Call me Impetuous. Some weeks ago, having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me, I thought I would read a little. It is a way I have of driving off post-holiday spleen, and regulating the circulation.
Call me Insane. I would join the 13th Annual Moby Dick Marathon reading at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Call me Inexhaustible. I would stay awake all 25 hours. Call me Influential. My friend and fellow Melvillean, Merle, would come, too.
Call us Impaired. Failing to find serious breakfast in New Bedford, we thought only of Ishmael’s fraught quest for an inn in that same town, and like him, settled for what we could get, in our case egg sandwiches. Then we ran for the reading, starting at eight bells in the forenoon watch, which was packed.
Readers got 10 minutes each, no pauses. First up were local luminaries; the brightest, Barney Frank, voiced Ishmael’s qualms about bedding with Queequeg. Following him were 150-plus “Melville Aficionados,” with one “Obsessive” in the mix. Occasional changes of locale included crossing the street to the Seaman’s Bethel, where walls of black-bordered memorials to the lost-at-sea made manifest those in the book. An actual minister read the famous sermon to the sailors; Jonah figured mightily. With a whaler’s foreboding we returned to the Museum and a long, uncertain night ahead.
Ahab appeared as dark descended. A gull screamed as someone read “a gull screamed.” I pulled out celery sticks, too noisy to eat, just as someone read of Ahab’s silent ire making men fearful to chew at his table. We fought sleep as Ishmael confessed the “unaccountable drowsiness that would ever come over me at a midnight helm.” Two-to-5 am blurred cetology, the mechanics of stripping blubber, storm clouds. Were we dreaming whale skeletons hanging above our heads? Would dawn ever come? Call us Incoherent.
Twenty-five hours after it started, it ended, on the dot. The room was again packed. A friend took us to lunch. Call me Imprecise in my recollections.
With apologies to a Melville contemporary, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, at once enlightening, exhausting, surprising, insufferable, delirious, endless, and unforgettable. Call it Indescribable. Call me Inspired.