This hot July afternoon, after an aborted nap attempt, I decided to spend my time in bed with Moby. Melville's chapter on the whale-line described the different types of ropes on whaling ships and then detailed the use of the whale-line itself. (Great.)
While reading Melville's standard preface to a non-fiction chapter (my favorite), "With reference to the whaling scene shortly to be descibed (yah right), as well as for the better understanding of all similar scenes elsewhere presented, I have here to speak of the magical, sometimes horrible whale-line.", I thought that this just might be what my afternoon insomnia required. But before I knew it, he got me! Leave it to Melville's beautiful use of word choice and phrase to make whale-lines profound and even interesting. Instead of imagining hanging myself, like Archie Bunker, with the invisible whale-line, I was completely caught up in the image of the rope and its massive canvas cloaked American tub-line as a serpent inside a giant wedding cake being delivered to the whales. And the rope posed a huge threat to the sailors! It was coiled around the ship and could, at any moment, rip off one of the unsuspecting sailors arms, legs or pull their entire body under water! After describing the danger sailors face when surrounded, quite literally, by the rope, Melville explains the only the rookie sailors are uneasy with the threat of being dismembered or killed. The seasoned sailors take on the adventure and its danger with a stoicism only Puritan New Englanders could muster. As Melville sees it, (Or is it Ishmael during these nonfiction chapters?) "All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life." Cheerful.
With that in mind, I decided that if Herman is right and I am surrounded, right here in my bed, by silent, subtle perils of life, I might as well get up, have fun and go for a motorcycle ride with my handsome husband through the mountains. Having adopted Melville's Devil-may-care attitude, I wasn't once bothered by the halter round my neck, not even while sitting under a shady mountain tree, drinking an icy Coke and eating French fries and soft ice cream. I wonder if Melville was afraid of heart disease.