Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May 16: Stubb's Exordium, Pale Ale, Summery Romance

The phantoms, for so they then seemed, were flitting on the other side of the deck, and, with a noiseless celerity, were casting loose the tackles and bands of the boat which swung there. This boat had always been deemed one of the spare boats, though technically called the captain's, on account of its hanging from the starboard quarter. The figure that now stood by its bows was tall and swart, with one white tooth evilly protruding from its steel-like lips. A rumpled Chinese jacket of black cotton funereally invested him, with wide black trowsers of the same dark stuff. But strangely crowning this ebonness was a glistening white plaited turban, the living hair braided and coiled round and round upon his head. Less swart in aspect, the companions of this figure were of that vivid, tiger-yellow complexion peculiar to some of the aboriginal natives of the Manillas;- a race notorious for a certain diabolism of subtilty, and by some honest white mariners supposed to be the paid spies and secret confidential agents on the water of the devil, their lord, whose counting-room they suppose to be elsewhere.

While yet the wondering ship's company were gazing upon these strangers, Ahab cried out to the white-turbaned old man at their head, "All ready there, Fedallah?"

"Ready," was the half-hissed reply.

"Lower away then; d'ye hear?" shouting across the deck. "Lower away there, I say."

Such was the thunder of his voice, that spite of their amazement the men sprang over the rail; the sheaves whirled round in the blocks; with a wallow, the three boats dropped into the sea; while, with a dexterous, off-handed daring, unknown in any other vocation, the sailors, goat-like, leaped down the rolling ship's side into the tossed boats below.

Hardly had they pulled out from under the ship's lee, when a fourth keel, coming from the windward side, pulled round under the stern, and showed the five strangers rowing Ahab, who, standing erect in the stern, loudly hailed Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, to spread themselves widely, so as to cover a large expanse of water. But with all their eyes again riveted upon the swart Fedallah and his crew, the inmates of the other boats obeyed not the command.

"Captain Ahab?-" said Starbuck.

"Spread yourselves," cried Ahab; "give way, all four boats. Thou, Flask, pull out more to leeward!"

"Aye, aye, sir," cheerily cried little King-Post, sweeping round his great steering oar. "Lay back!" 
addressing his crew. "There!- there!- there again! There she blows right ahead, boys!- lay back!

"Never heed yonder yellow boys, Archy."

"Oh, I don't mind'em, sir," said Archy; "I knew it all before now. Didn't I hear 'em in the hold? And didn't I tell Cabaco here of it? What say we, Cabaco? They are stowaways, Mr. Flask."

"Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little ones," drawlingly and soothingly sighed Stubb to his crew, some of whom still showed signs of uneasiness. "Why don't you break your backbones, my boys? What is it you stare at? Those chaps in yonder boat? Tut! They are only five more hands come to help us never mind from where the more the merrier. Pull, then, do pull; never mind the brimstone devils are good fellows enough. So, so; there you are now; that's the stroke for a thousand pounds; that's the stroke to sweep the stakes! Hurrah for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes! Three cheers, men- all hearts alive! Easy, easy; don't be in a hurry- don't be in a hurry. Why don't you snap your oars, you rascals? Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so, then:- softly, softly! That's it- that's it! long and strong. Give way there, give way! The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are all asleep. Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull, can't ye? pull, won't ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes don't ye pull?- pull and break something! pull, and start your eyes out! Here," whipping out the sharp knife from his girdle; "every mother's son of ye draw his knife, and pull with the blade between his teeth. That's it- that's it. Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits. Start her- start her, my silverspoons! Start her, marling-spikes!"

Stubb's exordium to his crew is given here at large, because he had rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general, and especially in inculcating the religion of rowing. But you must not suppose from this specimen of his sermonizings that he ever flew into downright passions with his congregation. Not at all; and therein consisted his chief peculiarity. He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone so strangely compounded of fun most terri and fury, and the fury seemed so calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsmen could hear such queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing. Besides he all the time looked so easy and indolent himself, so loungingly managed his steering-oar, and so broadly gaped- open-mouthed at times- that the mere sight of such a yawning commander, by sheer force of contrast, acted like a charm upon the crew. Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists, whose jollity is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put all inferiors on their guard in the matter of obeying them.

If this were a movie, the John Williams' score would be soaring as the ships were lowered and the sailors jumped over the railing into them.  It would be full of horns and flutes, accompanied by a steady percussion.  Think of the music from Jaws when Quint is shooting the shark with harpoons and barrels while Hooper is at the wheel, chasing after the shark.  That's what's happening here.  There is no immediate threat.  Just high-spirits, the crew pulling their rowboats toward the sighted whales.

Sorry for not posting anything last night.  I was out doing poet stuff.  You know, workshopping and drinking beer.  We laughed and passed around plates of food.  Argued over images and gerunds.  Propped each other up in this pursuit of poems, which is necessarily a solitary kind of vocation.  It's only after the writing is done that there's time for hummus and chips.  Maybe a pale ale.

Tonight, I have a concert to attend.  Both my son and daughter are in it.  It's the end-of-the-year performance, with choruses and bands from all different grade levels.  My daughter is in three of the groups performing.  My son is in one.

I love these kinds of events.  The music is always entertaining, and young people bring a kind of energy that's almost breathable into the gymnasium.  Perhaps because June is fast approaching, followed by three months of freedom.  Sleeping in.  Late nights.  Ice cream and swimming.  If you're a teenager, trying to score beers from your older siblings.  Summery romance that smells like coconut lotion.

If you detect a hint of nostalgia in that previous paragraph, you are correct.  Summer vacation, for most adults, has a golden burnish to it, like old photographs from the 1940s and '50s that curl and yellow and fade a little bit.  Everything carries a patina of yearning and melancholy.  I have experienced this myself, watching movies from my youth like Jaws, reading books I first read as a teenager like Carrie or The Catcher in the Rye (although Holden tends to irritate my middle-aged self now).

Pretty soon, the lilacs are going to start blooming in my backyard, and caps and gowns will start appearing on the streets.  It's an exciting time for young people to get that first taste of adult freedom.  Climbing in their $500-dollar cars and setting off like the sailors of the Pequod in pursuit of something big and exciting.

I need to go take a shower now.  Get ready for the concert.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his daughter and son.  They make him feel young again.

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