Bob Marrow remembers a good friend.
It was bad, watching my friend from Argentina die with cancer — watching him fight the disease by making ultimately meaningless choices about where to go for treatment, which doctors without answers to choose for a cure. I knew this process from watching my son die after futile surgeries, a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapies proceeding from one that did not work to another that did not work, except that they made him weaker, sicker. Carlos Koldopsky and Carmen, his wife, fought cancer because there is nothing else you can do.
I met Carlos as a client of my law firm. His family owned a “cambio” in Buenos Aires, a local bank specializing in currency exchange. Cambio America and the Koldobsky family were referred to my law firm by Doctor Sonderey, the Kodobsky’s lawyer in Argentina. Dr. Sonderey met my partner, Leo Salon, many years earlier when Leo was there on legal business. The Argentine lawyer was impressed enough to send all of his clients to Leo when they needed legal representation in the U.S.
Carlos Koldobsky came to us with an interesting case, which was assigned to me by Leo because I was the chief litigator for our law firm and Leo no longer did litigation. The exact amounts involved have been forgotten, so I’ll make them up.
Gold bars valued at $800,000 according to the New York bank that shipped them to Cambio America, arrived in Buenos Aires with a Bill of Lading indicating that $300,000 worth of gold had been shipped from New York City and received by Cambio America in Buenos Aires. The New York bank demanded payment of $800,000 and Cambio America asserted that it received only $300,000; an assertion supported by the Bill of Lading. The New York bank produced documents and witnesses to prove that $800,000 had been shipped and that the Bill of Lading contained a mistake. In the court case that followed we attacked every shred of evidence presented by the New York bank until the case was settled for a small fraction of the claim. It was the kind of successful result which can transform a lawyer-client relationship into a friendship.
After that Carlos and Carmen would call me whenever they were in New York on business or to shop, and we would always meet for an evening. They were a great couple, full of energy and fun. Carlos was a large man with carrot red hair and a very white complexion. He looked like a Russian or Polish Koldobsky; not like a swarthy Italian typical of Argentine men of European descent.
Although Carlos was familiar with the English language from years in the banking business, his accent made it hard for me to understand him. I would hear the syllables he spoke and treat them like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, moving them around in my head until a sentence appeared that fit the context of the conversation. Carmen was fluent in English from her years working at the International desk of a New York City bank where she and Carlos met. If she was in the conversation Carlos had a ready translator — but only after she allowed him to make the effort in English. Carmen was (and undoubtedly still is) movie-star beautiful — petite, sophisticated and warm. Having dinner with them was always a great pleasure.
One such dinner was at a Cajun style restaurant on Ninth Avenue and 18th Street. A New Orleans jazz band was playing and the rhythm was infectious. Their five year old son, Ernesto, was drumming madly with silverware at the table using plates and glasses for cymbals and percussion bells. We were near the stage and the musicians enjoyed the show Ernesto was putting on. They invited him to play the real drums while they performed. It was an unforgettable evening, although Ernesto only remembers it from hearing the story told repeatedly by his proud parents.
There was serendipity to my relationship with Carlos Koldobsky. About ten years after the dinner in New York where Ernesto performed with the band, my wife and I were on vacation in Saint Martin. Ellen wanted to go shopping at the tourist village of Marigot. I refused at first but then relented and sulked around while she entered and emerged from shop after shop. I waited on the wooden sidewalks or trailed her listlessly into and out of clothing and jewelry stores. While waiting for her outside of one such store, I was watching tourists pass when I noticed a couple and their young son crossing the street and heading directly for me. As they approached it was hard to make out their faces because they wore broad brimmed hats to protect their fair skin from the tropical sun; but when they were a few feet away a shock ran through me. Carlos, Carmen and Ernesto Koldobsky from Buenos Aires, Argentina by pure coincidence walked directly up to Bob Marrow from Rye, New York (me) in a small shopping town on an island in the Caribbean. Until that moment we had no idea that we were in the same place at the same time. How could it have happened? Even the the timing was unbelievable. I had agreed, after some coaxing, to Ellen’s request that I accompany her to Marigot, or I would not have been there at all. Somehow, starting at different ends of the earth with no knowledge of the plans of the other, we arrived together at this point in time and place. What can one say about such a coincidence? Certainly not, “It’s a small world.” If that were true this celestial accident would lose its wonder. We had dinner together that night and several others until we left. Carlos, in his usual generous way, found a way to pay the dinner checks without giving me a chance to contribute.
Carlos Koldobsky’s love of life and of his family, his quiet dignity and generosity, made it hard to watch him die. He had been young, vibrant and healthy. This was not supposed to happen. Fighting cancer is sometimes a struggle in which death wins. If not, death comes later; but even death doesn’t end a person’s life as long as there are people left behind who loved and remember him.
Photo credit: Faith Goble / flickr