This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
But, suhhh, I, I used to write a pretty good bit for a magazine called The Believer, and once I did a thing where I just stabbed my finger into various novels and books, uhm… sortes virgilianae style… just opened a book and [popping sound effect made by lips] pointed at a sentence, and then I would review the book based on one sentence. And I did that for Moby-Dick. [Throat clearing.]
Also, once, for The Believer, I rememb—that caused me to remember that I did a column… called “If Sammy Davis Jr. Had Written Moby-Dick,” just as disposable a piece of whimsy as the n—title would imply. I started out trying to, uh, write the column as “What—What, Uh…” [Throat clearing.] Oh, man! [Pause.] Sinuses.
Uh, “If Jerry Lewis Had Written Moby-Dick” was my first idea, but I found… Jerry Lewis’s cadences, though I am an expert in them… uh… [footsteps], uh, wuh, wuh, I was just thinking, we moved into this new house. One thing that we had to move was I… from Jerry Lewis’s estate, I bid on and won a poster that used to hang outside a Broadway theater.
With a V—Vincent Canby of the New York Times, uh, quotation at the bottom of it, all in caps. It’s a big… neh, nehh, it turned out to be eight feet tall! And way too heavy to be nailed to any wall, and too tall, really. Ehhuhh, so we had to have that moved. That was… it really takes up… a lot of… it really absorbs a lot of attention. [Laughter.] Jerry Lewis in a red suit, eight feet tall. And… big letters at the bottom saying, “JERRY LEWIS IS LEGITIMATE AT LAST!” Imagine. Imagine having that in your… home. I mean, I have it in [stifled laugh] my home. It’s in what I call the reading room, to which reference has been made in past [throat clearing] installments.
It really draws the eye. But imagine having your own name… a poster of yourself eight feet tall, and the poignance of… being reassured that you are legitimate at last.
You thought you were always legitimate! And you were! Whoever you may be.
[Footsteps. Unidentified rattling noises.]
So I started to think, oh, man, I go back to Moby-Dick for impure reasons… [sigh] it’s not the first time. Part of… the “fun”—I should put that word in quotation marks—was thinking that it’s the most obvious literary classic.
We’re in Chapter Twenty-Seven, we meet the second mate, the third mate, a couple more harpooners, and the doomed cabin boy Pip, who is from Alabama, and as such, if you’ll go back to maybe the second—nyuh, you won’t! You won’t! And I don’t blame you. A—nor do I say that with scorn. I say it with understanding and sweet love.
There was a thing I was working on called The Alabamiad, and Pip, the cabin boy from Moby-Dick—proudly I claim him as a fellow Alabaman.
[Footsteps. Coffee slurping.]
The chapter ends, however—and I think we’ve had two other chapters like this—where la, la, la, everything’s copacetic, “Mmm, this guy’s gonna die, though, so… watch out! Look at Pip, happily beating his tambourine. Soon he shall beat it in Heaven.”
[Footsteps. Rattling sigh.]
I’m gonna put “oops” in quotation marks, like that’s… Ishmael saying that. [Throat clearing.] Note to self.
Stubb is kinda like Popeye the Sailorman. He’s whistlin’ a happy… tune. Goin’ about his business. Uh, contrary to Starbuck’s attitude, he doesn’t seem—Stubb, that is—doesn’t seem… you know, fazed by whales at all. He’s just—he’s like one of those… guys who can bag groceries really fast and wins [laughter] contests. [Quiet, wheezing laughter.] ‘Cause he’s like, he’s just… that into his job. And like I said, he, he’s described in terms that will make you think of Popeye. You know, kinda just strollin’ along the way Popeye does in the Fleischer cartoons, and he’s always got a pipe in his face, just like Popeye. [Coffee slurping and gulping.] Nothin’s gonna scare him, just like Popeye.
And now I’m never going to say the phrase “just like Popeye” again, if God has any… plan for my life.
[Throat clearing. Sniff.]
Nehhhh, so. The third mate is Flask. He’s short and angry. He’s like [a wild burst of laughter] Danny DeVito. I just thought of that. Uh… [rattling sigh] he’s like Danny DeVito in [short laugh] Taxi. Uhm… or really, in anything. Batman Returns. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Uh, I don’t know…! Danny DeVito’s rather… sweet-faced in… One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, come to think of it.
Flask is compared… there are two kinds of nails: a hand-wrought nail and a nail cut by machine.
And Flask is compared to a sturdy… h—nai—a… sturdy, short… hand-wrought nail that will hold a frickin’ board into another board for a thousand years.
That put me in mind of Zola’s, uhhh… novel The Drinking… Den. Is that what it’s called? The Drinking Den? I almost left it on an airplane by mistake, but I think it was really one of those Freudian things where I wanted to get it out of my… I didn’t want to see it anymore. But somebody ran off the airplane, “Hey! Hey! You forgot your book!” So I was cursed to finish reading it. It really—you know, Zola puts his characters right through the old… he’s like the guy in Fargo, and his characters are like Steve Buscemi. And he’s like, uh, you know, Peter Stormare.
Go do your research on that allusion. It’s one of the most common—certainly one of the most memorable, uhm, actions undertaken by a bloodthirsty… eh. “Bloodthirsty” is the wrong word.
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).