Around this time of year, I always think of a former publisher, Brad Sugg. He led the Tahlequah Daily Press team for 17 years – a tenure that ended when a brain tumor took him in 2006. Brad doesn’t necessarily enter the mind or the conversation because Christmas is a sad time of year. It’s because his birthday was on Christmas. As he put it, “Yeah, me and Jesus Christ, man.”
I have a niece who was also born Dec. 25, but she appears to have resigned herself to it. Brad did not. He understood from an early age that those bearing gifts would expect him to accept the same item both for his birthday and for Christmas. Therefore, at some point, he changed his birthday – at least, the date on which he celebrated it – to July 4. It was also his favorite holiday, and that wasn’t because Independence Day is a patriotic time of the year. He simply liked things that went “boom”!
Brad arrived at TDP on Leap Day 1988, kicking off a very profitable 17-year stint. The success was rooted in Brad’s extraordinary frugality. His first month or so here, we asked for an electric pencil sharpener, we got a cheap hand-crank one, to use on pencils we bought ourselves; we were advised to use both sides of paper, even in the fax machine. For a while, he wouldn’t even replace burned-out fluorescent bulbs. When we complained about working in the dark, he half-jokingly advised us to bring lamps from home for our desks. The photographer at that time hooked one of his darkroom lamps to a filing cabinet, but forgot about the pencil sharpener that was also attached, and the thing melted into a shape that prompted visitors to compare it to the clocks in Dali’s “Persistence of Memory.” When we pointed out the mess to Brad, he simply said, “Woah, man! That’s some weird sh*t!” The sharpener was not replaced, but eventually went obsolete. No one uses pencils in newsrooms anymore.
Brad was also hyperactive, with flyaway hair that crackled with static electricity when he shuffled his feet on the carpet. Upon meeting him, most people assumed he was a “hippie,” and they were correct – in a way. He liked his rum and he chain-smoked, sometimes bumming cigarettes from the rest of us, since in those days, most journalists smoked – although he would always pull the filters off the “skinny chick cigarettes.” He had burn holes in most of his shirts and ties, but was too cheap to replace them.
When Brad came into the scene, there was a behemoth thing in the newsroom that we called the “spy chair.” I’ve explained the moniker in the past, but it looked like a pauper’s idea of a throne. Its back was high and straight, and it had wooden legs and armrests about 4 inches wide. It was made of faux leather, and if you sat on it while wearing a skirt or shorts, you left a shiny sweat imprint. It didn’t lean back, roll around or sport ergonomically designed adjustable features like modern chairs; it just loomed, silently daring anyone to sit in it. Extracting yourself from it was a challenge, because the seat was a deep bowl, as if it had formed around Kim Kardashian’s ample bottom. And it was heavy. Only a strong fellow could drag it with one arm, and anyone who tried lifting it was begging for a hernia.
Just a few weeks after he took the helm, Brad was talking to me and Dana Eversole, our news editor at the time. As the conversation continued, Brad climbed into the spy chair and squatted in the well of its seat like an amped-up baseball catcher. Within a few minutes, he had mounted one of the wooden arms, and was perched there like a huge, squawking bird, flapping his wings awkwardly for balance. Dana and I stared at him in amazement. She finally said, “What are you doing? You’re going to fall and break your neck!” He appeared slightly sheepish as he climbed down.
What Brad said was even funnier than what he did. He almost always preceded every revelation with “Woah, man!” You knew something either ridiculous or profound was going to follow – sometimes both. He had favorite phrases. Very often, when a child molester was arrested, or some gross person was being discussed, he would comment that the subject was a “sick puppy,” or a “twisted sister.” A vapid or timid individual, or any object that didn’t perform as advertised, would be dubbed a “weak sister.” Women were “chicks,” and men were “dudes,” or more often, “cats.”
One day, Eddie Glenn, the photographer at that time, turned in a phony expense report from a “ghost” stringer, “Jesus Julio Santista,” including mileage to and from Central America. (His name was pronounced “Hay-SOOS HOO-lio San-TEES-ta.”) A bit later, Brad barreled into the newsroom and asked, more perplexed than angry: “Who’s this Jesus cat, man?” He pronounced the name like the deity.
He often started sentences with, “The deal of it is, is, is…” – almost like a mantra. There were lots of “standpoints” – mostly “from a revenue standpoint” – and “situations” involved, sometimes with names. One day, he came into the newsroom, looking for Stacy (Patrick) Pratt, and he asked, “From a Stacy Situation, when will she be back?” And he had his own names for almost every employee, usually ones no one else used. Generally, if the employee used the diminutive, Brad would double up on the last letter and add a “y,” and thus Bob Gibbins became “Bobby.” On the other hand, he would shorten names with the “ie” or “y,” so Eddie was “Ed.” At one point, he picked up the habit of adding “Bear” to the names: “Bobby Bear,” “Eddie Bear,” and so forth. Sometimes the co-worker got a “-ster” suffix: Teddye Snell was “Tedster.” For some reason, he referred to sports editors by their last names, though John Hoover was “Hoov,” as most people still call him. He usually called women a variant of their first names, but I was almost always “Poindexter” – which is also what my husband called me when we were in college.
I’ve asked some former co-workers to help me with some funny episodes, as we can all use a little levity these days. Stay tuned.