Lisa Maher makes a mean kale quesadilla. Lisa Maher once ranked nationally in Irish Step dance, but that didn’t help her get a job. Lisa Maher has a job (well, two) (well, three), and sometimes she goes to grad school, too, when she feels like it. Lisa Maher is secretly terrified of the cat who lives in her apartment, but delights in the drug dealer next door.
It’s after the Bach-Poulenc concert and, inevitably, Paulie shows up in the choir loft. He’s a huge man, with shoulders hunched around his ears and a tattered Knights of Columbus windbreaker. Paulie is here to see Joe. Paulie is always here to see Joe.
Paulie is a connoisseur of church music in Central Eastern Queens. He came into our lives about a year ago, when Joe assumed the position of music director at Our Lady of Mercy in Forest Hills, and I tagged along to keep my absent-minded boyfriend somewhat organized. Paulie became infatuated with Joe’s pseudo-conservative taste in music. So much so, that he introduced himself to Joe by his secret confirmation name, Michael Leggett, rather than his “public, secular name.” He has never introduced himself to me, and has responded to all attempts of an introduction between us by changing the subject. I’m Joe’s Yoko.
Paulie dislikes me intently and makes that fact known by actively trying to get me dumped. He’s referred to me as a “Jewess,” “Marxist,” “trollop,” “Wiccan,” “concubine,” and “Vatican II revisionist.” If we go out in Forest Hills after an evening mass, Paulie will intrude without fail. He’s found us at pizzerias, burrito bars, regular bars, movie theaters, and Barnes and Noble. And every time, he’s invited himself to join us then turned his back to me so Joe’s line of sight contains only the hulking Catholic figure. Whether it is oblivion to the “on-a-date”-ness of these outings, or a disregard, I can never quite peg.
Likewise, Paulie’s story is unpeggable. At different moments, he was a pre-eminent cardiologist, an administrator with the MTA, a college professor, and a seminarian prior to his fall from grace. But the story of the fall always remains the same—he had some high position with the Knights of Columbus until some hippie-dippy liberals usurped his throne and cast him out of the world of slightly religious bureaucracy. Paulie is perpetually awaiting a check—from his pension, from his 401K, from not-welfare.
He smells like a homeless person, but my inclination is that he is not actually homeless, because he owns a lot of high-end electronic equipment. He tapes all of Joe’s church concerts and posts them on Vimeo, with tirades about the Illuminati in the description section. He uses Vimeo, as he’s explained on numerous occasions, because Youtube is virulently anti-Catholic.
“Why do you think there are no church hymn videos on Youtube?”
“Because no one is choosing to post church hymns on Youtube?”
“That’s what they want you to think. It’s because they hate Catholics. Vimeo broadcasts to Norway.”
It’s hard to argue with that logic.
Despite hating me and refusing to be introduced to me, Paulie will talk to me when Joe is momentarily missing. He’ll explain to me the details of all the parishes in the area, speaking freely, on first name basis of all the pastors and musical directors. Tired and hungover in our last encounter, I tried to cut his speech short.
“Paulie, I’m not from around here.”
“Everyone’s from around here. What’s your home parish?”
“Our Lady of Lourdes in West Islip. Diocese of Rockville Centre.”
Paulie ponders this new factoid briefly, between sips of bargain-brand wine that he had dumped all over the reception table half an hour earlier. We’re standing near the entrance to the church, surrounded by foliage. A statue of Mary ready to punt the baby Jesus looks on.
“Rockville Centre is no good. Bishop Murphy’s a bad man. Likes abortion and gays. Nothing good there. Changing parishes was your first step to salvation.”
“No, Paulie, it wasn’t. I like gays too.”
Paulie pours his wine into a bush, turns around, and re-enters the church. When he returns, his arm is around Joe and he’s convinced my boyfriend to give him a ride to Rego Park, without me.