TRIBUTE TO MY UNCLE LOUIE (on St. Paddy’s Day)

——————Uncle Lou Little Flower——————

By Harvey Tobkes

Everybody adored my uncle, Louis Tobkes; you too would have loved him and his stories about the bad guys he fought and arrested. Early in his law enforcement career (it was 1932 near the end of the prohibition era) he chased after bootleggers, and in later years he was what was then called a plainclothes officer. I remember that he used to always keep an old-fashioned custom made lead blackjack in his coat pocket.

One Sunday, (back about 77 years ago) there was a family get together at our house, I guess I was about 8-years-old at the time. In those good old days the coats of all visitors were left on the bed in the master bedroom. I sneaked into the room and searched by patting the men’s coat pockets until I found that blackjack and in the playhouse of my mind I became Detective Harv in my own imaginary action movie. Believe me, you didn’t want to mess with me as I would take that blackjack and fight and knock down all the bad guys, one after the other. That was a mean weapon in its day. I recall testing its force by gently slapping the blackjack into the palm of my left hand. OMG! I can still feel the pain.

I remember once seeing uncle Louie in his “work clothes.” I didn’t recognize him as he was in one of his many disguises a la Serpico. His precinct was in Harlem’s 6th Division and as his favorite get-up he would wear tattered old clothes looking like an unshaven bum or derelict with a long necked bottle of wine sticking out of his pocket and carrying architect plans. At a glance you would guess he was an off-his-rocker wino.

Just writing this, more and more memories come to mind. Uncle Louie was the “Bagman” for the high-ranked Inspectors; all the brass knew and loved Lou. It wasn’t considered corruption because in those days it was just the way things were done, or S.O.P. For the younger set…a “Bagman” collected payoff money from gambling, vice, and other illegal activities; he was chosen and trusted by the upper echelon to bring back the loot so they could all dip their fingers into the pie. It gave the bad guys protection so that the police would turn a blind eye to criminal acts. All the cops were “on the take.” If you were not under that umbrella, Lord help you. Only the toughest cops got that job of collecting.

Also, uncle Louie had a sweet-as-sugar Irish tenor voice that could melt the hardest heart. At a party, with a drink or two under his belt, he would sing any Irish tune you could name. I can still hear his voice singing “Danny Boy,” which was one of his favorites. Uncle Lou sounded like a modern day John McDermott, and all the Irish cops adored the (never before seen or heard) rarity of having a Jewish fellow officer singing nostalgic Irish melodies from across the sea in the old country, and him singin’ in a thick Irish brogue that, Begorrah!…would bring tears to the eyes of even the toughest of Irish cops who ever wore the uniform. And if all that is not enough…this is no malarkey, uncle Louie was born on March 17th, you guessed it…St.Patrick’s Day!

Uncle Louie won many decorations for valor, but all the family took pride when he was awarded the N.Y.P.D. Medal of Honor, presented by mayor Fiorello LaGuardia at a ceremony for heroes.

Well done, – R.I.P. uncle Louie.

P.S. If you click the arrow down on your left you can listen to John McDermott singing Danny Boy, and sounding just like uncle Louie.


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