The Whale in the Room

Ride the Whale!

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Chapter 19, The Prophet; or whereby I regain my place at the head of an empty table!

Oh Ho Ho there you are. Missed me? Of course you did, it’s only been about 4 years. You thought I had forgotten about you and our sacred pact to read Moby-Dick together, didn’t you? I was simply testing your faith, ensuring that the strength of our bond was as eternal and enduring as celebrities need for attention.

What have I been doing in these last four years whilst you waited with baited breath for chapter 19? Simply living I tell you, embracing all that this strange little life has to offer, from writing a treatise on the pitfalls of doing battle under the influence to learning how to make an omelet worth eating, because for some reason the world insists on simply making a burnt egg scramble pancake with stuff in the middle and calling it an omelet.

But alas we are here not to dissect the culinary arts, nor the merits and trappings of a life spent fighting strangers on PCP, but to embrace this gargantuan tome of whaling and adventure. Welcome back to the table my friend. Let’s see how Ishmael and Queequeg have been faring.

Last we left off, our boys had locked up employment aboard the Pequod, though we have yet to meet Ahab. Whilst taking in the scenery of Nantucket, no doubt cherishing their last moments on dry land with equal parts boyish excitement and nervous apprehension that precedes any venture worth taking, our boys are approached by a rather odd fellow who has some choice words in regards to the Pequod and it’s captain. Apparently there is a strange history to this Ahab, who is affectionately referred to as “Old Thunder.” Our historian of the streets asks our dear narrator if he has heard the tales of this Old Thunder.

“But nothing that happened to him off Cape Horn, long ago, when he lay like dead for three days and nights; nothing about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the alter in Santa? – heard nothing about that eh? Nothing about the silver calabash he spat into? And nothing about his losing his leg last voyage, according the prophecy?”

Wait, what prophecy? Has the fate of our dear narrator, his worldy savage friend, and their unhinged boss, been foretold? Was it written in the stars long ago? Also, what the fuck is a calabash? Apparently it’s a very intense NIGERIAN NOLLYWOOD MOVIE!!!!!? It’s definitely not a tree. Also, I think I need to hear this story about the kerfuffle with the Spaniard and the alter. Was there a marriage about to take place? More likely ritual sacrifice? Both? Either way, I’ll bet it happened at college. Sounds promising. If I hear anything more of this tale of woe in further pages, I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

Ishmael and Queequeg agree that this old man, who reveals his name to be Elijah, seems to be a little shook, a tad cray, and mayhaps too many nights spent under the stars with naught but a dunkin donuts trash bag full of boston cream for a pillow. They seem content in their assessment “that he was nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear.”

Chapter 19 concludes with Elijah lurking behind our boys for a bit. When Ishmael attempts to confront his unusual behavior, Elijah passes by pretending not to know them.

“This relieved me; and once more, and finally as it seemed to me, I pronounced him in my heart, a humbug.” 

Next.

Chapter 18- His Mark

Here are some killer words that showed up in today’s lecture, also known as Chapter 18, His Mark. If you are a taxpaying citizen of the upper crusty caste, taste and decency, you will attempt to familiarize yourself with these words, add them to your lexicon and henceforth dole out linguistic punishment so that that peasantry of heart and mind quiver at the sonorous boom of your eloquent and confident word. Without further ado.

Skylarking- Originally a nautical term for a jokester, as in one who might play in the upper rigging with careless abandon, like a bird. Or a lark. Sounds to me like a character from StarFox or something. Skylark!

Philistine– I only sort of knew how to apply this word appropriately, so I rarely ever did. But god bless Wikipedia. Donate. Seriously.

Obstinate – Just imagine some salty old degenerate is standing in the middle of the road, drunk, and screaming, tattered pants secured only by a shoelace belt, and you can’t drive around them. You say, “Excuse me. Can you please move for I cannot pass and I don’t wish to harm you,” to which you hear the reply, “F-F-F-Fuck you!” to which you reply, “You, sir, are being obstinate!” to which you hear, “F-F-F-Fuck you.” Which only proves your point. Or imagine Bill O’Reilly opening that gaping abyss of ignorance he calls a mouth and doing what we call “talking.”

Appellative- It means title, more or less. I dare you to use that in a sentence without sounding like an asshole. You know the type, the narcissist who casually overuses words in conversation like “milieu” and “loquacious.”

Heterogeneously- Not homogenous by definition.

“Pious harpooners never make good voyagers- it takes the shark out of ‘em.” So says Captain Peleg after witnessing Queequeg demonstrate his harpoon mastery. Queequeg is now gainfully employed aboard the Pequod, with a considerably handsome pay rate. Next.

Chapter 17- The Ramadan, where there is much confusion and talk of dyspepsia

Ishmael has secured a job upon the Pequod, we have met two captains, yet there is no sign of this elusive Ahab.

From the last chapter, in reference the biblical character of the same name, “When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?”

Once I am finished with this project, maybe I shall undertake the bible, old testaments and new, in a similar fashion. What could be more delightfully torturous?

Ramadan. A month, a ritual, one of the five pillars of Islam, a lunar thing, and rooted in the Arabic word for heat or dryness, and involves prayer and fasting. This is all according to the Prophet of Lazy People Everywhere, WIKIPEDIA. But as some believe in their deities, I believe in people.

Queequeg has himself a little 24 hour Ramadan, where he locks himself in the room at the Inn, remains motionless for sometime, fasts (duh), freaks out Ishmael who then fetches Mrs. Hussey the indefatigable inn keeper, they break down the door, everything is still fine, Ishmael loses sleep because he can be such a timid chump at times, they have a pow-wow about it because that’s what friends do and because Ishmael is concerned about his friends crazy behavior, and everything is ultimately fine because why shouldn’t it be?

Funny thing though, the chapter is titled The Ramadan, but Hermano Melville never mentions Islam and I got the distinct impression that Queequeg was of the unnamed cannibal-worshipping-wooden-totem faith. I can only assume this is intentional, because the weight of Hermano Melville’s brain, humanity, and comprehensive world-view would crush a mere mortal, but why? Oh yea, he also refers to it as a Fasting and Humiliation. Cheers.

Some choice words from Hermano Melville, via our dear narrator Ishmael.

“… for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody’s religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toadstool.”

“… and Heaven have mercy on us all- Presbyterians and Pagans alike- for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”

I like how the word Pagan was capitalized. Next.

A post where all the hyperlinks involve nudity. Chapter 16. The Ship.

Hello there dedicated readers. I thank you for not losing faith, for not wandering off to some other meaningless web-log, for not abandoning me for the more shallow pleasures of the internet, as the good lord knows there are many. I continue to read and report back to you good folk with the latest on our dear Ishmael, for I know his well being is among your chief concerns.

I just finished watching Brokeback Mountain. That movie depresses the absolute shit out of me, which is a shame because there’s a solid argument that it may be one of the greatest love stories told in cinema in the last 20 years, but I just can’t bring myself to knowingly dedicate THREE AND A HALF HOURS OF MY FREE TIME TO DYING ON THE INSIDE!

I’ve decided to take the low road and promise sex, or at least the suggestion thereof, because sex sells and last I checked mobymobydick.com does not. Sell that it is. Unless you consider presumptuous wisdom and imagined social capital to be viable forms of commercial leverage. In which case, I’m rich bitch.

Moving on. Queequeg has it in his head that Ishmael needs to select the ship that will carry them off into the bosom of adventure. Rather, Queequegs champion wooden lord, god, diety- Yojo is his name I think- has decided it would be fortuitous to insist that Ishmael select the vessel. Would you care to know how I would select a whaling vessel? Of course you would. I say, the more murderous looking the crew, the better. The more haggard looking the ship, the more battered looking it’s crew, the better. My thought is, these bastards have survived, and that nice looking ship with its handsome, well-rested, enthusiastic looking crew over there is probably going to get me killed because they are light in the loafers and will probably all die from sucking at whaling and get me chewed up by some ghastly beast. No thanks. I’ll go with the cretinous animals, because neither animal nor cretin gives a shit what you think when it comes to surviving, and that’s winning. Ishmael selects some grave wooden beast called the “Pequod.”

Of the Pequod…

… the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians, now extinct as the ancient Medes.

… her old hulls complexion was darkened like a French grenadier’s, who alike has fought in Egypt and Syria. Her venerable bows looked bearded.

I like this. You mean the boat looks like some well-traveled, leathered and bearded old French bomb tosser? Yes. Yes. Yes.

… her masts stood stiffly up like the spines of of the three kings of Cologne.

He did this without wikipedia. Shit. If I looked up every history, every myth mentioned in this book, if I gaze into the rabbit hole, the abyss (the internet) of the endless weave of humanity and it’s stories, I would never finish this book and certainly not this little project of mine. It is a wonder that Hermano Melville ever completed such a project.

She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emporer, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the sperm whale, inserted there for pins, to fasted her old hempen thews and tendons to.

That’s just the boat. We also meet Captains Peleg and Bildad. Peleg is blustery, dramatic, and little crass, but ultimately a generous and pleasant human. Bildad inspires a passage that, at this point, I would put up for honorable mention as a unique gem in a sea of gems. Of Bildad and his queer synthesis of whaling and Quaker background, Ishmael says,

wait for it… wait for it…

And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath the constellations never seen here in the north, been led to think untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature’s sweet or savage impressions fresh from her own virgin, voluntary and confiding breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language- that man makes one in a whole nation’s census- a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half wilful over-ruling morbidness at the botom of his nature. For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness.

Oh really?

Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but a disease.

Boss!

Chaptah 15. Chowder. Of course there’s a chaptah called Chowder.

Celebrate with me ladies and gentlemen, labias and janglemen. One ninth of the book has passed us by and we haven’t even started whaling! Whooo, what a journey we’ve undertaken! But first, a little nugget we skipped over in last chapters rant. Of the people of Nantucket, Hermano Melville has to say this.

“For years he knows not the land; so when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between the billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.”

Write me something better and I’ll write an equally profound homage to your works.

Because we are in New England, it makes perfect sense that chowder would come up. Upon arriving on Nantucket, Ishmael and Queequeg seek food and shelter at the recommendation of their last host, the one from the Spouter Inn who’s name escapes me. This place they seek is called Try Pots, and is owned by one Hosea Hussey.

One time my friends grandmother told me to be careful around girls who’s shirts had zippers down the front, for they were hussies. Duly noted.

There is minor confusion in ordering, but finally some chowder is brought. “It was made with small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

What the fuck is pounded ship biscuit? I bet this lady knows. Next.

Moby-Google? Or Google-Dick? Chapter 14.

Hello Google.

Welcome back. Where have you been? No matter, we’re together again! Whilst browsing through my electronic mails today, I saw this in the top right corner. I rarely visit the google search engine, being that I have the search bar in my browser and google is basically everywhere anyway. It made me wonder, is today Hermano Melvilles birthday? I hope so. Either way, I worry about google sometimes. If I can find a way to compare Google to Moby-Dick at some point, I promise I will. Alas, I have not met the great whale yet, and so I cannot comment on their similarities, unless of course we’re talking about size, because I feel confident in the great measure of their respective masses. Make sense? Sure.

Maybe Moby-Dick was published on this day, 20 million years ago or whatever. It matters not, because I refuse to look it up. I’m not worried about spoilers in the story, but I like the mystery of Hermano Melville. Who was he? What did he eat? Did he shit in the woods, an outhouse, a chamber pot, or did they have home plumbing in the 19th century? Could he even afford it, or was he one of those sad, filthy visionaries that believed his life of poverty and disappointment would be worth the art? Good question.

My friend Eben(ezer) made me something awesome, so I could promote this ridiculous little project of mine.

MobyMobyDick.com

One time I received a bad grade on a philosophy paper. It was only a draft for the final, but I felt like his comments and my bad grade were in error and that my superior intellect could and did compensate for my unfamiliarity with the entirety of whatever work I was reporting on. I sent my professor an email, pissing and moaning about him being unfair,  something about how the Philosophy department being an embarrassment (being that I had taken many Philosophy courses and never had a Professor as a teacher) and he was being rediculous.

I only remember one part of his response and that was enough to teach me to shut up and listen more than I speak. It went something like,

I find it embarrassing that a student at the University of Massachusetts doesn’t know how to spell the word ridiculous.

I had become so used to saying things were ‘reee-diculous’ that I believed it was spelled as such. It was not a mistake. This is before every text window on the internet alerted the user to spelling errors. It has on one hand improved my spelling, because I am constantly forced to address it. It also makes me lazy, because sometimes I forget how to spell when I only have pen and paper. Which is what makes Hermano Melville so awesome. I’m sure he had an editor, but I doubt that said editor is solely responsible for making this book so fucking awesome. Writing is a lot harder when you don’t have the internet. Which is why myself and so many other clowns are writing and thrashing about like someone is going to pay us for thinking out loud with wikipedia ever in our back pocket. Shit.

Okay, I looked it up. 161 years ago, this beast was revealed. Shit. Now I want to look up reviews and see how the world received this book. I can imagine some pud from the New York Times (or wherever really) claiming it was “excessively wordy, an overbearing work with much homosexuality and godless rants on the savagery of Christians and should be deemed unfit for the industrious and wholesome spirit of the literate American man.” That’s not an actual quote. I think the common perception back then (amongst men in particular) was that only men did stuff. Unless it was making, having, or raising babies. Same goes for food. Us men can be so dumb sometimes, especially when it comes to women. Especially when it comes to women.

Oh yea. Chapter 14 is called Nantucket. It’s a barren place and it’s people are of the sea. More or less. Next.

 

Wheelbarrow. Chapter 13.

I admit I have been negligent in my duties as your official tour guide of Moby-Dick. Life gets in the way, and sometimes the work suffers. If only I maintained the diligent madness of an obsessive, we could be much farther along. I am not sorry. If you’re reading this, you’re still here.

Upon departing the Spouter Inn, Ishmael and Queequeg borrow a wheelbarrow for to transport their luggage. Queequeg proceeds to share a story about his first encounter with a wheelbarrow, in which he strapped the thing to himself and carried it with the handles over his shoulders. Or something like that. Ishmael asks “Didn’t people laugh?”

Queequeg shares another story, in which some white folks visit his home on the island of Kokovoko. The commander of the ship mistakes a rather important ceremonial bowl as a hand washing station.

“Now,” said Queequeg, “what you tink now?- Didn’t our people laugh?”

It seems that people take their customs very seriously. Hermano Melville seems to be equating wheelboarrows and ceremonial bowls in their effect to sow the seeds of mistrust. Once again, it seems Hermano Melville was ahead of his time in understanding that most of our customs, the things that we take most for granted, are not, in fact, innate behavior.

After boarding some small ship headed for Nantucket, some green fool starts mocking Queequeg. Thinking he’ll have a bit of fun, Queequeg picks up this buffoon, tosses him around, and places him safely back upon the deck. Of course these white clowns get their panties in a bunch, being shown up by a savage, and try to get Queequeg in trouble with the captain. No sooner does that happen that the wind picks up, the boom (the horizontal beam that holds the sail) starts swaying back and forth and sends the buffoon into the water. Queequeg, being THE MAN, almost immediately secures the boom like some sailor ninja, strips down, dives into the water, swims furiously for several minutes, dives under water, reemerges with said buffoon, and returns to the ship.

He did not seem to think that he at all deserved a medal from the Humane and Magnanimous Societies. He only asked for water- fresh water- something to wipe the brine off; that done, he put on dry clothes, lighted his pipe, and leaning against the bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemes to be saying to himself- “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians.”

This chapter is so cool that even if you never read the book, read this one chapter from start to finish. I get the feeling I will be saying that again. Next.

 

Chapter 12 is where we learn about Queequeg

It’s called biographical. Queequeg comes from an island called Kokovoko. “It is not down in any map; no true places ever are.”

It seems that Queequeg comes from savage royalty, but longs of seeing Christian lands. I wonder what those times must have been like. Times when one might say, “Y’know, those Christians seem to really be putting it together. I should probably dip my wick in ‘at, as I imagine that before long, they will come for my heathen ass.” These days, I expect the Spanish Inquisition.

Moving on. There was no room for Prince Queequeg on this Christian vessel headed for Christian lands, so in the dark of night our boy snuck out.

“Hiding his canoe, still afloat, among these thickets, with it’s prow seaward, he sat down in the stern, paddle low in hand; and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains; and throwing himself at full length upon the deck, grappled a ring-bolt, and swore to not let go, though hacked in pieces.”

Guess what? Queequeg is more badass than you will ever be. Ever. Not Sorry. Funny thing, it didn’t take long for Queequeg to realize that the civilized Christian was not so civilized at all. By the time he made it to Nantucket and witnessed where these whalemen spent their wages, “Thought he, it’s a wicked world in all meridians; I’ll die a pagan.” Truth be told, I would guess the savage is more at home with his savage behavior than the devout and spiritual are with their own, thus leading to a minimalization of twisted needs. It’s true that we all need someone to love. To lean on. Or whatever. We do not all need someone to suck on our toes to get off. But let us not judge.

and then,

“For the nonce, however, he proposed to to sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four oceans.” Yes Queequeg. Let the spreading of oats commence. But what of Oates? Hall and Oates? Next.

Chapter 11 is called “Nightgown”

The exponentially growing awesomeness that is this book is unsustainable. I take that back. This book might be infinite in it’s awesomeness. I am a believer.

The long and the short of it goes like this; Ishmael and Queequeg toss about, can’t sleep, sit up, smoke tomahawk pipe. End scene. In the course of two pages, many a nugget of truth are delivered for snacking, all wrapped in the striking prose of a poetic little rant.

“The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.”

Hermano gets meta!

Start with the premise of enjoying the womb-like warmth of a down comforter, with the tip of your nose exposed to the chilly air. Who doesn’t like that? Now turn that experience into an anecdote about perspective, reality, and the causal and essential relationship between contrasting entities. I think we just got iced dude.

“Then there you lie, like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

Yes dude. Yes we do.

“I was only alive to the condensed confidential comfortableness of sharing a pipe and a blanket with a real friend.”

I fear that at some point, this bromance will be put to the test. Tally Ho!

A Bosom Friend. Yes Dude. Chapter 10.

In this case, our dear Ishmael tells us of how he and Queequeg become bosom friends. Upon returning from the whalemans chapel, Ishmael finds Queequeg in the common room. It’s a little awkward at first, but they decide that they shall henceforth be bosom friends. Best friends. Blood brothers in arms. It’s a rather heartwarming chapter and I can tell that these two are gonna need each other. Hermano Melville seems to be telling us that oftentimes there is more civility in the so called “savage” than there is in the ranks of civilized society. He has a serious crush on Queequeg. To be fair, so do I.

“Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.”

“…content with his own companionship; always equal to himself. Surely this was a touch of fine philosophy…”

No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it.”

“I’ll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but a hollow courtesy.”

Hermano Melville, I applaud you and your love of the savage. I can imagine that celebrating the virtues of the savage was not popular in your day, in the dark ages of the 19th century. And so, through fiction you impart a healthy dose of asskicking wisdom. Another line that snagged me was the following.

‘So soon as I hear that such or such a man gives himself out for a philosopher, I conclude that, like the dyspeptic old woman, he must have “broken his digester.”‘ Truth be spoken Hermano Melville.

Or as a friend of mine used to say, “the empty tin rattles the loudest.” Yes dude.

Ishmael and Queequeg eventually retire to their quarters, newly minted homies for life. “But we did not go to sleep without some little chat”

ooooohhhhh. Pillow talk.

“Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg- a cosy, loving pair.”

Yes. Dude.