Here begins a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis.
[Throat clearing. Weird throat noise.]
Chapter One: “Water’s great. If you like water as much as I do, you’ll know what I’m talkin’ about. Man, I’m just, I’m feelin’ pretty good. I’m feelin’ pretty good about myself. I’ve got it figured out! You know? You think… look.” [Laughter.]
God! This experiment is… uh… underwhelming. And that’s all my fault. Don’t blame Moby-Dick!
[Lip smack. Sigh.]
Anyway! Uh, the tone, as I said… upbeat. He’s feelin’ good.
You know, in retrospect, I know how the book ends, and I’m sure you do as well, so… and I… we’re to assume, I would think, that the narrative was put to paper or told, uhhhyuhm, after the events of… the fateful voyage. So… I don’t know! He still sounds like he really, t—bearing that in mind, it’s perhaps surprising that he—he’s so… rollicking… and… his description of the sea is rather magnanimous under the circumstances.
[Breathing. Long pause.]
This is gonna get better.
No it won’t.
[Wheezing laughter. Sigh.]
On to Chapter Two.
“Hey! It’s me!”
“Come on in. Come along! Oh, the streets are dark and it’s very cold. My shoes are tattered, and but few coin grace my… raggedy… pockets.”
“Yet… my tone remains… uh… insouciant. Hey! Everybody. I’m tellin’ you a story. This part’s kinda, you know, it’s cold and dark, but we’re havin’ a good time. Look at all this stuff. How ‘bout that?” [Pause.]
“Note the jolly windows of the inn I can’t afford. Such merriment within!”
I’m gonna… [laughter]. Hey, this is what I’m gonna do from now on. I’m gonna just… I’m gonna go right into it, and you won’t hear from me… Hey! Call me…! Call him Ishmael? Call me Ishmael, baby. Because I’m gonna be Ishmael from now on. Maybe. Maybe—that’s a good idea. Maybe that’s what this needs to [laughter] jazz it up. [Laughter.]
Oh, what a useless prospect.
[Throat clearing. Lip smack.]
Just do the first person thing.
Oh my God.
“Look. This stuff I’m tellin’ you about is kinda scary. It’s dark at night, and cold, and I don’t have many clothes, and I need a place to stay. And I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be a, you know, a kind of a… scrungy…”
Is that a word?
“I can’t, you know, I’m gonna do what I can. Uh… But at the same time, I remain your cheerful, uh, guide.”
“Things are… rollin’ along here. In the old whaling town. I’m gonna…”
[Extremely long pause. Sniff.]
“Here’s a place. What? This guy’s name is Coffin? I don’t like the sound of that, all right! Coffin! What kind of a—well, you know, I’ve heard that th—that’s a common name in a neighboring city. Oh, well. Who cares? The guy’s name is Coffin. Th—I wonder, I wonder… dot dot dot…”
Why do I keep saying, “Hey”?
“Uhhhhh, you know, anything could be on the other side of this door! Let’s…! Come along!”
“Come along, friend. Hey, buddy. You’re my pal. You’re my invisible pal.”
[Wild, prolonged laughter.]
“Reader, uh, companion…”
[Long pause. Sigh.]
[Laughter that begins to wheeze.]
Oh, Jesus. All right, I’m gonna start over. Just this part. Not the whole thing. All right.
Take two. Chapter Two, take two. Moby-Dick, Chapter Two, take two.
[Throat clearing. Pause.]
“Ah, I arrived in town. It was bitterly cold.”
You know, this is so stupid, because one thing you could do is just read Moby-Dick.
It, it… so far, is it deceptively welcoming? Is it…? Uh… Because so far it’s quite, uhhhhh, accommodating. It’s not, yuerrrhhh, it’s not difficult to… get the gist.
In fact, the narrator goes out of his way to…
Comfort and explain.
Moby-Dick, Chapter Two. Take three.
“Hi, everybody.” [Raucous laughter.]
“All right! It’s cold, all right. As I came into town and my clothing wasn’t doing me any favors, either, and, uh, and the money situation wasn’t looking too cool. And, you know, I passed by some inns that looked like they were happenin’, man. They were… the people were… you know… they were playin’ some bangers.”
I’m sorry I said “bangers.” Somebody said that in a meeting yesterday, and, uh, it stuck in my head.
The term. Something unpleasant about that term, “bangers.”
Okay, Chapter Two. Moby-Dick, Chapter Two, take four!
[Laughter that devolves into wheezing.]
“Ah. The bitter cold wind blew through my shabby clothing. I jingle-jangled in my old pockets. Not much silver! I can’t stay at a nice place. Ooooh, that looks… welcoming, the old Crossed Harpoons. Seems to be a party going on th—in there, they’re [stifled laugh] playin’ some real bangers.” [Short laugh.] “But, eh, that’s not the likes—for the likes of me. Not that I care much, ‘cause I’m just a happy-go-lucky hooligan. Let’s keep goin’. This—actually, I seem to give off an air of kind of enjoying the cold, dark night. Uhm, what’s this? Is this an inn? No! It’s a church where black people attend, so what’s that all about? I don’t know. Uh… but the preacher’s givin’ a real hellfire sermon, so I’m gonna tiptoe back outta there, that’s not… you know. I—you know—I’m… [sigh] That’s not my idea of a good time. I’m, I’m kind of a—you know, man. I’m not real religious or anything. Probably.”
“So, I’m gonna just gonna tiptoe back out of this vestibule and keep goin’. I don’t know why I thought a church was an inn. I must be—well, it’s very dark, though. I mean, you have to give me that. And cold. Have I mentioned… [swallowing] Have I mentioned how cold it is? Uh, hoooohhhh! Here’s a hot-lookin’ place, and… the merriment seems to verily…”
You know, uh, Melville is quite less [throat clearing]… He doesn’t say things like “verily.” Well, you know, he gives you some pretty good… he’s like, uhhh, ahhhh, “the pavement stones rose up…”
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick. Please read along here, if you like (highly recommended).
Popula is 100% ad-free, reader-supported journalism accountable only to you. Every dollar of your subscription goes straight to our work. Thank you for supporting Popula.