Getting older, getting wiser? A pirate looks at 36 …
By Jason Webber
And now I shall tell ye the accursed tale of how I inadvertently damned myself with a permanently lazy eye from playing pirates with my third-grade classmates, and what in Davy Jones’ Locker this has to do with my upcoming 36th birthday.
So there we were, the Unholy Third Grade Trinity of Ojai Valley Christian School in Oak View, Calif. — me, my best mate Jarrod and our friend Matt — who, in the year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Four, were known and feared on the playground as a bloodthirsty band of marauders called Murrell’s Pirates.
Actually, that’s horse puckey. The only thing we marauded were the Oreos and Twinkies that our moms packed in our metal Pac-Man lunchboxes and the only people who feared us were the teachers who were afraid that we would spread our obsession with Michael Jackson’s Thriller album to the student body in a Baptist school that allowed neither rock ‘n’ roll nor dancing.
But Murrell’s Pirates, the name of which I nicked from Tom Sawyer (my first anti-establishment hero), were a serious gang, albeit not quite on par with Bloods, Crips and Juggalos. Lunchtime recess was spent playing soccer, basketball, TV tag and our favorite pastime, trying to get Gretchen, the prettiest girl in school, to pay attention to one of us — and she eventually did, “going out” with all of us at different times over the ’83-’84 school year (this was when “going out” meant sitting with you at lunch or coloring with you). I still have the sole love letter she wrote me, scrawling “I want to mary you” on that thin beige drawing paper they used to give us during “free time.”
I never served as gang leader — that role was filled by Jarrod, a born executive who today holds a highfalutin’ position at Microsoft. However, I did give us our name, design our paper badges that we Scotch taped to our uniforms every day and I had something the others didn’t have — a real, custom made, leather eye patch.
Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always had this weird obsession with pirate culture. I loved Treasure Island, Peter Pan, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, that Secret of Monkey Island computer game from the early ‘90s, what have you. So it was pretty cool of my dad to order me a specially designed eye patch from a local leather shop and I wore that thing with pride. Soon it became a full-blown trademark and I was known to upper and lower classmen alike as “the eye patch dude.” I’ve since been called worse things.
But after a while my teacher began to notice something odd — my left eye was beginning to drift. Wouldn’t you know it? You’re not supposed to wear an eye patch unnecessarily for long periods of time, especially when you’re 8 years old with a still-developing optic system. The likely result is amblyopia, better known as “lazy eye.” By the time my parents were alerted to how bad my vision had gotten, it was too late — my left eye was forever jacked.
The things is, those old third grade memories of playground piracy have been on my mind a lot lately as I approach my 36th birthday because in a way, those halcyon days perfectly capture what I’ve learned about life thus far — the fun you have along the way makes it all worthwhile … even with the consequence of a self-inflicted lazy eye. Looking back, playing pirates with my friends during the Year of Big Brother marked the high point of my grade school years. Today, I’d still wear that damned eye patch, even with knowing it could lead to a lifetime of enduring “WTF-are-you-looking-at?” expressions. Why? ‘Cause look at the fun that thing brought me.
It’s kinda funny; I spent most of my early 30s constantly fretting and worrying about the responsibilities of adulthood — debt, career advancement (or lack thereof), a seemingly polluted dating pool and dealing with pirates of the non-playground variety, like backstabbing coworkers and bully bosses. At 36, I still think about those things, but life has become less about “Getting stuff and fitting in with the people you don’t want to hang out with anyway” and more about realizing that I held the map to the buried treasure called “happiness” in my hands at age 8. Have as much fun and adventure as possible and if you end up with a wonky eye, just get glasses and sail onward, mateys. Thar be exciting, uncharted waters ahead, says I.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jason Webber at JasonWebber@DaytonCityPaper.com.