Pole Dancing

One assumes that Ishmael was hired to do a job of some sort. But 35 chapters in, all he does is talk. Finally he’s assigned to his first duty—mounting the mast-head. He describes it thusly: “There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as it were [as it were, indeed], swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes.”

The Classics Slacker is not a gay man. Nonetheless, Moby-Dick is the sexiest book she’s ever read.

The sailors take turns mast-head mounting. They shimmy up the pole and hang out on top for a couple of hours, scanning the water for whales. At least, that’s what they’re supposed to do. Most of the guys enjoy it up there a little too much—when sailing in southern waters anyway. “In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant the mast-head; nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful.”

Guess who is just such a man? Why our Ishmael, of course, and he doesn’t try to hide it, either. “Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit that I kept but a sorry guard. How could I—being left completely to myself at such a thought-engendering altitude—how could I but lightly hold my obligations to observe all whale-ships’ standing orders, ‘Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time.’ ”

I would imagine the mast-head song goes something like this:

Do you see what I see?
Way out in the ocean, there it goes.
Do you see what I see?
A whale, a whale, bigger than a kite,
Let us hope that he doesn’t bite.
Let us hope that he doesn’t bite.

But Ishmael doesn’t “sing out”; he’s a mast-head slacker who’d “rather not see whales than otherwise.” And he’s not the only one. “Many romantic, melancholy, and absent-minded young men, disgusted with the corking care of the earth” swindle unsuspecting ship-owners into hiring them. Once aboard the ship they head straight to the mast-head.

Which is a darned good place to be. “The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor.” What’s more, everyone leaves you alone. “You hear no news; read no gazettes; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner—for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable.”

It’s kind of like being a guest at all-inclusive beach resort. Without the rum drinks. Or women. Or women drinking rum drinks.

But who needs women when sailors are such excellent pole dancers.