‘Wise Old Owl’ and ‘Walter Winchell’

Aug 28, 2001 6:02 AM

WE HAD NICKNAMES! I called him WOO! It was short for Wise Old Owl.

He called me WW, short for Walter Winchell, a famous newspaperman who was widely read in his time.

Stories went with our nicknames. WOO was truly a wise barrister ”” a real student of the law. His work was his passion. He must have been a Boy Scout. He was always, always prepared.

I never could live up to Walter Winchell. But, it never bothered WOO. He admired newspapermen.

It’s funny, but we started out going against each other in a lengthy lawsuit. There were claims and counterclaims. My opponent had a large stable of lawyers. At the time, he was very angry with me and wanted a fierce one. That’s how WOO got the assignment. He was a tough as they came.

There was no line on the match-up. My opponent and his powerful mouthpiece would have had me for lunch. That’s how it looked. But, I’m happy to say, it never really happened. But, the lunch was a very long lunch.

For 22 days WOO came at me with everything he had. If I close my eyes now, I can still hear WOO bellowing. He yelled so loud I felt sorry for the court reporter. She is a very nice lady.

WOO had no way of knowing that I grew up in a neighborhood where yelling and screaming was a way of life. There were no mere hellos, but rather greetings that were always loud and boisterous.

The depositions WOO held were at his law office. Nearly everyone sat in his lobby waiting for him to show up. When he did, he walked with purpose and never wore a smile. The entourage ”” myself included ”” followed him to the hearing room. The shortest path was down the hallway and through an empty office used as a shortcut to get to the deposition room.

It took me a few days to realize that everyone was following WOO’s path. There would be none of that for me. I used to go the long way around to get to the same destination.

One day after the shepherd had led the flock, WOO stopped me in my path.

“Why are you taking the long way around?” he wanted to know.

Rather than answer him directly, I tossed a little Robert Frost at him, “Two roads diverged . . .”

The very next day, he stopped me again and demanded to know why I was taking the long way around.

I let him have it full blast. I recited the closing lines of Frost’s famous poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I ””

 I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

WOO’s chin dropped to his chest. He had been painting me ”” in his mind at least ”” as a dems and doze guy. It may not have been a chink in his armor, but I’m thoroughly convinced that once he found out that I wrote prose and knew poetry the bulldog was less fierce.

After months of paying lawyers during the discovery process, I called my opponent. We were not friends at the time. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even sure he would take my call.

He did. And, within minutes, we had settled the lawsuits.

WOO and WW stayed in touch. We became good friends. We socialized. We enjoyed each other’s company.

In his final run down the stretch to the wire, WOO was representing me in a nuisance case. I noted he wasn’t looking good. I was concerned and asked him how he was.

Tough guys never cry. He told me I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Last week the call came. Morton Galane died suddenly at age 75.

No one enjoys hearing about another man’s death. It bothers me greatly that Mort has signed off. Wise Old Owls are not easy to find these days. He will be missed.