Pissed It Away So Fast

Last Sunday was International Talk Like A Pirate Day. It’s okay that I’m not getting around to it here until almost a week later. Because, in the early years, even the fellows who came up with the holiday—while playing racquetball in June of 1995, my sense behind plenty of beer—sometimes forgot to remember the thing . . . back before Florida humor-columnist Dave Barry gave it wide play in 2002, thereby making it stick.

John Baur and Mark Summers were batting the ball around on June 6, 1995, when for No Known Reason they were suddenly seized with the need to comment on the game in pirate slang. Rather than express themselves with a “damn, you bastard!” or “jeez, my hamstring,” they instead began “arrring,” and observing “that be a fine cannonade,” and other such pleasantries.

After an hour of this foolishness, they decided “that what the world really needed was a new national holiday: Talk Like A Pirate Day.” They elected to eschew the actual day of their revelation, June 6, already well-known as the date of the D-Day landing, settling instead on September 19, the birthday of Summer’s ex-wife.

Summers and Baur were additionally inspired to inform Dave Barry of their brainshower . . . but then (beer again, most probably) they promptly forgot all about the Barry notion. As the years washed by, they occasionally even forgot about the holiday itself—”frankly, we usually forgot exactly when Talk Like a Pirate Day was supposed to be, or even that there was such a thing.”

In early 2002, Baur chanced upon Barry’s email address . . . and recalled that seven years before, he and Summers had intended to inform the Great Man of their Pirate Wisdom. This time, they actually did so. And Barry liked their idea. And so, on September 8, 2002, he wrote about it, introducing Summers and Baur, and their Day, in that inimitable Barry style: “Every now and then, some visionary individuals come along with a concept that is so original and so revolutionary that your immediate reaction is: ‘Those individuals should be on medication.'”

And, eight years later, here they, and we, are. Big time.

In my life I have probably not taken pirates seriously enough, and I know exactly why. It is because in my youth I was several times exposed to the Disney film The Swiss Family Robinson, which portrayed pirates as complete buffoons. I simply could not take seriously people who claimed to be menacing and murderous, but who could so easily be overcome by such mundane implements of destruction as coconuts and logs.

Here, if you’ve got about ten minutes, you can see what I mean:

Their final defeat, if you want to see it, is here, and is brought about by cans . . . and, of course, this being early-1960s Disney, the cavalry.

Then, when I got older, and started roaming around in history, I discovered that “pirate” is actually a pretty flexible term.

Francis Drake, for instance, was regarded by those he plundered as a pirate. But Drake—and his queen—averred that he was not, because he possessed a paper that empowered him to shoot and slit and sink and steal and storm ashore to pillage and rapine.

What I eventually sussed out was that if some conglomeration of human beings calling itself a “government” authorized you to engage in Great Badness while upon or adjoining the Great Waters, you were not a pirate. But if there was no such government behind you, you were.

Thus, those who were perhaps the most destructive pirates in all of history—The Admiral, and those who followed in his wake—are not considered pirates at all. They are, instead, classified as “discoverers.”

The Talk-Like-A-Pirate-Day pirates, I understand, are not supposed to be concerned, really, with anything actually rooted in history, but are instead anchored in the sorts of pirates formed in the popular mind as reflective of “the pirates of the Caribbean.”

These imagined pirates were first presented in 1967 as an audio-animatronic “ride” at Disneyland. They are said to hail from 1850s-era New Orleans, and they mostly drink and sing and wench and look like they need a shave and a bath, with occasional forays into pillaging and the firing of cannons.

Over the past decade this Disney “ride” has been transformed into a series of films that has made more money than God, featuring Johnny Depp as pirate Jack Sparrow, a character the actor has admitted he modeled on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards—assuredly a pirate, under any definition.

The real pirates of the Caribbean were not such sunny fellows: their lives, in the main, were nasty, brutish, and short . . . and so were the lives of those unfortunate enough to stray into their waters.

No matter. It is perfectly clear to me, from personal experience, that there is some sort of unfulfilled need in at least the y-chrome sector of the collective unconscious for a revived piracy, even of a faux sort. Because my brother was talking like a pirate decades before Baur and Summers received their 1995 revelation. And so were many of his friends. “Avast” and “ahoy” and “matey” and “she be a-flounderin'” were more common utterances from these people than even curse words . . . which is saying something, because these were construction and restaurant people.

As further proof that there is some sort of weird subterranean piracy karass, my brother was a huge fan of Dave Barry’s; it was a book of Barry’s, in fact, that he was reading just before he shuffled off this mortal coil.

The man was even looking increasingly like a pirate, in the last decade before his death, and he was definitely frigging armed like one (blunderbusses, derringers, swords, cutlasses, daggers, etc.) Long flowing hair, scarves, billowy sleeves, multiple earrings . . . the only discordant non-pirate note the wild-assed beard, which I believe was imported from Edmund O’Brien as Freddy Sykes in The Wild Bunch. Himself, really, come to think of it, a definite land pirate.

As is danced around in this piece, and which is a subject that I will return to in more depth from time to time, there is at present, and has been over the past several centuries, a dearth in the human experience of the sort of randy and raucous festivals that sustained us as living beings for many millennia. There exists within us a yearning for these things . . . and it’s starting to come out. This pirate silliness, cocked as it is, is, I think, but one manifestation of a real need.

So, next year, remember to talk like a pirate. On September 19. Or—in the spirit of the holiday’s founders—whenever.

In the meantime, my favorite pirate song, from Jimmy Buffet, a Caribbean rogue who claims to be equal parts Mitch Miller and Jean Lafitte. And who can speak pretty eloquently about life on the water:

“I think the Caribbean has always been there. I once read a great passage in The Commodore’s Story to the effect that ‘if you ever grow up on a body of water, you know it’s connected to another one.’ My grandfather, a sailing master, told me sea stories, tales about the Caribbean and how exotic it was. That was a lure. I grew up on Mobile Bay and I knew it would connect to white, sandy beaches and palm trees—which don’t exist around Mobile Bay, You know that you can gain the access if you have the courage and the spirit of adventure within you to get out on the water. It does link you to any other place.”

Though I think there’s more to it than that. Because my brother grew up in Turlock—bastardized Gaelic for “Dry Lake.” No water there. Panting high and dry in the hellbroth-hot Great Central Valley of California. Yet he was a waterman, a pirate.

So, I’ve latterly learned, to my pleasure, if not surprise, am I.

17 Responses to “Pissed It Away So Fast”

  1. 1 Elva September 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Good piece. I did remember to talk like a pirate on September 19th.
    I believe you know that your Brother really liked Jimmy Buffet’s music. Many CDs and casettes were found amount his belongings. They are still played to this day. Thanks…

    • 2 bluenred September 25, 2010 at 4:37 pm

      When you listen to the Buffet, do you find yourself seized with the unaccountable desire to buy a boat and smuggle a bale or two of marijuana, or at least pull out of the water big, thrashing fish? ; )

  2. 3 possum September 25, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    “It is perfectly clear to me, from personal experience, that there is some sort of unfulfilled need in at least the y-chrome sector of the collective unconscious for a revived piracy”

    Ahhh, yes. In Possum Valley the y-chromosome sector is blamed for most anything that goes wrong. The prevailing theory seems to be, “Women get married to have someone to blame.” Why we need revived piracy is beyond my personal comprehension, but if the revival continues we y-chromosome types may as well be blamed.

    We were walking and talking today in a family group. In the distance we heard Revolutionary War reenactors playing their game. I can no more fathom reviving piracy than I can understand why people wish to reenact war. Both parts of our history were bloody and violent. How much better we might all be if we were to instead spend more time promoting peaceful causes than pandering to the violent streak that seems to run through our society.

    Thanks for a great piece.

    • 4 bluenred September 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      I am sorry to hear that there in the Valley the assault on y-chromeness is such that it is compelling you to consider turning to piracy. But, you know, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Matey. ; /

      I’m with you on the re-enactments. Why “grown-ups” would want to “play war” is beyond me. And as you well know, such re-enactments are nowhere near real. Because in reality, the fallen don’t get up after it’s over, and go have a beer. They lay there until someone puts them under the ground. Where they remain. Forever.

      • 5 possum September 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm


        In my mind war never was and never can be a game. Like you say, reality is people get killed or maimed. The worst part is the suffering of innocent women and children who have no part at all. In the reenactments those people are not considered at all in most instances. Maybe if a few civilians were killed along the way people would get a better of the horror they are misplaying.

  3. 6 Elva September 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I would love to buy a boat and go fishing again. As far as to the marijuana, I have never had the pleasure of enjoying the stuff. I grew up in another time when it was not around the town I lived in. However, it may have been and I was not aware of it being in the area. Did I miss something?? I agree with both of you that war and acting out war is not good for anyone.

    • 7 possum September 27, 2010 at 3:46 am

      Pot is vastly overrated IMHO. Tried it. Dismissed it. Drugs of most sorts never worked for me the way so many talk about. Missing the experience is nothing about which to worry. There are lots of experiences in life worthy of being missed.

      The reenactors in their pristine uniforms and bright, shiny guns made the newspaper this morning. Nothing realistic about those guys. http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20100927/NEWS/9270327

      • 8 bluenred September 27, 2010 at 9:25 am

        I imagine the Revolutionary War-era re-enactments will become more popular so long as this Tea Party nonsense lasts.

        Despite the fact that these people pay scrupulous attention to detail in uniforms and firearms and such, it is clear they are clueless about the most important facts of the era:

        “Mike Deadorff, 23, of Bellefonte, said he thinks life was better in Colonial days.

        “‘It was more simple and easier for them. Now you get everything given to you these days,’ Deadorff said.”

        Life was terribly hard for the common people in the late 1700s; and as for having “everything given to you,” that is exactly what the rich of the era had, far more than they do now.

        Forgive me if I’ve already ranted about this here—I can’t remember if it was here or over at the Daily Racist, or maybe it was even at NION—but when I was assigned to cover a Civil War re-enactment at a local high school, I discovered that despite an entire semester devoted to the period not one of the students identified slavery as the cause of the Civil War. The students in their classes had pretended to be either Rebs or Unionists, so they could develop “sympathy” for one another, but no one pretended to be black. Along the lines of your other comment, possum, I suggested in my article that a third of each class should have been treated as black people were—denied the ability to read or write, forced to do all the work of the other students, sexually abused, and, as the climax of the “study,” shortly before the re-enactment, one of the students should have been hung. For real. And left to dangle there over the re-enactment field, while everybody else played soldier; “dying” and then getting up again. Needless to say, this story did not go over well with some people.

        There is an excellent book called Confederates in the Attic about Civil War re-enactment culture, and the whole “South’s Gonna Do It Again” ugliness.

        • 9 possum September 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

          Adding the realism of black participants in this day and time would open the teacher to a charge of racism. Instead of portraying history in its proper fashion we of today prefer the whitewashed versions. The trauma of realism is more than most American sensibilities can withstand. “Gone with the Wind” instead of truth.

          Growing up in the segregated South left me with a different idea of the racial divide. Black people in those days were not remotely second class. “Whites Only” signs were ubiquitous. Blacks in my hometown made sure to be home before any need for a restroom as the segregated facilities were beyond atrocious.

          Blacks in my town all had the same first name, Nxxxxx. College was my first time outside the culture and my initial introduction to the fact that blacks, too, were real human beings with intelligence and feelings. As late as my first marriage people in town would not allow blacks in the same social arenas. We had a separate celebration after the fact for our black and poor friends as “they did not have the clothes to attend the wedding.”

          I am anxious to find the book you suggest. That sounds like an education in and of itself. Thanks.

          Today my past is no longer an embarrassment. Instead the lessons of those years have turned into a push for equal rights for one and all. We as humankind cannot afford to continue treating any one of our fellows as less than equal if we are to gain any measure of real humanity in the future.

          • 10 bluenred September 27, 2010 at 12:54 pm

            The author of the book presents fully rounded portrayals of his people: it’s not just a polemic. Very good stuff.

            I was reading just this morning that even after Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the United States Supreme Court, he had difficulty buying a home on Lake Bancroft in Fairfax County, Virginia. Some 1000 people in the community—all white. And many of them did not want a black man living there. Even if he was on the Supreme Court. “One resident of Lakeside Drive commented, ‘I am not happy about it at all because this might be encouragement for more of the same.'”

            • 11 possum September 27, 2010 at 1:07 pm

              When Marshall rose to SCOTUS in 1967 segregation was still rampant in our society. My high school class of 1964 had no blacks. The entire high school body of about 400 had only 4 blacks and no other minorities. Virginia was not much different from my home state of KY in those years.

              • 12 bluenred September 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm

                Yeah, I know it was still bad then. I just found it telling that in 1969 these people couldn’t put up with a black man even if he was a Supreme Court justice. Of course, there are probably some neighborhoods today where if Obama tried to move into them, people would blanch.

  4. 13 possum September 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    There are gated neighborhoods across the nation I would wager have no minority residents among the population. The reason for those gates is to keep them out. Maids and yard workers cross for the day but leave at the end of a long working day.

  5. 14 Dario Korinek October 10, 2010 at 1:51 am

    I wish I’d found your site ages ago, I loved reading your posts

  6. 16 Plink Piano December 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I just read your recent post “I Feel Unusual” and decided to click on the links regarding the brother. I really like this one, because even though I, too, am from the landlocked country of T******, I feel that ‘if you ever grow up on a body of water, you know it’s connected to another one.’ Dad always said that if we could look far enough off the balcony of Low Tor, we would see Japan, and I feel that in many ways I grew up in Dillon Beach and not T******.

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