DRINKING THE NEWS – Garry Armstrong

Manhattan in the mid-’60s.

I was a newbie newsie at ABC News. The kid reporter among guys who’d worked for Ed Murrow and shared tall tales about Mayor LaGuardia, Governor “Beau Jimmy” Walker, Tammany Hall grifters, speakeasies, Jazz and an era that had gone with the wind before I arrived.

I was plopped in the middle of middle and old-age, usually White guys who took no notice of my skin color unless they were talking about Joe Louis, Lena Horne, or Jackie Robinson. The jibes were about individuals — not marked by race, sexual preference or religion.

Sometimes they laughed about “pretty boys” but that usually was about fellas who were light on work effort and heavy on looking good on camera.

The bartender and owner who was usually an Irishman. He ran the local numbers game and was an off-the-books source of loans if you were short. He usually broke up the noise if the conversation bordered on trouble.

He nodded at me. It was an inference: “Hey, watch it. The kid is here.” Not sure if I appreciated being a greenhorn among the grizzled guys. Lots of famous faces came in, usually tired, looking for a little respite and no hassles.

I absorbed the stories which, years later, became woven into my own tales. Funny thing, most of the chatter, although fueled by booze, was intelligent, sharp, witty and observant of the times.

A decade later, I was in the world of Boston bars. I became a familiar face, popping up on the tube pretty much every day. Chasing bad weather and bad hombres. The conversations were animated — VERY animated if they concerned the Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino”, and another pennant lost to those damn Yankees. There were rumors about lobbyists greasing the pockets of certain pols, queries about the availability of “Tommy, The Torch” and his crew

Whispers about “Whitey” and the latest bloodbath in territorial “hits.” Now, I knew who was who and played dumb when asked for the inside stuff. There was always a fresh drink to maybe loosen my tongue. No, there was never enough booze for that.

There were the lawyers in their rumpled suits, complaining about Judges they swore were in the pockets of people who went unnamed.

There was a bar near Fenway Park which gave me the greatest joy. Baseball players, sportswriters and sports wannabees came and went leaving us with a goldmine of baseball info. Once I was “in.” I was “golden.”

I loved kicking back the rounds, swapping stories with no fear of insulting anyone. Pesky “pilgrims” were quickly shown the door before they became the source of brawls. Many “tips” were turned into legit stories which solidified my notion that I was working.

It was a bar where religious leaders could bend elbows with wiseguys and, sometimes, you couldn’t tell who was who.

Those were the days, my friend.

Categories: Garry Armstrong, Government, Photography, political humor, Politics

Tags: , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. Indeed, those were the days. Unlike today when everyone’s feeling get hurt with a single word let alone a look.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very interesting story Garry, and very evocative of what it would have been like. I love the thought of all those great stories being written on bar napkins and scrap bits of paper. My desk at work is littered with bits of paper with notes on – I can’t do this new technology lark. I actually got asked recently why I write notes in a notebook?!?!?
    I still think the old ways are the best – there’s more soul to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stuart, I’m with you.

      Stuart, I just shake my head at the person who asked about use of your notebook.
      I had someone ask me why I had a dictionary on my desk. I said I wanted to be sure about spelling and word useage. The questioner looked confused. Said, “This is Television, why are you so worried about the words?”
      Stuart — I couldn’t come up with answer that wouldn’t insult my colleague.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I write headlines without commentary hoping the headline will remind me what I wanted to say. 50% of the time, it works. The rest of the time, I have NO idea what I meant to write. I can’t write anything. I’ve been typing since I was 10 and i have no readable handwriting. I can’t even read my own shopping lists.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Those were the days. I remember my father used to hang out at McSorley’s bar (gentlemen, and that term might be used loosely upon occasion) only, no women allowed at that time. During WW2, he sent letters to the enlisted members called “McSorley”s Mounted Literary Society” with a crazy logo to match. These were mainly newspaper and radio guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia, sounds EXACTLY like the pub I frequented in Manhattan. Same sensibility. I don’t recall any women patrons. I may have broken the color barrier. I am not sure. Too many neat J&B shots. We TV guys were a tad subservient to the print and radio gents. We respectfully listened to their war stories about “The Great War”, FDR, The Depression, etc. The radio group sometimes brought in “ringers” like Lowell Thomas to impress everyone and put us in our place. I was absolutely FASCINATED. The older gents were giving us oral history, as far as I was concerned. TV guys were viewed with suspicion and cynicism for many years by the print guys in New York and Boston. They thought we were just vapid faces who couldn’t write or report. We had to earn our spurs and respect. Just made me work harder.
      One of my ABC news colleagues was Merrill “Red” Mueller. I use the term “colleague” loosely. Red Mueller WAS a colleague and peer of Ed Murrow. I lapped up his stories along with the shots — like the young newsie I was.


  4. I think you could probably get a few chapters on this one Garry. Love the stories…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The one sentence to hit me was….
    most of the chatter, although fueled by booze, was intelligent, sharp, witty and observant of the times.
    That is NOT what I used to observe in large crowds where booze was involved. Sexual harrassment, dirty inuendos & such WAS however…. Good for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kiki. It was very interesting. Our “gang” was usually distanced — even if only by a couple or three bar seats or tables – from the other clientele. The “bar chatter/gossip” you mention was evident. We usually ignored it and carried on our private conversations. The bartender/s and or owner made sure we had our “privacy”. It was a world within the the bar world you’ve mentioned. When the lawyers in rumpled suits arrived, we’d beckon them over to elicit the chatter about on-going trials. Sometimes, in their frustation, they would share “inside” information not available to other media folks. We called the info “confidential”, inferring the bar was a church but that wasn’t really true. Sometimes, in the middle of swapping stories, we’d look up and see the other patrons ringed around us, listening – like fans – to our babble. It was defintely funny. I guess you might say we were pub “celebrities”. But don’t get too impressed with the use of “celebrities” here. Truth be told – we also were riff-raff but we had “dignity”. I used bar napkins to jot down notes that frequently were turned into stories. Marilyn was skeptical until emptying my pockets and seeing the inked-stained bar napkins. (I think Marilyn thought “hot” phone numbers were on the napkins. Yes – but not “that” kind of hot.)

      It must’ve been hilarious seeing me at my desk in the newsroom, spreading out the bar napkins and trying to decipher my scrawl to transform into scripts. The suits would pass by, stare for a few seconds and move on, laughing loudly.
      It was a different world. Now, everyone has their tablet or some other new age device to soak up stuff.

      I used to like to think we were carrying on tradition I’d read in Fitzgerald and Hemingway novels. It felt good, anyway.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I never even imagined you were soliciting women. Believe it or not, once you made your vows, I absolutely trusted you as far as fidelity went. You were REALLY faithful and have always been there, 100%.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I love the bar napkins’ stories. I often do that too – w/o any claim to fame of course! And it was not only YOUR local celebrity circle using paper napkins to scribble on, here in France there was, amongst others, Toulouse-Lautrec (we like going to HIS resto in Paris, one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) nr Montmartre….. You need to like meat though! They are deeply offended if you don’t….. Love your stories of times gone by.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kiki, thanks. You’re a catalyst for my stories. On my Paris visit in the 60’s, I looked for those “restos” you mentioned. I didn’t have enough time or luck.

          Kiki, I’m reminded of one of Marilyn’s friends who lived in Montreal. He fancied himself as a bon vivant. He took us out to a Montreal nightclub and ordered a special meat. It turned out to be HORSEmeat. I’m not a bon vivant.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh Garry, horsemeat is delicious…. I’m an animal lover but I have to tell you that anybody who eats ANY meat at all, is also a potential horsemeat eater. I’m SO sorry to fall short of your list of perfect people…. 😉 Can we still stay friends?

            Liked by 1 person

            • Kiki, um…still friends. Just don’t know about horsemeat. I was one and done. Hey, I’m noy judgey. I love eel, anchovies and calimari.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Well, I’m glad we still can (be friends) – I love them too, the fish in all forms…. although I can’t remember the eel… Calamari I only like when perfectly done, not when they come as rubber rings (that’s what we call them) 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad to know that all those hours in bars was really “work.” Did you bill the station for them? Why not? Details, please.

    Liked by 2 people

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