The way he told it, Jack Proctor awoke one noon in his sleazy garage apartment in Cleburne, Texas, and dismally considered whether he was alive or dead. Except for the pulsating pain in his head, Proctor was numb and he concluded from dreary experience that feeling would soon creep back into his extremities, accompanied by excruciating jeebies. This was a traumatic stage whenever Jack Proctor sobered up, which was not at all often.
To compound his miseries, the clock on the nearby Johnson County courthouse started banging its noon message — torture beyond justification for a man in Proctor’s state. Ten bongs, eleven bongs, twelve bongs, thirteen — what? Fourteen, fifteen. The clangs came more rapidly until they were almost a single heinous note.
He could see the clock from his only window and when he got his aching eyes in focus, he saw the hands spinning on the huge clock face. He knew this was it. He had finally flipped. Oceans of rum and cheap gin and foul scotch and raw bourbon, over two decades, had done it. He was not yet dead; he was bound in alcoholic purgatory. There, with the hideous vibrations beating against his poor skull and the giant hands circling the dial, Proctor promised the Lord and whoever else was listening that, given a pass from this horrible joint, he would never put another demon drop down his neck.
It wasn’t until days later Jack discovered that workmen were repairing the courthouse clock that day and that the hands really were spinning and the bongs bonging. But he had made his pact and in his remaining 18 years, Proctor never broke it.
(Of course, he did get onto some suspicious coughdrops later on. They were Vicks, he said, but were made with such a strong narcotic ingredient that he had to buy them in a liquor store.)
You could put the lie to the cough-drops — although he did seem to use an uncommon lot — but the courthouse narrative might have been valid. But when you started separating the truths from the untruths, you destroyed the person.
I once wrote in a 1965 Dallas Times Herald column: “Mr. Jack Proctor, before he became editor of The Richardson Daily News, led a most adventurous life to hear him spell it. He sailed the seven seas, wrestled professionally under the name of Jim Lon-dos, captured John Dillinger single-handedly while posing as a broad in a red dress. He frequently dated Norma Shearer, taught Will Rogers how to chew gum and invented the sand wedge. This is not to say Mr. Jack Proctor takes liberty with the truth. It is hard indeed to take liberty with a stranger. Chances are Mr. Jack Proctor wouldn’t recognize the truth if it walked into his bedroom, sat on his chest and fed him oatmeal with a great horn spoon.”
Proctor, for some reason, renamed himself Saintly Julien. It seemed to fit as well as anything else.
Minutes after these words appeared on the street, Jack Proctor called to say his lawyer would be in touch shortly with notice of a libel suit, but in the meantime how about meeting at Shanghai Jimmy’s for some chili and rice.
It was in Cleburne, Texas, in 1947, that I joined the Proctor cult. He was in Cleburne out of necessity. The Times-Review was desperate for a sportswriter-newsman and Proctor was desperate for a job of any sort. He had been fired off a half-dozen sheets because of the bottle and he departed his last stop, Galveston, rather hurriedly because he also had hung paper — meaning he had written several checks that were not immediately, and never would be, negotiable.
Cleburne was a good hideout for him. It was in a dry county, but was only an hour’s bus ride from the nearest liquor store in Fort Worth. Every payday, Proctor would put on his overcoat, no matter the temperature, and catch the Greyhound for Cow-town where he would fill his many pockets with half-pints. This is the mark of a drunk, he later explained. Half-pints are handy to carry without making a telltale bulge; you are never without help.
First time I remember seeing Proctor was at a high school bi-district football game in Cleburne. There was this small, dapper guy in his early forties, with a pencil moustache and big brown bird dog eyeballs and roached brown hair, chain-smoking and gabbing. I tabbed him for a pro juicer because a real hooked boozer never wants to drink in front of witnesses if he can avoid it. He ain’t proud of it.
Almost everybody in pressboxes in those days carried a little stimulant, partly to negate the cold wind that came through the cracks, partly because they thought it made them more fluid and lucid at the typewriter, and partly because they had seen The Front Page too many times. Proctor had nothing showing. No tattletale bulge. He would disappear from the ramshackle pressbox occasionally, and when he returned his eyes would be brighter, he would smoke more feverishly and jabber louder and faster. I was on The Fort Worth Press at the time, and Proctor read our paper daily, he said, and was familiar with some of the crap I was trying. He also said, at great length while I was trying to watch the Bryans or the Corsi-canas or the Temples or whoever the hell was bidistricting, that he had once managed Fritzie Zivic and had promoted fights on the Gulf Coast and had worked on all the old Dallas papers during The Good Old Newspaper Days and was on first-name basis with every broke and shill and asspocket bookie and whorelady on Galveston Island and why didn’t I come visit him at Cleburne sometime.
The next I heard from Jack Proctor, a dowdy little woman in a flowery bonnet walked in the Press office, said she had ridden a train from Cleburne and did I know where Jack Proctor could be found, as they had been married a couple nights ago and seems like he had since disappeared. No, it wasn’t a regular wedding, she said. She thought he called it a Scottish Rite ceremony and that, somehow, I had spirited Jack Proctor away from her side.
Well, Proctor always denied the story but it did not escape nor ease my discomfort at the moment, especially because I excused myself to go to the men’s room and stayed there two hours until the lady despaired of my returning and left.
Along about then, Proctor was going through the legend of the bonging courthouse clock and swore off. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and became an energetic worker in same, although it never seemed to bother him to be among the rest of us degenerates when we were popping tops or choking down cheap bourbon.
Jack became a LaGrave Field pressbox regular, when Bobby Bragan’s Cats were at home, and he soon became the non-resident elder statesman and historian and constant lecturer to the Press sports staff, a rather unorthodox collection that included Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake, Jerre Todd, Charley Modesette, Puss Ervin, Andy Anderson, Gary Cartwright and others who came and went with lesser ripples. Proctor recognized no one, however, by his proper handle. Sherrod became Blackwood Sheridan. Jenkins was Jenke, Shrake was Thor because he was 9 feet tall. Todd was Spanky, The Child Star; Modesette was, naturally enough, Modesty; and Anderson was Andrews. Then Proctor had a few Cleburne pals whom he inducted into the group, a Times-Review reporter named Pete Smith whom Proctor called Puck Smythe and a giant Yellow Page salesman he referred to as Bad Hair Bentley, obviously because of a flat mat of red Brillo on his head. Proctor, for some reason, renamed himself Saintly Julien. It seemed to fit as well as anything else.
There also were other Clebumites named Mad Adam and Ugly and Emit Mewhinney and a black man who worked at a gas station whom Proctor called Yere-Yee.
“A n****r has a special tuning fork in his ear, like a dog, that can hear sounds nobody else can,” Proctor explained seriously. “Yere-yee is one of those sounds. Look, I’ll show you.”
This first happened when we were standing on Akard Street in downtown Dallas. Across on the other side, 40 yards away, a black man walked in the opposite direction.
Jack put his hand to his mouth. “Yere-yee!” he shouted. Sure enough, the black man wheeled in his tracks and looked back at us.
“See?” said Proctor, quite satisfied with himself. Of course, other pedestrians and a couple truck drivers also turned and looked at us, a fact Proctor blithely ignored.
Proctor loved blacks. Once we were in a buffet line at a press luncheon in the Fort Worth Club. An old black man was ladling the barbecued shrimp, a dish dearly loved by Proctor. While standing in line, Jack devised a way to get an extra large helping.
“Watch me bring him,” he whispered to me. “Watch me give him some numbers talk,” referring to the ghetto policy racket.
Proctor reached the shrimp cauldron and held out his plate.
“Fo, lebben and forty-fo,” Jack said.
The old man did not even raise up. “Straight up and down,” he said automatically. “Thas the Dixie Queen.”
Then he lifted his eyes for the first time and stared at Proctor, who was grinning.
“I’d say you have been among my people,” the old man said.
“Born in Memphis,” Jack said.
“Well I admit, on Beale Street,” said the old man, “one do occasionally see a colored face.” Then he heaped shrimp on Proctor’s plate until his thumbs were buried.