The Whale in the Room

Ride the Whale!

Chapter 9. The Sermon.

With speed he flew to my relief,

    As on a radiant dolphin borne;

A choice line from Father Mapple’s glorious maritime sermon. It’s actually a line from some hymn, which I will assume very real. I like the imagery of these Christians. Dolphins are known affable and intelligent creatures, so it comes as no surprise that, if the lord were to deliver one from evil, (s)he would arrive upon the back of such a delightful creature, glowing with divine awesomeness.

Hermano Melville, through our portly friend Father Mapple, seems to be hinting at some awesome sinning that should unfold in later chapters. I can’t wait. Father Mapple tells us the story of Jonah and the whale, how Jonah was a vile sinner and blah blah blah he tried to run away from the lord and then got et up by the whale and and it’s dark and moist and terrible and smelly so Jonah was all like, ‘I deserve this lord, for I am a sinner,’ and the lord is like ‘okay, you are delivered from evil.’ In accepting one’s punishment as just, one is delivered from evil. I think.

It’s hard to say where Hermano Melville stands on sinning, but he certainly seems to know how it works.

“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”

This chapter has got me thinking about our dear narrator Ishmael. Is he fleeing some terrible sin, some atrocity committed in the city of New Yawk? Can Ishmael be holding back on some very essential detail that drives him to a life at sea? I’m no scholar (and grateful that no scholars are present to demean my plebeian interpretation of this rock-star-pile-o-pages) but Hermano Melville seems to be building something rather sinister here.

“Terrors upon terrors run shouting through his soul. In all his cringing attitudes, the God-fugitive is now too plainly known.” Yes dude. So dark.

One thing is becoming clearer, and that is that while very little seems to be happening in terms of action (a friend recently told me that almost nothing happens throughout the entire novel) every element, which becomes a chapter, is a platform for commentary on some universal theme. Heady.

“While he was speaking these words, the howling of the shrieking, slanting storm without seemed to add new power to the preacher, who when describing Jonah’s sea-storm, seemed tossed by a storm himself.”

That’s how I feel about you Hermano Melville.

“Delight is to him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of boisterous mob can never shake from the sure Keel of Ages.”

This book is BAD ASS. So BAD ASS that the next chapter is titled “A Bosom Friend.” Just you wait. NeXXXt!

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The Pulpit or a man of certain venerable robustness. Chapter 8.

From time to time we should probably play a little game called “what exactly is going on here?” Our dear Ishmael is in the church on a blustery, stormy day in New Bedford after having departed New Yawk in search of work on a whaling ship. He has acquired a delightful friend, heathen in appearances yet quite deliberate and cool, named Queequeg. They have shared a bed, spooned, and elicited odd childhood memories in Ishmael. As far as I can tell there was no suggestive language to give the impression of sexual touches, so get your mind out of the gutter. This is a family web log and we shall maintain the utmost professionalism and respect for taste and decency. Breakfast has been consumed and now we appear to be in search of some spiritual sustenance.

Hermano Melville has provided us with a dashing and dramatic entrance for our new friend and man of the cloth, Father Mapple.

“I had not been seated very long ere a man of certain venerable robustness entered; immediately as the storm pelted-door flew back upon admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him by all the congregation, sufficiently attested that his fine old man was the chaplain.”

In plain speak, as I see it; these two big ass doors fly open, and they’re like huge and wooden and covered in like engravings and scripture and shit, and there’s this storm ragin’ and this big fucker, and I mean BIG fucker, dressed in like holy robes and shit, looking all serious and holy and in charge, walks in like it’s not a big deal, even though it is because he’s about to drop the serious word of the lord and everyone knows it cause he’s got that boss look in his eye that says, “I see you and I see your sin.” The word of the lord. Here it comes. Fuck.

Turns out he was just wearing a raincoat, and upon removing it, reveals a suit of casual profession. The pulpit, the namesake of dear chapter 8, is the stand from which our new acquaintance Father Mapple shall deliver us from evil. The pulpit itself is tall and comes equipped with an ornate red rope-ladder, so as to be like a ship. Because we are in a whalmans chapel, and obviously the lord channels his wisdom from a sturdy three-masted vessel known as Heaven. Once father maple has fully, slowly, and robustly ascended the pulpit, he draws the ladder up within,

“… leaving him impregnable in his little Quebec.”

Let’s get ready to rumble. The sermon is probably about to begin. Next.

Ch. VII- The Chapel (The Whalemans Chapel)

At some point it seems pertinent to admit that this book here, this Moby Dick, is not a necessarily a comedy of errors. Or perhaps it is. At what point do I acknowledge that there are serious forces at work here? When do I admit that I am not above being moved by the words of Hermano Melville, that something resonates with me, you’re dearest, drunkest, literary tour guide? Almost now. But not quite.

Wandering around New Bedford, our dear homeboy Ishmael stumbles upon a chapel. The Whalemans Chapel. There are whalers, widows, widows-to-be, and a pastor that has yet to show. There are many an inscription of the deceased whaling community and Ishmael is kind enough to share a few with us. They all read “sacred” at the top, which is courteous, if not redundant. I assumed all things in the house of the lord had varying degrees of sacredness. I enjoyed this one in particular.

Sacred.

To the Memory

O F

ROBERT LONG, WILLIS ELLERY

NATHAN COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH MACY

AND SAMUEL GLEIG,

Forming on of the boats’ crews

of

THE SHIP ELIZA

Who were towed out of sight by a Whale,

On the Off-shore Ground in the

P A C I F I C,

December 31st, 1839.

T H I S  M A R B L E

Is here placed by their surviving

SHIPMATES.

Towed out of sight by a whale, on New Years Eve no less. I wonder if they were aware of that fact and had some sort of celebration planned after they had killed and secured the goods of said whale. Sometimes I become truly indignant about the cost of my cellphone bill ($100, which, mind you, does more than my home PC did 10 years ago). Somewhere, someone is probably (definitely) starving to death. I quit smoking and so I eat all the time (the need hole must be filled) and now I’m worried about getting fat. Which is happening. At some point or another, someone was very likely towed out to sea by an angry whale, never to be seen again. Happy New Years. I shall try to complain less and do more stuff without congratulating myself for merely existing. Truth. Fact. Next.

Ch. 6, The Street (is where you find the good stuff)

Ah the diversity of a whaling town in the 19th century. Cannibals, heathens, savages, white men, dark men, whalers, and I can only assume the occasional lady of the night to compliment the sole, lonely lady boy for the whaler of peculiar need. I imagine that a life spent at sea with no company except that of surly whaler men, drunk and over crowded, malnourished and malcontent, will no doubt breed the most unusual sort of fantasies and fetishes amongst the crew.

“And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens.”

Something tells me Ishmael (Hermano Melville) knows a thing or two about loneliness and the subsequent reacquaintance with the fairer sex. Go team. Ishmael gives us a little preview of the sort of folk that populate New Bedford. Boring. Where’s the whale? What about the one-legged madman, hell-bent on destroying said whale? Where’s the boat? Why are we still in town? I’m getting impatient. Let’s go club some whales! Next.

Ch. 5, Breakfast, or Grub Ho!

“A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid warrior whalemen!”

A choice line from an otherwise short and reflective chapter. Our well rested narrator descends into the common room to break his fast and notes the odd silence that captivates the whalers. Where one would expect them to be of the boisterous sort, harassing each other about bedding some unfortunate salt wench, they eat in almost shameful silence. Amongst peers, one would assume familiarity and fraternity. Not so much. Queequeg, from the head of the table no less, proceeds to eat enthusiastically with his harpoon, which is thoroughly badass.

“… reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads and grappling beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in most people’s estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.”

Beefsteaks for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do. Next.

Ch. 4 The Counterpane or a hatchet-faced baby.

Do you know what a counterpane is? Neither do I. Start listing all of your best guesses. Mine are as follows.

1)    Like a windowpane, but somewhere else.

2)    Mortal enemy of T-Pain.

3)    I have no idea.

It turns out I was wrong in every way. Except for “I have no idea.” I was dead right about that. A counterpane is a blanket. A comforter. Something you sleep under, something that keeps you warm. Normally, I feel confident deriving meaning from antiquated words or phrases, but I think the reason this one in particular was abandoned is because it’s plain old dumb. Here is where we begin to encounter the cultural and linguistic discrepancies of my oversized future brain and Hermano Melville’s antiquated, yet still smarter brain. We live in a future where a tiny pane of glass can show you moving images of people engaged in coitus. On a whim. And you can pick the kind of people you want to watch having coitus. And maybe where they do it. And if you’re lucky, there’s a soundtrack, or a “score” as they call it in the business. Now that I think about it, I can see plainly why we are getting dumber as we get smarter.

This book was written over a century and a half ago. Let us make another list, this time noting any considerable differences between now and the dark ages of the 19th century.

1) Women could not vote or generally do anything that displeased men without swift and often violent reprisal.

2) People were not as smart, yet somehow not as dumb as some people I know.

3) Cars and Michael Bay movies weren’t around, so life was less awesome. This is absolutely debatable.

4) Fear of ghosts was probably more common.

5) Slavery.

6) Somewhere in space and time, the forebears of Snooki were smooshing.

7) Polio?

8) Lasers. Definitely.

Those are some of the more notable differences that came to mind. If there’s something I’m missing, I’m sure my dedicated readership will be so kind as to educate me. As per the name of the chapter, Ishmael wakes up next to his new bedfellow and new best boy Queequeg and recalls a childhood memory of being punished and sent to bed around 2 in the afternoon for playing “chimney sweep.”* When he wakes many hours later in total darkness, upon the “counterpane” (it’s called a bedspread holmes) he finds his own hand wrapped in a phantom hand. He is so terrified he won’t move. And eventually he falls back asleep. Fast forward to adult Ishmael, and Queequeg, his new amicable (yet still pleasantly cannibal) bedfellow, is playing big spoon and Ishmael is incapable of escaping Queequegs grasp. Upon removing the counterpane Ishmael finds Queequegs tomahawk lying beside them. Like a “hatchet faced baby.” Cool.

They get dressed and there are many sentences and words used to describe the intricate process and many feelings and implications shared between (betwixt?) the two and so on and so forth. Breakfast.

Next.

* Difference #9; children played at being a chimney sweep back in the day. I loathe to think how in the future my spawn will play “Apple Executive” or “Oil Refinery Technician.” 

The Spouter-Inn, also known as Ch. 3

The spout. I assumed a whales spout, a blow hole, but felt unsure so I took to the greatest encyclopedia I know. A little google action brings us to, obviously, the urban dictionary. A couple of notable definitions come up here, and I think they are worth sharing.

1) Up the Spout- Scottish slang for pregnant. It comes with this contextual gem.

This is not a food baby. I’ve taken like three pregnancy tests and I am fo’ shizz up the spout.

What I want to know is, what Scotsman says “fo’ shizz?” Also, see food baby.

2) Also British for something that has gone awry.

Tony Blair has gone up the spout.

3) For the grand finale, AMURIKA! Up the spout means to

load…

ones…

WEAPON?!?!

The Glock-17 holds 16 rounds: 15 in the magasine and 1 up the spout.

So if I understand correctly, what the English speaking world means when the words “up the spout” are uttered, it’s that a woman has been impregnated, shits obviously fucked up, and it is now time to make sure this gun not only has ammo, but that there is one in the chamber ready for the killing. Who’s getting shot? Baby Daddy? The less we ask, the better. Remember kiddos, no glove no love. That way, there shall be no need for discussions of spouts and what is up in them… or coming out of them.

Oh yea, also, Ishmael arrives at said Inn, the Spouter Inn. It is what you would expect a 19th century whalers Inn to be; occupied, cold, and full of unsavory characters. Also,  a harpooning cannibal named Queequeg, who, we shall later find, makes an ever so charming bedfellow.

Next.

The Carpet-Bag, or Chapter Two

Remember how I said I’d try to keep up with this thing? Fail. But not completely. Three weeks later, here I am. I have progressed quite a few chapters in my reading, but clearly not at all in my ongoing shitty book report.

Saturday in December. In New Bedford, Connecticut. Cold, rainy, and miserable. Have you ever trudged through a New England winter? Admittedly there are worse, but a proper New England winter can suck the life out of you and then have the gall to tell you that you owe it money.

Ishmael gives us the low down on the whaling game in town, how New Bedford is now the spot. Nantucket was hot, and to give them their due, they were some of the first anglo-whale clubbers in town. But now the trade has moved to New Bedford, and Ishmael is trying to get. that. nut. The adventure nut I mean. Packed up his “carpet bag” and just strolled into town.

Through these musings, I’m starting to gather that this Ishmael fellow is well educated, or at least well read… maybe just well informed. But he’s clever no doubt. He compares Nantucket to “-the Tyre of Carthage;- the place where the first dead American whale was stranded.”

I don’t know what the Tyre of Carthage is, but I’d like Hans Zimmer to score it. Russel Crowe can come too if he wants.

I’d like to reiterate the gross potential for abandonment and failure of this silly project. I have chosen one of the most celebrated and dissected American classics. My only solace comes from knowing that very few, if any, will read this. Sigh. If you think I’m sniffing glue, I’m not. I tried it once as a teenager, and though it can be effective as any drug could ever hope to be, that ship has gracefully sailed off into the sticky night.

There it is for you. Connecticut. Cold and shitty in the winter. Next.

Chapter 1: Looming

Call me Ishmael. Probably one of the most famous lines in modern literature. I also like Cogito Ergo Sum.

Ishmael. Got it. So what’s up? Ishmael has got it in his head he needs to go to sea. He’s hanging out in Manhattan, which he calls Manhattoes, and waxing philosophical about the need to get out there before he wraps his lips around the business end of a Smith and Wesson. He doesn’t actually threaten suicide really, but he sorta does so now we know he’s maybe a little critical of himself.

I’m pretty sure this book touches on madness. This bodes well for some hot action. And by that I mean disagreements of the strongest sort… the kind that end in fisticuffs or disembowelment.

La de da, away I go to the sea for some adventuring and a little existential recalibration, cause if I don’t I’m going to push the nearest child in front of a bus. Gotcha. Peace New York, Ishmael is outie…

See you in New Bedford?

p.s. There are a lot of chapters. And this dude Melville talks a blue streak about all sorts of nonsense. Smart dude, I get it. But we are trying to get through this together. You, me, and Hermano Melville. And because you are oh so busy, I will deliver only the juiciest gossip. And by that I mean stuff that interests me or moves this train forward. I’m also going to continue these post scripts in italics because italics are like whispering. This isn’t really content… shhhhhh….

It’s not cheating if there’s not a test

“They don’t think it be like it is, but it do.”

                                                        -Oscar Gamble

 

Have you ever read Moby Dick? I haven’t. What’s that you say? You haven’t either? That’s fine. Were you ever told to read it, maybe by a friend or some harsh literary mistress?* It’s a big ass book and unless you have an obsession with books, as many I know do, you probably have no interest in committing 10,000 hours of your life to a story about an extra-big-ass-whale and some peg-legged madman who really wants to find that whale and fuck it up because it stole his leg and yada yada yada. “But,” they say, “it’s a classic!”
Good thing I’m on it. I will read it for you and give you a play-by-play. That way you can pretend to have read it at your next holiday party and convince some goober you’re considerably more dedicated and motivated to knowing more stuff than everyone else, so of course you’ve read Moby Dick. You can even have opinions about it. But they will be my opinions. Which will morph into fact.

Think of it like this. It’s a made-for-tv movie. With no relevant pictures or motion. Maybe it’s more like an abridged book on tape. Without the sound. Cliff notes? Close, but I’m not qualified to educate you on Moby Dick. I’m just here to tell ya how it is. How it be. Word? Word.

p.s. if you have read moby dick… my interpretation may very well shatter your infantile understanding of literature. or it may make you rue the day the internet was invented and consequently empowered knuckleheads like myself to continue writing.

* I’ve always wanted to meet a “literary mistress,” though I’m not entirely confident I grasp the full scope of possibilities in regards to what, exactly, a “literary mistress” might be. I’m intrigued, aren’t you?