Once upon a time — on June 6, 1995, to be precise — John Baur and Mark Summers were playing racquetball, not well but gamely. It wasn’t their intention to become “the pirate guys.” Truth to tell, it wasn’t really their intention to become anything, except perhaps a tad thinner and healthier. As they flailed away, they called out friendly encouragement to each other -“Damn, you bastard!” and “Oh, jeez, my hamstring!” for instance – as shots caromed away, unimpeded by their wildly swung rackets.
On this day, for reasons they still don’t quite understand, they started giving their encouragement in pirate slang. Mark suspects one of them 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 their hour on the court was over, they realized that lapsing into pirate lingo had made the game more fun and the time pass more quickly. They decided then and there that what the world really needed was a new national holiday, Talk Like A Pirate Day.
First, they 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 they could use June 6. Mark came up with September 19.
They also decided that the perfect spokesman for their new holiday was none other than Dave Barry himself, nationally syndicated humor columnist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. So, naturally, they forgot all about it.
For seven years they celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day pretty much on their own, with their friend Brian Rhodes actually reminding them that the event was coming up. Frankly, they 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 godfather.
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. They had a national holiday that almost nobody knew about, and they were content with that.
Except for one happy accident. One day in early 2002, John chanced upon Dave Barry’s e-mail address. Dave Barry is syndicated columnist and the author of between four and 6,000 books and the second funniest man in the universe. They were two guys (three if you count Brian, and that seems only fair,) but Dave is like a whole parade with brass bands and elephants. They 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 they lived to be 200. Ambition suddenly burned bright, and sending e-mails is a very easy thing to do. Which is why they finally got around to contacting him.
The first e-mail introduced themselves, and told him about their great idea — Talk Like a Pirate Day. They knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. Then they offered him the only thing they had, the chance to be official national spokesman for the event. They clicked the send button, casting their bread upon the water.
Surprisingly, they had an answer in a matter of days. It’s a great idea, he said, 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 they answered would be crucial in bringing Barry aboard. They decided on the truth, with a lot of kissing up 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. 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” became convinced of the great potential of such a holiday. He had written the column.
Thus, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was born.