What do you want to be when you grow up?"
I've posed that question to my children often enough for them to know what's coming next.
"I know what I want to be when I finally grow up, I'll say, "A pirate!"
My kids will invariably scoff, saying either, "Dad, that's not a real job," or "Dad, you'll never grow up."
Ouch. Well, so far they are on the money about the latter. The last 11 months offered the perfect opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth, but I blew it. I didn't even grow a beard.
OK I admit it, at this late stage in life, my prospects are limited. The exact opposite is true for the young ones: their potential knows no bounds. Which is great if you're a parent. Although our hopes and ambitions may have been crushed by reality's stark judgment, we still have the chance to live vicariously through our children. Their soccer goals, their home runs, their perfect report cards. The glow from their accomplishments is so expansive, there's room under the light for an old man to soak up some of the warmth.
But the kids should not be so quick to dismiss my pirate dreams. This last Fourth of July weekend, my preferred future finally arrived.
Forget about the fireworks (unless we are counting the "unofficial" pyrotechnics show Friday night on Franklin Street that went on for about three hours), last weekend was all about being a pirate. The salty language and rolling waves. The buried treasure. The walking the plank, the uninhibited greed. The every man for himself. The scurvy.
The Boy jumped out of the car with a smile as wide as the great blue sea.
"Dad, I brought Pirate-Opoly," he said. "C'mon, you old sea dog! Let's play."
And play we did, all weekend long. Pirate-Opoly is a variation on the Parker Bros. Monopoly board game. The box says it's for children ages 5 to 8, but really, does plunder, rum-drinking and being an all-around scourge to the powers-that-be have an age limit?
You roll the die, move your pirate around the board, collecting "2 bits" when you return to port. Skulls and crossbones replace the thimble and dog as game pieces. Land on the right spot and pick up a card. Now walk the plank, or balance a game piece on your nose, or swab the deck, or toast your sea-stuck mates.
We rolled, and moved, and collected our booty late into Saturday night and Sunday morning. I discovered that pirates, even when blood related, can by cut-throat. Livia, being a girl and smart as a whip, didn't have much trouble defeating the two Simon boys, but shiver my timbers if we didn't put up a good fight.
So my Fourth was bit different this year, but it was better in a way. After three days of Pirate-Opoly, I now know that a pirate's life — endless days on an empty sea, buffeted by persistent waves — is too much like life after 50 to hold much promise.
I was ready to leave that life behind for good, as I prepared for work on Wednesday. Putting my notebook in my bag, I noticed a card from Pirate-Opoly hadn't got packed up with the rest of the game. It was the card for old "Deed," otherwise known as Salty Dog. His biography was on the back of the card.
Favorite color: purple.
Favorite foods: beef jerky and garbanzo beans.
And then this: Best thing about being a pirate? "Never having to grow up," 80-year-old Salty Dog said.
Neal Simon is the city editor of The Evening Tribune.