To Err is Human, but to Arrr is Pirate

June, 2014

Recently I had the good fortune of arriving at the port of Cape Vincent coincidentally with a tall ship, Leona’s Ransom, flying the Jolly Roger. I was invited aboard, the three pirates being of the Nova Scotia sort and quite friendly.


After having a look around, I took a few photos and then chatted with the young crew.  In their early twenties, none showed any signs of scurvy, one was female, and one wore a black eye patch – which (if he actually needed it) was more likely the result of an encounter with a hockey stick than a cutlass. These were cute and well-dressed pirates.

I experience a type of what Oliver Sacks calls musicophilia, which means that I very often have music playing in my brain.  It can be any kind of music and is usually a song that I like, or rather, part of a song that I like, repeating to the point of being annoying.  It doesn’t take much to strike up the band:  my eyes saw the ship, my brain said, “Hey, let’s sing something from Pirates of Penzance!”  I was instantly in Gilbert & Sullivan mode, hearing the full musical stage production version.

When Frederic was a little lad he proved so brave and daring,
His father thought he’d ‘prentice him to some career seafaring.
I was, alas! his nurserymaid, and so it fell to my lot
To take and bind the promising boy apprentice to a pilot
A life not bad for a hardy lad, though surely not a high lot,
Though I’m a nurse, you might do worse than make your boy a pilot.

“Are you familiar with The Pirates of Penzance?” I asked the pirates.  They had never heard of it!!!  And that is how I came to sing When Frederic Was a Little Lad on board Leona’s Ransom.

I was a stupid nurserymaid, on breakers always steering,
And I did not catch the word aright, through being hard of hearing;
Mistaking my instructions, which within my brain did gyrate,
I took and bound this promising boy apprentice to a pirate.
A sad mistake it was to make and doom him to a vile lot.
I bound him to a pirate you instead of to a pilot.

At that point, the pirates made me walk the plant, but luckily it wasn’t far to shore and I lived to tell the tale.   As I dripped away, I heard one of them exclaim, “Drink up me hearties, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me!”  No matter how sweet they might seem, apparently pirates will have no truck with sopranos.

“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.”  ~ Mark Twain,  Life on the Mississippi
“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate.”  ~ Unknown
“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”  ~ Steve Jobs


Grammatically Speaking

It’s almost dark, which, if you’re barely 12 years old and have new bicycle lights, is the best time to test them. “Gramma and Grampa, you bring the dog and I’ll ride my bike around the block.”

The block is ever expanding in scope as we walk, and the two-wheeler with a laser-beam headlight and a light that circles the rear hub causing flashing red illumination of the rider’s backside eventually finds the home stretch. With less than a block to go, Matthew hollers, “I want to be in the 3rd person!” … ? ? ? Huh? “I want to be in the 3rd person!” I ask him what on earth he means, and he replies that he wants to WATCH Grampa ride the bike so he can see the red flashing light on HIS behind!

Friends Old and New

The art show opening behind us but the evening still young, Jeanie drives us to Roxy’s, a local restaurant and Irish watering hole.  As we approach the door, she encounters a rather slight fellow a few years our junior, and big greetings and introductions are exchanged.

“Where’s Donna?  Why don’t you go get her and we’ll have dinner together!” Jeanie asks. Jim hems a little and says, “You invite her,” as he dials a cellphone and thrusts it toward my friend.  Jeanie declines, pushing the phone back towards him, and I – being ever the smart-ass – seize the phone and say in my very sexiest voice, “Hi Donna.  I’m down here at Roxy’s with your husband.  Maybe you should come over and get him.”  Laughter all around, including from Donna, and Jim exits to go get her.

Our drinks arrive, and Jeanie becomes suddenly very serious.  “We might have to leave,” she says.  A bit stunned at this abrupt departure from what had seemed to be light-hearted fun, I ask why.  “You don’t know Donna.  Remember ***** (a very tall and ample woman I had met at the show opening)?  Donna is bigger than *****.  She weighs over 400 pounds and she has an AWFUL temper.”

I consider these new facts and tell Jeanie that Donna had laughed when I spoke with her on the phone, so I doubted very much that she could be upset.

“Judy, she’s bi-polar.”  “Um, okay,” I say and, trying to sound unconcerned, “I’ve had quite a bit of experience with someone bipolar.”  Inside I’m thinking HOLY SHIT, what have I done?!?!

I remark that I’m sure Jim wouldn’t bring her if she was furious, to which Jeanie replies that Donna “can turn on a dime.”  And at that moment, Jim appears around the corner of the wall behind me.  I know this because Jeanie glances upward and past me.  Not sure whether to duck or run. I whirl my head around and fix my gaze a foot or more above Jim’s head in anticipation of Godzilla.  But wait – who is this smiling 4’10” woman at his heels???!

“Gotcha!” grinned Jeanie, and after we stopped laughing, a fine dinner was had by all.

The Real Housewives of Park Slope

It’s a warm, sunny day in Brooklyn, and Grandpa and I take our granddaughter out in a Bjorn carrier. We walk the mile or so up through Park Slope to Prospect Park and then across part of it, ending up at the children’s playground. My 69 year-old back and feet are starting to hurt from the hard pavement walking, and I see a seat on a park bench in the shade.

I’ve been sitting all of about half a minute when this blonde, coifed, carefully manicured 30-something strides across the playground toward me and loudly exclaims, “YOU’RE SITTING IN MY SEAT!” Say what??? “MY BAG IS RIGHT THERE ON THE GROUND NEXT TO THAT BENCH!”  Heads turn.

I think, “Bitch, you gotta be kiddin’ me…!” But I rise, smile very sympathetically and say in a very sweet voice almost as loud as hers, “Well, I can see that you’re quite OLD and surely need this bench a lot more than I do,” and turn and walk away as she makes a complete fool of herself attempting to explain to everyone present that I could have the bench and how hard it is to chase kids all morning. Two sweet hispanic women make space for me on another bench.


The trip from my home to the neighboring State of Vermont takes me across the northernmost part of New York – an “upstate” so far north that its existence is completely unknown to people who aren’t native to the area. It’s a place whose natives speak with the hint of a Canadian accent. 

Much of the way I drive a road called The Old Military Turnpike, following (in reverse) the route taken by some of my ancestors exactly two hundred years ago. I pass the stone ruins of Robinson’s Tavern, a stopping point built shortly after the War of 1812, and eventually catch a glimpse of Lake Champlain in the distance, the mountains of Vermont rising beyond it. 

About a hundred miles from home, I drive aboard the Lake Champlain Ferry and turn the ingition off. For the next fifteen minutes I’ll enjoy the sun and wind, note the absence of the dozens of white-sailed boats dotting the lake during the summer months, and reflect that soon my crossings will involve stinging cold winds and the breaking of ice. I resolve to photograph one of the boat’s flags, using it to frame a long view down the lake, but no matter how I try, the flag and the lake just won’t cooperate. I climb the stairs to the upper deck and walk toward the stern, and as the rear flag comes into view, I see a crew member removing it from its pole! 

I mutter a discouraging word. The one thing I wanted to photograph, and this guy takes it down! But wait… As I descend the aft stairs, he unfurls a brand new flag and fastens it securely to the flagpole. Frame, focus, click. The warm wind blows my hair around and I slip my camera back in the case. It wasn’t the picture I had in mind, but it’s a good day on the ferry.

Outhouse Lady

Photograph courtesy of D. W. Andrus

Just when you think something is over and done with, just when you’re beginning to relax in the belief that you have fixed the problem, stemmed the tide, mended the fence, changed the subject, finalized the divorce, ended the occupation, switched the gears or slain the dragon… your cousin Don surprises you. Well, what ever did I expect, anyway? Don is a wizard too, and – as you must know – wizards never tire of having fun, so why was I surprised to receive a book of poetry entitled, “Muddled Meanderings in an Outhouse?”

You see, my mother was known by many as “The Outhouse Lady.” She was an artist, and her gimmick (the thing that caught the eye of potential buyers of her more serious work) was her display of small outhouse paintings accompanied by a sign which read: Hang an outhouse in your bathroom and count your blessings! $5 She would paint the stand of hollyhocks next to each privy to match the colors of the buyer’s powder room. People loved them, and my mother’s newfound notoriety solved the birthday and Christmas gift-giving problem for all the relatives: They gave my mother’s outhouses to their friends; they gave my mother everything ever produced that immortalized the outhouse.

I thought that part of my life was behind me…

Outhouse Lady (for Don)

She went out back in younger days
The Sears and Roebuck book to read,
Passed some time (if nothing else)
Seated by hollyhocks grown up from seed.

In later years she’d paint that place,
(Not the interior walls as you might assume),
But tiny pictures for five bucks apiece
To hang in modern indoor rooms.

She was dubbed “The Outhouse Lady”
And was known both far and wide;
Her children suffered embarrassment,
As from her fame they tried to hide.

Gifts would come at Christmas
From the painter’s nephews and cousins:
Calendars, puzzles, books of rhyme;
Outhouse pictures by the dozens.

The family bathroom became the repository
For this mounting pile of privy lore,
Until it became so full it was impossible
To use the place for what it was intended for…

What to do? And where to go?
Asked her desperate kids and spouse –
The solution (thanks to Port-a-potty)
Was a modern out-back house!

Through wind and snow we then took the path
To the new bathroom way out back,
(At least there was Scott tissue
Replacing that damned old almanac).

Years later we lost our privy painter,
And her “collection” was garage-saled away,
The bathroom was clear and clean once more –
‘Till your gift arrived today!

How important the inheritance
Of family lore and memories,
But I must scratch my head and wonder
How this mantle has passed to me?!?!