Saturday, January 20, 2018

January 20: Queequeg's Peculiarities, Government Shutdown, Honors Band

I quickly followed suit, and descending into the bar-room accosted the grinning landlord very pleasantly. I cherished no malice towards him, though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow.

However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more's the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and to be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.

The bar-room was now full of the boarders who had been dropping in the night previous, and whom I had not as yet had a good look at. They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers; a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.

You could pretty plainly tell how long each one had been ashore. This young fellow's healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in hue, and would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three days landed from his Indian voyage. That man next him looks a few shades lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In the complexion of a third still lingers a tropic tawn, but slightly bleached withal; he doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But who could show a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various tints, seemed like the Andes' western slope, to show forth in one array, contrasting climates, zone by zone.

"Grub, ho!" now cried the landlord, flinging open a door, and in we went to breakfast.
They say that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. Not always, though: Ledyard, the great New England traveller, and Mungo Park, the Scotch one; of all men, they possessed the least assurance in the parlor. But perhaps the mere crossing of Siberia in a sledge drawn by dogs as Ledyard did, or the taking a long solitary walk on an empty stomach, in the negro heart of Africa, which was the sum of poor Mungo's performances- this kind of travel, I say, may not be the very best mode of attaining a high social polish. Still, for the most part, that sort of thing is to be had anywhere.

These reflections just here are occasioned by the circumstance that after we were all seated at the table, and I was preparing to hear some good stories about whaling; to my no small surprise nearly every man maintained a profound silence. And not only that, but they looked embarrassed. Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas- entire strangers to them- and duelled them dead without winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table- all of the same calling, all of kindred tastes- looking round as sheepishly at each other as though they had never been out of sight of some sheepfold among the Green Mountains. A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid warrior whalemen!

But as for Queequeg- why, Queequeg sat there among them- at the head of the table, too, it so chanced; as cool as an icicle. To be sure I cannot say much for his breeding. His greatest admirer could not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.

We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare. Enough, that when breakfast was over he withdrew like the rest into the public room, lighted his tomahawk-pipe, and was sitting there quietly digesting and smoking with his inseparable hat on, when I sallied out for a stroll.

Above is the entire Chapter 5 of Moby-Dick, all about breakfast with the whalers at the Spouter-Inn.  Beefsteaks and coffee and rolls.  Of course, Queequeg, being a "savage," focuses only on the rare beef, thereby furthering the image of him as a cannibal peddling shrunken heads of the street.  Yet, Queequeg is also good-natured and polite, exhibiting none of the stereotypical affectations of a "savage cannibal."

It is going to be a long day of driving for my wife and me.  We are traveling to Wisconsin to see my daughter play in an honors band concert.  She actually requested that we come, although I think her primary reason was to avoid a long ride home on a school bus.  However, being of fragile parental ego, I am going with the belief that my daughter really wants us to be there to see her perform.

Of course, all this comes on the day where the Federal Government of the United States has been forced to shut down, even though both houses of Congress and the White House are occupied by the same political party.  I woke up to that news.  Even though I was expecting it, I found myself shaking my head.

Of course, there's a lot of finger-pointing going on.  Republicans pointing at the Democrats.  Democrats pointing at the Republicans.  Democrats pointing at Donald Trump.  And Donald Trump pointing at everyone BUT himself.  Now, the Constant Reader of this blog knows that my political leanings fall just left of Jesus Christ.  (By the way, Jesus Christ was NO conservative.  He was all about caring for the poor and the sick and the downtrodden.  That is what a true Christian does.)  Therefore, I fall squarely on the side of funding the government IF it does what it is supposed to do--take care of EVERYBODY, not just the wealthy and politically-connected.

Yes, that means that I support helping refugees and the children of undocumented immigrants.  I think that health care workers need to provide the best care for ALL patients, regardless of the health care workers' religious beliefs.  (See my comment above about what a true Christian should believe and do.)  It's really simple, actually.  Let's take care of all the Queequegs in our country.  Let's fund school honors band concerts.  Let's provide the best healthcare for every person in this country, not just those who can afford it.  Let's send young people out into the work world WITHOUT tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.

I thought I lived in a country like this.  Regardless of political affiliation, I thought people, in general, wanted to do what was best for everybody.  I'm not so sure about that now.  Certainly, nothing that's happened in Washington, D. C., has convinced me of the goodwill of Republican politicians.

Tonight, I will sit in an public school auditorium.  I will listen to wonderful public school students play beautiful music.  Then I will drive home, hopefully with a little of my faith in humanity and the future restored.  It's about what connects us, not about what divides us.

Saint Marty gives thanks today for public education and teachers and schools. 


January 20: Hero, Sarah Browning, "The Fifth Fact"

I have been wondering about heroes recently.  In school, they make my son and daughter learn things about men and women who have done great things.  Abraham Lincoln.  Martin Luther King, Jr.  Susan B. Anthony.  Harriet Tubman.  Jesse Owens.  These are all people who stood up to great injustices.  Looked them straight in the eye.  Said, "No."

You don't hear a whole lot about heroes anymore.  Yes, the men and women who are soldiers, fighting against hatred and terrorism, are heroes.  Police officers and firefighters.  School teachers and missionaries.  For the most part, these people are faceless heroes.  They do what they do, not expecting recognition or praise or awards or statues.  They do what they do because it's right.  It helps their community, society, world, universe.

I don't see a whole lot of Abraham Lincolns and Harriet Tubmans out there.  And remember, the heroes of the past, for the most part, were pretty hated and vilified in their lifetimes.  Hunted even.  Assassinated.  There's a reason why John Wilkes Booth went to Ford Theater with a gun.  Why Harriet Tubman risked her own life to run the Underground Railroad.  Why Jesus Christ was executed.  They all challenged the status quo.

Today's poem is all about heroes of the past and present.  It says what I'm trying to say a lot more eloquently.  It's not about people.  It's about action in the face of great opposition.

Saint Marty hopes everybody can hero a little today.

The Fifth Fact

by:  Sarah Browning

For Ben’s project he must research five facts
about his African-American hero and write them
on posterboard. He chooses Harriet Tubman,
whose five facts are: Her father’s name was Ben.
Her mother’s name was Old Rit. She was born
in 1820 and died in 1913. She was born in Maryland
and died in New York. Ben asks for advice
about his fifth fact and I suggest: She led more than
300 people to freedom. Ben sighs the way he does
now and says, Everyone knows that, Mom.

So I try to remember the book we read yesterday,
search for the perfect fact, the one that will match
his four facts and satisfy his almost-seven mind.
Remember, I ask, she was a spy for the North
during the Civil War? It’s a hit! He writes it:
Harriet Tubman was a spy for the north during
the civil war. It was a war between the north
which is where the slaves were trying to get
and the south which is where they were.
Before the war, Abraham Lincoln signed a form
that said All the slaves everywhere are free!
which is one of the reasons they were fighting.

On summer mornings, Lincoln rode his horse
to work down the Seventh Street Turnpike
close to my new home. Down Georgia Avenue
past The Hunger Stopper and Pay Day 2 Go and liquor
stores and liquor stores. Past Cluck-U-Chicken
and Fish in the ’Hood and Top Twins Faze II
Authentic African Cuisine and the newish Metro station
and all those possibilities gleaming in developers’ eyes.

There goes Lincoln’s horse down Georgia Avenue
from the Soldier’s Home to the White House –
much cooler up here in the country, in the neighborhood,
at the hospital. And there’s Walt Whitman, the sworn poet
of every dauntless rebel the world over, hanging around
his street corner every morning to bow to the president
at Thomas Circle by the homeless guys. It’s 100 years now
since any president summered at the Soldier’s Home.
But I was born only 50 years after Harriet Tubman died,
all these centuries we drag into the next century and the next.

And sometimes I see the ghosts of Harriet Tubman
and Lincoln and Uncle Walt and the true stories
and sometimes our own despair like Washington’s
summer malaria, her 40 war hospitals, Whitman moving
from bed to bed, stroking the hair of so many dying boys.

Head north up Georgia Avenue now to our own
soldiers’ home – Walter Reed – where the boys and now
girls too mourn the ghosts of their own legs and arms
and capacity for love. Where is their sworn poet?
I write here in my new neighborhood, the city old
and new around me, Harriet Tubman born so close,
all these heroes under our feet.

Friday, January 19, 2018

January 19: Marshal's Baton, Snow Tubing, Joy and Panic

Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in the strangeness, to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg's pagan arm thrown round me. But at length all the past night's events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm- unlock his bridegroom clasp- yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. I now strove to rouse him- "Queequeg!"- but his only answer was a snore. I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage's side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! "Queequeg!- in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!" At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently, he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there, though a dim consciousness of knowing something about me seemed slowly dawning over him. Meanwhile, I lay quietly eyeing him, having no serious misgivings now, and bent upon narrowly observing so curious a creature. When, at last, his mind seemed made up touching the character of his bedfellow, and he became, as it were, reconciled to the fact; he jumped out upon the floor, and by certain signs and sounds gave me to understand that, if it pleased me, he would dress first and then leave me to dress afterwards, leaving the whole apartment to myself. Thinks I, Queequeg, under the circumstances, this is a very civilized overture; but, the truth is, these savages have an innate sense of delicacy, say what you will; it is marvellous how essentially polite they are. I pay this particular compliment to Queequeg, because he treated me with so much civility and consideration, while I was guilty of great rudeness; staring at him from the bed, and watching all his toilette motions; for the time my curiosity getting the better of my breeding. Nevertheless, a man like Queequeg you don't see every day, he and his ways were well worth unusual regarding.

He commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat, a very tall one, by the by, and then- still minus his trowsers- he hunted up his boots. What under the heavens he did it for, I cannot tell, but his next movement was to crush himself- boots in hand, and hat on- under the bed; when, from sundry violent gaspings and strainings, I inferred he was hard at work booting himself; though by no law of propriety that I ever heard of, is any man required to be private when putting on his boots. But Queequeg, do you see, was a creature in the transition stage- neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was just enough civilized to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners. His education was not yet completed. He was an undergraduate. If he had not been a small degree civilized, he very probably would not have troubled himself with boots at all; but then, if he had not been still a savage, he never would have dreamt of getting under the bed to put them on. At last, he emerged with his hat very much dented and crushed down over his eyes, and began creaking and limping about the room, as if, not being much accustomed to boots, his pair of damp, wrinkled cowhide ones- probably not made to order either- rather pinched and tormented him at the first go off of a bitter cold morning.

Seeing, now, that there were no curtains to the window, and that the street being very narrow, the house opposite commanded a plain view into the room, and observing more and more the indecorous figure that Queequeg made, staving about with little else but his hat and boots on; I begged him as well as I could, to accelerate his toilet somewhat, and particularly to get into his pantaloons as soon as possible. He complied, and then proceeded to wash himself. At that time in the morning any Christian would have washed his face; but Queequeg, to my amazement, contented himself with restricting his ablutions to his chest, arms, and hands. He then donned his waistcoat, and taking up a piece of hard soap on the wash-stand centre table, dipped it into water and commenced lathering his face. I was watching to see where he kept his razor, when lo and behold, he takes the harpoon from the bed corner, slips out the long wooden stock, unsheathes the head, whets it a little on his boot, and striding up to the bit of mirror against the wall, begins a vigorous scraping, or rather harpooning of his cheeks. Thinks I, Queequeg, this is using Rogers's best cutlery with a vengeance. Afterwards I wondered the less at this operation when I came to know of what fine steel the head of a harpoon is made, and how exceedingly sharp the long straight edges are always kept.

The rest of his toilet was soon achieved, and he proudly marched out of the room, wrapped up in his great pilot monkey jacket, and sporting his harpoon like a marshal's baton.

Queequeg's ablutions don't seem that strange to me.  He basically does the same things I do every morning.  I wash, shave, get dressed, put on my shoes.  The fact that Queequeg shaves with a harpoon makes sense.  As Ishmael observes, its steel is "exceedingly sharp," considering it has to puncture the thick hide of a whale.  Again, it's a matter of simply being different.  To Queequeg, I'm sure that Ishmael is just as alien.

A good friend recently commented that she had forgotten how funny Melville's novel is.  The scene of Ishmael trying to escape the marital arm of Queequeg is worthy of Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  Most people think of Moby-Dick as this incredibly dense and serious tome about obsession and death, and it does have all that.  However, layered in its pages is also a lot of comedy.  I had forgotten this fact, as well.

Tonight, I am taking my son snow tubing.  Rather, my wife and I are driving my son to the hill, and we are watching him tube.  I will not lower my ass into a circular piece of inflated rubber and launch myself down a steep slope of snow to a frozen lake.  That, for me, is a thing of nightmares, the ice, as I careen out of control, opening up and swallowing me like a cherry Lifesaver.

Nay, I will stand at the top.  Take pictures.  Trudge down to the lodge at the base of the hill to partake in watery hot chocolate, and then trudge back up the hill to take more pictures.  Tubing is my son's idea of a great night.  My fun comes later, when I shed my clothes, get into my pajamas, and make myself a more adult brand of hot chocolate.

That is my Friday night.  The start of my weekend.  Perhaps I'll meet Queequeg on the slopes.  Or Ishmael.  They'll be sailing down the icy hill on tubes, whooping, finally united in their joy and panic.

After all, underneath, we are all the same. 

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his crazy, daredevil son.  And alcohol.


January 19: 2018 Women's March, Robert Hayden, "Frederick Douglass"

This Sunday, people are joining together once again for the Women's March.  Last year, after the inauguration of Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets in a show of protest and solidarity for women's rights and issues.  It happened all over the globe.  Washington, D. C.  Paris.  London.  Helsinki.

Tonight, I share a poem in honor of the 2018 Women's March.  It's a poem of hope and strength, written in the voice of the great African American writer and activist, Frederick Douglass.  It digs deep.  Reminds us of the need for action in the face of injustice.  The struggle isn't over until the dream is made real in our children and our children's children.

Saint Marty believes in this dream.

Frederick Douglass

by:  Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,   
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,   
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,   
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more   
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:   
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro   
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world   
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,   
this man, superb in love and logic, this man   
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,   
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives   
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.