TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – Garry Armstrong

I heard these lines recently in a movie. They made me laugh.

“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” he said.
“No,” she said. ” I’m awake.”

The line had stayed with me many years after the laughter faded, replaced by memories of work, reporters, bars, and pubs from New York to Saigon. As a reporter, I covered Presidential politics from 1962 to 2001. From JFK to Bush, Jr. As a newbie reporter, I saw veteran correspondents fueling up with multiple Bloody Marys as we began our day on the political or campaign trail.

Diner bar and table

I was impressed. During my rookie year, I summoned up enough courage to question one famous reporter who had begun his career working with Edward R. Murrow. He was on his third Bloody Mary — in one 10-minute period.

“Isn’t it too early to be drinking?” I asked, slowly and politely.

The veteran reporter who’d covered FDR, World War II in the trenches, and the McCarthy Hearings, among other assignments. He looked at me for a long moment, then finished his drink.

“Is it too early to be drinking?” he repeated my question and ordered another Bloody. “No, I’m awake!”

I shook my head in amazement and admiration. He was clearly fortifying himself for the day to come. It would be another long day on the road. Cold, dreary, and filled by interviews with people from pompous to angry to clueless when asked about election issues and the candidates.

I remember one fellow decked out in a hunting outfit, cradling a shotgun. He sneered when answering my questions. When finished, he said “Figures the media is not tellin’ the truth. A Negro askin’ me stuff about that Catholic in the White House. That’s what’s wrong with our country.”

The veteran reporter had overheard the conversation. He gave me a wry smile.

Years later, I shared the story with “Tip” O’Neill, Speaker of the House and a personal friend. He laughed so hard the bar seemed to shake. Then he looked angry for a moment, patting me on the shoulder with a huge sigh.

“Garry,” he said, “Here’s looking at you, kid!” The Political Legend smiled as we clinked glasses. “Some days, it’s never too early to start drinking,” O’Neill concluded. And ordered one more round.

I wonder about “eye-openers” for those covering last year’s Presidential race and even more about how those trying to cover “news” in this insane political year are managing. These days, for those who still drink, maybe it really is never too early to start drinking.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

34 thoughts on “TOO EARLY TO BE DRINKING? – Garry Armstrong”

  1. Are you trying to forget that your present non leader is not a drinking man? 😉
    We jokingly say, when asked if we’d like a glass of wine and it’s not yet at least lunch time, we look at our watches and then sigh: Well, we don’t drink before 11am but I think my watch is a bit behind….

    As to that ‘Nigro & Catholic’ – I know I shouldn’t be stunned into silence but it really beats me that anybody can be so callous and unkind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kiki, I love the “slow watch” line.
      I used to ask for “A Traveller”. That was the drink ordered – when the newsroom interrupted lunch for me to pursue a story. One for the road.
      “Negro/Catholic” — That came amost 50 years ago. Not a shocker for me back then. It was written on the guy’s face before he uttered the line.
      Cigs & Booze: Once upon a time — everpresent in newsrooms, big and small.
      Today – verboten.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always been a non-drinker because it doesn’t make me drunk or high. It just makes me sick which isn’t fun. But I like hanging around bars. I like the culture of pubs and bars. I’m not sure what that makes me.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I do enjoy a good wine. Very much so. I have never ever been ill or hung over. I have an inner stop sign telling me it’s OK now…. and I listen to it. Have an alcoholic (‘recovered’ after 40yrs and living with tablets) in our family’s circle, so know a bit about it. I also highly respect people who don’t drink and would never try to pull them in. But sitting in a pub or such, even with an apple juice or a glass of water, is such fun and a stimulating place to be!

        Like

  2. Back in the days of old radio, my father and Mark Hellinger,a newspaper man and in later years a movie producer, used to broadcast football games together. Mark would provide a bottle of 5-Star Hennessy while they worked. When I was 18, Mark bought me my first drink at the Players Club in Hollywood where he and his wife,Ziegfield’s star glamour girl, and my parents and I were having dinner. The drink was called an Angel’s Tit. Needless to say, I have never forgotten it. I think reporters needed to booze up a little to face the rigors of the day and night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know there was back then — and for all I know there still is — a cultural acceptance of drinking and working. I’ve also noticed that most of the heavy drinking reporters stopped when they retired. It was medication for a rough world. Now? I’m not sure you could drink enough to ease the pain.

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    2. Patricia, LOVE that anecdote! Mark Hellinger — WOW! I betcha those were entertaining stories.
      Last night, I watched an old favorite, “City For Conquest”. The narrator/character actor – Frank Craven – talks about the poetry in (then) Big City life. He mentions the “7 Million” people in the big city. An early “Naked City” census number.

      5-star Hennesy — EXCELLENT stuff.

      Yes, reporters need a little “fuel” to chase the REAL news.

      Like

  3. Mr. O’Neill’s answer was classic. And so very true. I don’t drink (any more, and even when I did, it was more of a ‘tipple’ now and then, not drinking as you’ve described it) because my religion forbids it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, not with the amount of medications I take and the potential for bad interactions. I do have two bottles of wine in my refrigerator though, and one of these times, when it’s not too early to start, I may just open one of them and have me a small spree. I tended to be judgmental of the alcoholic (my maternal grandfather was one), finding them weak because they can’t face the horror of day to day living without a crutch. I’m still pretty ‘high horse’ about people who use drugs or alcohol excessively, but these days? I GET why they do it too. This world is getting (in my perspective any way) more and more ugly and stupid and if one can numb out, however they achieve that happy state – more power to ’em.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t drink mainly because I have no head for it. One drink and I’m drunk. Half a drink and I’m drunk and usually sick too. But I gotta tell ya — it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea these days. Not anymore. this world has gotten so ugly, we need a little medication to get by from day to day.

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    2. Melanie, I was one of those reporters who frequently bent his elbows at bars. It was almost part of the rhythm of our working days and nights.
      I stopped in 2004.
      I see the wotld a bit clearer now. Not sure I like what I see.

      Like

      1. I take Prozac and with it I just get a headache when I drink. Don’t get calming relaxing effect I used to get. I miss that. But I only drank when I was in my twenties, a long time ago. Stopped for other medical reasons.
        Too many things that taste or felt hood have side effects.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. OG, I didn’t take Prozac. Three Excedrins and a neat Chivas Regal or two or three…followed by the big sleep.

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    1. OG, Bill Clinton was more my type of guy. Ditto LBJ – if you get my drift. On a Vietnam trip, LBJ didn’t bother with glasses or cups. Nothing was spilled or wasted!

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  4. My database is down. My son will finish fixing it later today so I’ll be able to post. At least I can respond to yours which is a good thing. Hope your enjoying a lovely day. It was 33 yesterday, so hot! So far, it’s a tad cooler today.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Leslie, these days I sometimes briefly think about a drink. Thought about it during our long, bumper to bumper drive home from Connecticut last week. When we FINALLY got home, fed the dogs, changed into something comfortable and collapsed with a raspberry-lime lemonade. All was okay.

          Liked by 1 person

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