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One More Time
The office was on 74th and Park. The nameplate on the door read: Dr. Irvine Burke. A bored female "Yeah?" came over the speaker in response to Bernie's ring.
"Bernie Berne. I have an eleven-fifteen appointment."
The buzzer admitted him. The sleepy blonde at the reception desk was chewing gum at a furious rate and devouring "Nights Without Shame," a paperback with a luridly illustrated cover. She looked up, baby blue eyes boldly flirtatious. Bernie knew he resembled Tom Cruise. Her interest sagged at his lack of response.
"Doc'll be with you shawtly."
Gumchew returned to the novel. The chew rate increased as her involvement in the story heightened. Bernie flopped down on the ancient soiled sofa. Feeling apprehensive, he stretched out his legs. The room smelled musty. Prof was right; he shouldn't have kept this appointment. He ignored the diplomas and award certificates plastered all over the walls. This was old stuff to him.
At 11:08 the inside door creaked open. Bernie heard a low electronic hum from the inner office. A sad-faced middle-aged lady shuffled out. The door closed behind her. Gumchew didn't look up. The sad lady exited looking neither left nor right, absorbed in miseries that apparently hadn't been alleviated in the past fifty minutes. A buzzer sounded.
Gumchew picked up the phone.
"Doc'll seeya now."
Bernie entered the inner sanctum, which was furnished in Salvation Army Bleak. He wrinkled his nose. At two C notes a throw Burke should be able to do better than this. What was he getting into?
Bernie's anxious eyes cased the room. Four chairs, two upholstered, two straight back, throw rugs on worn carpeting, a beat-up desk behind which the shrink keyed notes into a computer which explained the electronic hum. There was one plus: no couch.
Dr. Irvine Burke was in his fifties. He wore faded jeans and an outrageous checkered orange and brown shirt that made Bernie wince. A St. Christopher pendant hung from his thick neck. His shiny bald dome was flanked by tufts of unruly gray hair. Despite horn rim specs and the obligatory beard, Burke reminded Bernie of Woody Allen who happened to be a casual friend.
The shrink stuck out a flabby hand and pumped his new donor's arm, intense piercing eyes shining. He motioned Bernie to an armchair.
He perched nervously on its edge.
"So you're the famous maestro. I'm honored."
The computer monitor's blue screen registered the time second by second in luminous yellow digits. Burke struck two keys on the keyboard. A robotic voice announced: THE TIME IS TEN-THREE A.M. 10:03 blinked. Startup time. Burke moved from behind the desk with a remote keypad and settled comfortably into the armchair opposite Bernie's, one short leg draped over the arm. His bare feet emitted an odor reminiscent of stewed prunes. He gave his patient a warm, intimate smile. Bernie could almost feel Woody grinning at him.
"Rules of the game: You talk, I listen."
Bernie knew the rules of the game. "What do you want to know?"
"You. I want to know you."
10:05 AM. Bernie sighed, the minutes in a race with his wallet. He started reciting his bio. "Sax player/band-leader, 36. Twice married, twice divorced. Residence, Manhattan when not on tour. What else?"
"Some meat to go with the potatoes. Are you horny? How often do you get laid? Do you dream? Do you say prayers? Do you like porn magazines? What foods do you like? The more you spill, the more demons we kill."
Ogden Nash yet. "Sometimes I'm horny. I get laid on and off."
Burke chuckled. "On and off once a week, or on and off once a month?"
"Sex is okay, but I can live without it."
"Do you like boys?"
Burke chuckled. "More. I want details. Dreams, prayers. Meat, Bernie, meat."
Prayers. Bernie shifted nervously. "I talk to God sometimes, but get frustrated. I have the feeling He's too busy to listen to me."
"Bullshit! He hears everything. Do you have any dreams that recur?"
"One. I'm on trial for some terrible crime. The judge is always my father. He always finds me guilty. I always awake before sentencing."
Bernie moistened his lips, anxious to change the subject. "My favorite foods are shrimp and matzoh balls."
Burke's face lit up like those of a widow who is about to say yes. "Parents? Siblings?"
"Papa's a rabbi. Mama's dead. One brother, a cantor."
The shrink's eyes turned conspiratorial. "You know, we're landsmen. Don't let the name fool you. Irvine, Irving; Burke, Berkowitz." He turned over the St. Christopher medal. The flip side was a Jewish star. He gave Bernie a sly look. "Berne, Bernstein--right?"
Bernie shrugged. This guy needed help more than he did. He shot the computer a glance. Time was flying. His dollars would have fared better in a shredding machine.
Burke's expression turned serious. "Specifically, Bernie, what's your problem?"
Bernie pulled in a deep breath and made an awkward effort to explain about Sylvia who Papa kept nagging him to marry. His hard earned dollars were melting like snow flakes.
Burke repeated, "Sylvia" by way of a prod.
Bernie swallowed. "Papa feels she would make a good wife."
Bernie closed his eyes. I'm paying four bucks a minute for an echo chamber.
Rules of the game. "The way Papa sees it, I'm thirty-six years old. If I don't get married now and start raising a family..." His throat went dry.
"Like I said, I was married twice already, both times a disaster. What can I tell you? I figure three strikes and you're out."
The rock massaged his upper gum with his tongue.
Bernie felt swept up in a wave of hopelessness. He was getting no help from this clown. No one could help him. 10:32 AM. He dug in deeper. "Don't get me wrong. I don't blame Selma, or even Shirley. I was a lousy husband. Late gigs until two in the morning, weeks on tour. And some of those chicks who sing with the band..." Bernie lowered his eyes.
The shrink's sympathetic nod was almost human.
"It's no life for a nice Jewish girl that all she wants is a normal home and family."
"Selma and Shirley, you loved these chics?"
Bernie sighed. "They're in Papa's congregation. Papa told me I loved them."
"That's an answer?"
"What can I tell you? I don't know. I don't know if I can love any woman."
"Don't be ridiculous. This Sylvia is also a member of the congregation?"
"She's Papa's secretary."
"Same thing. You love her?"
Bernie shrugged. "She's okay. She has nice legs."
"Another bright answer."
"Shit, that's why I'm here," Bernie flared, "to get answers. The truth is I'm too busy with the band to go through this shtik again. If we're not on a gig we're rehearsing, or recording, or on tour. I work late and sleep late." His lips tightened. His eyes had a haunted look. "Papa's driving me nuts. He wants a grandchild."
"And you? What do you want?"
"I don't know. Maybe Papa's right. Maybe at thirty-six it's normal to start raising a family. It's not that I don't like kids. I love kids. My brother's girl, Sheila, I'm nuts about her. But I never met a woman who, you know, made me see flashes of lightning, or rockets exploding, or whatever you're supposed to see when you're really and truly in love. To tell you the truth, I'm scared shitless. I don't want to make the same mistake over again. I'm into Shirley for three bills a week. Selma let me off easier; she settled for a lump sum and the Porsche. Not that money's the main thing. The real problem is Papa. He's got a serious heart condition. He can take just so much aggravation... I don't know, Dr. Burke..."
"Whatever. I was hoping you might be able to help me."
"You have to be patient. I need to know where you come from. More important, you need to know where you come from. We'll work it out, trust me."
The computer clock gave a beep. Time was up.
Burke/Berkowitz reached across to the computer, pushed a button on the keyboard, and consulted his calendar.
"Next week. Same time."
The shrink scrambled up and shook Bernie's hand gustily. "Faith Bernie, faith. We'll work it out. That'll be two hundred dollars. I don't take Discover."
Prof asked Bernie, "So how did it go? This brilliant man of medicine, he was able to help you?"
"Get off my case."
Dr. Bennett Rutherford Jackson, keyboard artist, arranger, composer, had been a full professor of music at Oberlin for eleven years before Bernie hired him four years ago to join the Bernie Berne Organization. He had since become a mainstay of the band.
Bernie loved the guy. Prof's hair was a beautiful silver blue gray. He wore the kind gentle face of a saint. Bernie boasted that his 66 year old fingers could still fly so fast over the keyboard one could catch a draft if he came too close.
One thing puzzled Bernie. Prof was as reliable as anyone he knew. Still it was in his contract that he had Thursday nights off. He got away with it, Bernie knew, because he was the group's most valuable musician. Prof made his band unique. Bernie racked his brain. What did Prof do Thursday nights? For some reason he kept it to himself. It drove the bandleader nuts.
Today was an off night for the band, which had just finished a stint at the Rainbow Room. They wouldn't open at the Pierre until tomorrow.
Prof said in his soft patient voice, "Bernie, I told you where to get help. You've already gone through two shrinks and a carload of psychologists. When are you going to listen?"
"Knock it off, Prof, I've heard too much already."
Bernie knew that Prof was into reincarnation, past life regression, stuff like that. That's all he needed, Bernie thought. He was confused enough already. How could someone as smart as Prof be taken in by that hokum?
Rehearsal was over. The band was packing up, except for Prof and Playboy centerfold girl, Dolly Dawn, who belted a song like Peggy Lee from way back when. Jimmie, the kid who doubled as gofer and librarian, collected the charts from the stands.
Dolly had the hots for Bernie and hung around despite his having leveled with her that they'd never make it long range. "Honey, I'm Jewish, you're a shiksa. If Papa found out I was dating a goy it'd kill him."
"Forget long range. All I want is your body."
Bernie didn't believe it. On the other hand, who was he to look a gift filly in the mouth?
Prof was shaking his head. "Bernie, I don't understand "
Al Diamond burst into the room, giving Bernie a temporary reprieve.
He proudly displayed a Downbeat article featuring Prof at the keyboard. BERNIE BERNE PLAYS BLUE PORTRAITS. It was the biggest splash yet with a million disks already sold and bids pouring in. "Blue Portraits" was Prof's creation, a mood masterpiece with arpeggiated harmonics that could bring tears to one's eyes, composed and arranged by the professor. The piece included a hauntingly beautiful solo for Bernie on bass clarinet.
Apart from Bernie's solo, "Blue Portraits" featured Russ Russo on drums, Helen Crane on bass, Fast Phil on guitar, and, of course, Prof on the ivories, rated by Down Beat as the finest rhythm section in the business today. But more than anything it was the composition and arrangement that did most to earn the Gold Record.
Al Diamond had played third trumpet before being stricken with AIDS, his lip too weak now to blow a horn. When a brass player's chops go he's had it. Bernie made him band manager. He couldn't see abandoning a guy when he's hit with catastrophe. He laid it on the line for the rest of the band. "Anyone who has a problem working with Al can quit now." Second bone walked. Lotsa luck, don't call me, I'll call you.
Bernie continued packing his sweet Golden Girl, his Selmer Mark VI tenor sax, as he referred to his horn. He might be fickle with women, but nothing was more constant than his love of music.
"So what's the verdict?" Prof wanted to know.
"About what?" Bernie clicked shut the tenor case.
"You going back to that shrink?"
" He says he can help me."
"Help you dispose of your money. What does he charge?"
Prof shook his head. "It beats pounding a keyboard."
"If he can help me it's worth it."
Dolly Dawn was eavesdropping. "Sweetie, I can help you for a lot less than that."
Bernie gave her a look. Courtesy of Papa, he lived in a glass cage. He'd never forget that fateful day at the studio. When Papa learned he and Selma had split, it hit the old man like a wet bag of matzoh balls. Instead of a grandson he was getting a no-fault divorce. Bernie had never seen him so mad. Were he an Arab, Papa would have killed him on the spot.
The old man had stormed into the studio like a maniac, knocking over music stands and scattering sheets like Jesus at the moneychangers' tables. Dolly had been rehearsing All of Me, giving it all she had which was plenty. Papa stopped her cold with a look.
Bernie's face turned ash gray, Papa's hot coal red. He'd had two heart attacks and a triple bypass already. Bernie was sure this was it, the final attack seconds away. He managed to get Papa's pressure down to 200, but not before he had broadcast to the world what kind of shit of a son he had sired, and the agita he suffered on his behalf.
Prof rolled his gentle eyes. "Bernie, can I ask you a question?"
"You marry a girl: Who has to live with her, you or your father?"
"I know, but Papa--"
"Papa shmapa. Bernie, you lead a band rated one of the best in the nation. You graduated CCNY in the top third of your class. You made the tennis team three years in a row. You're thirty-six years old and six-feet-two inches tall. When are you going to grow up?"
Prof sighed. "Bernie, I love you like a son. Thursday nights when I don't play I go to the Center for Psychic Awareness and Development. I go there to expand my horizons."
It figured, Bernie thought. It was where he sopped up all the mumbo jumbo about past lives and reincarnation. It was more boring than watching weeds grow.
But Dolly's attention perked up. So did Al's. He paused in making entries in a notebook.
Prof said, "I never told you, Bernie, that my father was a warehouseman for the Steinway Piano Company. One Saturday when I was four years old he stopped off at the plant and brought me with him. It was like a double shot of adrenaline. All those shiny new pianos. We were dirt poor. I had never even seen a piano. I sat down at a Grand and struck a few notes. One finger at first. Than I started to play. Two hands. Four years old, Bernie! I started to play. Don't ask me what."
Prof's eyes had started to fill.
"Maybe it was an original song I had heard somewhere. But it was music. Four years old! God, what an experience! I was transported. Onlookers were astonished but me. To me it seemed perfectly natural.
"My father got an employee discount and bought a piano. He had to work three nights a week at a second job to pay for the instrument. I--" Prof couldn't go on.
Dolly drew out a tissue. Prof brushed it aside.
His intense dark eyes bored into Bernie's. "I composed my first full length sonata at six, my first concerto at seven."
"Like Mozart," Dolly's voice was hushed.
Al Diamond had a funny look on his face. His mouth was slack, his eyes watery.
"I'm telling you this for a reason. You're a college graduate with above-average intelligence. So explain it to me. A child of four that never saw a piano, a child of six composing a sonata? Where did it come from? Think, Bernie. Think!"
Last thing he wanted to do. He felt like bolting. Stuff like this made him uncomfortable. "So it's genes or whatever. How the hell should I know? Maybe you're a genius like Mozart?"
Prof's look was that of a long-suffering teacher instructing a slow child. Genes? No one in my family played a musical instrument. Genius? What's genius? Where does genius originate?"
"From a past life, where else?" Bernie scoffed. He felt unaccountably hostile. "Okay. Suppose, just suppose, reincarnation is real. So what?"
"So what!" Prof all but exploded.
"You got it, dad: So what? You die and come back, so what? Your spirit enters another body. Or another body enters your spirit, so what? How do you know who you were before you became who you are now?"
Now Prof was frowning.
"Go on, genius with the genes. Answer me that: What good is a second chance if you don't know who you were the first time around? Squirm out of that one, buddy. "Tell me who you were when you got the first leg up on becoming a virtuoso musician. You want me to take this mumbo jumbo seriously? Tell me that. I want names, dates, places."
Prof suddenly looked very tired. "I don't pretend to have all the answers. At the Center we're just scratching the surface."
"Fine. Scratch without me. I'm not itchy."
"Smart Alec remarks won't help you any more than your greedy shrink. Bernie, do me a favor. Tonight's a special night at the Center, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Blackstone is appearing."
"He sells tires."
"More wise guy cracks. Blackstone's the greatest living psychic today. A second Edgar Cayce. You could learn some things that might surprise you."
"Like maybe I was an African kalimba player in the seventeenth century."
"It's not impossible. Give it a chance. If not for yourself as a favor to me."
Bernie frowned. "It's against my religion."
"For me, Bernie. I won't tell Papa."
The bastard, Bernie thought. He knows I can't refuse when he puts it like that.
"I'll go if you stop bugging me."
Ray Dreyfack's business writing career features an untold number of books, articles, speeches, newsletters, and ghostwriting. Credentials include big-selling books for Prentice-Hall, Dartnell, and others.
But his longtime true love is fiction--short stories and novels. One novel, The Image Makers, was published years ago in paperback, along with short stories to magazines, most of which no longer exist. But alas! With a family to support--and cowardly by nature--Dreyfack has long focused on output that yields respectable financial return.
However, dreams of published fiction though fading, are not totally dimmed. At the moment Ray has a great medical suspense novel (he says) penned in collaboration with his family doctor and close friend, plus a collection of short stories.
Regarding reincarnation as revealed in One More Time? Dreyfack doesn't exactly believe in it; but he doesn’t disbelieve either. As he himself does, he urges all within listening distance to keep the door open.
TTB title: One More Time
One More Time Copyright © 2006. Ray Dreyfack. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.
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feels very strongly about protecting the copyrighted work of our authors and
artists. Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2009. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved. This page last updated 01-02-09. Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni. cover artwork 2006 Kurt Ozinga
Back to the Featured books
Back to Twilight Times Books main page
A special note to TTB readers. All contents of this web site are copyright by the writers, artists or web site designer. If you discover any artwork or writing published here elsewhere on the internet, or in print magazines, please let us know immediately. The staff of Twilight Times Books feels very strongly about protecting the copyrighted work of our authors and artists.
Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2009. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved.
This page last updated 01-02-09.
Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni.
cover artwork 2006 Kurt Ozinga