Night of ‘The Tie in the Typewriter’
“You must be careful about giving any drink whatsoever to a bore. A lit-up bore is the worst in the world.” — David Cecil
You know you are getting old when you remember a really great story, only to realize that most of the folks it features are no longer still around to enjoy its retelling.
But there was a time when pretty much the whole staff of the then very good daily Clarksdale Press-Register referred to the following incident as simply, “the tie in the typewriter night.”
It was memorable.
It was a Friday night in May, 1978, and I was a 27-year-old kid reporter, fortunate enough to be in the process of learning that trade from the late, great Joseph F. “Joe” Ellis Jr. We were putting out what was then the “Weekender” edition to be delivered Saturday morning, when the report came in that the small Coahoma County town of Jonestown had just experienced a tornado.
So I yelled at our photographer, Kenneth Bush, a good man and a good friend, to follow me out there, hopped in my trusty Olds Cutlass and flew low toward Jonestown, located just a few miles northeast of here.
The storm had knocked out the power, resulting in stygian darkness, so Kenneth and I had to sort of feel our ways around, dodging downed lines and snakes sucked out of the town’s creek, but Jonestown was essentially one main street and it didn’t take long to see that it was all still there, lots of folks were scared but none of them were hurt, and that the damage was limited to some windows, shingles and a tin roof off a shed at the oil mill there.
We had a story but not a disaster, and that’s always good, so we headed back to the paper in pretty good spirits.
That was short-lived.
I had just started to write the story while Kenneth developed his film when the phone rang. It was the Jackson office of The Associated Press and a pro’s pro named Ron Harrist was seeking a follow-up on the devastation and mayhem that I had just seen wasn’t in Jonestown.
It seems that one of the string of “general managers” that Joe was wont to hire in fits and spurts —this one a most unpleasant chap with a tendency to guzzle whiskey and take great liberties with the truth — had been drinking his supper with a friend near Jonestown and had taken it upon himself to call the AP and most unfortunately report that “90 percent of Jonestown had been destroyed” by the relatively harmless, for such things, tornado.
And so, I spent a few minutes convincing Ron that I knew what I was talking about and correcting the tornado tale he’d been told so that he might correct the faulty wire bulletin being viewed in other newsrooms across the state.
That’s when the front door flung open, and in staggered ye olde general manager (technically one of my bosses), in a state which could have charitably been described as drunk as a boiled owl.
“Give me a typewriter,” he bellowed, “I’m fixing to write this paper an award-winning story.”
To which I replied, “No. No you are not. I am writing the tornado story. You just need to sit down somewhere.”
Some people can be entertaining, downright amusing when they are drunk. He was not one of those people.
That man, to whom I am extending a kindness not merited by the withholding of his identity, stumbled toward my desk, continuing to bellow what was then a string of profanities even unfit for a 1978-vintage newsroom, and which I found to be yet more offensive due to the fact that he did not know my mother.
And then he made a mistake. Then he grabbed the paper in my typewriter and pulled it out, partially falling across my desk in the process.
And of course, that being the case, there was but one thing for me to do — I rolled up his dangling tie into the typewriter’s platen, effectively rendering him at the same time immobile and idiotic-looking.
Now, at that point, he fired me, but I was in no mood to be fired by the likes of him, so I called Mr. Ellis, at home, and told him what had happened as the general manager continued to cuss and struggle to avoid strangulation. There was, as I recall, considerable laughter among my fellow journalists.
Joe Ellis, who could be quite eloquent, was not at that moment, but said he’d be right there.
Which he was, moments later, in his pajamas, and … unhappy?
‘Turn that fool loose and write the story, Ray,” he said, before informing said general manager that I was not the fellow getting fired that evening.
I talked to Ron Harrist this week and he remembered the night. “Wild and wooly times,” he said.
Good times, too. The old days weren’t always good, but they sure were memorable.
Ray Mosby is editor of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.