Barry and Hans

Back in the day when I was studying law in the mid-1990’s, I had someone called David – whom I then considered to be a mate – arrange a vac job for me at the big-time Cape Town law-firm Cohen Schlenter Levy where he was doing his articles. David only really did it to save face, because I called him out for initially doing nothing to get me the vac job, saying he was “a-no-good-self-centred-sack-of-shit-who-wasn’t-a-real-friend-but-a-two-faced-only-around-for-the-good-times-hanger-on”. Then he did it, but only for himself. 

David was smart though, or so he thought, because he kept me like his very own Munchausen by proxy dying patient in his stale cigarette smoke-filled office for my first two days, making me witness the endless calls from his Jewish mother: “Yes mommy, I got the pastrami left-overs sandwich packed lunch and the heart-shaped chocolates you left for me, and yes, I am seeing Rivka tonight, so thanks for the mint tasting condoms and please don’t wait up for me”. It was sickening to listen to him talk to his mom. They spoke more like lovers did than as mother and son would. I suppose Jimbo Morrison was right when he sang about the Oedipus complex in his epic track “The End”: 

Father / Yes son / I want to kill you / Mother / I want to… 

Only David’s father was even more overbearing than his mother. I suppose he wanted to do his father as well.

On day three I had had it with his captivity gig, and so I took matters into my own hands to find something law-related to do. After all, I was there to learn something about the practice of law, or at least pretend to. I managed to scout a senior partner who looked stressed as hell and asked him if there was anything I could do to lighten his load. He then threw me a few rough and ready legal bones, the sort of crap that kept going to the bottom of his job files shit-pile, thinking he’d get me out of his face for good. I worked fast and efficiently and, to his surprise, delivered up the crap as sweet-smelling toilet blockage solved. He was well impressed and gave me more. I knew then I had him exactly where I wanted him.

On day four, I met a German exchange student called Hans at the law-firm. Hans had come from Dusseldorf and had just completed his final year university law studies. As part of the German curriculum, he was able to do a three-month practical at a law-firm anywhere in the world. He chose Cape Town and Cohen Schlenter Levy. 

Hans and I got on well immediately and we soon realised what this law-firm was all about. Hans’ captivity gig consisted of having to endure torturous daily late afternoon conversations with a very senior semi-retired partner about an ongoing body-in-a-suitcase murder trial in the Western Cape High Court and receiving an education in the “good old days of Apartheid South Africa”, name calling of certain population groups, and the lost Vaderland under the Nationalist Party’s fall of ancient Rome event in 1994. Hans found it pitiful to listen to. 

Hans and I then devised a plan: the stressed senior partner would give me the crap files at 8:30am and Hans would need to go watch the daily criminal trial that started at 10am. Our plan was to leave the building together at 9:45am, drive to Clifton Beach; get changed in the car, then soak up the sun, swim, play beach bats, hit on rich-daddy’s-working-out-what-to-do-with-their-lives-after-high-school-bikini-clad daughters; eat seafood platters for lunch in Camps Bay and wash it all down with Windhoek lager. Then we’d get changed into our office threads and hit the road at 3pm to make it back to the office by 3:30pm. Hans thought I was a genius. Hans had one problem though that I’d anticipated in advance – so we made sure we got the Cape Times of that morning so Hans could read the previous day’s criminal trial updates and pray the old partner was also a day behind on the info, or he’d lost his marbles.  

On the morning of day 9, David caught up with us both on our way out. “Where have you been, Barry, I haven’t seen you for a few days? You look well and you seem to have caught the sun?” I replied: “Yeah Dave my bru, thanks for asking – I have been playing tour-guide with Hans around town showing him all the Courts and the sheriffs’ offices”.

That night David invited me to Vilamoura Restaurant in Camps Bay with Rivka to celebrate my last day at the law-firm. David and Rivka ate langoustines, giant tiger prawns and filet mignon; quaffed Moet et Chandon and then hit doubles of Johnny Black; I ate a cheeseburger and downed a few Windhoek brews. The bill came and it was huge – R 750 – which would be around four grand today. David said: “let’s make it R 820 with a tip and we split it 50:50”. I had an aneurysm deep inside my frontal lobe, I was sick to death of him; the sewer inside him exploded and methane gas filled the room. I lit the match in the most restrained voice: “Tell you what Dave my bru – let me get all of it. I’ll pay for you and Rivka; but then I’m taking you both back to my apartment and I’m going to schtupp her first, and then I’m going to schtupp you. Deal Dave?”

I never saw David again after that meal; I got the 5* review testimonial I’d wanted from the stressed partner; I never set foot again into Cohen Schlenter Levy; and Hans and I became life-long mates. 

Who says you can’t beat the system? 

Contributed by:
Barry Varkel, an attorney of the High Court of South Africa and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Author of Nigiri Law, Goy Vey and Big Jon Harry’s Revenge


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