I stopped dead in my tracks. “What the hell?”
“Peace my friend.”
“Who are you?”
“Call me Ishmael.”
“How about I call you idiot?” I had no doubt that it was C.W. Who else would appear as a Nineteenth Century gentleman in broadcloth, sitting at our kitchen table writing on yellowed paper with a feather quill? “Want to tell me what’s up?” I asked.
“I’m seeking solace,” he said, laying aside his quill. Ink drained from it onto the table. I rushed over and wiped it with my handkerchief.
“You’re going to find more than solace if she catches you ruining her table.”
“The angst and anger of mere mortals never reach the ears of the heavenly,” he said.
“Where the hell did you get that?”
“I made it up, just now,” he said. “What do you think?”
“You don’t want to know what I think. But would you mind telling me what you are thinking about?”
I knew better than to bite, but like a boy watching a stink bug, I couldn’t resist picking it up. “Sublimity in what context, pray tell?”
“In the quiet and divine passion of elevated thought, the love of poetic language, the embrace of art, and the joy of cosmic expression,” he said. “In short, the beautiful discourse of universal truths.”
“Wow,” I said. “That is really something.” I fell under his spell the way a sailor on Silk-Stocking Row might succumb to a woman's call. “What universal truths are you dwelling on today?” I had to ask.
“Do they really make perfume out of whale puke?”
“Whale puke. Does it really turn into something sublime?’
“Are you talking about ambergris?”
“No. I’m talking about whale puke.”
“If you’re talking about ambergris,” I said, “the answer is that there is matter secreted from a sperm whale’s intestines that turns into solid and was once prized as an ingredient for perfume after it had completed its transformation from the filthy to ... well ... the sublime. As you seem to know, Herman Melville mentions it in his classic, Moby Dick.”
“As a symbol, no doubt.”
“As a symbol, as with every other item and utterance in the book.”
“Quite so,” he said, picking up his quill. “Here we have,” he said as he shook the quill and looked heavenward, “a lump of matter secreted from the vilest and most noxious source slowly turning, we hope, into a work of sublimity in a cold and vicious world. Humankind’s eternal dream, no less.”
“C.W.,” I said, “I’m sorry that I may have doubted you. I had no idea that you were going to explore higher-order philosophy and man’s existential optimism.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’m impressed with your writing about philosophy and literary symbols.”
“Aren’t you writing on philosophy?”
“Why hell no,” said. “Are you daft, my son?”
“Then what are you writing about?”