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June 24, 2006


He wasn’t always this shell of a man you see before you. There was a time in his life when a shiny black Jag was his ride of choice and he had his pick of dames. The first he loved the other he tolerated. Both are expensive but a ride does not ask for anything that a good grease monkey can’t fix.

Don’t ask him to play Hendrix these days; he won’t do it. He has music of his own deep down in his gut that he needs to get out. But the tourists do not want to hear it. All they want to hear is the same old stuff they had already heard a million times.

When I first laid eyes on Kingston, it was a different time and a different ocean. Viet Nam was the rage of the land and he was playing the Virginia Beach hangouts frequented by sailors from the many nearby naval bases. I was one of them.

One night the usual rowdiness that comes just before closing time got a little out of hand. Kingston said some unkind words to a tidewater lovely that had just stumbled into the bar where his was performing. His mistake was not waiting to see who would stumble in behind her. Her escort was a huge bull walrus with fists the size of 16-pound sledge hammers.

The walrus had Kingston on his back fighting for his life and I was watching the show waiting for the cops to show up. Kingston turned his head, looked at me and pointed to the microphone stand. I knew what he wanted me to do but my god that guy was big. I handed the mike stand to one of my buddies who had more muscles than brains. He hit that big ugly bull so hard I could hear the crack.

“You got a car? The cops know mine”, Kingston said.


After that he always greeted my buddies and I warmly when he saw us but we were never close friends. We ran in different circles.

One night I saw him at the Castaway Club. It was a high class joint where the officers hung out. It was not a place I usually patronized because Heineken was twice the price. But it was late, I was in civvies and it was payday.

“Long time no see. Can I buy you a Heinie?” asked Kingston. He was leaning on the bar waiting for his next set. “You see that waitress over there. She has been ignoring me for over a month now but you wait and see I am going to have some of that even if it kills me. She says she don’t date musicians. Says she got better things to do.”

“Maybe you better leave that one alone. She must have a good head on her shoulders if she figured you out so fast.”

The LST I was on shipped out to the Caribbean for an extended cruise and our paths did not cross for almost three years. The next time I saw Kingston; he was playing solo in a dive in downtown Norfolk. He was not the same man. Even though he could still play the best guitar in the bay area, he had a sad look about him. Chain-smoking Camels and drinking Tequila right out of the bottle, he looked like someone well on his way to a breakdown.

After the bar closed, Kingston invited me to his boarding room in a sleazy run down part of town to talk over old times. On his dresser, stood the photo of a little girl. She looked to be about two years old.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“My only regret. Her mother took her out of the state about a month ago. I have no idea where they went. But I know I will see her again. A man must have hope or else what is the point. Might as well step in front of a semi on the freeway. ”

I was soon discharged from the Navy and thought I would never see Kingston again. Like I said, we did not exactly travel in the same circles.

Thirty-five years later I was walking down the Santa Monica pier when I spotted a street musician playing for tips. There was something familiar about him. I sat down, took his photo and listened for a few minutes.

As I was walking through the pier parking lot to my car when it was time to leave, I noticed a California license plate on the back of an old beater. It read KINGSTON. Taped to the dash was a faded four by seven of a little girl. She had a complexion the color of honey – the pure unprocessed kind that bees make when they have access to fields of clover. With sparkling black eyes and a dimple high on her left cheekbone, she looked exactly like her mother.

I did not make the connection until I was on the plane heading home to Wisconsin.

Posted by roadapples at June 24, 2006 02:45 PM

Is that a true story? Wow... fascinating stuff.

Posted by: Paul at June 24, 2006 04:32 PM

How sad that you didn't realize it was him - or is this fiction? If true, what years were you in Norfolk? I lived there from 1963 to 1969.

Posted by: kenju at June 24, 2006 09:22 PM