Yo Ho Underpants!

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Ol’ Chumbucket works the young crowd – and the young crowd’s parents – at Red Canoe Bookstore.

I entered Baltimore’s Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in full buccaneer gear last Friday. A three-year-old looked at me and said one of the things no pirate wants to hear.

“Are you Santa?”

Well, sure, I was wearing my scarlet shirt and my big boots, and my hair and whiskers have gotten a tad – what’s the word I want to describe the color of my hair? Ultrablonde! – that’s it, my hair is ultrablonde. And yes, my waist these days is, shall we say, more than ample – but I’m working on it! But still, didn’t want to hear that.

I growled at him. “Does Santa carry a pirate sword? Does Santa wear a pirate hat? I’m a pirate!”

He laughed and said, “Yo ho underpants!”

Because of course, to a three-year-old boy, underpants is far and away THE funniest word in the language. And that was an important reminder for me, because he was hardly the last kid his age I would see that day.

I had booked the appearance about two months earlier. Red Canoe is a really nice neighborhood institution. I really loved the place, the ambience, the neighborhood, everything about it. It was great. But in retrospect I have to say it probably wasn’t the right venue for me. I knew the store was oriented towards kids books, but I thought a reading of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” would not be inappropriate. Thankfully I had made alternative plans. Because as discussions went back and forth by the owner and myself, I realized this would be a kids gathering, not a teen or young adult. And even then, the audience was a lot younger than I had expected. And fortunately, I had alternate material.

First and foremost, I was going to have to switch books. “Chrissie” is a great book and something that kids as young as 11 or so can really enjoy, and kids as young as 8 would enjoy hearing a short scene read aloud. But it’s way beyond a three year old. Cap’n Slappy and I had put together a whimsical ABC book called “A Li’l’ Pirate’s ABSeas.” We have always proudly said it’s not the book for perfect parents to buy for their perfect children. It’s a book the perfect children should get from their drunken bastard uncles so the kids won’t grow up to be insufferable little prigs. And even better, in our book, “U” is for “Underwear.” So that was obvious.

And I have a stock of material that is adaptable, so I felt pretty confident.

But kids that age have the attention spans of fruit flies. Ever try to keep a three-year-old focused for five minutes? I had a deck full of kids, the oldest of whom was probably four and the average age younger than three. And I worked them for more than an hour, by keeping these simple rules in mind:

The first of course, is “underpants.” I was a pirate so I didn’t feel the need to be perfect and polite. In a pinch, I could always get a laugh just by shouting “Yo Ho Underpants!”

Keep things moving and mix it up. I started with a song. Shifted to a bit of pirate schtick. Another song. A bit of reading from “ABSeas.” Another bit of schtick. A little sleight of hand. Another song.

There’s no way to keep that many kids focused for that long – But I could always play to their parents. Each was accompanied by at least a mother or father, some by both. I could and did play to them, and they in turn made sure their kids got the joke.

And I kept in mind why I was there. To sell books. So we spent more time on reading “ABSeas” than any other single thing. And I saved the best for last.

As I was winding up after an hour and 15 minutes, I gathered all the kids and told them I was going to teach them the single most important pirate phrase, a phrase they had to learn by heart and repeat over and over. That phrase was:

“Mommy, I want the pirate book. Buy me the pirate book mommy!”

They repeated it several times under my coaching. And we sold some books.

Another thing that paid off was that in the weeks preceding the event I had posted several reminders of my schedule on social media, and invited pirates and fans from the area to show up. I really wanted to meet them, because that’s always fun. And a couple did show up, and it was a joy meeting them and talking about how they celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day and incorporate pirattitude in their lives. And god bless ’em! They, too, bought some books, including several copies of “Chrissie.”

And then we were on the road to the next stop.

Notes from the Road

This has been a good first week on the road, for a lot of reasons, many of them obvious. But I’m going to give three for now.

This is the first time since I’ve known Tori that we have been together without kids for a whole week. We both had children before we met, and after we got married we had three more. (They know what causes that now.) So we have been able to get away for occasional weekends, but that was it.

Today is our seventh day on the road, a full week. And we’ve had a great time. Just driving, being silly, exploring new things together, laughing. It’s always been a “given” that she’s my best friend. How fun to see how true that really can be, when it’s just the two of us, how well it works.

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Ol’ Chumbucket with Constable Heartless, whose name believes the generous spirit of the man,

Speaking of friends, I left Hampton late Sunday afternoon with a slew of new ones, the many fine freebooters I met at the Blackbeard Festival, starting with the members of Blackbeard’s Crew, who were our hosts at throughout the gathering. It was an honor I feel deeply, and I’m proud to call them brothers. Constable Heartless – you’re not fooling anyone with that name. You’re a fine pirate, a fine captain and a fine man. And all the other pirates from the various crews – Hope, Rattanne, Just Gregg, Damon, Mr. Willis, Rummaker, all the crew of the Vigilant, The Moody Crew and the Loose Cannon Company and all the rest of ye – I’m proud to call you brothers – even the women.

This had been planned as a sales trip, and certainly that’s the point. We wouldn’t be doing this without the impetus of “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter.” (Certainly as far as the IRS is concerned that’s all it’s about.) It wasn’t necessarily about selling books as getting it out there, meeting people, showing the flag. But it turns out, so far anyway, that we have been selling books, especially the first day of the festival when we sold quite a few. Not just “Chrissie,” although mostly that. But Tori had noticed early in our “retailing” career last year that the tables that seem to do the best have more than one title on them. So we brought with us some of our earlier efforts written with Cap’n Slappy – “A Li’l’ Pirates ABSeas,” “Well Blow Me Down,” and “Pirattitude,” and sold a few of each. In fact, I think it was the single best day of book selling I’ve had since Cap’n Slappy and I had a reading at a bookstore in our hometown and the audience was packed with our longtime friends. This has been total strangers. So we’re hopeful.

And, like I’ve always said, each book is sold one copy at a time, person to person, one to one. I actually had quite a bit of fun engaging people as they walked by, joking with them, talking about the books, and drawing them in until – Click! – they decide to buy one. You can actually feel it when they make the decision, sometimes they are as surprised as anyone. It’s fun.

We’ve got three readings/events coming up in the next five days, and we are just having fun.

Ready to Hit the Road

Been busy. So freakin’ busy. Trying to lay plans to make myself even more busy.

School’s out, and Tori and I are hitting the road for two weeks to sell books. But boy, it’s skull-numbing trying to set it up.

Because I’m self-pubbed, I have to do it myself. But honestly, even when I had a publisher (“Pirattitude!” and “The Pirate Life”) I had to do it myself. As I’ve said before, a publisher’s not going to put a lot of effort into promoting you unless you’re already selling, which seems bass-ackwards to me. So it’s up to you.

Anyway, the “tour” was all based around attending the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, VA, the beginning of June. By a happy coincidence, my novel actually opens in Hampton, where Chrissie lives before she sets off on her adventures. (Coincidence my eye! I did it for this very reason, knowing I’d eventually be trying to sell it at the festival.)

I contacted the festival back in October, and had several very encouraging exchanges with several different members of the organizing committee. We talked about a book reading, setting up a table for sales, performing, really just doing anything we could to help out. For what it’s worth, I’m a pretty well known member of the pirate community. I’m also a ham, never met a microphone that frightened me. I was ready to help out.

Then I got to work trying to set up other events around that. And slowly but surely they started coming together. There’s a fine line between calling too early before an event and calling too late. That line is somewhere between six and four weeks. I started sticking pins in the map.

But I was never able to get any firm commitments of times or activities from the folks I’d been talking to in Hampton. I didn’t want to show up and discover no one knew who I was, why I was there or what I planned to do. Believe me, I’ve been there and it is NOT the best experience. Awkward don’t begin to describe it. I’ll tell you the story some time. As the date approached I was getting more and more nervous.

Finally, only a week ago, I heard back from one of the folks I’d been in touch with earlier. Turns out neither he nor the other two people I’d been in touch with are still on the organizing committee. Hadn’t been in months. While he tried to be helpful and was very nice about it, he really couldn’t do much. I was back at ground zero, with the clock ticking. And I had a couple of events on the calendar that I wouldn’t have dreamed of scheduling if I wasn’t already planning to be in Virginia.

I scrambled. It took a day get hold of someone at the city (the festival is a city parks and rec event) who referred me to someone else, and finally, on Thursday I was talking to the captain of Blackbeard’s Crew Inc. He was horrified, felt somehow responsible for the mess, even though it had nothing to do with him. I tried to reassure him that stuff happens, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of the world. But he wouldn’t hear of it, and by Friday Tori and I had an invitation to come to the festival under the aegis of his group, with some really nice arrangements offered. We are honored to be the guests of such a gracious crew.

And that pretty much nailed down the schedule, at least the front two thirds of it. We’re driving from New Orleans to Hampton, VA, with a one day stop in Knoxville, TN, to spend a day with Tori’s oldest, closest friend. Then on to the festival where, with any luck at all, we’ll sell many books or at least pick up email addresses for the mailing list and give out cards advertising the book. We’re going to take most of an off day to visit the Jamestown Settlement (I’m a nut for historical sites) and on to Maryland to visit my niece, then up to Wilkes-Barre, PA, for a reading at the Barnes & Noble, followed the next day by an event at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in Baltimore.

In Baltimore we’ll pick up daughter Millie, who is coming down from New York, and spend Saturday June 11 with her driving like maniacs back to Knoxville, where I have a reading at the Barnes & Noble 2 p.m. June 12. We’ll stay at the friend’s house, getting Millie to the airport where she can fly home on that Tuesday (so she only misses two days of work.)

And then we’re at loose ends for a couple of days. I’m still looking for one more opportunity in the area, maybe Chattanooga, maybe Memphis, but honestly, resting up for a couple of days sounds good, too.

Then there’s an event in Murfreesboro, TN., just outside Nashville, 5 p.m. June 18. Our friend Tom Mason and his pirate band, Blue Buccaneer, will be performing at the Mayday Brewery. I will sing along with the best of ’em, pounding my tankard on the table appropriately. And of course I’ll have books with me available for selling, because even if I don’t sell any, that makes the whole event a sales trip and deductible from my taxes. No beer tastes better than a tax deductible beer!*

And then home. We’ll have covered a lot of miles and a lot of the eastern half of the USA, and we’ll be ready to put our feet up for a few days.

There’s another event coming up in August, and another in September. So there’s always something. But you’d better believe before I hit the road Wednesday, I’m recontacting all of the venues I’ve scheduled with, just to be sure. I hate that kind of surprise.

* I would point out that I am NOT a licensed tax expert or a CPA or anything like that. I’m a pirate. Please consult your tax professional before trying this at home and remember that it’s probably never a good idea to take tax advice from a pirate. The IRS hates the competition.

Being a Pirate Is All Fun and Games

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Ol’ Chumbucket asks Zoey for her favorite letter as he reads “A L’Il Pirate’s ABSeas.”

You never know what you’re going to get when you face a roomful of kids. Monday in the westbank community of Algiers Point, we got a lot of fun.

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Captain John Swallow, Sjeka Hellbound Groves and Copper Otter.

“We” were me, my wife Mad Sally, and three buccaneers from NOLA Pyrate Week, which is going on this week. The leaders of Pyrate Week, Captain John Swallow and Quartermaster Sjeka “Hellbound” Groves, organized the event with the Algiers library and the Confetti Park Kids organization. We were also accompanied by Copper Otter the pirate. 

There were about 30 kids in all, ranging in age from, I would guess, about a year and a half to a class of about 20 kids in the first or second grade range. They all came in and sat neatly on the floor and cushions in the children’s area of the library, one of the old Carnegie Libraries, built in 1907 and a perfect match for the quaint neighborhood.

And they stared at us. They were intrigued, but they weren’t giving anything away.

 

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Kids always have their hands up – sometimes they even have questions.

So Captain Swallow introduced us, and suggested perhaps I’d do a reading. You know me, of course I said “Sure! But first, a song!” 

I don’t like to do all the work by myself, so I taught the kids their part, and they were great. I sang “Being a Pirate” – and if you’re “of the brotherhood” you know the song. “Being a pirate is all fun and games, ’til somebody loses an eye. It hurts like the blazes, it makes you make faces, but you can’t let your mates see you cry …” and on through the various body parts a pirate might lose, ear, hand, leg, “whatsis.” Each time I got to something being cut off, many of the kids would wince or gasp. But on the chorus, “It’s all part of being a part …” and they’d shout out their part – “A pirate! A pirate!” with some much gusto the room shook. “You can’t be a pirate, with all of your pa-a-arts! Oh! It’s all part of being a pirate” – and them again, “A pirate! A PIRATE!” – You can’t be a pirate, with all of your parts.”

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Mad Sally, Sjeka Grove and Copper Otter.

What fun, and when we were done the kids belonged to us. I didn’t try to read to them from “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” because it was much to young a crowd, although I made sure to mention to the handful of parents in the room that I had copies with me for sale and they might really enjoy it. Instead, I’d had the foresight to bring the children’s alphabet book Cap’n Slappy and I had written – “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas.” I didn’t read the whole thing, but I let them call out their favorite letters and read those to ’em. And I made sure to finish with the letter U, because it’s a kid’s favorite. 

“U is for UNDERWEAR, every crew wears ’em.
Each man has his own, and nobody shares ’em.
Some personal things belong just to you,
And shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the crew.
One is your boxers, but – Please! Keep ’em clean!
‘Cause if they get stinky, the crew will get mean.”

As the father of six, I know that “Underwear” is the second funniest word in the English language to that age, second only to “Butt.” Really. Go ask any five year old.

Slappy and I have always said that “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas” is NOT the book perfect parents buy for their perfect children. It’s a book the perfect child’s drunken uncle or wild aunt buy them so they don’t grow up to be complete prigs.

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Reading to the powder monkeys.

Anyway, we all had a blast. Captain Swallow and Hellbound talked to the kids about pirates – who they were, what they did and some of the things everybody “knows” about pirates that just ain’t so.

The kids had questions – Oh lord, the kids had questions. They always do. At that age, when a kid raises his hand, it means one of three things. The kid actually has a question that might have something to do with what you’re talking about, the kid wants to say something, that might or might not have anything to do with the subject, and – most often – the kid really wants to have a question but when you call on him or her, she or he hasn’t actually thought of one or has forgotten it.

Good times.

Anyway, it was a fun morning and I like to think everyone had a good time. And I even sold a couple of books – one of each! So that was fun too.

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Pirates meet youngsters at the library in Algiers Point. Below – Chumbucket teams up with the Terrible Pirate Zoey, and Super Pirate!

Getting Back to Work

Lost time the last month because of work – covering for a co-worker I ended up working 13 of 15 nights in a row, that kind of takes it out of you in the morning – and working on the next installment of “The Islands of Bones,” the serial I’ve been writing for Mutiny magazine.

It’s tricky, writing in installments. I guess that’s how a lot of writers in the past, notably Charles Dickens, did it, and they did it without the help of a computer. Initially I had only a vague idea of the story. I had the character and starting point and a general idea of what it was about. I thought it would be a four-part story – the online magazine is quarterly. But it kept growing. I just turned in the fifth installment, and it will probably require two more to finish it out.

I also made a few mistakes – gave the ship one name in the third installment, a different name in the fourth. And as I write, things occur to me that would help, but they would involve changing things I’ve already written. Typically that’s not a problem, we all do it. That’s what rewrites are for. But in this case, the earlier parts of the story have already been published. It’s set and I just have to play the next hands with the cards I dealt.

I’m glad I’ve committed to this, and I like the story. It’s been an education. And when it’s done – assuming it’s eventually done – I’m going to clean it up, do a little rewriting, then make it available as a free download online. Because you’ve got to feed the franchise, right.

I’ve also got an almost completed story that Mark (my friend, Cap’n Slappy) and I wrote in our semi-functional, back and forth way. I’m going to clean that up, finish it, really work it into a publishable project, and get that available to readers before Sept. 19.

So that’s what’s on my plate. The WIP – “In Blackbeard’s Hand” – the serial, and the Caper story. That ought to keep me busy, especially since I’ve also got all that work to do selling “Chrissie Warren.” Then I have to get to work on the sequel to that.

Enough of this blogging! I have work to do!

Blackbeard vs. Trump

Are Capn’ Slappy and I prescient, or just really lucky? Probably lucky, but don’t automatically assume we’re *not* psychic, or at least psycho.

In our 2008 book, “The Pirate Life,” we had fun comparing Blackbeard with blustery business mogul Donald Trump. At the time we wrote it we kinda hoped he would take offense and launch a feud against us. It’d great publicity, and it wouldn’t cost us anything! But no such luck.

We never in a million years would have guessed what the future had in store for him. If we were writing it today, it might be a little different, but probably not that much. Anyway, here’s what we wrote eight years ago.

Blackbeard vs. Trump

(Excerpted from “The Pirate Life: Unleashing Your Inner Buccaneer,” by John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur and Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers, published by Kennsington Publishing Corp. and copyright 2008. All rights reserved.)

One was an icon of his age – a ruthless, take-no-prisoners type who terrorized merchants and moguls in his lust for booty.

The other was Blackbeard the pirate.

It seems you just can’t escape Donald Trump these days. He’s had his television show, his face is on book covers, he’s constantly picking fights with celebrities, his name is plastered on buildings all over the world. They even named the most powerful suit in the game of bridge after him.

If there’s any pirate personality who compares, it would have to be Blackbeard. He wasn’t the most successful pirate ever, but he was far and away the most colorful, the most bombastic, the best known. In a world where the appearance of success is as important as success itself, that’s no small thing.

Here’s our point-by-point comparison.

HAIR

Blackbeard: Put burning fuses in his beard to create that demonic look.

Trump: Puts so much “stuff” in his hair (if that *is* his hair) to create that Teflonic look. If he lit it, it would probably go up in a fireball that would put Blackbeard to shame.

TRADEMARKS

Blackbeard: Shouted “Open fire!” with a sword thrust gesture.

Trump: Sneered “You’re fired!” with a cobra-like hand gesture.

DRINK

Blackbeard: Rum with a sprinkling of gunpowder.

Trump: The blood of the exploited working class.

COMBAT

Blackbeard: He and his crew excelled at vicious hand-to-hand fighting.

Trump: Cast of “The Apprentice” excelled in whiny catfighting. Ditto Trump and the targets of his scorn.

EPONYMS

Blackbeard: Named his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Trump: Names everything after himself.

MODUS OPERANDI

Blackbeard: Paid off local officials to allow him to continue his felonious ways.

Trump: Hangs out with celebrities and politicians to enhance his own image.

WENCHES

Blackbeard: Enjoyed them, but his marriage to the sea was a source of acrimony.

Trump: Marries them, and is now a source of their alimony.

Fa La La La Folicles

Here’s my beard. Ain’t it weird? Don ‘t be skeered, just a beard.” – George Carlin

Since my friend, Mark Summers, and I entered the pirate realm as creators of the ersatz holiday International Talk Like a Pirate Day and became Cap’n Slappy (Mark) and Ol’ Chumbucket (me,) I have always been the well-trimmed buccaneer of the duo. Mark hasn’t touched his beard except to push it out of the way when he eats or drinks for at least ten years and possibly much longer. (When did we do “King Lear?” I don’t think it was that wild then.)

Anyway, I was always the more dapper one. But then, sometime last summer, my beard trimmer broke. And I didn’t think much about it, but my beard started getting longer. When I finally noticed this fall, it was getting a little crazy. It started twisting and curling in ways I never expected. If only the hair on top of my head (when I had hair on the top of my head) had been that wavy.

I had to use scissors to keep in check the hair around my lips or it would end up in my mouth with every bite of food. And Tori wasn’t fond of that much hair from my face getting into her face, and I do like kissing her.

So top of my Christmas list this year was a new beard trimmer, and Santa came through. Here are the before and after pictures, taken on Dec. 25. (I admit, it also helps to pull my hair back, but when you’re going for the hairy scary pirate look …)

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And a bonus picture. One morning in mid-November, Tori was cleaning out the bathroom medicine chest and happened across a jar of hair gel, which she gleefully began running through my beard. The resulting pictures convinced me that, yeah, I definitely needed a trim. And now I’ve got one.