I wasn't born in a trunk, I was born in a suitcase. But a trunk is where I've kept the scraps of my life for the past fifty years. My many attempts to begin a journal have all fizzled out after a few pages of notes. I have a considerable collection of notebooks, cocktail napkins, memo pads, legal tablets, sparsely filled binders, and mildew-spotted pages that sit in a cedar-lined steamer trunk in my basement on Long Island.
Almost five years ago, when I had the harebrained idea of doing a musical version of my friend Herman Wouk's Don't Stop the Carnival, Herman would send me pages of thoughts on the matter from his journal. He had kept a daily journal since 1946. To say the least, I was quite impressed. I envy those who have the discipline to keep a chronological record of events. I do not.
My plan has always been to keep adding to that mess in the trunk and, if I make it to my eighties and am still functioning in the brain-cell department, to retire to a tropical island, buy an old beach house, hire several lovely native girls as assistants, ship in a good supply of rum and red burgundy, and then spend my golden years making a complete picture out of the puzzle pieces in the old steamer trunk. That to me is the way any good romantic would look at his life: Live it first, then write it down before you go.
Any attempts at autobiography before the age of eighty seem pretty self-involved to me. There are a lot of smart middle-aged people but not many wise ones. That comes with "time on the water," as the fisherman says. So the following pages are another stab at completing a journal inspired by the trip that my wife planned for me to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, on December 25, 1996. I am glad to report that my first fifty years were, overall, a lot of goddamn fun. I just followed my instincts and kept my sense of humor. This journal narrates the trip itself as well as stories that the trip dredged up out of my past. I hope you enjoy the ride.
Questions and Answers
Now he lives in the islands
Fishes the pilin's
And drinks his Green Label each day
Writing his memoirs, losing his hearing
But he don't care what most people say
Cause through eighty-six years of perpetual motion
If he likes you, he'll smile and he'll say
Jimmy, some of it's magic, some of it's tragic
But I had a good life all the way
--"He Went to Paris"
Fifty. A mind-boggling thought for a war baby like me. Fifty is not "just another birthday." It is a reluctant milepost on the way to wherever it is we are meant to wind up. It can be approached in only two ways. First, it can be a ball of snakes that conjures up immediate thoughts of mortality and accountability. ("What have I done with my life?") Or, it can be a great excuse to reward yourself for just getting there. ("He who dies with the most toys wins.") I instinctively choose door number two.
I am not the kind of person to spend my fiftieth birthday in the self-help section of Borders bookstore looking for answers to questions that "have bothered me so," as somebody wrote once--those questions that somehow got taken off the multiple-choice quiz of life. It seems that here in America, in our presumably evolved "what about me" capitalistic culture, too many of us choose the wrong goals for the wrong reasons. Today spirituality and the search for deeper meaning are as confusing as the DNA evidence in the O. J. Simpson case. There is a labyrinth of choices, none of which seem to suit me. Granted, I have been too warped by Catholicism not to be cynical, but there are still too many men behind too many curtains for my taste. The creation, marketing, and selling of spirituality is as organized as a bingo game. By the time most of us war babies reached high school, we were pretty much derailed from the natural order of things. We were supposed to grow up, and that's where my problems started. Parents, teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors bombarded me with the same question: "What are you going to do with your life?" I didn't even want to think about that when I was fourteen. My teachers called me a daydreamer. They would write comments on my report card like, "He seems to live in a fantasy world and prefers that to paying serious attention to serious subject matters that will prepare him for life."
Use of this excerpt from A Pirate Looks at Fifty by Jimmy Buffett may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Jimmy Buffett. All rights reserved.
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