Ahab at Starbucks

Larry Hughes

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Larry Hughes and featured by The Huffington Post. I do not remember when, where, or why I first encountered Larry but during the years since, I have posted reviews of countless books with which he has had a direct or indirect connection. He characterizes himself as “a book flack at large” but those of us privileged to know him think his talents have been developed far wider and far deeper than those required of a publicist in the publishing industry.

In the account that follows, Larry shares an encounter at The Third Place where patrons have a whale of a time socializing prior to their next voyage. Rumor has it that Larry once served as a harpooner’s apprentice aboard HMS Robert Charles Benchley but he refuses to discuss the matter.

To read the complete article and check out others produced by this colleague and friend, please click here.

*     *     *

Whenever it was a damp, drizzly November in my soul, I would drop by Mr. Starbuck’s for a steaming double-cupped grande vanilla latte with extra foam. Our industrious First Mate made a habit of buying coffee from local growers in whatever far-flung lands The Pequod made port — from Brazil to Peru, from Sumatra to New Guinea — hand-selecting beans at the peak of their ripeness and flavor. He would double-roast them in the same vats we used to render oil from whale flesh, then grind and blend them into full-bodied brews that bore aromatic hints of tropical flora and blubber. His potables were quite popular among the crew; in particular, I found his Spermicetti Breakfast Blend to have a dark, robust flavor that was more palatable then it sounds.

Such shipboard entrepreneurial enterprises were not unusual among seamen of the day. Many an evening Queequeg and I took our supper at the berth of Popeye, a sailor whose fried chicken and biscuits were counted a bargain; and Long John Silver was said to serve up a hearty batch of popcorn shrimp and hushpuppies for a reasonable price.

Captain Ahab was not known to visit Starbuck’s often, nor to partake of his offerings. The Captain kept to his cabin and preferred the consumption of grog to coffee drinks. He was thought to consume the former in such prodigious quantities that it was common for members of the crew to jest that Ahab must have a hollow leg. This witticism was one of the few sources of mirth aboard The Pequod, the other being the assertion that the Captain’s wife was named Peg.

One evening a cohort of the crew was gathered at Starbuck’s, sipping their drinks and staring at their laptops (where they were carving scrimshaw). Outside in the passage we heard the approach of Ahab’s familiar measured tread — clip-clop…clip-clop… clip-clop. In he limped, a scarred, brooding figure, whose powerful chilling effect on the men was diluted somewhat when his ivory leg became momentarily stuck in a knothole. So fearsome was his countenance that none dared snigger at his predicament.

As Ahab hobbled further into the cabin Mr. Starbuck called out to a waiting seaman, “Here’s your white mocha, Dick!” The Captain, who counted poor hearing among his sundry afflictions, misconstrued Starbuck’s cry for an alarm that Moby Dick had been sighted. He became violently agitated and barked a confusion of orders at the men — “In stunsails! Down top-gallants! Stand by boats! Over the side! Larboard! Starboard! Prepare to dive! Luff a point! Hoist the mizzen! Flush the heads!” Soon The Pequod was sailing in figure eights. It was some time before the Mate could convince Captain and crew that Moby Dick was not in the immediate neighborhood.

The White Whale was the object and focus of Ahab’s vengeful wrath, but in truth his hatred extended to all cetaceans, no matter their shape, size or species. Some months earlier, on the occasion of Ahab’s birthday, the Fourth Mate, Mr. Carvel, had surprised the Captain with his playfully configured comestible Fudgie the Whale. The Captain instinctively snatched up a harpoon and drove the iron straight through the frozen confection. To save face, he then ordered us to take it below and boil it down for the marzipan.

“I would speak with ye, Mr. Starbuck,” said Ahab.

“Aye, sir,” said Starbuck. “But first, might I get thee a cup of joe?”

“If ye must,” growled the Captain. Starbuck then pressed him for his preferences, employing the arcane lexicon of his avocation as if he were a medieval alchemist. The captain grew increasingly perturbed as the First Mate wielded cryptic words such as grande, venti, trenta, and frappuccino.

“Damn it, man!” thundered Ahab. “Are ye speaking in tongues?”

“I’ll just give thee a latte,” said Starbuck, and set about preparing the captain’s libation.

“I wish to speak again of Moby Dick,” said Ahab.

“Thou knowest my feelings in the matter,” said Starbuck. “‘Tis blasphemous to seek vengeance on a dumb brute. I have told thee this before.”

“Hark ye,” cried Ahab, “I strike at the inscrutable malice behind the White Whale! All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks…”

“Speaking of pasteboard, Captain, here’s a little sleeve for thy cup, that thou wilt not burn thy fingers.”

*     *      *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Larry Hughes’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York Post, Publishers Weekly, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other outlets. He is featured in two McSweeney’s anthologies, Mountain Man Dance Moves (2006) and The McSweeneys’ Joke Book of Book Jokes (2008). Hughes blogs for The Huffington Post and writes his own blogs, Book Flack at Large and Classics Rock! Hughes has enjoyed a distinguished career in the publishing industry, and is currently Associate Director of Publicity at the Free Press. “One of my favorite folks to work with,” BusinessWeek’s Diane Brady wrote of him, “always smart about bringing the right authors to our attention and framing their ideas in ways that work for our readers.” Gloria McDonough-Taub of CNBC calls him “One of the best publicists out there…one of the best in the business.” And author Douglas Rushkoff (Life Inc.), writing in Publishers Weekly, calls him “One of the most talented publicists in the industry.” After leaving HarperCollins in 2009, Hughes focused his skills on promoting himself and was featured on CNN, Fox News Channel, U.S. News & World Report, New York Post, BusinessWeek.com, CNBC.com, and other outlets.


Posted in

Leave a Comment