Proctor had his own language. State cops were highway petroleums; the guy with the drill was a tooth dentist. Women of the streets were whoreladies. Then there was his backwards gimmick. Tattoo was too-tatt. Jail was gowhoose. A big car, regardless of the make, was a Cadil-lac-Buick. And when he called on the telephone, there never would be a hello. He would start the conversation in the middle.
"Times Herald sports — Sherrod."
"He ought to be walking in the door right now."
"Who, for crissakes, who ought to be walking in the door?"
"The lawyer. He has the libel papers to serve you. I don’t stand still for no watermelon conversation like you strapped on me in today’s paper."
"This is chili-and-rice day. Meet you at Shanghai Jimmy’s at 12:30." Click.
You eventually got used to his telephone style. It was a challenge.
"Times Herald sports."
"His last name was Doss."
There would be a silence while I would fight the clue frantically. It was a disgrace to show confusion. Finally a cog would catch.
"First name, Noble," I’d say. "From Temple, Texas."
"He caught the pass that beat A&R, right?" (For some reason, it was always Texas A&R with Proctor. Or TCR. Or SMR.)
Once the two of us were at a Fort Worth baseball game, looking over the pressbox rail, when we saw a drunk defy gravity. He was weaving up the aisle, trying to find his row, when he stumbled on a step. Like an invisible wire was jerking him, he fell this way and that, but always upward, until he finally plopped flat on his can some ten rows above his destination.
Jack worked the Dallas police beat for the Dispatch during the mid-30’s. "If there wasn’t a story," he said, "We made ’em up."
"Man and boy," said Proctor. "I see drunks fall for 40 years. I see drunks fall off bar stools, off curbs and docks, out of windows and cars and trees. This," he said, "is the first time I ever see one fall upstairs."
He never forgot this marvel; he filed it away with an unending supply of other marvels gathered in his newspaper lifetime. Conversation never dragged when Proctor was in the huddle, for he would pull out one of his memories and weave it in the most fascinating style. Unfortunately, he couldn’t put it down at the typewriter, but he talked a mean game. (We were all great Damon Runyon fans at the time, and Proctor walked straight from the pages.)
There was a one-eyed cowpoke Proctor once knew who ate the same breakfast every morning in a cafe at Iraan, Texas: flapjacks, chili on the side and a bottle of Pearl. There was the old Dallas police reporter who was beset with the idea of killing himself and tried it often when he was juiced up. One morning, the reporter showed up for work at the police pressroom with a Band-Aid on his forehead. He had tried to shoot himself and missed. The others laughed and laughed to see such sport.
"You’re right," the guy said morosely. "I coulda done more damage with a rock."
And then there was the Cleburne middleweight, Jack Something, whom Proctor managed. Had to scratch his tiger from a Fort Worth Golden Gloves bout because the fighter had taken a fearful beating from his older brother the night before.
"He stole a horse and brought it home, the idiot," Proctor grumbled.
"Well, his brother was trying to teach him a lesson," somebody said.
"Oh, he didn’t whip him for that," said Proctor. "He whipped him for not stealing the saddle, too."
Proctor’s favorite local character — perhaps he was fiction too — was named Fate Callahan, and he was a moonshiner from Goat Neck, a small community near Cleburne.
"They tell me Fate makes the best stuff in these parts," said Jack, now very much the towteedler. "Fate tells me he started that famous guessing game."
That famous guessing game?
"Three guys come out to Fate’s house and buy a quart of his shine, then go into the front room and drink it. One would go to the can and the other two try to guess which one left."
Proctor’s yarns were tricky; as fanciful as they sounded, you dassn’t challenge.
He had a faded tootatt on his left arm. An eagle, I think it was, with the word "Trixie" underneath. For years he had told of a Kansas City spree during which he and his fiancee of the moment got soused and wound up on skid row, where they got tattooed with each other names. We all scoffed. One night, during a Cotton Bowl week in Dallas, Jack called me to his room in the old Jefferson Hotel. He introduced me to a strawhaired biddy of considerable vintage. He said, meet Trixie, an old girlfriend from Kansas City.
I stared hard at him. He looked back blandly, but squarely.
"Excuse me, ma’am," I said, a little triumphantly, "this guy ..."
Jack interrupted. "Show him," he said.
The old gal obediently raised her skirt above one plump knee. There was a tattoo: J*A*C*K. Proctor turned to gaze at the window. I could see his shoulders shaking.
Jack worked the Dallas police beat for the Dispatch back during the mid-30s when the city abounded with legendary newshounds like Ira Wellborn; Eddie Barr, one of Proctor’s occasional brothers-in-law; Red Webster; a sports editor who called himself The Great Ben Hill, who ran a horsebook out of his lower right-hand desk drawer; a gal named Soapy Suggs; a telegraph editor named Wilbur Shaw who — Proctor vowed — would drink 10 pints of gin in process of a day’s editions. And there were many others — the dour wit Ken Hand, Lewis Bailey, Bill Duncan, Marihelen MacDuff, Frank Harting, Pat Kleinman, Clarke Newlon, Flint D. Dupre, Pierce McBride, Willie Ward, Mabel Duke — whom our particular clique knew only through Proctor’s outbursts of fact and fantasy.
These, I suppose, were The Good Old Newspaper Days. There were four Dallas newspapers, all fiercely competitive; bootleg gin was a dollar a pint, delivered; hookers were a deuce; there was a place named the State Cafe where owners would let reporters eat on the tab until payday. And the Texas Centennial celebration had brought all sorts of interesting imports into town. Some, Proctor hinted darkly, were from Chicago and wore black suits and hats all the time.
"Listen, if the police reporter didn’t come up with an exclusive every day, or a new angle every edition, the city editor might fire him on the spot," Proctor recalled. "Police stories sold the newspapers. If there wasn’t a story, we made ’em up."
Jim Chambers, now chairman of the Times Herald, remembers one slow news day when Proctor and other cop-shop authors were desperate for a story. Proctor went outside for a walk and noticed police property men dumping confiscated bootleg whiskey on the curb. It was running in a rivulet down the sloped gutter, underneath parked cars. He looked both ways, tossed a lighted match into the stream and raced to the telephone with FIERY HOLOCAUST SWEEPS COMMERCE STREET. The fire destroyed three cars.
"I knew more about Dallas than any living citizen," Proctor bragged. "Why, when a fire was reported, the truck man would call me and ask directions. ’Twenty-two hundred York,’ the guy would say, and I’d say, ’turn off at Calmont, up four blocks, yellow house on the left with a bore dark tree in the yard, and watch out for the dog.’"
Proctor once had a girlfriend in San Antonio, so he convinced his city editor (it could have been at any of the four papers, since he worked on all at various times) that he had set up an exclusive, private interview with Clyde Barrow at a certain hour at a certain farmhouse near San Antonio. The editor drooled. Barrow was the country’s leading mad dog. So Proctor was sent to San Antonio and wrote a daring, graphic account of his personal chat with the criminal, his pleas for understanding, a story resplendent in detail and description, the kerosene lamp light flickering on the gaunt planes of the killer’s face and so on. Hot damn.
Proctor returned to his Dallas office, confident of backslaps and maybe even a bonus. Instead, the city editor was loud and furious when he instructed Proctor to get the hell out and never come back. It seems at the exact same time Proctor was interviewing Barrow in that farmhouse, so glowingly described in Jack’s fictitious yarn, Barrow was positively placed 250 miles north, busily putting a shotgun charge in a highway petroleum.