Saturday evening the Northwest pirate community will hold the 10th annual Swashbucklers Ball, the pirate prom of the Northwest, in their filibuster finery. Once again, I will not be there.
It starts at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie. I thought about getting out there for it, but then I mapped it and learned it would be a 37-hour drive, which means I’ll have to leave for it yesterday at the latest, and really, I should probably leave earlier, like last Monday.
So there you are. I’m afraid I won’t make it.
They started holding the ball right after our family moved from Oregon to the Caribbean. I’m sure it was nothing personal. We moved out of the area, our friends threw a party. Just a coincidence, a matter of timing. Now, if we were to return to the Northwest and they suddenly stopped holding it – you know, hands in their pockets, idly kicking at stones, whistling, acting surprised and saying, “Pirate party? What pirate party?” then I might begin to wonder if I need a new deodorant or something.
But I kid!
Ideally, what I’d like to do is for me and Tori to just show up one year. Buy a couple of tickets, slip in and sit in a dark corner in the back, and watch. It’d be fun to see if anyone noticed.
That won’t be this year. The ball is being held this weekend – about a day and a half from when I post this. Too late to start planning now. But next year? The year after? Who knows. Keep a weather eye out, pirates. You never know who might show up.
In the meantime, to all me mates gathered Saturday at the Milwaukie, Oregon, Elks Lodge, friends and crewmates and all who are on the account, have a grand time and know we’ll be thinking of you.
Let me cut straight to the chase, then if you’re at all interested you can read the build up to it.
My new year’s resolution is to get more music in my life. Not just listening to the radio or cuing up tunes on my music library, although no doubt I’ll do that, too. But I want to sing more, perform a bit, whatever it takes.
One of the things I’ll do to achieve that is to finish the pirate musical I started last year, and then the other. I’m also going to try out for a chorus next week. I have some other things in mind as well, but those are the two big ones to start with.
Now, here’s the story behind it, in many unrelated pieces.
The story started about 10 days before Christmas. Or in September. Or possibly in 1965.
Ten days before Christmas Tori and I went to see Max and the UNO choir join with the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans to perform Handel’s “Messiah.” (I didn’t mention that? Check this video.) It was really great, and to Tori’s chagrin, I found myself singing along to the parts I knew – and I surprised myself with how many there were.
It reminded me of when I was fourth grader at Christ the King School in Nashville and a member of the choir. There was some big to-do we sang at in the Nashville cathedral, something to do with the bishop. Maybe his birthday, or funeral, or installation. I don’t know and I’m not sure I ever did. Anyway, it was a big deal, a full mass, and we practiced like crazy for a couple of months under the tutelage of our choir director, Mr. Guertz, a German choir master who seemed to be at least 400 years old. I was pretty sure he’d known Bach personally. Anyway, we were pretty good, got a lot of compliments. It made an impression. I can still remember parts of the service we sang, although I doubt I could sing it now, my voice was significantly higher in those days.
My dad was a singer. He sang everywhere, all the time. Especially in the car. Any family trip was a singalong. When he retired he joined SPEBSQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, now known as the Barbershop Harmony Society) and put as much time and energy into that as he had his professional career. He even wrote his chapter’s annual show once or twice, and wrote/edited the chapter newsletter for years until he died. God, he loved it.
So I grew up singing. Although, like dad, I can’t read music. Got a pretty good ear, but I can’t read.
In September I mentioned on Facebook that I needed some new vices. Tori and I had marked the 100th day since we’d quit smoking. (FYI, s of this writing we’ve marked 214.) I also have cut back on my coffee consumption, and we recently realized we don’t drink much anymore. We didn’t “quit drinking alcohol,” we just realized we hardly ever do anymore. So I need some vices. And my Facebook friends were very helpful. If by “Helpful” you mean mostly mocking.
Among the offerings were suggestions that I take up meth (a non-starter), knitting and/or crocheting, move back to the northwest “and ease into the CBD trade,” volunteer for some do-good group or agency, get a New York Times crossword puzzle book (I already have the NYTimes crossword a day calendar. Any more than that would lead to madness.) online gambling or becoming a regular at a casino poker table, or adopting several cats and posting daily photos of their antics. Oh, and someone suggested that to fill the time I used to spend smoking, I take up smoking. Still scratching my head over that.
Two of the suggestions, however, weren’t stupid. The first sounded odd at first blush, but hear me out. FB friend Steve Sanders said “Try writing poetry. It is highly addictive, horribly distracting, and you will never make a living doing it. The perfect vice.” Well, he’s close. As I said up above, I’m writing the book for a pirate musical. A friend is writing the music. With a little luck the first draft will be ready by late spring. So it isn’t exactly writing poetry – but I will be writing and thinking in rhythm and rhyme.
And my son Max suggested he could teach me to play guitar. So that’s gonna be on the agenda as well this winter. Oh, I don’t expect I’ll ever be much good at it, but I want to be able to pick up a guitar and tinker around, make a little noise that is recognizable as music, and please myself, if no one else.
That was September. Then this Christmas we saw “The Messiah,” and although it wasn’t a sing along, that’s what I did.
And Tori, afterwords said she wanted me to start singing again. I have a very special wife. She’s never been the, “Oh, behave yourself and be serious” type. She’s the “How do we make this work?” type, and often knows what I want better than I do myself. So we talked about different things I might try, and I agreed my resolution for the new year would be to find a way to get music back in my life. Then Max came home and said the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans, which he had just sung with, was holding auditions and he invited me to come try out with him.
So that’s what I’ve come up with so far, the musical, the chorus and maybe guitar.
At the front door of the Guitar Center there is a sign that says “We Sell the Best Feeling on Earth” and every time I see it I think, “They must all be virgins.”
But I’m willing to give it a shot and find out if they know something I don’t.
Give the gift of adventure this holiday season. If your list contains someone who lovea a good sea yarn it’s not too late to order my young-adult swashbuckling novel “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” It’s the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy and runs away to sea to find and rescue her father, who has been captured by pirates.
You can order it through all the usual places, from Amazon to your local bookstore. Or if you want an autographed copy, go through my site at Big Cartel, and I’ll get one in the mail to you the next day.
Readers have said of “Chrissie” –
“If you like reading adventure tales, wry humor, or just books, chart a swift course for Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter. … John Baur’s first stab at young-adult fiction features top-notch characterization, breathtaking battle scenes, and as much plot as your favorite Rafael Sabatini and Hunger Games novels — combined.”
“Just finished Chrissie Warren! Wow what a journey! I laughed, I cried, and I can’t say I could enjoy anything more. This has to be among the top in my favorite pirate books. I’m so glad this amazing piece of literature found its was onto my bookshelf!”
“Fabulous. … I enjoyed it tremendously!”
For the autographed volumes go to the Big Cartel link here – http://tinyurl.com/nu5ajsz. And make sure when you check out that you use the “Notes to Seller” tab on the checkout page to tell me who you want the autograph made out to. Otherwise I’ll put a generic signature. The “Notes to Seller” tab is at the end of the payment section – not where I’d have put it, but they didn’t ask me.
First, a happy International Talk Like a Pirate to ye!!! “That time in September when sea dogs remember that grownups still know how to play!”
You’ve got the buckles! It’s time to swash ’em!
This morning I got up earlier than usual, put on me pirate garb, and headed out with Tori (who was also in full pirate) to her school, T.H. Harris Middle School. I don’t know who this Harris fella was, but the school mascot and logo is a pirate. I was there to greet some rather surprised kids getting off buses. They were still fairly groggy and not happy about being awake. I’m not sure whether, from their point of view, having a pirate bellowing at them as the stumbled into school was a good thing or a bad. Pirates are not quiet. (“We go to eleven,” as Cap’n Slappy says) so we got their day started off with a bang!
As we greeted kids coming off the bus, the school’s uniformed police officer came by, curious. I assured him, “No pirates here. Just a couple of ethically challenged merchant seamen.” I think we fooled him.
Then the bell rang and they all headed to class. I headed to the office, where a couple of girls were starting the morning announcements. I let them do the pledge of allegiance, then I took over!
The first announcement was for anyone who wanted to sign up for the football team. They were to see Coach something or other in room 201, and pick up an insurance form. I added that if they wanted to sign up for pillaging on the Spanish Main, they could see me after school down at the docks. No insurance form needed.
The next announcement was a reminder that it was T.H. Harris night at Canes (a local purveyor of fried chicken strips.) A fundraiser for the school.
“Aye! We”ll gather at Canes and scuttle ’em, taking the booty to … wait … What? Really? They’re tellin’ me we’re just gonna go there and buy chicken and some of the proceeds will go to the school. Well, that’s good too.”
Couple more announcements, then I explained Talk Like a Pirate Day and gave them the Five As, so they’d know what was going on during the day.
And then it was time to head home, leavin’ the rapscallions, scallawags and nippers to the tender mercies of their teachers. But the day had been a little different, a little surreal for them, and that’s always good.
Oh, I should mention that I wasn’t wearing me cutlasses this morning. I felt almost naked! But the school has a very strict “no weapons” policy. Now, a pirate’s not afraid of anything! We’ll stare down storms at sea, revel in the shot and shell of battle, hurl ourselves over the side to board a Spanish galleon.
But even pirates don’t want to get detention!
(Thanks to Tori Baur (Mad Sally,) Principal Hubbard, and the faculty, staff and students of T.H. Harris.)
I’m tired of hearing that avocados are some sort of millennial food. That the hipsters somehow discovered avocados and invented eating it. So, rather than point to how long I’ve eaten avocados and the sort of things I eat them with, I’ll just say this.
The first English-language recipe for what could be considered “guacamole” was recorded by a pirate in 1679.
British-born William Dampier has been described as “a pirate of exquisite mind.” He became a pirate before he set off on a voyage of discovery that eventually made him the first person to circumnavigate the globe three times. And in his travels (he was the first European to explore Australia) his picked up a few things.
The following couple of paragraphs are from an article on Atlas Obscura. The whole thing is interesting except for the parts that kind of turn your stomach a little.
“Dampier began a life of piracy in 1679 in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. Orphaned in his late teens, Dampier set sail for the Caribbean and fell into a twentysomething job scramble. Seeing no future in logging or sugar plantations, he was sucked into the burgeoning realm of New World raiding, beginning what would be the first of his record-breaking three circumnavigations.
“In the Bay of Panama, Dampier wrote of a fruit ‘as big as a large lemon … [with] skin [like] black bark, and pretty smooth.’ Lacking distinct flavor, he wrote, the ripened fruit was “mixed with sugar and lime juice and beaten together [on] a plate.” This was likely the English language’s very first recipe for guacamole. Later, in the Philippines, Dampier noted of young mangoes that locals “cut them in two pieces and pickled them with salt and vinegar, in which they put some cloves of garlic.” This was the English language’s first recipe for mango chutney. His use of the terms “chopsticks,” “barbecue,” “cashew,” “kumquat,” “tortilla,” and “soy sauce” were also the first of their kind.”
For my taste, Dampier’s recipe for guacamole sounds a bit bland. I like tomato, onion and peppers (salsa) in mine, along with the lemon, which keeps it from turning brown.
There are other notes in the story that aren’t quite so appetizing. He had a fondness for manatee, especially baby manatees that were still suckling. He also really liked a serving of flamingo tongues. And – no surprise – sea turtles.
But putting aside differences in dietary habits and what constitutes “food,” Dampier is a fascinating character. And he discovered guacamole for the European world, for which we all owe him a debt of gratitude. And don’t say pirates never did anything that contributed to society.
I’ve been sitting down the last few days with a printed copy of the work in progress, reading and taking notes and getting ready to get to work on the second draft. I’m even using several different colored markers, although truth be told the different colors don’t actiually mean anything other than “this is the pen that was at hand when I had this idea or spotted that typo.”
I haven’t mentioned anything about what the story’s is about, or even the title, which would give the whole thing away. And I’m not ready to yet except in the most general way. I wouldn’t say it’s a “bad luck” thing to talk about it before it’s ready, but it sure doesn’t feel right. So I’ll keep my lips sealed about that, for now.
But I will discuss what it is not, and why.
It’s not a pirate story. Not because I don’t like pirate stories or have abandoned the pirate community, or have no new ideas for pirate stories. Far from it. I have one all but finished, as a matter of fact. I thought I’d have it out for Talk Like a Pirate Day last year, But there’s a problem wth the story and I haven’t figure out yet how to solve it. Something doesn’t quite work. Otherwise it’s a good story. One day I’ll pull it out, look it over, and the answer to the problem will be so blindingly obvious that I’ll rush it out. So I’m not out of the pirate game at all. (See below.)
But the work in progress is not a pirate story. It’s a contemporary story about three kids – two boys in middle school, troublemakers, and the high school sister of one of the boys who is grudgingly along for the ride (since she has a driver’s license and they don’t.) They’re in a very, very bad situation and the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. I’m aiming at a very specific market and the reaction I’ve gotten from reading the chapters to Tori’s sixth grade class tell me I’m on the right track.
It’s an idea that has been floating around our house since 2010, and where it came from I’ll discuss when I’m ready to reveal the book. But first I have to finish it, and that means a second draft, and a third. You just never know.
There’s a very real, very practical reason for doing this, for writing an adventure story that’s not in the pirate vein. First, it has the potential for being a series of books, and I like the idea of a steady stream of income. Second, I would very much like to sell my book to a publisher.
I had an agent who tried for a year and a half to sell my first young adult pirate adventure, “Chance.” Nobody said there was anything wrong with “Chance,” it was well written, a good story, great charactes. A friend – a retired college professor – read it for me and said he’d expected it to take about a week but he was done in two days because “I just couldn’t put it down.”
Chance made it to the last pre-publishing meeting at one of the very big houses. I would have been thrilled to be picked up by that publisher. Any writer would have.
“No one is interested in pirate stories,” they said. “No one’s buying pirate stories.”
And other houses gave similar responses. “Good book, but we’re not looking for pirate stories.”
When I finished “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” it was even better than “Chance,” and “Chance” was good. Not “pretty good.” Good. A new agent was very excited about it, and tried for another year and a half before telling me, “No one wants a pirate story. It’s not the writing, it’s the pirates.”
So I decided to prove them wrong and self-publish “Chrissie.” I had a sales number in mind that I was pretty sure I could hit, and it would show the “know it alls” at those publishing houses that they were wrong. That people DID want pirate stories.
And you know what? The publishers were right. I have received a lot of great feedback on “Chrissie,” and sold a lot of copies, but nowhere near what I’d hoped, nothing like a number that would convince a publisher to take another look.
So I thought I’d give a try crafting a story I want to tell in a genre publishers think will sell. I’m having fun with the story and the reaction from Tori’s kids tels me it works. They laughed where I’d hoped, even showed me places where it was funnier than I knew, prompting me to double down on those bits. And they really get into the peril.
More importantly, by their reaction (or lack thereof) the kids pointed me to places where it needs work. I have a bunch of notes for the second draft based on their reactions.
But first I took April off for two other projects. Both of a pirate nature.
One is a podcast idea Tori and I had a year ago that will amuse us, even if no one ever listens to it. And yes, it’s a pirate story, of a sort. The other is a proposal from a friend in the pirate community to collaborate on a couple of projects that are exciting and different for both of us, and I was only too happy to take him up on it. They’re both his ideas, so I don’t want to get too far ahead. I got a good start on it during April.
I’m still in the pirate game. But the work in progress has taken me in a different direction, and it’s a good book. It’s a book that has a good chance of being published. I’ll be back with a pirate story sooner than you think.
Tori and I took off for a mini-vacation last week, Wednesday through Friday at the Gulf Coast in Alabama. We had driven through the area two years ago after missing a freeway entrance and deciding to see what lay down the road. We liked what we saw. I wrote about it here.
We ended up staying last week in Orange Beach, Alabama. In retrospect, we should have gone on down the road a bit to Gulf Shores. Nothing against Orange Beach, it had a beach and that’s what we wanted. But it was all huge condos on the beach side of the main drag, all strip malls on the other. There was a lot of that in Gulf Shores, but there was also some of that “funky beach town” air. Lesson learned.
Still, we woke up to the sound of waves, and were on the beach Thursday and Friday as the sun rose. That was the whole point, so we’re not complaining.
There’s Something about Tori
I don’t know what it is about Tori. People just come up and start talking to her, telling her their life stories. It happened both mornings on the beach.
The first was an older guy (older than me, even) who was walking purposefully up the beach, clearly getting a workout. And he stopped to explain to us why he was using cross country ski poles.
It’s not like we were the only people on the beach. There were scores of folk up and down the sand he could have stopped to chat with, but he chose us. They always do.
He was visiting from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or ooper-land, as the residents call it.) There were 300 inches of snow on the ground in the UP, and he and his wife were enjoying the sunshine.
The ski poles were because he has bad knees, he explained, and they help take a little of the weight off them as he walks. He’d had his knees scoped and knows they’re not in good shape, but he doesn’t want knee replacement surgery. A friend of his had that procedure and has never been quite the same. See what I mean? People just start spilling their guts.
His doctor – “a foreigner,” he told us – had kidded him about the problem. “He told me ‘I know what the problem with your knees is,’ and then started poking my stomach.” So, yeah, he as carrying excess weight that put extra stress on the knees. Point taken. I’m working on that same issue myself.
But you get the point. Out of nowhere this guy stops to give us his medical history.
The next day a couple roughly my age walked by with a handful of debris. “We’re picking up trash,” they said. The husband walked on. She stopped to chat.
She was from Franklin, Tennessee, she said, and they were down for a while visiting the beach before spring break brought a load of drunk college kids. I mentioned that when I was a kid I had lived near there in Nashville, while dad worked at a factory in Franklin.
That set us off on a discussion of how much the area had changed since she had moved there with her husband to work at the nearby Saturn plant in Springhill. They were originally from Detroit. And we went on for another 15 minutes or so.
I think it’s Tori. There’s just something about the woman I married that draws strangers to her to tell their life stories.
You Could Feel the Ghosts
The weather on the Gulf Coast was warm and bright Friday, a sparkling day, but as we walked through the tunnel, a brick-lined vaulted passageway into Fort Morgan, and stepped out into the sunny parade ground, I felt a chill. You could feel the ghosts.
Fort Morgan is at the eastern point guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay. The fort actually goes back to the war of 1812, and it played an important role in that conflict. But its pivotal moment came during the Civil War, when Mobile was the only port on the gulf still open to Confederate blockade runners. In August 1864 the Union decided it was time to shut it down.
It wasn’t a huge military action, nothing like Antietam or Gettysburg or even Shiloh or Stones River. But the port was vital to the Confederacy, and thus vital to the Union. It is best remembered, when it’s remembered at all, for the words of Union Admiral David Farragut. When warned by a subordinate of the Confederate “torpedoes” (really floating mines) that had just blown up the ironclad USS Tecumseh as it tried to enter Mobile Bay, he replied, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
And as we walked into the fort through that long tunnel, I could imagine what it felt like being a Confederate soldier, marching into the fort and not knowing if you’d get the chance to march out. Inside, the fort’s outer wall was lined with large chambers, dark and gloomy. And like I said, I could feel the presence of the men who had fought to defend the place. Standing on the wall looking out into the bay, it didn’t take too strong an imagination to see the Union ships moving into place to blast the fort into submission.
We spent more than two hours in the fort and on the grounds outside. It was time well spent. Then we took the ferry across the mouth of the bay to Dauphin Island, spent a little while at Fort Morgan’s twin, Fort Gaines, on the western entrance to the harbor, and headed home.
The thing that stopped us at Fort Gaines wasn’t the fort itself. Out on the lawn there was large wooden “thing.” That’s all I can come up with to describe what it looked like. Maybe 20 feet long, four feet high and almost that wide. It was obviously made up of many timbers.
Turns out in 1998, when Hurricane Georges blew through the area, this thing had been dredged up from the deep and washed ashore. Examination showed it to be a section of the keel of a wooden sailing ship from around the 1800s. There was no way to tell what ship, where it as from, how it ended up at the bottom, or whatever happened to the crew.
(I know we took a couple of pictures of it, and I’ll post it as soon as I can find it.)
You could see the places where ship’s ribs were attached, how it was pieced together. A timber eight to ten inches square was perpendicular to the main piece, and you could see how it had been cut and shaped by a long-dead hand. There was only one way to do it in the 1800s, no power tools.
It was another set of ghosts. The craftsmen who built the ship, the unknown crew who sailed on her. It doesn’t take much to wake them. All you have to do is be open to them.
Like I said, we had first found ourselves down on Alabama’s Gulf coast by accident. And that paid off again, in a small way, last week. We had left Orange Beach heading west, planning to catch the ferry. We weren’t in a hurry, just ambling west. And we ambled just a little too far.
In Gulf Shores, the coastal highway jogs north, and I missed the turn. Not a problem. I could (and did) jog around a couple of blocks to backtrack, then get back on the route.
But what I saw stopped us in our tracks.
Built into the side of a building was a pirate ship! I assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that it was the entrance to a restaurant. We stopped. Pictures were taken. Then we got back in the car. And as we drove up the road on the other side of the building, we saw what it was – Souvenir City. A really big shop featuring what I assume are T-shirts, postcards and every plastic geegaw a vacationer could want to remember their trip to the shore. I mean big. I’ve never seen a place that big dedicated solely to the sale of coastal tchotchkes.
What we had seen, made up as a pirate ship, was the rear entrance. The front was a giant shark, and to get in to buy a set of Gulf Shores placemats and a “Roll Tide” backscratcher you have to enter through the shark’s gaping, tooth-lined mouth! Pretty cool, eh? We didn’t go in, we have all the bric-a-brac* we need, but I’m glad we saw it. And we wouldn’t have if I’d have made the right turn in the first place.
Similarly, on Thursday we were exploring to the east. We missed Flora-Bama completely, apparently it’s not so much a town as just a line on a map separating the two states. We ended up on Perdido Key, south of Pensacola, where we pulled into a parking lot to take a break.
And there, down on the pier, two sailing ships were tied up. Not just any ships. These were replicas of Nina and Pinta, two of the three ships that were part of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas. Why there wasn’t also a Santa Maria replica I cant say. But they were fun to take a look at. And later that day as we lay on Orange Beach we looked up and there was one of them cruising by, then turning slowly and heading back into the sunset.
Anyway, those were some of the highlights of the get away. The best part, of course, as spending the time on the road with Tori. When we married we already both had children, then had more right away. So we never got a whole lot of “us time” until the last couple of years. So it’s always nice to get away, just the two of us.
* Reminds me of one of my all-time favorite reporter quotes. A woman I worked with in Oregon came back from interviewing a little old lady and, to give us an idea of how crowded with a lifetime of souvenirs her home was, commented “The knick knack shelves were choc-a-block with bric-a-brac.” Sheer genius!