This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Starbuck creeps past Ahab’s cabin. There’s Ahab, asleep in his chair with his head tilted back. Hanging from the ceiling is a ship’s compass, and Ahab’s unconscious… head… pointed up at it. His eyes are closed, but it’s like even in his sleep, he’s focused on the task at hand, as rain lashes him and he snoozes away. Ahab, Ahab.
What a guy.
There it was in the distance, another whaling ship! This one had been out to sea for four years! Everything was all rusty and frosty and bleached. It’s like seein’ a ghost. Had these dudes up in the masts, they all had real long beards like the guys from that show Duck Dynasty. [Laughter.] And, uh, uh, that was popular at one time in American history, before we found out that… you know.
So—and they didn’t even talk! You coulda… hopped, literally, when we drew near one another, uh… well… perhaps I’m being a bit fanciful, but you could’ve hopped from the mast of one of our ships to the other. These long-bearded weirdos wouldn’t even say anything! They’re wearin’ clothes that looked like hell, ‘cause they were fallin’ apart, ‘cause they had been wearin’ the same damn clothes for four years. What do you want? They’re whaling! What do you—thuh—gonna order somethin’ from J. Crew and have it delivered?
I… despise my… cheap rambling.
Ahab gets out there and he’s like, “Heyyyyyy! Have you guys seen the white whale?” ‘Cause that’s the only thing he cares about. And the captain of the other ship, the ghostly Albatross… or “Goney”… which, I assume, is related to “goony bird.” That nomenclature. Doesn’t matter. Fuck it. I’ve already talked too long about this chapter.
Okay. The captain… says…
Oh, today I was talkin’ to my friend Pen, and he was like, “I think this Moby-Dick thing” [short laugh] “is gonna blow up!”
I could but laugh. Laugh in his face!
Oh, so… the captain… cuh, Captain Ahab says, “Hey, have you guys seen the white whale?” And the other captain gets out his bullhorn and he’s like, “Well, it’s, fuhhhh, wuh, I’ll… I’ll tell you the answer to that question! Whoops!” And the thing falls out of his hand and he can’t make himself heard. So they don’t really get a…
We don’t know.
And Captain Ahab was like, “Fuck it. Let’s just keep goin’. These guys are useless.”
That was Chapter… Fifty-Two.
[Recorder is turned off.]
Well my mee—I have a meeting for work and it’s about to start. I’ve been in a bad mood. Whuzzuhhttt—it’s not Moby-Dick, is it? Because I miss it when I put it down! Uh… is that more in the nature of a… bad habit? Is reading Moby-Dick a bad…? I’m gonna get some water. Nuh—I like to have a glass of water during my meetings.
I’ve—you know, I have a lot of big ideas. [Pop top of a can opened.] I wake up at five in the morning: “Oh, no! Part of the story doesn’t work!” Not Moby-Dick. I mean for the TV show I’m working on. And I get up and I send a… five-paragraph email outlining some worldbuilding or lore that when I when I wake up the next morning [sparkling water poured into glass] doesn’t—wake up again! I should say. [Water pouring continues for what seems like an extremely long time.] A few hours later. I realize that it was ridiculous. So then I have to send another email saying, “Disregard my…” Uh… “laughable attempts at worldbuilding.”
[Throat clearing. Water drinking.]
My jaw hurts a little bit for some reason. Did I—I can’t figure it out. Did I grind my teeth? Did I bite the inside of my… Hauhhhhahh! Jesus.
Anyway! Chapter Fifty-Four, is it? Fifty-Three? It’s just a little dollop.
“Hey! [Unintelligible.] Ahab’s a weirdo. He doesn’t do what normal whalers do, because two whaling ships meet out on the sea, you better believe they’re gonna snuggle up to each other and… uh… pass some time. Why, the whaling ship that has just left port may have letters for some of the people onboard the—the old… inbound whaling ship. And… that ship may have good whale tips to pass on. And in fact, whalers are so—you know, they have a lot in common, and they love to… chew the fat. Now these British whalers are some stuck-up assholes. So… that’s just an aside.”
[Bird calling outside.]
“But every other kind of ship, aside from whalers, are just jerks. They don’t hang out like we do! Couple of merchant ships could pass each other and just… uh, do the equivalent of a disdainful fart as they pass. Like two… disgruntled fops on a sidewalk in New York, cutting one another by pretending…”
“Not to even… notice the other’s presence.”
“That’s it for this chapter! I just wanted to tell you about how nice whalers are again. How much…”
I need to get in a better… mood.
[New recording begins.]
I plan to take about a week off from reading Moby-Dick, not that you would be able to tell… uhm… if I didn’t inform you.
I’m just—I think it’s making me think too much about the dead end… of art.
That might not be true.
[A small sniff followed by a big sniff. Long pause.]
I did see a Burger King commercial the other day, in which… a… white man with a crown is sitting on the shoulders of a black man! And I, wuh, I, I, uh, I think I’m believing my own eyes! Uh… in this one case. I—that’s… now, there are other people stacked… in… various combinations of gender and race, one upon the other, in the commercial.
But, uh, that image… shocked me… though the black man was also wearing a crown. Does Burger King think that makes it okay? A Melvillean image! But I don’t think they get it.
Hoist sail and away, into the next chapter!
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
Please follow the original text of Moby-Dick here, if you like (highly recommended).