“Call me Ishmael,” he said. “It’s not my name, but call me Ishmael! Bwa ha!” He tooted the last part, a silly little laugh. He was a smallish guy. He looked like a cute little rat. Cute little middle aged chain smoking coffee drinking slightly perverted but clearly adorable, absurdly intelligent rat. The kind of rat you would want in your pocket while you presented your PhD dissertation, even though he would make you giggle at the wrong times.
That was the first day of class. It was summer school, so there were about twelve students, ten of whom were bronze, mostly naked off-season snowboard girls. I went to an obscure, third rate college, high in the mountains of Colorado. The summer school uniform was a sports bra and running shorts. The only jewelry allowed was toe rings.
One of the mostly naked amazonians with a toe-ringed foot sitting on the seat in front of her said,
“This syllabus is all Moby-Dick. I thought this was American Lit?”
“Moby-Dick is American literature. Herman Melville was an American.”
“So! Bwa ha! Page one. ‘Call me Ishmael.’, best opening line of any book ever. But let’s go back to the title: ‘Moby-Dick or The Whale.’”
Somehow, Dr. H. made the title dirty. I guess it wasn’t such a stretch- with a name like Moby-Dick. But every time he said it, it seemed to have an extra emphasis on the Dick. And yet, he was so charming about it. With his little laugh, Bwa Ha!
“This is basically a novel about sex, posing as a fishing novel, bwa ha!”
That summer, we went through every page of Moby-Dick, coming up with endless sexual allusions, metaphors and innuendos. And then there was the occasional Jesus Christ allusion. And then back to sex.
Sometimes, you would see him outside of class. He was like a broken man, hunched over his coffee, cigarette in hand. Oh, poor Dr. H, one might think. Them you would see him again, Monday morning, a new man! Refreshed!
“Moby-Dick! Bwa ha!”
Summer school classes were four days a week, Monday thru Thursday. It was full sperm whale immersion.
The best part about Moby-Dick with Dr. H was that Moby-Dick was basically incomprehensible long-winded tuttle fuddy. The whale doesn’t even appear for the first fourteen billion pages! But, once you heard Dr. H’s amazing explanations of each and every page, it was the most fascinating thing ever written.
In the end, I learned five things from Dr. H:
1. Moby-Dick is full of metaphors, most of them sexual.
2. It’s okay, even great, to laugh at your own jokes.
3. The more you learn about some things, the more interesting they become.
4. Moby-Dick is the best book ever written. (I believed that for a month.)
5. Sometimes, a rubber chicken makes everything better.
It happened two and a half years later. I was in Senior Thesis. It was held in a conference room. We sat around a large table. Dark. It was a darkly held conference room. Squinting, we contemplated primary sources.
“Blah blah blah blah,” were the professor’s exact words. The professor was not Dr. H. Suddenly, the door burst open and a life-sized rubber chicken flew through the doorway and landed in the center of our conference table. The door slammed shut. We heard a laugh,
“Bwa ha!” And the pitter-patter of cute rat-like feet running down the hallway.
A long-forgotten joy welled within me. Mysteries of land and sea, life and death, opened up once again. The winter ice around my heart was melting. A large rubber chicken lay in the middle of a conference room table, like a great, white sperm whale.