The day Harvey bought the property next door to his diner
he did not have a celebration, even though Ben Compson and
Sarah urged him to have one. This is entirely in character for
Harvey, who is a steady undemonstrative sort of man. It was
just as much character for Ben and Sarah to needle him,
affectionately, by urging him to celebrate when they knew
perfectly well that he would never do so, that he would in fact
do just what he did: look at them for a split second and then,
with gravity and courtesy, decline with a brief shake of his
head, turning away to place cans of tomato sauce high up on
the shelf in the storeroom of his narrow slot of a diner. There
was not room for all of the cans. He left the half emptied box
on the floor and edged between the close shelves of the pantry
to the small office, with it‟s small desk, and out the back door
to the alley. He needed space and was, celebration or no,
pleased with his purchase.
The property in question was immediately next to his
diner, and was in fact a whole building with two high-ceilinged
stories and a vast dark basement, still jumbled with store
furnishings and unopened boxes from the previous tenants,
now long departed like so many from the gray unjoyous
downtown of Birmingham, Alabama. The building was called
the Abraham Building, due to a fading wide sign on the front of
it with the pale letters spelling „Abraham‟ stretched across it.
Over the years it had housed a number of businesses, the most
recent being „Abraham‟s Fine Clothing‟, but had been empty for
two decades, gathering dust and grime in the windows. When
Harvey looked at it the realtor stood in the center of the large
filthy store and remarked that it could use a little touching up.
Harvey gently pressed the wall and plaster fell to the cracked
tile floor, revealing the gray brick beneath. Yes, he said, just a
little. He bought the property for a remarkably low price, and
paid cash for it.
Harvey‟s diner, which was simply named „Diner‟ in a small
neon sign in the window, was a narrow slice of the same
structure, although technically, by law and architecture, it was
a separate building. Harvey had, for more than twenty years,
run a successful, even popular, breakfast/lunch counter,
providing fast good tasting and imaginative food for the
downtown office workers, and the blue collar workers from the
metal shops and car lots and warehouses that stretched away
from the bank building center of downtown to the interstate
and beyond. Harvey welcomed them all. He served pecan bread
and grilled pineapple along with the sausage biscuits and grits.
The Diner was listed in the local restaurant directories with
three stars; it would never be a four star establishment
because the atmosphere would always be Spartan, functional,
which was fine with Harvey. And while grateful for the
recognition he was aware that he‟d become a victim of his
popularity. The Diner was so crowded as to be uncomfortable
and difficult to cook in. And so the purchase of the big empty
Over the next week Harvey cleaned out his new purchase.
The diner closed at two in the afternoon, and by three it was
set in order, clean and tidy, ready for the next day‟s cooking
and serving. At four Harvey entered the Abe, as Sarah called it,
with a large box of cleaning material, broom and mop, and
worked into the evening, steady and efficient, without flashy
bursts of activity, humming to himself a tune that might have
been the refrain from a rap song that was popular on the radio
that Sarah played at low volume in the office. These kinds of
things stuck in his head. He could not recall the words, in fact
was not able to distinguish them, but the rhythmic cadence and
pattern of tone was stuck in his head as he swept out the
enormous first floor. It was large enough to be a ball room or
By the end of the second day he moved upstairs to the
warren of small rooms – offices and storerooms and three tiny
apartments, no doubt constructed in violation of building code,
each with it‟s small electric stove, sink and narrow bathroom
with sarcophagus tin shower stall. Harvey cleaned them all,
though he had no plans to rent them. He had the rush and
momentum of making things right, orderly, harmonious, and he
worked through the second floor, still humming the nameless
unidentified rap refrain that had now transmuted into
something that would have been unrecognizable by anyone,
even Sarah who had heard the source melody, and, standing in
the door watching Harvey swab the mob back and forth across
the ruined tiles, asked him what he was humming. He replied
that he was not humming, and Sarah nodded in agreement.
At the end of a week the first and second floors were
spotless. Harvey stood at the door of the wide stairs leading
down to the basement. Ben Compson was with him. They
looked down the dusty littered steps into the heavy gloom.
They could see the shapes of old display cabinets and storage
shelves, cardboard boxes of varying sizes and colors.
“I wonder what‟s in them boxes,” Ben said.
“Probably more fixtures,” said Harvey.
He took a few steps down and stopped.
“I think I‟ll just pull a couple of them shelves up and let
the rest go for a while.”
They did that, picking their way between the clutter,
retrieving three solid large units that they carted up the stairs
and installed on the f irst floor in the back, near the alley door,
bolting them to the wall. Harvey washed them down good and
hauled supplies from next door, stocking the shelves with
commercial sized cans of beans and lard, great fat bundles of
paper towels, plastic gallons of catsup and mustard, pickles
and okra in brine. By Saturday evening it was done. On Sunday
Harvey inspected the premises like a commanding officer – no,
not like that, as he lacked the pomp and ego of a general –
more like a workman, or even artist, looking over his creation
with a warm but critical eye, noting cracked windows due for
replacement, speculating on the expense of stripping the tiles
from the floors to reveal wood floor boards beneath. He turned
off the lights and locked the door, well pleased.
Early Monday morning he unlocked the alley door to his
grand storeroom, and was outraged to find that there had been
pilferage during the night.
At first he didn‟t see it. There were so many bags of dried
black eyed peas, sugar, flour and plastic cartons of  that he
almost overlooked it. But his eye caught a ripple in the regular
line of items standing at attention on the shelves. He looked
closer and saw that a can of coffee was slightly misplaced, and
behind it, where there should have been another can, there
was nothing. He conducted a fast inventory and found missing
a case of Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale. He looked closer and found
that someone had opened the large bundle of paper towels and
removed a package from the back, then neatly sealed it up with
tape. He found similar tidy incursions into the lima beans, the
cases of cans of chicken stock, mushrooms, , the boxes or
bags always resealed neatly, even, he thought, respectfully.
He looked for the point of entry. The glass panes in the
alley door were all intact. He looked closely at the windows and
door that faced the sidewalk at the front of the store, but they
were all undisturbed. He went to the second floor, unconvinced
that he would find a cat burglar style access, but systemat ic,
thorough. He found nothing, and returned to the alley door. He
looked closely at the lock, which was unmolested, and noticed
that the pane of glass closest to it was cleaner than the others,
and that there was fresh putty securing it. Someone had
removed the pane, opened the door from the inside and
accurately restored the pane. After a moment, he got the
supplies he‟d come for, locked the door and went back to start
the days business.
That afternoon, he and Ben installed a deadbolt lock, out
of reach of any of the window panes.
“You ought to get you a steel door,” said Ben. “This is the
only one on the alley that‟s still got glass in it.”
“Yes,” said Harvey, pushing the lock mechanism through
the hole they‟d drilled. “But this will do for now.”
“Pretty damned good burglar,” said Ben. “Thoughtful to
clean up after himself. Must not be your run of the mill Linn
“I guess not,” said Harvey.
They finished the installation and tested it. The door was
A few days went by, and the immaculate thief was
forgotten, or at least demoted to passing thoughts instead of
concentrated rumination. Harvey had other fish to fry and life
went on. His friend Ben, a sculptor of some skill and renown,
went to Nashville for a few days to install an enormous bronze
statue of a Country and Western music star astride a horse. It
was the largest and most complex commission of the year for
him; he took extra care and personally supervised the
installation, hoping that other Country music stars might also
want gigantic bronze or stone likenesses of themselves. Sarah
had mischievously begun to insist that there were spirits in the
Abe that had pilfered the goods. She refused to go into the
building to retrieve items, aggravating Harvey, who should
have been used to it by now. They had been working together
for years. In spite of that there were occasions, such as this
one, where he could not be certain she was deceiving, or at
least agitating him for her amusement. They played this out
like the old married couple they at times resembled, and at the
end of it Sarah stayed in the diner and Harvey went for
Then there were events from the outside world, which for
Harvey meant the twenty square block grid of downtown
Birmingham that surrounded the diner. He slep t in a farm
house twenty miles northeast of town, inherited from his
grandfather, but his life was in the diner and the streets around
it. He noticed that the migration of vagrants who lived in Linn
Park had begun early this year. He recognized shabby men
from Michigan and Illinois on the sidewalks and in the alleys
and at the back door to the diner where they begged handouts
from Sarah. She served them spare food in paper sacks with
metal knives and forks and spoons that they took with them
and returned to her cleaned, washed somewhere, perhaps in
the fountain at the center of Linn Park. Sarah ran them through
the dish washer anyway, but was pleased with the gesture.
Harvey never objected to this generosity, though he had not
given his explicit approval. As long as the men were well
behaved he said nothing. On only one occasion had he
intervened, when a drunken ill-tempered roughneck insulted
and put his hand on Sarah, which provoked Harvey to beat the
man senseless and drag him down the alley and onto the
sidewalk in front of the small downtown police substation. He
left him there, without explanation, and shortly the man was
gone, whether under his own power, limping off to some other
friendlier town, or with assistance from the police officers who
patrolled the streets on foot and bicycle, and who knew the
migrating vagrants as well as Harvey. Regardless, there was
never another disturbance at the diner.
When Ben came back from Nashville he found that Harvey
had moved on from the minor burglary, and was co nsidering a
proposition he‟d received from a group of artists who wanted
to rent a portion of the Abraham building. He wanted to solicit
Ben‟s advice on the matter, as Ben knew most of the practicing
artists in town, and had excellent judgment as to the character
of each. And the City had proposed a new set of taxes, which
set Harvey to cursing the government, in his quite respectful
way, and which presented Ben with the opportunity to provoke
his friend with fictitious news of greater fiscal irresponsibility
and rapaciousness from the City of Birmingham.
As the discussion progressed Harvey became aware that
Sarah was at the alley door talking to someone, presumably a
hungry vagrant. But the conversation went on, much longer
than usual, and shortly Sarah was in the door to the office,
gesturing to him.
“They‟s a man here to talk to you,” she said.
“Me? What the hell does he want to talk to me for? You‟re
the one that gives out the lunch bags,” he said.
“He says he wants to talk to the man of the house,” she
said stiffly. Harvey could see that the vagrant had rubbed her
the wrong way. He went on back and stepped out into the alley,
and was confronted with a stocky man of medium height
dressed in black jeans, boots, a white tee shirt and a leather
vest. He looked like a biker except for the mane of pure white
hair and the extravagant beard, also snow white and thick as
fur. The man had very bright blue eyes in his weathered face.
He was smiling, showing big yellow teeth, and looking at
Harvey. Harvey looked back, and for a minute they examined
“Well,” said Harvey.
“I‟m here to make a deal,” said the other.
“What kind of deal? You don‟t need to make no deal to get
something to eat.”
The old man laughed, throwing his head back and letting
it out without restraint or embarrassment.
“I already got something to eat. I got it from you a few
days ago,” he said.
Harvey considered this, while the man pulled a cigar from
his vest pocket and lit it with an old fashioned blue headed
“You‟re the one who broke into my store,” he said flatly.
“I am,” the old man responded, puffing the cigar to flame
and looking keenly through the smoke.
“What do you want now?”
“I want to live in this building. I‟ll trade you for the rent.”
Harvey scratched his chin.
“I hadn‟t planned to rent out no rooms,” he said. “And
what have you got to trade with? You got a motorcycle parked
out on the street?”
“No, I hitched a ride into town. That‟s what I do, move
around the country. I got no motorcycle.
[insert bridge between these sections]
“Then what have you got to trade with?”
“Wisdom,” he said. “Entertainment, diversion,
enlightenment, maybe even salvation.”
“That‟s a lot for a ninety dollar a month room,” Harvey
“Yes it is, yes it is,” replied the drifter comp lacently,
puffing smoke up into the sky. “You‟ll be getting quite a
They were standing in the narrow alley. A delivery trucked
wheeled slowly toward them, and they flattened against the
building as it passed.
“Help me out here – what‟s your name?”
“Earl, just Earl.”
“Help me out here, Earl. Exactly how am I going to get
entertainment and, what, wisdom and all out of this deal”
Harvey heard a snort of derision and realized Sarah was
standing just inside the open door, listening. Earl must have
realized it too, as he gestured an invitation to walk down the
“Harvey, where I am things happen. I won‟t say I make
them happen, but things just speed up and start popping when
I‟m in town. Now, I can tell by looking at you that you‟re a
barnacle of a man – no, don‟t deny it, you‟re a man who stays
put, a man with roots that run all the way down deep.”
They reached the end of the alley and started back.
“I once saw a television show on barnacles,” he said.
“Barnacle secrete a glue so powerful that human science can‟t
duplicate it. So strong that the parts it‟s gluing together
disintegrate before the glue does.”
“And that‟s what I am? A barnacle?”
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. Where as I am a free
floater, a man who goes everywhere and sees everything and
drifts with the tide,” said Earl.
“Like a jellyfish,” said Harvey.
Earl beamed at him through the smoke and nodded.
“Like a jellyfish.”
“So what you‟re sayin‟ is that I‟m a stay at home that
don‟t have much of a life, and if I let you live rent free you‟ll
get up to so much mischief that I‟ll be entertained.”
“That‟s exactly right,” said Earl, greatly satisfied.
“Hard to turn down a deal like that,” said Harvey. “Let me
think on it.”
[rewrite to emphasize earls charm, make him more serious]
When he went back in the diner Sarah was waiting for
him. She didn‟t say anything, just looked.
“Come on, Sarah, what‟s on your mind?”
“You ain‟t really going to give that man a room, are you?”
“I might,” he said.
He didn‟t say that just to get a rise out of Sarah, he was
actually thinking of letting the old man stay there. He went
back into the diner, Sarah following, and found Ben, the only
customer, leafing through the paper.
“Harvey wants to let a bum live in the store room,” Sarah
“Is that so,” said Ben.
“I‟m considering it.”
“He‟s the one who‟s been letting himself in at night?”
“He says so.”
Ben thought for a minute.
“He‟s already living there, you might as well get a few
bucks out of the deal.”
“He ain‟t even going to get paid,” said Sarah, her sense of
outrage almost palpable. “He‟s going to trade salvation or
“You going to trade your soul to let that bum stay there?”
“Nah, it‟s the other way around. I let him stay there and
he says I could get salvation out of it,” said Harvey.
“Oh, well that‟s a much better deal.”
CHRISTINE MOVES OUT
Meanwhile, in a scruffy apartment several miles from
Harvey and Earl, on the other side of Five Points, another
drama was unfolding. Crazy Martin was sitting at the kitchen
table staring into space while his girlfriend Christine packed
her suitcase in the bedroom. She was leaving, and not taking
her time about it. Martin, a short squat dark complected young
man, appeared to be taking it well. He yawned. He got up and
made a pot of coffee. But he had an ear cocked at the other
room of the small apartment. He heard her open the closet
door, then the rustle of clothing. He heard each of the bureau
drawers open and close, gently, not in anger. After a time he
heard the latches of the big suitcase snap shut and the scrape
as she dragged it across the wooden floor, through the short
hall and into the kitchen. She was a thin attractive girl, though
by an accident of genetics it was difficult to notice this. She had
lovely olive skin, and her hair was unenthusiastically brown, a
light shade that was very close to the hue of her skin. Her eyes
were between brown and hazel. This similarity of color gave
her a monochromatic look. If she‟d had a flair for dressing, a
taste for vivid exotic clothes, she might have stood out. But she
didn‟t. She favored drab colorless blouses and olive green
cargo pants. She entered a room and faded right into the
woodwork, leaving only a disturbance in the air to mark her
Martin didn‟t care. He loved her with all the passion an
inexperienced twenty year old college sophomore can
experience. When she came into the kitchen dragging her bulky
suitcase he stood and reached to help her. She relinquished the
bag, without looking at him, and explored the contents of her
small tanned leather purse. She found a key ring with several
keys on it, and detached the one for the apartment. She set it
on the drain board and still without looking at him turned and
started to the door. He looked after her, miserably, and
followed with the suitcase. He wanted to say something, an
eloquent plea or even a raging tirade, but he did not. He
followed in silence, understanding that this reticence, a
reluctance to communicate that bordered on pathological, was
the cause of her leaving, and he could do nothing about it.
He put the bag in the trunk of her small auto and closed
the lid. She opened the car door and turned to him.
“I hope everything works out for you, Martin, I really do,”
she said, and waited for him to say something. A moment
passed. She shrugged, exasperated and unsurprised, and got in
the car. And then she was gone down the hill, and he was still
mute. He looked after it for a minute, stunned, inarticulate.
Then he went back into the house with no idea of what to do
EARL MOVES IN
Across town Harvey and Earl took a walk through the
building. They went up the wide stairs and back through to the
small apartments. Earl went from one small room to another,
like a hound coursing for a scent, while Harvey leaned against
the wall and watched. Earl finally settled on the back
apartment, the one most remote from the stairs, and the
“You going to have enough room in here?” asked Harvey.
“Hell yes,” said Earl. “I only got what‟s in this bag. I
might get me a cot somewhere, and a card table to eat on.
Plenty room for that. ”
He turned on one of the stove burners and held his hand
“Electric included in the rent?”
“What rent?” he said. “Sure, why not.”
The room had two small windows. One faced the alley; the
other looked out over the small vacant lot.
“You own that field?” asked Earl.
“You mean the lot? Sure, it came with the building.”
“Hmm,” said Earl, taking a close look at it.
“Well, this will do just fine,” he sa id and extended his
hand. Harvey took it and they shook on the deal, if it can be
“Here‟s a key,” Harvey said. “You don‟t need to break into
the place anymore. And if you want something to eat, see
Sarah. Stay out of my supplies.”
“Of course,” he said, perfectly reasonable and respectful.
Harvey went back to work. For a few days he didn‟t see Earl,
though he got plenty of conversation about him from Ben, and
the slow silent reproach from Sarah that was far more powerful
and articulate than anything Ben could say. He ignored them
both. He was thinking about a time, decades before, when he
was a young man, just out of the Navy, just back from a war.
For a few months he lived on his grandfather‟s farm, helping
out a little, but mostly just resting. Nothing happened to him,
and he did nothing but sit under the trees in the afternoon and
read the newspaper. He read it from first page to last, skipping
only the obituaries. On Sunday, when there was a Travel
section, he read that again and again, looking at the
advertisements for cruises to the Caribbean, to the
Mediterranean Sea, to Alaska. He thought about the hotels of
Las Vegas. Of all the places he could go and see. But he stayed
right there in north Alabama. As he got older he thought more
and more about that brief period, when he had no direction,
which meant every direction. He could have done anything.
So today, sitting at the counter with Ben, Sarah pouring
them coffee and listening intently, he got to hear Ben‟s theory
of the basic worthlessness of men, mankind, which included
women and children. Particularly as it applied to Earl, or, as
Ben called him, “the drifter”. Harvey listened politely. But he‟d
already decided and even though Ben knew better he couldn‟t
stop himself from presenting his case against the old man.
It was not much, as vacant lots go. It was not the vacant
lots of childhood, where pickup baseball games were played, or
kites were flown and dogs retrieved sticks. It was an urban lot,
with the rubble and litter of the city scattered on it. The minor
trash of paper and beer can appeared and disappeared with the
wind and weather, finally degraded to rust and simple fiber
that eventually became dirt. The return to the earth. The other,
major trash was more durable. The immortal fiberglass auto
tire; a cast iron bed frame, coated with rust but still strong
boned; shards of a broken mirror that reflected the clouds as
they sailed by so far overhead.
This lot had, through an accident of fortune, never been
host to a building. There was no concrete foundation, only
neglected earth. It was originally a garden for the adjoining
building, which was in its day a fine restaurant, where fine food
could be ordered and eaten in the peaceful elegance of the
garden. The flowers and molded shrubs now gone; only the
weeds remained, pushing up through the earth, growing
thicker with the passing of the months, tall and robust, until
each year a crew from the City came and cut them down, and
poured poison on the sheared low stalks. They grew back,
thicker and taller than before.
But on the day that Earl looked out the window of his new
home the lot was newly shorn. From above the ground looked
level and barren, profoundly empty in spite of the scattering of
refuse. Earl looked down at it and his imagination sparked. As
he shook hands with Harvey his imagination caught fire and by
the time he‟d unpacked his few belongings it was in full blaze.
He looked out the window again at the lot, weathered face with
it‟s beaten features peaceful and joyous.
MORE ABOUT EARL AND HARVEY
Earl was born in Oklahoma of a good stable farming
family. The extensive family lived around Tulsa and point east,
and had known Pretty Boy Floyd in his hey day. This was before
Earl‟s time, but he grew up like the rest of his clan, ing the
poor and hating the banks. But Earl was something special,
because he also hated the farm and the hours of back breaking
no-future work that went with it, and at age fourteen he took
off. This was the Fifties, and there were still some genuine
Depression era hoboes around. Earl discovered that they were
not even close to the romanticized versions he‟d seen in
cartoons and read about in books – this was before television
was a standard piece of furniture in every home. He got along
all right with them because he was smart and quick and much
tougher than he looked.
“I been a hobo, yes,” he said.
“What else,” Harvey asked.
“I worked in a steel mill for a year, and on more farms
and ranches than I can count. I dealt blackjack in Vegas and
got punched in the mouth by Frank Sinatra. I was a
professional poker player in Biloxi, before the civilized casinos
came in, when it was all in the back room and everyone carried
a gun. I waited table in a hippie restaurant in San Francisco in
the Sixties and took drugs with Ken Kesey.”
“Who‟s Ken Kesey?” asked Earl
“Just another dead druggie, now. But back then he was
the top dog of the hippies. One of them, anyway. I guess you
know who Frank Sinatra is.”
“Yes, I do, and I can see why he hit you in the mouth.”
Earl smiled his calm beatific smile.
“I drank with Jack Kerouac and won a fist fight with Neil
Cassidy, got wrote up in one of Charles Bukowski‟s stories, and
worked for a full two years in the automotive department of
Sears. It was all about the same.”
“I don‟t know who all these people is, but it sounds like
you been around. What do you want here?”
“I want a place to stop.”
He pulled out a cigar and offered it to Harvey, who
“I‟m tired and I want to settle down somewhere.”
“I can understand that, but why here, why Birmingham?”
“There‟s three reasons. One, the weather. It‟s just right,
not too hot, not to cold. Thanks important the older you get.
Two, I have a feeling I‟m supposed to be here, and I‟m a man
who pays attention to his feelings. And three, I ran out of
money up at Huntsville, and this is as far South as I could get
before I had to scare up some more.”
“All good reasons, Earl.”
[ insert questions he asks Harvey].
On the day Earl took the apartment, there appeared, in
the window of a small empty store front across the busy street
from the diner, a small sign that said: Coming Soon: The
Pequod – Fresh Seafood. The next day busy crews of workers
carried in glass display cases and refrigerators. Carpenters
destroyed the walls and rebuilt them fresh and clean. Plumbers
and electricians fought with each other to complete their tasks
and by the end of the week the small announcement sign was
gone from the window and a grand one stretched across the
front of the store, from one end to the other. It repeated “The
Pequod – Fresh Seafood” in large letters, with the addendum
below “Ahab, Proprietor”, and a painted image of a white
whale frisking in the waves, with a spume of white water
jetting up from it‟s blow hole. And the doors were open for
Harvey and Ben watched closely, immensely impressed at
the speed and energy with which the operation was
“He must have a ton of money,” said Harvey.
“Yeah,” said Ben. “I wonder if he wants a nice statue of a
When the sign went up and Ben saw the name Ahab he
laughed. And on the day of the grand opening he and Harvey
went across the street to take a good look.
A small silver bell attached to the door frame tinkled
when they entered. The store was wide and deep, with a long
line of open cases filled with ice, in which were laid fish, all
sorts of fish, neatly arranged by species and size from smallest
to largest. Another iced case was full of crustaceans – blue
crabs, Alaskan king crabs, northern rock crabs, other rare
species identified by small card staked in the ice. And shrimp,
peeled and de-veined in a sparkling tub of ice, or au natural,
still in their shells with heads on, tiny cocktail shrimp and huge
shrimp ready for the grille. Behind the counters were fresh
faced intelligent young men and women in spotless white
uniforms waiting to serve. It was a miracle of a store.
“Jesus, Harvey, this place is fantastic.”
“Yes,” said Harvey. “It‟s more than that. Look there.”
And he pointed to the rear of the store, behind the high
closed glass cases of smoked mullet and chowder, past the
beaming young sales clerks to a shadowy tall figure. It was a
man. As he moved toward the light they saw that it was a tall
gaunt figure dressed in a heavy seamans sweater and canvas
trousers, as if he were on the deck of a sailing ship. His face,
now in the light, was lined and dark, the brows heavy, tangled
and a tangled dark fringe of beard lined his face. As he walked
closer they heard an eerie thumping cadence and when he
came from behind the counters they looked down to see the
pale ivory peg that replaced his left leg at the knee.
“Holy Jesus,” said Harvey.
“Holy Melville,” said Ben.
The  figure walked to the center of the store and
announced himself to the customers:
“Welcome! I‟m Ahab, proprietor of this establishment,
and you are all welcome. We serve the bounty of the sea; if
there be a fish that you want and cannot find, then sing out!
And one of my mates will help you.”
He made a sweeping bow and stumped back into the
darkness at the back of the store, and through a door out of
Harvey and Ben, along with the scattering of other
customers, broke into spontaneous simultaneous applause.
“That was great,”said Ben.
“Yes,” Harvey said slowly. “It was.”
MARTIN GOES DOWNTOWN
Martin stayed quarantined in his apartment for three
days, grieving, sitting at the kitchen table writing love sonnets
in a spiral notebook. He could write a sonnet. In fact, he could
write three kinds of sonnets. He could also write sestinas, terza
rima, haiku, heroic couplets, and blank verse. He was the
phenom of the English department, in the same way that a
baseball pitcher, young and country, might have an idiot
savant‟s mastery of all of the varieties of pitches, but not be
able to hold a man on base or talk to the press without cursing
or revealing rural bigotry. Martin had read half of the world‟s
literature that was worth reading, and was on his way to
reading the other half, but he was politically unreliable, likely
to denigrate the policy of „Diversity‟ and proclaim that, in spite
of current fashion, the work of dead white men was the
foundation of Western Culture, and in every way superior to its
diverse usurpers. Of course, he didn‟t say this out loud. He
wrote it in his term papers and on his exams, exasperating his
instructors. They gave him A‟s on everything; they had to,
there was no denying his scholarship. But as far as a career in
academia, he was a dead duck.
Martin, of course, didn‟t have a clue. He read and wrote
and thought about words, and didn‟t understand that in his
future was a position at a bookstore, and not one of the chains
like Barnes and Noble, with good benefits and clean young
college girls steaming espresso in the coffee shop, but in a
used paperback store in a dingy strip mall, the kind of store
where romance novels are purchased and traded by legions of
faded middle aged women who would accept his eccentricity,
his alienation from the mainstream, his strangeness. More than
accept, they would recognize him as one of their own. He might
strike out for the glamorous shores of a Borders, but he would
always drift back to the Paperback Palace. It was his destiny.
On the third day he left the apartment and went to class.
He stayed for a few minutes, all he could bear of the lecture on
Renaissance Theatre presented by a frail supercillious young
graduate student in a nasal voice. Martin knew the subject
better than the instructor. He slipped out of the classroom and
wandered vaguely toward the parking lot. He didn‟t really know
where to go or what to do. He continued to walk and after a
time found himself standing in front of the Five Points
Starbucks, Christine‟s favorite. He went on down the sidewalk,
and turned onto 20th Street, toward downtown. He realized that
he would eventually run into her, unless he moved to another
town, and he dreaded it.
[he goes downtown and sees the giant stone – if anyones
actually following this, the main plot point is that a enormous
block of white marble appears in Harvey‟s vacant lot, across
from the Pequod. See how it all fits together?]
It was hard to get a fix on Earl. Clearly he had charisma.
That was not surprising: He‟d been a street preacher and
hustler in his youth. He understood the shape of the human
character, with its twists and turns and sudden dead ends. He
was a good practical psychologist, though he would have
denied it, understanding that some things are better left
undisclosed. But he was of the same tribe as the salesman and
politician and evangelist, and at the far end of the spectrum,
the con man. He was not afraid of the entanglement with other
human, with all of its complexity and friction. He was a natural
extrovert, a mixer, a networker, and in a few days he had
established himself with the downtown crowd. The Linn Park
boys knew him as one of their own, the disenfranchised and
outcast. He sat on the stone walls around the fountain,
smoking his big cigars and telling stories of catching rides in
the big rigs, straight shots that could take you all the way from
Chicago to Miami in one long ride, if you could take the
vibration and roar in the cabin and the amphetamine driven
talk of the driver hour after hour. And of the vicious gangs of
thugs that made riding the boxcars too dangerous these days,
though in the sixties there were still some of the old hoboes
left over from the Depression, the old sort who made marks on
the mail boxes and fences, who were communists of the most
basic sort, and some of them still Wobblies. He lost his
audience with that reference, but came right back with a long
story about meeting President Clinton when he was still
Governor of Arkansas and campaigning, of how he pushed his
way to the front of the crowd, wiped his snotty nose on his
palm and shook hands with the future president of the US of A.
Earl said Clinton didn‟t bat an eye, and probably didn‟t even
He charmed the librarians at the downtown branch, a
haven on days of rough weather. They were not easy to charm;
they‟d seen the vagrants come and go over the years, and
declined to let the library become a community hygiene station
for the homeless. Earl, it turned out, was an educated as well
as charming sociopath. He read serious books and made
conversation with the reference librarians, the cream of the
crop, the best educated, like cloistered nuns preserving and
maintaining knowledge across the years. They were startled to
hear commentary on the Nineteenth century novelist coming
from the weather beaten broken-nosed old man, with beard
and flowing hair like Moses. All the more so since he spoke
mostly in the simple language of the street. He had a flair for
the dramatic and knew that his remarks on Gerard Manley
Hopkins were the more astounding when they came fro m the
Soon he had access to the bathrooms and could shave, or
even bathe, if he wanted. He no longer needed to do so, having
a tight safe warren in which to rest. He never invited any of the
Linn Park group to use the facilities there. He really d id
understand the twists and turns of the human character.
He went into every public place, every store and
government building and was known by name by everyone,
though that name might be different. He was called Earl, and
Big Earl, and the Man in Black, and Long Hair Earl, Gray Hair
Earl, Big Slick, Drifter Earl and That Son of a Bitch. That‟s a lot
of names to earn in short time, but Earl got around.
Martin, on the other hand, shrank from any human touch,
even of the eye. He would not look at you, and wished, without
knowing it, that no one could look at him. That he was
MORE ABOUT HARVEY
A few days went by but there was no sign of Earl. Harvey
kept an eye on the storeroom, and the supplies in it, but
nothing was missing or disturbed. One morning after the
breakfast rush when he came over for some flour or canned
artichoke hearts he stood stock still, listening for some sign
that Earl was up there, doing something, but he heard nothing.
He crept closer and to the stairs, cocking an ear, but heard
nothing but the faint distant rush of street noise.
Back in the diner he went on about his business, and
stopped thinking about it all together. Sometimes Harvey acted
on instinct, without analysis before or after, relying on a sort of
internal compass, or carpenters level that showed he was on
the right path, headed in the right direction and flying straight
and true. He could never articulate this. He just knew what he
was supposed to do, and for some reason, a reason he didn‟t
try to analyze, he knew he was supposed to give Earl a place to
stay. When Ben tried to engage him in conversation about it he
didn‟t respond. Sarah didn‟t say anything. She‟d seen him make
unexpected and arbitrary decisions before, doing things that
seemed out of character, or, as she put it: „that ain‟t like
Harvey at all, but he did it anyway.‟
Sarah liked to tell people about the time that Harvey
answered the phone at the diner and the call was from a radio
station, one of those kind that people listen to in the morn ing
when they drive to work. It was a contest. The first surprise
was that he didn‟t hang right up on them. Then, when they
asked him a question, he answered it. Sarah didn‟t remember
what the question was, but Harvey knew the answer to it right
off. He had a choice of a hundred dollars or the chance to go
on television, the local station, and answer more questions for
the grand prize. The second surprise was when Harvey passed
on the money and agreed to be on the television. And he did.
The next week he put on his best and only suit, left the diner
for her to run on her own, which she was perfectly capable of
doing, at least for a day or so, and went down to the station at
nine in the morning.
She brought in a small tv and for twenty minutes there
was no food served as she watched Harvey, calm and tidy in his
suit, answer all the questions and win ten thousand bucks. He
got back to the diner in time to help with the noon rush, taking
off his suit jacket and tie and working behind the grille in his
white shirt, as if nothing had happened.
The final surprise was when he took the money and
bought a motorcycle, a used Harley, and started riding it into
work each day, instead of the battered pickup truck. For safety
he bought a good black leather jacket and b lack chaps to cover
his legs, and a high tech black helmet. Ben said that‟s what
Darth Vader would look like if he joined a motorcycle gang. But
when he hung all his motorcycle gear on a hook in the office
and put on his white apron, went behind the grille for the days
work he looked just the same as always.
Buying the building and lot adjacent to the diner was one
of these unexpected decisions. One morning he just had the
keys to the place and told Sarah to get ready to empty out the
old storeroom, which was jammed from floor to ceiling with
shelves that were packed with all the items needed to run the
place. Just that quick.
Harvey to Ben or Earl:
“I don‟t understand but I know. I don‟t think about it
anymore than this dog thinks about how to follow the scent
that he‟s on, or why he‟s doing it. We‟re like animals, we men –
and women too. All the thinking and deciding in the world gets
thrown out the window the first time our true nature speaks to
us, tells us what to do. I don‟t know why I have always known
that. I learned early to listen to that part of me, the answer
that wells up in my head unasked for. I figured out if I paid
attention, everything would work out pretty well.”
Ben didn‟t know Harvey as well as Sarah, and wasted his
time trying to persuade him he‟d made a mistake with Earl. He
didn‟t come right out and say it, but tried to sidle up to it in
conversation, throwing out questions like How‟s that new
boarder you got, or Did you see in the paper where they‟re
going to crack down on pan handling? Won‟t that put your boy
out of business?‟ Harvey never responded.
In point of fact Harvey didn‟t think Earl begged for money,
at least as a way of life. He didn‟t know where he got his cash.
He always seemed to have a few bucks, and he always had
cigars, big expensive ones. A lot of the men were veterans and
got a check every month. That might be the case with Earl,
Harvey thought. He got enough for cigars and spending cash,
but not enough to rent a real apartment or buy a car or
insurance or televisions, or any of the luxuries we‟d come to
consider „necessities‟. Harvey liked to remember that his great
grand father came to Alabama in a wagon drawn by mules,
which he lived in while he built a house of logs and planks he
hauled from a saw mill fifteen miles away. And lived with no
power, no light, nothing but coal oil lanterns and a fireplace.
And Harvey liked to think back before that, centuries and
millenniums before, when humans lived in the rough shelters
made of leaves and vines, as he pictured it, and slept on beds
of dried leaves and knocked fruit out of the trees to eat, or ran
down deer or antelope or bison or whatever was there, and
which he killed and roasted dripping hunks of it over a fire.
Times when a metal knife was the most valuable think a man
So if Earl had only enough possessions to fill up a duffel
bag, the old fashioned olive-green army kind, not the new
nylon ones, bright colored and fashionable enough for
teenagers to carry their hundred dollar tennis shoes in. If he
had only that much, then what was he losing? How was he
diminished by poverty? He wasn‟t, Harvey said to himself.
Didn‟t the Bible say something about that? And didn‟t the other
holy men, the Buddha and all his disciples? Didn‟t they take
vows of poverty to be better men? All of the wealth of all of the
beautiful and empty people on television couldn‟t buy them
At least, that was Harvey‟s theory, and his answer to Ben,
if he‟d been inclined to give him one. He wasn‟t, though. He
listened thoughtfully to Ben, and took his advice on some
matters, the shallow ones, but when it counted he kept his own
EARL AND HARVEY VISIT
After three days in the new place Earl paid a visit to
Harvey. The work day was over early on Saturdays. Harvey
gave Sarah the day off, as there was barely enough business to
justify keeping the diner open, and he could take orders and
cook without strain. He was only open as a courtesy to the
customers who lived downtown, as opposed to those working
there. On the weekends Birmingham became a small town,
where everyone knew everyone, or at least at seen them a
hundred times on the street. Ben liked the diner best on
Saturday morning, when there were just a few customers, all
regulars, and he would spend hours there, reading the paper
and gossiping about life on the street or Alabama football.
Harvey had time to sit at the counter and drink the inky black
coffee, with chicory, that he brewed for himself in a small non-
commercial coffee pot, and dispensed to just a few people who
had a taste for the thick bitter beverage. He took his time
preparing the food, both breakfast and lunch, and if you were
in a hurry to get to work, you‟d better go to MacDonalds,
On one of those Saturdays, after all of the diners were
gone, Harvey cleaned the place and secured it until Monday. He
locked the back door and mounted his motorcycle to depart,
but Earl appeared from the storeroom, and signaled with the
great fuming cigar he held. Harvey got off the bike, and
removed his helmet. The old man said:
“Have you learned anything yet?”
“Nothing I didn‟t already know,” Harvey replied.
“Good, good. Then you‟re right where you should be,” he
said enigmatically, and walked away. Harvey watched him
trailing clouds of smoke, until he turned the corner toward the
Park. And when Harvey rode past on his way north toward
home he passed the Park and saw him perched on a bench,
sitting on the backrest with his feet on the seat, surrounded by
a group of park regulars. He saw Harvey pass by and gave a
broad wave. His audience turned to seen who he was greeting
and all of them gave him the same broad wave, like a chorus
line. It made Harvey laugh, and, riding along the back roads
home to Peggy and the dogs and the quiet farm house, he
didn‟t regret for an instant playing host to the old man.
EARL MEETS MARTIN
The first time Earl laid eyes on Martin he understood him
right away, recognized the abhorrence of connection, of
contact, of engagement. It was in the park, once again, in the
days before Earl had struck his agreement with Harvey. He was
sleeping here or there, but already had his eye on the
Storeroom with it‟s built in supply of food, and electricity (he
could see the meter spinning over in the alley at the back of the
building), and water (he saw the meter reader pop open the
iron plate and make notations in his notebook). So, all of the
resources he might need were available; it was only a question
of boldness, of striking when the opportunity arose.
It was in these days that he met Martin, who was fresh
from his wound, bleeding beneath his impassive sliding
surface. Martin couldn‟t bear to be alone in the apartment, and
couldn‟t stand to be in the company of others. In the grocery
store he abandoned shopping carts of food; the dread, the
anticipation of standing in line, close to the fat man with beer
under his arm and the small disheveled woman with children
climbing everywhere, one of which looked like a rat, drove him
out of the store and onto the street. But there were more
people there, walking by, driving in their automobiles,
clustered in the coffee shops and restaurants and even up on
telephone poles, repairing something. Even in the sky, in
airplanes, unseen but existant. He bolted back to his house.
The relief of solitude lasted only for an hour. The house was
quiet, even with television and radio and stereo playing at the
same time. He couldn‟t stand it. He was compelled to leave,
pushed back into a sea of people.
He was most comfortable when he was moving. He
walked the streets, up and down the blocks for miles, criss
crossing downtown, moving along the sidewalk at variable
speed, trying to keep the perfect distance from any other
human being – not so near that he could touch or smell or hear
them, but not so far away that he felt the soul wrenching
emptiness of solitude.
Earl and Martin met in the park. Martin, on his new wide
ranging walks, found Linn Park and started spending mornings
there when he should have been in class. One morning he sat
on a bench across from an exotic old man in a leather vest and
motorcycle boots who looked like an old testament prophet
smoking a cigar. The old man looked directly at him with an
amused look; Martin let his eyes slip away. It was a cool
morning and he had a comfortable place in the sun, but he
started to move along. He stood, but before he could get away
Earl approached and said:
“You don‟t like trespassers, do you son,” he said. “I mean
folks who trespass on your space.”
“I guess not,” Martin mumbled, startled by the remark.
“I‟d say your space is considerably bigger than most
peoples space. I bet that makes you pretty uncomfortable.”
That was exactly true, though Martin had never thought
about it that way. He wanted to walk away but was too curious.
“You probably don‟t like people looking at you or talking
to you,” Earl said. “Hard to live in a vacuum. I seen a television
show about a vacuum once. Nothing in a vacuum. Just cold.”
“Sure,” Martin said in a low voice.
“Listen, I‟m going to go over to the MacDonald‟s and get
me something to eat, but the next time you see me, remember
this talk, remember what I said. You won‟t feel trespassed on
when I say hello.”
With that, Earl walked away. Martin watched him go,
thinking forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who
trespass against me. Then he started thinking about the St.
James version and the language of the spiritual, in the course
of his musing constructed an essay that would have earned a
masters degree, had it been put down on paper and presented
by someone attractively dressed with good eye contact. He
didn‟t notice that a pair of secretaries, trim and tidy in their
navy blue skirts and white blouses, had seated themselves just
a few steps away, eating their lunches and chattering about the
most inconsequential matters. The sound became a soothing
backdrop to pristine inevitable sequence of words that was
running through his mind. He felt peaceful for the first time in
MARTINS STREET POEMS
He wrote his first street poem just after the breakup,
when his aversion to confinement of any kind was at it‟s
greatest and he spent the long days outside roaming the
streets. He had a lot on his mind. He carried small notebooks
that he filled with poems and fragments of novels and just the
jumble of words that sometimes ran through his brain without
pattern or purpose that he could see. Poems were created
automatically in his head, without effort or forethought. They
just appeared, and he wrote them down.
His first street poem was an accident. He was walking
through the residential streets that ran parallel to Highland
[street], pausing every few blocks to write in his small
notebook. The pressure of the words was driving them out at a
growing pace and he soon found that he‟d covered every blank
space of every page. There was no place for the words to go.
He looked around him. There were no stores, just the long line
of homes extending up the steep hill. He began to walk back to
the main thoroughfares where he could buy more notebooks
when he noticed the chalked design of a child‟s hopscotch
court. He stopped for a moment, looking at it, and in that brief
instant he first thought of Julio Cortazar‟s wonderful book
titled “Hopscotch”, then, seeing that the small piece of chalk
that had been used to draw the pattern was still lying on the
pavement, he thought of a poem and without hesitation he
picked up the chalk and in small neat letters, in the last box,
the box with the word „Home‟ scrawled in it, he wrote:
Home is where the heart
is buried, but beating
as the wings of captive
birds beat at their moment
of release and terror.
The cage door opens
The experience of writing the poem on the earth, free of
the confines of paper, was immensely satisfying. He cared not a
bit that the first rain would wash it away. He d idn‟t consider
himself the true author of the words, just the custodian, the
channel through which they passed from that alien part of him
that resided beyond the edge of his consciousness to the world
outside. He looked at the words on the pavement, at the small
yellow chalk lying in the palm of his hand, and knew that he
was onto something. He left the chalk carefully at the bottom
of the poem, where a lesser poet might have put his signature,
and walked briskly down the hill to look for a store that sold
chalk. Yellow chalk.
After that epiphany Martin‟s work began to appear at odd
places around the town. He no longer recorded every random
word that passed through his mind, though on occasion the
force of the stream of consciousness was so great that he
reverted to the notebook, sitting on a park bench scribbling as
fast as he could. But more often and more frequently he let the
flow of words wash through him, waiting for the perfectly
formed lines of a poem. The poems were usually inspired by
something he saw on his walks, a spontaneous reaction to a
person who passed him by on the street or to a store or tree or
statue. The bizarre metal character sculptures in the five points
circle inspired these words:
The spirit of the child
is not bent to base metal
The face of youth
is not bronze
or brass or iron or steel
Metal is not flesh
Give it up, Frank.
This slap at a popular local artist, and quite a good one
too, was not intended as a deliberate insult. It was just Martins
reaction to see the [describe statues]. Through accident of
weather it stayed visible for several days, and was read by
many of the students and artists who frequent or pass through
the five points circle. There was a reaction to it. A fan of the
artist wrote a rebuttal poem, and in response to that another
poem was scrawled excoriating the rebuttal and the statues.
And so it went. Soon the sidewalks and low walls around the
grouping of statues were covered with chalked poems and
insults and in one case a thousand word review of t he work, as
polished (and pointless) as any you‟d see in one of the glossy
Art Magazines sold across the street in Joe Muggs. Martin didn‟t
pass that way for a week, by which time a brief violent
thunderstorm had washed clean the sidewalk. He never knew
at the reaction his small poem had provoked, and never knew
that there was growing speculation as to the identity of the
Downtown Poet. His other poems, written on brick walls or on
the pavement, or in one case on the broad rough trunk of a
tree, had been noticed, and read, and discussed. No one knew
who wrote them. Martin had taken to wandering the streets
very early in the morning, reserving that time to chalk them
down. He didn‟t feel the pressure of words to such a
pathological degree anymore, and it pleased him to wait until
early in the day and pick only the best of the poems that had
come to him for „publication‟. He remained anonymous.
Harvey saw it for himself on Monday morning, early, long
before the sun was up. In the alien pale street light the boulder
looked faintly phosphorescent. He was staggered at the size of
it. He went closer, stepping carefully through the trash and
weeds until he could touch it. The stone was, he estimated, ten
feet tall and six feet wide. He could not identify the kind of
stone, but was sure that Ben, the professional sculptor, would
be able to. He walked around it. The stone was roughly square,
six feet on each side.
MORE EARL AND MARTIN – this should be split up and used in a
couple of other sections
What finally got Martin‟s attention was the monolog Earl
engaged in one morning in which he reminisced about his days
in the Fifties, drinking and writing and traveling with Jack
Kerouac and Neil Cassidy and the other Beats.
“I recollect that Jack liked to travel but he didn‟t like to
drive, so he pretended he didn‟t know how.”
“You knew Jack Kerouac?” Martin said. It was the first
time he‟d spoken except for monosyllabic responses and
“Why I sure did, son,” he said. “A lot of people knew
“It was my understanding that he didn‟t know how to
drive,” said Martin.
“Where‟d you get that, from a book?”
“Yes. I got it from several books, biographies. All of them
say he never learned to drive.”
“Naw, that‟s bullshit. He could drive, he was just a lazy
son of a bitch, and let on he couldn‟t drive so he could sit in the
back seat and smoke marijuana, get drunk.”
“You‟re telling me all the books are wrong?”
“Listen son,” Earl said. His voice was slightly frosty. “I
was there. I seen him drive a bunch of times. He didn‟t have no
trouble with it. He was just, like I said, a lazy son of a bitch
who‟d rather drink than drive. Which he did right up until the
time he died down in St. Petersburg.”
Martin didn‟t say anything though it was clear from his
face that he had a thousand things to say, or ask or argue. His
eyes were flicking back and forth and he put his notebook in
his pocket, then took it out again.
“Go on, son, say what ever you want. I won‟t take
offense. It won‟t be the first time I been doubted.”
“Were you with him in St. Petersburg?”
“Yes I was, one time anyway. It was too ugly to go back
“He was living with his mother,” Martin offered, waiting
“Yes he was. They didn‟t get on so well, and it was a
pitiful thing to visit with him so drunk and them yelling and all.
I put up with it for a bit, then told him I wanted to go out to a
Earl lighted the short cigar and puffed out billows of
smoke which were caught in the crisp fall air and carried onto a
group of secretaries who were eating their paperbag lunches at
one of the tables. They began coughing and glaring. Earl paid
“So we did. In those days he used to go to the Negro, that
is, black bars, and this was before integration, but we never
had a problem. They all knew Jack, and that he was a fancy
writer and a sissy too.”
“I read that. So it was true?”
“Oh yeah, but it wasn‟t a big deal. A lot of them Beat guys
His cigar went out. He examined the end of it, decided it
was done for and patted his shirt pocket for another.
“Out of smokes, Marty. Let‟s you and me take a walk over
to the drug store and get us some more. You don‟t smoke, do
you,” Earl said, getting up and starting off to the store.
“No,” said Martin, following him
The lunch secretaries saw that they were leaving and
started to applaud. Earl turned and in a graceful courtly gesture
removed his hat and made a sweeping bow. Martin just stood
there, uncertain. Earl waved his hat to the women like a
cowboy movie star then resumed his slow easy walk. Marin
tagged after him.
“So did you know William Burroughs?”
“Know him? Sure I did. In fact I helped him find a place to
stay in New Orleans, when he moved down there with that sad
little wife of his.”
And the two of them crossed the street toward the drug
store and tobacco, Earl leading and Martin following, asking
questions one after the other, the pied piper and follower.
Martin was never sure how much to believe. Some of the
stories he knew were true – or at least agreed with the
biographies he‟d read. And he‟d read a lot of them. He didn‟t
believe that art existed independent of the artist. He thought
that art should always be considered in the context of it‟s
creation, and so when he read a poet he also read about a poet.
He knew something about Kerouac and Burroughs and Gary
Snyder and Kesey, all mysterious and remote to him, a young
man two and three generations removed. But to Earl, they were
memories, and he seemed to Martin to be the actual physical
living connection to the abstract world of literature that he‟d
studied, in which he‟d been exiled by a brilliance of intellect
and a faulty, perhaps non-existent set of social skills. Earl had
been places and known people Martin had only read about. But
how much of it was true?
The next day Martin was in the park at sunrise. He‟d
already made the rounds of alleys and back streets, words
churning in his head, poem forming themselves slowly as he
listened with his mind‟s ear. He stopped behind a bakery, the
new one that had opened a month before and, to discourage
Linn Park regulars from fishing the stale but still edible bread
from the dumpster, soaked the day old stuff with water to
make it inedible. On the green metal of the dumpster he
The meanness of spirit
is the spirit of the age
The bread of Christ
is his body
in this godless time
and the water his blood
but the spiteful paste,
Sometimes the automatic poet inside him had a social
conscience, more and more in recent months, since he‟ d
become almost a street person himself. He still had an
apartment, technically, and he went to sleep there for a few
hours each night, but his days were spent in the open air. He‟d
sold all of his furniture but the narrow bed, and his books, and
had only his clothing now. He was not far from the edge. He
could sense it, and it made him afraid and exhilarated at the
same time. When the end of the month came and his lease
expired the last tie to a normal life would be cut and he‟d be
He sat on a bench as the sun came up. His white shirt was
tinged with gray, and his black pant were faded. His black wing
tip shoes were scuffed. His hair, thick and oily black, was uncut
and unwashed, and with his shifty eyes and furtive manner
he‟d become indistinguishable from the vagrants. When
business men and women cut through the park on their ways to
productive work that was part of a clean healthy productive
life, they avoided looking directly at him, only peripherally to
be warned in case he approached. There was no room in those
lives for the disconnected and the shipwrecked.
He was still sitting there a few hours later when Earl
made his slow regal appearance and tour through the park,
smoking and waving the long cigar like a scepter, nodding his
greetings here, stopping to chat there, making his way up and
down every sidewalk. When he came to Martin he stopped and
sat on the opposite end of the bench. He didn‟t say anything at
first, and Martin, of course, was mute.
Earl was comfortable with silence. He rested on the
bench, meditating on the day ahead, planning his lunch (at
Harvey‟s back door) and his afternoon (in the history section of
the library). After a few minutes, he said:
“Did I ever tell you about drinking with Bukowski?”
Martin shook his head.
“Well, I did. I‟m not the only one of course, he drank with
everyone, and a lot of the Bukowski he writes about in his
stories is true, the real Bukowski. I knew him from the horse
track, where he‟d go and drink and lose. I don‟t believe I ever
saw him go home a winner. He‟d catch a race for a few bucks,
celebrate it with a drink, then lose it all back on the next race.
It was a way of life for him. It‟s a way of life for a lot of
He paused, looking around the park. There were a few
men laying on the grass under one of the big oaks.
“See those fellows? They‟re just like Bukowski, except
without the talent and ego. The ego drives the talent, makes it
work and produces something. Those boys got no talent and
God bless‟em, not much ego either. That means that when
drink gets hold of them they don‟t got much of a defense.
They‟re easy picking for John Barleycorn. You know who John
“Of course you do. You know about everything that‟s ever
been written about, don‟t you.”
“Well, a lot of it. Don‟t argue, I know it‟s true. And that‟s
fine. I admire an educated man.”
Earl stopped and smoked in silence for a moment.
“There‟s more than alcohol waiting out there to bring a
man down,” he said and stood up.
“You got to find something to do. Something big and
important – important to you, anyway.”
He looked around the park,
“Because if you got no where to go, here‟s where you end
up. I got to go. I‟ll see you again, son.”
He strolled off, the old man in a blue jeans and cowboy
boots and a big cream colored hat, walking easily along the
sidewalk, perfectly at home here or there or anywhere.
Throughout the next week Harvey and Sarah kept an eye
on the comings and goings at the Pequod, which was slantwise
across the street from the diner. Harvey was suspicious of the
new business, or more accurately of it‟s theatrical proprietor,
which is not surprising as Harvey was the least theatrical of
men. Business was brisk in the seafood trade. Harvey was
pleased that Ahab dispatched one of his „mates‟ to keep clean
the sidewalk in front of the store, sweeping it every morning
and periodically patrolling it for litter. But his sense of unease
never left him.
“Well, what are you worried about?” asked Ben. “You
think he‟s going to steal business from you?”
The new store had been open for a week and Ben, seated
at the counter having coffee in the mid afternoon, had a tightly
wrapped and taped package of raw shrimp on the counter. The
wrapping paper had a watermark logo of the White Whale,
spouting and frollicking.
“No,” said Harvey. “His business and mine don‟t have no
common ground. Nobody‟s likely to pass by the diner in the
morning and go to the fish store and cook up a nice flounder for
“English have kippers for breakfast. That‟s a fish,” said
“Yeah, well…” said Harvey, dismissing the concept of the
English and kippers. A man might fry up a fish for breakfast if
he were on a back woods fishing trip, but he damn sure
wouldn‟t call it a kipper, and he‟d have a bottle of beer with it.
“So then, what‟s the problem?”
Harvey didn‟t know what the problem was, so he didn‟t
say anything, just went back to making a list of supplies for the
storeroom. He just had a bad feeling about it, which was
shared by Sarah. After hearing Ben describe the performance
she went over to see for herself. She asked one of the clerks
and discovered that Ahab made an „appearance‟ every day in
the morning at ten oclock and in the afternoon at three. She
stayed around for the morning performance and came back
with two pounds of grouper fillet and suspicion.
“Why‟s he doing that? He don‟t need to, them fish sell
themselves,” she said.
“It‟s advertising,” said Ben. “The whole thing, the store,
the names, the decoration is from Moby Dick.”
“What kind of dick?” asked Sarah, giving him a look.
“The book, that‟s the name of the book – Moby Dick – and
it‟s the name of the whale,” Ben said.
“A whale named Moby Dick. I thought whales all had
names like Willie an‟ Shamu. Walt Disney ain‟t going to like
that name for a whale,” she said.
“No,” said Ben after a moment, “No, I guess he wouldn‟t”
“Well, there‟s something else going on. That man didn‟t
cut off his leg to advertise no fish.”
Ben and Harvey thought about that for a moment, then
started speculating. Had „Ahab‟ lost his leg, perhaps in a
logging or motorcycle accident, and then looked around for
some kind of work where it would be an asset instead of a
liability? Did someone else own that store and put an ad in the
newspaper: Wanted, manager of seafood store, must be peg-
legged? After a time they gave it up and went back to work. It
was fun to talk about but, the apprehension of Sarah and
Harvey notwithstanding, the Pequod was only a fish store and
Ahab only it‟s manager.
But that night, across the street in the small room above
the seafood market, Ahab brooded alone, looking out the gritty
flyspecked window at the gray wall of the gray building across
the alley. In the room was a narrow bed and a chest of
drawers, a straight backed chair and a small table, on which
was the plate and silverware he used for his dinner. A few
changes of clothing hung in the small closet, and in the corner
leaned a heavy shafted harpoon, point up, the sharp silver
edges bright with honing.
HARVEY‟S LUNCH AT THE PEQUOD
Harvey only went back in the seafood market one time. He
didn‟t much care for fish, so he had no reason to shop there,
but he wanted to try out the new walk up window and the
instant fish delicacies it advertised. A fish market was no
competition, but a restaurant was another matter.
He closed up the diner as usual at three and instead of
riding his motorcycle home he walked across the busy street
and went up to the window. An attractive pleasant young
woman in the standard white uniform slide the window open as
he approached, and asked for his order. He looked at the menu,
which was chalked neatly on an old fashioned blackboard. They
didn‟t have a lot of items, but what was there sounded pretty
good. Biloxi Mussel Chowder, Oysters a Pelham, Ahab‟s Special
Sardine Sandwich, Barnacle Balls – that last one stopped him.
“Hello Miss, can you tell me what a Barnacle Ball is?”
“Certainly sir. It‟s the tender meat of Atlantic barnacles
oven roasted with minced Vidalia onions and the Captains
secret spices, finely chopped into a delicious spread and served
on a crusty Sea Biscuit, which is baked every morning right
here in the store.”
She said it automatically but cheerfully, and he could see
that she‟d been well trained. He looked past her and saw a
spotless shining kitchen, a little small but from what he could
see very well equipped. Beyond the kitchen he could see
halway and the closed doors of what looked like offices. As he
watched one of them opened and Captain himself came down
the hall, followed by a small neatly dressed man dn two large
gray men smoothly gliding after them. They were indistinct in
shape and difficult to see in the swimming gloom of the
“Can I take your order, sir?” she asked politely.
“No, no I guess not. I just wanted to see what you had.”
“Would you like a menu to take with you?”
“Sure, I‟ll take one.”
He took the folded paper menu and went walked slowly
around the block to the alley behind his diner, and into the
store room. He wasn‟t worried about competition. The working
men and office girls who ordered his chicken gravy biscuit and
cheeseburgers were‟nt likely to want barnacle paste for lunch.
AHAB VISITS HARVEY
Ahab, the good politician that he was, had come to know
everyone up and down the street, including Harvey and Sarah
and Ben. The day after his introduction to the community, part
of which Ben and Harvey had witnessed in the fish market,
Ahab entered the diner, slowly, carefully placing the ivory peg
on the linoleum. The place was mostly empty, close to closing
time; everyone stopped and looked at the tall gaunt man in a
pea jacket and cap as he stumped along the line of counter
stools and stopped before the register, where Harvey was
counting the till. They looked at each other for a moment. Ahab
“I saw you in the market yesterday, with your friend.”
“Yes sir, you did,” said Harvey.
“My name is Ahab, as you may have guessed, and I‟m
here to introduce myself to my new neighbors.”
“Well, my name‟s Harvey, this is Sarah, and we‟re pretty
much it. So you own that big store?”
Ahab eased himself onto a stool.
“You want some coffee or something?” asked Sarah. She
was very interested in the odd character and was staring
frankly at him. She leaned over the counter to get a clo ser look
at his pegged leg.
“You got a rubber thing on your ivory stick!” she said.
There was indeed a pale ivory colored rubber cup
attached to the end of the peg, like the guarding bumper on the
tip of a cane. Ahab smiled broadly at her and said:
“It‟s not just for fashion. Keeps me from denting the
floors, and,” he winked at her “it‟s gives me good traction. For
dancing and footraces and such.”
Sarah gave out an involuntary snort of laughter.
“So,” said Harvey, “You own that place?”
“No sir, I do not. It belongs to the Great Atlantic Seafood
Company, by whom I‟m employed.”
“Employed to do what?”
“What I‟m doing right now, meeting the people and
making sure they know about The Pequod.” He lowered his
voice confidentially. “I‟m a salesman.”
“Ah,” said Harvey. “Well, you got a pretty good routine. I
bet you‟ll get a ton of traffic over there.”
“We expect to, and that should be good for you, too.”
Harvey wiped the counter in front of him.
“We got about all the traffic we need, but thanks.”
“Well, that‟s fine, that‟s just great. Always glad to hear
business is good.”
He gave a slight bow and headed to the door.
“It was good to meet you both, and I‟ll see you again.”
And he was out the door.
“I never seen anyone like that before,” said Sarah.
“He‟s a salesman,” said Harvey.
“They‟s nothing wrong with a salesman,” said Sarah,
“Especially one that‟s got a wooden leg and can make a joke
“Ivory,” said Harvey. “And a ivory legged salesman is still
a salesman. Count the knives and forks and I‟ll count the cash
drawer, a salesman just went out the door.”
“You the stubbornest man when it comes to salesmen.
You‟re down on them and for no reason. You got enough of
them come in here and spend their money.”
And the two went about the routine of cleaning and
closing up the diner, engaged in a ritual conversation that
they‟d had a dozen times before and that finally held no
meaning except the familiar comforting confirmation of their
friendship. Meanwhile, down the street, Ahab was introducing
himself to Matt, the owner of the Magic City Pawn and Loan,
and making a new friend.
AHAB AGAIN AND AGAIN
John C. Reitmann became Ahab the day he was hired by
the Great Atlantic Seafood Company to play the part. He
became Ahab a few weeks later while reading Moby Dick to „get
Reitmann was not the manager of The Pequod. The
manager was a bland pleasant Asian man name Mr. Kwan who
wore a clean white shirt and a paper health department hat
and blended in with the other staff in the market, wrapping up
fish and weighing shrimp. He also ran the store, which was
planned as the first of a chain of seafood stores that would
later add seafood restaurants and specialty gift shops. Mr.
Kwan was hired to open the first of the lot because he had a
miraculously successful history managing markets and
restaurants. He did not have a clue as to why the Greater
Atlantic Seafood Company would open a designer fish market
in the center of a southern state, but he acknowledged that the
idea was brilliant. The Pequod sold a lot of fish, a stunning
amount of fish, and the trend was upward.
Mr. Kwan had moved to Birmingham from Boston to open
the market. All of the other staff were hired locally, mostly
from the University. The GASC had a policy of hiring college
students as they were usually intelligent and, if selected
carefully, clean cut and attractive. But John C. Reitmann, who
was neither clean cut or attractive, was also hired, and had
been moved from Boston, at the expense of the company. He
was what the GASC Human Resources department called a
„specialty‟ employee. He had been selected him as the Pequod
spokesman/marketing personality by the same bright minds
that selected Birmingham as the flagship site for the new
chain. He was the only applicant for the job, but even if there
had been dozens he would have prevailed. His qualifications
were impeccable, and it was not just the prosthetic leg.
Reitman had a the look of brooding intensity tempered with
crusty good humor that GASC picture in their corporate Ahab.
The delicate matter of replacing the high tech prosthesis with
a, well, peg, was of little consequence to Reitmann, making him
a shoo in for the job.
Still, he was not perfect, and the GASC HR recruiter, a
pretty young woman with significant amibition, readily
admitted it. He could be a little too intense. Reitmann had a
spotty background that included a few years playing bit parts
in local theatres in the small communities along the coast of
Massachusetts. He also spent several years as a young man
working in a fish cannery, a few more tending bar on one of the
resort islands of the Maine coast, and several more after that
as owner of a pet store that specialized in aquariums, and
exotic fish. Let it be said that he had, during these periods of
his life, no obsession with fish or seafood or anything maritime.
It was just that he lived on the coast, by the sea, and that‟s the
kind of work that was available.
All would have been well except that he was an alcoholic,
and by the time he was forty he‟d lost the exotic fish store, lost
his plain but faithful wife and was soundly rejected by his two
teenaged children. He discussed it readily with the HR lady. He
explained that he had come to his sense a few years before,
gone to Alcoholics Anonymous and was now fully recovered.
She bought the story. She also bought his explanation of the
loss of his leg, which was a common place auto accident.
He was really good at being Ahab, though. During his
training and orientation period he was steady and cooperative,
good humored about everything, including the fitting of the
peg, which was not, by the way, ivory, but plastic. He learned
the scripts they prepared for him, and made suggestions for
changes that they took. He practiced the slight roll in his walk,
to simulate the gait of a seaman, and took up smoking a pipe.
At the suggestion of his trainers he read Moby Dick. At
first he didn‟t care for it, didn‟t care for it at all. The book was
dull and difficult to understand. But he was dutiful and
motivated, so he plowed ahead with it. He looked for details of
appearance and behavior, and started to copy them, to perfect
his Ahab impression. And at some point the book faded to the
background leaving only Ahab, and then every word was
golden. He couldn‟t get enough of it, reading and rereading
until the words Ahab spoke in the novel were second nature to
him. When the trainers held the final run through, the dress
rehearsal, he stunned them with a searing rendition of Ahab‟s
speech to Starbuck after he rouses the men to his cause. He
said the lines with an eerie intensity that shocked and
disturbed the trainers. He saw this and pulled back. He ended
the monolog with a joke and danced a jig, rotating on his peg.
He saw the relief in their faces and knew he was in.
The next day he flew to Birmingham and started his new
MORE AHAB HISTORY
John never told anyone exactly how he lost his leg. Very
few people had the nerve to ask, thought [recruiters name RN]
did so without a trace of hesitation or concern for his feelings.
“So, how‟d you lose it?” she asked without preface or
introduction. He knew, of course, what she was asking.
“In an accident,” he replied. That‟s what he always said,
with a touch of sadness. Very few people, in fact only one,
every pursued the matter. That person, a drunken woman,
wouldn‟t give up on it, until he told her tersely:
“In a boating accident.”
That wasn‟t true. He‟d lost his leg in a garden variety
traffic accident, in which he was not at fault, and in fact, not in
danger of losing his life. He‟d simply been sitting in the wrong
place at the wrong time driving the wrong kind of car.
But at that period of his life, a particularly difficult one, he
chose not to reveal how ordinary the loss had been. He chose a
simple dignified and evasive answer that hinted at a more
exotic injury. Perhaps in a war, or in a mountain climbing
accident, or through a gunshot wound. Anything but as the
result of a garbage truck hitting his Geo Metro.
RN looked through some papers and said:
“Yes, so I see. I bet you don‟t drive a Metro anymore.”
“How did you know that?” he asked, somewhat unnerved.
“Accident report, and medical records,” she said. “You
don‟t go to work for the GASC unless you check out all the way
to the ground. Besides, we needed the medical stuff to fit you
with a new prosthesis.”
“Well, uh,” he said, “the old one works just fine, and I‟m
used to it. They‟re not easy to fit, you know.”
“Oh, I know, I know,” she said. “I‟ve done quite a lot of
research on it for the Ahab project. He‟d lost a leg, you know.”
“Yes, I‟d heard.”
“That‟s why we recruited you for this job. That‟s one of
the special qualifications that exempts you from the regular
qualifications, like a college degree or experience.”
“Of course,” he said. He was now considerably unnerved.
“Listen, John,” she said, leaning toward him across the
desk, looking at him intently. “How would you feel about
replacing your prosthesis with a different kind?”
“Say, an ivory peg. You know, pirate style. It‟s what Ahab
John was silent, slightly stunned at the image of himself
in a pirate suit with a peg leg.
“I won‟t have to wear a parrot, will I?”
RN laughed, a silvery pleasant sound.
“No, of course not. Or dress up as a pirate. But you will
have to dress so people can see you peg. Otherwise how would
they know you‟re Captain Ahab, and spokes mean for The
Pequod line of fish markets and restaurants. See what I
John did indeed see, and for a brief moment he paused
and looked within himself. There was something immensely
attractive about defining himself as something. Something
clear and unique and of value. Of having a place in the world.
Even if it was as spokesman for a fish market. But that was
putting a bad face on it. He was going into marketing.
“I guess that‟s ok. If it‟s for the good of the company.”
“That‟s an anSwer I like, John. Or should I call you
Captain?” she laughed her laugh again.
“The pegs not really ivory, you know,” she said, coming
around the desk to shake his hand. “Testing showed ivor y is
too soft, and it‟s really hard to get. We tried baleen, which is
much more authentic – it‟s what Ahab wore in the book – but
it‟s impossible to get, even with our connections.”
She took his arm, and guided him down the hall.
“Let‟s go one down to the wardrobe department and see
what kind of uniform they‟ve cooked up for you.”
“Sure,” said John. “It‟s for the good of the company.
AHAB‟S CORPORATE TRAINING
Life on the Main Campus, as it was called, was very good,
though a little tense. He lived in co mpany housing, which was
in fact a very pleasantly furnished apartment in an attractive
building full of apartments that housed visiting staff. The Great
Atlantic Seafood Corporation was large. At the time John was
there he met accountants from Germany, canning plant
managers from California and fishing fleet captains from all
over the globe, from Norway to Japan. It was a sprawling
complex organism, and John was just a small part of it.
He sat in the general orientation classes for several days,
with other new recruits to the company and was introduced to
GASC by an attractive young woman from Human Resources
named Teresa. She provided the overall structure of the
company, the personnel regulations he would abide by, an
explanation of his benefits, and introduced presentations by
representatives of the major departments. He had not yet been
fitted with his new GASC approved prosthesis (he was not
ready to call it his „peg‟) and so mixed normally with the other
inductees. Most of them were young, much younger than John,
attractive and well dressed. He felt old and shabby, though
everyone was friendly to him. When the presentation of
Corporate Security started the man sitting next to him leaned
close and whispered: „Watch out for these guys. I heard they‟re
John paid closed attention to the two men at the front of
the group, one talking, his eyes scanning over the audience,
the other operating a small projector that illustrated by graph
and pie chart the organization of their department. Both men
were large, with close cropped silver-gray hair, the color and
sleekness of the fur on a , though doubtlessly much less
pleasant to touch. They wore gray suits and had dead looking
black eyes that seemed to be immobile, incapable of moving in
their sockets. They turned their heads, their thick necks and
shoulder toward whatever they looked at. They were as alike
as peas in a pod, or better, fish in a tank, as they looked cold
blooded and slick. And dangerous. John understood what his
neighbor was talking about. The security men sent a chill over
the entire room. John leaned back to his neighbor to say „Yeah,
I see what you mean‟ and drew the immediate stare of both
men, which silenced him instantly and sent a brief unsettling
wave of apprehension through him. A minute later they were
replaced by a warm friendly woman from the benefits
department who explained the generosity of the Corporation.
The security men moved quickly and silently from the room and
everyone was relieved, including Teresa, the Human Resources
John was on the Campus for three weeks, and came to
appreciate his new opportunity. Everywhere he was treated
with respect and courtesy, particularly by the Corporate
Marketing staff. These were the men and women who had
conceived and developed the Pequod concept, and they were
rightfully proud of it. And they were proud of John for his part
in it, and even prouder the day he came back from the [type of
doctor] with his new ivory colored peg. It was an
uncomfortable set up after his modern prosthesis. More
importantly, he was disturbed by the attention it drew. He‟d
been given specially tailored pants to wear which fit snugly
into the leather harness that secured the peg to his leg. The
ivory-bright hexagonal peg was wide at the top then tapered
slightly to a stout blunt slightly rounded tip, and exposed to the
gaze of every passerby. It jolted him when he walked, and his
back already hurt from it. But when he came into the Marketing
offices and received a fierce and genuine round of app lause, he
began to feel better. And throughout the day he was bathed in
a warm broth of approval and even affection. By the end of the
week he was proud of the bizarre contraption and relished the
attention it brought him. He was becoming a GASC man.
[INSERT SOMETHING HERE TO BREAK UP THE AHAB SCENES]
The day after the Grand Opening Ahab took a stroll
downtown. It was part of the elaborate marketing campaign
planned by the faceless nameless minions of the GASC. The
goal was the creation of a corporate representative, similar to
that of other powerful corporations, such as McDonald‟s and
Anhaeier-Busch. Ronald McDonald and the Budweiser
Clydesdales had become cultural icons, as recognizable as,
well, Colonel Sanders. That was the plan for Capt Ahab. From
the small beginning in Birmingham, Alabama would grow a
great national wave of Ahabs, officiating at the openings of Car
Washes, appearing in local Fourth of July and Fish Day parades
on great floats constructed to resemble a whaling boat.
Advertising campaigns disguised as charitable events would be
held – The Ahab Foundation for Preservation of the Marine
Habitat, with fund drives and dancing White Whale pins with
the caption I‟m For Ahab and Clean Seas! presented to the
school children who gave up their nickels and dimes for the
cause. Sports Events – The Captain Ahab Whale Bowl for
college football. The Ahab Open tennis tournament. The
aspirations of the marketing architects were boundless, and
our Ahab, the first Ahab, was the tip of the spear (or harpoon)
that would soon pierce the nation.
The Prime Ahab aka John C. Reitmann knew all this. And,
like an advance scout for a great campaigning army who had
landed behind enemy lines, he began softly and with caution.
The day after the Grand Opening he just took a walk, smoking
his pipe and rolling along with his seamans gait. His exotic garb
and ivory leg drew plenty of attention, and he waved and
returned greetings with gruff good humor, as if he had been
dwelling on some painful memory but the sight of you drove
those thoughts away and lifted his spirits. Reitmann knew that
he was the first of all of the Ahabs, and he felt the weight of
responsibility. He knew that in some future training room his
performance would be reviewed and held up for example to the
legions of secondary Ahabs. And he performed magnificently.
But at night it was different. At six o‟clock in the evening ,
after the mandatory post closing meeting at which Ahab
reviewed the days activity, read out the total daily sales figure
and anointed the „mate of the day‟, he clumped up the narrow
dark stairs to his small room. The GASC marketers had insisted
he live on the site, and were surprised when he did not resist at
all, in fact, welcomed the requirement and suggested that the
room be outfitted like the cabin of a whaler, cramped and
shaped to fit the framework of a sailing ship, with wooden
cabinets and a hammock. The marketers joyously agreed. And
the cabin perfectly suited Reitmann, the Prime Ahab. He sat at
the small table and ate his dinner of hard tack and fish, every
variety of fish that was available from the market below, and
drank his grog. Grog is rum, and Reitmann told himself that he
drank it in the evening for the sake of completeness, of the
total immersion of himself, Reitmann, into himself, Ahab. He
counted it first of the reasons why he was so successful as
Ahab, and in a way he was correct. The nightly rum, more each
night than the night before, propelled the monomaniacal
obsession with Moby Dick, the book, and later, Moby Dick the
Whale. As had Ahab in the book he hid his obsession from the
sponsors of his voyage. He presented the face of reason, and, if
a trace of dourness marked his demeanor, all the better. It
made him seem more in character.
But it‟s vital to remember what that character was: Ahab,
driven to punch through the pasteboard surface of events to
the  behind them. The tormented driven symbol of hubris
might not have been the best corporate symbol. And thus, the
ignorance of Americans, the failure of our education system
visits its revenge upon us. No one in the endless gray halls of
the Great Atlantic Seafood Company had ever read Moby Dick.
They drew their impression of Ahab from the general cultural
consciousness of sea captains gained from movies and
television – Gilligans Skipper, master of the Minnow, the
Simpsons Sea Captain, The Groton Fisherman, animated in
television commercials, Disney versions of Capt. Kidd and
Blackbeard, sanitized and romantic and finally, under it all,
decent human beings. Oh the folly.
So at night the Prime Ahab studied his role, and what a
role it was.
One of the first „mates of the month‟ was a young college
girl working in the catfish section, a monochromatic girl named
Christine. It was, of course, the same Chr istine who had
recently broken the heart of young Martin, though she did not
yet know the extent of his wound. She had not seen him since
packing her belongings and moving into an apartment with two
other girls, both of whom happened to be „mates‟ at the new
seafood market that was opening up. As she was attractive and
clean cut, though monochromatic, she was hired without
incident and worked between classes and on Saturday wiping
down the catfish, making sure that they were sufficiently cold
and fresh looking, and being pleasant to the customers. It was
easy for her and when Mr. Kwan received three remarks of
praise about her in one afternoon he designated her „mate of
the month‟. This entitled her to a pound of free shrimp and a
citation presented to her by Capt. Ahab. She thought being
around the old peg legged man would „creep her out‟, but in
fact he was quite pleasant, and popular with most of the young
people. He didn‟t pretend to be Ahab when there were no
customers around, though he could get into character very
quickly, and he could exaggerate his „Ahab-ness‟ into parody,
which made them all laugh. But never in front of the
customers. He was strictly professional and the others
respected him for that.
In general she found life in the fish market pleasant,
though she smelled like fish at the end of her shift, and she
quickly lost her taste for any kind of seafood. She developed an
intense appetite for beef, in particular for ribeye steaks, which
increased her food expenditures as well as her cholesterol
level, if medical experts are to be believed, and threw her into
something of an ethical crisis. She had been a turnip toting
vegetarian for two years, and the new infatuation with meat
put her on the losing end of a compulsion for the first time in
her life, and it destroyed her reputation in the veggie
community. Otherwise the job was good.
She missed Martin, though she didn‟t exactly know why.
In long talks with her roommates, sisters named Shelley and
Kelley, she described the long evenings in which nothing was
said, not a word. Martine was capable of sitting for hours
looking into space, as if her were in some kind of Zen or Vulcan
trance state, then grab his pencil and write without pausing for
another hour. At the end of these sessions he would have
beautifully written poems or essays or short stories. Martin
was like the utility infielder on a championship baseball team,
able to play equally well at all the positions. For his talent and
energy Christine loved him. She forgave him the way he looked,
his shortness, swarthiness, his unfashionable dress and
haircut. And early in the relationship, before it actually was a
relationship, she gave him a chance and discovered that he was
a surprisingly ardent lover. At which Kelley said:
“I can‟t imagine you doing it with him. He‟s such a little
Shelley and Kelley, who were both tall, blonde, attractive
and clean cut, were never „mate of the day‟ because they were
such unpleasant bitches, both of them. Christine took this in
stride. She accepted most people for who they were, and didn‟t
worry if they were 
“No, he was not,” she answered. “He was actually quite a
The kids that worked at The Pequod had fallen into the
habit of using „seafood slang‟. It was such a rich vocabulary
that it was catching on at the University, turning up in
conversations and in the internet chatrooms and newsgroups.
That‟s how these things start.
Anyway, Christine went on, at the beginning, when he
was courting, he‟d been much more articulate. It was the long
discussions of literature and art that won her over.
“You‟re a sucker for a smart guy,” said Shelley, using a
seafood slang triple entendre.
“Yes, I suppose I am,” she said. “It was so interesting to
talk to him. When he started talking about how words have
meanings independent of how their used in converstation and
writing, and how that meant a whole second tier of meaning…”
She got lost trying to explain it,
Kelley and Shelley looked at each other and
simultaneously wrinkled their noses in contempt.
“You‟re such a geek, no wonder he harpooned you,” said
Kelley. “You never had a chance.”
Christine said nothing. She was not offended; she
understood how the sisters were and had the gift of looking
into the future, where she saw failed marriages and stalled
careers for the both of them. They were not likable and they
would be a life time finding out that unlikable people have
miserable lives. If they ever found it out. Christine was
something of a prodigy in her own right.
“No,” she said, “I guess not”.
She was remembering how much she enjoyed, loved the
early months of their time together, and how much she
suffered during the last months, when Martin withdrew deeper
and deeper into himself. She could see him in there but
couldn‟t get him to come out. Finally the only time they spoke
was when she provoked him into arguments, and she couldn‟t
stand to do that.
So she went to work every day, and to class, and in the
evenings sat with the sisters talking and drinking herbal tea, in
every way the picture of an ordinary college girl living an
ordinary life. What she didn‟t understand, and had no way of
knowing, was that she‟d signed on for a voyage on The Pequod,
and it had just begun.
THE MARBLE APPEARS
One Monday morning in early November the residents and
visitors to downtown Birmingham were amazed to find, in the
vacant lot across from The Pequod, the same vacant lot owned
by Harvey, an enormous slab of white stone. It was massive, at
least seven feet high, twelve feet long and ten feet deep. It was
not a boulder, not a natural rock, as it was a parallelipiped,
which is another fancier way of describing a shoe box shaped
solid object. It had been carved from the earth in one piece and
presumably transported throught the empty streets of
Birmingham and laid gently in the exact center of the small lot.
Exactly how the object was transported was the subject
of much discussion. Discounting the surprisingly large minority
that believed some kind of supernatural intervention was
responsible for the appearance of the rock, the consensus was
that the task was impossible. The rock was too heavy and large
to move without special equipment, cranes and derricks and
massive huge wheeled transport vehicles that would have
scarcely had room on the streets to manuever. There were no
scars on the sidewalks, and no tire tracks in the barren soil of
the lot. No trace that the stone had been transported by any
It was suggested that it was laid into place from above,
suspended from a helicopter and gently flown through the air
over the sullen streets and between the tall gray buildings. This
was dismissed by most; it was clear that the stone was just too
heavy. A helicopter might lift a car or even a truck, but they
were mostly air surrounded by sheet metal. This was solid
rock, without an ounce of fat, said one bystander. You could
wear out a lot of helicopters trying to lift it.
The source and nature of the stone was also a mystery
until Ben Compson came to the diner for his morning coffee and
pineapple croissant and found a large crowd gathered on the
sidewalk. He could see the top of the block of stone over the
heads of the bystanders. He pushed his way through and went
right up to the wall of rock and gouged at it with his pocket
“Alabama White marble,” he said.
The pronouncement was repeated back and forth through
the crowd, spreading out to the back edge of it. Someone called
“What‟s Alabama White marble?”
“Marble that‟s quarried down near Sylacauga. It‟s white,
it‟s from Alabama, so it‟s called…”
“Alabama White!” the crowd joined in, as if it were a
television game show.
Ben walked slowly around the piece, looking it over
carefully, pausing occasionally to poke the knife into a crevise
“Here,” he said, “Someone give me a hand up.”
Two of the crowd came forward and made a cradle of
their joined hands. Ben stepped into it and they flung him up
the face of the marble wall. He pulled himself up and stood on
top of the mable slab. He looked down at the crowd and then
around at the street and buildings, enjoying the different point
of view. As he looked across at Harvey‟s storeroom building he
noticed a small square window up high and to the back. In the
window was the unexpected face of Earl the drifter; Ben caught
his eye and for a moment they looked at each other, Ben blank
faced and surprised, the old man serene and amused, his rough
weathered face dark against the flow of white hair and beard.
Ben tore his eyes away and knelt to inspect the top of the
stone. When he was done he slid over the edge, hung for a
moment and dropped to the ground.
“So what‟s the verdict, doc?” someone shouted, and the
“Good carving rock,” he said. “Somebody‟s got the start of
a big statue.”
He pushed back through the crowd and went into the
diner. Harvey was leaning on the counter reading the sports
page. It was a slack time of the morning, after the breakfast
crowd and before the lunch rush.
“How‟s them T igers,” Ben asked. Harvey was an Auburn
“Good, this year,” he said.
“Well, war eagle,” said Ben, who was not a fan of any
football team, and liked to needle Harvey about his
preoccupation. Fan baiting is a dangerous business in Alabama,
but Ben had been teasing Harvey for years. Harvey just looked
at him, and poured him some coffee.
“Where‟d you get the big rock,” asked Ben.
“Not my rock.”
“It‟s in your lot.”
“Still not my rock.”
“I wonder how it got there.”
“Sarah swears it‟s a miracle,” said Harvey.
“She might be right. I can‟t see how a block of mable that
big got moved into that spot.”
“So it‟s marble?”
“Sure is, and a pretty fine big piece it is, too. Good for
“Hah,” said Harvey, turning back to the sports page.
“You don‟t seem terrible upset about all this.”
“You going to do anything about it?”
“Nothing to be done. It‟ll just sit there. Maybe one
morning we‟ll wake up and it will be gone, maybe relocated
over to a classier neighborhood, maybe over to Mountain
Ben was laughing.
“Well, I guess you‟re right. It‟s not breaking any laws
sitting there. I sure hope the City of Birmingham doesn‟t get
the idea it‟s a public nuisance or a tourist attraction, or
something else that needs to be taxed.”
Harvey didn‟t rise to the bait. He just turned the page of
the newspaper and kept reading. Ben laid a dollar on the
counter and started to the door. He looked back as he went out,
but Harvey was still reading, and didn‟t look up. Ben gently
shut the door and walked on up the sidewalk, past the looming
white block of stone.
While Christine was thriving at The Pequod Martin was
coming apart at the seams. He stopped going to class, which
was not that much of an impediment to his education. He still
read the books and wrote the papers because that was what he
did: Learn things and create other things. He was conscientious
about completing the class requirements, and when he realized
he never ever wanted to attend another session of his Ethnic
Themes in American Literature class, he sat down with the
syllabus, went down the list of course requirements and wrote
all of the required papers. In lieu of the final exam he wrote a
comprehensive review of Asian American fiction, which he
admired to a degree, and attached it with a note that said: „Use
this for my final exam. I won‟t be seeing you again.‟ The
instructor, though angry at first, knew enough about Martin to
read the treatise, and found what he expected: a professional
quality academic paper, suitable for submission to a prestigious
literary journal. He spitefully gave Martin a „C‟.
Meanwhile, Martin, having taken care of his course work
so that he would not have to sit within touching distance of
other students, didn‟t give a damn. He was entering a new and
terrible phase of his life and had other things on his mind. It
would not be fair to say that Christine‟s desertion caused this
metamorphosis. There was already a ground swell change in
his thinking underway. His reticence and withdrawal were a
symptom of this, and, to look at it another way, Martin forced
to her leave. In any case, it makes no sense and does no good
to assign a culprit to a cataclysmic emotional event that was
painful to both parties. And it was painful.
Martin, after a few weeks, was able to bear the solitude of
his apartment. He spent long hours there, sleeping on the
couch, reading and writing, and he soon realized that he lived
in one room, and had no need for the bedroom or kitchen. He
made plans to abandon the expensive apartment with people
that he could sense on boths sides and above and below him.
He knew they were there, and even if they weren‟t he could
sense their spore. Or thought he could, which was just as
disturbing to him. So he began to walk the downtown streets
looking for a room, and single room with a bath, perhaps in a
warehouse or other isolated building. In fact, the room that
Earl had rented from Harvey would have been perfect. It so
perfectly suited him that if Martin had known about it he would
have fought Earl for the right to live there. And lost badly, too.
Martin was out-classed by the old hobo when it came to
violence, and probably a number of other practical survival
He had learned to be alone, and even came to love it, but
he continued to feel a disinclination, a reluctant to talk to
people, or be close enough to smell them. He did not like to be
inside a room with others, regardless of size. He gave up his
visits to the Starbucks. He stopped buying groceries; instead he
got his meals at the portable outdoor hot dog stands that
trolled through the park. When he tired of that he tried the new
delicacies dispensed thought a „walk-up‟ window at The
Pequod. It was another innovative marketing technique. At the
far end of the building that faced the parking lot, near the alley,
was a window through which you could order fish-on-a-stick,
or catfish balls, or shrimp-paste-pitas. There were a few
concrete picnic tables and benches at which to eat them. It was
made to order for Martin, though he took his calamari and chips
down the street and into the park. A merciful fate arranged
that Christine worked at the opposite end of the store, and
Martin never saw her in the gloom behind the clean cut and
attractive mate that took his order. He had not seen her since
she left, and the wound, though healing, was apt to bleed at
Over the days Martin because accustomed to spending a
few minutes each day with Earl in the park. He found that he
felt better after talking to the old con artist. Martin, though no
expert on life in the street, was smart. He recognized the
manipulations and mind games the Earl played on him, and
stood still for it because it was the only manipulation that
would have worked. It was a kind of reverse manipulation. Earl
was inevitably straight forward and direct, brutally so. If he
thought something about Martin, then he said it. He punched
through the transparent barrier Martin had constructed around
AHAB SEES THE WHITE STONE
The morning that the giant white marble parallelepiped
appeared in the vacant lot across from The Pequod a team of
analysts were in town from Delaware to assess the progress of
the store. There were three of them, all bland smooth young
men in dark gray suits with slick hair and ready smiles. Their
names were Mr. Johnson, Mr. Cossini and Mr. Drennan, but they
were as alike as peas in a pod. One was a financial analyst, the
other a marketing analyst and the third indistinguisable GASC
minion was a sector analyst, something that he was unable to
explain to Kelley or Shelley when he met them. They turned up
their considerable charm, asking him questions, touching his
arm and using all the other body language seduction signals
passed on to them from other girls when they were thirteen.
They didn‟t really want anything from him; they were just
practicing their hunting skills the way kittens work out on a
The visit was going well, very well indeed. The books
looked great, the new product line (meaning the different kinds
of fish-on-a-stick) were outperforming expectation, and the
marketing campaign, well, it was much more successful than
they had dared hoped. Name recognition in the target area was
thirty seven percent above projections, and the Prime Ahab, as
they called him to his face, was all they could ask for and more.
The GASC management team shook his hand, one after the
other, expressing their gratitude and admiration. Ahab was
appropriately modest, then relieved the solemnity with his
spinning peg-leg jig and the Jolly Roger song, with the cleaned
up lyrics. Every thing was just f ine, even though they lined up
at the window, all of them, the analysts, Mr. Kwan, Ahab and
the white shirted mates, looking out the window at the great
By this time, which was mid afternoon of the first day, the
crowd had dispersed. But there were always a few gawkers in
the lot. The GASC team peered across. Mr. Johnson said:
“Well, we didn‟t plan for this, but I don‟t see how it can
“Yes,” said Mr. Drennan. “It might even improve foot
traffic in the area.”
So they all turned away from the window and started back
to Mr. Kwans office for more analysis, all but Ahab who stayed
looking out the window. He agreed. How could it hurt them?
But there was something about the great white block of marble
that made him uneasy. Something, yes, but he couldn‟t pin it
down. After a moment he went back to the office to discuss the
next promotional campaign – the introduction of a holiday
called Fish Day. It was not a bad idea. They planned to link it to
the National Heart Association‟s Drive For Healthy Hearts; it
was a natural partnership. Everyone liked it. [more]
THE WHITENESS OF THE STONE
It was pretty damn white.
Earl looked down from his window at the great pale stone.
It was night, and there was no streetlight to shine on the lot,
and yet the stone was visible, as if glowing from within.
Even at this hour, after midnight, there were spectators to
the stone, as if it were going to perform, or was perhaps an
exotic exhibit in a zoo. Earl could see two men sitting on
upturned paint cans, smoking and passing a paper bag back
and forth, from which they drank. He recognized the bigger
one, a welder from Mississippi they called Pudge, though he
was rail thin. Earl wondered if there might be a migration from
the small city of homeless men that existed under the
Interstate, a few blocks from Linn Park. But after thinking for a
moment, decided that there would not. The lot was too far
away from the churches and missions, and prime panhandling
street corners. Too far away from Linn Park itself, which is the
social center for those without living rooms and televisions,
men too poor to spend evenings in a bar. Pudge and his buddy
were just sight seeing.
Earl didn‟t call down to them. He didn‟t want to talk
tonight, though ordinarily he would have joined them, smoking
his great cigars, speculating on the reason for the stones
existence and the practical matters to lifting and moving it. He
had some ideas about these topics, but tonight chose to keep
them to himself.
He was just enjoying the monolithic grace of the stone,
the huge block intact and opaque as the wrapping on a gift,
giving no clue as to what lay inside. Earl looked at the stone
and did not see it; he saw what it might be. He looked at it and
the marble fell away to reveal a swan, graceful neck and broad
snowy back. He saw an abstract conjunction of block and
curving human limb, the human angle joined to machine, like a
twenty-first century centaur. He saw the body of a woman
reclining on a broad divan, voluptuous and pale, as
unattainable as a goddess. He saw the possibilities.
As he was about to turn away and get a few hours of
sleep he noticed another figure on the edge of the lot, rooted to
the ground, observing the stone. It was Ben Compson. Earl
looked for a moment, unsurprised to see him there, then went
to sleep, not thinking about Ben or anyone else, just dreaming
of celestial blocks of ice clouded like marble, cool to the touch,
beautiful and eternal.
EARL AND THE STONE
Without thinking about it too much Earl had decided to
take matters into his own hands and make something of the
rock. He wasn‟t sure yet what it would be, but the act of
possession had already taken place in his mind. He thought of
Ben Compson. He dismissed him. Compson‟s technical
competence might be greater than his, and Compson might
claim prior right of ownership through his friendship with
Harvey, the owner of the earth on which the great prize lay.
But Earl didn‟t care. With the easy spurious logic of the
narcissist he decided that he was destined to transform the raw
marble into a monument. He didn‟t know the shape of the
monument yet, or what it would be a monument to. This
troubled him not at all. He was called to the task, and he would
Earl climbed up to the top of the great stone, his chisels
and hammer dangling from his belt in a leather pouch. He
walked along the edge of it, stooping occasionally to peer
closely at the white surface, scraping it with his pocket knife.
Then he stood in the very center of it, still as the stone itself,
eyes turned inward as he tried to picture whatever might be
trapped in the stone, waiting to be revealed. A moment or two
passed. He came to himself and found that he was looking
across the street to the seafood market, The Pequod, and in
fact, specifically at the wide sign with its Victorian lettering and
more specifically at the painting of the whale, the white whale
that was plowing through the foam, spewing white water in it‟s
spume. The epiphany occurred. He began to carve away the
stone with his puny steel chisel, one small piece at a time,
unhurried, confident, serene. In his mind he saw it already: The
HARVEY, BEN AND THE STONE
Harvey assumed it was going to be a grandiose
advertisement for The Pequod, and he didn‟t really care. He had
not concerned himself with the whole phenomenon,
understanding immediately on seeing the enormous block that
he would not be able to divine its purpose, or the mechanics of
its delivery. He understood that the location of it, on his newly
purchased property, was only an accident, and not part of the
design of passion play that was developing. He was a
bystander, regardless of property rights, and understood this
from the beginning, with the wisdom of the humble man who
saw himself in proportion to the grand scale and sweep of
events. He did not have the hubris to assume he was the
purpose of the delivery, or the custodian or steward of it. He
was as much a spectator as anyone.
Ben, on the other hand, felt a sense of outrage when he
found that the old drifter had taken possession of the marble
by squatters rights, and had already begun to carve away at
the blunt edges of the stone. And as he saw the first few
markings made by Earl, the scratchings to indicate sections of
rock to be removed, he immediately understood what the stone
was to be come.
“The son of a bitch is making a statue of Moby Dick,” he
said furiously to Harvey.
Harvey continued his preparation for the serving of the
midday meal, slicing tomatoes and chopping lettuce. Sarah was
placidly refilling the plastic squeeze bottles of catsup and
“Do you think he was hired by that fish place?” Ben
asked, looking slantwise across the street. There were several
Pequod employees on the sidewalk watching Earl, who was
perched on the edge of the block, daintily tapping the chisel
with a small lead mallet.
“I don‟t know,” said Harvey, “but I doubt it.”
“Earl ain‟t been hired by anybody for a long time,” Sarah
added. “He‟s un-hirable.”
“That‟s the truth,” said Ben, pacing around the diner. He
went out the door to look, and came right back in.
“He‟s got a crowd watching him and he‟s putting on a
show!” Ben said, and ran back outside.
It wasn‟t often that the unflappable sculptor displayed
this much confusion. He prided himself on taking things in
stride, and he was rarely flustered. Harvey was not exactly
pleased by his friends discomfort; at least he tried not to be,
and told himself he was only interested. But he set down his
chopping knife and, apron still on, wiping his hands on a snowy
new dishcloth, left the diner and walked down to the vacant lot,
or rather not so vacant lot.
There were a dozen men and women standing before the
great stone. Earl was atop it, standing, addressing the small
crowd. He held the chisel in one hand and the mallet in the
other, and he was delivering a sermon on whales. Ben stood at
the edge of the lot, fists clenching and unclenching as he
listened. Harvey stood next to him and together they listened
to the Sermon:
“There‟s been more than a few words said on whales.
There‟s been more than a few books, including the Book of
Books, the Bible, which is the word of God, and in that book
there‟s the story of a man named Jonah.”
“Listen to that,” Ben hissed. “He‟s stealing the whole
thing from Melville!”
“From who?” Harvey asked.
“Herman Melville! The guy that wrote Moby Dick, the story
of the White Whale. Captain Ahab!”
“Oh,” said Harvey, not completely understanding. Did he
mean the new Capt. Ahab, that fish market spokesman, or the
Capt. Ahab in that book.
“He‟s just paraphrasing the chapters Melville threw in
there about whales and whaling and religion and everything!”
Harvey was among the 99.9 percent of Americans who
had not read Moby Dick, and never would do so. He had no idea
of what Ben was talking about, and, though he respected him
as a friend of many years, and trusted his judgment on many
matters, he could not understand what he was upset about.
Except, of course, a crusty drifter was carving the big stone,
the mother of all stones, and he, Ben, was just a scoffer in the
crowd. Well, he thought, anyone would be upset about that.
More and more people joined the crowd and Earl was
impressive. He‟d delivered a few sermons in his day, and this
one was, in fact, just a variation on a sermon from his
repertoire, the one about Greed. In that one Greed is the
demon that confronts us all and can, like the whale that
swallowed Jonah, swallow us. But faith can save us. Earl just
brought the whale into a little early, and the sermon went
Ben listened to it all, but Harvey, after a few minutes,
turned to go back to work. As he was leaving he saw, across
the street, in the shadow of the awning, the tall obscure figure
of Ahab. Harvey could not see his face clearly but he sensed
that Ahab was listening intently.
Well sure, he thought, he‟s got an interest in this statue
and this sermon. After all, he‟s Ahab.
AHAB RECOGNIZES THE WHALE
Ahab had seen the dramatic old fool around town. He
didn‟t know his name until he heard someone, one of the Linn
Park bums, call up to him:
“Look out, Earl, that ain‟t no surf board you‟re ridin‟”
That got a laugh from the crowd, though not from Ahab.
That morning, leaving the market for his morning stroll around
the downtown streets he glanced over at the stone. There were
always a few people lounging around, scratching at the blank
white wall. He expected to see graffiti before long; in fact he
was surprised that the spray can kids had not found it. He
started down the side walk, then noticed that there was a man
on top of the block, sitting with his legs dangling over the edge.
He was leaned a bit, and was hitting a metal spike with a
hammer, chipping off pieces of rock. He recognized him; the old
man with the cigar who always seemed to be at the center of a
band of ragged street people, always talking, puffing out
smoke like a locomotive.
Ahab walked slowly back to the store and stood against
the brick wall, in the shade of the awning. He watched as Earl
chipped and scratched at the edge of the rock, keeping up a
bantering conversation with the men below. A crowd was
slowly gathering. Ahab saw Ben Compson pass by, and
recognized him also, as one of the many downtown residents,
people he saw everyday but had not as yet spoken to. Ben
stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Earl on top of the
white boulder. He watched for a moment as Earl pushed
himself up and walked to the other end of the rock, found his
leather pouch and fished out a cigar. He bit the end of it off,
spitting it behind him into the lot, struck a match and lighted it.
Trailing clouds of smoke he returned to the near edge and
resumed his chipping. Ben stalked away down the sidewalk and
into the diner.
Earl was carving the marble, making a statue, though he‟d
be a long time at it with that slender chisel working against the
mass of stone. But he was making something, yes, something.
Quite a crowd had gathered, and Earl, looking around, had
evidently decided to take a break. He laid his cigar on the edge
of the rock, and stood up with hammer and chisel in hand. He
looked down at the crowd and made a sweeping gesture. Then
he started to talk.
Ahab recognized it right away, though it was paraphrased
and bastardized. He knew it from his poring over the battered
copy of Moby Dick that he read each night, recognized it as the
sermon Father Mapple delivered in the Whaleman‟s Chapel.
Then he knew what it was, knew he was witnessing the birth of
a great statue of the White Whale, to be accomplished by the
blasphemous old man with simple steel. He staggered back
against the wall, his chest tight and face flushed, his heart
pounding. A solid massive likeness of the Whale across the
road from him every day and every night. He threw his vision
into the future and saw it completed, the perfect likeness of the
beast, mocking him with his crooked jaw and wrinkled brow,
and the scalloped flukes waving, frozen and dynamic in stone.
He thought of the nights he would spend alone in his cabin,
blind and furious knowing that the icon of the monster rested
for eternity scant yards away from him.
He forced his breathing to slow and returned to the here
and now, forced his fevered brain to calmness and his eye to
look at what was before it: a great piece of rock scratched at by
a vagrant. It was no White Whale, and likely would never be
one. The sculptor‟s skill was needed for the enterprise, not the
random slash of the amateur. The old man continued on with
his sermon, and Ahab calmed even more. The sermon was not
that of Father Mapple, not exactly, though they treated the
same themes and used the metaphor of the whale, but no, it
was a different sermon.
Ahab saw that Ben Compson had returned, with his friend
the cook from the diner, wiping his hands on a towel as he
listened to Earl. Ben was still agitated, dancing from foot to
foot, but the cook, a compact graying man with a bland
pleasant face, seemed indifferent. After a few minutes he went
back into the diner, leaving Ben to strain and seethe.
Then the sermon ended and Ahab forced himself to
resume his walk, seeking the comfort of routine. He went to
the end of the block and stood on the busy side walk, greeting
the passersby, calling out to those whose name‟s he knew,
smiling and waving to those he did not. He moved on to the
next corner and the next, crossing the town, then re-crossing it
until he entered the Park and sat for a while on the wall near
the monument of the Confederate Soldier. Ahab looked up to it,
then to the statue of the solder from the Great War. Then he
looked down between the buildings even though he knew he
was blocks away from the market and the lot across from it and
the beast that was being slowly born before his eyes.
MARTIN SEES THE STONE
Meanwhile, Martin was busy looking for a place to stay.
He liked what they were calling the „Loft Section‟, which ran
along Morris Avenue, but quickly learned that acquiring cachet
had jacked up the prices for apartments in the gray crumbling
neighborhood. He kept on looking, scouting up and down the
streets and alleys, keeping his eyes open for a „room for rent‟
sign. All he needed was a space to be in, a bed, light, heat and
a water hole to clean himself at. He had, in his mind, reduced
his wants down to those of an animal. Almost an animal. He
also wanted a refrigerator and stove so he wouldn‟t have to eat
his meals on the street, standing on the sidewalk or in an alley,
wiping his greasy fingers on his pants. He was, after all, still a
It was a few days after Earl started work on the sculpture
that Martin happened to turn down that street and stumble on
the lot and the massive stone that dominated it. There had
been so many spectators pass through that the weeds had been
worn down to nubs. On the other hand, most of the trash was
picked up. Earl insisted on it, standing high on the top of the
stone every day, looking down and calling out, pointing when
someone dropped a sandwich wrapper, or even a cigarette
butt. A sort of impromptu bleachers had sprung up, made of
turned up paint cans, wooden boxes, abandoned metal folding
chairs that were tied to together with frayed gray sections of
rope. The lot looked like a playhouse of the absurd, with the
white block center stage.
At first Martin didn‟t notice Earl. He was still absorbing
the unexpected enormity of the marble. And the lot had several
observers in it, seated in the bleachers and standing, looking
up. Martin was reluctant to get to close to them. But he very
much wanted to take a close look at the stone, get a better
sense of it‟s texture. Martin, one of those few Americans who
had read Moby Dick, was immediately reminded of the White
Whale when he saw it, even though Earl had made no
discernable progress in shaping the stone. It still was as
straight and even, in a rough sort of way, as a sugar cube, one
of the oblong ones that were never seen in restaurants
anymore. He saw that across the street was the fish market,
The Pequod, and assumed, as many others had, that the
construction of a White Whale was a clever publicity stunt. But
when he noticed Earl prowling around on top of it he knew that
it was not. Earl was flamboyant, but not in the least „corporate‟.
He was not likely to be hired, or even permitted to be around
any well planned official corporate promotion campaign. Unless
it was for the Jimmy Hale Mission, and he was going to star as
the poster vagrant.
Earl noticed the boy right away, but with his customary
tact had not greeted him. He went on about his business, which
today was knocking small bits of stone off the mountain of
marble, observing the crowd, making an occasional sermon,
though he had yet to take up a collection, and enjoying the
November weather, which had been clear and cool for several
days. Earl liked being outside. He liked being high up, with a
good view of everything there was to be seen, and he liked
being the center of attention. He was on stage and he was
perfectly comfortable with that, even luxuriated in it. Earl was
having a pretty good day.
Martin found a spot on the wall of Harvey‟s storeroom
building almost directly under Earls second story window. It
was behind the stone, though he could see part of the crowd
that gathered and dispersed throughout the day. He found an
extra crate and used it for a stool, and, leaning against the
wall, settled in for the day. He observed the progress Ear was
making, which was very little. He didn‟t have the tools for it.
The simple sliver of metal and the small hammer were not of a
scale to have much impact on the massive stone. Martin though
he needed pneumatic tools, big ones that could slice through
the rock, shape it like clay. On the other hand, he appreciated
the slow dreamy way that Earl went about his sculpting, as if
he had all the time he needed, as much time as there was, to
finish the job. And realized that he probably did. Earl had no
corporate sponsor; he had no wife, no children, no
responsibility to an employee. He was, in fact, perfect for this
project. He could and had devoted himself completely to it. He
belonged to the stone and the stone belonged to him. It was a
perfect reduction of human being to the bare essence, and
Martin admired him greatly.
In mid afternoon Martin walked over to The Pequod and
ordered a squid sandwich from the attractive blonde at the
walk-up window. He was running out of money. He counted up
the dollar bills while he waited for his food, and didn‟t like the
result of the calculation. He figured if he did not find a cheap
place to live, and some kind of work, he would be out of money
by Christmas. He was still preoccupied with this when his
number was called, and when he went to pick up his order he
was surprised by the unexpected remark from the girl in the
window. She said:
“How‟s it going, squiddy?”
At first he thought she was saying something about his
sandwich, which was fried squid on a croissant, but he couldn‟t
make sense of it. Then he recognized the young blonde as a
friend of Christine‟s, one of a set of young blonde women who
snubbed him at every opportunity. He had never been able to
distinguish between them, and knew her name only because of
the large bright nameplate pinned to her white shirt that read:
„Hi, I‟m Shelley!‟. He said, edging away:
“Hello, uh, Shelley, I‟m fine.”
And bolted away down the alley before she had a chance
to make any of the several nasty remarks that came to her
spontaneously. Each was vicious and short, like a punch to the
groin. She had a genius for such remarks, but Martin was a wily
prey, and was out of sight before she could tell him that
Christine was working at The Pequod and was doing
wonderfully, a favorite for Mate of the Month, and regular
visitor to the secret rooms of Ahab, the flesh master, where she
was keelhauled by him in a most brutal and satisfying way. She
knew she‟d have to shorten that up a bit, if she was going to hit
Martin with it. Then she went to find Christine and tell her that
she‟d seen Martin, looking more and more like a tramp, and
what was she thinking, no swordfishing, no matter how
seaworthy, was worth it.
Martin, on the other hand, didn‟t think about Shelley. He
was just annoyed that he would not be able to go back to The
Pequod‟s walk up window. He had a rule: As soon as the staff
at a fast food place started to recognize him, or asked if he
wanted the „regular‟, he stopped going there. He finished his
squid sandwich while walking around the block and went back
to he stand at the edge of the lot.
The day passed and he didn‟t leave. It was fascinating to
him, the long uninterrupted periods of the chink chink of the
hammer on the chisel sounding thin and clear against the
street noise. He leaned against the wall and the sun was warm.
He could almost go to sleep, which reminded him that he might
very well end up sleeping outside, in a lot, maybe this lot, and
the thought made alert. He listened to several of the sermons
and recognized the similarity to those in Moby Dick, the book,
but knew that it was coincidental, that Earl was not drawing his
text from it. The metaphor of the leviathan made the sermons
of Earl and Melville parallel. A coincidence.
He stayed long into the evening, much longer than he
wanted to stay, because that was how long Earl stayed. The
crowd and its noise and commotion waxed and waned, a
carnival background to the drone of traffic and chink chink of
chisel. The Pequod shut down and several of the staff came
over to enjoy the show. Christine was not one of them. By nine
o‟clock only Martin and Pudge, the skinny vagrant, were left. A
few minutes more and Pudge walked off into the night, and it
was only Martin and Earl. The sound of chiseling stopped and
Earls appear the edge of the rock, looking down.
Martin said nothing.
“Of course you are, or who would I be talking to.”
He disappeared for a moment, then a rope ladder flew
over the edge and dangled along the wall of rock. Earl climbed
“Are you still in school?” he asked.
“Sort of,” said Martin.
“I been seeing you on the street a lot. You got a place to
“For a few more weeks,” he said.
“Want a job?”
Martin didn‟t know what to think. The old man had
climbed down the ladder, with his leather pouch of tools and
cigars thrown over his shoulder. He stood, relaxed and patient
while Martin considered it.
“Helping me with the great project. Being a part of the
grand experiment. Joining the crew for the grand exotic
voyage. All that and helping me chip stone,” said Earl, lighting
“What‟s the pay?” asked Martin, feeling absurd, as if he
were had a walk on part in an Ionesco play.
“A place to stay.”
Martin didn‟t say anything, small eyes shifting from side
to side as he tried to make up his mind. There were a dozen
reasons why he shouldn‟t and a dozen more why he should – or
rather, why not. As they flickered back and forth in his mind he
came to understand something, something profound to him at
this time in his life, and that was that he really had nothing
else to do.
He‟d waited too long for Earl, who said:
“Well, think about it as long as you like. If you say yes,
then be here tomorrow at nine o‟clock. In the morning.”
He turned away and around the corner of the alley, and
MARTIN JOINS THE TEAM; BEN‟S REACTION
When Earl took on a helper it added insult to injury, as far
as Ben was concerned. Particularly since is was a squatty
awkward little kid who could barely scramble up the makeshift
rope ladder that Earl had come up with. Ben took his morn ing
coffee from the diner out to the sidewalk to watch. Earl was
instructing Martin on how to use the chisel and hammer. Martin
was not a fast learner. His tender hands were not used to any
kind of labor, much less the rigorous demands of working with
stone. Ben, a professional with many years behind him, was
strong and agile and possessed of a considerable endurance, all
of which he considered essential tools in the kit of any stone
sculpture. Martin had none of those tools. He dropped the
chisel. He flung the mallet off the stone unexpectedly; it flew
out into the crowd and hit one of the vagrant audience. Earl
impatiently demanded it back, and didn‟t apologize for the boy.
He just called out:
“We got men working here. Keep your eyes open or get
you a hard hat.”
And went back to showing his young apprentice how to
line up the chisel and tap gently with the hammer. Martin
missed the chisel and hit his hand, and not for the first time. He
winced and kept on hitting. Ben gave him points for
determination, and a few minutes later, when he did it again,
this time drawing blood, but continued to strike at the chisel,
Ben felt a grudging respect. Maybe the kid had one tool in his
tool box: endurance.
But Ben was not so generous with Earl. It was clear that
he had used tools before, probably carpentry tools, like most
men. But it was unlikely he‟d worked with stone. Ben could see
that. Earl approached the surface of the stone with the chisel at
too great an angle, almost 90 degrees from the surface and
consequently the rock was gouged and cracked instead of
peeled off in layers. He had marked the sections of stone to be
removed, but for the creation of a whale from the solid block,
the design was wrong, very wrong. Ben wondered if the old
man had every really looked at whale, the way an artist looks
at things. Probably not.
Throughout the morning Ben bounced back and forth
between the lot and the diner, giving Harvey unwanted updates
at the progress. Harvey went on cooking up eggs and potatoes
and plantains, nodding in agreement to whatever Ben said. He
was busy, but too polite to ask Ben to shut up. [more]
THE WORD GETS OUT; KELLEY, SHELLEY AND CHRISTINE
The miraculous appearance of the great block of marble
finally came to the attention of the newspapers, and a reporter,
a heavyset man in his thirties, came and joined the crowd. He
had aviator style sunglasses and his hair cut into the style they
call a „mullet‟. He watched for a few minutes, asked a few
questions and made some notes in a small tape recorder. It
was a little after eight o‟clock, and Earl had not yet shown up.
Consequently the reporter was not treated to one of his
extravagant sermons, to the stage show that Earl hosted
throughout the day. If he had then the „visitation of the stone‟,
as it was sometimes called, would have gotten more than a
small one column, lost in the middle of the Metro section. The
reported finished taking his few notes and went across the
street into The Pequod. After looking over the fantastic
selection, he drifted to the rear of the store where he found
mullet the fish, not mullet the hairstyle. Smoked mullet, mullet
Creole, mullet salad. He ordered a quart of Galveston Mullet
Stew and didn‟t notice the two blonde girls observing from the
crab section, making comments to each other and snickering.
He was lucky to be served by an attractive girl, striking in a
bland inexplicable way, who was so engaging and pleasant that
he filled out a customer comment card praising her.
It was, of course, Christine, working the morning shift.
She was a dedicated and industrious employee who
concentrated on her work (no matter how trivial and repetitive
– such as wiping the ice sweat off the red fish) instead of
gossiping or smoking marijuana in the alley and drifting
through her shift in a vivid aquamarine daydream, the way
certain other employees did. And so, while she knew that there
were now a couple of men crawling over the surface of the big
rock across the street, she did not know that one of them was
Martin. And if someone had told her, which was soon to occur,
she would have denied the possibility, citing Martin‟s
pathological „shyness‟, as she called it, and his abhorrence of
physical labor, and possibly his inability to climb a ladder, not
just a rope ladder, but any kind of ladder at all. But the Martin
of today was not the Martin of a few months before.
Shelley, unable to contain herself, rushed from the front
window where she‟d been enjoying the spectacle instead of
arranging the crab legs in neat parallel rows as called for in the
six page set of instructions for maintaining the crustacean
case, which the kids called the „crab manual‟. She found
Christine in the bathroom scrubbing her hands in a fruitless
effort to remove the smell of fish. Shelley, slightly out of breath
with the brisk trot to the back of the store and the anticipation
“Chrissie. You‟ll never guess who‟s riding the big rock this
“Who?” asked Christine, knowing from her friends look of
joy that she was about to deliver some particularly unpleasant
news to her. She had a brief premonition that it might be about
Martin, too, but dismissed it immediately.
“Squiddy Martin!” Shelley said. “He‟s sitting up there with
that old bum. You just got to see it.”
About that, she was right. Christine did have to see it to
believe it. But she didn‟t want to give Shelley more
opportunities for cattiness, so she said:
“Oh yes, I saw him already,” and started slathering lotion
on her chapped hands. Shelley, stopped by this revelation,
regrouped and said:
“Well, come watch him with us, he almost fell off a few
minutes ago. It‟s better than television. Hey!” she said, having
a revelation. “Maybe it‟s one of those reality shows, and they
have hidden cameras!”
“I bet you‟re right,” Christine said. “If I were you I‟d put
on some more makeup and get over there, mingle with the
crowd. I bet you‟ll be on TV. Maybe you‟ll even get discovered.”
Smart Christine. Shelley darted away to find Kelley, then
both of them went to Mr. Kwan with reports of simultaneous
menstrual cramps. After they‟d explained to him the
phenomenon of synchronized menstruation, he released them
from work and went to his office to make another entry in each
of their personnel folders.
Meanwhile, Christine, her shift ended, slipped out the
back door into the alley and went around the block. She slowly
approached the lot along the sidewalk, across from the diner,
until, at an angle, she could see the big stone and the two men
on top of it. One of them was Martin. She could not have been
more surprised than if a fish could fly, as they said at The
Pequod, although fish actually did fly, and they had some
Flying Fish Fritters that were a popular choice with the young
people. In other words, Christine was very surprised. She
pulled back, out of sight of the lot. She didn‟t want him to see
her. She didn‟t know what to think about this bizarre
development, didn‟t know if she cared. In brief, she was in a
dither about it, and decided to go home, where, mercifully, her
roommates were absent, and consider the matter. And so she
THINGS GO ON AS THEY‟RE SUPPOSED TO
Meanwhile, the forces of the universe were at work, as
they always are. Ben suffered usurpation. Harvey continued
his Zen tightrope walk of serenity, unaware he was doing it.
Sarah hummed as her physical presence efficiently went
through the day while her mind was in another place, the past
or the future, or in possible futures. Earl complacently
instructed his new protégé. Martin meditated on the concept of
the hammer and chisel but was unable to master the immediate
physical manifestation of it that he held in his hands. The
nameless faceless hive of corporate entities that made up the
GASC dreamed a collective corporate dream and it was
translated into reality. Mr. Kwan whistled happily as he did the
books, which were richly black. Shelley and Kelley preened
before the imaginary cameras of reality television, troubled
souls of limited vision, unaware and suffering. Christine sat
cross-legged on her bed, looking at photos of Martin, and her
life with Martin, the brief period, not more than half a year, but
now, in memory, a complex and fascinating time. And Ahab,
buoyant and energetic throughout the day, retired to his cabin
at night and there, Ahab brooded.
Ben Compson was the real thing, a professional artist, a
sculptor who had run through two wives who never understood
that he was serious about it, and that they were accessories to
his real life, which was in the studio. After the second one took
revenge through the alimony court he learned not to legalize
these liaisons and though there were sometimes fireworks
when the women he wooed learned the lesson of the wives, it
was a temporary discomfort, easily borne and expected as a
natural part of life and love.
What he really cared about was objects, the three
dimensions of height, width and depth, and the way they could
be shaped. He had an artists eye that sometimes made him
blind; he‟d once run a traffic light because he became absorbed
in the shape of it, and failed to notice the color of it‟s light. He
didn‟t try to explain this to the traffic cop. He just accepted the
ticket without comment, went home and drew the particular
curved shape that caught his attention and then fashioned a
mobile from copper wire that echoed and amplified. There was
no way to tell by looking at it that it was a traffic light until you
were told the title, and then you saw it immediately, and
couldn‟t understand how you‟d missed it.
Ben owned a big empty building a few blocks from the
diner that he‟d gutted, tearing down all of the walls that he
could, exposing the metal braces and beams of the ceiling,
letting the light flood in from the high wide windows. Maybe it
had been a factory, certainly not a warehouse; there was too
much glass for a storage building. Ben was never interested
enough in the history of the place to look it up. He just knew
that he‟d found the ideal place to work and live, and if the
neighborhood was a little rough, he didn‟t mind. At forty five
years old he was big and rough looking himself, with a broken
nose and scars on his face and a direct way of looking at
predatory winos that made them reconsider trying to scare a
little money out of him. He‟d been around and all of the
neighborhood boys could see it. They left him alone, except
when he went to the park to hire day labor, a few men to help
him move stone around or clean the trash out of the place. He
looked them over and picked two or three, not always the
biggest, but the strongest and most durable of the group. He
had a good eye for that, too, and was completely comfortable
assessing the men and telling them what to do. He would have
made a good non-commissioned officer in a combat brigade. He
paid a good wage, in cash, at the end of the day, and the men
in the park vied with each other to be chosen.
Earl saw this for himself, not long after he came to town,
but before he‟d started living in Harvey‟s storeroom. He sat on
the wall and watched as Ben, as large as the largest man in the
crowd, looked them over, pointed at two of them, and drove off
in this pickup, the two men squatting in the truck bed, clinging
for life as the truck accelerated around the corner.
“Who was that?” he asked the crowd.
“Ben,” said a thin pasty teenager. He had not joined the
crowd, knowing from the past that he was not robust enough
to be chosen.
“So who‟s Ben?”
“He has a big old warehouse over by the . He makes
statues and stuff. He‟s a pretty rough dude, and got a temper,
too. He beat the shit out of Grady just for sassing him.”
“Which one‟s Grady?” he pointed to the crowd.
“Grady‟s long gone,” said the kid indifferently.
“Aren‟t we all,” said Earl, puffing on his cigar.
So that was Ben Compson, who found what he wanted to
do early on in life, and did it.
AHAB TRAVELS AND RETURNS TO PROGRESS ON THE STONE
Ahab was gone for a week. He went first to Delaware to
receive awards and high praise from everyone. He met the first
class of Secondary Ahabs, and spend day giving practical
advice on developing and maintaining the persona of Captain
Ahab, gruff master of The Pequod, but still a lovable gentle soul
with a love of children and fish flesh. Crabs too. It was not an
easy act to pull off, though none of the Secondary Ahabs were
burdened with the knowledge of the Moby Dick, the source
document. That accomplished, he flew to Atlanta with a couple
of marketing analyst whose names flew out of his mind as soon
as he‟d heard them. He‟d cut back severely on the grog on this
trip, and it made him just the least bit edgy and distracted. In
Atlanta he attended promotional events for the new Pequod
that was due to open after Christmas. Then to New Orleans, for
a similar whirlwind tour. By May there would be five Pequods
open in the Southeast territory, and there was talk of
promoting Ahab to headquarters, and giving him the rank of
Admirial. Admiral Ahab. They liked the sound of that in
Ahab was appalled at the idea. He did not want to leave
his cabin in Birmingham; he did not, as he thought of it, want
to interrupt the voyage he was on. He did not express this, of
course. Instead he mentioned that he had some promotional
ideas he wanted to test in a smaller market, say about the size
of Birmingham. The gray suited analysts said yes, yes, by all
means, and let us know what you come up with. The Prime
Ahab really did have a talent for publicity, and his opinion and
advice was highly valued by the controlling intelligence of the
corporation, whatever it might be.
So after a week of travel and corporate intrigue he
returned to the Birmingham Pequod with a mandate from HQ to
experiment, to come up with more ways to make America
aware of the benefits of fish. He was more than up to the task,
but first he wanted to rest for a day or so in his tight cabin with
a flash of grog and a flounder sandwich, and, of course, the
Book. He took a cab from the airport late at night, and directed
him to the front of the Pequod. The driver pulled his bags from
the trunk while he awkwardly climbed out onto the sidewalk. It
was not until he paid the driver and stood alone on the
pavement that he looked across the street at the lot and the big
marble block, and even then it took a moment to understand
what his eyes were registering. Instead of a faceless
featureless wall of white stone there was a white whale rising
up from the earth. He looked again and realized that the marble
had been trimmed, shaped into a statue of a whale, and that
while there was a way to go before completion, the sculptor
had caught the essence of the beast. Ahab was seeing the
White Whale created before his eyes. He staggered back and
leaned against the wall. How could it be? In a week
transformed from raw featureless rock to a vibrant creature. It
looked as if, unformed, it was trying to free itself from the
stone and become complete. How could this be? The old drunk
could not have done this. What had happened in his absence?
What happened, of course, was Ben Compson.
BEN AND EARL DISPUTE; HARVEY COMES UP WITH SOLUTION
AND ALLS WELL
A few days after Ahab went to Delaware and points south
a running battle broke out between Ben Compson and Earl. To
be more accurate the battle was almost all on Ben‟s side; Earl
never seemed troubled by any of the discussions that dissolved
into arguments, though he was, every now and then, guilty of
egging Ben on. It started when Ben finally got so annoyed with
the way Earl and his feeble assistant were working the stone
that he went over and made a few observations and
suggestions. These were, everyone acknowledged, accurate
observations and useful suggestions. No one disputed his
expertise. But Earl didn‟t care, and he said so.
“What? What?” said Ben, sputtering. “You don‟t care?
How can you not care? You‟re working stone!”
“Yep, I’m working stone. Get it? I’m working stone the
way I want to. I know it‟s not the right way, but I don‟t care.”
This was true and awful blasphemy, a direct affront to
everything Ben believed and stood for, and he stepped forward,
on the verge of losing his temper and attacking the old man.
But Earl stepped forward too, pushing his face out, and said:
“Go on, you coward. Hit an old man.”
That stopped Ben cold, as Earl knew it would. Martin,
standing to the side, jaw dropped and mouth open, didn‟t know
that and stood frozen, waiting for Ben to kill the old man.
Instead, Ben walked away, muttering to himself. Earls just relit
his cigar and said to Martin, loud enough for Ben to hear:
“Come on, boy, we‟ve got miles of stone to carve before
Harvey heard all about it, of course. He offered a
perfunctory sympathy, for he knew that the art of sculpture
was central to Ben‟s life, and understood his frustration at
seeing “the pristine stone violated, yes violated, by that
drunken son of a bitch”, as Ben put it. He didn‟t say that he‟d
never seen, smelled or heard any indication that Earl drank
anything stronger than water out of the tap. He didn‟t say
something that he felt but didn‟t understand, which is that Earl
had just as much respect for the stone as Ben did; he just
didn‟t have the skill to express it in the carving. Ben would
never had agreed, so Harvey just nodded and sympathized and
as soon as he could gracefully get away, he did.
Ben went back to the lot and for the next few days kept
close watch. He was able to sit silent for a few hours, but
eventually Earl or Martin would commit some kind of artistic
impropriety and he would walk over to them and in the most
professional and reasonable of voices would explain why
whatever they were doing was wrong. Earl would hear him out,
calm, amused, always lighting or re-lighting his cigar before
the lecture began. But at the end he‟d go right back to doing
what he was doing before and Ben would begin to shout in
exasperation and outrage, which would be ignored, and would
end up back in the diner venting his fury.
After this happened a time or two Harvey went out to
watch one of the clashes. He returned and went back to grilling
onions and cranberries. Sarah looked at him, and he said:
“This won‟t keep going on much longer.”
He was right, too. The next time Ben stomped into the
diner in an artistic rage Harvey took him into the office and
“Look here, are you going to keep doing this until those
two pound that boulder down to pebbles?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going to let them ruin that big rock you say is so
valuable and spiritual and all?”
“What can I do about it. Why don‟t you stop them, it‟s on
“That don‟t mean anything. None of this concerns me. It
“Well, hell, Harvey, what can I do. I already told them
how to do it right.”
“It‟s easy, Ben. All you got to do is ask him to let you
“Ask him let me help?”
“Sure, give it a try.”
Harvey went back to work, and Ben went back to
watching the pair he work. He started thinking of them as the
Two Stooges, as they tripped over each other and Martin kept
losing his balance, staggering from one side of the stone to
another until Earl reached out a hand to steady him. It would
have been comical to him if he hadn‟t been so angry. But
gradually, the anger drained out of him as he examined his
reluctance to ask Earl to let him help. He quickly figured out
that by doing so he would acknowledge that Earl was in fact
the owner of the enterprise, of the stone, and of the statue that
was to come out of it. Owner not in the bill-of-sale sense, but
owner as in responsible, as in sponsor. It was clear Earl was
not going to give that up, and by asking to help, in essence,
asking to work for Earl, he would be… He couldn‟t think of the
word, but he knew the feeling of confinement and frustration.
He would surrender his independence. He hadn‟t worked for
another man since he was 18 years old, he said to himself, and
he didn‟t plan to start now. He didn‟t want to be in thrall to a
drunken old man for whom he had no respect. Though, to be
completely honest with himself, he did feel a small growing
respect at the way Earl refused to be intimidated, and his
calmness in the face of rage.
Ben thought about all this for a long afternoon, and it
wasn‟t until the next morning that he could bring himself to
approach Earl. He did it right away, as soon as they‟d started to
work. The puny hand tools Earl and Martin used, trading the
same set back and forth, and made barely a scratch on the
surface. Ben went to Earl and said:
“Not getting too far, are you.”
“Far enough,” Earl said pleasantly.
For an instant Ben felt himself ready present a lecture on
the proper tools needed to work the stone right, but he stopped
himself, and thought and said:
“I‟ve got some tools you can use, if you want. In fact, I‟ ll
even show you how to use them and help you work the stone.
If you want.” He paused, waiting.
“That‟s good. When can you join us,” Earl said, and by
afternoon the three of them were unloading the big air
compressor from Ben‟s truck, and setting up a wor kbench on
which to lay the pneumatic chisels and hammers, and by early
evening Ben‟s instruction of the two men had begun. They got
along just fine.
In the diner, late in the afternoon as Harvey and Sarah
finished the clean up, Sarah said:
“Haven‟t seen your friend all day long.”
“Yeah,” said Harvey, “Something must have gone right.”
LEARNING TO GET ALONG ON THE CREW
Earl picked up a chisel and looked at it closely.
“Now, why is this Italian one better than the cold chisel I
got from Sears?” he asked.
“Better steel, better tempering, better design,” Ben
answered. “Work with it for a while and you‟ll see the
Earl used the Italian chisel for a few hours, then went
back to his Sears chisel and found it awkward and dull. He did
see the difference. He understood about the quality of tools,
and could easily see that those Ben brought to the job were
real tool, the tools of a professional. When they stopped for
lunch Earl gathered up his few carpenters tools and put them
back in the canvas pouch.
“I think I‟ll just use yours, if you don‟t mind,” he said.
“That‟s why I brought them,” said Ben.
If relations were a little stiff between them it was much
better than Harvey had predicted. He realized he‟d
underestimated the shrewdness and flexibility of the old man,
and how much Ben wanted to work on the stone. They were
getting along, and while it was probably easier for Earl than
Ben, Harvey gave them both credit.
As for Martin, he was just glad to be there. He didn‟t say
much; sometimes he was so out of breath he couldn‟t say
much. But he was engaged from the start of the day until the
end, and immediately deferred to Bens expertise, and the
natural leadership that was part of his character. Martin was
having a different, if parallel experience than the other men,
and they, both older and experience and both having to some
degree an insight into people, recognized that. Ben even saw
some of himself at that age, coming to terms with his
„differentness‟, the fact that he would never live a normal life in
an office or store or factory, that he would never be satisfied
unless he was living on his own terms doing work that he
wanted. He saw some of that in Martin and felt sympathy for
Earl, on the other hand, had never been in doubt about
himself and where he stood with the world. But he could
always see the other mans point of view.
After a few days of working together they reached a
natural balance and division of labor, with Ben providing the
day to day practical direction, with complete and final say over
the actual production of the statue. It worked. The days were
long and harmonious and they cut some stone.
THE WORK PROCEEDS
In the days that followed they made rapid progress on the
sculpture. Ben redrew the lines on the marble, explaining the
way the stone should be taken off in sections and layers, and
„melt‟ away, leaving the intact finished statue behind. He
showed Earl how to use the air driven chisel, which would peel
a layer of rock away in minutes. Earl learned it quickly. He let
Martin take a pass at it, but the pneumatic hose with ratcheting
chisel head attached got away from him and flopped around as
dangerous as a mad snake. All three agreed that Martin should
stick to the fine detail work that could be done with hand tools.
Ben showed him how to hold the mallet and chisel, using his
good Italian tools instead of the cheap carpenters chisel that
they had been using. Ben was surprisingly patient, showing the
boy, as Earl looked on, sitting on the edge of the stone with
legs crossed and his cigar, the techniques for gently scoring
and scraping the marble, the correct angle of chisel to rock,
how to recognize a „fault‟ line, a line of impurity in the stone
where it would fracture very very easily, and how to work
around it. With proper tools and instruction Martin did well. In
the work on the monument he lost his compulsive instinct to
shrink from human contact. He worked long hours through the
day with the men, though it was fortunate that both Earl and
Ben had an easy going and authoritative manner, and a lot of
experience direct the work of others. He even grew somewhat
accustomed to being observed by the crowd which ebbed and
flowed throughout the day, though he was sufficiently ill at
ease for Ben to notice. He suggested that Martin work on the
section at the base of the rock, in the back, and under Earls
approving eye got him started on a spot that was out of view of
Martin was indefatigable, in spite of his thin wrists and
fingers that had never felt the strain of hard labor, and that
appeared to be as boneless as a frog‟s fingers. The first few
days he worked he had to stop frequently, but after a week he
began to add muscle to his arms and gristle to his hands. Under
the clear November sky the sun burned and darkened his
already olive skin, giving him a healthy look. At the end of the
day he was exhausted and slept the sleep of the virtuous, the
blessed man who had work to do and spent the day doing it.
Ben found that once he‟d asked to help Earl surrendered
direction of the project to him. Earl followed the easy
suggestions that Ben made to him, and deferred in all of the
major decisions on how to proceed. Together the three of them
pored over pictures of whales, and learned the different types,
the Right Whale, and the Greenland, and the great Blue Whale
and finally the Sperm Whale. Ben read them passages from
Moby Dick that described the varieties of the beasts, and they
found themselves in the evening, when there was not light
enough to work studying Cetology, as it was called in the book.
And if the world was right for these craftsmen, it was not
so for all. Across the street and up the back stairs to the cabin
tight as a coffin was Ahab, with his book and his grog and his
Have I not been the good and faithful servant of the
corporation? And is not the corporation the hand and head of
God the Almighty, who rules over the land and the sea, yes the
sea, and even over the Leviathan? For all things are one, and
the wave that laps on the shore of the heathen sand of the Fiji
Islands has it‟s birth in the swarming current of the North Sea.
The span of the Earth and the breadth of the Sea is but a step
for the Forces that govern them; and govern us, each man, be
he humble and whole, or grievously injured and due for a
balancing of accounts, a state of mind that some would call
prideful. All are the same and all unique to that Force that you
would call God, and not blaspheme. For it is God, and his will
works through all in his domain, be it man or beast or great
collective of man such as the corporation, even that is but a
pebble in the hand of God, that he might throw away. Or he
might find a use for it, or do nothing at all with it, for it is the
will of God and not the pebble that writes it‟s fate and history
across the book of time.
Everything that happens has a start and a finish and a
purpose that are all known to God. And if He lifts the veil for an
instant we might see the truth of all matters, even one as small
and grave as the injury a beast does to a man. Even be the
beast a great one, and the man ordinary. For the injury is done,
and if it‟s purpose be revealed, and that purpose might be that
the beast and the wound should be as a goad to the man, to
prod him into greatness, then that is a worthy purpose for the
beast, man, injury and all the acts that grow from them each,
singly, or together, in concert with one another. For mark my
words, there was a purpose, and there will be a consequence
for the act. It could not be otherwise, for man was not meant
for mere chaos. The skein of action and repose, of thought and
instinct, of even good and evil are all as patterned and ordered
as the ribs of a fish; or a man.
And so, events unfold. One, then another, and another,
and I can see the pattern there. The course was set with the
first act of the play, just as the wave that traverses the oceans
begins in the North Sea and must, must end on the tropic
shores. This is the way it will be, and there is no profit in the
struggle against it. For me, the Veil has been lifted, and I see
the beginning and the purpose, and God help me, I see the
pattern and the end. And I will fit myself to God‟s will.
At this point, the marble now clearly a whale and not a
shapeless boulder, the crowds became larger and stranger. Earl
saw it right away, due no doubt to a lifetimes experience of
sizing up a crowd, be it audience or mob.
“Sometimes it happens,” he said, enjoying a fried egg
sandwich from Sarah‟s free brown bag lunch. Martin had one
too, though he didn‟t care that much for fried eggs. He didn‟t
complain. He‟d been living off the generosity of Harvey‟s diner
for a few weeks and was appropriately grateful.
“What happens?” he asked.
“The crowd gets strange. Gets, like, a mind of its own.”
Martin didn‟t see it yet, though he‟d come to understand
exactly what Earl was talking about. Ben didn‟t get it either,
when Martin told him what Earl had said, later that day as the
two worked side by side on the back of the statue, chipping at
a rippling patch of rock that was slated to be part of a wave
that supported the whale.
“What else did he say?” Ben said.
“He said that sometimes crowds get unpredictable, he
actually said „chancy‟, and that you couldn‟t tell what they‟d do.
He said at some point they stopped being a bunch of individual
single people standing next to each other and became part of
Ben chewed that over for a while. He got the concept;
he‟d learned something about chaos theory and Mandelbrot
sets and strange attractors, all of those obscure and
mysterious mathematical transactions that he did not really
understand, except for the part where they were translated
into art. He understood and admired the infinitely recursive
patterns of the Mande lbrot drawings, and on his computer had
a program that generated the  patterns, but knew there was
nothing for him, as an artist. If the drawings were predictable,
exactly reproducible because they were the result of a formula,
or if they were never predictable, always chaotic as the result
of a formula – it didn‟t make any difference. They were of no
use to him.
But thinking about a crowd that way was new to him.
He‟d learned a little more about Earl and if he didn‟t exactly
respect him, he knew enough to pay attention. More often than
not there was something to the things he said. Maybe not what
you thought there was, but something. So the next day, first
thing in the morning as they were setting up their tools, he
asked him about it.
“It ain‟t nothin‟,” said Earl. “Just something I‟ve seen
before. Not dangerous, usually, just something to take into
“Well, give me an example.”
“You know this as well as I do. A man in a mob, with a
bunch of others like him, will do things he‟d never do if he was
by himself. All of the people together thinking and feeling the
same kind of amplifies everything, gives it more juice.”
“Ohh,” said Ben, “like mob mentality.”
“That‟s part of it,” he said. “But you just watch for a few
days and see if anything happens.”
Ben did just that. He noticed that the crowds were larger,
but he expected that. The crowds had been getting larger every
day, as the work they did became more interesting, changed
from the labor of shearing stone off of a cliff of stone to
shaping it into something anyone could see was a whale,
something that became more like a whale ever day, every hour.
[crowd no longer keeps its distance. A few people begin to chip
away themselves, some street vendors show up („once the
crowd gets to a certain size it kind of „grows‟ them, like a
natural law‟). Crow turns into carny type crowd, then when earl
preaches turns into a revival type crowds and maybe they get a
few picketers. From PETA?]
AHAB AND COMMERCE
In the morning he shook off the nights obsessions and
became again the Prime Ahab. His other truer life receded from
the light of morning. Ahab had been raised up to glory by the
Great Atlantic Seafood Company, and all who sailed in her. His
life in the temporal world was full of the active life of business,
and he was a prodigy.
He tried to ignore the spectacle of creation that was
taking place every day, ever hour, right before his eyes. He
threw himself into his work. He devised the concept of fish
apparel; not just t-shirts with pictures of fish on them, but
shoes that were shaped like trout and had the last two „eyes‟
stitched with colored thread to resemble the eyes of fish. Of
flounder hats and eel scarves and clam earmuffs. Of sunglasses
crusted with the tiny shells of  clams, the miniature mollusk
that burrowed into the sand at the point where the sea lapped
up onto land, and that were good if boiled in water, to make a
broth. Each pair of glasses came with an brief description of the
clam and a recipe for Sanibel Island  Clam Chowder. T his led
him to sea jewelry, and recipe books and half dozen other
brilliant and eminently workable marketing ploys. He sent
these to Delaware, to the marketing analysts. They were
ecstatic. This was the most original stuff anyone had produced
in years. There was talk of relocating Ahab to Corporate
Headquarters, but Ahab always found a good reason to stay in
the field. He would give up his post as Prime Ahab if they made
him move, so obsessed was he with the statue of his adversary.
He masked the intensity of his feelings, and the corporate hive
had no idea of what was in his heart, and in his heart of hearts.
Ahab was running out of time during the day to devise
and implement all of the plans his fertile fevered brain
conceived, and he asked Mr. Kwan for a n assistant. Kwan sent
Christine, his best mate to work for him. Mr. Kwan knew a good
thing when he saw it. He was riding the wave of business Ahab
was generating, and there was more to come. Ahab was
making money for the company, and there is no one more
valuable than that. Anything Ahab wanted, Ahab got.
CHRISTINE AND THE PEQUOD; AHAB‟S LOG
Clever Christine liked her promotion, although it wasn‟t
called that by Mr. Kwan when he told her to report to the
Captain‟s office. She had just arrived at work and had not yet
begun the handling of the fish, which for some reason,
presumably the similarity of cadence, always reminded her of
the running of the bulls, that mythic, romantic, foolhardy
exercise in bad judgment revealed to Americans by Earnest
Hemmingway. The handling of the fish was not mythic,
romantic or foolhardy. It was just part of the hygienic drill
required by Mr. Kwan in which the steward of each section
gently touched the seafood product checking for firmness and
appropriate odor. If they detected sliminess or mushiness or
the off scent that preceded the onset of „bad fish‟ stink the item
was removed and placed in a biohazard box which was
transported directly to the county landfill.
This was a morning ritual, one required by the Operating
Manual for the store, and joyously enforced by Mr. Kwan. It
was usually the low point of Christine‟s day, and when she was
instructed to see the Captain she made her way through the
close desks and file cabinets of the small open office to the
small room used by Ahab for his . The door to the office was
left over from the original structure. It was heavy wood with a
large round brass doorknob and a large piece of frosted glass
on which were painted the words „Ahab, proprietor‟. In spite of
his value to the company he was not, of course, the proprietor.
That was Mr. Kwan, who had the small office next to Ahab‟s. It
had a normal opaque hollow core door, painted white, and on it
was painted the words „Store Manager‟. But the office of Ahab
was impressive and appropriate for public relations functions,
such as the tours of school children from the local elementary
schools (another of Ahab‟s brainchildren). There was a routine
in which the tour guide, one of the more attractive and
articulate mates, would timidly knock on the door and wait
with the children until from within there came a great roar of
welcome, and they would tumble into the small space where
Ahab waited behind his big oak desk. After he subdued them to
silence with his Captains eye he would show the warm though
gruff side of his character, by delivering lively tales about his
adventures at sea, fighting the great whales and sharks and
porpoises that lurked beneath the waves. He was a wonderful
story teller, and the children barely noticed when he slipped
from tall tales into a talk on the health benefits of seafood, and
the need to support legislations pending in congress to remove
the restrictions on harvesting the sea.
There were no tours scheduled for the morning when
Christine reported for duty, and when she knocked on the door
he bid her come in with a normal voice. He acted just like any
other middle aged manager instructing a college intern in her
duties, in spite of his Amish beard and cable knit seaman‟s
sweater and, of course, the peg leg. In a few minutes she was
sorting and filing correspondence, learning his schedule of
appearances and making confirmation calls, and in general
discovering that he was much more than the cartoon character
he appeared to be. He was on the telephone a large part of the
day consulting with officials in Delaware, making sophisticated
observations about sales patterns and demographics. And
when he was out for a while, and she took his calls she saw the
deference with which he was treated by callers, callers with
such titles as Associate Vice President of Shellfish, and Species
Analyst, who left the message that it seemed frogs were not in
fact seafood, but an exception had been approved so that frog
legs could be added to the store‟s menu.
Christine liked it a lot, and at the end of her four hour
shift she approached Mr. Kwan and asked if she could be
permanently assigned to assist the Captain. He agreed and
henceforth she reported directly to Ahab, and was not required
to wear the white servers uniform. After the second day she
gave to her roommates Shelley and Kelley the collection of
lotions and ointments she had used to remove the fish smell
from her hands. The sisters were predictably envious of her
promotion, and barraged Christine with stories about Ahab‟s
requirements for sexual service. She laughed at them, and in
an uncharacteristic moment of spite showed them the blue
jeans and Indian blouse she planned to wear to work the next
day. Clothes are everything to some young women, and
Christine‟s brief gesture stabbed at the heart of the sisters.
Life was looking up for both of the youngsters, even
though the pain of their estrangement was still present at the
edges of their minds and memories. Probably the more so for
Christine. She knew that he was just across the street. He
didn‟t know where she was, and so didn‟t feel her presence a
few yards away, the way Christine felt his. Sometimes she
watched as he moved around the lot, helping the old hippie
looking vagrant. He looked better, healthier than he ever had,
and seemed, at times, almost normal. But she was reluctant to
open the old wounds, or, as they said in seafood speak, get
gigged in the gills again. Sometimes the slang of youth has
more poetry than the exalted verse of the poets.
Christine settled into her new job with gratitude toward
Mr. Kwan, and the Captain, as he was called by the young
people in the store. That Ahab was able to maintain the
outward appearance of normalcy was a tribute to his
considerable abilities, and strength of character, but mostly to
the power of the obsession that gripped him. Every moment
outside his cabin he was performing, as if he were on stage, or,
more contemporarily, tracked by the video cameras of a
television crew. He never faltered. Only when he returned to
the sanctuary of his cabin and bolted the doors did he become
a whole man, letting all of the parts of him loose, and at that
moment that part of him that was gripped by the obsession
with the mad Ahab of Melville, and with the Whale that
mutilated him. In those moments he was insane, and he had no
understanding that this was true. All of the tools he possessed
and used to be successful outside the cabin, the perceptive
insight he had into the minds and motives of others, the
intelligence and soundness of judgment – these all disappeared
leaving only the boundless energy of thought and action, now
at the service of his dementia.
He began to write a log, a sort of ships log, in which he
recorded the sightings of the great whale, the whale which now
had a face, a substance that it lacked before. And if the form of
the beast was not complete, it was emerging like Leviathan
rising up through the brine, the broad back like a floor in the
water that emerges and becomes the top of the streaming
beast, joining the fla nks and the flukes until all of the creature
is visible. This was occurring across the street, but slowly,
slowly, and he recorded each days minute changes with
terrifying accuracy, and each laborers part in it. Nothing
escaped him. The most casual glance at the workmen, now
three of them, as he stumped his way on his morning rounds of
the town, caught the complete and detailed image of the stone,
each new scratch or scalloped edge, all of it recorded in his
sight, and in his mind and at the end of the day, in his log. It
would have been a frightening journal for any man to read, but
if Ben Compson or Earl or Martin had seen it…
Ben and Earl and Martin were getting along just fine. They
had that most prized of possessions: meaningful work to do,
and the time and wherewithal to do it. Each day started early
for Ben and Martin, who were active in the morning, before
dark, when old Earl was still dreaming dreams of sleepy two-
lane blacktop country roads lined with shade trees, winding
gently over a gentle country hill, the neat pastures cropped
close by cows that turned their heads to look at him hiking
along. That was the countryside he liked best. It never seemed
to change. From his first years on the road, in the fifty‟s when
he crisscrossed America a dozen times, anxious to see all of it,
and dipped down into Mexico and up over the line into Canada,
just to take a look. But only once. After that he traced the map
of America, of the United States, one road at a time, walking
and hitching rides, or for many years on a motorcycle, then a
pickup truck he earned picking fruit in Florida one year,
camping out in the scruffy palmetto and pine thicket a few
miles from the groves to save money. He knew nothing is
difficult if you have the time to do it, and the inclination.
Lately he dreamed about travel, not so much the places
he‟d been but the road between them, and the dreams were
spilling over into his waking hours. He gently chipped small
channels in the rock, first one then several more parallel to the
first, and then half a dozen at right angles and across the first
set making a grid of shallow grooves, just as Ben had showed
him. He knocked off the raised nipples of the grid with the
chisel while he recalled coming over the Rocky Mountains, he
forgot which time, but it had been in summer, and the air at
that elevation was crisp. He‟d pulled his motorcycle off the road
to smoke a cigar and look at the panorama of America below.
Then Martin hit his hand with the hammer again, and his soft-
spoken curses brought Earl back to the present. He listened
because he liked to hear Martin curse. The boy didn‟t curse like
other people, with the short direct common place obscenities
and blasphemies. He cursed in the dialect of literature, using
eloquent Chaucerian vulgarities or the stream of consciousness
babble of Joyce. It was not an affectation; that was the way
Martin thought. Earl returned to chipping, silently reproaching
Martin‟s parents, whoever and wherever they were, and the
education system, and whoever else permitted the boy to learn
so much so fast but made him unable to use a tool or even
curse properly when he hit his thumb. The boy needed a lot of
training before he would be normal. Earl returned to his
reveries. It was a peaceful afternoon and soon he was recalling
the long straight country roads of the prairies, the rolling plains
rising and falling on either side as he followed the track of the
AHAB, THE CORPORATION AND THE WHALE
Earl was at peace with himself and his partners in the
grand enterprise, but across the street a mild dispute was
about to turn into something a little more serious. Ahab was
having his first disagreement with the Analysts of the GASC.
The issue was the statue of the whale, which was clearly
recognizable if not completely defined. For many days no one
had known what it was. Mr. Kwan was just grateful for the
traffic it attracted. But after Ben became involved progress on
the work advanced at a rapid pace, and soon it was clear that it
was a fish of some kind. Only Ahab immediately knew what it
was, but then Ahab was playing out a role in a deeper more
dangerous drama, a secret and silent drama that explored the
themes of madness and risk and the nature of obsession. He
was sensitized. Once Mr. Kwan figured out what the three crazy
men were building he was overjoyed. He called Delaware and
informed them that someone for some reason was building
monument to seafood right across the street from The Pequod.
A pack of Analysts flew down immediately.
There were five of them, all of a uniform size and shape,
and all dressed in the corporate gray suit. They listened closely
to the briefing provided by Mr. Kwan, scanned the lot across
the street through the front windows of the market, and
decided to make a foray „into the field‟ for „field research‟, as
they called it. They trooped single file out of the store and
across the street and mixed in with the crowd of watchers. It
was midday and many of the office workers joined the all-day
audience of vagrants to eat their lunches, entertained by the
construction-in-progress and Earl‟s sermons. When Ben turned
on the generator and used the air chisel the crowd thinned out
in a hurry, but on the day in question he and his two partners
were using the hand chisels, the weather was mild, perfect for
lunch al fresco, and the audience was large.
The analysts spread out and circulated around the rock,
getting a view from every side and angle. It was a fish all right.
Technically perhaps a whale, but the analysts, like Melville
advocated the definition of the whale as a fish and not an
animal. This was for political rather than literary or symbolic
purposes, as one of the unpublicized agendas of the
corporation was the revival of the whaling industry in America,
not in its origina l form, of course. They had learned much from
the advances in animal husbandry and ecology. They planned
to develop the whale as a renewable resource, and farm them
the way catfish are farmed. No, the way cattle are farmed,
except that the wide open sea was the range the big sea beasts
roamed, and the GASC fishermen were the cowboys. It was not
as farfetched as it seemed, and though still a top secret project
known only to those in corporate headquarters, there was
some serious capital invested in research.
An integral part of the plan was the „packaging‟, as they
called it. This was simply the selling of an idea to the American
people, the idea that God made the birds of the air and the
beasts of the field and the fish of the sea for the use of
mankind, and the restrictions of that use which had somehow
crept into the law should be removed. Excised. Repealed. The
first part of the idea should be easy. It was familiar to anyone
who had read the Bible, or gone to Sunday school. GASC
research found that that was a surprisingly large part of the
population. Most people were familiar with the concept of
„using‟ the bountiful resources of the land and sea. The second
part was trickier.
There had been, in the opinion of the nameless faceless
soulless (?) corporate drones at GASC, an unhealthy trend in
American political, cultural and legal thinking. It started with
that radical ecologist Rachel Carson with her rabble rousing
propaganda tract “Silent Spring”, gathered strength and depth
and breadth with the Environmentalist movement of the
Seventies and today, in their opinion, the most serious of all
the varieties of terrorists threatening the American way of life
were the Eco-Terrorists. They were the most radical and visible
manifestation of the wrong-headed concept that we, as human
beings, were put on earth for the animals, and not the other
way around. This was the obstacle that blocked them. This was
creed of the enemy, and the challenge present to them was the
changing of the American hearts and minds on this issue. And if
the hearts and minds would not be changed, then it would
suffice if the laws were changed.
One of the reasons Ahab had achieved such a level of
success within the corporation is that he was seen as a perfect
spokesman to sell this idea. He generated trust; he was seen as
a symbol for an archetypal American, a Yankee fisherman, from
Nantucket and New Bedford and other American towns, rich in
history. He was just right. The analysts mentioned this future
direction for the marketing campaign, and he instantly saw the
wisdom of it. He had no qualms about trying to reverse the
direction of a widespread cultural trend, in fact, he flexed his
arms and gloried in the strength that made it possible, in fact,
likely that he could change the way American thought about it‟s
resources, if he were given enough time and money. He felt he
was destined to play a large role on a large stage, and vibrated
with awe at the synchronicity of this role with the other he
played, protagonist in the secret unseen drama of his struggle
with the White Whale, which he saw as smaller in scope but
larger, much larger, in implication. He felt he was at the center
of the universe his movements made waves in concentric rings
of reality around him. He was mad, but the power of madness
and its guile made him potent [more]
He watched as the analysts circle the nascent sculpture,
one bold one reaching out to touch the smooth rock. Another
tried to engage Martin in conversation, but after a few
moments moved on to the more voluble and social Earl, who
was glad to tell him all the newly acquired knowledge about
marble and how to carve it. He‟d become an expert overnight,
though only to the ignorant; he heard Ben snicker a few times
as he explained the difference between marble and granite. But
he didn‟t mind. He kept dishing it out.
The analysts had inspected the rock and confirmed their
impression: the sculpture was to be a whale, which as far as
they were concerned is a fish. And it looked as if they were
going to do a good job of it too. One or another of the trio knew
what they were doing, and the monument looked to be first
class. They were treated to one of Earls sermons, this
particular one about the beauty of the journey, the church of
the open road and salvation through motion, after which they
trooped back into The Pequod and packed into Ahab‟s office for
a strategy session. It started well, but after a few moments the
amicable meeting was derailed.
For the first time in their association Ahab was at odds
with the GASC. At first they didn‟t notice [more]
At the end of the afternoon there were two important
achievements. The first was Ahab‟s agreement to uphold and
carry out the marketing scheme that would be devised with the
statue as its focus. Ahab came to understand, was reminded,
that he existed at the sufferance of the corporation, as is only
proper in this democratic free enterprise system that blesses
us with riches. Ahab understood this, and agreed until he
understood that the will of the corporation, in at least this one
matter, the matter of the White Whale, was at odds with his
own will. And this led him to the second revelation, which was
private to him, though all of those around him would feel the
disturbance caused by it: Ahab came to understand that he
must go his own way, no matter the cost. No matter what path
it led him down, or if that path led to the damnation of his or all
of their souls, he knew he must persist, press on until he‟d
reached the end, no matter what it was. It would be his end,
Ahab‟s, and no other. And as he closed the door to his office,
after the corporation analysts had departed well satisfied that
their Prime Ahab was back in the fold, „part of the team‟ as
they said, he murmured to himself: „What do we cry out when
we see the beast? A dead whale or a stove boat! And that‟s
how it shall be with me.‟
CHRISTINE, THE DOUBLE-SPITE AND THE CREW
Christine‟s parents were Unitarian Universalist ministers,
both of them, and she was raised with a kind of ecumenical
permissive benevolence in which everything was accepted and
loved and there were no standards for judgment. In spite of
this she was a level headed young woman, very much an
argument for the theory that the genetics of the species will
override the specific genes of the individual progenitors and
the environment in which a child is raised. And such an
upbringing gave her the most gentile of manners and a
pleasing, deceptively passive demeanor. She was a joy to be
around, but could be, when pushed far enough, astoundingly
This was demonstrated one day when Kelley, the older
and more adventurous of the sisters, decided to pull a „double
spite‟. This is what she and Shelley called the act of coming on
to the boyfriend or husband of one of their female friends or
acquaintances. It had the wonderful quality of upsetting two
people with one act, and it was a favorite of the girls.
It was a slow season for them. Not much was happening
at school, and working at The Pequod did not give them too
much opportunity for mischief. Mr. Kwan was an experienced
administrator; he‟d had teenaged girls work for him before and
was familiar with the patterns of disturbance they could cause,
and the ordinary failures of workplace protocol. He solved the
problem of their tardiness by sending them home if they were
more than 10 minutes late, with a promise of dismissal on
subsequent offenses. For laziness he prescribed the cure of
transferring them for the day to the Cleaning Room, which was
a long narrow chamber in which the fish were prepared for
display in the market by gutting and washing. Due to the
severe hygiene standards of Mr. Kwan and the store the
Cleaning Room was not as bad as it could have been, but still,
mucking around in fish guts was not a pleasant way to spend
Every move the girls made was countered by the
enlightened management style of Mr. Kwan, leaving them no
recourse but seduction, or as far down that path as they
needed to go to get that special status where tardiness, sloth
and pilferage were tolerated. They were frustrated in this effort
as well: Mr. Kwan had a relationship of long standing with a Mr.
Lee, and no plans to change his domestic arrangement.
The final alternative was leaving, quitting, resigning, but
the job was too good. The pay was high, the hours flexible and
the atmosphere was pleasant. It was a damned good job, and
Kelley and Shelley knew they would be fools to trade it for the
night shift at MacDonalds. So they went down the only path
open to them; they became exemplary employees, tho ugh less
so than others, in fact, just exemplary enough to meet the
minimum standard. They were forced to be virtuous and they
didn‟t like it a bit.
As an antidote to goodness Kelley decided to pull a double
spite, and the object of this was Christine. Ordinarily those who
were really close to her, such as roommates and childhood
friends, were exempt from such treatment. But Christine was
turning out to be . She was on to their tricks and was
completely unruffled by everyday bitchiness. And she was
getting ahead at work, now relieved from duty at the fish
cases, instead luxuriating in the dry paper scented offices at
the rear of the building, which were just a wall away from the
market, but so pleasant and close to corporate authority that
they might as well have been in Delaware. Christine had it all
over them, and she had to go.
The sisters had a remarkable instinct about the weakness
of the human heart, and they knew, somehow, in spite of all
Christine‟s efforts to throw her off the track, that she still cared
about Martin. Or was at any rate sensitive and susceptible to
wounding. So Kelley took pains to mention that she‟d been
watching the construction of the Great Whale and was shocked
to see how „buff‟ Martin had become. There was a grain of truth
in this, as he looked much less like a creepy library gnome,
with his sunburned skin and the new sinew of his hands and
arms. But he was not by any means „buff‟, nor did he have the
appearance of power, much of which is internal, is attitude and
self confidence. Martin had very little of that. Ben Compson had
it in spades, and even Earl, but Martin was a geek and would be
a geek, though lovable and brilliant and kind, but still: a geek.
So Christine took Kelley‟s admiration for the new Martin
with a grain of salt. She had yet to speak to him since the break
up, and there was still a reticence to discuss him, or think
about him too much. She was still surprised by the depth of
feeling he provoked in her. [She had not imagined that months
afterward she would think about him and the brief life they had
together.] And she was disturbed that Kelley had sensed it and
ferreted out a way to hurt her and, she knew, hurt Martin as
well. She couldn‟t think of a way out of it. Confronted with this
petty evil she could only try to wish the best for her tormentor,
and not reveal any pain she might feel. But she was angry that
Martin must suffer too.
While Christine was thinking about the dilemma Kelley
moved ahead with her plan. She‟d signaled Christine of her
intention, to prolong and heighten the discomfort; it was time
for the strike against Martin. In the bathroom at work she
changed from her severe white uniform to her predator‟s
uniform of tight jeans and revealing blouse, dowsed herself
with perfume and set out on the hunt.
It was a good time of day, nearing dusk. The crowd had
thinned to just a few, the air was cool and clear, the winy air of
autumn. She approached the lot where the three men were still
working. Martin was a few yards off to the side, shoveling
rubble into a wheel barrow. His hair, forehead, cheeks and
glasses were powdered with stone dust, but his nose, mouth
and chin were clean, having been covered with the breathing
masks Ben required them to wear. The contrast between the
pale dust and his dark skin made it look strangely, comically,
animalistic, as if he had a muzzle. He caught a glimpse of her
as she approached and dropped the shovel into the
wheelbarrow with a clang, and stood gaping at her.
“Hello Martin,” she cooed, smiling and moving up close to
him, close enough for him to smell her.
It might have worked, too, if she could have gotten past
his pathological avoidance reflex. She‟d found that sex usually
overrode any other instinct in young men, and in some not so
young. But as she approached Earl caught sight of her, saw her
posture as she greeted and instantly understood what was
happening. He gestured to Ben, who looked and just as quickly
caught on. Neither of these men wanted to take anything away
from Martin, whom they‟d grown to respect over the days, but
neither believed for an instant that he was the kind of man to
attract the unsolicited overtures of a woman who looked and
dressed as Kelley was dressed. They were half dozen yards
away, but still within striking range of her perfume.
“This can‟t be good,” Earl said softly to Ben.
“Nah, she‟s up to something.”
They watched as she put her hand on his arm and threw
her head back to laugh. Martin uncertainly laughed along with
“If I thought the boy would get some I‟d let it go, but I
just don‟t see that happening,” said Earl.
“Let‟s interfere,” Ben replied.
The two walked over to Martin and Kelley, and Earl said:
“Want to introduce us to your friend?”
Martin stammered and flushed and managed to say:
“Kelley…ah…Ben…” and then gave out.
“Hello,” said Kelley coolly. She was self possessed and
confident, and thrust her chest out just a little. She stood close
to Martin, indefinably making them a couple.
“Like the rock?” asked Ben?
“Oh yes,” she gushed. “Martin‟s doing wonderful work.”
Earl was openly looking her up and down, softly humming
“Say sister, you want to sign up for this voyage?”
“What do you mean,” said Kelley.
“I mean, you want to hang around the rock, start up
something with one of the crew?”
“Oh,” she said, with a tinkling insincere laugh. She was
becoming less self possessed by the second. Ben was also
looking at her closely. He turned to Earl and said:
“She‟ll do just fine, don‟t you think?”
“Oh yes,” said Earl.
“What are you talking about,” said Kelley, trying to be
angry, but failing.
“Just the rules here,” said Earl. “You go for one, you go
for all. That‟s how it works.”
Kelley looked at the old man, with his slitted eyes and
faint smile, then at Ben and saw the same expression.
“Ok, boys, I get the message,” she said in a flat voice. She
patted Martin on the arm and said:
“It would have been fun,” she said to Martin, and walked
off down the sidewalk. All three of them watched her go.
“Don‟t worry, Marty,” said Ben. “There‟s a ton of women
out there better than her.”
“Yeah, boy, there‟s a lot of fish in the sea,” said Earl.
“Well,” Martin said, still looking after Kelley even though
she‟d disappeared around the corner. “You ever hear the
expression „a fish in hand is worth two in the sea‟?”
“I believe that‟s the first joke I ever heard you make,”
“That‟s no joke,” said Martin wistfully. He picked up his
shovel and started loading rock into the wheelbarrow.
Christine heard about it in detail from Kelley but knew
that most of her story was a lie. She knew Kelley, and she knew
Martin, and no amount of rock-breaking body-building labor
was going to make him „clamp on like a barnacle‟, as Kelley put
it. She didn‟t know what happened, but it wasn‟t „sea sex‟,
another of Kelley‟s seafood slang expressions. Christine used
the best defense she had against the bitchy roommate, which
was indifference, expressed clearly and without heat. She just
didn‟t react, and, if it didn‟t stop Kelley from trying, it took
away any pleasure she might have gotten from the exchange.
Kelley told Shelley the real story, angry only that she‟d
been thwarted. Earl and Ben had bothered her not at all. If fact,
if it had been just Ben, she might have thought about it.
“He was big and, you know, dirty,” she told Shelley, who
knew exactly what she meant.
So the double-spite failed, although a few days later
Christine moved out, which should have made the sisters very
pleased with themselves until they did the math and realized
how much their share of the rent was going to be. So even that
was ruin. It was a bad week for bitches.
THE END IS IN SIGHT; STRATEGY SESSION
The whale grew up out of the rock gradually but
inevitably, it‟s amorphous shape coalescing into a general
outline, a blocky rock cartoon of the idea of a whale. Slowly,
imperceptibly, over the days and hours, the reluctant
unnecessary stone melted away. At each subsequent glance the
block of marble looked more like a whale, more like The Whale.
Ahab, behind the pasteboard mask of commerce, watched with
a hawk‟s eye.
Before they entered the last phase of the enterprise, the
detail and finish of the beast, Ben, Earl and Martin held a
meeting around a table in the diner. Martin had found
reproductions of several illustrations of Moby Dick, all
imaginary of course, but each in it‟s way a useful example of
the translation of prose, of a description in word, to the artist‟s
canvas. The wrinkled brow, the crooked jaw, the scalloped
flukes and the twisted iron of the unsuccessful harpooners
vanished to the depths of the ocean. All of these were
imagined, visualized and drawn. The three men sat with a text
of the book and compared the Melville‟s descriptions with the
illustrations. Here Martin‟s scholarship and Ben‟s long
experience and artist‟s eye became their guides, while Earl sat
back with his genial smile and streetwise con-artist‟s eyes, too
quick to find the strength and weakness of the human
character, Earl sat back and enjoyed the show.
Ben decided to go his own way. Martin removed the
illustrations from the table and watched as Ben sketched on a
pad a likeness of Moby Dick, an intense and malevolent version.
He quickly repeated the drawing from another angle, then
another and finally created smaller drawings of the specific
features: the jaw in detail; the thatch of twisted iron; and
finally, the eye, huge and blank and frightening.
“Jesus, you got him just right,” said Martin.
“One way of looking at him, anyway,” said Ben.
They discussed the technique of translating the drawings
into solid rock, which tools to use, and how to go about it.
“How much longer,” asked Earl.
“Two, three days at most. Then we sand and seal up the
surface. We won‟t polish – just leave it a little rough. I wonder
what a whale‟s skin feels like.”
Martin wrote something in his notebook and Ben knew
he‟d have a book or article describing in detail the surface of a
whale‟s skin. Martin was an active gnome, quick and intuitive
when it came to research, though something of a nightmare on
“Two or three days,” Earl said thoughtfully.
“Why, you got something planned?” asked Ben.
Earl didn‟t answer, just pulled out a long cigar and
searched his pockets for a match. Sarah, who was looking on
from the counter, intensely interested, called out:
“Hey! Take it outside.”
“No,” he said to Ben, replacing the cigar in his shirt
pocket and glancing at Sarah, who looked back implacable,
indifferent, secure: the diner was her house, and if Earl had
taken over the storeroom and lot, that was Harvey‟s business.
But the diner was hers.
“No, I‟m just thinking about traveling.”
There was a silence at the table. None of the men had
considered about what would happen when they were done,
when the Whale was built and they put down their tools. They
thought about it now, and at least two of them felt a sudden
sharp sense of loss at the prospect.
“Well, hell, Earl, where have you got to rush off to,” said
Ben. “One place is just about the same as other.”
“Yes, that‟s true, but it‟s not the place so much as it is the
travel to it. I miss the road.”
Ben stood up and gathered his drawings.
“Well, I guess there‟s no answer to that. Come on, let‟s
finish this up.”
They went outside into the late afternoon, and surveyed
their work. Even if not completed it was impressive. It had the
gravity and grace of proper and exquisite proportion. They‟d
done it right.
THE WHALE IS FINISHED
And so it was done. They stood back and looked at it, gleaming
under the arc lights. Martin darted forward like Harpo Marx and
briskly buffed a spot on the fluke, then took his place with the
others. Earl climbed up on the scaffolding one last time and
faced the crowd that, in spite of the hour, was large and
growing, spilling out onto the street. He spread his arms wide
and said in his preachers voice:
“It‟s finished, friends! The transformation of raw stone to
this, the Whale is completed. Ben – take down the ropes and let
Ben and Martin pulled the ropes down and the crowd
streamed into the lot, surrounding the beast.
“Go on,” said Earl, “You can touch it!”
Someone had brought their small daughter; they held her
up so she could touch the blank malevolent eye of the animal.
One bold youngster with a sloppy shaved head and rings
through his ears and nose climbed up on a fluke, and from
there to the whales back. A few more followed and then more,
until the back was crowded with people, gawking and jostling.
Ben and Earl looked at each other and Ben shrugged. He called
“It belongs to them, now.”
“It belongs to you, my brothers!” Earl shouted to the
crowd. “Treat it as you would be treated!”
Martin watched, wide eyed, uncertain. He didn‟t know
how to feel about it, seeing the fruit of some many days of
work despoiled by a throng of philistines and drunks. It seemed
wrong to him, and he wanted to knock them off the White
Whales pristine back, push back the crowd and throw back up
the barriers. He said to Ben:
“This doesn‟t seem right.”
“It‟s alright, kid. Once you finish a piece, it‟s done. It
don‟t belong to you anymore.”
“I don‟t understand.”
“You have to let things go. Everything has something in
store for it, even big pieces of rock. It‟s not your business
Martin thought about it, but it still didn‟t make sense to
him. Ben was closely watching him. He said:
“Listen. Come on by the studio tomorrow and help me
rough out this new chunk of alabaster. We‟ll talk about it some
“Ok,” he said, reluctantly letting the desecration of the
beast occur before his eyes. “But it‟s as bad as a crowd at the
“You mean it‟s as good as a crowd at the carnival,” Ben
Just then the drunks on top of the whale began to sing.
Ben didn‟t recognize the song, but everyone seemed to know it
and soon the joined voices filled the late night air, rising up and
falling again as they traced a melody he could not place. Martin
was not singing, nor was Earl, although the old man was
waving his lighted cigar like a baton, seeming to conduct the
chorus. But there was no conducting them, no leading them;
Earl found he was just following along, no longer in control of
them or anyone. He climbed down from the scaffolding and
went over to Ben and Martin.
“It‟s done, and so am I. Let‟s go have a few beers, boys.”
“Come on, Martin,” said Ben.
The three of them left the crowd and went down the dark
street toward Ben‟s studio. They didn‟t look back, but they
could hear the voices of the unruly innocent crowd as they
walked, even blocks away. The sound of the singing only died
out when they went into the studio and shut the door behind
Across the street from the Whale, apart from the crowd,
in the shadows, was Ahab. [more]
CHECK THIS AGAINST PREVIOUS SECTION FOR DIFFERENCES
And so it was done. They stood back and looked at it,
gleaming under the arc lights. Martin darted forward like Harpo
Marx and briskly buffed a spot on the fluke, then took his place
with the others. Earl climbed up on the scaffolding one last
time and faced the crowd that, in spite of the hour, was large
and growing, spilling out onto the street. He spread his arms
wide and said in his preachers voice:
“It‟s finished, friends! The transformation of raw stone to
this, the Whale is completed. Ben – take down the ropes and let
Ben and Martin pulled the ropes down and the crowd
streamed into the lot, surrounding the beast.
“Go on,” said Earl, “You can touch it!”
Someone had brought their small daughter; they held her
up so she could touch the blank malevolent eye of the animal.
One bold youngster with a sloppy shaved head and rings
through his ears and nose climbed up on a fluke, and from
there to the whales back. A few more followed and then more,
until the back was crowded with people, gawking and jostling.
Ben and Earl looked at each other and Ben shrugged. He called
“It belongs to them, now.”
“It belongs to you, my brothers!” Earl shouted to the
crowd. “Treat it as you would be treated!”
Martin watched, wide eyed, uncertain. He didn‟t know
how to feel about it, seeing the fruit of some many days of
work despoiled by a throng of philistines and drunks. It seemed
wrong to him, and he wanted to knock them off the White
Whales pristine back, push back the crowd and throw back up
the barriers. He said to Ben:
“This doesn‟t seem right.”
“It‟s alright, kid. Once you finish a piece, it‟s done. It
don‟t belong to you anymore.”
“I don‟t understand.”
“You have to let things go. Everything has something in
store for it, even big pieces of rock. It‟s not your business
Martin thought about it, but it still didn‟t make sense to
him. Ben was closely watching him. He said:
“Listen. Come on by the studio tomorrow and help me
rough out this new chunk of alabaster. We‟ll talk about it some
“Ok,” he said, reluctantly letting the desecration of the
beast occur before his eyes. “But it‟s worse than a crowd at the
“You mean it‟s as good as a crowd at the carnival,” Ben
Just then the drunks on top of the whale began to sing.
Ben didn‟t recognize the song, but everyone seemed to know it
and soon the joined voices filled the late night air, rising up and
falling again as they traced a melody he could not place. Martin
was not singing, nor was Earl, although the old man was
waving his lighted cigar like a baton, seeming to conduct the
chorus. But there was not conducting them, no leading them;
Earl found he was just following along, no longer in control of
them or anyone. He climbed down from the scaffolding and
went over to Ben and Martin.
“It‟s done, and so am I. Let‟s go have a few beers, boys.”
“Come on, Martin,” said Ben.
The three of them left the crowd and went down the dark
street toward Ben‟s studio. They didn‟t look back, but they
could hear the voices of the unruly innocent crowd as they
walked, even blocks away. The sound of the singing only died
out when the went into the studio and shut the door behind
Across the street from the Whale, apart from the crowd,
in the shadows, was Ahab. [more]
Ahab deteriorated. No one noticed, except perhaps
Christine who saw the faint tremor of the hand, the slowness of
the smile and the wooden counterfeit cordiality instead of the
genuine warmth he normally radiated, one of his gifts. To
everyone else he was the same, in spite of his long nights of
secret torment. During the last week of the Whales preparation
he was on television three times, and was the perfect dynamic
and witty spokesman for the company. He played golf in the
hastily created and implemented Ahab Open, clowning for the
crowd and camera by „accidentally‟ stepping in the cup on the
18th green with his peg, and presenting a sixty second
pantomime that Charlie Chaplin would have approved of. He
made his rounds everyday, following his dictum to make a new
friend every day, and tending to the friends he had like a
gardener tending his garden. He was in all respects a happy
healthy prosperous and successful business man – or was it
showman – living a happy if somewhat unconventional life.
But at night he was sliding further and further into the
obsession. In the evening, his days work done, he went up the
narrow stairs to his cabin and locked the door. He ate his
simple meal of chowder and biscuit, and uncorked the bottle of
rum, and opened his log. Every new occurrence, no matter how
minute, was recorded. He wrote down that Ben had a run in
with one of the winos, friends of Earls, who‟d said something
disrespectful, and that Earl had not intervened on either side,
simply standing and watching as Ben, larger and stronger by
far, had clamped the mans arm in his hand and dragged him
from the lot and onto the sidewalk. The Bum‟s Rush, as they
used to call it, and this time, literally the case. Ahab described
in detail the appearance and mood of the three craftsman, and
noted the uncanny equilibrium of Earl, whose demeanor never
seemed to alter. He was always relaxed, genial, unflappable, in
contrast to Ben, who was moody and unpredictable. And
Martin, withdrawn, uncommunicative, troubled. He noted the
change in Martin‟s appearance as he grew stronger with the
strenuous exercise, and noticed Ben‟s clothing, which was
exactly the same every day, as if he put on in the morning what
he took off at night – but that was not so. Ahab deduced that
he had many identical sets of clothing, khaki work pants and
blue work shirts and green nondescript billed caps, with no
baseball team or business logo on them. Ahab believed that the
shoes were the same every day, or perhaps were changed on
the week, but if so, changed to an identical black heavy
workmen‟s shoe, the kind with a steel cap in the toe.
Ahab noticed every tiny change to the stone, or better,
the Whale, since it was clearly that now. He stood at the
second story window with his long seamans telescope
extended to full length observing, the blind eye of the lens
roving over the lot, focusing on each person and each inch of
the stone. [put in backstory reference to second story window
that he finds at the end of a warren of small rooms and halls
that look out onto the street at the front of the store and from
which he observes at night] He saw where Martin cut too much
stone from the plane of the tail and how Ben repaired it for
him, instructing Martin as he chiseled along the smooth curve
until all was right, in fact, even better, more dynamic and life-
like. More like a whale. Ahab saw that depth to which the
power tools could cut, and how quickly the stone disappeared
beneath the large air driven angle grinder, handled by Ben in
his heavy mask and clear plastic welders face shield. He saw
Earls token efforts, his occasional scratches at the base of the
statue where his work would not be noticed, and the frequent
breaks he took when he walked through the crowd talking to
anyone and everyone, and climbing up on the scaffolding now,
instead of the whales back, to deliver his sermons.
Ahab wrote all of it down in the log, in a tiny crabbed
handwriting, long rushes of words with no breaks. He
documented everything, then wrote his comments, wild vivid
speculation on the motive of the men and the meaning of the
Whale, and his feelings, emotions, which were raw, intense,
deep and rending. He wrote from the evening until late in the
night, pausing only to stand at the window and observe. If
there was work going on at night, and there usually was,
beneath the big bright arc lights, he sat at the window and
watched, the log on his lap as he recorded the activity. He tried
to draw the Whale, but lacked the skill and almost wept in
frustration when his efforts failed.
Throughout it all a part of him, a separate compartment in
his mind, observed his descent. He knew he was going mad,
and knew that it was inevitable, for he admitted to himself he
had not the will or inclination to change his course. He was
In the morning, with the inflexible discipline of the
possessed, he shook off the rum‟s effects, and with only a few
hours sleep emerged from the cabin, clean and fresh in his
newly pressed Navy broadcloth jacket, the shiny brim of his
captains hat gleaming, shoes dark with new polish, and a smile
lurking at the edges of his grim mouth, every inch the gruff and
lovable Capt. Ahab. He was in character and ready for the day.
And as he made his way through the activities of the morning
only Christine noticed the tiny telltale signs of the ravages of
his other life, and she, young, without experience enough to
see past the façade, put it down to illness. And perhaps she
was right; that was as good a way to think about it as any.
[break to Harvey scene, then carving, then back to Christine.
Perhaps she discovers the log.]
The crowd had indeed taken on a new character. There
were more, many more people coming each day to see the
Whale. Not just during lunch or for a few minutes after work,
but early in the morning and all through the day. The exact
number rose and fell a little, but there were always enough
people to fill up the lot to its corners, spill out into the alley
behind the lot and the sidewalks in front of it. At peak time the
edges of the crowd oscillated into the street, retreating as each
convoy of automobiles passed, then bulging out again.
The people who made up the crowd were a different mix.
The very first observers were the vagrants who‟d made the trek
from Linn Park, partly because they knew Earl and partly
because the days are long and empty if you have no job or
home to maintain, and the diversion of watching grown men
scratch at a boulder was irresistible. Then the workers in the
local offices stopped by for a few minutes at lunch, or during
smoke breaks. They held themselves apart from the vagrants,
and stayed only a short time at first. As the popularity of the
attraction increased there were more of them and they stayed
longer. Then there were the „occasionals‟, people who were in
the neighborhood for other reasons, saw the crowd or the
looming white rock, and came over to see what the fuss was
about. A lot of them came from customers of The Pequod, and
in turn many of the observers crossed the street to buy shrimp
for dinner, or mullet gyros at the walk up window. Even
Harvey‟s diner got some of the spill over. He had to make extra
trips to the storeroom for supplies, and sent his order to the
wholesaler in a few days early to make sure he didn‟t run out of
lard and artichokes and the other staples of his trade.
But when the whale beca me recognizable as the Whale
the crowd reached critical mass and turned into something
else. The exact moment is unknown, but the fact announced
itself to Ben, Earl and Martin on the morning they started in on
the flukes, which required a different carving technique. Ben
was instructing the two other men, marking lines and arrows
on the stone to mark the place and direction of the chisel cuts,
when he noticed that part of the crowd had come so close that
it‟s members were in fact standing with the workmen. One of
them, a fat office worker in a white shirt and beard, said:
“Isn‟t that the technique Henry Moore used?”
Ben looked around and realized that the man was
standing closer to him than Martin, and that they, the workers,
had somehow become part of the crowd.
“What the hell do you know about Henry Moore,” he
asked, irritated. Then he said:
“All you folks need to get back on the sidewalk. We got to
have room to work.”
There was some milling around, but the sea of onlookers
did not recede. There was no place for them to go. The
sidewalks were filled. And even if there had been room to
retreat there were those in the crowd that weren‟t inclined to
do so, folks who felt entitled to the show. There were even a
few oppositional people who didn‟t like being told what to do,
and these moved forward instead of back. The crowd, which is
the sum of it‟s individuals, did not move back. The parts of the
crowd swarmed randomly within its confines and an ominous
mumble started, a sound that was different than the light
background conversation that was usually audible. This was
different. It was focused and to Ben‟s ears, slightly menacing.
To Earl too; he‟d had a lot more experience with masses of
people that the sculptor.
“Let‟s take a break,” he said.
“Yeah, good idea,” Ben agreed, and the three picked up
their tools, left the lot and went into the diner.
[segue into Earls crowd remarks scene]
They solved the problem by arriving very early the next
morning and erecting a fence. Martin dug holes with the post-
hole digger, Ben mixed the cement and together they set the
four foot posts at intervals across the front and back of the lot,
all the way across so that the fence would run from building to
building with no space for an ardent fan to sqeeze through.
They nailed slats and two-by-fours and any other scrap lumber
they happened to have handy between the posts. Earl insisted
that they leave plenty of room between the slats so that people
could see through, although the fence was so low that most
folks could just look over it.
“How‟s this going to keep anyone out?” asked Martin.
“Oh, it won‟t hold up a crowd that really wants to get in,”
Earl said, “but it will slow them down, and anyway, nobody will
try to get through it. Just like cows. Cows is strong enough to
push down most fences but they don‟t do it, do they?”
“I guess not,” said Martin who‟d only seen cows as he
drove along the highway and noticed them standing placidly in
“So you see, Marty, people is like cows,” said Ben,
imitating Earls Western drawl. Earl ignored him.
They finished the fence under the eyes of the early shift of
watchers. Ben screwed hinges into the post nearest to the
diner and made a rough gate through which they could enter
“I don‟t see that this is going to keep anyone out at
night,” he said.
“Probably won‟t,” said Earl. “But that‟s ok, we ain‟t going
to spend the rest of our lives here. We‟ll be done in a week, and
then anyone can spend as much time as they want.”
So they went back to carving and sanding and doing all of
the tedious slow work that make stone into a different shaped
CHRISTINE RUMINATES ON MARTIN
Christine was careful not to let Martin know that she was
so close, and that everyday she could walk across the street
and talk to him if she‟d been inclined. She was not sure why
she was so reluctant. Perhaps it was instinctive, and she‟d
learned to pay attention to her instincts. When she thought
about it she speculated that she knew deep down, in her heart
of hearts, that they had no future together, and she wanted to
spare him the misery of knowing she was so close. If he still
cared about her, and with her insight she believed that he did.
He was not a man to easily put on and take off friendships or in
the case of their relationship, something more than friendship.
So she suspected that, if he could, Martin would pick up exactly
where they left off, although his recent life as a stone mason
and friend of street bums and even participant in some kind of
bizarre street theatre might have knocked him out of his
autistic cocoon. Maybe she could have a relationship with the
new Martin, a Martin who would have trivial conversations and
a lightness, a gaiety that was missing from the old Martin. But
maybe not. She watched him sometimes from the front window
of The Pequod, and sometime from the second story window,
the one that Ahab had discovered and that was known by all of
the lazy marijuana smoking mates, who called it the Crows
Nest, as a place to hide and get high. The upstairs room had a
chair and an excellent view of the lot, particularly now that the
masons had built a low fence around the project. From upstairs
she could see right down into the lot and watch as Martin toiled
through the day. He had become much more adept with the
tools, she saw, and stronger. He loaded a wheelbarrow with
scrap marble and pushed it to the back of the lot, dumping it
onto a large pile of discarded stones. He handled the task
without faltering, even with some grace. But if she watched
long enough she would see that even with dozens of people
around him, and even with the sociable outgoing old man
working next to him all day, he said very little to anyone. He
had not changed, she thought. And there was no point in
thinking that the affair between them might be revived. There
was no kindness in reminding him of that every day. Christine
could see that the progress on the statue had advanced
considerably over the days. They would be through shortly, and
Martin would be gone. Where, she had no idea. Maybe to
another lot somewhere to carve another boulder into a goat or
a frog. Or maybe he‟d return to the library and bookstores and
to whatever solitary room he lived in, where he‟d read and
write in his spiral notebooks and talk to no one.
CHRISTINE FINDS THE LOG
On the day before the Whale was finished Christine went
up to the Crows Nest to see it for herself. The mates below had
been talking about it because traffic in the street was heavy,
and quite a bit of it spilled over into The Pequod. She went to
the front and looked out the window, but the mass of people
and the low fence blocked her view. All she could see was Ben
on a scaffold running some kind of power tool over the Whale‟s
flank, grinding or sanding, and kicking up clouds of marble
dust. After the fence went up Ben posted several signs that
warned that stone dust was dangerous to breath, and that the
sculptors were not responsible for on-lookers who were hit by
rock chips. When he kicked on the generator that ran the
pneumatic tools the crowd backed away, waiting to see which
way the wind was blowing. On this day it was blowing straight
out into the crowd, which quickly retreated across the street
onto The Pequod‟s sidewalk. Christine didn‟t see Martin or the
old man up on the platform, so she went up the stairs and
down the dark narrow maze of hallways and into the small
room that overlooked the lot.
The Crows Nest had no slacker Pequod employees
lounging around, though the smell of marijuana was still
detectable in the room. She stood at the window, looking down
on the lot and saw that Martin had been hidden by fence and
crowd, and was standing below Ben, managing the hose for his
grinder. He looked surreal. He had on his big breathing mask,
and hard hat and the clear plastic face shield. It made his head
look like the head of an insect, or some kind of alien species
that had evolved from insects and had arrived on earth to suck
the life out of humans. Which sounded like Martin, anyway.
She started to sit in the wooden straight back chair when
she saw an old fashioned clothbound book, a journal of some
sort. She picked it up; the title written in small crooked letters
was “The Log of THE PEQUOD”. She opened it and read from a
few pages at random. Then she looked down the hall to make
sure she was alone and read a few more pages. She was
agitated by what she read, and uncertain what to do. She
tucked the book under her arm and went downstairs, praying
she would not run into Ahab. She didn‟t. She went out into the
market and unobtrusively wrapped the book in the brown
paper they used for the fish. She sealed it tight, relieved that
Shelley and Kelley were not working that shift, and slipped out
the back door. She went to her car, parked around the corner
and out of sight of the market, and locked the book in the
She returned to work and nothing happened. Ahab was on
the phone all that day, working out the arrangements for the
„Ahab Invitational Mega-Bass Tournament‟ which was to be
sponsored by the corporation next summer. Ahab knew next to
nothing about bass fishing, which was enormously popular in
Alabama and other parts of the South, but he learned very
quickly, and sound like a basser from way back, talking plugs
and the dimension of bass boats. He paid no attention to her,
except to ask her for a revised copy of his schedule, and to
compliment her on the tidiness of the advertising copy she‟d
prepared for him. But she felt a chill within that would not
leave her. She had to force herself to look at him directly, and
when their fingers brushed as she handed him the calendar she
shivered. He didn‟t notice. All of his emotional and intellectual
resources were absorbed in the balancing of the two lives he
led, and Christine was a joy because she required so little
instruction. She was just there, doing what she was supposed
to do, and being pleasant while she did it.
So the afternoon passed. When it was time for her to
leave, and she went out of the office and into the alley she felt
a great relief, as if she had spent the day in a cage with a placid
sleepy unpredictable animal. She was disturbed on a very deep
level to realize that the man she‟d respected and liked was not
the man he seemed to be, and she had had no clue of this, not a
hint, or suspicion. And would never have known if it were not
for the accident of the Log. She drove to her apartment,
conscious of the book in the trunk. She went inside and locked
the door, but after an hour of thinking, she retrieved it from the
car and placed it on the table. She sat looking at it for a time,
then opened and started reading it from the beginning. She
read until late in the evening, until she‟d finished it. Then she
slept for an hour, and got up before sunlight. She dressed,
went out to the car, locked the book in the trunk again and
drove down to the lot where the great Whale was, and where
Martin would be today. She went down to talk to him.
November 14 – On this day I first sighted the beast that is
being born inch by inch before me. Before today it was
innocent rock, inert, unconcerned, the image of nothing. But
today it took it‟s shape, guiding the tools of the sculptors who
swarm over the face of the rock like beetles over a rotting
haunch. The malignancy that exists on it‟s own has manifested
itself in the stone creature, monument and heir to the living
beast that went before. Evil has no end and no shape and must
take the substance of the innocent and soil it. The virgin stone
become corrupt, first symbol then embodiment of that spirit
that lives insubstantial but ubiquitous and touches every
human soul, leaving the oily print of its passing, seed to
flourish, if the soil is right. Here I fear it is.
There are three servants of the Whale, constructors and
obsequious lackeys who possessed by it are creating it. Today
the old one harangued the crowd like a demon preacher,
drawing lessons from the building of the beast, justifying it,
glorifying it, exalting it and in the course of his machinations
damned and doomed by it. He must be cleansed with the
Whale. The other one, the big one who is architect and
engineer works without pause. He‟s the one who was inspired
to see the beast in the stone and devise the ways to release it,
and shares in damnation with the old one. His is the evil of the
tool, of machines that promise fruitful paradise but counterfeit
the soul and deliver Death. The engineer is constructing the
face of Evil, pleasing and smooth, a tribute and a lie.
The third one, the troll, is lackey and minion to the others
and to the Whale. He scuttles along the base of the rock, small
and thick as a plug, serving up tools to the engineer and
performing the small tasks, a willing hand. I see his face and
see the locked purse of the miser, unwilling to spend himself
with others; his manifestation of the Evil is se lfishness of spirit.
The three of them are tireless as demons, which they are,
though they know it not. They serve that power that lives
behind the masks and so must suffer, for I‟ve said that to strike
the mask is to strike at the Spirit that inspired the mask, and if
the servants are destroyed along with it, so much the better.
November 21 – I‟m imprisoned by the public life I lead. I
cannot spend the frail strength I have left on the observation
and pursuit of the my enemy the way that I should. I waste the
hours in commerce. Today I was six hours into daylight before
I could make my brief inspection, my reconnaissance. And now
the sun is gone and the workmen with them, and all that‟s left
is me and the evil that‟s frozen in its struggle to be born. I can
see it‟s flukes now, emerging from the rock. The three of them
are active, taking their power from a great tainted source. I did
not think that stone would be cut so quickly and so fine. The
Whale in it‟s entirety will be here by the end of the month, and
then the battle will be joined.
The three must be scourged with beast. First the beast,
then the hands that made the beast and then by  And then
my harpoon. It was made for the flesh of the leviathan, but
works as well on the flesh of men. It will stab to the heart of
each and all of them.
AHAB ASSAULTS THE WHALE
Ahab watched the Bacchanalia from the Crows Nest. The
revelers and revilers danced on the back of the Whale, not
knowing or caring that they worshipped in an evil church. By
midnight there were still a few. One drunken partier staggered
to the tale and urinated on it. Ahab laughed. The drunkard‟s
gesture to demean the statue demeaned the drunkard. The
Whale didn‟t care about minor insult.
While he waited into the late hours of the night he looked
at the sculpture, admired it, meditated on it and what it
represented. The architect of the project, Ben, must have been
inspired. The representation was flawlessly accurate in
anatomy; it caught the description of the Moby Dick as written
in the book and translated it to solid form. And more, it caught
the malignancy and grandeur of the Whale, the greatness of it.
No wonder it could suffer the minor indignities, the day to day
pettiness of the human animal. The sculpture was huge and
perfect and seemed to glow with an inner phosphorescence
that gave it depth. It was a worthy enemy, he thought, without
his hatred of it diminishing one particle.
A few minutes before three o‟clock the lot was empty, the
last guest departed and the Whale alone. Ahab stood and
stretched his cramped legs and walked slowly to his cabin. The
harpoon, far taller than a man, leaned in the corner, heavy
wood shaft and thick dark steel, dark except at the edge where
it was bright with honing, both sharp and strong. Ahab took it
and deftly maneuvered out of the cabin and down the stairs to
the alley. It was black as pitch under the moonless sky, with
the motley spread of stars hidden by great gathering clouds.
The wind was rising. Ahab stalked through the alley, around
the building and stood right opposite the lot, under the inky
shadows of The Pequod‟s awning. The whale loomed before
him, majestic and glowing even in the blackness.
Ahab began his slow uneven walk toward it, his step
gathering strength as he cross the street, moving faster. He
entered the lot moving very quickly, and hefted the harpoon to
his shoulder, preparing to thrust, to stab it into the heart of the
beast. He closed on it, cocked back his strong arm and flung
the razor bladed shaft into the Whale, the perfect spot, before
the fluke and behind the blank frightening eye, and the shaft
flew straight. It gouged into the stone and hung for an instant,
then the bright snap of metal and the heavy wood dropped to
the ground, leaving the broken blade impaled in the great
beast. Ahab stood panting before the impassive leviathan, his
eyes and mind wild with fury, impotent without strength or
weapon to do his will. He wit and sanity returned, or at least
the brand of guile and instinct that passed for sanity when he
was in this state. He picked up the wooden shaft with its
broken blade, and retreated, looking behind him at the
undefeated beast. He muttered in his run husky voice:
“It‟s a long voyage, you fiend from hell.”
He walked unseen into the black alley and around to his
door, and in moments was in his cabin, seated at his desk
staring blankly ahead. He reached blindly for the bottle of grog,
found it and drank. He sat it down, then drank again, and again
until the bottle was empty and he was senseless, head and
arms across the table, the bottle on the floor, and the broken
lance leaning in the corner, waiting for repair.
THE AFTERMATH OF THE ASSAULT
In the morning Ahab did not appear at his usual hour, nor
in the hours that followed. He missed telephone calls and a
visit from agents of the Birmingham Fire Department, to whom
he was to present an award acknowledging their bravery. Mr.
Kwan filled in for him, and Christine, dreading the appearance
of the captain, answered the phone and took a growing stack of
messages. At nine o‟clock Mr. Kwan himself went up to knock
at the cabin door, waiting for a response with his ear pressed
to the wood. He heard nothing at first, then finally, the slow
dragging of something across the floor, and then Ahab‟s gravel
“I‟m sick today. Keep the ship on course.”
And that was all.
Mr. Kwan returned downstairs and told Christine to cancel
his appointments. The captain was under the weather.
THE CREW EXAMINES THE WOUNDS AND SPECULATES
In the morning Ben, Martin and Earl examined the wound
in the side of the Whale. It was about six feet up from the
ground, at eye level for Ben, who peered closely at it. The dark
steel blade protruded from the stone about three inches; the
end, where it had snapped, was bright and clean, as were the
sharpened edges. Ben gently tugged at it, but it stayed firm.
“Looks like a spear head,” he said.
“Harpoon,” said Martin.
“Sure, why not. Someone harpooned our marble whale.”
“Not many harpoons around here,” Earl said, distractly
fingering the blade. He had to reach up to do touch it.
“Can you get it out of there?”
“Sure,” Ben said. He went over to the tool box and got
pliers. He gripped the blade with them and began working it
from side to side. In a moment it came free. It was six inches
long, in total. It had stabbed into the rock a good three inches.
“Lookit how deep it went,” said Earl. “Somebody was
serious about it.”
Ben fingered the edge of the gash.
“Yeah, but it‟s hard to cut through rock, even rock soft as
marble is, with a spear. It‟s just too hard.”
“Can we fix it?” asked Martin.
“We could. We could fill it with cement, and smooth it
“What about the color? Wouldn‟t it show up?
“We can always color the cement so it‟s pretty close.
You‟d have to know exactly where to look to find the hole once
it‟s been repaired. But do we want to?”
Both of them looked at Earl. He was drinking coffee and
looking at their work, from tail to snout. The lot was littered
with trash from the celebration of the night before. Someone
had thrown a chair up on top of the whale.
“We done a pretty good job, do you think?” he said.
All of them looked at the finished work. It was impressive.
“Yeah, it is,” said Ben. “Though it won‟t be long before the
spray can boys find it.”
“But we‟re done with it, don‟t you think?” he said. “We
turned it over last night.”
“Turned it over to who?” said Martin.
“ I don‟t know,” said Earl. “The public? The people?
Anybody? Everybody? Don‟t make no difference now, since it‟s
not ours to worry about or repair. Maybe it belongs to the guy
that‟s trying to kill it.”
Martin thought about it for a moment. He looked across
the street at The Pequod.
“If I didn‟t know better,” he said, and left it at that.
“The books says Ahab did it, is that right?” a sked Earl.
“Yes, but I thought the fish market company was happy
“Sure they was, free advertising and all,” said Earl.
“Then why would their man try to…” he searched for a
word, “why would he hurt it?”
“Maybe Ahab ain‟t their man,” said Ben.
Earl looked at him shrewdly from under his heavy brows.
He patted the pocket of his shirt for a cigar, but found none.
“Who‟s for walking with me down to the drug store? I got
to get me more smokes.”
“Much as I‟d like to waste the morning helping you
exercise your bad habits, I got to get back to work. If this job‟s
done, I got to start another one. You coming, Martin?”
“Yes,” he said, “but I‟ll take a walk first.”
Earl and Martin walked down the sidewalk toward the
drugstore leaving Ben to take a last look at the gouge. He
looked around the lot. He felt an impulse to clean it up, to
gather the paper wrappers and beer cans and pieces of wood
from the fence. He was instinctively tidy, instinctively inclined
to organize the world around him into pleasing patterns. But he
left the Whale swimming in a sea of debris.
Earl was right, he thought. We did a good job. Even now it
looks good, in spite of defacing, or maybe because of it.
He didn‟t pick up anything. He put the razor edged,
broken blade in the tool box and went into the diner for coffee,
and maybe a talk with some of the regulars about something
serious, like Southeast Conference college football.
That day Ahab did not appear. In the late afternoon Mr.
Kwan again approached the heavy wood door of his apartment
and knocked. Again he laid his ear against it to listen for any
signal from within, and heard nothing. He called out to Ahab,
asking if he was alright, would he be coming down to work, and
after a few moments, got his answer in the same short gruff
Mr. Kwan, with the experience of long years of managing
people, knew that he had a personnel problem. For all of Ahab‟s
hobnobbing with headquarters folk, and all of his importance to
the company in their plans for national, even international
expansion, Ahab still reported to him. And was his
responsibility. He went down the stairs softly. He was mild,
bland, efficient, and impartial. He went into his office and made
a notation in the personnel folder of John C. [lastname].
Upstairs in the apartment that he had turned into a
likeness of a whalers cabin Ahab sat in the dark. He had felt the
membrane that separated his two lives tear, and the madness
pour from the dark violent secret life into the other. There was
nothing he could do about it. It was already done, and it froze
him to the chair. He was not worried about Mr. Kwan.
Tomorrow he would return to work, to the charade, the
caricature of Ahab that he had perfected. He would satisfy Mr.
Kwan and the Great Atlantic Seafood Company. If he had the
will to do so, and that was what locked him into obsessed
meditation. He felt within the impulse to stop the drama, to
break through the pretense of every day life, of his life and the
lives of those around him, to rip back the cover and expose the
writhing truth about the nature of the world, of everything. To
bring down the teetering structure of falsehood to which we all
subscribe, and publish the Whale‟s lesson, that the Whiteness
of the Whale promised the Truth of the grandeur, the nobility of
, but the Truth was the malignancy of spirit that lay under
every act and thought, the invalidity of goodness. That was the
Truth of the Whale, not the promised serenity and peace and
goodness. The Whiteness of the whale was the whiteness of
maggots and the whiteness of the bone scraped clean of flesh.
It was the paleness of the toadstool growing over the grave
and the pallor of the dying. That was the whiteness of the
whale, he thought. And if I choose I can… [revise]
CHRISTINE TURNS OVER THE LOG TO THE CREW; CHRISTINE
AND MARTINS FAREWELL
Christine found Martin having breakfast at the diner.
It was early, still dark and it was a drizzly slow day. She
parked around the block, out of sight of The Pequod, and
walked through the alley, approaching the lot and the statue
from behind. She‟d never been close to it before and she was
struck by the massiveness of it, and the whiteness, even in the
gloom of the morning. Not a clear pure white, but white like
white noise, a visible static that absorbed all of the colors near
it. Looking at it she started to feel dizzy and disoriented. She
shook herself and walked around it, focusing her eyes on the
muddy ground to avoid the shallow pools of water.
In spite of the thin rain there were people on the sidewalk
under umbrellas or protected by hats and raincoats. She went
down to the diner, staying close to the building. Through the
window she saw Martin sitting in a booth with his partners, the
big rough man in the baseball cap, and the shorter thickset old
man wearing, even at breakfast, his cowboy hat. They were
having breakfast. The big man was reading the newspaper as
he ate, the old man was saying something while Martin looked
off into space dreamily. The diner was crowded and through
the glass pane she could hear the noise of conversation and the
clatter and clash of crockery. She didn‟t want to talk to Martin
in there. It was the wrong place. But she had the book with
her, and wanted to pass it on.
She went into the diner and slid into the booth next to the
old man, across from Martin holding the book in her lap. When
he saw her his eyes widened, his mouth opened and shut. He
looked stunned, and probably was. Christine knew that
managing this kind of emotional confrontation was beyond him,
even on his best days.
“Hello, Martin,” she said.
Martin said nothing, could say nothing. He opened his
mouth but no sound came out. The big man elbowed Martin
“Who‟s your friend, Marty?”
The old man moved over to make room for her, looking
her up and down frankly. He tipped his big hat to her.
“Howdy, Miss. I‟m Earl, this is Ben and I see you know our
She nodded to them, then turned to Martin.
“I have something for you,” she said, and handed the
ledger, still wrapped in butchers paper from The Pequod,
across the table to him. He took it involuntarily.
“I found this. I think you and your friends should read it
All three of the men looked at the package.
“What is it?” asked Ben.
“You‟ll know when you read it,” she said. “And I think you
should read it now.”
She was pale and damp from the weather and the strain.
She didn‟t want to go back to The Pequod, back to Ahab. She
was afraid that he would find out, or just intuitively know that
she had found the log, and she was afraid of what would
“Well hell, let take a look right now,” Earl said.
“Here?” She asked. The diner was completely crowded
now, people standing near the door waiting for a place to sit,
others standing at the register buying breakfast to take out.
The din made conversation difficult.
“No, let‟s go back to my place,” he said with a wink,
enjoying the hint of innuendo and Martins sudden look at him.
“Just to look at the present she brung us,” he said. “And
you all are welcome to come along.”
Ben made a derisive face and pushed Martin along, out of
“Come on, boy. We ain‟t going to get any work done today
The four of them, Earl leading, threaded through the
crowd, behind the counter and into the office. Earl opened the
back door and got his keys out and ready. It was still raining,
and the sun had come up enough to make the sky gray instead
of black. He stepped quickly out into the alley to the storeroom
door. He opened it and led them inside.
They went past the row of shelves stocked with Harvey‟s
supplies and into the big open high ceiling and empty chamber.
It was gloomy in the room, the only light came through the
wide high front windows, but Christine could see that it was
completely empty. She followed Earl across the bare floor to
the wide staircase, up and through a narrow hall and into good
sized space, an office with a heavy battered old wooden desk
and several wooden straight backed chairs, much like the one
in the Crows Nest. In fact, Christine realized, if you looked
down the street a bit you could see the Crows Nest window,
where the slackers and she and Ahab too had looked down on
“This is the old geezers office,” said Ben.
“Yes it is, yes it is,” said Earl, unruffled. He seated himself
in the big executive chair. In spite of the torn scuffed leather it
was impressive, high backed, the wooden trim ornately carved.
He sat back in it with the dignity of royalty, or the cheek of a
“Get the lights, son,” he said to Martin, who turned on the
floor lamp in the corner and the pair of desk lamps. He could
not bring himself to look at anyone, and his discomfort was so
powerful as to make Christine uncomfortable as well. It wasn‟t
the first time this had happened. She wondered how the other
men, who spent long days working next to him, could stand it.
They seemed to ignore the radiation of distress that Martin
“Let‟s take a look at this prize,” said Earl. Martin was still
holding the log. He passed it to the old man, and the other
three drew their chairs closer. Earl took a folded knife from his
pocket, flicked it open and delicately slit the wrapping paper.
He pulled out the log, with it‟s moss green cloth covering and
tarnished brass ornamentation. He opened it to the first page
and started reading aloud:
“I set sail on this voyage a purposeful vengeful man, and
I have no hesitation in saying so. I have seen the source and
symbol of my agony and will make it suffer as I have suffered,
ten fold suffering on it.”
Earl stopped reading.
“What the hell‟s this?” he said.
“I think it‟s Ahab‟s diary,” said Christine.
“You mean that clown from across the street, the peg leg
dude?” Ben said.
“Keep reading,” she said. “You‟ll understand why I
brought it to you.”
Earl found his place and started to read, but Christine
“I don‟t want to hear it all again. I‟ll come back in a
“Ok,” said Earl. “Bang loud on the door so‟s we can hear
As she was leaving Martin rose and followed her out, the
other two looking after him, then at each other.
“That must be the one,” said Ben.
“Looks like it. Let‟s see what we got here,” he said, and
started reading again.
The couple went down the hallway and into the main
room. It wasn‟t any lighter outside, and Christine went over to
the windows which looked out on the sidewalk. There were still
plenty of workers in raincoats hurrying off to jobs. Christine
had never had a real job before, just the summer and part-time
work of students. She wondered what it was like to spend the
entire day somewhere, sitting in a chair at a desk, doing things
with papers. Every day. For weeks and months and years. The
thought did not repel her. It was just strange to her. She
expected to live that life and she wondered if she would like it.
She pictured herself running along the sidewalk in a slicker and
bright colored umbrella, like that woman there, a young
slender new woman, just starting out.
Martin moved uneasily beside her. She‟d almost forgotten
him. She looked at him carefully. He was still short and dark
and slightly bulky, but he didn‟t look soft anymore, he‟d put on
muscle. His shoulders were heavier and his belly flatter, though
he was still chunky. His olive skin was darker with tan, and a
little roughened by the work outside in the wind and sun.
Christine wondered what it would be like to work outside every
Though he looked different he still wouldn‟t meet her
eyes. His gaze drifted up to her face and then slid away. This is
it, she thought, this is why I can‟t go back with him.
“Working outside must agree with you. You‟re looking
healthy.” She couldn‟t bring herself to say „good‟.
He bobbed his head, eyes shifting to the window and
back. Finally he said:
“You should come by sometime.”
“I don‟t think I can do that, Martin,” she said quickly. Just
as well now as later, she thought.
He blanched, and his drifting gaze moved between the
floor and her face more quickly. He started to say something,
“I‟m glad you‟re doing so well, but I just came here to
give you the book,” she gestured up toward the room where
Earl and Ben were reading.
“Oh,” he said. He looked devastated. She felt a swell of
pity and remorse, but pressed ahead.
“It‟s better this way. Maybe I shouldn‟t come back. When
you read the book you‟ll know what to do.”
“All right,” he said slowly, at last looking directly at her.
“You always knew what to do.”
“Not always, but sometimes,” she said. She heard the
muffled voices of Earl and Ben. It sounded as if they were
shouting curses. I guess they got to the good parts, she
“I‟ve got to go,” she said and not waiting for him to say
anything, she walked across the big empty room and out into
the alley. The rain was still thin and cold, and it seemed long
way to her car.
THE CREW RESPONDS TO THE LOG
Martin came back into the room and sat in the chair
without a word. The two older men looked at him, and at each
other. Earl shrugged, not indifferently, not unkindly. He went
back to reading out loud:
“So the skin of the beast, it’s hide, is created. The big one
uses his tools to touch the rock and miraculously it’s smoothed
and from a cloud of smoke the rough hide is revealed. Does he
know he’s accomplice, culpable midwife at the birth of the
Earl put the ledger down.
“He does go on, don‟t he?” he said.
“Crazy,” said Ben.
“Crazy,” Earl agreed. “But will he do anything about it?”
They sat thinking about that for a few moments.
“Hard to tell what a man will do,” Earl murmured, and his
glance drifted over to Martin, who was still in his chair, loo king
at nothing. Earl lifted the book, hefting it in his hand to judge
“Big book,” he said. “He almost filled it up, too.”
“Let‟s go talk to him,” said Ben.
“Pretty soon. Let‟s read the book first.”
“Hell, that will take all day.”
“Probably, but don‟t you think we owe it to him? I figure
he‟s the one who took the whale off our hands, and that‟s a
pretty big favor he done us.”
“What the hell are you talking about? We done him the
favor when we made that whale, and a damned good one it is
too. What favor has he done us?”
“Would you rather have that hundred ton creature
following you around for the rest of your life? Having to look
out for it, and swab it down and make sure none of them
drunks peed on it when you weren‟t looking? When Ahab took
on the whale he saved you from it. You should say thanks.”
Ben just looked at him for a moment.
“I hear what you‟re sayin‟, but I still don‟t see how he
done us a favor. I say we kick the shit out of him before he
comes at us with a big goddam harpoon.”
“Maybe we will, maybe we will,” said Earl calmly, leafing
through the book. “Come on, let‟s see what else he‟s got to say
They spent the afternoon and evening reading aloud from
the log to each other. For a while Harvey, who‟d brought up
some takeout food in neat brown bags, sat and listened. After a
while he shook his head and went back the diner without
It was all crazy and a lot of it didn‟t make any sense, but
they got the point. Ahab was going to kill the whale, and he
might spare a harpoon or two for them as well, since they‟d
more or less created it. Ahab got a little hazy about that; he
seemed to think the Whale had always existed and was just
brought to life – more or less, to the degree you consider cold
stone life – by the three of them. The unnerving part was
reading how closely he‟d observed them.
“Listen here, Martin, he‟s writing about the time you fell
off the whale and caught your foot on the scaffolding and just
hung there. Listen: The apprentice fell again. This time his
awkwardness was so pronounced that he tangled himself in the
rigging and dangled until the big one caught him by the leg and
lifted him onto the back of the beast. Why do they suffer him?”
“How about that, Marty,” said Earl. “Why do we suffer
Ben was laughing, and Martin sat red-faced.
“All right, we‟ll leave it alone. But Jesus he was payin‟
attention, wasn‟t he,” said Earl, browsing.
“Listen: They had lunch served them by the pasty cook
from the diner. I saw eggs hard-boiled, and ham, with crusty
“How did he get that close to us?” asked Ben
“He must have been watching from across the street. He
probably used binoculars or a spyglass or something.”
Ben went over to the windows and looked across at the
Pequod building. The second floor window was still a blank
“Well, it looks right down on us, that‟s for sure,” he said.
“So what are we going to do? We still ain‟t settled that.”
“Let‟s just wait and see what happens tonight,” Earl said.
“Maybe he got all that whale stabbin‟ out of his system. But in
the meantime, better look out for him.”
“He won‟t be hard to spot,” said Ben. “Why don‟t we camp
out up here and keep a watch on the whale tonight. See if he
[ make this room look out over the lot as we ll as on the street]
“That sounds like a damn good idea,” said Earl, rising and
stretching. It was almost dinner time, and the streets were still
dark with rain. The traffic was lined up, all the cars with their
lights on, even though the sun had not set.
“You boys go ahead and keep on the look out tonight, and
come wake me up if he attacks.”
“Yeah,” said Ben disgustedly “thanks for your help.”
“You‟re quite welcome,” said Earl, without a trace of
irony. “Come on, let‟s go see what Harvey‟s got for dinner.”
The three of them filed out of the room and down the
“Don‟t you ever pay for any of those meals Harvey feeds
you?” asked Ben.
“Certainly,” Earl replied. “I‟m sure Harvey is entirely
satisfied with the arrangement.”
“Well, you‟re damned lucky he‟s running the show instead
of me, or I‟d have you sweeping out the place and washing
some windows for your keep”
“Yes,” said Earl, “I am certainly very lucky.”
They went next door to the diner, still bickering, with
Martin trailing, silent and withdrawn. As they passed through
the alley he looked at the wall across from the back door and
saw that his chalk poem had washed away. He followed the
other men into the building, trying to remember exactly what it
was he‟d written there, but all he could think of was new
poems, still spinning in fragments in his head, waiting to spray
out onto the streets.
She saw the first of the poems a week later, as she was
leaving her Feminist Literature class. It was printed on the
concrete walkway near the steps into the building, chalked in
bright yellow, neatly lettered. It said:
The slow petals of the flower
Unfold into blossom,
Hold full flower for that instant
Then float to the ground
She knew right away who the author of that verse was:
Martin. It‟s a tribute to his fundamental decency and
gentleness that she wasn‟t frightened. Not at all. She just felt
sadder than before, and dreaded the moment she‟d have to talk
to him again. The poem was his autistic way of telling her how
much he missed her. He hadn‟t given up on her yet, and she
already knew there was no going back.
Other students stopped to read the brief poem, then
walked on. She looked around for him, but knew he would not
be there. A group of students, young men occupied with t heir
conversation, walked over the chalked lines. By noon they‟d be
faded and smeared, a faint plea soon to be washed away or
worn away or just faded into obscurity. She knew Martin
Christine followed the sidewalk to the parking lot, looking
for messages chalked on the pavement or on walls. She didn‟t
see any others. She got in her car and drove home, to her new
apartment, a shabby set of rooms in an old house up the hill
from the university. She parked on the street, parking brake
locked against the slope of the road, and carefully looked for
more poems. There were none.
Maybe it was a one time thing, she thought to herself. But
she knew better. She knew Martin, with the gift of
understanding that made her so attractive to him. No matter
how inarticulate or awkward she grasped his meaning, his
intent, and responded to it. But it was slow going, carrying the
whole load of the relationship, and at the end she was just
tired, worn out. There was nothing left in her to sustain them.
She wanted a peaceful blank life, for a while anyway.
She went into the apartment, and into her small room,
already neatly furnished and arranged, her books on shelves
and paintings lining the walls. She was pleased that her
roommates were not home.
[more description of apartment – intro of Shelley and Kelley –
need to alter first mention of them in previous section]
AHAB PREPARES FOR THE NEXT ASSAULT
Ahab stayed in his room throughout the day, and into the
evening. He finished the rum and the few biscuits. He sat still
in his chair, thinking. He‟d lost his log, probably left it in the
Crows Nest where it was stolen by one of the mates. There was
nothing he could do about it now, but it set a deadline for him.
He had to complete the task before the log was de livered into
the hands of someone of significance, someone who could
understand it and figure the source of it. Perhaps one of the
ignorant drug users would find it and take it home, or throw it
away. He didn‟t count on that good fortune. He counted on the
worst happening, in fact knew with certainty that it was
already in the hands of the sculptors. And they would no doubt
have the broken blade now too. He had not been out of the
cabin to see if it was still stabbed into the flank of the beast.
As the hour drew closer to midnight he gathered himself
and began to move around the room. He took the tall harpoon
from the corner and loosened the iron band that held the steel
lance in its wooden shaft. He took a long wooden case from
under the bed and opened it. There were four more finely
honed steel lance heads strapped against the velvet lining. He
selected one and held it up to the light. The edge was slightly
tarnished from lack of use. I‟ll fix that, he thought. He placed
the broken blade in the case and put it away.
He sat at the table with the shaft in his lap and placed the
new lance into the setting. He tightened the band until there
was no more give in it, and tested the blade. It was fixed
firmly, immobile. He stood and hefted the weapon, aimed and
thrust it into the closets wooden door frame. It pierced it, all
the way to the haft. Ahab worked it free, alert for any
movement of the steel, but it remained firm in the shaft. He
He sat again and took a sharpening stone from his pocket.
He began to run it along the edge of the blade, slowly, surely,
at just the right angle. The slight tarnish of the metal came
away, leaving a thin silver line at the edge. He tested it on a
piece of paper; it sliced it better than a razor. He put the
harpoon back in the corner, and took out a sheath of writing
paper and pen. He began:
I was thwarted. The aim was true, the shaft straight and
the steel sharp, and found it‟s mark. But the demon beast took
the blow unflinching, without sound or movement. The demon
beast has laid the challenge, and I‟ll take it. I‟ll return tonight,
for another round, and as many nights as need be until he‟s
belly up. A sharp lance and resolve is all that‟s needed, and I
have them both. I‟ll smite thee to perdition.
At this point Ahab had lost the fight, he‟d been found
wanting and did not have the will to keep himself from being
swept away in the currents of his madness. He was lost.
AHABS SECOND ASSAULT; THE CREWS REACTION
Martin saw movement, the slide of a dark shade against
other dark shadows. He watched the apparition move along the
sidewalk, beneath the long bright awning, now gray in the
“There he is,” he said.
Ben stirred himself in the big leather chair and came to
“Where is he?”
“There,” Martin pointed to the doorway of the Pequod,
where the shadows were darkest.
“Watch,” he said.
The two stood still waiting for something to happen. One
minute, then two, and nothing.
“You sure it wasn‟t a cat?” Ben asked.
Before Martin could answer there was a brief black motion
and into the gray light of the streetlamps walked Ahab. He
moved slowly forward, the harpoon invisible in the night.
“I guess not,” said Ben. “Where‟s the spear?”
Ahab moved into the street in a straight line for the
Whale. As he came closer to the streetlamp the harpoon,
resting on his shoulder, became visible.
“There it is. Run get Earl,” he said.
Martin quickly left the room.
“Now Ahab,” Ben said softly, “Just hold on a minute, I
want Earl to see this too”
Ahab continued his advance across the street, across the
sidewalk and into the lot. He stopped a few yards from the
sculpture. Earl and Martin arrived at the window in time to see
Ahab grasp the harpoon in both hands and raise it to the sky.
They could see his white upturned face, his mouth open and
working as if he were shouting something to the heavens. Then
he stepped back, hefted the harpoon to his shoulders and took
a short chopping run at the Whale, drawing back the spear and
then flinging it with all his strength into the rock between the
statues eye and fluke.
“Looks like he hit the same spot,” said Ben.
“Jesus, he flung it hard,” said Earl.
Ben glanced at Earl, and even in the midst of the drama
stopped for a moment. He could see in the dim light that Earl
was dressed in pajamas, full length flannel with small animals
on it. Ben couldn‟t tell exactly what kind, and was not inclined
to look closer. He had on his cowboy hat. Ben shook off the
unexpected absurd sight and looked back into the lot.
Ahab was standing before the whale. He watched as the
harpoon fell to the ground. He danced in frustration, ran to the
whale and kicked it hard his peg. He lost his balance and fell to
the earth, stood and kicked it again.
“Loco,” said Earl.
Ahab fell again, rose again, picked up the harpoon and ran
with it at the wall of stone. The blunt wooden shaft rebounded
out of his hands. He picked it up and began swinging it at the
Whale, again and again until it splintered. Then he picked up
one of the pieces, and gouged the sharp end of it into the eye
of the Whale.
“God almighty,” said Earl.
The three of them watched from the window, stunned,
appalled as Ahab fell again and dragged himself away from the
Whale, got to his feet and with a last look at the beast, and a
silent mouthing of a curse, limped out of the lot and back into
They turned away from the window and stood for a
moment in the darkness.
“Let‟s go down stairs where we can turn on a light,” Ben
said. “I‟m afraid if he sees us he might crash through the
window and try to bite us to death.”
“Amen to that,” Earl said. “He‟s crazy enough to.”
They trooped down the stairs and into a small empty room
at the rear of the building. It‟s only window looked into the
alley, and it was draped with an old canvas tarp. There was no
furniture, only wooden crates and scrap lumber.
“This ought to do us,” said Earl, seating himself on one of
“Now what?” Ben asked.
“Now we got to decide what to do. How serious we want
to get about this.”
The two men exchanged a look of understanding and
agreement, then looked at Martin.
“What?” he said.
“Do me a favor, son, run next door an‟ get me some
coffee,” said Earl.
“The diners closed,” said Martin. “It‟s the middle of the
“So it is, so it is,” he said.
“What is it you don‟t want me to hear?” Martin asked.
The older men didn‟t say anything.
“You want to kill him, and you don‟t want me to know?”
“Oh, I‟m sure it won‟t come to that,” Ben said. “But it
might come to some hitting and kicking, and it won‟t do no
good to have you mixed up in that.”
“Ever been in jail?” Earl asked him.
“Good. That‟s just how it should be.”
“I don‟t care,” said Martin with some intensity.
It startled Ben and Earl, coming as it did so unexpectedly.
Martin rarely spoke, and when he did it was in a low
monotonous uninflected voice.
“Well,” said Earl.
“Well, if he‟s man enough to help us build the whale then
he‟s man enough to go the whole way with it,” Ben said.
“Okay,” said Earl. “Let‟s get on with it.”
THE AFTERMATH: AHAB MEETS HIS FATE
In the dim night the three men talked, quietly,
purposefully, while across the street a broken Ahab dragged
himself up the stairs to his cabin. He was as shattered as the
shaft of his harpoon, which now lay in splinters on the ground
before the Whale. Ahab locked the door and flung himself on
the bed, panting, mad with grief and fury and a nameless dread
that came over him as he turned away from the White Whale,
defeated. He had not prevailed. He had spent himse lf and was
now destroyed. He had nothing left. He faced the chasm and
was frozen in his terror, terror of the next moment, and the
moment after that and every moment that would come in which
his adversary would exist triumphant.
He heard a shuffling of feet outside his door, then a heavy
“I have met my destiny, and this is it,” he said as he
reached to open the door.
Three of the Great Atlantic Seafood Corporation security
men stood before him, large and menacing, close cropped gray
torpedo shaped heads and the pale gray eyes.
I wonder, he thought as they swept silently into the room,
where they come from.
THE CREW EXAMINE THE DAMAGE
In the morning they went down to look at their creation in
the light. The splinters of the harpoon were scattered and the
flank of the whale was scuffed where Ahab had kicked. In the
wall of stone, between the eye and the fluke, exactly in the
trough of the other wound was the broken steel spear head,
lodge deeper and fixed more firmly than before. Ben tugged it,
then reached up with pliers and worked it free.
“He hit exactly the same place,” he said.
“Good aim for a crazy man,” said Earl.
Ben examined the gouge, now enlarged and longer.
“You know, if he keeps it up, keeps hitting this same spot
he might do some damage.”
“You mean he could split this mountain?”
“No, but he‟d probably knock off a chunk of it. Ain‟t
nothing going to break this beast down except time, and we‟ll
all be long gone by then.”
Martin prowled around the lot, picking up the remnants of
Ahab‟s weapon. He put them in the square wooden trash box,
LIFE GOES ON AT THE PEQUOD
Mr. Kwan had a ton of paperwork to do, orientation for
three new „mates‟ and the knotty problem of what to do about
Christine. All this and a new Ahab. A lesser man would have
been daunted, but Mr. Kwan was up to the task. He sat at his
gray metal desk in the unassuming office at the back of the
Pequod and began to write up a disciplinary action for against
Christine, his best employee, always reliable and thorough.
Who‟d disappeared for three days, then returned to work
without an explanation. What to do, what to do. He finished
filling out the form, looked it over, then tore it up. He‟d do
nothing. It didn‟t matter where she‟d been, she was back now.
Mr. Kwan sensed, no, knew for a certainty that she would never
miss a watch again. He used the considerable discretion he was
allowed by the main office and ignored the infraction, erased it
from his books and from her personnel record. And when he
passed her in the hall, he simply said that he hoped she was
feeling better, and that she had more than enough sick leave to
cover the time off. She looked at him uncertainly, then
gratefully, and Mr. Kwan congratulated himself on another
successful management decision.
Now, he thought, the new Ahab. He was due in this
morning. His paperwork had been sent ahead. He was at the
top of his training class, the best they had, and though this was
his first assignment Mr. Kwan was optimistic. He thought
briefly about the old Ahab, the Prime Ahab, then didn‟t think
about it again. Mr. Kwan had received a call from Delaware
with the simple news that John C. Reitmann was no longer with
the company. That was all. He went up to Ahabs cabin, to
prepare it for the new occupant and found that it had been
cleaned up and cleaned out, all the way down to the sheets and
towels which had been replaced with brand new ones. Even the
floors looked new and bright with polish. There was not a trace
of the Prime Ahab.
Mr. Kwan gently closed the door and went about his
THE NEW AHAB
The new Ahab arrived that afternoon. He looked very
much like the old Ahab, though without the intensity, or the
buoyancy that broke through the grim demeanor, made all the
more infectious by the contrast. The new Ahab was a little,
well, bland. He wore the proper clothing, and he had, of course,
an „ivory‟ peg for his left leg. He knew what to say and was in
every sense an engaging and proper replacement. But he was
not quite the same.
Well, thought Mr. Kwan, they never are.
The new Ahab was introduced to the „mates‟ and other
personnel that evening after the store closed. He greeted each
of them indivually, making the rounds at the impromptu
welcoming party Mr. Kwan staged. He circulated, shaking
hands and occasionally doing the „Ahab Jig‟ as they called it in
training school, and doing it very well. When all raised their
bottles of clamato juice in a toast to him he felt he had been
accepted. He had made a good start.
After all had departed, Mr. Kwan showed him to his cabin
and bid him good evening. Ahab uppacked his sea chest and
the duffel back, standard issue from the GASC upon graduation,
putting the items neatly in their places. The room would do
very nicely, he thought.
As he was storing his tidy rolled socks in the chest of
drawers he saw, pushed to the back of the drawer, a book. He
pulled the drawer farther out and discovered two books. One
was a copy of Moby Dick, and the other a cloth bound ledger
with bright brass caps on the corners. He sat at the table and
looked them over.
The ledger was blank, and he had no use for, unless he
decided to keep a diary or his accounts. But he‟d never done
that in the past, so he pushed it aside and looked at the other
book, the copy of Moby Dick. He‟d never read it before, but it
occurred to him that it would be exactly what he needed to get
into character. Yes, he thought, excellent. And he opened the
book to the first page.
EACH OF THE CREW GOES HIS OWN WAY
Harvey was the last one to see them. He‟d got up earlier
than usual and was just starting his morning routine of
chopping vegetables and  when he heard a gentle tapping at
the back door. He looked out and there were Earl and Martin,
dressed for the road with their duffle bags packed.
“Come on in,” he said.
[insert at end of 11/24]
He was lost and he did not know it; that was the nature of the
He sat with his bottle or rum, and his harpoon across his
lap and waited for the night to grow dense and black, and drive
off the casual passersby and loiterers.
Meanwhile across the street there were other waiters and
[link to Ben and Martin watching]
[insert after earl ben etc meet. insert a brief scene in
which they decide, as an alternative to beating Ahab up, to
send the log to Mr. kwan]
Mr. Kwan found the log on his desk in the morning with a
neatly typed card that said: “Read This!!! The Whale has
suffered one wound already! Must it suffer another!”
He sat down with his coffee and did exactly that. He read
the first few pages, then a random page here and there, and
then the last page. He knew exactly who had written it. He
knew why Ahab had been locked in his room since the day
before. In his very efficient and thorough way he walked across
the street to the Whale and verified the „wound‟. And with the
equanimity of a man who knows what is the right thing to do,
and then does it, he picked up the phone and called Delaware.
THE END – CHANGE SO MARTIN STAYS BEHIND
Harvey called out to Sarah:
“Go on and open up. I‟m going to be busy for a few
Earl and Martin stood just inside the door, their bags – in
Martin‟s case a cheap suitcase – packed and ready to go.
“So it‟s both of you leaving.”
“Sure,” said Earl. Martin said nothing. He was wearing
new looking clothes, blue jeans, a plaid shirt and an Atlanta
baseball cap. His shoes were the stained black steel toed work
boots he‟d worn during the construction of the whale.
“Well, Martin, them‟s new clothes I see. You look just like
a southern boy.”
“We tidied up pretty good,” Earl said. “I don‟t think you‟ll
need to do much to get them rooms ready to rent.”
“Oh I won‟t rent them out again. It was just a one time
“Well, if you ever do, they‟re ready.”
“So where are you going?” Harvey asked.
“Soon as Benson‟s car lot opens we‟re going to pick up
our new-used vehicle, then head down to the gulf coast, to
Mobile, then work our way west down to Galveston and maybe
“Wait a minute. You bought a car?”
“Actually one of them Su-ba-ru four wheel drive SUV
“That don‟t seem very hobo-ish,” Harvey said.
“Well, hobo is as hobo does. Besides it‟s next to
impossible to for two hoboes to hitchhike together, and there‟s
some places Marty ought to see. You know he‟s never been
outside the great state of Alabama? In fact he‟s never been
north of Huntsville or south of Montgomery. That‟s no way for a
man to be.”
“I guess not,” Harvey said. “But how‟d you afford it?”
“I was in Vietnam before it got popular,” he said. “I got
hurt in 1964 and a grateful Uncle Sam has been sending me
checks ever since, right to a bank.”
“So you had money. You didn‟t need to talk me into free
room and board.”
“Just because I had money don‟t mean you didn‟t need to
give me a hand.”
“Well, I guess that makes sense. Anyway, good luck out
there,” Harvey said.
“Thanks, a man can always use some luck.”
Harvey shook hands with Earl, then with Martin and the
two slipped out the back door. It was almost light and across
the gray street written on the dark brick wall in bright yellow
chalk were the words:
Flesh and blood or
stone and dust
A whale is just a whale
A man is just
a place to go
some work to do
some one to love
some time to pass
Harvey read the poem and went back inside to help Sarah
open the store. He had a days work to do himself.
“Well, you go to admit taking off your leg is going pretty
far for a joke.”
“I admit nothing,” said Ben.
It was a joke, Ben said. A ruse, a hoax, a clever and obscure
There was considerable discussion about him. Some said the
leg was not ivory at all, but plastic.
When ben finds out the old man is working on a sculpture he
has a different more complex attitude toward him. This goes in
Earl gets some furniture from the basement.
[add to crowd-as-person scene a description of whale rising
out of the sea of people as if sounding. Ben half expected it to
leap into the air and crash down into the crowd, disappearing
beneath the waves of people.]
Ben left town for a gallery opening in Atlanta leaving Harvey to
first witness the Ahab promenade. It was in the afternoon, the
diner was closed and Harve was wiping down the tables near
the window. He glanced up and saw the tall figure of the
Captain strolling along the sidewalk. Harvey dropped his wash
cloth, unlocked the door and stood out on the sidewalk
watching the broad retreating back. The weather was cool that
day and Ahab wore a navy blue pea jacket and a blue cap, and
he kept his hands in his pockets except to wave or shake
hands. This was the second day of the downtown walks and he
already knew some of the regulars, the shop keepers, by name.
8/25/05 – take out the Faulkner style phrases.
Give Earl a girlfriend, or several of them - faded waitresses
and barmaids in their late forties, tripping up the stairs to his