Crazy Ass Idea- Final chapter
This is as far as I got, in the Great American Anti-Novel:
Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide, low, straggling entry with old- fashioned wainscots, reminding one of the bulwarks of some condemned old craft.
I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was full- not a bed unoccupied. “But avast,” he added, tapping his forehead, “you haint no objections to sharing a harpooneer’s blanket, have ye? I s’pose you a goin’ a whalin’, so you better get used to that sort of thing.”
I told him that I never like to sleep two in a bed; that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooner might be, and that if he (the landlord) really had no other place for me, and the harpooner was not decidedly objectionable, why rather than wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with half of any decent man’s blanket.
I considered the matter a moment, and then up stairs we went, and I was ushered into a small room, cold as a clam, and furnished, sure enough, with a prodigious bed, almost big enough indeed for any four harpooneers to sleep abreast.
“There,” said the landlord, placing the candle on a crazy old sea chest that did double duty as a wash-stand and centre table; “there, make yourself comfortable now, and good night to ye.” I turned round from eyeing the bed, but he had disappeared.
I sat down on the side of the bed, and commenced thinking about this head-peddling harpooner.
Fumblings at the door.
Lord save me, thinks I, that must be the harpooner, the infernal head-peddler. But I lay perfectly still, and resolved not to say a word.
Holding a light in one hand, the stranger entered the room, and without looking towards the bed, placed his candle a good way off from me on the floor in one corner, and then began working away at the knotted cords of a large bag. I was all eagerness to see his face, but he kept it averted for some time while employed in unlacing the bag’s mouth. This accomplished, however, he turned round- when, good heavens! what a sight! Such a face! It was of a dark, purplish, yellow color, here and there stuck over with large, blackish looking squares. Yes, it’s just as I thought, he’s a terrible bedfellow; he’s been in a fight, got dreadfully cut, and here his is, just from the surgeon. But at that moment he chanced to turn his face so towards the light, that I plainly saw they could not be sticking- plasters at all, those black squares on his cheeks. They were stains of some sort or other. At first I knew no what to make of this; but soon an inkling of the truth occurred to me. I remembered a story of a white man- a whaleman too- who, falling among the cannibals, had been tattooed by them. I concluded that this harpooner, in the course of his distant voyages, must have met with a similar adventure. And what is it, thought I, after all! It’s only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin.6 But then, what to make of his unearthly complexion, that part of it, I mean, lying round about, and completely independent of the squares of tattooing.
Now, while all these ideas were passing through me like lightening, this harpooner never noticed me at all. But, after some difficulty having opened his bag, he commenced fumbling in it, and presently pulled out a sort of tomahawk1, and a seal-skin wallet with the hair on.
It was now quite plain that he must be some abominable savage or other shipped aboard of a whaleman in the South Seas, and so landed in this Christian country. I quaked to think of it. A peddler of heads too- perhaps the heads of his own brothers. He might take a fancy to mine- heavens! look at that tomahawk!
But there was no time for shuddering, for now the savage went about something that completed fascinated my attention, and convinced me that he must indeed be a heathen. He fumbled in his pockets, and produced at length a curious little deformed image with a hunch on its back, and
exactly the color of a three days’ old Congo baby. Remembering the embalmed head, at first I almost thought that this black manikin was a real baby preserved in some similar manner. But seeing that it was not at all limber, and that it glistened a good deal like polished ebony, I concluded that it must be nothing but a wooden idol, which indeed it proved to be. For now the savage goes up to the empty fireplace, and removing the papered fire-board, sets up this little hunchbacked image between the andirons. The chimney jambs and all the brick inside were very sooty, so that I thought this fireplace made a very appropriate little shrine or chapel for his Congo idol.2
All these queer proceedings increased my uncomfortableness, but the interval I spent in deliberating what to say, was a fatal one. The next moment the light was extinguished, and this wild cannibal, tomahawk between his teeth, sprang into bed with me. I sang out, I could not help it now; and giving a sudden grunt of astonishment he began feeling me.
Stammering out something, I knew not what, I rolled away from him against the wall, and then the landlord came into the room light in hand, and leaping from the bed I ran up to him.
“Don’t be afraid now,” said he, grinning. “Queequeg here wouldn’t harm a hair on you head.”
“Stop your grinning,” shouted I, “and why didn’t you tell me that the infernal harpooner was a cannibal?”
“I thought ye know’d it- didn’t I tell ye, he was a peddlin’ heads around town?- but turn flukes again and to to sleep. Queequeg, look here- you sabbbee me, I sabbee you- this man sleepe you- you sabbee?”-
“Me sabbee plenty” – grunted Queequeg, puffing away at his pipe and sitting up in bed.
“You getteee in,” he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and throwing the clotes to one side. He really did this in not only a civil but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking at him for a moment. For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal. What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself- the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
“Landlord.” said I, “tell him to stash his tomahawk there, or pipe, or whatever you call it; tell him to stop smoking, in short, and I will turn in with him. But I don’t fancy having a man smoking in bed with me. It’s dangerous. Besides, I ain’t insured.”
This being told to Queequeg, he at once complied, and again politely motioned me to get into bed- rolling over to one side as much to say- I won’t touch a leg of ye.
“Good night, landlord,” said I, “you may go. I turned in. Even as it was, I thought of slipping out of the window, but it was the second floor back. I am
no coward, but what to make of this head-peddling purple rascal altogether passed my comprehension. Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken into my room at the dead of night.
I tried to think of something cheerful, but it warn’t no use. I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead. The stars were shining, I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I couldn’t make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me, lying here with a dealer- agreeably pleasant or not- in shrunken skulls of the unfortunate. Then I heard the kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that’s on its mind and can’t make itself understood, and so can’t rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving. I got so downhearted and scared I wish I had some other company. Turning to the fireplace, that harpooneer’s black idol shined and stared at me with the grimace of the knowing dead.
I lit out, leaving the cannibal with his little Negro.
But no sooner had I left when I came upon more Negroes- and one in particular- than I had any mind for.
A sign in the alleyway read “The Trap.” However, I picked myself up and hearing a loud voice within, pushed on and opened a second, interior door.
It seemed the great Black Parliament. A hundred black faces turned round in their rows to peer, and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in the pulpit. It was a negro church; and the preacher’s text was bout the blackness of darkness, and the weeping and wailing and teeth- gnashing there. Ha, Huck, muttered I, backing out. Wretched entertainment at the sign of “The Trap!”
But who should jump of that sea of black faces? Of all the people, in all the places in the world?
Jim lit out!!! and was a-coming for me with both arms spread, he was so full of joy; but when I glimpsed him in the dim light, my heart shot up in my mouth.
“Pooty soon I’ll be a-shout’n’ for joy, en I’ll say, it’s all on acounts of o’Huck; I’s a free man, an I couldn’t ever ben free ef it hadn’ ben for Huck; Huck done it. Jim won’t ever forgit you, Huck, you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; and you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now. De ole true Huck; de on’y white genlman dat ever kep’ his promise to ole Jim.”
Then- the alley quieted, save the scuttlings of vermin and drunken sailors, and the dull holy drone emanating from the sepulcher of that negro church- a look came upon Jim’s face like a shimmer of unexplained light on moonless sea; a look I never seen.
His voice and speech changed, like his countenance and very being had been spit from the maw of Jonah’s great whale.
“Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?” he said. And, pointing to his chest “Here a poor prisoner, forsook by the world and friends, fretted his sorrowful life. Here a lonely heart broke, and a worn spirit went to its rest, after thirty-seven years of solitary captivity.”
It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him now he judged he was free. It was according to the old saying, “Give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.” Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, and I was sorry to hear Jim speak like this, it was such a lowering of him. But my conscience got to stirring up hotter than ever: I said to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why can’t Jim get “spiritual gifts”? No, says I to myself, witches bewitched Jim and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the world. Was he now the most ruined servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches?
And whilst we was a-standing there in the dimmish light, thinking of witches and such, here comes a couple of the most devilish hounds imaginable. It was those two crooks- the King and Duke!
“Aha!,” says the King. “We’ve hunted high and hunted low!”
We easily gave those two the slip, the King all wobbly and rheumy with drink and gout, the Duke half blind and wholly deaf, walking into walls and unable to hear the barked orders from the desperate but enfeebled King, making them about two of the worst slave hunters you ever saw.
But Jim explained these two knew even truly savage hunters, the awares of which any Negro would fear.
“How I escaped death, I do not know,” Jim said.
Then Jim told me of his earnest desire to leave this place, this country, for Africa. I told him no whaling ship would take a mere passenger, and especially a Negroid one in particular.
“No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor,” I explained. “True, they order me about some, and make me jump like a grasshopper in a May meadow. For to go as a passenger you must have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it.”
Jim told me he had no money; he’d spent it all to get to New Bedford.
I then threw in some of my own words of Mr. Shakespeare, to make my point, to hold my own: “Lo, the unbound sea. On its breast a ship starting, spreading all sails, carrying even her moonsails. The pennant is flying aloft as she speeds she speeds so stately below emulous waves press forward.”
Jim nearly looked at me like I had been spooked by witches. But he would not relent, pressing his case for faraway Africa.
“Africa,” he said, “shall show an elevated an cultivated race- life will awake there with a gorgeousness and splendor of which cold western tribes faintly have conceived. In that far-off mystic land of gold, and gems, and spices, and waving palms, and wondrous flowers, and miraculous fertility, will awake new forms of art, new styles of splendor; and the Negro race, no longer despised and
trodden down, will, perhaps, show forth some of the latest and most magnificent revelations of human life!”
I, dumbfounded: “ Is this the work of witches, Jim?”
Jim stared at me long and hard, like there was something dead- a hollowed out dog, or a maggot-ridden corpse, lying between us.
“Yes, this is the work of witches, Huck.” “I didn’t mean no harm by it, Jim.” “I want to go to Africa. I want to go on that ship. And I mean to go on that ship.” I would help Jim escape, twice. In disregard of conscience, but then, such cries came from the
inky depths of a veritable sea, the likes of which Jim could not ascertain. I didn’t tell Jim about my new friend Queegueg, who Jim, despite his new education, might
find odd or fearful; but then, if Queequeg knew of Jim’s transformation, he might be just as fearful of a witch hex of whatever terrified his simple Islander soul, forcing him to rub that little black idol of his ten times more than he already did.
But it did seem so good to be free again with Jim, all by ourselves and nobody to bother us! ______________________________________________________________________________________________
1. Is Queequeg a ‘stand-in’ for all indigenous people3?
2. New York Times Book Review 5/24/15: Shared Visions- The Daemon Knows, Literary Greatness and the American Sublime by Harold Bloom’ : ‘ ‘Moby Dick’ is at the center of this American heretical scripture, our worship of the god within, which pragmatically means of the daemon who knows how it is done... This is that which the strong genius works upon: the region of destiny, of aspiration, of the unknown....’ Moby Dick consorts with Huck Finn. ‘True criticism recognizes itself as a form of memoir.’
3. New York Times 5/4/2015: ‘In Actors’ Walkout, Anger Over Stereotypes’ Late in April, after Native American4 actors walked off in disgust from the set of Adam Sandlers’ latest film, a western sendup that is distributor, Netflix, has defended as being equally offensive to all, a glow of pride spread through several Native American communities... According to the actors who walked off the set, the film, titled “The Ridiculous Six.” included a Native American woman who passes out and is revived after white men douse her with alcohol, and another woman squatting to urinate while lighting a peace pipe. “There’s enough history at this point to have set some expectations around these sort of Hollywood depictions,” Mr. Wente said.
The walkout prompted a rhetorical “What do you expect from an Adam Sandler film?,” and a Netflix spokesman said that in the movie, blacks, Mexicans and whites were lampooned as well.
4. I only remember meeting my natural father twice 5. Once, when I was about eleven, at the funeral of my great-grandmother (Nana, who had lived on a cobblestoned street in Staten Island). All I recall is how he deftly (it seemed to me) fixed the car radio on my Mom’s white Pontiac LeMans. My other longer, more indelible memory is visiting him in Las Vegas when I must have been five or six. Back then, they could stick a kid on a plane on one end and let someone else pick him up on the other. My Dad had been a commercial pilot after his service in the Air Force, so beyond the usual captain’s wings and deck of cards, I got the VIP treatment of going to the cockpit during the flight.
At the Vegas end, I stayed with my Dad, his Native American girlfriend, and a kid of about three or four, who I think was just her kid, but there’s a chance he could have been my half-brother. [Do I have a bunch of other half-siblings out there? I don’t know. I do know my father left my mother partly because of his infidelities, so if he did get around, there could be a lot of progeny running around out there.] If my memories of that limited time are true- and I desperately hope this one is- his beer can wielding friend limped around after having shot himself in the foot with the silver pistol he kept in his gunbelt, and that same friend had a black velvet painting of a naked woman over his living room couch. [In general, I don’t think there is a need to describe the figure in the velvet painting, as I assume they are uniformly- as she was to my five year old widened eyes- voluptuous, buxom, and with big brunette 60’s buffont hair.] They all lived on some low-rent housing complex in the desert outside Vegas. Other brief memories are of Circus-Circus, and my Dad’s girlfriend’s kid/maybe my half-brother wetting himself while we were waiting for him in the car, and for some reason my Dad slapping my hand for this episode of incontinence. All my years growing up, I rarely thought about my father, and when I did, I always felt like I was supposed to harbor this testosterone-fueled intense hatred for abandoning my mother and I back in Charleston, South Carolina. But I never did. He had never really been a part of my life, so why would I spend time hating someone I never knew? When I had kids of my own, his abandonment did seem unfathomable, but then around the time my mom was dying, I found (? found, or did she show me) a letter he had written around the time of my adoption by my wealthy step-father, explaining why he couldn’t support me. He said after having been a decorated military pilot, then a commercial air pilot, he had lost his way, released from his piloting job, and was working for some fence company in Vegas. He didn’t seem like such an asshole, and I kind of understood a little bit where he was coming from, and why spend my days ruminating over someone else’s mistake and lost way?
5. Les Schneider From Wikipedia: Leslie (Les) George Schneider, born December 13, 1939, grew up in Woodstock & Staten Island, New York. He and his younger brother Wayne were raised by their grandmother and grandfather. He attended New Dorp High School from 1953 to 1957 and was captain of the school’s undefeated and tie-free PSAL championship football team
in 1956 and attended the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO from 1957 to 1961. Shortly thereafter he began his tour of duty in Vietnam as the captain of search and rescue missions (“Crown Rescue”) using DC-4 and C-130 Hercules Aircraft.
Following Vietnam, Les began as a flight engineer for Trans World Airlines (TWA). He then transferred to Saudi Airlines and spent seven years there where he learned Arabic and earned his gemologists degree. Upon return to the Untied States, he flew for TWA until his retirement in 1997 as a DC-9 captain.
Gemini 8 Les Schneider’s most significant achievement occurred on March 16, 1966. He and his 10-man sea rescue crew aboard Naha Rescue One (a DC-4 aircraft) were on emergency alert to rescue the Gemini 8 capsule containing Neil Armstrong and Maj. David Scott in case of an emergency re-entry.
Mechanical problems forced