Friday, July 13, 2012

Win or Lose - It's Cohen my way...!

Dear Oom Schalk,

The joy of living the 'sporting life', is that one comes across many interesting characters that quite innocuously leave an impression on one, that lingers like a fine red wine... and, improves with age! 
Harry Cohen is one such character!
I have decided that the stories that surround this man should not simply cease to exist, in the depth's of a grave in a Jewish Cemetery - particularly as he is still alive - but that they should continue to resonate, ever gentle, if not precariously, within the threads that form the fabric of Durban folklore, like Matzos with no sell by date! 

I first met Harry Cohen at the Palm Beach Hotel, a block back from Durban's 'Golden Mile', in Gillespie Street. I called him 'Mr. Cohen' in those days - I was young, polite and respectful - He was a successful hotelier with a hint of shade that coloured his reputation!

It was his nose that kept me polite and respectful. That it was Jewish in its origins went without saying - that its introduction to the art of boxing had done its shape no favours, was equally self evident - it was, however, the unspoken understanding that he held no fear of it incurring further re-shaping that guided my demeanour of polite respect, whilst slaking my thirst in his establishment from time to time.

Harry was known as a 'sharp operator' and his nose could smell a deal better than a pointer dog reading the wind. He kept the company of people whom he describes as "useful"... - an innocent spectator might describe some members of the company he kept, as colourful characters who foraged in the fields of opportunity without caring too much about whose fields they were.
Those who know Harry might say that he could open a door and invite opportunity in before it had the chance to knock!

It is fair to say the the Police knew Harry; it is equally fair to say,however, that Harry new the Law and useful Policemen and this arrangement served him very well when plotting a coup that needed a precise measurement of the boundaries of legality and the influence of 'useful friends' when the same  boundaries were, per chance, exceeded...

This is a collection of reflections that allows the reader to look back over the life and times of  'a boytjie from Durban' who had a passion for Hotels, Night Clubs, Horse Racing, Gambling and Boxing.

It is a 'show and tell' DIY manual on how to pull a con job and/or how to fix a fight! It tells of  strippers and jazz joints during the time of Apartheid, when people of colour were detained for the simple act of entertaining white folk - it explains the importance of having speedy access to bail money and Judges who will take a late night call!

Oi Vey, I nearly forgot the sex part - 'sell the sizzle' - don't you know!

Over lunch the other day I asked him about the Stripper, Glenda Kemp. His eyes told a story that his lips had trouble with... "She was a magnificent dancer and a lady in every respect! When she danced with Oupa, her pet python, I realised how inadequate I might feel...", he said, and went as quiet as the Negev Desert whilst rolling the Scotch around his glass.

I was going to include a section on the many that came to Harry's door in need of help and who were never turned away - the 'battlers' who were fed from the hotel's lunch time leftovers and the down on their luck prostitutes who needed school shoes for their kids - but hey! - why ruin the story of a  tough guy and show him up as a 'softie' who could give a Master Class on kindness and preserving friendship.

There will be some who find themselves recognising characters described in this collection of reflections - some of the names are real, some disguised. A lot of them have 'passed on' but remain remembered by Harry as wonderful friends!

The Old Durban Jewish family's and characters are dying and 'the times they are a'changing'... I put his words into sentences and attempt to capture the meaning in the moments, in an effort to preserve the memories. I will publish these stories on my other Blog -  Cohen my way! -
I do hope you enjoy the stories that will follow in the coming weeks! I feel sure that they will rekindle a few memories of your own, of 'Marico moments' yet to be told...

I remain,
Die Uwe

Spyker Koekemoer