I used to walk on Chicago sidewalks with my head down watching for pitfalls, unaware of my surroundings — or with a companion, engrossed in conversation. Newspaperman Paul Galloway tutored me in how to walk, talk and observe all at the same time.
I met Paul when he happened to sit next to me at his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1979. As the meeting got underway, a wild woman charged up the timeworn stairs of the old State Street townhouse, raged into the open room screaming and throwing empty chairs around. A policeman was hot on the woman’s heels and escorted her out. We all sat back down and continued the meeting.
During the melee, I assured Paul she was a harmless neighborhood drunk.
“Does this happen all the time?” He asked.
“Oh no. But we do get drunks. After all, it is AA.”
Paul found that hilarious and from there on we laughed our way into a fast friendship. I’d been sober for three years by then and he peppered me before and after meetings with questions. We had long funny discussions on how to be a sober alcoholic in the crazy world of the newspaper business. He searched police records for the name and history of the woman who rampaged through his first AA meeting. Whenever I saw her on the street I averted my eyes, but Paul greeted her by name.
I’ve read newspapers and watched television news as long as I can remember. Until I met Paul, it never occurred to me to look for those stories walking along city streets. Paul pointed out politicians, criminals, movie stars, sports figures and flash-in-the-pan celebrities. In the middle of a deep philosophical discussion on the nature of god, he’d suddenly blurt out, “Jesse Jackson ahead” or “Bill Curtis crossing the street.”
On one of our many walks through crowds along the bustling bars and restaurants of Rush Street, Paul pointed out young Michael Jordan in line at the Bagel Nosh. He recounted details from the sports page about the newest Chicago Bull.
He loved reporting intimate details of people’s lives that couldn’t be printed in the paper. This age-old form of communicating the news was in his blood. Was it gossip? Hell yes. He used gossip as a learning tool—how to behave and not behave. Deep down in his funny bone he had an empathic moralistic core.
Paul’s wife Maggie called one day in 2009.
“Paul’s heart exploded,” she said, “He was at the Asian Garden Massage Spa and his heart exploded! He’s dead!”
A fastidious germaphobe, Paul couldn’t have been there for the “happy ending.” He’d retired from the newspaper, so I knew he hadn’t been on assignment, either. I thought she was joking.
“What was he doing there?” I asked. Stunned and grieving, Maggie sought answers in the days after Paul’s death, but the spa ladies didn’t speak English.
Paul Galloway. He left one big gossipy story that he would have loved to tell himself.