humorist Finley Peter Dunne gets at least partial credit for another old saying, that “a newspaper’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
So if Mr. Solomon Vincent Silva, – which I doubt is his real name – in his comfort zone imagines that old newsrooms were not what I painted them out to be, he is welcome to join us in one of our regular dining and wining sessions. But be warned that we wordsmiths are honourable men of our word. Any contradictory doubts expressed over our credibility will be settled as a point of honour in a deadly duel. Over to you Mr Solomon Silva. Choose your weapons! (Gaston de Rosayro – firstname.lastname@example.org – dailynews)