October 2012

Ever since I found a copy of Neon Nightlife II with the first edition cover in the used CD rack for $2, I’ve tried to stop by Discus Tech in Havenbrook on the relatively infrequent occasions that I pass through town. I found it the first time by mistake while cruising around trying to find an Arby’s and a Best Buy, in that order, on the 5-lane megatraffic artery in the middle of town just off the freeway.

Thing is, I’ve almost never been able to find it since.

The road it’s on is a fustercluck, with left turns being nothing more then the fevered dream of a madman and pushy drivers anxious to make it too or from the highway always gnawing at your bumper. It’s hard enough to turn right at a light, much less anywhere else, and I always seemed to lose the store while trying to scan the roadside and drive at once. Turning around multiple times when I missed it was a pain and often not in the cards, timewise.

So when I found the shop again, I thought I’d mention it to the guy behind the counter. After all, if the place was going to stay afloat in this era of MP3 and cloud computing, it needed more than just me buying some music whenever I was in town (rarely) and could get through the door (rarer still).

“You know, your shop is really hard to find even when you know where it is,” I said.

“I’m not surprised.” The clerk lowered the sheet music he had been reading and gazed at me, white eyebrows over bifocals. “Only people who truly need this store can find it, son.”

“What?” I said.

“You must be meant to be here, to make some great purchase or otherwise shift the path of your life onto a new tangent. You can’t find the shop otherwise. Think of it like Neverending Story rules.”

I bit my lip. “Really?” It was true that Neon Nightlife II with the first edition cover was pretty awesomely, life-changingly cool (well, if you’re into that sort of music).

“Either that or this place is just really easy to miss,” the clerk said. “Take your pick.”

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“Yeah, I’d like to try one of your ice cream hamburgers.”

“We don’t serve those. Would you like ice cream or a hamburger?”

“But the sign says ice cream hamburgers!”

“No, it says ice cream on one line and hamburgers on the other. It’s not a sentence or phrase.”

“Well it sure looks like one.”

“Believe me, I know. But the management won’t change it because they’re not the ones who have to answer 50 questions a day about ice cream hamburgers.”

“Are you sure you don’t have any?”

“Yes, I’m sure! How could I not know how to make something on our menu and still work here?”

“Maybe you could just try to make some.”

“How the heck would I do that, exactly? Fry up a burger and try to put it between two scoops of ice cream? It’d melt in seconds.”

“You could put a scoop of ice cream in a hamburger bun.”

“Ew. Would you really want to eat melty ice cream off a sopping wet bun? That’s normally the sort of thing people save for Cancun.”

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This plea comes to us on behalf of Black Bill Cubbins, a native pirate and chair of the American branch of the Pirate, Buccaneer, Corsair, Privateer, and Other Plunderers Anti-Defamation League (PBCPOPADL).
-The Editors

Pirates come from a number of diverse cultural and historical backgrounds, from corsairs to buccaneers to privateers to today’s modern pirates-on-the-go from Somalia or Malacca. Homogenizing this piratical diversity into the stereotypical and misleading “Captain Hook” mold denies, minimizes, disenfranchises, and other-izes pirates past, present, and future.

The stereotypical accoutrements of these misleading and insulting costumes also perpetuate negative stereotypes about pirates. Contrary to the popular Western image of pirates with cutlass and pistol, most pirates preferred to take plunder through nonviolent negotiation and treated prisoners well. The image of the tyrannical pirate captain embraced by ignorant and divisive Halloween revelers is also a hurtful fabrication: pirate captains were typically elected by the consent of the captained, making pirate ships one of the few true democracies in the world at the time.

Perhaps most inaccurate and offensive is the concept of “pirate speak” glorified in Hollywood and by divisive and disenfranchising holidays like “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” This patois, completely unlike the speech of any known pirate (who more often than not would not even converse in English) hypersexualizes and commodifies the image of the drunken and lustful pirate sailor and can result in ignorant violence against actual practicing pirates. And this doesn’t even touch on the proud tradition of lady pirates, who dressed modestly and were often mistaken for men–a far cry from the lewd and revealing “costumes” currently in vogue.

As a pirate, American, and father, I urge this year’s trick-or-treaters and their parents to support a progressive and inclusive vision of the holiday by shunning any and all pirate-themed “costumes.” Be a hobo, be a ninja, be an astronaut, but don’t be a pirate. Pirate costumes plunder us all of our dignity.

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Sharon sipped her Lunabrew, the house specialty. “My brother…he died about six months ago. I’ve been trying to take care of his affairs, since I’m between jobs. Well, more than just that; I have a noncompetition clause in my old contract that keeps me from doing any job in my field for a year after I quit.”

“Well, that explains why you’ve been back in town so long,” said Ward, whose own drink was a Groenbach. “I was sure it wasn’t for the ambiance.”

“Paul worked for Sav-Mart, in the electronics section. He had a master’s degree and a ton of debt but he worked there, living through the internet and making just enough to pay the bare minimum against rent and loans even though my parents live here six months out of the year.”

“A slacker?” Ward said.

“Don’t use that word,” Sharon snapped, slamming her glass to the table. “He was my brother and he’s dead.”

Ward held up his hands. “Sorry, sorry, that…it slipped out. But you didn’t ask me here to tell me that, did you?”

“Paul lived his life online, so that’s where I’ve been trying to set his affairs straight. He left me some but not all of his passwords, and…Ward, he was an online stalker.”

“Come again?” Ward said, his expression unreadable.

Sharon held her head in her hands. “He had all these saved links, photographs, even chat logs, of a girl that lives a few hours away from here near LA. I’ve been getting some weird prank calls and messages and thought they might be from her. Ward, I called her and she had never heard of Paul.”

“So you think he was stalking her? That’s the kind of thing that happens if you dig too deeply into people, Sharon. De mortuis nil nisi bonum – speak not ill of the dead.”

“You don’t understand. Not all the messages I’ve been getting have been pranks. I think Paul may have set something in motion before he died. Something horrible, something I can’t even bring myself to understand. I’m afraid this girl, this Umbriel, is at the center of it somehow.” Sharon lifted her head as she spoke, looking directly at Ward. “She might even be in danger.”

“Paul said you might say something like that,” Ward sighed. Sharon’s blood ran cold at the words. “I told him not to worry, that I’d deflect you with my wit and charm. But that hasn’t worked, has it? And now we’re here, taking over flat beer, and things have just gotten a hell of a lot more awkward.”

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Near as anyone can tell, Isiah Hewitt was born in Cardiff around 1690. But given his later use of pseudonyms and the loose recordkeeping standards of the day, even that morsel of information has been repeatedly called into question. Even the spelling of his name has engendered controversy, with contemporary records listing the man’s Christian name as everything from Isaac Hughes to Asa Everett.

The earliest firm mention comes from a latter of marque issued to Captain Henry Roberts making him a privateer in the service of Her Majesty Queen Anne. Dated 1704, it includes a list of the ship’s crew on departure from Cardiff with an “Isaya Hewwit,” age 12 or 13, as a “cabine boye & asst. cooke.” Roberts’ ship participated in Queen Anne’s War against France and Spain, capturing or destroying 17 enemy vessels, one of the better careers among the vast number of privateers engaged in that conflict.

Correspondence dismissing Roberts and crew from Her Majesty’s service in 1713 again contains a mention of Hewitt as “Lt. Asa Hewit” age 25 with the job of “asst. q’termaster.” While Roberts himself retired on his earnings, many of his men turned to piracy after war’s end, plundering not only French and Spanish ships, but British as well. Letters taken off the body of pirate Captain John Foreman after his death in battle in 1717 list “Isiah Hewitt” as his quartermaster. Further letters kept by a Charleston correspondent, most likely Hewitt’s wife or lover, indicate that after Foreman’s death his former quartermaster seized a ship to make a name for himself.

In emulation of his idol, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Isaac Hewitt adopted the nom-de-guerre “Blackhart” as well as a similar flag (a full skeleton on a black background). His ships were active as early as 1719 and last took a prize in 1725. Occasionally collaborating with other pirates, and demonstrating a mastery of misdirection and disguise, Blackhart plundered as many as 150-200 ships. That his historical infamy is somewhat less than his contemporaries is due to the fact that he did not cultivate any particular image and often employed surrogates to perform acts in his name.

After the sack of a French ship in late 1725, “Blackhart” Hewitt disappears from the historical record. Authorities on the Golden Age of Piracy have never been able to conclusively establish his fate. The gibbeting of a high-ranking but unnamed pirate at Port Royal in 1727 and the sinking of a ship reportedly flying a “blacke skeletonne flag” by the Royal Navy in 1729 are the two most likely candidates, though a minority of historians believe that a wealthy “Mr. Hartblacke” who died in Charleston ca. 1755 may have been Hewitt.

In any case, despite his successful career, “Blackhart” Hewitt remained a historical footnote of a footnote until the “Carolina Chest” was uncovered in 2010. The metal casket, recovered from an antebellum house, was found to contain a quantity of doubloons as well as the following riposte:

Capt. Davies,

Enclosed ye will find a quantitie of Spanish dobloons ye’ll no doubt recognise as ye own. I took them from yr. man Cobb abord the ‘Wealthy Indiaman’ as recompense for Mathilde. I’ve set out the rest for ye to find if ye’ve the stones to at the usual place. Come and taste the brimstone I’ve prepar’d for ye.

-Blackhart Hewit, Capt.

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They had bound Bear up in rough cords, and tossed his shining rapier to the smaller gobs, who shrieked and squabbled as they fought over it.

“This one…any good to eat?” The largest gob, almost the girl’s size, hungrily licked his lips as he gazed at Bear. “Lot of fight…usually…lot of meat.”

“Come off it,” the smaller gob before him said, the one who had called out orders during the ambush. “He’s all fluff and stitchings. Felt it when I got a good blow on him I did. No good for eating. Only good as a slave.”

The gobs poked and prodded at Bear, during which he maintained a dignified silence, much as he had during all those years in the playroom. The girl was eventually moved to indignation, despite her own bindings. “You leave him alone!”

“Oh, so the other morsel wants a say, do it?” The head gob said, loping toward the girl. “It thinks we’s being too rough on the nasty stitchfluff what spilled our blood?”

The large gob affixed its unlean and hungry look upon the girl. “This one…good for eating? Not all stitchyfluffy?”

The girl gave as fierce a grimace as she was able, though had her mother been there to see the effect would have struck her as more like a twelve-year-old pouting than anything. “I’m not for eating either,” she said. “Just as full of fluff as Bear.”

“That is correct,” Bear said even as the other gobs danced and taunted and cackled madly around him. “She and I are as brother and sister.”

“She look all meaty…maybe not ready for eating yet,” the large gob said, fingering his great and knobby club. “Few year as slave…that do it.”

“I’m a stuffed doll with a porcelain skin,” the girl said, hoping that desperation wasn’t creeping into her voice. “If you try to eat me you’ll have a mouthful of cuts and a bellyful of stuffing.”

The head gob sniffed at the girl. “Me nose says otherwise,” he growled.

Inspired by this image.

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Its first public appearance was, appropriately enough, at a wedding in late December 1999. The San Diego press carried a footnote story about a massive brawl that broke the bride’s arm and caused an elderly relative to suffer a heart attack. When questioned by police, participants couldn’t recall what had started the fight, only that they had suffered a bout of intense jealousy and glimpsed a flash of something golden.

A year later, a fistfight started in a Colorado pawnshop that spilled out onto the street, quickly involving bystanders and nearby shopkeepers who could have had no personal stake in any quarrel. A unit of the Denver police in full riot gear was required to calm the altercation, which resulted in hundreds of concussions, broken bones, and knocked-out teeth.

Following the resulting trail of destruction saw the same pattern–immense and violent fights breaking out spontaneously–all over North America. Toronto (2002), Atlanta (2003), Mexicali (also 2003), Detroit (2004), and Seattle (2005). Careful examination of newspaper records and police reports shows a line of smaller altercations between each major outbreak. Participants would always claim memory of nothing but intense jealousy and a golden glow before plowing into the melee.

While its mechanism (pheromones, subsonic vibrations, or something supernatural), and origin (experiment, accident, or divine intervention) remained obscure, thorough investigation revealed one incontrovertible fact.

The Golden Apple of Discord had returned.

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