Yo Ho Ho, A Pirate’s Life…
by Flynn Washburne, May 31, 2017
Society, or at least the arm of it concerned with the making of rules and the forced restraint of natural human behavior, is very good at defining the areas in which it is acceptable for a person to be, which, if you think about it, is not a very significant portion of the planet. Deviate even slightly from the permissible well trod path and you will encounter vigorous objection to your wanderings.
Keep out, the signs say. No trespassing. Authorized Personnel Only. Do Not Enter. Caution. Keep Out. Etc., etc.. With signs and walls and moats and fences and guards and membership requirements and border checkpoints, our prescribed routes are effectively delineated and we, for the most part, observe and accept these restrictions. Those who don't are named trespassers, violators, interlopers, and encroachers, and are warned, shocked, arrested, shot, tangled up, and detained as necessary. This is the way of the world; sometimes it is sensible, others it is arbitrary. But it is always clear.
So why is it that when nature, who can do everything better than man, does the same thing only infinitely more eloquently and elegantly, we set ourselves to violating her strictures at any cost?
Take space, for instance. Mother Nature could not have been more clear in stating, "You there, stay on the ground. Gravity, the velvet rope of outer space, politely reminds us of our natural place on the ground. The higher we climb in violation of this order, the more forcefully we are bounced, although after the first 50 feet or so the only difference is in the diffusion radius of your parts. In the very unlikely and expensive event one is able to surmount the gravitational boundary, one finds oneself in the very apotheosis of this inhospitableness. There is no air, no light, no sound, no food, and no people. The closest thing to you is 20 times farther than you can possibly travel on earth, the next 93 million miles away, and neither is a 7-11. And yet we expend untold amounts of energy, inconceivable sums of money, and no small amount of human life in violation of this very sensible and clearly stated warning: stay on the ground.
Ditto with the ocean. Right there at its boundary with the land operates a ceaseless and automatic engine of expulsion, the waves. In their rhythmic and susurrant way, they, at times gently, other times quite strenuously -- whisper and roar to us: "You are not welcome here. Trust us. Things will not go well for you."
Still we persevere and having breached the barrier find ourselves surrounded by a wet, cold, salty, unbreathable atmosphere peopled by strange creatures gliding unnaturally about in three dimensions, many of whom are quite capable and even desirous of including us in their diet. That is reason enough for me, and indeed any reasonable person, to remain on dry land. But ever since man climbed out of the big salty and established a beachhead he has, perversely, been concocting means to get back in, littering the sea floor with corpses and contrivances as a consequence.
This is the essential contrariness of man, who will risk all just to prove he can do something he is clearly not meant to do. I would be very surprised if there were not currently teams of scientists and engineers working round-the-clock devising a means for people to travel inside an actively boiling volcano.
Me? Not so much. Astronauting never held any appeal for me, and while I've hobbled around the edges of the briny deep, none of the various careers or diversions associated with it ever interested me much. I figure that any force of nature capable of wreaking asunder a floating hotel, I will steer clear of.
However, as the official record clearly and repeatedly states, if I'm not the king of bad decisions, I am at least third or fourth in the line of succession and a loyal member of his court. I am also a prideful man, and susceptible to the polishings of such vanities as I might nourish, hence -- Well, you'll see.
It came to pass that I found myself one day in, of all places, an empty storage locker just off Main Street in Fort Bragg, passing the glass pipe with a small group of guys. One gentleman was unknown to me, a wiry 30-ish dude in a brush cut, wearing a hoody and felony shoes. I kept catching him making what appeared to be appraising glances in my direction -- sizing me up, like. I ran through a mental list of any mischief I might lately I've been up to to cause me to run afoul of any fellow tweakers and came up empty. I had been mostly inactive of late and in fact was only recently back from two weeks deep up Navarro Ridge recovering from a debilitating spell of the seasonal fantods. My constitution may be exceptionally robust, but my psyche requires periodic easement.
After the pilo had made a few circuits, He came over and sat down next to me. "You're that guy they call Flynn, right?" he said, lighting a cigarette.
"I might be. Who's asking?," I said wantonly. "And if they did call me that, it is only because it's my name."
"That makes sense. They called Peeps. Reason I ask, word on the street is you got a wild hair up your ass and a pair of cast-iron stones."
"Oh well -- shucks," I said, puffing up a little. "I've been known to disregard my freedom and personal safety in pursuit of adventure, if that's what you mean."
Peeps leaned in and took a conspiratorial tone. "Ever thought about piracy?"
Well sure, who hasn't? Yo ho ho and all that. "Again, maybe, why do you ask?"
"I got a plan. Let's get out of here and I'll tell you about it," he said.
The plan, as outlined by my new friend Peeps as we walked up Oak Street, involved an old abandoned skiff resting behind some bushes down in the harbor. We were to recommission the craft, and launch her into the harbor, row her out beyond the breakwater and jettison the oars. When a likely pleasure boat came along we were to flag her down, board her, force the occupants into our skiff at gunpoint, and sail off looking for more boats to blunder.
"Wait. Why do we throw the oars away again?" I asked.
"It's the old bird-with-a-broken-wing dodge. We appear helpless. Plus, once they’re in our boat they won't be able to raise the alarm too quickly. Once we are safely away we call in their position on the radio."
"Peeps, I gotta tell you," I said, clapping him on the back, "I cannot see a single flaw in your plan. It's a pirates life for us! Yaar!"
"Yaar!" he agreed.
I blame Peeps’ praise of my cojones and the surfeit of chemicals coursing through my bloodstream for overcoming my natural aversion to the bounding main. Unless I sobered up in the next few hours, an extremely unlikely development, it looked like my rap sheet was about to get a lot more colorful.
Dawn found us in the harbor, cleaning several inches of mud, shrubbery, trash and dead rodents from the bottom of an extremely disreputable looking dinghy the about the size of three bathtubs laid side to side. When we reached the vessel’s floor -- excuse me, deck -- it had a decidedly cancerous aspect but I figured as long as we couldn't see through it, we'd be okay.
We brought to small plastic paddles and were taking one each to row canoe style out to sea. We tossed the paddles in, brushed off the seats, and laid her gently into the water. "Shall we name or her, Peeps?" I said.
"I christen thee ‘Ggotcha’!" he said, cracking an imaginary bottle of champagne over her bow and going, "Spsshhh!"
We climbed in and commenced rowing vigorously, making decent progress until, well out into the middle of the harbor, I noticed some seepage into my Chuck Taylors. I looked down and saw an inch or two of water covering the deck. "We're taking on water, Cap’n," I said.
"Bail that shit out," Peeps ordered.
"No can do, no bailer… Uh-oh," I said, as it became apparent that saltwater was our doughty craft’s kryptonite. Large holes began appearing the length of the boat, bringing the sea in and shortly we were more hole than boat.
"Abandon ship!" I needlessly cried.
"I think the ship is abandoning us," Peeps said, and indeed the water level had quite surmounted the gunwhales and Gotcha was bound for Davy Jones’ locker.
We remained treading water for a moment, Gotcha’s funeral bubbles rising between us, when I saw about five yards over Peeps’ shoulder a sleek black shape moving toward us.
"Shark! Shark!" I screamed.
Peeps turned just as the beast breached and rolled over onto his back, whiskered face grinning insourciantly.
"Seal! Seal!" I said with equal panic.
"Relax, it won't hurt you," Peeps said.
"Relax? Were shipwrecked!" I yelled.
"Just swim do that dock over there," Peeps said.
We did, and hauled ourselves out of the water.
"We should probably get out of here. There's bound to be something illegal about what just happened."
"No doubt. Let's go," I agreed.
Drenched and discouraged, we slopped up the hill and parted ways as I headed off in search of dry clothes and saner pursuits.
The chill waters of the harbor had cleared my head of any foolish romantic notions of marauding on the high seas. If I learned anything that day, and I like to think I did, it's not to allow a head pumped full of chemically induced optimism and confidence to lead you places you're not meant to be. That and when setting off on a maritime adventure, ascertain positively that the barrier separating you from the water, i.e., the deck, is up to the task and will not dissolve. Can't stress that one enough.
(Ed note: Pilo: slang for a drug pipe. Fantods: any state of or attack of uneasiness or unreasonableness. Susurrant: a soft murmuring or rustling sound; whisper.)