Arrr! We be the pirate guys, matey.
Or, in another vernacular, we are guys, John Baur and Mark Summers. And that really should be all you need to know about the origins of Talk Like a Pirate Day. We’re guys. Not men, with responsibility and suits and power ties. We’re guys, with all that that implies. But here are the details.
Once upon a time — on June 6, 1995, to be precise — we were playing racquetball, not well but gamely. It wasn’t our intention to become “the pirate guys.” Truth to tell, it wasn’t really our intention to become anything, except perhaps a tad thinner and healthier, and if you could see our photos, you’d know how THAT turned out. As we flailed away, we called out friendly encouragement to each other -“Damn, you bastard!” and “Oh, jeez, my hamstring!” for instance – as shots caromed away, unimpeded by our wildly swung rackets.
On this day, for reasons we still don’t quite understand, we started giving our encouragement in pirate slang. Mark suspects one of us might have been reaching for a low shot that, by pure chance, might have come off the wall at an unusually high rate of speed, and strained something best left unstrained. “Arrr!,” he might have said.
Who knows? It might have happened exactly that way.
Anyway, whoever let out the first “Arrr!” started something. One thing led to another. “That be a fine cannonade,” one said, to be followed by “Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm!” and other such helpful phrases.
By the time our hour on the court was over, we realized that lapsing into pirate lingo had made the game more fun and the time pass more quickly. We decided then and there that what the world really needed was a new national holiday, Talk Like A Pirate Day.
First, we needed a date for the holiday. As any guy can tell you, June 6 is the anniversary of World War II’s D-Day. Guys hold dates like that in reverence and awe so there was no way we could use June 6.
Mark came up with September 19. That was and is his ex-wife’s birthday, and the only date he could readily recall that wasn’t taken up with something like Christmas or the Super Bowl or something. We also decided — right then and there on the court on June 6, 1995 — that the perfect spokesman for our new holiday was none other than Dave Barry himself, nationally syndicated humor columnist and winner of the Pulitzer by-God Prize. So, naturally, we forgot all about it.
For seven years we celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day pretty much on our own, with our friend Brian Rhodes actually reminding us that the event was coming up. Frankly, we usually forgot exactly when Talk Like a Pirate Day was supposed to be or even that there was such a thing. Brian is one of those guys who programs every important event into his computer so that a reminder pops up the day before. John and Mark may be the founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day, but Brian is certainly the midwife, or godfather or something. (Have a cigar, Brian!)
Things would probably have continued indefinitely on that low-key note until John, Mark and Brian were little old pirates in the Home for Retired Sea Dogs. We had a national holiday that almost nobody knew about, and we were content with that.
Except for one happy accident. One day in early 2002, John chanced upon Dave Barry’s e-mail address. As the entire universe knows, Dave Barry is a syndicated columnist and the author of somewhere between four and 6,000 books and the second funniest man in the universe. We were two guys (three if you count Brian, and that seems only fair,) but Dave (we call him Dave now, though he probably doesn’t know it. Mr. Barry would probably be more appropriate, but, well, you know.) anyway, Dave is like a whole parade with brass bands and elephants. We reasoned that Dave would be able to bring attention to Talk Like A Pirate Day in a way that Mark and John (and Brian) wouldn’t be able to if we lived to be 200. Ambition suddenly burned bright, and sending e-mails is a very easy thing to do. Which is why we finally got around to contacting him.
The first e-mail introduced us, and told him about our great idea — Talk Like a Pirate Day. We knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. Then we offered him the only thing we had, the chance to be official national spokesman for the event.
We clicked the send button, casting our bread upon the water, if we may wax Biblical.
Surprisingly, we had an answer in a matter of days. We had assumed a famous guy like Dave Barry would have more important things to do than read the e-mail of a couple of louts with a hare-brained idea. It turns out, louts like us are where he gets a lot of his column material.
It’s a great idea, he said, (actually “very excellent” were his exact words, in case you’re keeping score.) But then he asked the fatal question.
“Have you guys actually DONE anything about this? Or are you counting on me to carry the ball here?”
Very perceptive of him. The way we answered would be crucial in bringing Barry aboard. We decided on the truth, with a lot of ass kissing thrown in.
“Well, we’ve talked like pirates every Sept. 19, and we’ve encouraged our several friends to,” John wrote in reply. And Mark put it in perspective when he wrote, “We are dinghy-sized-talk-like-a-pirate kinda guys, but you, Dave … you are like a frigate-huge-sized-talk-like-a-pirate kinda guy.”
In early September, John got a phone call from the feature editor at the local paper, someone he had worked with for several years before leaving the newspaper business (But that’s a different story.) She sounded confused.
“John, I was editing this week’s Dave Barry column and it’s about … Is this you?”
It was. The nationally syndicated columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning writer of “distinguished commentary” (the Pulitzer committee’s description, not his own) became convinced of the great potential of such a holiday. Or maybe he had run out of fresh column ideas and didn’t want to do another one on toilet training his infant daughter. Either way, he had written the column.
And hell broke loose