There once was a young man who got a job serving tables in a busy pirate bar in St. Bart’s. Then one day the Royal Navy descended on the place, and almost overnight the patrons of the bar disappeared, sailing their ships with the Jolly Roger out to sea.
Very few of the sailors of the Royal Navy spent much money in the inn, and the servers mainly stood along the wall with little to do. Exasperated. after a week of earning nothing, one of the waiters went to the owner of the tavern and laid out his plight.
“Mr. Milton, when the pirates were here, there was plenty of work. We served platters and platters of mutton and beef, and they washed it down with gallons of rum and ale. Now they’re gone and the tars of the Royal Navy spend almost nothing,” another irate server chimed in.
The proprietor listened, nodding his head in understanding. “You must be patient,” he said. “One day the pirates will return, and you’ll have plenty of doubloons jingling in your pockets.”
“We can’t wait that long,” the waiters said. “We stand along the wall all day and all night, but few of us are ever given work.”
“Be patient,” the owner said. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Let’s be clear about this from the outset. On any pirate ship, the rule was immutable. Captains were voted in and out of office with a simple vote of majority. It was one of the earliest attempts at democracy, well over a hundred years before George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States. When a captain lost the confidence of his crew, he was voted out of office and a new captain was elected. The only time this rule did not apply was during battle. Then the captain remained in charge till the ship was out of danger.
This is the story of the Georgia, ruled by Captain James Crowe Lawes. There were one hundred pirates on board, nine officers, appointed by Lawes, and, of course, Lawes himself. A series of terrible decisions made over several weeks had made the crew restless, and word was out that the men wanted to air their grievances.
When Lawes got wind of this, he prepared for a vote, but not without first changing several rules aboard ship. That evening, he met with the nine officers in his cabin while the crew went about the ship performing their duties. The rules they drafted were simple, but the next day, he did little to convince the rest of the crew that they were fair. This was their list.
One: The barrel which was once placed on deck to hold votes will no longer be used. Instead, ballots must be handed to an officer on deck.
Two: Pirates must vote before sunset. Those serving double duty will not have extra time to vote. Those working bilge pumps or the top sails may not leave their post.
Three: Unlike past elections, pirates may not submit their ballots to an officer early. Those unable to complete their ballot in front of an officer will have his vote discounted.
Four: Those who can’t sign their name clearly or whose mark is smeared will not have their vote counted even if made in full view of an officer.
Five: Sick and injured crew must appear on deck to vote in person despite weather. If they are unable to report, they must forfeit their chance to vote.
Six: No one may give water, rum, or food to sick pirates who have collapsed on deck. If they do, their vote as well as the vote of the sick pirate will be destroyed.
Seven: Any pirate who recently joined the ship may not vote.
Eight: Any pirate who ever knocked on the captain’s door will not have his vote counted. To do so will be considered an act bordering on insubordination.
Nine: If officers decide not to count a vote for any reason, it will be cast overboard.
Ten: Any pirate who has ever challenged a captain’s decision will be considered a threat to democracy and will not have his vote counted.
The next day, the captain and his officers read the rules to the crew. When several objected, the captain pointed out that the rules were unanimously agreed upon by the officers. No small amount of consternation and grumbling rippled throughout the crew the rest of the day. When a contingent of ten pirates volunteered to discuss the fairness of the rules outside the captain’s quarters, several pointed out the wisdom of doing that in light of rule number eight.
On the morning of the vote, ten pirates were in sick bay, five from heat exhaustion and five more from battle wounds they sustained a week before capturing the Revenge. They were too sick to get out of their hammocks.
Ten men from the Revenge joined the Georgia as pirates only days before and were automatically forbidden to vote.
That afternoon, ten pirates collapsed on deck from sun stroke while waiting to vote. Ten other pirates came to their aid with water, but when they knelt to give the thirsty men a drink, the officers kicked the cup from their hands and ripped up their votes.
In the middle of the afternoon, ten pirates finished their chores and gathered at a tub of water on deck before voting. One of the pirates raised his voice objecting to the new rules, and the pirates around him shouted: “Kraken in the ocean, Kraken in the sea. Where you gonna hide when the Kraken comes for thee?” They then proceeded to vote. When they handed their ballots in, the officers immediately ripped them up and threw the shredded papers into the sea.
Shortly, before dinner ten other pirates showed up to vote, but the officers refused them a ballot because they said they didn’t recognize them, and accused them of sneaking on board. They were summarily thrown into chains.
These ten pirates were no sooner dragged away when 20 more appeared and asked for ballots. Reluctantly, each was given one. With sea spray covering the deck, the ship pitched in the late afternoon sea. The ship rolled wildly while the men signed their names. When they turned them in, the officers scrutinized each one then huddled together in sharp whispers. “We’re sorry. These ten signatures are smeared so they don’t count,” one officer smirked. “And the marks made on these ten were put in the wrong place,” said another, as he ripped up all 20 ballots and threw them overboard.
Elsewhere onboard ship, 10 pirates were being punished by working double duty, some in the top sails, some in the hull pumping water. In a hurry to get down from the top masts, three fell to their deaths in the ocean. By the time the other seven recovered their bodies, the sun had set and they were unable to vote.
As the sun sank below the horizon, the captain declared the voting over. “Count the votes,” the captain ordered. A minute later an officer beamed. “Nine votes for the captain,” the officer shouted. Then he added, “And yours makes ten, Sir! There are no other votes.”
The pirates roared louder than the sea. Then the crew’s quartermaster emerged from the group. “Captain, on behalf of the men, I protest.” But before he could say another word he was thrown in chains for insubordination and dragged below deck.
The quartermaster had hardly disappeared from sight when the captain’s face grew red with rage. “A hundred men on this ship and barely one of you bothered to follow the rules of democracy and vote. You’re a disgrace.” With that, he turned and disappeared into his quarters.
The Georgia set into port three days later, and after the last man was off ship, the hull moaned pitifully as if to bid the men goodbye. Even three of the officers, disgusted by the deaths of the pirates who fell to their deaths, joined the crew in the Thirsty Parrot. In port at that time was the daring Henry Morgan making final preparations for a raid in the Caribbean. He suddenly found himself with an additional 90 men.
As for Captain James Crowe Lawes and the Georgia, he was delayed three weeks while scrambling to muster a new crew. After much deceit, he was able to sign on 50 landlubbers that included 10 thieves and five accused of murder. Of those, only five knew the difference between a capstan and a yardarm. The rest of the crew were slaves from a captured ship.
Captain Lawes insisted the Georgia sail that Friday, which every sailor knew was an unwise thing to do. It took four hours for the crew to weigh anchor, trim the sails, and clear port. Once the ship reached the horizon, it was never seen again.
No one knows for sure what happened. Some say it went down off Martinique in a hurricane. Others say the crew mutinied and shipwrecked it off Honduras. In some bars, there was talk of the Georgia foundering off Trinidad where slaves joined landlubbers in a daring escape.
What is known is this. Morgan’s expedition was a success. When he returned to port, he was able to account for all his men, for all his men counted. They say it took them four weeks to spend the silver and doubloons that bulged in their pockets. And when the money ran out, they waited aboard Morgan’s ship, anxious for their next voyage.
There was once a sailor who set off from port on a voyage thousands of miles away. He charted his course weeks before and even consulted the writings of others who made the same voyage.
He packed on board his compass, his sextant, and, of course, charts his mother’s father had given to him. A little voice inside whispered to him to turn back, but he really wanted to make this trip so he listened to the stronger voice- the one that had faith in his ability and skills, and soon land disappeared, and he was alone in the sea except for a red sea bird that perched on the bow of his ship.
The bird was good company for him, and he almost could imagine it was the soul of mother ocean or perhaps a voyager from another time who had come to advise him or keep him company. After a while, he neglected to look at the bird and didn’t see it for days at a time as he went about the ship adjusting sails, taking readings, and steering his boat.
But the bird remained faithful to him and never left his side. At those times when he remembered to truly see the bird, it was perched on the bow of the ship, sometimes chirping to him and sometimes serene as though meditating on the sea. When storms blew up, the bird always clung to the bow of the ship and did not leave the mariner despite the rolling waves that made the boat pitch wildly in the sea. Each time after the seas calmed, the bird chirped more loudly as if to calm the mariner.
When night came, the stars hung brightly in the sky, and the mariner stood up and reached his arms high over his head as if to touch one. He loved the stars because they guided his boat in the darkest parts of the night.
Then one night, he saw a great ship on the horizon, cutting a path across his bow. Fascinated by the bright lights, he took his eyes from the stars and slowly began following it. By dawn the ship had disappeared along with the stars, and he became discomfited and confused.
He was lost, and it took till the next night when the stars came out, that he was confident he was on his true course again. All the time, the bird chirped and sang to him as if to calm him, but he never heard it. Several more times during the voyage, the mariner became distracted by the lights of passing ships, and he wondered if he would ever arrive at his destination.
Gradually, the stars shone brighter than the lights of the ships, and he began to see the bird every day when he looked at it- and he learned it was as important as the charts and compass and sextant he had brought on board.
For months, the man steered his boat straight and true, and then one day, land appeared. As it loomed larger and larger on the horizon, he began to recognize the tranquil waters of the harbor, and then the palm tress lining the beach, and the little children playing by the water’s edge.
And for the first time in his life, he knew he was home at last in a port he had never been to in his life. And as he guided his boat into harbor, the bird continued to sing to him his beautiful songs of life.
You’ve heard the expressions before. “I’m nobody’s fool.”
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
“A fool and his money are soon parted.”
It’s April the first better known as April Fool’s Day, and, of course, we all know what that means. Time to play those little, harmless pranks that get a chuckle out of the person we’re teasing. It’s great fun. My brother-in-law called me earlier today with the shocking news that he won the lottery. Then quickly confessed it was an April Fool’s joke. That’s a good kind of joke to play.
Pirates on some ships were known to participate in these elaborate plays when they weren’t pillaging and wenching. These mock plays inevitably centered around being caught and tried in court. Each pirate had his role. One was the judge. Another a prosecutor. Another a witness. And yet another a defense attorney. Inevitably, the outcome was the same. After a lot of tomfoolery and shenanigans, the pirate on trial was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
The joke was on themselves because they knew if they continued in their ways, that was going to be the real outcome. So they laughed at themselves. If they were forced to watch the same play performed by real judges and men of the law, it wouldn’t have been funny at all, but they had the gift of being able to laugh at themselves.
There’s a big difference between someone making a fool out of you and making a fool out of yourself. There’s a thing called deprecating humor. It involves a person poking fun good-naturedly at himself. I always thought it was a good thing not to take yourself too seriously until an agent twenty years ago took exception to something I said in a letter that involved a little deprecating humor. ‘I don’t represent anyone who doesn’t think highly of himself.” I thought, “Gee! Do writers have to be pompous asses who stare out of windows all day?” That agent rejected me. Actually, I couldn’t work with someone who didn’t have a sense of humor so I rejected her.
April Fool’s Day is a good day to be reminded not to take yourself too seriously. Life has a way of making the pompous look like fools. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “You’re grown up the first time you can laugh at yourself.” He got that right.
And if you think people who want to be taken seriously shouldn’t poke fun at themselves, you should take a look at the picture of Albert Einstein, one of the brightest minds that ever lived. He developed one of the most complicated theories ever proposed. The Theory of Relativity. With his hair looking like he just touched a live wire and his tongue hanging halfway to his belly button, he posed for the camera. It was his 72nd birthday, and photographers wanted one last noble photo. He was hilarious. What made it even funnier was the fact that the episode occurred in the stately halls of Princeton University. How shocking! How undignified! How utterly delightful!
But, of course, there’s a big difference between making fun of yourself, and meanspirited jerks who think it’s their job to belittle and make others the butt of their jokes. I guess that’s why I never liked caustic comedians like Don Rickles or Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners or Carroll O’Connor in his role as Archie, the consummate bigot, in All in the Family. I find nothing remotely funny watching somebody being ridiculed and belittled. It’s interesting to see O’Connor later playing Sheriff Bill Gillespie in the show In the Heat of the Night. He plays a man humbled by life who’s in love with a black woman despite the small town bigots. (It’s almost as if he was trying to make amends for his earlier role as a cynical, contemptuous racist.)
Belittling another person is the hallmark of a coward. He or she can only feel good about themselves by putting down someone else.
It’s also why I loved Rodney Dangerfield with his bugeyes ready to pop out of his head and his nerdy look, always tugging at his tie complaining, “I don’t get no respect.” And then he would tell us all the terrible things that were happening in his life. The audience loved him because they could relate to his tales of woe. At times, they too didn’t get any respect.
I once had a mishap with my hand which required numerous stitches and several weeks of rehab. One Monday when I walked into work, one of the administrators shouted out to me in front of everyone in the office: “Show me your hand, and let’s see how many fingers you have this morning.”
This was supposed to be a pillar of the community who held a very important position where I worked. I got news for him and anyone else who thinks belittling someone or making them feel small or embarrassed is okay. It’s not. If, after you had your little joke, or said your little sarcastic piece, the person you ridiculed isn’t laughing, then you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Of course, even Jesus Christ wasn’t spared the cruelty of being made a fool. The night before his death, he was whipped soundly by Roman soldiers. Then when they heard he was accused of being a king, they made a crown for him out of thorns. Then wearing heavy gloves to protect their hands, they shoved it mercilessly into his skull then knelt mockingly before him. It didn’t help that the vine contained a caustic sap that burned the eyes and open wounds.
For some that wasn’t enough. After one of the soldiers blindfolded him, they took turns beating up on him, taunting him: “Tell us, which one of us just struck you.” They were really funny guys. I guess if they were alive today, they’d have their own reality show- and probably draw millions of viewers.
April Fool’s Day? I think it’s good to be reminded not to take yourself too seriously. So have fun with it. Just don’t put down others or make them the butt of your jokes.
I got to go. A van just pulled up in my driveway, and it says, “Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes Winner” on the side of it, and I can see a dozen people with balloons coming up the steps. You know what this means. April Fools!
My wife and I got our second covid shot two days ago. I’m happy. There’s been a lot of talk about the shots. In fact, it’s incredible how badly every aspect of the covid virus has been politicized. Some have even used it to demean and belittle anyone that even remotely looks Oriental as if every Chinese and Korean person is to blame for the pandemic. We have our ex-president to thank for fanning those flames. “China virus. Kung flu.” He was so witty. And deadly. Just look at the people of Oriental descent who have been viciously attacked by his sycophants because he showed it was perfectly all right to debase someone.
Early on we were advised by the medical community to wear masks to slow the spread of this deadly disease. Around this time last year, while I stood in line at a local nursery in Pawleys Island, a man in front of me turned and said, “What do you think of the Corona virus thing?” Before I had a chance to reply, he answered his own question.
“I think it’s all a hoax,” he said smugly through his mask. At that time, 46,000 people had died. Today more than a half a million people have been taken from us. Moms and dads. Sons, daughters, grandparents. Friends. Neighbors. Young, old. Doctors. Teachers. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t think that those who died or their families thought it was a hoax, but he walked away smug in his righteousness.
Nor did it help to have the person who occupies one of the most influential offices in the world brag that wearing a mask wasn’t for him. Unfortunately, he and his lackeys clearly didn’t understand wearing the mask wasn’t something you do just for yourself. To those who think the virus thing is all a hoax and that wearing a mask is pointless, I would say this. The next time you need to be operated on, tell the doctors and nurses to please remove their masks because you don’t believe in them.
When the ex-president finally did get the virus, it didn’t help that after getting preferential treatment, he took a joyride around the city, waving to his supporters. When I was a kid and I got sick, my mom made me go to bed and stay there under a pile of covers. If I hopped on my bike and rode around the neighborhood, I would have gotten the tar beat out of me. And then when my dad got home from work, I would have gotten another good licking.
Even worse, when he got released, he told everyone in the nation: “I had covid. There’s nothing to fear if you get it.” Seriously? You gotta be sh***ing me! Tell that to the half a million people who died. Tell that to the men and women who died isolated in hospitals and nursing homes with no one to hold them in their final hours except a compassionate nurse or a doctor already overwhelmed by patients. What he should have said was: “You have nothing to fear if you’re an influential person like me who has access to special drugs available to only a handful of people on this planet.”
And now we have people whining about whether they’re going to get the shots because they might not be safe. Safe compared to what? Dying on a ventilator unable to breathe? No medical treatment is 100 percent foolproof. People have operations every day, but the doctors don’t guarantee you a positive outcome. People take all kinds of drugs for a wide variety of medical conditions. Sometimes they do have negative consequences. But compared to the alternative of having a heart attack or letting cancer rapidly advance, most people deem it worthwhile to take them. And, yes, people do get vaccinated against killers like diphtheria, small pox, malaria, measles, and chicken pox. Can you imagine having to explain to your eight-year-old son or daughter that the reason they will never walk is because you didn’t believe in vaccinations when they were born?
I look on this whole scene and quite frankly, I’m baffled. If you were on a pirate ship 300 years ago, and knew then what they know now about disease, you wouldn’t pull that crap. Let me explain something to you. Pirates were fiercely independent and didn’t take any crap from anybody, but they had each other’s backs. They had a written code and every point in it could be summed up in that one concept. Unwavering loyalty. All it would take would be for three or four pirates to drop dead for the captain to order the crew to wear masks. If you refused, you’d get thrown overboard. No whining. No sniveling. The lives of everyone on board depended on cooperation.
We’re not out of the woods yet. A lot of the people have yet to be vaccinated and there are a lot of variants that are now making their way around the world so people still need to take precautions. Pulling your face mask off too soon and crowding the bars, restaurants, and other public venues are a bad, bad idea. Do you really want to spread the disease and quietly kill a dozen or so people because you can’t exercise self-restraint?
You’d never do it on Blackbeard’s ship. Every pirate had each other’s backs. You don’t have anybody’s back if you’re crowding into restaurants and bars, eagerly spreading your germs.
Whose back do you have? I got my two shots, but I don’t expect to stop wearing my mask anytime soon. After all, it’s not about me. It’s about everyone else too. It’s time we all have each other’s backs and protect one another instead of acting like pablum-puking, whining babies.
And I’ll tell you another thing. If my mom were around today and she caught you without your mask or refusing to get your shot, you wouldn’t be sitting down for a week. And that goes double for anyone riding around in a limo when they’re supposed to be recuperating in their hospital bed.
A lot of nasty stuff went down in 2020, stuff so bad that it’s like those events that happened to you years earlier that you’ll never forget. The bully who wouldn’t leave you alone, or the nasty comment someone made about what you were wearing, or your weight. Or the belittling comment a boss made in front of everyone. They’re scars on your soul, but as one preacher said, “Turn your scars into stars.” And so we shall. Let’s move forward. The horizon is brighter and the breath of a new year is refreshing.
I’m willing to bet my last pirate doubloon along with my last bottle of rum that despite the horrific events you endured in 2020 that there were a lot of precious moments to cherish. I know I don’t have to look too far to find them.
After my wife’s foot surgery, it seemed that none of the wounds would heal. But ever so slowly they started. First one, then another. Then months would pass and nothing. But by December all but one were completely healed. Now they’re all closed.
And that’s not the only blessing. After my wife was discharged from the hospital, she had no way of getting up the six steps into our house. But not to worry. Her sister, Maryrose, generously opened up her house to us till we could get a ramp built. It was a selfless and beautiful act of love by a gentle soul.
Then I got a phone call from my daughter in the Coast Guard. She was instrumental in getting three men from the Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant, SC to build a ramp so her mother could get into the house. Over the next month, they drove all the way from Charleston to our house and worked to build the ramp. Not only did they do the work in their spare time, but paid for the materials and worked for nothing. That kind act would even open an atheist’s eyes. These four people are powerful proof that God is alive and well despite all the shenanigans going on in the world today. And, yes, we did move back into our home February 29.
But the good news doesn’t stop there. My son and my other daughter generously gave us their first stimulus checks to put towards replacing the roof of our home. How thoughtful was that? Their largesse is going to go a long, long way towards putting a new roof on the house later this year. How do you thank someone for doing such a beautiful thing like that?
And in the midst of the ever-dangerous pandemic and the angst and isolation it created, I was able to complete seven more chapters of my book, something that required an incredible amount of time researching. At the end of each chapter there was no breaking news on NBC, no boastful phone calls, or brash Facebook postings, just another plank quietly put in place on the dream I build.
To be sure, there were other blessings sprinkled throughout the year that brought more than a little smile to our faces. My grandson came to our house several times to cut the grass. In the open air, it was delightful to spend some time with him despite the summer heat. My granddaughter drew the most beautiful rainbow in her driveway.
In August, my son visited and gave me a much-needed haircut. It was a special time we shared. There’s nothing like being in the presence of someone you love, hearing their voice and seeing their smile.
And while I’m counting blessings, I have to add the discovery of Uncle Mikey. He has the best pizza outside of New York or New Jersey. And it was my daughter and my daughter-in-law who chanced upon it by luck. I hope Uncle Mickey keeps making those pizzas even when he gets to heaven because that’s what eating one is like.
Another great blessing appropriately happened at Thanksgiving. Unable to gather around the dining room table, we celebrated in our driveway. Lots of tables with lots of food, a 22-pound turkey, complete with Tiki torches and a cozy fire in a firepit. Season this gathering with close to a dozen grateful souls, and you come close to realizing what a spectacular time we had.
Finally, I have to be grateful for something that didn’t happen. December 1st ended the hurricane season and the folks up and down the Coast of Carolina were spared anything remotely nasty. How fortunate was that? With the pandemic upon us, it could have gotten very ugly very fast.
We sure endured a lot of broadsides in 2020. My wife lost her brother and her lifelong friend. Her brother was an innovative genius in green energy and devoted himself to it up to the day he passed away. Despite these losses and all the ones that you’ve endured, you have to admit, Life is Good. The philosopher, Joseph Campbell, taught that lesson in one of his lectures on mythology. “And no matter what happens, it’s important to say, despite the hardships, … Yes, but isn’t Life Good?”
To paraphrase Judge Judy, I like to say, “You woke up this morning. Does it look like you’re losing?” You woke up this morning and immediately opened two gifts. Your eyes. Were you able to put your eyepatch on and strap your sword to your hip by yourself? Could you find your false teeth and remember to pop them in your mouth? Then Life is Good. Not perfect, but Good. There will be more broadsides. Don’t worry, they’re on their way. But all you have is this moment. It’s where God lives. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. This moment! Savor it! God lives here whether you recognize him or not. He lives whether you call him Christ, the Buddha, Yahweh, or Allah.
Take a deep breath and savor it. Savor it for yourself and for all those who are no longer here. Adjust your tricorn, straighten those creaky bones, and snarl in your best pirate voice, “Aarrrgh!”
I saw the sun rise today. I saw the face of the one I love. I saw the face of God. Life is Good. I’m alive. Life is Good. What makes Life Good for you? Where are you going to look for it Today?
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog here. A lot of tragedy has happened both personally and as a nation. My wife fell while on a cruise line that rhymes with Hell in America. She shattered her foot in several places and lay in her cabin for six days while her foot became infected. Then she had to endure the twelve-hour drive home, crammed in the back of the car. Over the next several months, she underwent several surgeries and hundreds of visits to doctors’ offices.
We’ve experienced a virus that has devastated our nation, leaving half a million dead, and our economy in shambles. That’s not to mention how the personal lives of every American have been turned topsy-turvy.
We’ve had leaders who were more of a sick joke in a really bad movie. Our Capitol was under siege January 6. Terrorists invaded the sacred halls of our democracy, hellbent on overthrowing the government and installing the President so that he could continue his rule as a dictator. Spurred on by his inflammatory rhetoric, rioters invaded the Capitol brutally assaulting any police who stood in their way. Dozens of men and women in blue were wounded and several ended up dead. All by a nasty bunch of thugs who have claimed for the past year that they had the deepest respect for police.
Caught in the midst of the chaos, I continued to labor on my book, Uncommon Mariners, working as many as 43 hours some weeks. Unfortunately, my blog slipped its moorings and drifted away. At first, it was a month. Then two. Then several. There’s only so many hours in a day and so many weeks in the year, and each one was packed tighter than my wife’s suitcase the night before a journey.
Sometimes I think it’s a miracle not that this blog has been so long in coming, but that I’m writing it at all. People are preoccupied by the pandemic. I get that. But before the dukey hit the fan, I had people in my own family that never bothered to read even one of my blogs- and I’ve written over 125 of them. I’m sure each one has his own special reason. What’s insufferable are the BSer’s who pretend to read it every week but don’t. They’re nice folks, but who needs someone that comes around after the hard work is done and says, “I knew you could do it.” I think it was the actor Will Smith who said, ”If you’re absent during my struggle, don’t expect to be present during my success.”
Of course, when I’m sitting at my humble desk in the alcove of my bedroom, there’s always that little voice inside me whispering, “Write, Bill, write. Write for yourself, but write.” To do otherwise would be to follow the lights of every passing ship instead of the North Star.
So I’m back. To those who wished I hadn’t been gone so long, I tell you I missed you too. But we all have to move past the tribulations of this past year. If you’ve been pushed down by the pandemic, remember. You can’t keep a good man or woman down. You sure as hell can’t keep a good pirate down. You stay safe out there on the high seas of life. The pandemic isn’t over. Wear your mask, and stay away from the loons and the goons. Stay out of Texas for a couple years where the governor appears to be crazier than a rabid raccoon. Stay out of the bars and restaurants in South Cackle Lackey. They’re filled with people just dying to pass the Corona virus along. Get your shot, and don’t forget to sharpen your sword. I’ve been sharpening mine and my pen a lot more than I used to. A pirate has to be ready for anything.
Next time we get together, I’d like to share some of the really terrific things that came out of 2020. There were quite a few. And I promise it won’t take so long to write either.
Believe it or not 2019 is about to sail into history, and like you, I can’t really believe it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think those scoundrel pirates stole it. And with a new year ready to sweep over us, that can mean only one thing. New Year’s Resolutions.
There’s something deep in the soul of every human being that strives towards a better life. Something that makes a person want to be better, do better, and achieve more. Even the slackers who sit back and collect welfare for a living, or use their time and talents to scam others, like those shysters who keep calling my house trying to sell my wife devices for her back and legs, all the while pretending to be from Medicare.
Making New Year’s Resolutions seems to be part of our DNA… even if we only make them in our head. As a pirate and a writer, I can’t help but wonder what kind of resolutions some of the more famous pirates might have made.
First there’s Blackbeard. Before assuming that name, he was known as Edward Teach, or possibly Edward Thatch, but somehow that doesn’t have quite the zing to it that Blackbeard does. That must have been one of his resolutions early in life.
Blackbeard died in the shoals of North Carolina where he had been hiding out. The night before he threw a massive party, and had an incredible hangover the next day. And it got worse. Lieutenant Maynard, who had been sent by the governor of Virginia to track him down, discovered his hide out and initiated an attack. If you ever had a headache from imbibing too much the night before, imagine how painful it must have been when cannons roared. To make matters worse both ships were stuck in muck and both sides had to wait for a rising tide to maneuver.
Outgunned by Blackbeard’s cannons, Maynard was in a precarious position. He ordered his men below deck, and Blackbeard, his head throbbing but certain of victory, swarmed Maynard’s ship. Suddenly, a door burst open, and Maynard’s well-armed men swarmed the deck. Fighting was vicious, and it took a combination of almost two dozen pistol shots and sabre cuts to bring Blackbeard down.
Ironically, the only thing that stopped him was a sword that separated his head from his shoulders. Well, that’s one way to get rid of a hangover, but not highly recommended.
I’m willing to bet my last doubloon that had Blackbeard lived, he would have made a couple of resolutions. One, go a little lighter on the rum. Two, Never underestimate your enemies. And three, arrogance can be your undoing.
Then there’s the situation Bartholomew Roberts got himself into. Also known as Black Bart, Roberts hounded shipping in the Caribbean pretty much freely till the British Navy got tired of his antics. He even went so far as to have a flag drawn up with the initials AMH on it as a warning to the governor of Martinique that he would kill him if he caught him. Roberts eventually succeeded.
Unfortunately, Roberts got into trouble when he got over sure of himself and chased a ship that turned out to be a British man-of-war. Oops. His smugness no doubt turned to dismay when he realized he was trading broadsides with a ship better armed than his. Roberts died in the battle and his men threw his body overboard at his request. No doubt he didn’t want to be placed in a gibbet and his remains left hanging for everyone to stare at.
I bet if Roberts had to make a New Year’s resolution or two one would be: “Keep a low profile. Drawing a lot of attention to yourself isn’t a good thing.” I bet his other resolution would have been: “You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.”
Then there’s Captain William Kidd. He’s often described in some books as one of the most evil pirates in history. That’s not true. Kidd was a businessman who entered into a partnership with some very influential businessmen in New York, including the governor himself. With sea water in his veins, he went to sea to hunt pirates, not become one. During his voyage, his recalcitrant men, hungry for booty, became rebellious and forced him to attack ships not on his list.
When Kidd finally made his way to the Caribbean, he was shocked to discover he was a wanted man. Partners with some of the most powerful people in the British government, he was certain he could easily clear his name. Was he wrong! Embarrassed to be associated with Kidd, everyone denounced him and let him die on the gallows in England.
Want to guess what Kidd’s New Year’s Resolutions would be? “Don’t be too naïve. Politicians are about as good as their word, and when the caca hits the fan, you better not be standing too close.” I bet he wished he had stayed in the Caribbean a little longer, working on Plan B.
As I welcome 2020, I realize I have a lot of good resolutions I never quite got around to executing from last year. I also have a few new ones I’m sure will make my life better in the new year; maybe there’s something you might be able to use too.
One. Plan your day. If you’re a wandering generality, as Zig Ziglar likes to say, tomorrow’s going to look just like today which looked just like yesterday. But a plan changes all that.
Two. Don’t over plan your day. Leave time for fun and adventure. Otherwise your life is going to look like a boring checklist from the back of some How-To book.
Three. Have Hope. You must believe All things are Possible.
Four. Always appreciate what you have. Practice this every day. If you think you got it really good, God is going to say to you: “If you think things are going great for you now, wait till you see what I have planned for you next week.” He’ll also say to those blind to their blessings: “If you think you have something to complain about now, wait till you see what I’m sending you next week.”
Five. Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. Learn from yours and move on.
Six. People will betray you. You’ll think they’re in your corner, and one day you awake to find out they’re gone. It’s life. Don’t let it stop you. The power of how far you will travel in life is determined by you, not your enemies.
Seven. Never stop dreaming. Your dreams are what keep you young. I count my age by my dreams. Years are a chronological fact like the United States was born in 1776.
Eight. Never stop believing in yourself. No matter how old you are, there’s a vast, untapped potential waiting to be discovered. What are you waiting for?
Nine. Don’t listen to “No,” when your heart says “Yes.”
Ten. This one is for you to fill in. Please tell me one resolution you think would be invaluable for everyone to make this coming year.
I don’t know what storms will blow my way or yours this year, but if you take just one or two ideas here, they just might help you have a little more fun navigating the Seas of Life. I wish you Health. I wish you Fun. I wish you Love. And I wish you Adventure.
It’s 1:45 pm on a Thursday, but this is no ordinary Thursday. Hurricane Dorian is bearing down on my house in M.I.S.C. Horrific rains are whipping the roof and sides of my house relentlessly, looking for the smallest crack so they can enter.
The eye of the storm is churning furiously in the sea just 40 miles from my front door. During the night my wife and I rose and went to her Creativity Room where she breathes life into amazing things, like shell wreaths and delicate fairy books that she spent thousands of hours creating.
Afraid that Dorian might have his way, she asked that we move them to a safer place in the house and wrap them in plastic. Three hours later the job was done, and we slept soundly while the winds raged outside our window.
You’d think that the storm would be further along by now, but it’s a bully, taking its time, beating anyone and anything exposed to its fury. Just look what it did in the Bahamas.
Forecasters are predicting that winds will increase to anywhere between 45 and 75 miles-per-hour later this afternoon. Torrential downpours are accompanying the terrifying winds, so we haven’t seen anything yet.
I’ve done what I can to prepare for Dorian. I hope it was enough. I’ll tell you about it in a minute, but first let me relate a true story that happened three days ago at a local Home Depot. While picking up supplies, I overheard customers and employees discussing the impending storm. Everyone seemed to have their opinion about how bad it would be.
Some based their opinion on the forecast and logic; others were talking… let’s see, how can I put this delicately? Others were talking out of the seat of their pants.
“It’s not going to be bad.”
“We’re not going to get anything.”
“It’s not going to be as bad as they predict.”
“They always say that to scare you.”
I wonder if those who voiced those optimistic forecasts are sitting safely in their own homes now or in a shelter. Hurricanes can be so unforgiving when you don’t prepare for one.
While standing in line, I couldn’t help but hear something else that was pretty stupid. “There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m here to pick up paint for my daughter’s bedroom.” Someone else chimed in: “You got that right. They tell me I need to sandbag my house, but that ain’t gonna make any difference.”
Well, the first man was half right. There is absolutely nothing you can do to direct the storm or mitigate its intensity unless you’re a devout believer, and can talk God into helping out a little. But there’s plenty you can do to prepare for the worst. I don’t live in a flood zone, so I don’t have to worry about sand bags, but I’m smart enough to know there are other things that need to be done.
I would almost feel silly admitting this to those numbskulls at Home Depot, but I spent four days turning my house into a virtual man-of-war. I didn’t roll any cannons out; my neighbor across the street might have been terrified had I done that, but there were a number of key things I did do.
First, I climbed onto the roof of my sunporch and caulked the seams of the metal sheets to keep out rain that always seems to find a way in. While up there, I inspected my roof and found two cracked shingles and a vent that needed caulking. Done and done!
On Sunday, I cleaned out gutters, far from a glorious job. Hauling a ladder around the house and having to keep climbing it is hardly my idea of fun. Sticking my hand into rotted leaves and muck is even less so. My friends at Home Depot, no doubt, were home drinking beer and watching football.
I spent Monday screwing three-foot anchors into the ground around my shed so I could tie it down. Without tiedowns, it was likely to blow into my neighbor’s yard or worse into the next county. I use the word tiedown, but it’s probably the wrong word. Chaining it down would be far more accurate.
Let me explain something to you about these tiedown kits they sell. They give you four sturdy anchors and a strand of wire that a pencil neck like pirate Stede Bonnet could rip with his bare hands. The strands might be good for flossing, but that’s it. So on Tuesday, I got the heaviest chain I could find and had my friendly Home Depot associate cut an 8-foot length into four sections. The whole thing probably weighed about forty pounds. I then spent the rest of the day chaining my shed to the ground.
Yesterday, I spent the morning disassembling my pirate paradise, so pieces of it wouldn’t end up in North Carolina near the shoals where Blackbeard deliberately sank his Queen Anne’s Revenge. Screens, conch shells, pirate flags, two skeletons (one with a wooden leg), and furniture all had to be packed into the shed.
Of course, that didn’t include twelve flamingos that roam my pirate paradise. Boy, did they squawk when I corralled them up.
When I finished, I thought of the numbskulls who said there was nothing they could do, and I wanted to drive to Home Depot and hit them over the head with one of my flamingos. They would have been upset. My flamingo would have been upset, so I had a shot of rum instead.
It’s getting close to three o’clock, and that means I have an hour before Dorian fires a vicious series of broadsides that’s bound to shake the rafters of my home. I hope I did enough to prepare for the attack. As for the two knuckleheads who couldn’t or wouldn’t help themselves, God help them. Oh, wait! God helps those that help themselves. So I guess that’s not going to happen.
As the ever-vigilant Coast Guard who has been doing so much for so many in this storm says, Semper Paratis. That’s Latin which literally means always prepared. Or as the United Coast Guard says: Always Ready.
What do you do to get ready for a monster storm? Let me know, and I’ll pass your ideas on. Stay safe out there.
The Uncommon Mariner
P.S. We should never forget the huge debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women of the United States Coast Guard during this crisis. They have sacrificed so much and given so much of themselves to keep everyone safe.