After three days and nights of butchering a sperm whale, Ishmael and the rest of the exhausted crew have the daunting task of organizing and scrubbing the limited and crowded space of the ship's deck, slathered in unctuous, unidentifiable butchered parts of whale, blood, oil, and tools. The job done, the men go below deck to clean themselves, put on fresh clothes and emerge renewed. Instead of sleeping, they celebrate their freedom from the toil by singing, dancing and drinking as if they were at a wedding instead of a whaling ship. All the while each of them knows that if the call, "There she blows!" is heard, they'll be right back where they started, slopping the decks and themselves for the sake of the invaluable whale oil.
I can sympathize. My husband and I are remodelling a 1940 Cape Cod with most of the work and all of the cleaning being our responsibility. Instead of doing one room at a time, plumbing and electrical repairs have forced us to do the entire house all at once. We have ripped up floors, torn down walls, and sanded the remaining plaster and trim, leaving every crevice covered with a fine powdery dust that seems to elude all cleaning devices! The process of organizing and cleaning after a days work takes the most effort on my part because I know that only a few hours after wiping down everything in the house, vacuuming with the shop vac, scrubbing the planks of our wood floors on my hands and knees with a bucket of soapy water and rags, my reward is to take a shower, collapse in bed, and get up early to do it all over again. I know I sound like Sisyphus, each day pushing his boulder up the slope, only to have it roll all the way down again, but like the men in Moby Dick, after working as hard as I can, I need to know that in the evenings there is an end to the task and toil, even if it is temporary.
While I am working, I imagine that I am on the Pequod, scrubbing the decks and storing each tool in its proper place. I wish I could be there in the evening when the work is done, out in the open ocean, singing and drinking ale with Ishmael, Queequeg and Tashtego, under the stars. I wish, even more, that the crew could join me in the morning to help me prime the trim.