Dear Houston Post, how we loved you!

The Houston Post campus as it appeared in the 1990s before it was sold and shut down. I was piloting the airplane, a Cessna 150, when my co-worker, Christine Lavin, leaned over and snapped this picture.
The Houston Post campus as it appeared in the 1990s before it was sold and shut down. I was piloting the airplane, a Cessna 150, when my co-worker, Christine Lavin, leaned over and snapped this picture.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on yesterday’s interview with gnome expert Dr. Willem Gelding, news arrived that had me tossing and turning late into the night.

As most of my readers know, I used to be a newspaperman, and over a career that lasted 33 years, I worked for five newspapers.

But I only loved one.

The Houston Post — closed in 1995 — was my professional home for 10 years. I read yesterday via my Facebook feed that the crosstown Houston Chronicle will be moving its newsroom into our old building, completing the takeover they started almost 20 years ago.

Two decades is a long time to remain bitter, but bitter I still am.

Why such strong feelings about a long-dead publication owned by a man called Stinky? A place where I toiled long hours for three editors in chief known as the Prince of Darkness, Mad Dog and Chicken Legs?

Although I can look back now and see its flaws, there was so much to love about The Houston Post and its people.

Let me tell you about them.

The Post was the #2 paper in a two-newspaper town, and the staff lived with rumors about management changes the entire time I was there. I suppose the rumors fostered a siege mentality. You knew you were in a fight, and like any war, you knew you had to rely on the men and women who were fighting alongside you.

We were something special together, covering big stories like the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, the first Gulf War in 1990, and the O.J. Simpson case that started in 1994.

As I lay awake last night, I thought of the names and faces from those times. With few exceptions, everyone had a nickname. Some were silly, most were cutting, but they all signified that you had somehow earned a place in the lore of The Houston Post.

There was Birdy, Larwe, Miker and the Cocksman. BobMarla, Barbarella, Artist Gladys and Artist Leroy. We had Darla and Double Truck, Tidbit, Thunderchief and Timbob.

I can still see Sweet Pea and the Mime, L.L. (the Littlest Laggard), along with The Rapper, her cigarette ash edging ever longer. There at their desks are Bullet Bob, Joe Cool and Rothschild.

There was The Maven, Lasorda and Factor, along with Spuds, Leatherhead and the Throbbing Bone.

We had Mladenka, and later, after he’d killed himself, his Eternal Flame, a smoldering cigarette butt. There was Zud, Cuz, Crash, Opie, Editor Joey, Butler and Big Jim.

Let’s not forget Blossom, Smoking Gun, the Professor, Editor Linbol, the Size Sixes, or that Jamaican guy who always fell asleep at work and didn’t last long as a consequence. I can’t remember his real name.

But the one I do remember — and most fondly — is the old Bertmeister, who would meet us after work at the Jockey Club, lining up three martinis just before last call, his battered yellow T-bird with New Jersey plates still idling out in the parking lot. You see, he knew if he shut off that old rust bucket’s engine, it would never restart.

Bertmeister, critically ill but still working, still drinking, still apologizing for having to leave work before deadline because his shirt was soaked with blood.

That was The Houston Post spirit.

On my last night at The Post, I was interviewing a job candidate when someone burst into my office with the latest rumor du jour. You see, we really didn’t know, we were still filling vacancies.

The job candidate never got hired — never earned a nickname — because that final rumor proved to be the one that rings true.

I got a phone call early the next morning after having worked all night. It was the newsroom secretary telling me to call all my people and tell them to come clean out their desks, we’d been sold to the rival Chronicle, and they had summarily shut us down.

That afternoon I found my building swarming with Chronicle security guards. I cleaned out my desk, but before leaving I found a big manila envelope. On the outside I wrote, “To The Next Occupant of this Office.”  I sealed it, and with a roll of strapping tape, secured it to the top of my desk.

Inside the envelope, on a sheet of yellow legal paper, I wrote in red grease pencil, “FUCK YOU!

I walked out the door.

A couple weeks later, Bertmeister was dead. In retrospect, his fate — like The Post’s — was hardly surprising, but still unexpected. His wake and funeral provided a final punctuation mark for a real newspaperman and a great newspaper, The Houston Post.

When the Chronicle staff finally moves into our building, I hope my message is still there.

I think the Bertmeister would approve.

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29 Comments

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  1. It was fun while it lasted, Glenn, but 19 years is a LONG time to let bitterness fester in your soul. As you know — and maybe never forgiven me for — I was hired by the Chronicle seven weeks after Stinky pulled the plug on us at the Post. Although he didn’t make the actual job offer, I’m sure that the one who really got me on at the Chron was our former executive editor at the Post, who’d been hired right after the ink had dried on the sales contract. He recently retired, as you know, and if I’m not shown the door in the next 11 months, I hope to say goodbye to my own 43-year career in newspapering myself once I reach the 20-year mark here. No special reason, other than that it would be a nice round number and I can’t imagine sticking around until the magic -30- . The story about our move into the old Post building said they’re looking at an 18-month timeline, so it’s doubtful that I’ll be here to make the trek down US 59 to the Newcastle exit just before the Loop. But I’ll try to be there when they open the old newsroom doors, and if I can find your sentimental message, maybe I can retrieve it and mail it to you as a memento. Chances are, the gnomes — or their nefarious newspaper kindred, the gremlins — have used it for kindling by now …

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  2. So, did Henry have a nickname?

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  3. See my fb, Pat….

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  4. to moderator: Bert Walter, the subject of Pat McClure’s post was my dad. With all respect to the press… leave my expletive and retraction for all to see. Never give up …don’t tread on me. You colonials and Texans both get that. Norbert Walter fought the good fight. You should be proud to have been in his “Fight Club”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to touch bases with you, Adrian. Bert was a good newsman and a good friend. I know we were all deeply saddened by his passing. It was the final jarring shock for a staff that was already in shock.

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    • Adrian: I’m still a copy editor at the Chronicle, having put 19 more years behind me since the Post so ignominiously died. And I keep your dad’s obit, dated Sunday, May 21, 1995, pinned to my cubicle wall.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Two words: bottle night.

    Best tradition ever (said the reformed Aggie)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ernie Williamson July 26, 2014 — 1:30 am

    Speaking of Bert,,, I will never forget the time I was out with some friends on a Sunday night. Bert was news editor and remember calling him “Bert, this is Ernie!” My friends laughed and so did Bert and I. J

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Too many stories, like when Lahwie caught DooRock sleeping on the bulldog desk and got everyone to leave the newsroom. He even managed to reset Derrick’s watch to 2 a.m. and got a security guard to wake him up. Derrick came storming out of the newsroom only to see all of us hiding by the mailboxes. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard before or since.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. One other story not many know. There was a fellow editor named Deborah McKown. Deborah was a hoot. Large, blonde with as sharp a tongue as ever I met. One night, we were walking back to composing for the first edition when two printers got off the elevators right behind us (this was when the newsroom was on the second floor, same as my Doorock story above). They walked behind us several paces and one said loud enough for us to hear, “Man I’d like to get into her pants.” Deborah didn’t break step, replying as we approached the printers’ break room,, “No thanks. I’ve already got one asshole in there.” We looked back and the two printers had ducked off into their break room.

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  9. Sounds vaguely familiar, but no, I don’t remember.

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  10. I know Mad Dog recently passed away, but where is the Prince of Darkness these days? And Chicken Legs? Inquiring minds . . .

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    • Prince actually died a year or two before Mad Dog. Not sure what Chicken Legs is up to.

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      • Dang. Peter was still a young man, relatively speaking. What happened? Some disgruntled editor shoot him in the parking lot? I know some had a high opinion of him, one I did not share. I’m not particularly concerned about C Legs. Kind of a waste there.

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  11. Here is a link to Peter’s obit. He was only 66 on his death in San Diego, CA
    http://www.torontosun.com/2013/06/30/former-toronto-sun-newsman-dies

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  12. I heard this week from another old ex-Postie who has lived for many years in Paris, where he works for the New York Times’ international edition. He passed along a link you might find interesting: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/gray-matters/article/Memories-of-Things-Post-5644845.php#/0

    Liked by 1 person

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