Amoeba’s Lorica: Of Pirates

Happy happy joy joy. It’s Talk Like A Pirate Day, and already Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba can’t escape the aaaaarrrggh! The day even has its own Wikipedia page, which incautiously names the perpetrators of this ‘event’. And also incautiously reminds readers that “The holiday, and its observance, springs from a romanticized view of the Golden Age of Piracy.” Yeah, ‘romanticized’ is right. Ahoy yerself.

Once upon a past life, in the southeastern corner of the great state of Massachusetts, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba found himself playing … wait for it …

Miniature golf.

As you probably know, no miniature golf course worth its price of admission just gives you a ball and a putter and Astroturf and leaves you alone. Oh no. You must have a theme. Props and gadgets and sound effects that squawk at you just as you’re lining up your thirty-foot bank shot around the rock formation. And, YFNA swears, me hearties, 17 out of every 10 of the miniature golf courses within the city limits of Hyannis has a pirate theme. Arrr!

Given the continued popularity of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, not to mention the seafaring history of this portion of the world (the soil being unable to sustain any crops, to speak of), YFNA supposes that this particular class of infatuation makes commercial sense. Given that the gift shops associated with the golf courses couldn’t keep Captain Jack Sparrow hats in stock – during the early spring pre-tourist slow season (the timing of YFNA’s singular experience).

But YFNA rapidly felt a sense of empathy with the long-suffering workers who had to put up with the same canned pirate captain’s command (“Fire at Will!”) every five minutes, all day every day. Not to mention the wiseguys on the course who yell back, surely a half-dozen times an hour, “Which one’s Will?” By the tenth iteration, YFNA was ready to destroy the power grid of southeastern New England if it would only silence that bloody recording.

After a day of hearing every cliché in the pirate canon except Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum (and YFNA can’t figure out how he, or they, missed it), he was not surprised to find a book about pirates in the house, a recent reprint of Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly, first published in 1996. When YFNA mentioned it to his companions on this expedition, he discovered that they had found it unrewarding, and stopped reading.

YFNA soon found out why. They had been expecting Cordingly to present Disneyesque narratives of the pirates of history. Especially those pirates active in the Caribbean during the 17th and early 18th centuries, the buccaneers of the so-called Great Age of Piracy from whom most of the romanticized outlaws of fiction have sprung: Long John Silver, Conrad, Hook, Jack Sparrow.

Alas, writes Cordingly, the sober historian finds no data to permit the spinning of such narratives, even for the most notorious captains such as Sir[?!?] Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, and William Kidd. Cordingly arranges the scant facts according to themes, not chronology or biography. From him, YFNA learned what he already suspected. That the lives of real pirates were short on glamor, romance, and time, and long on brutality and violence. That the men and women who sailed under the Jolly Roger were neither noble rebels nor cartoon villains; they were terrorists. Terrorists who, appalled at the prospect of long lives of hard labor at slave wages, opted for a life of large profits, quickly gained and as quickly spent … while the spending was good. “A merry life, and a short one”; such is the sentiment attributed by historians to the blackest of the pirate lot, Bartholomew Roberts.

What YFNA had not previously known was the organization of the terrorist cell known as a pirate vessel. Each voyage was conducted under a set of written articles, signed (willy-nilly) by every member of the crew. Each signer was then entitled to vote on all matters relevant to the craft and its maintenance. The crew voted in the captain (and not infrequently voted him out), the cruise route, the rations, codes of behavior and the punishment for violations of same, the distribution of plunder, and the compensation due those injured.

In other words, at a time in the history of the world when most governments were headed by absolute monarchs, these ocean-going vessels represented the planet’s most able and active democracies, embodying liberty, equality, and brotherhood a century before the American and French revolutions. Democracies of violent men, which existed solely for the sake of plunder, for the unrepentant robbery of the wealth of others …

Avast, ye dogs! This here pirate talk be now the law of this ‘Murican land, as befits ye scurvy knaves what live in it. Or ye’ll walk the plank! Arrrr!

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