In 1964 I was stationed aboard the minesweeper USS FISHCATCHER. On our return from a training cruise in the Caribbean we had a much anticipated port visit in Ft. Lauderdale. My girlfriend Frieda, then a student at the University of Florida, planned to catch a ride down from Gainesville to meet me there. It was the weekend before St. Valentine’s Day and I’d saved pay for three months for this special weekend with my sweetheart. I was showered, shaved, in my dress blues and ashore one minute after liberty call sounded. First I found an affordable motel room rather than one of the expensive beachfront hotels, a clean little place five or six blocks back from the beach and called Frieda to give her the motel’s location. Frieda had a ride lined up and would arrive in Ft. Lauderdale about ten o’clock that night. Things were lookin’ so perfect.
As February is a little chilly even in Ft. Lauderdale there wasn’t much beach action once the sun was low, so I found a boutique where I bought an expensive ankle bracelet and a heart-shaped box of Valentine’s Day chocolates for Frieda. Later my shipmate Billy and I hit the beach bars. I was just sippin’ beer easy and slow. I didn’t want to be trashed when Frieda showed up, but Billy was pretty well lit by eight o’clock. We were in this bamboo beach bar, which was cool; the only light comin’ from candles on the tables. The beers had put me nice and mellow. Billy was quaffin’ his beers and had got up to pee. Coming back to the table his face was flush and he was excited.
“Man you ain’t never gonna guess who is back there in the head sittin’ on the crapper.”
“Is it the Pope?” I asked.
“No, man. It is not the Pope. It is definitely not the Pope. It is some dude…some dude…some dude taller, yeah and younger than the Pope.”
“Aw shit, Billy. You’re fucked up. Siddown, amigo.”
“I shit you not, matey. Ringo Starr is back there in that toilet. Ringo Fuckin’ Starr, the Beatle is there takin’ a dump and he talked to me when I was takin’ a piss. He asked me for a smoke. You don’ believe it, go see for yersel’,” as he dropped heavily into the bamboo chair which teetered over spilling Billy and the beer he held. The bartender give us the stink eye and pointed at Billy who was picking himself up. The barkeep drew his finger across his neck and was mouthing the words, “eighty-six.”
“Okay, okay I’ll get him outta here.”
However, before going anywhere I had to piss. Big time. So I helped Billy get upright then hit the men’s room. I couldn’t believe it. There he was, indeed, Ringo Starr. Ringo Starr standin’ at the sink scratchin’ his mop of hair. He looked right at me.
“Oy, gotta smoke?”
“You bet.” I fumbled for the pack of Winstons in my jumper. “Here Ringo.”
“Hey thanks, mate. So what’s yer name, then?”
I was nearly dumbstruck. “Uggh, damn I aint believin’ this. I’m standin’ next to Ringo Starr. I’m standin’ here talkin’ to the great Ringo Starr!”
“Yer name, ya still ain’t tole me yer name, sailor,” he said with a broad smile in that nasal Liverpool tone.
“Oh yeah, my name. I’m Gary. Gary Ives, and mighty pleasedtameetcha, Mister Starr.”
“Hey, it’s Ringo. Just call me Ringo, do. We’re mates now, Gary Oyves. Smoke?” he said as he offered me a cigarette from my pack. I lit both as he tucked the pack into his shirt pocket.
I had to piss like a racehorse. “Please excuse me Ringo, I gotta drain the vein.”
As I stepped up to the urinal and was undoing the thirteen buttons of my flap he moved beside me craning his head to peek at my business. This was unnerving while I was whizzin’. Was Ringo Starr queer, I wondered, but no. No way, not the Ringo Starr. No, I figured maybe the Brits just weren’t as private about these things. When I stepped away I asked him if I could have the honor of buying him a drink.
“Nuthin’d please me more, Gary, let’s to it straightaway, then.” He slipped an oversized pair of dark glasses over that long nose of his, “Just a little face cover so’s we don’t get bothered by me fans.”
I was wonderin’ how I was gonna balance getting Billy back to the ship without losing the opportunity to spend time with Ringo Starr, but upon returning to the table the only thing there was the box of chocolates. Billy had already left under his own steam. As there was vomit on the chair I reckoned he’d got to feeling better and left. Ringo and I moved across the darkened room to another table.
“What’ll it be Ringo,” I asked as the cocktail waitress approached.
“Hey luv,” he addressed the woman, “what’s soomfin’ wiffa real pooonch?”
“Well we gotta drink called the ‘Triple Lauderdale Tropic’ three kinds of rum topped with triple sec and orange juice.”
“Be a luv then, bring me two, that’s right two, luv.”
“I’ll just have a beer, please,” I said. Those drinks were fifteen bucks apiece. Damn, I thought, that’s kinda takin’ unfair advantage but then I figured Ringo Starr, millionaire, might have decided he’d pick up the tab. But no, when the drinks came he just raised a Triple Lauderdale Tropic and said, “To, Gary Oyves, me new chum, God bless ya’.” So I was stuck with the tab, but I had the cash and reasoned that there were plenty who’d probably pay thousands to drink with Ringo Starr and to be called his chum. No, it was worth it by a long stretch. Before I was halfway through my beer he’d finished off both Triple Lauderdale Tropics and had invited Frieda and me to be his guest in the morning at Saturday brunch with the other Beatles at the Hotel Fontainbleu on Miami Beach.
“We’ll ‘ave our publicity bloke snap some shots of you and your lovely bird with the lads. Would ya like that, Gary?”
Jesus, this was getting good. Now I was wondering if there was any chance I could hang onto Ringo Starr and get him back to the motel so Frieda could meet him tonight in person. I broached the idea to him.
“Luv to, luv to. I’m sure she’s a sweet bit of quiff, eh? Which is, I might add, soomfin I been wantin’ to encounter all evenin’ long, yes I ‘ave. But first, mate, do ya mind, let’s find us one more place for another quick drink?”
“Well okay, but just for one?” I’m no prude after all I was a sailor with my share of salt, but Ringo Starr’s bad manners were unnerving. I reasoned the Triple Lauderdale Tropics and whatever else he had drunk before were showing their muscle. So I paid the tab and picked up the big box of chocolates I’d bought for Frieda and we strolled a couple of doors down to another beach bar. Again we took a table and while I was in the men’s room he ordered a $75 bottle of champagne. When I returned I became annoyed as there he was in those big stupid sunglasses helping himself to Frieda’s Valentine chocolates which he’d torn open.
“’elp yourself, Gary”.”
I said sarcastically, “Yeah. Happy Valentines, Ringo.”
“’ave soom of these dark woons, Gary, they’re filled with jam. Lissen now, I’ll make the arrangements tonight when I get back to the hotel and they’ll be sendin’ a limo for you in the morning; so you and your little darlin’, whom I’m dyin’ to meet, Gary, you be ready by 11 o’clock, right? Now, my friend, I got a favor to ask ya. Ah, ah I’ve spent all me cash this afternoon and I’m findin’ meself short. If you could find it in yer ‘eart to spot me $100 I’ll repay ya in the mornin’ before we sit down to brunch, I will. Ya see I’ll need fookin’ cab fare and, well with us we’re expected to tip large, ya understand. Can you do this for poor Ringo, Gary?” Well you can see my evening with Ringo Starr was getting expensive, but I knew it was all worth it. Wasn’t this to become one of the most treasured memories of my life? The night I loaned Ringo Starr $100?
“Okay, Ringo and I forked over five $20 bills. As I paid the $84 bar tab I asked the bartender to call us a cab; it was a few minutes past eleven o’clock and Frieda was probably waiting.
“Please, Oyves I’m feelin’ peckish, do let us get something to eat, mate.”
“Let’s just pick up a pizza on the way Ringo. I’m anxious to see Frieda and dying for her to meet you. You’re gonna love her.”
“Aye, an’ it’s gonna be a grand night innit,” he slurred as he grabbed his crotch.
I did not like his salicious tone, but chalked it up to the booze. What a bore, but then how many American couples would get to brunch with Beatles?
By the time we had waited for the pizza I was two hours late and worried that Frieda might be pissed. Ringo insisted we pick up a couple of six packs, but finally we arrived at the motel just before midnight. All the lights in our room were on. I stepped to the door with the pizza and beers and knocked. Ringo Starr was standing behind me in his sunglasses removing chocolates from the Valentine box and shoving them in his jacket pocket. One side of his mouth was stained with chocolate; he was obviously very drunk.
The door opened. “Where the hell have you been, Gary? I been here by myself for two hours, I was getting scared. Who’s that?”
“Frieda Johanssen may I introduce to you Mister Ringo Starr from Liverpool, England.”
“Oy luv, ain’t you a looker. ‘ows about a little kiss for Ringo ey? Can ya guess what Ringo ey’s got in ‘is pocket fer ya? Soomfin long kinda lak a banger, boot ‘ard lak a roolin’ pin,” this said as he lunged onto Frieda.
“Get him off me, Gary!”
“Come on Ringo, let’s get you in a chair. I’m afraid you’re a little tipsy.”
“No too tipsy for a delicious piece of that scroooptous quiff. Com’eer, darlin’, Ringo’s got a bit o’ lap reserved choost fer yer sweet arse.”
Now I dropped my arms over his head to wrest him away from her.
“Gary, what in the hell do you mean dragging this nasty drunk in here?”
“Frieda, it’s Ringo Starr!”
“Bullshit, Gary. That’s not Ringo Starr. I’ve been watching the coverage of the Beatles’ concert on television in Miami tonight waiting for you. Ringo Starr is in Miami; I saw him interviewed on the eleven o’clock news. Now please, get this stinking drunk away from me.”
In dragging him off Frieda the Beatles wig he wore had shifted and now covered one eye.
“Aw don’ be mad wif me luv abba ba la,” he was babbling incoherently now, no longer the lovely lad from Liverpool, his sunglasses bent wonky from our struggle, the hair piece still crooked and pizza sauce down the front of his jacket.
Withdrawing my $300 from his wallet which held over $800, I straightened his wig and dark glasses then escorted him to a bus stop bench on the main road where he promptly nodded off.
The next night I took Frieda to a lovely restaurant on the beach and there the waitress informed us that we had missed the excitement. The police with the Channel Seven News Team taping had arrested a wanted criminal at the very table where we sat. It would be on with the Channel Seven News. Later at the motel we tuned in the late night news. Sure enough, there he was being led out in handcuffs – Sonny Weinstein. The police said the notorious con man had worked bars and restaurants from Coral Gables to Boca Raton posing as one of the Beatles, bilking thousands of dollars from tourists in the past few days.
(c) Gary Ives
Illustration by Cait Maloney
published in Story Shack Magazine 16 April 2014