“Oh for the life on the rolling sea”
by Loren Logsdon
Me father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light
He courted a mermaid one fine night.
And from that union there came three
A porpoise, and a porgy, and the other was me.
Yo Ho Ho! The wind blows free
Oh for the life on the rolling sea.!
Bob Shaftoe and Iva Goodun had grown up together as best friends. They did everything together and were inseparable, almost as if they were identical twins. They fished together, played on all of the school's athletic teams, tormented their teachers, were attracted to the same girls, and vowed to be best buds to the end of their days.
They were both wild and restless throughout their years of schooling, and when high school graduation came, they were not ready to do as their classmates did. They were not ready to marry young and start a family or to join the normal world of work or enlist in military service. They did not want to go to college because they had had quite enough of formal education. What they wanted was freedom to travel to the four corners of the world, sail the seven seas, and do battle with formidable adversaries. To the disappointment of their respective families, they became pirates.
Life was much more simple in those days than it is now. If you saw a man wearing a three-cornered hat and a gold earring, with tattoos on his arms and a parrot on his shoulder, and he snarled “Narr,” “Yarr,” and “Arrgh,” you could be certain he was a pirate. Not so today in this fancy, frilly postmodern world. Today, such a man could be a wealthy rock star, a famous professional athlete, a movie star, an elected politician or even a college professor. The world has become incredibly complicated and confusing.
Although the two friends were pirates, they went in different directions. Bob Shaftoe landed a position on a pirate ship that operated in the Indian Ocean while Iva Goodun joined a pirate gang who prowled the Sargasso Sea. The friends were so far apart in distance that they had not actually seen each other since the night of their high school graduation, 62 years ago. They kept up with each other through rumors and stories and sometimes via snail mail. They would on rare occasions exchange lengthy Christmas letters or maybe greeting cards on Blackbeard's birthday or Long John Silver's Walk the Plank Day.
Their careers differed in quality also. Along the way Bob Shaftoe earned the nickname Shipwreck Shaftoe because he had survived 29 shipwrecks and seven keel haulings. Iva Goodun was given the simple nickname Swabby because his mates could not think of anything else to call him. He was popular because he knew how to use all the attachments on a Swiss Army Knife, but he never really did anything to earn distinction, and when the fighting became fierce he could be seen high in the rigging protecting the Jolly Roger. “Someone had to do it,” he always said.
In the world of pirates and elected Illinois political leaders there is no mandatory retirement age and no limit to the amount of wealth one could amass, and so Shipwreck and Swabby plundered and robbed until they were 80 years old.
Where do pirates go when they retire? According to the legends of the sea, they go to a place called Fiddler's Green.
Fiddler’s Green is a place I’ve heard tell
Where sailor men go if they don’t go to Hell,
Where the weather is fair and the dolphins do play,
And the cold coast of Greenland is far far away.
But Shipwreck and Swabby had other ideas. Fiddler’s Green sounded too tame for them.
In fact, Swabby had several options. During his long years of looting, he had buried treasures in seven different locations because he didn't trust banks or corporations like Enron, not to mention financiers like Bernie Maddov or the Keating Five. He had also had a main squeeze in every port, and from those unions he had seven fine sons. The sons refused to follow in their father's footsteps; instead, each one became a CEO of a multi-national corporation and practiced postmodern piracy. Swabby’s sons were financing a movie about his life, starring Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga, with a guest appearance by Kato Kaelin. Each son promised to provide a retired life of excitement and romance for Swabby. In his sunset years he could live anywhere in the world. All he had to do was choose the place.
Not so with Shipwreck. He had nothing for his retirement. No buried treasure, no sons, no friends in high places, and no prospects for anything luxurious. He was, as his name implies, truly a shipwrecked man; so much so that even Chernobyl looked good to him.
One night when I was trimming’ of a glim
Singing a verse from the evening hymn.
A voice from the starboard shouted “Ahoy,”
And there was me mother a sittin’ on a buoy.
“Don’t be ridiculous! A boy is a juvenile male.”
“No, a buoy. It guides the ships that sail.”
Old pirates can become sentimental just like anyone else. After so many years of restless wandering, the two old friends felt a strong nostalgic pull to return to their boyhood home, even though Illinois had long ago been plundered and looted by pirates from Lake Michigan. But Shipwreck and Swabby came back to Illinois anyway and agreed to meet at the Slimy Squid Bar in Quincy. Swabby wondered if he would recognize his childhood chum after 62 years; and, indeed, he was shocked to see that Shipwreck, in his youth a handsome lad, was now sporting a peg leg, a hook for an arm, and a patch over one eye.
“Avast me hearty! Shiver me timbers and thar she blows! Batten the hatches! Lower the topsail! Man the bilge pumps and scrub the Poop Deck! What happened to you?” Swabby asked.
Sheepishly, Shipwreck shook his head slowly and said, “One hot day my mates and I decided to go for a swim and cool off. I was swimming and a shark came along and took off my leg at the knee. It isn't so bad. I got used to the wooden leg after a while,” Shipwreck explained.
“What about the hook?” Swabby inquired.
“Well, one day we were attacked by this other pirate ship. They tried to board us and the air was filled with smoke and shouts of 'Narr,’ ‘Yarr,’ and ‘Arrgh.’” All of a sudden I looked down and my arm was gone. A cutlass took if off at the elbow as clean as you please. I soon got used to the hook. Actually it's an advantage because you can do lots of things with a hook you can't do with a regular arm,” Shipwreck said.
“And the patch?” Swabby asked.
“Well, we were in port and the day was beautiful. The sky was blue and the breeze was cool and gentle. I was looking up into this perfect sky singing “We'll Pay Paddy Doyle for His Boots,” and a seagull defecated, dropping the whole load in my eye.”
“But that wouldn't blind you,” Swabby observed.
“I forgot about the hook,” Shipwreck said ruefully.
“Tell me what has become of my children three?”
Me mother then she asked of me.
One was exhibited as a talking fish
And the other was served on a chafing dish.
Then the phosphorus flashed in her seaweed hair
I looked again and me mother wasn’t there.
Then I heard a voice echoing out of the night
“To the Devil with the keeper of the Eddystone Light!”
Yo Ho Ho! the wind blows free
Oh for the life on the rolling sea.