CHE THE LAST OF HIS GENERATION IS DEAD

A sad blog I write this morning.

Che is dead. A Chart Room friend. Not sure when he died. His body was found some days afterward. Jean Thornton called me last night to tell me of his demise.

Che had a special distinction. HIS ASHES WILL BE PLACED IN THE CHART ROOM BAR. His hole in the bar has been ready and waiting for years.

Key West is strange in that locals do not care who you are, what you did, etc. when you come to live here full time. Important is who you are today. Hopefully a good and loving person.

Che and his friends were those kind of people.

A little Che background.

Che’s name. Richard Kohen. Originally from New York City. Came to Key West in the 1960’s or 1970’s. Never left. Key West his home till the day of he died.

Never called Richard, always Che. Sometimes confused for a Cuban.

I never knew Che’s real name til last night. Jean called to advise it. She had just learned it.

When Che first arrived, he and Chart Room friends used to fish daily. Whoever caught the most fish, cooked the fish and had dinner at his home that night.

After a day which found Che with the biggest catch, Che as he left his friends yelled, “Come to Chez Kohen’s tonight for dinner.” The French “Chez” for house became Che and thus has he been known for years.

I first met Che some 15 years ago at the Chart Room bar. We became friends. Che had many friends. I would describe Che as a first generation Chart Room patron and those I am about to name second generation.

The second generation can be considered newbies. Though some have been here almost as long as Che. Jean Thornton, John Holster, Sheila Cullen, David Hecht, Steve and Cindy Thompson, Valerie Chelley, Marty Leshaw, Frank Holden who died 2 weeks ago, Cori Convertino, Ollie Kofoid. Janine Brown, Merri Brown, and Louis.

We of the second generation visit the Chart Room frequently. Do not have holes for our ashes in the bar unfortunately.

Che never changed from the day I met him.

Five foot six. Very thin. Always stood at the end of the bar. As if he was holding court. Marty Leshaw lived in Key West for years. He would stand at the end of the bar with Che. I always felt they were competing for the spot.

Che was argumentative. A sharp mind. Disagreeable, however. Knew everything. Never in an offensive manner. Merely Che.

Marty and he were philosophically from opposite ends of the spectrum. Argued frequently. Loudly sometimes. Always friends, however.

There was a time years ago when Che, Marty and I would go to Kelley’s after Happy Hour on wednesdays for wings. Then Kelley came up with a tuesday night Maine lobster special. $18.95. We immediately became tuesday night customers.

In his later years, Che became increasingly reclusive. He died recently at 85. As his 83rd or 84th birthday was approaching, Jean Thornton arranged for our second generation group to throw a birthday party at the Chart Room. Jean is mother Hubbard. Caring. Concerned. Takes care of everyone.

Jean arranged for food with the ladies and some small gifts for Che. She knew Che might not show. She had him swear he would be there. Don’t worry, he said. Che never showed.

To best understand Che, you have to understand the Chart Room and the bar holes. Those places of internment.

A little history in order.

The Chart Room first.

A local blog from 2011 to 2015 was Key West Wind. Its author No Nonsense. I could find no better name nor do I know if No Nonsense is still alive. He wrote a terrific blog about the Chart Room and the first generation group. Dated 9/25/2012. The blog can be found at keywestwind.blogspot.com.

So good is the blog, I am compelled to plagiarize on occasion. To do less would be to do a disservice to the blog, the Chart Room, the holes in the bar, and the members of the first generation. Where I plagiarize, quotes will be used.

The Chart Room is “…..deep in the intestines of a big resort hotel…..there is a dingy low ceilinged room that could pass for a large storage closet…..a heavy mahogany bar with seven battered bar stools ending at a popcorn machine last cleaned during the Carter administration…..Crowded into one corner a round table with sagging chairs…..The floor is carpeted with shells from a huge barrel of peanuts; the walls are covered with cracked and fading photos of patrons past, and the air is permanently saturated with the acrid essence of booze, beer and cigarettes. No sunlight has ever intruded here…..ever.”

The first generation founded a club which led to the holes in the bar. The first generation consisted of seven members. Che obviously one of them. Initially, a rowdy dinner club. They named their club the Chartroom Gentlemen’s Club and Occasional Choir.

Boozers all. Significantly so.

The Club became known locally by the acronym CGCOL,  “commonly understood to mean Fuck You in Klingon.”

The members seven. Six now gone. The one survivor James Cox, Jr., a Houston banker. Son of member James “Whistle” Cox.

The seven members in no particular order.

Mel Fisher. The most famous of all. The man who discovered the Spanish galleon Atocha. The treasure first found amounted to $400 million. Fisher bought the drinks that night.

General Geof. Commander of the Conch Republic Army.

Bob Smith. A semi-retired software guru. He occasionally took me out on his small sail boat. He provided the food. Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Panamah Peat. Also known as Peter Hill. He died when his liver gave out. He resembled a desiccated old pirate. “Widely known in Key West as a talented jewelry designer, skilled photographer and hopeless drunk.” Panamah’s body lay unclaimed in the Veterans’ Hospital for six months till his family was located. The story goes the family did not want to give a small portion of Panamah’s ashes to the group for internment in the Chart Room bar. Someone somehow got into their hotel room and took a shot glass full. The theft never discovered.

James “Whistle” Cox. A “drunk.” Nicknamed after a tiny whistle he attached to each pair of cabana pants he made for local clothing shops. Loved to sing. “Lubricated his vocal chords by consuming a quart of Smirnoff Vodka each day.” Led singing at meetings and dinners of Club members. Some songs a capella. He provided sheet music to accompany the a capella music. He conducted the singing with sweeping arms. Occasionally losing his balance and falling. Died in his mid 40’s.

Che. I already shared earlier what I know about him. No Nonsense described Che as “a fast talking gravelly-voiced New Yorker who was also a founding member of the CGCOC.”

James Cox, Jr. I know nothing of him. He may be dead. He was the son of Whistle Cox and may have had his hole in the bar drilled at the request of his father.

I provided all information re the members I could find or learn. Most long gone, difficult to ascertain more than I have been able to provide.

A closing thought.

The six already gone have to be creating havoc in the after life. I can see the Lord putting up with their antics. I doubt however St. Peter and the Guardian Angels are so inclined.

How did these crazy Key Westers get here they may ask. Drinking, singing and otherwise having a good time all the time.  Now and forever.

God bless them!

Enjoy your day!

 

 

3 comments on “CHE THE LAST OF HIS GENERATION IS DEAD

  1. Hi there, Lou! What a great article! We met last year at the CRB. My friend, my husband, and I talked to you about your blog and how I followed it after Hurricane Irma blew through. Sadly, I only met one of the seven, General Geof – what a character! He was very proud to show us his ASH HOLE HAHA! And that was a time before we had the internet on our phone. He told us all sorts of wild stories…I remember thinking YEAH RIGHT! To my surprise, everything he said checked out. The next time we came back to KW, we got married at Fort Zach and came to the CRB to have a shot only to learn Geof had died about a year before. We love the CRB so much that we have a few little pieces of our lives there. What an amazing “secret” place it is. I try to be very picky about just who I share the location! Thank you for the story! 🙂 See you soon! (May) and hello to John H. too!

  2. Super article, Lou. Only correction is that Che actually was from Phil., not New York, although he did live in NY for a while. James Cox was talked into making a hole in the bar, by Che, when he was visiting one time. The next day, I thought everyone would be banned in the Chart Room because management went nuts about making another hole. It stayed, but they were apeleptic. (Crazy, anyway!!!” Panamah Pete didn’t drink in his last years, but was sick, anyway. Occasionally, however, he would stop in for a beer–but only one. The rest of the story is very accurate and very good. Best to you and the crazy gang in The Chart Room Bar. (I am in Hallandale Beach, away from the ruckus and trying to stay normal and leave “you all” to be picked on by the Rusty Pelicans when your time is up.) You forgot to mention English Peter, my good friend, that also Flew the Coup.” He is worth mentioning.

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