A couple weeks back I was in Panama City, FL on business. Long story short, the hotel I was staying at didn't program my wake-up call correctly, and I was late for the airport and ended up having to take a nine hour bus ride back to New Orleans. Yes, you read correctly. I was cornered into a situation where the Greyhund motorcoach was my best travel option. Reluctantly, I decided to "leave the driving to someone else", and squeezed in among my various seatmates. They included: 1) a haggard woman who loudly explained to me the details of her sister's cancer, and, implicitly, how saintly she is for caring for her 2) a 400 lb man in a cutoff t-shirt who was-- surprise-- a sweater! (To be fair, the sweating might have been a temporary condition caused by the huge bulbous tumor on his neck.) 3) a young mother who aimed her dyspeptic, wailing infant towards me at an angle that serviced my eardrum with an hour-long decibel stress test.
There's a lot of unfair stereotypes about bus travel, but my recent journey seemed to reinforce all of them.
Anyway, before all that, I was so irritated by the hotel's response to the botched wake-up call ("we're calling the phone service to make sure it doesn't happen again") that I did something fairly petty. I stole a book from the hotel "library" on the way out.
But instead of reading the book on my bus ride, I skipped it and read a fascinating article on zombies in Men's Journal, as well as a solid sports piece by Matt Taibbi.
So, last night, after finishing Ethan Brown's Shake the Devil Off* I finally got around to reading the first chapter of my stolen book: Herman Melville's Moby Dick. I never was able to finish it in high school, and always felt bad about that. Perhaps in coming years I'll feel bad about stealing a book to "get back" at an incompetent hotel desk clerk.
In general, when I read fiction I choose authors who are deceased. If they were suicidally-depressed adventurers from Algeria or Illinois... so much the better. But I'm not so keen on the living authors. They'll probably need to die before I invest in them.
Here then is a transcript of my internal monologue from last night, as I read the first chapter of the late Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
Alrighty, let's get going.
Title page accomplished! Always good to get that under your belt. I think I'll reward myself with a sip of summer ale.
When was this written, anyway? I'm going to guess 1837. (After checking the front cover and back cover) Hmm. Off by 14 years. Not my best effort.
Although I can't remember it, I bet the first sentence is a memorable one.
Yep, that's pretty solid.
What the hell? An extended encomium to the innate, vestigial magnetism of the sea? In chapter one? Oh gracious. Too soon, too soon.
Yeah, yeah, I get it. Water beckons us. But don't describe it, Herman, show it.
No wonder I couldn't get through this tome the first time around.
The author refers to Adam and Eve as "orchard thieves"? That really is splendid. Bravo! I can coast the rest of the way through chapter one giggling over that locution.
Holy shitzky! I've re-read the passage three times and I still can't believe it. Usually my political filter is in recess when I behold a work of art, but, I mean, how can you not think of this decade's events when you read:
And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have read something like this:Grand contested election for Presidency of the United States.
Whaling voyage by one Ishmael.
BLOODY BATTLE IN AFGHANISTAN.
Previously, I've said that Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim might serve as interesting lens through which to understand George W. Bush. But perhaps Bush is more like Melville's Ahab, and the whale is Saddam Hussein (or perhaps oil) and... and...
We'll see how these impulsive analogies cash out, in due course. I'll keep you, erm... posted. In the meantime go to the ocean if you get the urge.
* A bracing work indeed. More on Brown's latest book in a coming post