It was small-world strange how the news that Paul had passed away, at 57, after a long struggle against an insidious disease would come from Simon. After Paul married the beautiful Cathy Santiago on a magnificent Brooklyn day in 1988-- the wedding party hilariously introduced on tape by the legendary Bob Sheppard -- my wife, Beth, and I took a detour into the Heights to check out the coop we'd just bought, hoping to test drive our Honda through the narrow alley leading to a parking space in the back of the building. Simon happened to be outside as we pulled up to open the passageway. Turned out he and his wife had recently moved into the apartment above ours.
All these years later, he would learn of Paul's passing before me because their sons were friends out on Long Island, in Rockville Centre.
Paul and Cathy had three sons; Beth and I had two, and countless were the hours Paul and I spent bragging -- or ragging -- on them in press boxes, on the phone, on long Facebook exchanges or during a visit to Paul's bedside during his final years when he fought with courage and grace that struck me as almost unfathomable. I could only wish there had been more time, more occasions. There isn't a worse commute in the New York area than New Jersey to Long Island but still, our families were always connected and forever will be.
We were colleagues at the Daily News in the mid-1980s when Paul experienced a personal tragedy that induced early evidence of the cursed disease. After time off to recuperate, he went to a press conference that had something to do with the old United States Football League. That's where he first met and flirted with Cathy, who worked for the league and decided to do her homework on him. She called Beth, her former USFL colleague in the media relations department.
"Oh, Harvey loves Paul," Beth said. "He's like the younger brother he never had."
He was the kid reporter who had just graduated from the Nets beat to the Knicks when Gene Williams, the News' sports editor, talked me into joining the staff from the New York Post at the start of the 1982-83 season. Here is what Paul said when I told him how uneasy I was with bumping him back to the Nets: "It's great for the paper. It's great for me, too, because I get to work with you." He meant it, too, and that was Paul, who within a year was promoted to covering the Jets, a a beat the News considered even bigger than the Knicks. He proceeded to become the city's must-read on the Jets, as Rich Cimini beautifully recalled in two stories posted Sunday on the ESPNNY.com site.
So Cathy, reassured by Beth's endorsement, went out with Paul, they got married and one day, Beth and I were going through our own wedding album when we came upon another strange sighting. Paul and Cathy had both attended, though seated at different tables. But in photos on opposite pages of the album, their faces were angled so that they seemed to be looking right at one another, as if peering into their future.
Paul loved hearing that story as much as he relished telling his own. He was a damn fine storyteller, with humor, humanity and, above all, a sensitivity and selflessness so rare in the gritty business of tabloid journalism. During the five-month Daily News strike of 1990-91, with young mouths to feed and new mortgages to pay, we caved to the pressure one day and crossed a picket line. Sick to my stomach, I immediately regretted it and walked back out within a day or two. When he heard that I had, Paul called to say, "If you're out again, I'm with you."
No truer words spoken, my friend. You will be with me, always.