Had you stepped on board the Pequod at a certain juncture of this post-mortemizing of the whale; and had you strolled forward nigh the windlass, pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no small curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have seen there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers. Not the wondrous cistern in the whale's huge head; not the prodigy of his unhinged lower jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none of these would so surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountable cone,- longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at the base, and jet-black as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg. And an idol, indeed, it is; or rather, in old times, its likeness was. Such an idol as that found in the secret groves of Queen Maachah in Judea; and for worshipping which, King Asa, her son, did depose her, and destroyed the idol, and burnt it for an abomination at the brook Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th chapter of the First Book of Kings.
Look at the
sailor, called the mincer, who now comes along, and assisted by two
allies, heavily backs the grandissimus, as the mariners call it, and
with bowed shoulders, staggers off with it as if he were a grenadier
carrying a dead comrade from the field. Extending it upon the forecastle
deck, he now proceeds cylindrically to remove its dark pelt, as an
African hunter the pelt of a boa. This done he turns the pelt inside
out, like a pantaloon leg; gives it a good stretching, so as almost to
double its diameter; and at last hangs it, well spread, in the rigging,
to dry. Ere long, it is taken down; when removing some three feet of it,
towards the pointed extremity, and then cutting two slits for arm-holes
at the other end, he lengthwise slips himself bodily into it. The
mincer now stands before you invested in the full canonicals of his
calling. Immemorial to all his order, this investiture alone will
adequately protect him, while employed in the peculiar functions of his
That office consists in mincing the horse-pieces of
blubber for the pots; an operation which is conducted at a curious
wooden horse, planted endwise against the bulwarks, and with a capacious
tub beneath it, into which the minced pieces drop, fast as the sheets
from a rapt orator's desk. Arrayed in decent black; occupying a
conspicuous pulpit; intent on bible leaves; what a candidate for an
archbishopric, what a lad for a Pope were this mincer!*
leaves! Bible leaves! This is the invariable cry from the mates to the
mincer. It enjoins him to be careful, and cut his work into as thin
slices as possible, inasmuch as by so doing the business of boiling out
the oil is much accelerated, and its quantity considerably increased, besides perhaps improving it in quality.
A few thoughts this evening coming out of this odd little chapter from Moby-Dick.
First, I sort of feel like the mincer this evening. I sit typing this blog post at McDonald's in Walmart, while my wife is shopping. I feel like the mincer because I just bought a new shirt from Kohl's. I don't often go clothes shopping, but, tonight, I am attending a poetry reading that I organized. It's a fundraiser for communities in the Copper Country part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that were devastated by floods earlier this summer. I thought that I should look a little more presentable than normal. Put on a cassock, so to speak, although I am very far from being a bishop or the Pope.
Second, by this time tomorrow evening, I shall be far from this fly-buzzed table in McDonald's. I will be downstate, at the Boyne Mountain Resort, for a few days of rest and relaxation. My family and I have made this annual trek for several years now. It's become kind of a tradition. Now that my daughter is a senior in high school, this may be one of the last times for us to do this as a family unit. School and work and life may get in the way next year. So, this weekend, I plan to relish the time I have with all the people I love.
Third, I've spent most of this past weekend and week in preparation for this little shindig tonight. I've done radio interviews, engaged in more than my fair share of social media, and cajoled/pressured friends and relatives to show up. Basically, I've been a pain in the ass to anyone in my vicinity. I think people would be relieved if I shipped out tomorrow on a whaling ship for a three-year expedition.
That's what's on my mind tonight. A whole lot of doubt mixed with a smidgen of self-loathing.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight that his friends put up with his insanity.