The Great Pie-Rat Controversy

Once upon a time, there were these two pirates name of Calico Caesar and Barnacle Betty, and their parrots Flag and Sail. It was actually the parrots, which the pirates carried for good luck, who introduced these two pirates to one another. Because one day in Cayo Hueso (Key West), sitting on the beach weaving raffia hats while waiting for another ship to come in to try and sign onto the registry, Flag recognized Sail.

Flag flapped around, “Sail! Sail, ahoy! It’s so good to see ya, again, ye old salt!”

Sail flogged in response (because every sailor knows: flags flap; sails making the same movement flog), “Why, Flag, my hearty! Gotta cracker, for a dear polly?”

“No, no,” Flag said, “Squawk!”

“That’s enough of them bad manners, Flag,” said Barnacle Betty. “Watch yer tongue and be a good rogue. I do apologize, Brother, fer my parrot here.”

Calico Caesar turned toward Barnacle Betty and laughed, “No worries, Sister, my sweet Sail was seekin’ treasure that warn’t hers.”

And all four of them, two pirates and two parrots said at once, “Law of the sea: finders, keepers, losers, weepers,” and burst out laughing.

So Barnacle Betty and Calico Caesar got to jawing, and weaving, and soon as you could say “pickled Pete poured out his boots of brine” ten times fast, they were known throughout the whole port to be thick as thieves, which is really saying something when you remember this Cayo Hueso was full of pirates.

Then one day, trouble struck. The thunder and lightning and capsizing winds of the bayamo (feared storm around Cuba’s shores) had nothing on how the air sizzled and the features of these two pirates in North Havana turned ugly. All the other well-meaning pirates backed away, until these two with their parrots on their shoulders, turned in slow circles in the center of a big circle, where the other pirates were busy takin’ bets and the other parrots stealin’ swills of the pirate grog as the fight escalated.

“I’m tellin’ you, chocolate be the best and true flavor of pie on the pirate ship,” announced Barnacle Betty, and Flag bounced up and down on her shoulder, “chaw-klet, chaw-klet, bon-bons, can-dee, truff-les, chaw-klet chip, chaw-klet!”

Calico Ceasar wiped his brow and shook his head, “No, No, Barnacle Betty, you’re wrong. Strawberry is the best and true flavor of pie on the pirate ship,” and Sail bounced up and down on his shoulder, “Ber-ry nice! Ber-ry nice! Ber-ry bad and bur-ied twice! Ber-ry nice!”

The other pirates elbowed each other, and bellowed out hoots and laughter. “You tell ‘im, Betty!” or “You’re both wrong, it’s the pumpkin pie that’s best!” or “Gee, I could really use some pie right about now!”

But Barnacle Betty stepped in very close to Calico Ceasar, and looked him dead in the eye, “You dare to call yourself a pie-rat. You know nothing about pie! The problem with strawberry, and the reason it never can be the true flavor of pie on a pie-rat ship, is the crust! It gets all soggy, and who ever heard of pie-rat pie that needed a bilge pump!”

Sail bounced up and down on Calico Caesar’s shoulder and shouted, much to his dismay, “A hit, a very palpable hit!” Flag flew around both pirates feeling victory under her wing. But Calico Caesar hadn’t survived marooning and mutiny and serving under a Captain Sharp for nothing. He leaned closer to Barnacle Betty and growled, “You landlubbin’ pop-tart sneakin’ fizzy tizzy! You’re mockin’ the name of Pirate! You don’t know the first thing about pie, let alone the kind of pie a true pie-rat seeks, after weeks of nothin’ but salt beef and salt cod and salt mystery meat, a true pie-rat wants strawberry pie – and if that isn’t possible, a true pirate likes a bit of rhubarb-strawberry pie with a flaky crust, and steam just rising from the lattice work.”

Barnacle Betty nudged Calico Caesar and crowed with laughter. “Show me proof of such pie. I can whip up chocolate pie in a pan, off the main mast, and wi’ yer mama’s approval. But I don’t believe, have never seen, let alone smelled, tasted, or heard tale of such pastry of which you speak!”

All the other pirates gasped or laughed. Now this fight was a matter not of taste, but of belief, and the accusation of a lie had whipped through the air, the cat out of the bag indeed, and you could smell the tension in the air like you can smell the ozone in the air just before a lightning strike.

When all of a sudden, a funny creature wearing a rusty black coat and some worn stocks, and clutching a copy of the Dread Pirate Robert’s Rules of Order to her breast, broke through the edge of the crowd. “Wait, wait, my brother, my sister!” she called in the querulous voice of the preachin’ pirate, “My sister, my brother, we’re all Jamaica Disciples here, all signers of the great universal pie-rat code, all of us pie-rat-eests!”

“Aye, aye,” murmured the general assembly round Calico Caesar and Barnacle Betty. “Aye, aye,” squawked Sail, and “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” squawked Flag, until Sail gave him the evil parrot eye and sent him along with the rest, “Aye, aye, all of us pie-rat-eests!”

“What does the code say, Sister?” asked Barnacle Betty, never letting her eye off Calico Caesar.

“What does the code say, Sister?” asked Calico Caesar, never letting his eye off Barnacle Betty.

“We turn,” announced the preaching pirate, “to the portion of the code what deals with wittles.” And all the pirates all around got really quiet, because if there’s something pirates have respect for, it is the Pirate Code, else-wise they wouldn’t be called Jamaica Disciples, where that Code was first worked out and published.

The quiet went on a long time, as the preaching pirate turned page after page. “Maybe it’s here,” she muttered, “oh where did that dogsbody get off to!” and so on as she turned page after page, coming to the end of the book and shaking it. Then an idea hit her upside the head like an oar springing out of an iron sick oarlop.

She turned to page 1 of the code.

“Principle five,” she intoned, “observes what we do things not this way, but with democratic practice! And what wins shall be how all follow no matter how any voted!”

“Election! Election!” intoned the parrots of every pirate, creating quite a cacocophony.

“You have heard in favor of chocolate and in favor of strawberry already. Are there any other candidates to be named from the floor?”

And a whole host of pie-loving pie-rats lined up to speechify about their favorite flavors of pie. Tears were shed as tales of tender crust were told, and teeth gnashed about salt mistakenly substituted for sugar and broken custards, and weevily pie. Finally the time came for voting, as the parrots chanted “ber-ry nice!” and “chawk-let” and a few mentioned “pump-kin” and one parrot shouted “quince”—but he did always have to be different.

The preaching pirate counted out the tallies and stepped into the center. “My brothers and sisters, we are indeed pie-rat-eests, for we care very deeply about our pies – no offense intended to hand pies or shallow tarts, of course. We are, universal pie-rat-eests, and the winner is... the winner is....”

And then the preaching pirate looked round the circle, “Actually, all this practicing democracy has made me very hungry. Anyone else feelin’ a bit peckish?”

The pirates all cheered aloud, for many had discovered the rumbly tummy, and they left the field of battle, clapping each other on the back, trading pie recipes. Barnacle Betty clapped Calico Caesar on the back too, nearly knocking Sail off his shoulder in the process, and said, “Can we agree to disagree on the matter of pie, friend, and seek the happier subject of chowder?”

“Aye, Barnacle Betty, we can disagree in love for chowder’s sake—if I can have yer little packet of crackers at lunch.”

“Fair enough, friend,” she agreed, and they traded the secret chalice handshake of the universal pie-rat-eests, and went to lunch.

Just remember, all you pie-rats: what yer flavor of pie matters less than whether we make enough for pie for everyone. We sing you now off to yer schoolin’ and yer snack!