Pirates of Vengeance

Wherein we examine the fifth annual S.F. Goth Naval Battle for control of Stow Lake

It is a summer day, as mild and languid as the post-picnic conversations drifting over the sunny lawns of Golden Gate Park. On Stow Lake, young lovers paddle around in small boats, playing coquettish games under the shade trees that dip and bow along the edges of the small island rising from the lake's center; birds twitter and sing in the treetops, swooping down on the lovers to perform aerial cartwheels near the water's surface. Along the lakeshore, elder couples sit on benches with their powder-soft fingers intertwined, clucking and chortling at the ducks that glide by. Across the lake, the brays of children and happy dogs fade on the breeze like barely remembered summertimes. At first, the golden hush of the afternoon seems interminable, but there is evidence of a great undertaking afoot, something fierce and foolish and strangely giddy rising out of the drowsy warmth.

It begins at the boathouse, with the arrival of several pale, darkly clad men and women who linger in the shade of the eaves, glancing gravely at the lake's thick, verdant waters before bursting into fits of laughter. They settle down and slather sunscreen on the white flesh peeking out of gaps in their monochromatic attire, and then they threaten each other with brightly colored artillery -- large water cannons in fluorescent hues of pink, green, yellow, and blue. Some of them discuss strategy. After a while, another group in funereal clothing arrives, equally pale and similarly equipped with water guns, then another group, and another. Their numbers swell, like a flock of misguided night birds gathering along the shore. Some of the women, adorned in black lace and diaphanous crinolines, shade their pallid complexions under black parasols festooned with smoky glass beads or skulls and crossbones; others carry pirates' flags and wear combat boots. The high-noon sun glints off black latex, soft leather, and gleaming belt buckles as the arsenal of candy-colored weaponry grows. Someone arrives wearing bunny ears.

"What is all of this?" inquires Garfield Schalk, a silver-haired gentleman from Vienna. "Some sort of social club?"

Naval Battle rules clearly disclaim all responsibility for infected cuts, illness, and gross-outs caused by the greenish mire that constitutes Stow Lake.
Paul Trapani
Naval Battle rules clearly disclaim all responsibility for infected cuts, illness, and gross-outs caused by the greenish mire that constitutes Stow Lake.

"The fifth annual S.F. Goth Naval Battle, sir," replies a pallid young man.

"It is serious?" asks the tourist.

"Oh, very serious, sir," replies the goth combatant. "Super Soakers and sock monkeys. Very serious, indeed."

"Soaking and sock monkeys?" asks Schalk, lifting his bushy white eyebrows.

"As prizes, sir," clarifies the goth. "Monkeys and pie."

"Ohhh, and pie," says Schalk, nodding with a satisfied grin. "We shall watch the soaking then," Schalk continues, patting his wife's hand tenderly.

A large number of goths moves to the boathouse and forms a dark, snaking line in front of the rental office. The rest gather at the dock, blinking in the bright sunlight, as Perki Mosier and his armada arrive. As is befitting the S.F. Goth Naval Battle's primary strategist, Mosier wears a black armored vest, knee-high boots, fluorescent yellow-green gauntlets, goggles, a yellow Pekachu backpack, and a black shirt covered in bright pink skulls.

The pink in this last article of clothing causes Cairo, captain of the Princess Cruises armada, to take swift and sudden offense.

"Pink is the color of the Princesses," explains fellow-Princess Nadja Herreshoff with a flash of her sparkly pink tights. Indeed, the entire armada is designated by rosy shades (tights, flowers, ribbons, tutus, hair) nestled amidst the more uniform black, and their officers wear tiaras. The Princesses' royal guard is immediately alerted to Admiral Perki's insolence.

"He will pay," swears a guard, characterized by the pink crown emblem pinned to his black shirt. "All of Team Pekachu will pay."

Unruffled, Admiral Perki smears blue greasepaint across his face. One of his men, a wild-eyed soldier named Iron Chuck, spreads war paint on his bare chest and raises his water cannon over his head, shouting for pirate blood. Though Iron Chuck's weapon has been modified to include a formidable "lake siphon," Madam PC, captain of the Pirate Armada, is indifferent to Team Pekachu's bombast. She quickly recruits two camo-wearing anarchists: Buzz Deadwaxand his 6-year-old son, the fearless Max Deadwax. There are rumors of ambush and sabotage and new alliances. The first fleet prepares to push, and everyone is so involved in preparations, few take heed of the strange conglomeration of Easter bunnies growing in their midst.

As the teams take to the water in paddle boats and canoes, Admiral Perki's elegant wife, Tina Mosier-Tadd, smiles indulgently, waving from shore.

"Of course, monkeys may be redeemed for pie at the end of the battle," she says, nodding to the three succulent fruit pies shaded by her somber parasol. "The monkeys are tied to ropes hanging from trees on the island. You'll see."

I am bustled into the Press Armada, but veteran fleet photographer Rachel Strasser recoils in horror at the notion of going afloat. "No duck-poo soup for me, thanks," she says with a shudder. "Have you seen the stuff?"

Indeed, the Naval Battle rules clearly disclaim all responsibility for infected cuts, illness, and gross-outs caused by the greenish mire that constitutes Stow Lake. Happily, we push off.

Under the bridge, paddle boats are already engaged in hotblooded combat. Great sprays of slug-green water arc from boat to boat, leaving few unscathed. At this distance, teams are difficult to distinguish, however the white heads of Mr. and Mrs. Schalk are not. They peer over the edge of the bridge, getting a bird's-eye view of the mass drenching, but there is no time to ruminate.

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