R. Karlen grew up in Newark, New Jersey, where he later practiced
dentistry for thirty-five years. He currently lives in Scotch
Plains, New Jersey with his wife, daughter and twin grandchildren.
His most recent novel, ANSWER MAN will be published by Ironbound
Press in the winter of 2001.
Bernie Hirsch is a purely fictionalized character, his dental
office on Ferry Street in the Ironbound section of Newark is not. My father first practiced dentistry on Ferry Street in 1921
and remained active in the profession until he died in 1981.
The office still exists today.
Max Karlen was more than
my father. He was
also my partner for twenty years.
I pray that he will not roll over in his grave should he
discover that in LOOKING FOR BERNIE I have handed over his office
to Bernie Hirsch, a drinker and a gambler.
Much of LOOKING FOR
BERNIE reflects my life in New York during the Fifties when I was
a dental student at NYU.
the five years that I was in Manhattan I lived on 19th
Street, 23rd Street,
Mulberry Street and finally at the
University Settlement House on Eldridge and Rivington.
During my spare time I was a wanderer, particularly around
the Village and the lower East Side.
Union Square was one of my favorite hangouts.
But it was my proximity to the Bowery where I first
discovered the nature of alcoholism and its insidious effects.
During this period my father thought I was chained to my
desk studying. In the
end he was the one who taught me more about dentistry than I could
ever have learned in school. That
other part of my life, the one he knew nothing about and never
would have understood, remained dormant within me for forty years
until I wrote LOOKING FOR BERNIE.
Bernie, my father, more than any man I’ve ever known, possessed
a professional integrity that was pure and above all honest.
His patients were working class people and he loved and
respected them. He
once told me that it might cost one of his patients as much as a
week’s wages to make one cap, so you sure as hell better make it
right. His type of
old-fashioned morality is sorely missed in the present world of
expediency and opportunism that large segments of our younger
generation seem to believe is all that has ever existed.