The lengths I go to

The lengths I go to

Herman Melville

I like to time travel visit the illustrious and well known when they were doing things for which they were not well known. Perhaps I do this because it helps me feel okay about my day to day general ordinariness. For instance, I time traveled to 1854, Galena, Illinois, to Braghner’s General Store, midday, so that I could grocery shop at the same time as Ulysses S. Grant. Ah, the peace of mind as I saw that we both has sassafras bark in our shopping baskets.

Today I got in my time travel machine and ventured to 1857, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and the home of the famous author of Moby Dick, Herman Melville. Dressed in my coveralls, and carrying a satchel of tools, I was greeted at the front door by Melville’s wife, Elizabeth. I pretended I was there to plane the doors. Back then, most doors were improperly placed and fastened to doorjams, resulting in their regularly getting stuck when shut. Sometimes a person living by themselves would accidentally be trapped in a room by a door holding fast, only to be discovered months later as a skeleton gripping the door handle with both hands, by a visiting relative.

I had planed a number of doors in the Melville home, when I came upon the door to Herman’s study. He was within, but not writing at his desk. Instead he was sitting on the floor, whittling a piece of birch, his tongue jutting out the right side of his mouth. He nodded at me. I nodded back.

I planed as he whittled. I was so entirely absorbed in watching his whittling, that I lost track of my own progress, and realized I had planed the door all the way down to the doorknob. I stood like a fool amidst three feet of wood shavings.

I interrupted Mr. Melville to note and apologize for my dubious workmanship. He took notice and said, “It was once a tree. Perhaps it was through being a door.”

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