Of Pirates

Originally posted by O Ceallaigh on the discontinued blog Felloffatruck Publications, 1 May 2007. Reposted here, with updates, in support of a retrospective currently ongoing at the Dude & Dude site.

Awhile back, I got a comment on one of my blogs expressing surprise that I ate pizza. That comment surprised me. Like, as if pizza were beneath me – as opposed to inside me, which is where a good simple red-sauce pizza belongs. I mean, really. Just because I occasionally toss words like atrabiliousness into my posts is no reason to suspect me of panini addiction. Yes, yes, this amoeba is immortal, invincible, and leaps tall bacteria at a single bound. Naturally. But otherwise, I’m just like anyone else. And I can prove it.

I’m visiting my mother and sister on the eve of my move to Hawai’i. Last Saturday, my sister declares a play day. No more meetings, no more kooks, no more patient’s dirty looks. We’re going out. So we pile into the car and head to Cape Cod, and spend the day indulging in one of my sister’s favorite pastimes.

Miniature golf.

There is method in my sister’s madness. My mother is recovering from back surgery, and for the first time in too long, she’s able to join us in a round. That was and is a joy. And I was spared the joys of courses that make you knock balls into the mouths of clowns and through the vanes of spinning windmills.

But, as you probably know, no miniature golf course worth its price of admission just gives you a ball and a putter and Astroturf and leaves you alone. Oh no. You must have a theme. Props and gadgets and sound effects that squawk at you just as you’re lining up your thirty-foot bank shot around the rock formation.

Now, my mother and sister are Disney kind of people. They like nothing better than to surround themselves with the various themes of Disney World. And facsimiles thereof elsewhere. Me? I reckon that a corporation that pays its CEO a salary larger than the gross domestic product of Bangladesh doesn’t need any encouragement from yours truly. Especially the green folding kind of encouragement. But, it’s a play day. My mother and sister are who they are. And I might not see them again for awhile. For one day, I can put up with the props and gadgets and sound effects of the miniature golf courses of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

imagesAnd, I swear, me hearties, 17 out of every 10 of the miniature golf courses within the city limits of Hyannis has a pirate theme. Arrr!

I suppose that makes sense, given the popularity of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Given that the gift shops associated with the golf courses can’t keep Captain Jack Sparrow hats in stock – and this is the slow season, more than a month before Memorial Day and the first big surge of tourists to Cape Cod. Well, it’s supposed to be a big surge. Assuming anybody can make it to Cape Cod this year after running the gauntlet of one-armed pirates flying the death’s-head flags of Gulf, Citgo, BP, Exxon/Mobil …

Dgy9XnMUcAA8o_9But I have to feel sorry for the workers who have to put up with the same canned pirate captain’s command (“Fire at Will!”) every five minutes, all day every day. Not to mention the wiseguys on the course who yell back, I’m sure a half-dozen times an hour, “Which one’s Will?” By the tenth iteration, I was ready to destroy the power grid of southeastern New England if it would only silence that bloody tape.

downloadAfter a day of hearing every cliché in the pirate canon except Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum (and I can’t imagine how I could have missed it), I was not surprised to find a book about pirates in the house, a recent reprint of Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly, first published in 1996. When I mentioned it to my sister, I discovered that she had found it unrewarding, and stopped reading.

I soon found out why. I reckon she had been expecting Cordingly to present novelesque narratives of the pirates of history. Especially those pirates active in the Caribbean during the 17th and early 18th centuries, the buccaneers of the so-called Great Age of Piracy from whom most of the romanticized outlaws of fiction have sprung: Long John Silver, Conrad, Hook, Jack Sparrow.

Alas, writes Cordingly, the sober historian finds no data to permit the spinning of such narratives, even for the most notorious captains such as Sir Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and William Kidd. Cordingly arranges the scant facts according to themes, not chronology or biography. From him, I learned what I already suspected. That the lives of real pirates were short on glamor, romance, and time, and long on brutality and violence. That the men and women who sailed under the Jolly Roger were neither noble rebels nor cartoon villains; they were terrorists.

What I had not previously known was the organization of the terrorist organization known as a pirate vessel. Each voyage was conducted under a set of written articles, signed (willy-nilly) by every member of the crew. Each signer was then entitled to vote on all matters relevant to the craft and its maintenance. The crew voted in the captain (and not infrequently voted him out), the cruise route, the rations, codes of behavior and the punishment for violations of same, the distribution of plunder, and the compensation due those injured.

In other words, at a time in the history of the world when most governments were headed by absolute monarchs, these ocean-going vessels represented the planet’s most able and active democracies, embodying liberty, fraternity and brotherhood a century before the American and French revolutions. Democracies of violent men, which existed solely for the sake of plunder, for the unrepentant robbery of the wealth of others.

In other news, the American armed forces reported four more dead in Baghdad today.

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