My wife travels a lot for work, jetting off to cover fashion shows for several weeks at a stretch at least twice a year. I react to these extended-length absences the way any well-adjusted Angeleno husband might: I act like a pirate.
To be more precise, I celebrate what I call “pirate season,” a time-honored tradition that’s part bachelor party without the bachelor and part kids themed birthday party without the kids (or the birthday). It’s a tongue-in-cheek coping mechanism designed to buoy my spirits while we’re apart. (As a bonus, I’m pretty sure pirate season has improved our together time too.)
Its origins lie in the early aughts when my not-yet-wife, in her role as The Times’ fashion critic, started attending the twice-yearly, monthlong New York-to-Paris run of fashion weeks. When I mentioned to my co-worker Vince that I was suddenly facing four weeks of single-like solitude without a plan in place, he told me about a buddy of his.
“Whenever my friend Kai’s girlfriend goes out of town,” Vince said, “he hangs a pirate flag on his balcony, and people know they can come over and party.”
I laughed it off as childish bordering on absurdity. However, the seed had been planted, and every time my wife took wing for a business trip, I found myself thinking about Kai and his pirate flag.
Facing a particularly long stretch in separate time zones, I drove over to AAA Flag & Banner‘s (now-closed) outpost in Hollywood and bought a 3-by-5-foot skull and crossbones (a.k.a. Jolly Roger) flag. When I arrived home, I ceremoniously draped it over the Ikea entertainment center in our living room. (I didn’t yet have a viable balcony.)
I instantly felt at ease, as if something had shifted. By raising the flag, I’d taken control of a situation I’d previously had no control over whatsoever. My first-ever pirate season officially sailed into existence on Feb. 5, 2005.
The basic premise of pirate season is this: From the time the flag is raised until the moment it’s lowered, no reasonable invitation to socialize off ship (outside the home) may be refused nor may unannounced boarding parties (a.k.a. pop-ins or drop-bys) be turned away. At the same time, every single day is kind of like a break-the-rules Friday. Carbs don’t count, happy hour is extended two (sometimes four) hours in each direction, and weird facial-hair choices are made. Also, there’s no such thing as a staying-in school night.
Now, with more than 30 such voyages over 18 years under my swashbuckling belt, I wanted to share more of my fundamental rules (a.k.a. my pirate code), so others with perennially peripatetic partners might be able to navigate the doldrums, alleviate a little loneliness and gin up a little levity by mounting pirate-season adventures of their own.
Pick yer poison
Or, as a non-pirate might put it, settle on a theme. You’ll get a lot of mileage — and enthusiastic participation from those in your social circle (family, friends, the occasional co-worker) — by picking a theme for your unconstructed free playtime. If pirates aren’t your jam, there are plenty of other options to choose from (the more insular the better).
Down to clown? Perhaps circus season will fit you like a big, floppy shoe. Or maybe you want to feel “the need for speed”? Consider marking “Top Gun” time, complete with flight suits, beach volleyball and call-sign nicknames for all your besties, Maverick. Or maybe the trappings of a faux fraternal or sororal Greek-letter group (Todd Phillips’ 2003 film “Old School” is essentially a pirate-season primer) or mythical-creature hunting camp (griffins, chimeras and manticores are always in season) would be more your style.
The possibilities are really endless. The key is, once you’ve picked your theme, it’s time to get the word out and gather your crew. (Ideally your crew will be the most trustworthy people in your life — the kind of people you’d trust with your ATM PIN or to pick you up at the hospital. Plus you need one or two wild cards, just to keep things interesting.)
Run up the Jolly Roger forthwith
In other words, display that it’s pirate season. Effectively signal “game on!” by unfurling your pirate flag (or other theme-appropriate standard) and publicly making your flag visible on a flagpole, balcony or street-facing window. Or you can go digital and put your peeps on notice by posting to your socials. (I do both, hanging the flag in my living-room window and posting a random pirate flag to social media the moment my bride’s outbound flight goes wheels up from Los Angeles International Airport.)
However you decide to put the word out there, it’s crucial that you do. Otherwise you haven’t sufficiently Bat-Signaled your status to those who might wish to join in the fun. That means buying an actual, honest-to-goodness physical flag (the possibilities out there are as many and as varied as the themes) or, at the very least, downloading or designing a digital version to be displayed wherever your potential co-conspirators lurk.
Let yer pirate code be known to all scalawags
This essentially means establishing, sharing and abiding by a list of rules to govern the conduct of all who participate. This is as crucial as the flag when it comes to pulling off a successful voyage because it provides a sense of structure. (Even pirates thrive when they know what they can and can’t do.) It also makes things fun. Your pirate code will be a living document that will be added to over time.
My early versions of pirate season consisted of little more than throwing up the flag and using a naming convention that riffed off the fashion-week schedule — in February and March, I’d mark Pirate Season F/W (for the fall and winter collections being presented at that time), and in September and October, I’d set sail as Pirate Season S/S (for the spring and summer collections). But as my friends and family learned of these twice-yearly voyages and clambered aboard, more detailed rules of engagement began to take shape.
One of my earliest codified rules was that, while I would be completely transparent about pirate season and all that it entails, never once would my wife lay eyes upon the Jolly Roger. One of the more recent additions was the clarification that not every spousal absence is a pirate season. Because it would be extremely bad form (not to mention insensitive) to pillage and plunder if she’s far afield dealing with a family medical emergency, the pirate flag would remain stowed no matter how long she’s taken leave. (Side note: In cases like this, I do fly a flag — the one emblazoned with the command “Don’t Give Up the Ship” made at the request of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry during the War of 1812. Which I guess would technically make it “commodore season.”)
While you may be tempted to keep these rules in your head (as I have for many years), jotting them down on paper makes them easier to refer to — and enforce — if necessary.
Give no quarter
As mentioned above, one of the most important rules of my pirate season — and I encourage you to make it one of yours, should you follow in my footsteps — is that while the flag is flying, anyone can call a pirate council any time of day or night. This usually manifests in one of two ways: either by boarding ship (dropping by the house announced or unannounced) or by extending an invitation to plunder elsewhere. I cannot refuse either entreaty and be a pirate in good conscience.
It’s this rule that makes each pirate season a delicious distraction. Over the years, I’ve been invited out for countless dinners, had all manner of visitors in to drink (take it from me: No good comes from a pistol-shaped bottle of tequila), walked the grounds of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine and even been squired away to Pirates Dinner Adventure in Buena Park by my sister-in-law (as trusty a pirate as ever there was) and a cadre of co-workers. Remote roguery happens, too, in the form of SpaceTime conversations (FaceTime with a dash of herbal enhancement) and late-night shot calls (the same sort of interaction but involving a shot glass full of the closest-at-hand potent potable).
The right crew will sometimes push you to the edge of your comfort zone in this regard, and that’s all part of the fun. But the most important word in the pirate-season vocabulary will always be “no,” and, as captain of your ship, you should feel free to deploy it as needed.
Plunder the galley for ship’s biscuits and grog
In short: Kick your calorie-counting, cheat-meal mentality to the curb for the duration. Pirate season is a time to embark on all manner of gustatory adventure. While the buccaneers of old had to subsist on things like ship’s biscuits (unleavened bread made from flour, water and salt) and grog (rum mixed with water), I take these solo voyages as an opportunity to empty the freezer of leftovers (“martyr meals,” in the parlance of my non-piratey better half), make standwiches (sandwiches wholly made — and consumed — whilst standing over the sink) and indulge in the occasional skewer of street meats bought from a curbside vendor.
Some of the dustier bottles at the back of the bar cart are likewise brought forth to consider sacrificing in pursuit of a pirate punch — Madeiras, Marsalas, off-brand aperitifs and random rums with worn-off labels. Occasionally, if I’m feeling particularly beneficent to future pirate me, I’ll add some peeled slices of whole horseradish root to a cast-off bottle of vodka and bury it in the back of the pantry. When unearthed the next season, the infused libation, painfully pungent and hot enough to draw tears and peel paint, will be at the ready for any of the pirate ilk who deign to heed the call of the black flag and board ship.
Start by getting your galley (your fridge, freezer, pantry, larder and liquor cabinet) to inbox-zero status. Follow this by stocking up on adventurous eats. Repeat as necessary.
Avoid the sirens’ call
According to legend, sirens (essentially evil mermaids) would tempt sailors with their alluring songs, causing them to wreck their ships and die. Likewise, even the most level-headed pirate will from time to time be beckoned to sail near the shallows for any number of reasons. The best inoculation from these temptations of the deep — which take many a varied form — is to recruit only the most trustworthy of crew and give wide berth to the merfolk. Because while a pirate flag can be struck at season’s end and hoisted anew the next, a wrecked galleon is forever a wrecked galleon.
Minus the colorful seafaring mythology, the message is this: Don’t engage in behavior that would violate — or appear to violate — the trust between you and your absent half. Yes, that means keeping your wedding ring (and your pants) on. And to cull your crew of those who would be a bad influence in this regard. The point of a pressure-relief valve like pirate season is to keep your relationship strong and functioning until your significant other returns — not burn it to the ground by acting like an asshat.
Dead men tell no tales
That being said, what happens during pirate season stays in pirate season. At voyage‘s end, ceremoniously fold your flag and stow it away before your partner returns. Answer all queries with “Aye, that,” and move along. Should one of your crew wag their tongue (or, worse yet, post to social media), they’ve proven themselves unreliable, so cut them adrift from future pirate seasons.
Is pirate season right for you? That’s between you and your best beloved. What I can say is that all the trappings of my twice-yearly celebration of solitude — the silly rules, the flag, the standwiches and the “yes, and” socializing — have managed to keep me sane, centered and more than mildly entertained at least two times a year for the better part of two decades while the love of my life is off earning the doubloons. (Lest you think I’m casting some kind of “freed from the old ball and chain” shade here, rest assured that she is — and has always been — more fun in the party department than any pirate could ever hope to be.)
If you’re lucky enough to have someone special in your life, then odds are pretty good you’ll find yourselves geographically separated for a stretch at some point. Next time that happens, why not run pirate season up the flagpole? You might be surprised at the crew you’ve got waiting to step up and say, “Ahoy!”