There’s something about this second-floor Red Bank flat that hints of Melville, poor Bartleby scribbling away at his lonely desk, (or Kerouac when he took the job in the Hartford filling station and typed away gloomy hours). Maybe it’s the curve of the rounded windows or the rectangular window facing the street with its late nineteenth- century commercial buildings or the hardwood flooring with its long planks or the kitchen stool I use at the little desk, perched there like a Wall Street scrivener. There is a New England feel to this town on the Navesink River. Actually, when we came to see this apartment on a deceptively quiet Sunday morn, the first thing we noticed was the wharf-like building next door and the narrow street leading to the boat yard and yacht club and silver twinkles on the river blue, and I thought, this is like Portland, Maine.
We’ve been everywhere, man, sailing New England waters: New London, New Bedford, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cutty Hunk, Newport, Blue Hill . . . everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. You might say our heart is in the sea, all salty and brined and gray-green-blue, and wouldn’t you know, right down the street in our lovely waterfront gardens park, this week’s feature movie is Jaws. Jaws and all those great Neptunes of the sea and Moby-Dick and you and me. Melville was a sailor, and Jack was a sailor, and me, too, a sailor. Right now, like those doomed sailors of the whaling ship Essex, I’m sailing The Doldrums, right into Obscurity Sea, see, sì. My heart breaks when I check out the local music store window and see my little book still on the shelf there. Don’t people read anymore? Melville sold less than four thousand copies of Moby in forty years . . . the book was ignored. i
Oh, this White Whale life, and watching as my family stops speaking to each other after the enormous pain of horrible neurological disease and trauma and unexpected death and all its sad aftermath and how it capsizes this Pequod called life and plummets one into black depths of deep, deep
sorrow, shark-infested waters, only to be knocked down by immense Jonah-like waves ii again and again and again . . . and as Jack said, and as Bartleby Melville said, in so many words, what is the point? But we have to go on, and keep living, and do our best, and go to the sea, through Fair Havens and rummy rum Rumsons with estates and monies and unaffordabilities and open mics and closed doors and seek refreshment for our souls in the vast sea, sea, sea, beyond the Atlantic . . . and into eternity.
i Philbrick, Nathaniel. Why Read Moby-Dick?, (New York: Viking. 2011). p. 6.
ii Kerouac, Jack. Road Novels 1957-1960, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2007). p. 735.
In the late spring of 1939, Weldon Kees, his wife Ann, and his parents, John…