Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pirates in Popeye’s – A Curious Coda

I thought I was done writing about Talk Like a Pirate Day for the year. The holiday was a week and a half ago, and I thought my last column was the cap. As usual, I was wrong.

Friday afternoon was busy. At 2:30 I left the house to pick up the kids (Max and his girlfriend Lauren, who practically lives at our house) from high school. Then we had to drive 20 minutes in the opposite direction through heavy traffic to where Tori had been subbing most of the week in a first-grade class and pick her up. Because Max's high school had a football game that night and he and Lauren are in the band, they had to be back at school by 5:30. So we decided to just grab some chicken on the way home. We stopped at Popeye's.

I had placed the order and was waiting when Tori came in and handed me the phone. "It's New Zealand," she said.

The previous weekend I had missed connections with the last of this year's phone interviews, a children's morning radio show in Dunedin, New Zealand, called "Space Station Kiwi." Time zone differences had buggered us. Saturday morning in New Zealand was Friday afternoon here, but we hadn't figured out precisely when. I had written it off. He apparently had not, and now, a week later. he tried again and got through.

So there I was standing in the middle of Popeye's chicken (Louisiana fresh!) growling into the phone. With the heavy traffic passing by, taking the phone outside was out of the question, so I moved to the corner of the dining area.

Heads of the eight to a dozen diners jerked up in surprise. The cook heard me bellow "Aarrr! Ahoy thar!" and came out and asked Tori if he should call the paramedics. Really.

I sat in the corner and did the live interview. It was actually fun. "Captain Cornflake," as the show's host calls himself, did all these space sound effects – whooshes and beeps and clanks – with nothing more than his mouth. If I were a Kiwi kid, I'd make a point of listening in. Because it was a kids show the questions were a little off the usual path. I ended up warning the kids about the dangers of scurvy and why they need to eat their fruits and vegetables.

The dozen or so diners were staring, not sure whether to be worried or amused. From time to time I looked up, smiled non-threateningly, and shrugged, as if to say, "Hey, what can I do?"

Meanwhile Tori was standing nearby, trying not to laugh at me, and Max and Lauren (who is fascinated by us) tried to look like they didn't know me and were not in fact really there.


In all, it took about ten minutes, maybe twelve. By this time Tori had our order in hand. I finished, stood, smiled and apologized to the room of bemused diners. "It was an interview, New Zealand. You know how they are." And we left.

The kids made it to their game on time, and their school won 75-0. The EJHS team is apparently pretty good.

Tori had checked out a movie from the library to show the first graders, and we watched it Saturday night. "Muppet Treasure Island." It's not a "serious" pirate movie, but who wants pirate movies to be serious? It's silly, Tim Curry is a great Long John Silver, the kid playing Jim Hawkins wasn't terribly annoying, at least not more than most kids playing Hawkins.

"Muppet Treasure Island" is a fun and funny movie.

It is, as Tim Curry says in my favorite number, "When You're a Professional Pirate," "a festival of conviviality!"

And that, I think, is probably the last word on the holiday for the year.

But I'm usually wrong about that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Talk Like a Pirate Day – After Action Report

It's my new favorite story about International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

For the uninitiated (and anyone reading this probably isn't among that group) Talk Like a Pirate Day is every Sept. 19, a day with no other purpose than for people all over the world to share in the anarchic joy of talking like a pirate for no other reason than it's fun. Over the years (11 of them now) we've had some remarkable things happen – hearing about the TLAP party held at the Antarctic research station, located 50 feet from the South Pole, hearing astronauts on the International Space Stations talking like pirates, the NY Times crossword puzzle theme, the photo from the White House of Obama pretending to talk with a pirate. The list goes on.

Every year, something happens and we think, "Well, that's as good as it gets. There's no topping this." And then the next year something comes along and tops it.

There was one of those this year, of course. I was watching The Daily Show, and there was no mention of the holiday. But right at the end, Stewart said, "And now, your moment of zen," and the clip showed a guy being interviewed on CNBC, and the interviewer was talking like a pirate! That was a two-fer, both the original interview and the Daily Show pick up. So that was a pretty big deal to me.

But that's not my favorite story. That came late Thursday night, in an email. I will quote it.

"Hi, you haven't the slightest idea who I am ... I am a broke college student who lives in FL with my family (mom, dad, younger siblings aunts, uncles, grandma, cousins, etc...), I just wanted to write to you guys and let you know how much fun my family had celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day 2013. I had known of and observed it lightly for the last 4 years but this year, I heard about the Krispy Kreme promotion and I knew that I had to get my family in on the act. My dad couldn't make it out with us to celebrate but he gave us the go ahead and encouraged us to help the little kids dress up and really have fun with the afternoon. The kids helped make their own costumes (or did I help them?) they weren't great but we had a lot of fun making them and getting excited and then they had even more fun when my older sister and I took our younger siblings and cousins out to the local doughnut place and they had a blast – as my 8-year-old cousin John put it: 'This is the best International Talk Like a Pirate Day I've ever had!!!!'"

I love this story, both because of the boy's enthusiasm and the realization that there's a whole generation of young people for whom this isn't just some goofy new idea they've just heard of. International Talk Like a Pirate Day, is a THING. It's just part of the calendar, part of life that's been around (in their experience) forever. Not really that different than Christmas or baseball.

Kind of blows me away.

Mark (Cap'n Slappy Summers) and I have been noting for years that the holiday is sort of outgrowing us, and this year I'm sure of it. Not that that's a bad thing. It's reached critical mass, Mark and I could decide to drop it tomorrow and it would go on. We did fewer interviews this year than in the past – seven years ago we did 82 radio interviews in a 30-hour hour span. This year we were still all over Australia, the Aussies just can't get enough of us. But very few in the U.S. and only one in Europe. But that didn't mean interest in Talk Like a Pirate Day was dying. On the contrary, it's stronger than ever. The holiday was all over the Web, in newspaper and on television everywhere. They didn't need to talk to the founders. They were too busy, there was a holiday to celebrate.

The Krispy Kreme promotion was especially huge. When Tori, Max and I went down for our doughnuts (dress like a pirate, get a dozen free doughnuts) the place was mobbed with buccaneers. We heard similar reports from all over.

People have asked us over the years how long we plan to keep this up. The answer was always the same. "As long as it's fun." It's still fun, but now it's something more. It's not just my and Mark's plaything. It belongs to the world.

And the world is doing just fine with it.