Pauly has clear blue eyes and ruddy cheeks. “Beautiful day,” he says to no one in particular. “Isn’t it?” He is larger than the chair he sits in, on the Starbucks’ patio in downtown Summit, New Jersey. A mustache like a wire-haired caterpillar; gray locks toward the back of his head curl around the base of his neck. It is a warm, spring day. He serenades the passersby, smiles at a lady in a green dress.
There are people who sleep in the stairwells of Summit train station. They may be the same people who traipse the sidewalk midday, sit on a bench outside the station and smoke cigarettes under a tree. These people dress and smell distinctively different from the masses who flux through the shops at Union Place, which include five Italian restaurants, a gourmet cheese shop, a shoe smith, a Chinese restaurant, a metro-chic hair salon, a pizzeria, and a Starbucks that gathers thick crowds in the early morning and late afternoon.
Downtown, on Union Place, there is a definite sense of “us versus them,” the “haves and the have-nots.” It is best described in the way the haves treat the have-nots, as if the have-nots aren’t even there.
The “us” and the “them” are not as clearly defined.
A black man in a varsity jacket crosses the street to Starbucks. The jacket hangs off his thin shoulders. He waves to Pauly. They shake hands, chat. Another man stands alongside the man in the jacket, waiting. Finally, the man in the jacket walks away, calling, “I ain’t messin’ with you, Pauly, I’ll be back.” The other man follows him.
“What time?” Pauly asks.
“Two o’clock,” says the man in the jacket.
“Let’s follow the police around a little bit,” says Pauly. “Shake ’em up.”
Alone again, Pauly says, “I want a beer.” A woman sitting near him looks up. “They love to bother us,” he says, “I don’t know why. I’m just a regular guy.” The woman is silent. “He’s a doctor of psychology,” Pauly says, gesturing toward the street. “He’s a little bit…but he’s a doctor of psychology.” Naming something, it seems for Pauly, makes it real. Then he sings, “Doctor doctor, give me the news, I got a bad case of loving yous.”
In the eyes of a sick man, anyone who can help might as well be called Doctor.
Pauly looks around, slips a small plastic bottle from his sleeve just enough so that its clear contents pour directly into his twenty-ounce cup of strawberry Frappuccino.