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Word Drunk

Pirate's Prom a lit party for playful plunderers

By Ella Lawrence

San Francisco's only pirate supply store guarantees that its treasure chests are both secure and ornate, and that its shackles will not chafe when used on the very young. The store also features large bins of sand and lard, which seem to exist solely for the purpose of poking and prodding, although a sign posted nearby expounds the virtues and uses of lard (mast-greasing, fingernail-softening and gift wrap being just a few). Customers can purchase flags, designer glass eyes and peg legs, among other wares. It is perhaps one of the few S.F. storefronts also featuring a live porcupine pufferfish named Karl who resides in a tank decorated like a theater stage and is fed daily at 2pm.

What the pirate store really is, though, is a portal to a nonprofit organization founded by writer Dave Eggers, the 35-year-old bestselling author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. 826 Valencia, named after its street address in San Francisco's Mission District, was founded as an organization dedicated to supporting students ages six to 18 with their writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write, free of charge. Instead of simply resting on his laurels as one of America's most acclaimed modern novelists, Eggers travels nationally, whether fundraising, teaching workshops, and running a summer camp in conjunction with the nonprofit poetry organization Youth Speaks.

826 Valencia's events director Anna Ura says the store is the gateway to the organization for San Francisco's community. "It's playful, transformative and encourages you to think outside the box," she says. We wouldn't expect any less of the brainchild from the offbeat Eggers, who has been known to offer free haircuts to patrons of the pirate store.

826 Valencia has been such an acclaimed success since its inception in April of 2003 that national chapters 826 LA, 826 NYC, 826 Seattle, 826 CHI (Chicago), and 826 Michigan (all of which will be up and running by the end of October) are popping up all over the country.

826 Valencia shares space with offices for Eggers' quarterly magazine McSweeney's and the monthly publication The Believer. McSweeney's, revered for its dryly humorous articles, currently features such pieces as "Christopher Walken Attempts to Convince a Harlem T-shirt Vendor That Scarface can Be a Religion," and "An Open Letter to the Squirrel Trying to Chew Its Way Through My Roof." While collectively the three organizations form a writing factory for kids and adults, 826 is adamant about its independence.

To that end, 826 Valencia also has an unorthodox approach to fundraising.

Take the Pirate Prom slated for Oct. 22 at the Roshambo Winery, for instance. The party aims to attract "pirates, wenches, readers, writers, wierdos and winos," according to Roshambo's media relations director Scott Keneally. The party will feature wine country's premier (and only) peg-leg dance-off. "826 is bringing up several [peg legs] for people to tango on," he laughs. "We haven't worked out all the logistics yet, but it will sure be fun to watch."

Music will be provided by DJs, and Jimmy Gnecco of the band OURS (whose soon-to-be-released third album was produced by Rick Ruben for Geffen Records) will perform as guests chow down on--what else?--pirate booty.

"We feel really lucky that Roshambo found us," says Ura. "They are such nice people."

Keneally, who is also Roshambo's in-house writer, heard about 826 NYC's Superhero Supply Store, and got the idea to pair up with Valencia for a pirate prom following the success of Roshambo's Superhero Prom earlier this year. The winery has previously hosted such kooky events as a Drag Queen Brunch to celebrate the release of its pink wine as well as a Goth Prom and a Mad Tea Party.

"I'm a really big fan of Dave Eggers and would love to help out his philanthropic brainchild," says Roshambo owner Naomi Brilliant. "Hopefully we'll raise money and increase awareness of their endeavors in the North Bay."


The 826 Valencia Pirate's Party takes over the winery's tasting room on Saturday, Oct. 22. 3000 Westside Road, Healdsburg. 8:30pm. $10; all proceeds directly benefit 826 Valencia. 1.888.525.WINE. For more information about 826 Valencia, visit www.826valencia.org.

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From the October 19-25, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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