This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Stubb sits there happily munching his… whale steak, and he thinks, “You know what I could have a lot of fun doing? Harassing an old Black person.” Yes, here comes the racism.
“Come on, cook! Get out here and entertain me as I… as I issue, uh, crackpot orders that make you, you know, ihhhh, with, uh, uh humiliation in mind, that’s the order of the day, as I chew on my—hey! This whale steak isn’t—is a little overdone. Do you know how to cook a whale steak, goddamnit?”
And then the old cook answers in his… minstrel-show dialect. Once again, however, Melville… well, he wants it both ways. He wants Stubb to be a ridiculous buffoon, and yet… and then, of course, the old Black man, despite the offensive dialect in which his voice is rendered, is meant to have some, uh, sagacious—I believe that adjective is used—uh, thoughts about what an asshole Stubb is. But… uh… at the same time, the author, I would argue, ah, takes some delight in the fact that Stubb can put this old Black person through his paces: “Go! Go tell those sharks to be quiet.”
The chapter does furnish the memorable image of… sharks at, uh, in a sea battle, or at—you know, humans, humans [short laugh] are the ones having the battle. Let me—okay, you know. Let’s say there’s a skirmish between two ships at sea. And dead men are falling off the side. And sharks are down there like dogs around a supper table, waiting for a scrap. Ahhhyahhlahh, it’s a, it’s a very… effective image, and I would say that Stubb himself, and humanity in general is perhaps portrayed as being… not above the shark.
As Stubb gnaws on his whale steak… uhhm…
Sharks gnaw on the whale that has been chained to the side of the ship. For, uh… [long pause] until morning.
[Throat noise. Pause. Sniff. Very long pause.]
Something else occurred to me that I should mention about this chapter, but…
Oh! I know what it was. Uh, as the old cook is finally released from his, you know… “Tell those sharks to be—to calm down!”
And he goes, and he has to talk to the sharks, which, you know, it’s just a form of… uh… Stubb is just… nuhhhh!
Well, I’ve been through this.
But one thing that Stubb says in parting to the cook, which intrigued me, because I couldn’t—and I do want to look… and I never look things like this up. In fact, why should I [laughter] trust anyone?
Uh, but he says, “Whale balls for breakfast! Don’t forget, whale balls for breakfast!”
And I wondered, well, he can’t really mean the whale’s testicles, can he?
[Unintelligble] does he just mean like…
Maybe I missed something! I’m gonna look up the phrase—I’m gonna Google it right now. ‘Cause I don’t usually do any research. [Laughter.] I don’t know why I say that with such pride. What an asshole. [Laughter.]
“Whale… balls… for… breakfast!”
[Clacking of computer keys.]
“Whale balls for breakfast.”
[Extremely long pause.]
Uh, there’s lots of matches, but I—all I want to know is…
What are whale balls?
[Clacking of computer keys.]
Because you know, and I don’t think I’m telling you anything… too unusual…
It’s just people, ye—all gleefully quoting “Whale balls for breakfast.”
[Deep breath. Long sigh. Pause.]
Should I just go… should I do my own… I, you know, nobody’s helping me. The internet’s… a pile of garbage. [Laughter.]
Okay. See? That’s what I get for trying to do research. I was just gonna say that testicles are, you know, considered delectable and given interesting names. Rooster fries. Uhm… lamb fries. Often, “fries.” Uhhhhhr.
I doubt that… I’m sure that maybe the ball is just, you know, like a [laughter] scoop of ice cream! Like, “Give me a big old… just take that ice cream scoop and… or the melon baller, and ball me off some…”
Perhaps that’s all he’s talking about. Maybe I missed something. In the chapter. I’m gonna consult the book again. This is a useless—this is one of the most… of course he doesn’t mean testicles.
[The page of a book rustles and snaps. A very long pause follows.]
I mean, how big would the whale’s balls…?
You can’t eat a whale’s balls! Balls, plural? You can’t eat… both of a whale’s balls for breakfast! That’d be like a… I’m, uhm, I’m just thinking. Wouldn’t it be like eating, you know, two enormous… uh… like when Ebenezer Scrooge… [wheezing laughter] says, “Go get the goose in the window!” And the kid’s like, “The one as tall as me?”
“Yeah, that one. The one as big as you.”
Uh, that would be like eating giant—like, two giant… entire, you know, roast geese at the very least! Right? You couldn’t eat that for breakfast. I mean, Stubb’s a little guy, isn’t he? Ah, no, no Flask is really… short…
Well, I’ve ruined everything.
[Recorder is turned off.]
Doughnuts! Doughnuts appear in Chapter Sixty-Five? Is, is that where we are? Chapter Sixty-Five of Moby-Dick. Doughnuts.
God! Stop. I’m a—you know, this is, you know, watch me go down the street. And I have no… uh… no disregard, in fact, quite the opposite. I have respect for the people who go down the street shouting… uh, their internal… imagery.
“Doughnuts,” he cried.
So, there’s this old, moldy whale blubber that’s cast aside and turns brown and crispy, and some sailors refer to them as fritters, because they resemble doughnuts. And, though I won’t use a hyphen when I spell doughnuts, Melville does use a hyphen. So you can… stick that [laughter] imaginary hyphen where the… [coffee swallowing] sun don’t shine.
Stick that imaginary hyphen in the middle of “doughnuts” and imagine it for yourself. But, uh… eh, uhrrrr, he says they look like doughnuts, and he means regular doughnuts like you buy at the store. Isn’t that something? It unites us. Unites us across the centuries and the gulf of death itself—Herman Melville and us and our mutual knowledge of doughnuts.
In the next chapter: blubber.
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).