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#209 :: Harpoon

September 5, 2004

approved treat ‘popup’, viagra buy ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>Squatting on its cast-iron haunches, its steel tail coiled with ready staples, this artifact of turn-of-the-last-century industrial design awaits a punch on the head. It is about eight inches long, and five high. Though it looks like a prop from an Edward Gorey book, its origins are a complete mystery, lost in that fathomless bog of pre-digital cultural ephemera where even Google cannot tread. My parents received it as a gift decades ago from a dear family friend, the late novelist and Pulitzer-winning historian Paul Horgan, who found it in the house he moved into in Middletown, CT. Horgan always reckoned it was American in manufacture, but nothing else is known. It works – something I determined at about age 9, almost breaking my hand and earning a good scolding in the process. The chain of bent-metal staples used to be a good inch and a half longer.
more about ‘popup’, information pills ‘width=500, order height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>You can take the hard route as I did, and slog through Melville’s brilliant, infuriatingly turgid and ultimately genius Moby-Dick twice, (once in college, and once during the go-go days of the dotcom era entirely in airport lounges on a PDA). Or you can understand man’s conquest and slaughter of whales by hefting this harpoon in your hand. The coating of rust adds a rasping edge to its lone great fang, undulled by time or use or neglect. The shaft and binding are gone, but the tip remains – about three and a half pounds of hard, dense iron, with a spring-metal barb meant to slip past bone, flip open and lodge until the great beast could be brought alongside. My home state was built on the blood and bones of leviathans, the craft of Yankee smiths who turned out cold, hard tools like this. Read the book. It’s worth your time to get knee-deep in blood and blubber and histrionic prose, to understand how hard people once lived.

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