Center of the Universe (25)
He’s Dave Bergman. And you — to your eternal chagrin — are not. Simple as that.
You may remember this sharp-dressed octogenarian as Wendy’s pocket-trumpet player, last of the LA hepcats, contemporary and pal(?) of Chet Baker (who, by the way, jumped to his death, or was pushed, five blocks from here, opposite our friend Jan’s bar)(we saw the plaque). And, like Baker, Dave’s a singer, too. These days, in the back room, his eloquent, roughed-up vocals — “the bastard spawn of Satchmo and Robert Goulet,” is how one critic, possibly me, characterized his singing — are at least the equal of his horn-playing. Still, a Dave without a horn is a Dave without sunshine. And this Dave, I was disheartened to learn, has lately been unhorned.
Worse, it happened on my watch.
I was the one who hired him for the celebration of life for Sandy Pearlman, a rock era cool-cat who nonetheless couldn’t get enough of a hornblower from the cool-jazz years.
Is Dave gonna be there? Sandy would ask when we’d invite him to Sorellas.
And the Tip, the private bar where the celebration took place, is mine. And it was me who ordered up the limo for Dave and his beloved former landlady Joan, figuring that the more populist forms of transportation might be a tad tough on an 86-year-old with a case full of personal dents and dings. And because, for Sandy’s sake, I wanted to make doubly sure Dave was there.
And because Dave deserves it.
The first distress signal arrived around midnight, local beer time in Amsterdam (that is, one or two or maybe four), an email from his bride, prefaced by an embarrassingly unnecessary, and typically Joan, “Sorry to bother you.” The rest of the note, its slightly stilted, hostagey tone, made clear that Dave was nearby pointing a pocket blunderbuss:
“Dave thinks he might have brought along another another trumpet (regular, not pocket) on October 5th, and is so concerned that he would like to check out a Lost and Found at the Tip — if indeed there is one…”
There isn’t, but I could see where Dave — via Joan — was going, the note conjuring images of the golden age of department stores. Bullock’s on Wilshire, 1956. A proper Lost and Found. A Dutch door, framing a fresh Iowa emigré in tomato-red lips and corn-colored curls looking for a Hollywood producer — instead of a goat-bearded bandstand Casanova in the habit of misplacing his fedora and then hanging around bugging her to go for joe.
The second distress signal came a few hours later from the Casanova himself. And while a hepcat on the interwebs is always a cause for excitement, I was more fired-up to hear that he’d found the missing axe, never mind, all clear. But not so fast. Dave’s message was polite, curt and mostly stoic:
“I checked everything you suggested in your e-mail and to no avail. Thanks for all your help. I will just write it off as an experience in taking better care of my equipment.”
The idea of this man, weathered and worldly wise, learning a life-lesson was both hopeful — Dave looking forward to getting it right over the next eight or nine decades — and heartbreaking. Who the fuck is life to be teaching Dave Bergman lessons?
I felt awful.
To be fair to my overdeveloped sense of guilt, I’ve never seen Dave play a full-sized trumpet. In the back room, I’ve only seen him play the pocket edition. And I think of his honey-I-shrunk-the-horn horn as a signature — certainly it’s the first thing an audience wants to know about. And I assumed it was all about saving his breath for nicotine fixes in the parking lot out back of the back. But it’s dawned on me that it might be about saving the hearing of diners in that dense, little room. Same reason John the Drummer uses brushes. Maybe, in the wide-open spaces of the 19 Broadway porch, a decade ago, side-by-side with his Keely Smith, he was blowing big-boy brass, full volume. I don’t know. I had a little boy and a little girl, too. Couldn’t stop to watch. Anyway, didn’t.
In other words, I told myself it was Dave. Then I felt more awful. And awfuler that I was far away.
I asked the one sober, responsible person in the company for a favor. And Kaycee the Konscientious rummaged through the Tip, the vault, my ultra-mess of a would-be office (containing both my music equipment and, oddly, Gary Wilson’s), as well as the creepy basement storage dungeon. And, via email, she asked around, everyone. The result was as I expected:
No dice. No brass.
I told Roni it was Dave. And Dave’s problem — especially when we’re ten-thousand kilometers away, recuperating from the Year of Death, just starting to mourn the election and the death of compassion, probity, reason. Not to mention the American republic.
“Sorry to bother you,” she had written, acknowledging that this was a pain-in-the-ass and not really mine.
I felt awkward and righteous and frustrated and guilty and mean and flummoxed (and maybe just a little hungover). And then I felt like a dick. But none of that helped either. And when I regained control of myself, of my compassion, probity and reason, I realized there was only one thing that would help. I replied to the man with the brass:
“I’ll take another run through the office when I get back. If the trumpet doesn’t turn up, we’ll track down a replacement. Can’t have Dave Bergman without a regular-sized horn!”