Ahoy, matey! Grab your favorite buxom beauty or bilge rat, a
pint of grog and a whole lotta loud pirattitude because today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.
Legend has it that the idea for the annual Sept. 19 holiday arose on a racketball court in Albany, Ore., in 1995 while two old salts — John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur and Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers — were playing against one other. They started slinging insults in pirate jargon for reasons long since forgotten, although it might have started with an “arrr,” which according to them can mean anything from “I agree” to “I’m enjoying this beer.”
That “arrr” was followed by something along the lines of “that be a fine cannonade” and “Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm,” according to the duo’s website, and the idea for an annual day of goofiness was hatched. The intent of the holiday is that it be “celebrated with much feasting and drinking and wearing of eye-patches, followed by more feasting and drinking and the singing of bawdy songs about wenches and manatees and a particularly clever monkey named Chip” all while “babbling like buccaneers.”
Kind of like Superbowl Sunday, only without the football, Baur noted. He won’t be able to celebrate with his fellow pirate Summers, whose taken up residence in Alaska, 4,000 miles away from Baur’s home on the island of St. Croix. But Baur’s festivities will begin on International Talk Like A Pirate (or ITLAP) eve, on a beach near his home, he said in a recent telephone interview.
“At midnight, we’ll toast Talk Like A Pirate Day, then we’ll go on toasting whatever comes to mind,” Baur said. “We also throw knives and axes — sometimes flaming axes — at (wooden) targets and at Spanish naval officers, of course.
“There might be some morning-after pain involved, but that’s the price we pay. People don’t realize how difficult it is and the sacrifices we make to be pirates.”
The significance of Sept. 19 is that it was Summers’ ex-wife’s birthday. When she learned of the date, she told Baur that she was “never prouder to be Summer’s EX-wife,” Baur said. Go figure.
The first few years of ITLAP day consisted of being a private joke among a few friends.
“We’d call each other at work and say ‘Arrr’ and hang up,” he recalled. “Then the Dave Barry article came out.”
They had contacted Barry, a national humor columnist, in 2002 and pitched him a story idea in an e-mail, figuring either he would be convinced of the potential of a holiday like this, or might have run out of column ideas. Barry took the bait and wrote about their idea, saying people should answer their phones with “‘Ahoy me hearty!” and “if the caller objects that he is not a hearty, inform him that he is a scurvy dog (or, if the caller is female, a scurvy female dog) who will be walking the plank off the poop deck and winding up in Davy Jones’ locker, sleeping with the fishes.”
The response to Barry’s column shivered their timbers.
“We thought we’d have our 15 minutes of fame that would be up by two in the afternoon. But the thing went around the world, and we started getting calls from radio stations for interviews from NPR, Australia and Ireland,” Baur said. “Each year something happens that makes us go ‘Wow, who ever would have thought this would take off?’ Two years ago we were the subject of a New York Times crossword puzzle, and for a crossword puzzle geek like me, that’s like arriving at sainthood.”
He theorizes that the ITLAP popularity had something to do with the release shortly thereafter of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” and Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow.
“A friend told me once that for the first time in her life she felt two minutes ahead of the world instead of two minutes behind, and that’s the way we feel,” Baur said. “We were there when the wave broke and I think that movie is a huge part of the enthusiasm out there.”
They’ve written books about “pirattitude,” sell T-shirts, and along with the website, have a blog and YouTube videos. They also perform around the country, including at a recent convention for faux finish artists.
“We were the entertainment, and they had way too much money for people who paint fake marble,” Baur said, adding that they “took what we could and gave nothing away” as good pirates should.
But alas, being a pirate these days doesn’t pay well enough for it to be a full-time job. So Baur makes an honest living as a reporter and editor (if that’s not an oxymoron) and Summers is a school counselor.
“We’re waiting to become obscenely wealthy, but in the meantime I’ve been in the news business for 30 years,” Baur said.
Still, at least once a year he gets to rub the rust off his steel sword and strap it to his side, grab his best wench, wife “Mad Sally” Baur, and a rustle up a barrel of grog to share with friends and foes alike.
“And you know,” he adds as a challenge, “we’ve had events all over the world and in 35 of 50 states, but only once in Montana, and never in Wyoming. They had an event once in North Dakota, but never in South Dakota.”
Avast! Sounds like the gauntlet’s been thrown down. So, me hearties, whilst others wander around the poop deck, gather your urchins, pop open the bung hole on that barrel of grog and start playing the hornpipes in celebration of International Talk Like a Pirate Day — or risk a keelhauling.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or email@example.com