This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Uh, I’m old. I work with—mostly with people who could be my children. If I thought about it, which I don’t. Well, I guess I do. [Laughter.] But, uh, it didn’t occ—but, uh, they let things slip about old people a lot. Uh, I get to hear what people think about old people, because sometimes I guess they forget… I don’t know. It’s not that I seem especially youthful. It’s just that we’re together so much, and we talk so much—our—my whole job is talking. I write—I’m writing on a television show, so we talk. That’s what we do for a living! Mostly. I mean, the, the typing is incidental, practically.
And… so I hear what people think about old people. Things that old people don’t know. Well, Melville seems to have a grasp on it. The restlessness, the… uh… brooding, and Ahab gets up and, you know, sss—why sleep at night? Ehkwuhrrh. Why sleep at night anymore, even if your body would allow it?
Okay. Let’s not get into the obvious.
So, anyway, Captain Ahab likes to get up at night. [Throat clearing.]
As I blather on, I think to myself [sung]: “What a wonderful world.”
I sang that. Uh, that’s not what I think to myself. That was a song lyric. God bless us, every one.
What was I gonna say? Well, I guess I was gonna say that, uh, this project, in which we are now engaged, if we play our cards right could end up being longer than Moby-Dick! Let’s go for it. Maybe that’s a goal. Easily achieved. It takes so much longer to talk about something than…
I’m reminded of Schumann, I believe it was. It could have been Schubert. It seems more like Schumann, because he… you know, thought ghosts were whispering in his ears.
He played—he played some piece of his, some… fragment. Some of his pieces are fragmentary in a beautiful way. And someone in the concert audience asked him… what it meant. And he sat down and played it again. That’s what I… remember reading. So, in other words… what the… concertgoer wanted was the kind of gibberish that I’m… gurgling out right now.
Well, I’m a bad person.
[An even longer pause.]
See? We haven’t even gotten to the—okay. Ahab can’t sleep at night. And these nights are enchanting, and, uh, they’re memorably described by Melville as being like a b—heaping bowl of Persian sherbet. I’m not… doing the description justice. Rosewa—snow flavored with rosewater. Uhhhh, warm… warming, wait. Mm. [Laughter.] Forget I said anything.
Here comes Ahab!
Thump, thump, thump. That’s his ivory leg thumping on the… deck. He just can’t sit still these nights!
Stubb, who you’ll remember I described as Danny DeVito, pops up from… you know, wherever people pop up from. On ships. Below decks. Like the Penguin popping up from a sewer manhole in Batman Returns [wheezing laughter].
And he’s like, “Hey, can you please keep it down? Uh, normal people that aren’t old are trying to sleep! And you’re thumpin’ arou—hey. And this is just a… an idea, but you could get, like, some, I don’t know, a cushion or somethin’ and strap it to that thing, and it wouldn’t make so much… noise. I’m just sayin’.”
And Ahab replies, you know, “Fuck you! You dog. Why don’t you go back in your kennel, Bowser?”
[Sickly, wheezing laughter.]
And Stubb is like, “Nobody talks to me that way!” And…
And I found that kind of surprising! It—was that normal? Stubb’s the… what is he? The second mate? And h—can he really ta—I guess he can. He does it. Stubb’s… remember, he’s Danny DeVito, so… he’s like… he’s a young Danny DeVito because… for our purposes. Because old people are bad.
Anyway, Ahab’s like, “Get down—I’ll give you a… kick, you dirty…”
And then, uh, Danny DeVito retreats. Uh, and mutters to himself. And here we get. I mean, it’s a long soliloquy. And am I to believe that Ishmael was, uh, just happened to be, uhhh… no! I think not. And I don’t think Melville cares. But I think Ishmael’s… uhhh, traveling… he’s—d—having some astral projection happening, and he’s, like, you know, privy—I believe I used that word earlier.
[Very liquid sniff.]
Privy to Stubb’s… now, it could well be that Stubb just talks out loud to himself. Look, I do it every day. But… you know, he’s like, “Grrrr. Grrrrrrrr!”
[Throat clearing. Exhalation.]
“Old Ahab, he’s just an old man. He’s like… he’s… what’s wrong with him? He’s… must have a conscience! That’s what it is. I’ve heard of those. I don’t want to catch it! Sounds like a disease. Uhhh… eh, this guy that goes in to, uh, take care of his… bunk says every… every morning his covers are all wadded up and… the… it’s just like a crazy thrashing animal was, was in them. And that the bed is… hot! The hammock is burning up hot to the touch. A hot old man! A hot old man!”
I do believe that’s a quotation. Uhh, he… he refers to Ahab as a “hot old man.”
Therurrhurhurh, seems to be a wonder. I guess you would think of old men being cold and their circulation… being… poor.
And so… surly Stubb. Portrayed by Danny DeVito. I don’t know. Late eighties Danny DeVito? Maybe?
Mutters his way into our hearts.
[Laughter. Recording ends.]
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).