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Making the Time Count

Arnie Koslow loved boxing, and for years he was a timekeeper at fights around L.A. Now 80 and frail, he knows his minutes are ticking.

October 04, 2005|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

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Italics designate statements recalled by subjects in the story. Statements heard by the writer are enclosed in quotation marks.

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The timekeeper carried his bell. Once he had used it to control boxing matches. Now he used it to honor the dead.

Slowly and wordlessly, he walked, with shuffling half steps, the four blocks from his dark Hollywood apartment to the restaurant.

He stood in front of a group of people: retired boxers, referees and fight fans. Many were stooped and shaky. For years, every Tuesday, when his body was not betraying him, the timekeeper had been meeting them here.

He placed his bell on a table. Then he spoke of three boxers who had just fallen for the last time.

Jerry Moore. Great puncher, he would remember telling the group. Great manager. Friend to us all.

Tears welled in their eyes.

Coley Wallace. Once beat Marciano. This was in the amateurs, 1948. I was there.

Heads bowed.

Max Schmeling. Lived 99 years. Deserves our utmost respect. He beat Joe Louis, who was the greatest of them all.

With a small hammer, he tapped the bell 10 times, a steady rhythm ... bing, bing, bing, bing ... to pay tribute.

They surrounded the timekeeper, telling him how important he was.


Arnie Koslow is a lonely man. He is 80 and lives by himself in a bare-walled studio apartment filled with dust, cardboard boxes, a framed photo of his parents -- and his bell.

He does not have much left.

He never had a wife and never had children.

He has aching feet, unreliable kidneys, a bad heart and a thin body that seems to grow slighter by the week.

Among his greatest possessions has always been time; he loves and respects its steady march. Now, though, even time is slipping through his fingers. Arnie Koslow knows this because of the condition he is in. "A senior and weak," he says, frankly. "I could die any day. I'm not afraid of it."

A boxing enthusiast since his childhood in Brooklyn, he became a highly regarded timekeeper. He had been an awful boxer and never made much of a mark as a manager's assistant. But he found his niche as a timekeeper -- a job that offers little recognition, although boxing could not go on without it.

He worked more than 1,500 fights, almost all in Los Angeles. He kept time for youth bouts, sideshow bouts and big-time professional fights. Boxing: the stage, the drama, the ugliness and the beautiful precision of it all. Keeping time: watching seconds turn into minutes, minutes into moments, moments into memory.

In his life, they became intertwined.

"I've always been one to reminisce about days gone by," he says, his voice still tinged by Brooklyn. "As I get older, the things I remember, it's like they are becoming clearer and clearer in my mind. Like a movie. Oh, I miss so much of it. Miss it bad. But I've had a great life. Had my friends. Survived the war. There were two women I loved ...

"And boxing, the greatest sport in the world. I was lucky to be a part of it."

'It Just Grabbed Me'

He was 9, and it was an amateur fight: the New York Golden Gloves, the first bout he ever saw. He cannot recall who fought, but he can still smell the roasted hot dogs and hear the crowd yell. Two boxers stepped into the ring. They were lean. One was in dark trunks, the other in white. "It just grabbed me," he says. "From that moment. Love."

Two years later, he saw his first professional fight. "Dexter Park, Long Island, June 7, 1937," he says. "I remember it specifically. That was the night Jean Harlow died. Ah, Harlow, what a dame.... The opening bout was a four-rounder. Then there was a six-rounder.

"You know what? I used to know the first 100 bouts I ever saw. But now I can't remember all 100. It's age, and it makes me mad. But that night, the big shot coming up was Petey Scalzo. Then the main event: Freddie 'Red' Cochran. Did I tell you? He just died. I rung my bell for him. I rung that one at home. I was all by myself. In the apartment. Sometimes I can't make it to the restaurant, so I ring it right there. These guys are heroes, larger than life. When they die they deserve to be honored by somebody."

Arnie Koslow's family was poor, so he worked odd jobs to cobble together enough nickels and dimes to pay for the subway and the 75 cents for admission to the local fights. His weeks were filled with boxing. Mondays at Dexter Park. Tuesdays at the Broadway Arena. Fridays at the old Madison Square Garden. Saturday nights at the Ridgewood Grove.

On Sunday afternoons, he rode the train from his neighborhood of mostly Polish immigrants into Manhattan to watch a live radio show that featured boxing greats. In the waiting room, he met a string of champions. One day, a large man in a gray suit sat next to him. It was Joe Louis, the heavyweight title holder.

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