Happy Birthday, Herman Melville
“In whalers all wonders soon wane.”—Moby Dick
It’s been more than a year since I began reading “Moby Dick,” but each short interlude has been nothing but a pleasure. I’m dyslexic, and feel a little guilty when I read for fun or when the choice is between Reading and Spending Time with My Kids, so those times when I can get some good Moby in me are few.
Today I rode my bike to Costco and decided to dine there, as are the demands of my lifestyle, after buying toothbrushes sufficient to accommodate my family until the last tooth of my youngest child falls out. Rooting through my backpack I found Moby Dick. Since I only get to it once a month or so, I re-read the previous chapter and then made it ahead four or five. Today I learned that Ahab had been keeping a team of mysterious Orientals in his cabin, ringers to accompany him on his private Dick-hunt.
It was also during today’s reading that I found the above quote, referring to the fact that nothing, not even the devil climbing the side of the boat to confer with the captain, much impresses a whaler.
Picturing the “ghostly” Fedallah and reflecting on the exotic ways Melville described Orientals, Native Americans, and Quakers, I realized he probably didn’t think any of those minorities would be reading his books any time soon, if ever.
Across from me in Costco’s pigeon-haunted outdoor dining area, a Korean woman sat down and dropped a quarter under the table. I briefly thought of retrieving it for her, but I guessed it would cause her alarm if she thought I was trying to steal it. Very quickly she pinned the rolling quarter with her foot.
“Nice work!” I said, but she said nothing. I think she still thought I had designs on her quarter. Nevertheless, she didn’t seem mysterious to me. She was wearing the same color Crocs my daughter has.
Returning home I was pleasantly surprised to find that today is Melville’s birthday. Had he lived, he would have been 194 years old. But that wasn’t the day’s biggest coincidence.
When I left the picnic table the woman suddenly asked me how my turkey sandwich was and I said, without thinking, “I could eat these until I’m 194 years old, they’re that good.” Then I stole her quarter.