This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Remember how I said up until now it’s been all fun and games for Ishmael and his happy crew? Well, they meet a skulking figure… with an unfortunate complexion.
He says, “Ohhh…! You guys signed on t—for that voyage?”
“Yep! We sure did.”
“Well, how are your souls? Aren’t you worried about them?”
“Never mind. Forget I said anything.”
“Wait, what were you talking about?”
“Nothing, nothing, just something about danger to your soul, but forget I said it. Ah, let’s talk about something else.”
“Wait a minute, mister. You think you’re… givin’ me the creeps? Uhm… Well, it takes a lot more than that, buddy.”
“Ohhhh…! Don’t worry. That voyage is going to happen one way or another, and so you’re the guys on it. That’s just the way it goes, I guess. Sorry about that.”
“Sorry about what?”
“Nothing! Forget I said anything.”
Uh, and then he kinda… stalks ‘em around town.
Uh… from a distance.
Probably nothin’ to worry about.
He does give some more clues about—I meant to look up… here’s a word I… the meaning of which I’m not sure about. I’m gonna Google it. Maybe I should look… You know what I’m gonna do? I have this old… dictionary that I’ve had ever since I was a small child, and I really enjoyed it.
I just knelt on the floor.
This dictionary is on the floor. I guess I should find a… like, a nice pedestal for it, even though it’s ratty and… uhm… covered in what I think is called “contact paper,” you know, the kind of paper you would line a kitchen drawer with. My grandmother finally had to bind it in… gaily striped contact paper, because I read the dic—read this dictionary so much, until the covers started coming off.
It’s one of those unabridged [sound of pages flapping] … dictionaries.
[Very, very long pause.]
[An even longer pause.]
It’s a vessel made of a dried… gourd shell. Used as a bowl or pipe.
[Another long pause.]
Well, anyway, Ahab spat… into a silver calabash. Uh… according to this raggedy prophet.
[A sound like a cough, but not exactly.]
Okay, now to get up off the floor. More of a challenge than it used to be, but successfully accomplished.
Well, you know what? I’m gonna Google “silver calabash.”
[Computer keys clacking. Silence. More computer keys clacking.]
That was—never mind, something strange happened that needn’t concern you.
[Computer keys clacking.]
Well, the first thing that comes up is someone asking, “What’s with the silver calabash?”
Mm, someone else says that in this cape—in this case, it seems to be a spittoon.
[Very long pause.]
Boy, everybody’s upset. Everybody on the internet is upset that there’s not enough information about the silver calabash. I guess it never comes up again.
Well, that’s what you get when you start listening to prophets.
Let that be a lesson.
Maybe it was.
In Chapter Twenty… uhm… they’re loading up the Pequod and getting ready to ship out. And… Ishmael thinks to himself, “Hey! What a—what? Why am I doing this?”
“I’ve never even seen this guy! All I know is he spat in a silver calabash!”
I don’t believe he…
“Here I am. You know, they’re putting enough groceries on this… boat for three years! Do I really wanna go out into the endless waters of the earth when someone’s in charge I’ve never met or even seen? Why don’t I think about things before I do them? And even if I do think about them, what does it matter? You’re in the hands of…” Et cetera.
And isn’t that what we’re all thinking, all the time?
And, much like Ishmael… he concludes by saying, “So I just try not to think about it.”
[Extremely long pause.]
It makes sense.
Oh! This is unrelated to Moby-Dick, except… that this story has lobsters in it. Which are an animal that comes from the sea. “Which are an animal”? Which are animals.
My mom, uh, mmuh, I told you my parents are visiting today. They’re going to arrive this evening. They got off to a late start because they had to take our distant cousin… Gracie… what is she? I mean, on the family tree? She’s somewhere way off to the side on the family tree. Uh, she went to the emergency room. Uhm, the doctors gave her some—she was gonna send us a bag of fresh shrimp from my hometown, which is… renowned for its shrimp.
But by mistake, being filled with medicine, she sent—she gave my parents something she didn’t mean to give them, and she wants it back, because she says it’s not good enough for us. It’s not as good as the intended shrimp… which are special. Which we are now not… receiving.
And my mom said, “It’s a bag of bulldozers.”
And I said, “What? Did you say bulldozers?”
“Yes! It’s a bag of bulldozers.”
“Wait. Are you saying ‘bulldozers’? Say it again. Bulldozers?”
“Yes! It’s bulldozers! Lobster tails.”
And I said, “Well—oh! I thought you were saying ‘bulldozers’ for some reason.”
And my mom said, “I was saying bulldozers! That’s what they’re called.”
And I said, “Lobster tails are called bulldozers?”
And my mother acted as if I… you know… had abdicated my birthright by not knowing that locally, oh, yes, everyone calls them bulldozers. She… informed me.
As I think about it, I suppose I can see how the… sweeping, wide… uhm… you know what? I’m not very well acquainted with the parts of a lobster. But I can see the resemblance, perhaps, to a bulldozer’s… uh… nei—neither am I acquainted with the names of the parts of a bulldozer! I’ve led a sheltered life.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
You may also like to read along with the text of the novel here (highly recommended).