When in a Pandemic, Call Paul
No one would have ever expected the five of us to fall in love with the same man. But who could blame us? He had a mop of dark brown straight hair that framed his oval face. His big white smile revealed a pair of dimples that hid underneath a blanket of light stubble. He was younger than us – somewhere in his mid- to late-40s, I’d guess – but also somewhat of an old soul. And he sang like an angel.
We didn’t let the fact that Paul was gay and in a seemingly committed and loving relationship with his longtime partner, Alfredo, get in our way. Truth be told, Alfredo had a great sense of humor and we were a little in love with him, too.
We met Paul in the first few weeks of the COVID lockdown. The Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor had started hosting regular Friday night Sip ‘n Sings to raise funds since its doors would remain closed for the foreseeable future. Since the singalong was on right before our group’s nightly Corona Cocktail Hour, it was the perfect kick-off for weekends that otherwise remained uneventful and limited to outdoor activities.
Paul was initially one of a few rotating singers who would lead the Zoom-based event, which mostly featured Broadway show tunes and popular songs that had hit their peak in the decades before the new millennium. It soon became apparent that the number of Zoom squares that would pop up on the screen was exponentially higher on the nights that Paul performed and he became Sip ‘n Sing’s featured player.
Without much to get excited about in those months, we anxiously waited for the email from Bay Street letting us know that sign-ups for that week’s Sip ‘n Sing were now open. Even though it was highly unlikely that the number of available Zoom sign-ins would fill up, we jumped onto the link like teenagers lining up for a Rolling Stone concert. At 4:58 p.m. on Friday night, we would each grab our preferred drinks – usually wine for me, Melanie, and Judy; flavored vodka for Ronnie; and tequila for Mindy – and headed to our screens. We waited impatiently for the host to let us into the Zoom but perked up as soon as we heard Paul’s recorded voice welcoming us with “Get your cocktail shakers out. It’s time to sip and sing.”
We’d watch the squares pop open, bringing together an eclectic mix of people from various socio-economic backgrounds, different races and ethnicities and ages. Most were from somewhere in New York but not necessarily the Hamptons. There were multi-generational families who had started living together in COVID pods, couples, individuals like me and my friends, Paul and Alfredo’s parents, a couple of their celebrity friends, and, for the oldest of the crowd, caregivers.
The fact that Sip ‘n Sing was sponsored by AARP was undaunting. Three out of the five of us had turned 60 that first pandemic year and one had already passed that milestone. So, if the shearling-lined suede Birkenstock clog (our new shoewear of choice), fits…
Paul, who had taken on the lead role of a long-running Broadway musical a few years after its opening, had a beautiful baritone that was perfect for ballads and American classics, which we applauded visually and in the chat function. After a few weeks of seeing the same faces in those squares and reading his platitudes in the chat, he started to recognize people and he and Alfredo called us out by name.
“Ilene says that was the best rendition of that song she ever heard,” Alfredo would tell Paul, beaming with pride over his partner’s talents.
“Ronnie, yes, I prefer that key as well,” Paul would tell one of the more musical friends in our group.
If one of us received the coveted shout-out, we’d ask “Did you hear him mention me?” like schoolgirls with a crush on the same boy.
Although there were five of us who were smitten with Paul, Judy seemed to have the biggest crush of all. Although married for over 20 years, Judy was always the first to declare her love for someone from television, music, or the movies. She had already staked her claim on Shawn Mendes, the Israel star of the television series Shtisel, and now Paul. When it came time to figure out how we were going to make her 60thbirthday as special as possible given the circumstances of our ongoing quarantine, I said, “Why don’t we see if we can hire Paul to do a private Sip ‘n Sing for everyone in our group.”
Once everyone agreed, I did a quick search online and quickly found his email address. Explaining who I was, I shared our request and hoped to get a quick answer. When a few days passed without a response, I DM’ed him on Instagram. Still no response. I started to get that same sinking feeling I got whenever a guy said he would call me and then disappeared from my life. Was Paul ghosting us?
Sip ‘n Sing had been on hiatus for a few weeks in August but during the first event following Labor Day, Ronnie texted me and suggested I enter our request in the chat. “He seems to follow that,” she reminded me.
“Hi Paul. I don’t want you to think I’m stalking you but I’m hoping you got my email and/or my DM. We’d like to hire you to sing at a private event.” Sensing that he may have recognized our group crush on him, I made sure I added the “to sing” just to make sure that he didn’t think we were suggesting anything out of Eyes Wide Shut.
Much to my relief, Paul quickly responded. “I did. I’m so sorry. I saw your email and when I went back to respond, I couldn’t find the address. Can you shoot me your email again and I’ll get back to you? I promise.” Since he sounded and looked significantly more sincere than my last boyfriend, I sent him my email and did hear back from him right away. Why doesn’t that work with real boyfriends? I wondered.
We arranged for a call the next day. Ronnie started off with a line that you could only use with a gay man 20 years your junior or it would have been creepy. “In case you haven’t noticed, Paul, we’re all in love with you.” She continued to fangirl with him before finally getting to the point. “But it’s our friend Judy who loves you most.” To our surprise and delight, Paul agreed – enthusiastically I might add – to join us for Judy’s Zoom celebration. He would join us as a surprise after our first half hour of festivities and then I would have the honor of introducing the person behind the blacked-ou
t square to the bottom right of our screens.
We all fell a little more in love with Paul as we watched him sing a set list of classic Broadway show tunes and American standards with Judy – the rest of us muted but mouthing the words from our screens. Judy beamed as Paul sang and they flirted with each other just enough to be appropriate. By the end of the evening, we were sure that Paul and Alfredo had become our new BFFs and would be hanging out with them in the Hamptons the following summer.
In the meantime, we made Sip ‘n Sing part of our Friday night ritual, as sacred in some ways as lighting the Shabbat candles or saying a blessing over the challah. We continued the tradition even after we were all vaxed and boosted enough to get together IRL. We gathered at one of our apartments and logged in from there. We logged in during late Friday nights at the beach. If our plans meant driving or being on the bus during the 5 o’clock hour, we simply took Sip ‘n Sing on the road.
Over the many months, Sip ‘n Sing went through different iterations. Paul started to bring on musical guests, mostly new and unknown. artists appearing in their first musicals on and off Broadway. Paul started livestreaming from I Heart Radio, exposing him to a broader audience, but we continued to log onto the Zoom, maintaining our insider/stalker status.
The last time we saw Paul was during his pre-Christmas show this past December. Signing off, Alfredo told us there would be an announcement of something special in January 2023. But that was the last that we heard from them. The start of the year came and we didn’t hear a word. The promised announcement never came. Sip ‘n Sing no longer appeared on Bay Street’s weekly schedule. To try to figure out what happened, we cyberstalked Paul and Alfredo’s social media like jilted lovers. We knew they were alive and well since Alfredo posted regularly about their travels and activities. There was no question about it, this time we had been ghosted.
Like a woman trying to win her ex-boyfriend back, I tried to DM Paul to find out what had happened. Was it him, not us? Could we work this out somehow? Did he just need some time apart? Silence.
It’s been several months now and the pain of losing Paul has subsided. Still, Friday nights do seem a little emptier now.
Paul, wherever you are, we’d like to thank you for the times we shared and the memories we made together. We’ll think back on you fondly and appreciate you being by our side during a difficult time in our lives.
Adieu, our love. We’ll always have Zoom.