OPINION: Back then, newsies were ready to rumble

Apr. 27—I was talking to the guys in the pressroom, when the publisher at that time, the late Brad Sugg, came barreling in, eyes bulging and hair flying and crackling with static electricity.

"Poindexter — woah, man!" he said in a tone of almost panic. "You better get your ss back in the newsroom, 'cause some sht's goin' down, man!"

I hurried toward the front of the building, thinking some overworked reporter was twitching on the floor in full-blown cardiac arrest, and I wouldn't be able to do much about it. It wasn't quite that bad, but almost. Two guys, Robin Brown and Rob Anderson, had squared off and were about to duke it out.

Robin had been managing editor at the Poteau paper, but had left that job to finish his degree at NSU. He was a real talent, so we gave him a part-time job working in various areas — mainly composing, but also doing copy editing work. That's what got him in trouble with Rob, who had not only sat at the copy desk himself, but had done sports writing, pagination, news writing — you name it.

From what I could gather, Robin had heavily edited one of Rob's stories, and Rob didn't appreciate it. That probably happened because Rob was using the thesaurus to play "Stump the Reader" with big words. Although he knew reporters were supposed to write to a fourth-grade reading level, he didn't like doing that then, or during his most recent stint at the Daily Press several years ago. I'm sure Robin must've been thinking what I had told Rob many times: "If I don't know what a word means, the average reader won't, either, and we're not in the business of making people look stuff up."

Robin had been trying to explain what he had done, and having been the editor in a newsroom for several years, he probably considered Rob somewhat of a "cub" and was being a little condescending. As I entered the room, Robin, who was standing, said something like, "After a few more years, you'll realize why it's done this way." Rob considered himself to have seniority because he had been with TPD longer, so he yelled, "Who are you to edit my stuff? You're just a part-time composing person!"

That did it for Robin, who puffed up in the way men — and male cats and roosters — do when they're about to rumble. "You come at me like that again and I'm gonna kick your ss, boy," he said. Rob bolted from the chair and screamed, "I'll take you down!" All this happened in a split second, in far less time than it took you to read about it. A couple more freaked-out news staffers were staring, mouths agape; Brad was standing in the doorway, biting his nails, eyes enormous and blue sparks flying from his hair. I could see I was on my own.

"Hey, you two cut it out!" I bellowed. "Are you kidding me? You're like two teenage girls fighting over some dude with a Skoal can in his hip pocket!" I was thinking of a time in high school when I had watched two girls almost kill each other in the hall over some short, skinny, Wrangler-wearing redneck whom no one else but the dueling chicks considered attractive. One girl had long nails and clawed rivets into the face of the other, who was simultaneously yanking out hanks of her opponent's long, blonde hair. I don't remember who won the prize.

Things cooled down after that between the two newsies, and I don't really recall how the episode ended. But it was only one of many occasions when fisticuffs almost erupted in the building. And I'm not even talking about malcontents who came in through the front door, brandishing firearms and threatening to dispatch whatever reporter had offended them.

On another occasion, Robin had a run-in with Eddie Glenn — an occurrence not at all unusual in those days, since at one time or another, Eddie got into it with almost everyone who crossed his path. Eddie doesn't suffer fools lightly. The irony is that once he had it out with someone, that person usually wound up jostling for position as his biggest fan. I personally witnessed an escalating verbal encounter between Eddie and Beth Herrington when she was still teaching at Cherokee Elementary, and Debra Dickerson had to intervene before the shouting match evolved into something physical. Later, Eddie and Beth got along famously.

Robin and Eddie had argued several times before, but they'd been getting along when they decided to become roommates. Knowing both their temperaments, when Eddie told me about it, I said I didn't think it was such a hot idea. But of course, he ignored me, and they moved in together. It wasn't long before the trouble started.

At that time, I was adjuncting at NSU, and Robin met a naive girl taking the same class. Robin had just come off a nasty divorce and was back in the game, and he took out this gal, and several others. Unfortunately, this young lady was looking for the marriage-and-baby-carriage package, and she had her cap set for Robin. I don't think it was a "Play Misty for Me" or "Fatal Attraction" situation, but it became very annoying — eventually for Robin, and immediately for Eddie.

I pieced the story together from roving bands of gossipy men in the building and community at-large, and from the victims themselves. Eddie would get home from playing a gig with whatever band he was in at the time, or taking photos for the Press, and this chick would be sitting on their front stoop, waiting for Robin to arrive. Robin, of course, tried not to arrive if he drove close enough to the house to see her perched there. So Eddie would be left to deal with the love-struck coed, and with each ensuing porch vigil, Eddie became increasingly angry.

At first, he let her in the house to wait for Robin, and she sat there in the dark by herself after Eddie, tired of keeping up a conversation, went to bed. Eventually he just starting barging past her into the house, then locked the door, and left her on the stoop. Then he'd come to work and say if it didn't stop, he was going to call the police and report a stalker or Peeping Tomasina or something. Ultimately, he made good on his pledge. The cops came and hauled the poor girl away (or at least gave her a talking-to), and one of the officers dispatched to the scene later told me he got the impression that Robin was a cad. I don't think Robin came home that night, because the blowup over that incident came the next day in the newsroom.

If that "Odd Couple" arrangement wasn't bad enough, I can top it: The aforementioned Rob was a third roommate at one point. I was just hoping none of them had a gun.

Editor's note: Portions of this column were published in 2018.