A Pirate Adventure

Posted by jdg | Thursday, June 21, 2012 |

I wanted to make the first day of summer really special this year, so I decided to put together an adventure. For years I've been telling my kids the story of a 300-year-old bloodthirsty pirate who runs a junk store not far from our house. He's hiding from his enemies (who stole his soul and buried it in a box full of treasure and hid the map somewhere nearby). This pirate cannot rest until he finds that soul, and has been marooned here in Detroit to run a junk shop until someone finds his map. Also, I should mention he always wears a pink prom dress so know one will know he's a pirate (despite his eye patch and tendency to mutter "Arrrrr.") His name is Captain Sparkles, and he's a born killer.

Wouldn't you know it, but last week his treasure map turned up inside the walls of the recently renovated 118-year-old R. Hirt Jr. building (now known as DeVries & Co. 1887). I told my daughter one of the employees called me as soon as the map was discovered, and now we had it to find the treasure for ourselves. She totally bought my story, until she saw the map (a frayed pieces of antique parchment complete with burn marks) and even though all of the directions were written in French, she said, "Pops, this looks a lot like your handwriting." Damn, I thought, why didn't I hire a freelance scrivener? But she was a good sport, and told herself it was just a coincidence. On the first day of summer, we got out the map and she dictated the words to me, which I typed into google translate and she noted down the translations. . .

It turns out the map was made by pirates who first came to Detroit with the French coureurs de bois and explorers in the seventeenth-century. And they buried their treasure right in our neighborhood. Another incredible coincidence!

I've never really made them any pirate costumes, so they cobbled a few together out of things they found around the house (my daughter's awesome frock coat once graced the back of little Mozart). We couldn't find the tri-corner hat we bought at Fort Ticonderoga a few years back, but they had bandannas. I texted the mom of two of their best friends and said we were going on a pirate adventure that morning, and in less time than it took us to make a pirate flag, two well-dressed buccaneers appeared. You know you have good friends, kids, when you can give them no notice and they show right up on your doorstep in perfect pirate garb.

My kids don't know the full details of pirate life; they think it mostly has to do with finding buried treasure and singing songs about something called "rum." In order to keep it that way, I decided to bury a real treasure for them. On the final days R. Hirt Jr. was in business, I bought a deeply-discounted wooden pirate chest:

A quick trip to the thrift store yielded $8.00 worth of brass junk and costume jewelry that looked like this inside the chest:

Of course, every decent treasure chest needs handfuls of gold doubloons, so I emptied all the pennies out of the junk drawer and spray painted them gold. I think this might be a federal crime. Oh well, I've committed worse acts in the name of piracy.

On a moonless night, I headed out into the nearby park with the treasure chest under one arm and a shovel in the other. The baseball game I was watching ran late and I didn't get outside until after midnight. I'd been feeling sleepy, but grew increasingly alert and paranoid shoveling dirt in the darkness of a public park in Detroit. What if someone saw me? What if we woke in the morning and the treasure was gone? What about that weirdo who prowls the neighborhood with his giant metal detector, what if he's an early riser? When the box was covered with sod and grass, I made a huge X out of stones and high-tailed it home. I almost couldn't sleep, I was so excited.

The next morning, the band of little pirates spent a lot of time speculating about the map and its symbols.

Following the dotted line from point to point, one of them pointed out the absurdity of all pirate maps. Why pace out the Family Circus line when you could just figure out the endpoint and go right there? Too smart for their own good, these crude corsairs. So after half an hour of clueless wandering, they figured out where the X was located and it became a mad dash:

When she located the X, my daughter jumped and squealed and shouted for nearly a minute. They gathered around it in shock, before one of them realized they should be digging. It didn't take long before they found the top of the treasure chest, and had it out and open.

I asked them how much they thought the treasure was worth, and the valuations ranged from $30 to $3 million. I told them it was probably worth $3 million, but the guy from Hardcore Pawn would only give us $30. The kids seemed satisfied with that, though the first mate was a bit disappointed:

In the end, the booty was distributed fairly, and the only tension came over what to do with the tiny corked bottle that contained Captain Sparkles' soul. No one wanted to return it to him, and my daughter screamed when I suggested we should smash it. All of her suspicion about my handwriting on the map were irrelevant at this point. She was convinced, and the poor girl really believed the story. I promised her I would bring the old pirate his soul. And with Captain Sparkles' treasure and soul finally unearthed, he might finally rest in peace.

Or will he?

Nothing to do

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My kids are finally out of school, and I'm finding my bearings again. My four-year-old son was only in preschool a couple days a week, but on those days the pressure of figuring out what to do with myself often seemed too much. I have some projects I'm working on unrelated to what ends up on this blog, but those few hours away from them every week often felt too decadent to get much done. I have some friends with kids in daycare all day who have flexible schedules or summers off and I see them out doing things for themselves and I try to remember what that feels like. Every time I did something ordinary (like housekeeping or shopping) without my kids I'd think, This time is too valuable to be doing this. I could do this with the kids here. I should be doing something more important. And yet nothing seemed important enough. I went from measuring my days with coffee spoons at a law firm to near paralysis when presented with a few minutes where I didn't need to answer questions about whether a pirate could kill Robocop or the IMMEDIATE NECESSITY of pouring somebody another goddamn glass of orange juice. I heard some hippie idiot on the radio a couple weeks ago talking about how there are only a handful of places left on earth where you can experience true silence; if he loves silence so much he just needs to ride with us to school in the morning and wait until I get back into the car without them.

I am not trying to say that I don't enjoy them. I mean to say that I have simply forgotten how to function without the cacophony.

But back to today, fielding absurd questions about buried treasure and slinging OJ. I love being with them. This is my purpose. This is where I belong.

The kids are giddy with the possibilities of nothing to do. My son slept until 10:00 a.m. yesterday---an act I would find contemptible in a teenager---but when he emerged bedheaded and adorable from this well-deserved slumber, I picked him up and swung him around and buried my beard in his neck to sleep-throaty giggles. Where have you been all this time? Does anyone really remember what it feels like to be a kid in those first days of summer vacation? It is a marvel to see it from this side.

My daughter just finished the first grade. Already I see her slipping into the mentality and rhythm that school brings to life. Next fall means a new grade to look forward to, with new things to learn and do. After all those new falls there will be more falls, and then there will be college. After college she'll move someplace new for a new job. With the job there will be other things to look forward to: career success, perhaps, and marriage. Even kids, eventually. We spend so much of that part of our life looking forward, wondering about the excitement right around the next slight curve. The big promotion. The proof you've made it. It's weird when you get somewhere and all that stops. You look down at where you're standing and think I have arrived. I am happy here. I should enjoy this, and not worry about what's around the next corner. We're not conditioned to be content.

Next year both my kids will be in school all week. I am acutely aware of this, I think, because for the last several years I haven't really had to worry about the horizon. Dropping out of the grind to spend my days with them has been the luckiest and best thing that's ever happened to me. Somewhere in July every kid feels the anxiety of summer's eventual end. But we have a little bit of time before that happens. Right here, where we're standing, right now: we're going to enjoy this day.

It's been nearly a month and I still haven't written about our trip to the 2012 Tulip Time Festival. What's wrong with me? Our first order of business this year was to pick up some new wooden shoes for the kids. It had been two years since our last Tulip Time trip, and both of them had outgrown their wooden clogs. He liked the ones above, but they were a little big.

So were these ones.