Entry begun on Tuesday, May 12, 11:20 pm
Day 2 was similar in duration but different in feel. We again read for 12 hours, but on Sunday the library was open to the public only from 1 to 5, so for eight of twelve hours we were were preaching primarily to the choir—to readers who had signed up in advance and to friends or family who came with them.
The Sunday schedule gave us the added responsibility of guarding the main entrance of the library from 9 am to 1 pm and again form 5 pm to 9 pm. Emma Rose and I were grateful to two people who alternated in this duty for much of the morning, Matt Beckerich, son of Kitty Beckerich, and Diane Thompson, Emma Rose’s mother. While Matt was on duty a street fight broke out directly across Scott Street from the library, drawing several squad cars, but the altercation did not cross to our side of the street. Emma Rose’s mother Diane experienced nothing comparable to that, and she got a lot of reading done when not tending the door for as Marathoners came and went.
Kitty Beckerich, our “Aunt Charity,” replenished her table of morning treats on Day 2. Today she was accompanied by her daughter Megan as well as her son Matt. Megan and Matt are twins, and I had the pleasure of teaching them in my Honors Freshman Composition class during the Fall 2012 Semester. Neither had taken my course in Moby-Dick and the Arts, but Megan had taken Dickinson and the Arts as a sophomore and had created a very ambitious and accomplished artist book as her final project. She had assisted in monitoring the Dickinson Marathon Reading and was herself assisted by Matt on our second Moby reading day. They got us off to a smooth start from nine until noon.
A Marathon Reading always has its special moments, and the opening hour on Sunday was one to remember. I began the reading where we had left off in “Stubb kills a Whale” the night before. Jeff Markham followed me with the “bursting heart” passage and went on to “The Dart” and “The Crotch.” Steve McCafferty started “Stubb’s Supper,” which was continued by Veronica Mitchell. Jeff and Steve and Veronica are all excellent readers, and on the second day they were beginning to feel the intimacy of a select crew on an early morning watch. Instead of moving to the front of the room, each read his or her part of the story from where he or she was already sitting, making me think of those widely spaced worshipers waiting for Father Mapple to enter the Seaman’s Bethel in the “Chapel” chapter.
Veronica Mitchell had brought her daughter Monica with her today. Veronica’s reading from the second half of “Stubb’s Supper” was mesmerizing for us all. I have had quite a volatile experience with this chapter over the last fifty years. In graduate school in the 1960s I hated the chapter, simply dismissing it as too long and irrelevant. When I began teaching it in the 1970s and 1980s, I was disturbed by it, because I just could not stand Stubb’s race-baiting of Fleece, the black cook, who makes his only appearance in the novel in this chapter, only to endure a merciless hazing from Stubb for having cooked the “steak” Stubb has just cut from the whale either too rare or not rare enough.
It was probably not until I began teaching Moby-Dick in my class on Douglass and Melville that I began to appreciate the beauty, power, and finesse with which Fleece, in his heavy Southern dialect, sullenly deflects every insult Stubb throws at him, emerging as the unsung victor in this tragically comic chapter. We had discussed this chapter at length in Fall 2013 class that Veronica had taken, and with her slow, emotive, hearty voice she brought out every ounce of Fleece’s resistant humanity in a way that had us all chuckling at first, then laughing out loud. For more than a decade now I have loved Fleece’s answer when Stubb jeeringly asks him where he was born—“Hind de hatchway, in ferry-boat, goin’ ober de Roanoke”—but I’ve never loved it so much as when hearing it from Veronica on Day 2 of the Covington Marathon.
Veronica was followed immediately from two fine readers from across the river in Cincinnati who took us into “The Whale as a Dish,” “The Shark Massacre,” and “Cutting In.” Richard Hague is a highly accomplished poet who had launched NKU’s Friends of the Library Lecture Series last Fall with a fine reading from his newly published Collected Poems. Dick had taught English for decades at Purcell Marion High School in Cincinnati until last year’s decree by a local bishop requiring teachers to report gay students prompted him to resign.
Dick’s bosom friend Michael Henson has for decades been an uncompromising advocate for underprivileged citizens in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood currently undergoing gentrification. Each was ideally suited for catching the full flavor of Melville’s story as the crew of the Pequod entered into the gruesome business of cutting into, and processing, the body of the whale. Dick read from his own richly annotated copy of the novel.
I was especially happy when I saw Dick Hague’s name on the electronic sign-up sheet for the second day of our Covington Marathon because he had read, also on a Sunday morning, at the one previous Moby Marathon I had organized, at Gallerie Zaum in Newport in November 2009. In addition to reading himself, Dick had brought several of his high school students from Purcell Marion to read. That was another Sunday morning anchored by a very special early morning watch. In the photo posted here, Dick is reading from the novel near Laura Beth Thrasher’s Moby-Dick, Epilogue, and Ahab quilts as Laura Bird Knight listens.
We had another veteran of the 2009 Gallerie Zaum reading this morning. Elizabeth Menning from my Fall 2006 course in Douglass and Melville had been my first Moby-Dick student to choreograph and perform a dance as her final project. Her 4-minute Ahab Doubloon Dance was one of four Moby-Dick videos now being projected across from Christopher Roach’s charcoal drawing Walking with Ahab behind the partition in the back of the Covington reading room. By the time of the Gallerie Zaum Marathon, Elizabeth had married Christopher Vande Water, a student in an earlier Douglass and Melville class, and she had brought their first, new-born baby with her when she read. Now she was the mother of three young children working as an English teacher at Campbell County High School and directing a theatrical production in rehearsal this very weekend. It had gotten a bit too complicated to fold their children into their plans to see the exhibition, so Chris had come to see the show on Saturday morning and Liz had come to read, see the show, and pick up her catalog on Sunday morning. After having three children, she still has a dancer’s fitness and carriage.
Beth Schultz read at 10:10, as she had done the day before. The rhythm of our Sunday morning watch gave me a chance to take a close look at part of the exhibition with her before she was scheduled to read again at 11:10. We started on the third floor with the fabric works on the balcony and the array of works in the Local History room. I was again amazed, as I always am, by how much Beth can see and feel. She knows Moby-Dick art better than anyone in the world, but she had never seen anything showing the tenderness of Ishmael and Queequeg with the loving finesse of Mary Belperio’s Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane. Like Emma Rose, she loved seeing the back of each of Mary Beth’s quilts; on the front of each one she discerned sophistications of stitching and design that enriched my appreciation greatly.
Inside the reading room Beth was as attentive to artworks by untrained English and Honors students as to those by art majors. She loved that Kevin Schultz had “come out” in the process of presenting Fast Fish and Loose Fish to his classmates. She immediately grasped the cogency of the newspaper headlines that Kay Hardin had collaged together in the form of a sperm whale. And she was immediately struck by the power of the Whale’s Eye View by Political Science major Thomas Foltz, even though in technique it was a simple drawing in colored pencil on paper, because she had never before seen any artist attempt to depict such a scene from the whale’s point of view.
As we got to the middle of the room Beth was deeply struck by imaginative edge and elusive beauty of Caitlin Sparks’s Whiteness triptych. She was equally struck by the brave emotive associations Caitlin had evoked with her four-part photo sequence of herself as Captain Ahab in the recycled window frames by the north window. To someone like Beth, coming across fresh, fearless, exploratory talent like this is pleasure of the deepest kind. By happy accident, Jay and Caitlin arrived in the Local History room to do some filming as Beth and I were there. Beth was happy to meet them both, and to have a chance to talk to Caitlin about her art.
At some point I had to go down and check on the progress of the Marathon, but Beth stayed in the building through much of the morning, not only to read again, but to engage with more of my students and alums as heartily as she had done with the artworks on the third floor. Emma Rose was of course thrilled to have some quality time with her. It was Emma Rose’s response to Beth’s Unpainted to the Last, and her fascination with how her classmates had responded to the book in their oral mid-term reports, that had led her to propose the hypothetical exhibition as her final project in the Spring 2013 course that had led to everything that has happened in the two years since. One of the greatest pleasures for me all weekend was to see Beth and Emma Rose getting to know each other.
Megan Beckerich had never studied Moby-Dick or read Unpainted to the Last, but she was to be studying in Japan this summer and I made sure that she and Beth, who has traveled to, and lived in, Japan extensively, could spend some time together. I do not speak Japanese but I had been impressed with Megan’s knowledge of that language, and more, when I recently mentioned to her that there have been at least thirteen translations of Moby-Dick into Japanese, but that Japanese scholars tell me that the phrase “Call me Ishmael” cannot be successfully translated into that language. Megan thought about that for a minute and said, “Yes, but it would be much easier in Chinese,” voicing her own Chinese translation on the spot. I knew she and Beth would have much to talk about and that turned out to be true.
In the early afternoon, Minadora Macheret from AEGS and Bob Durborow from Sigma Tau Delta came in to relieve Megan and Matt in monitoring the Marathon. This became a little easier between 1 and 5 pm when the library was again open to the public and we did not have to station someone near the main entrance. Before the change of the guard, Megan and Matt had each taken a turn reading, and so had our videographers Caitlin and Jay from Numediacy and David Shaerf from Michigan. I laid out the pasta salad and a vegetable tray to go with the caramel corn, breads, cookies, and candies, so our readers had plenty to snack on.
Beginning at noon a number of my fellow parishioners at Trinity Episcopal Church came into to read (Bill McKim, Gay Smith, Diane Gabbard, and Ted and Mary Ann Weiss). So did a number of my faculty colleagues at NKU (Roxanne Kent-Drury, John Alberti, Tonya Krouse, Diana Belland, Andrea Gazzaniga, and Jon and Cheryl Cullick). We did have to stop the Marathon reading for fifteen minutes in the early afternoon when someone got seasick in the reading room, but branch manager Julia Allegrini, who had let us into the building shortly before 9 in the morning, was still on duty and knew just what to do. She swabbed down the deck herself.
In the mid-afternoon Camilla Asplen Mecher was the first of a new wave of student artist alums who came in to read. She was soon followed by AshleyTheissen, Aaron Zlatkin, Rachel Zlatkin, and Michael Gallagher. When Camilla had read in the Emily Dickinson Marathon in February her son Jude was three months old. Now he was five months old. Camilla again rocked him as she read, and by this time we had reached the “Castaway” chapter in which Pip is abandoned on the open ocean, losing man’s sanity but gaining heaven’s sense. It certainly adds to the 21st century resonance of this 19th century novel to have a boy born in November 2014 be such a precious part of our reading.
Camilla had brought homemade chowder to our Gallerie Zaum Marathon in 2009 as a supplement to her Whale as a Dish cookbook, and she brought chowder again on this Sunday afternoon in Covington. Camilla has always been a very accommodating multi-tasker, so she paused on the way to the food table in the back or the reading room to let me take a photo of her and Jude next to the display case in which Emma Rose and I had positioned her Whale as a Dish cookbook as close as we could to Ronnie Sickinger’s linoleum cut print in which the whalers are the dinner.
Emma Rose’s mother Diane had never met Camilla before and wondered if she was one of those library patrons off the street. But those patrons had to leave when the library closed at 5 pm, and we Melvillians were again left more or less to our own devices. Moby artist alum Matt Ruiz, our trouble-shooter-in-chief for the Dickinson reading, came in at 5:30 from his work at the Zoo to help monitor the rest of the evening. Jeff Markham continued to fill in as a reader or monitor whenever needed. I had again been unable for most of the afternoon to get down to see David Shaerf in the interview room he had set up on the first floor, but I did get down there at the very beginning of what turned out to be a two-hour interview with Beth Schultz. I am sure we will see part of that interview when David’s Moby magnum opus is completed and released.
Our night watch on Day 2 of this Marathon was as intimate, and as moving, as the morning watch had been. It was not a skeleton crew but it felt like a select one. Former Moby students Michael Gallagher and Matt Ruiz read, as did videographers David Shaerf, Adam Gould, Caitlin Sparks, and Jay Gray. Community readers Howard Tankersley, Elizabeth Tankersley, and Vicki Prichard read, as did local artist Tom Lohre as Captain Ahab. Our out-of-town scholars present on board for the Three-Day Chase that ends the novel included Beth Schultz, Sam Otter, Jeff Markham, and Don Dingledine, now augmented by Jeff Insko, a colleague of David Shaerf and Adam Gould at Oakland University in Michigan who would be preceding Sam Otter in making closing remarks at the next day’s Symposium at NKU. Our “Aunt Charity” Kitty Beckerich was also present to the last, helping me get the galley shipshape before we were to leave the building at 9.
With such a committed audience at the end of a twenty-four hour Marathon the words of the novel take on a rare intensity and resonance. It’s not just that our readers knew, and read from, the novel exceptionally well. It is also that we had experienced so much together during these two days, not only in reading and listening to the words of the novel, but in “reading” the artworks on display throughout the building and conversing with student artists and alums who had created them. This was a special kind of immersion that left one exhausted and refreshed at the same time as one reader followed another in the story whose end we all knew—a story in which fate, free will, and chance all have their say, with chance having “the last featuring blow at events” in that Ishmael, not quite sucked into the fatal vortex, was somehow spared to be found by the Rachel.
I would have loved to hear all three Chase chapters read out loud, but we did want to leave the facility as clean for the library staff on Monday morning as they had left it for us on Friday afternoon. It was great to have Kitty’s help in this, and I wish I had let her wash Camilla’s chowder crock pot, for I am sure she would not have accidentally knocked its iron-framed glass top off a narrow counter the way I did, causing the glass to shatter with a noise that I am sure startled the Marathoners on the other side of the half-open door.
Again, Julia came to the rescue, knowing just what to do. She joined Kitty and me in listening to the very end of the last Chase chapter, and I was asked to read the concluding “Epilogue,” which I must say I did with somewhat watery eyes. Our Marathon actually concluded at 9:07 rather than 9 pm, and Julia was understanding about this too. She knew that we would have finished eight minutes early were it not for the 15-minute medical emergency in the early afternoon. It was pitch dark when Julia and Matt helped me load up a cart with leftover items and roll them out to my car. I drove home for a good night’s sleep before a different kind of Marathon day began the next morning.