Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
After three months with no medication and increasingly less able to work, Paul was a bitter, angry and very sick man.
He retreated into something of a dream world. He determined that it was necessary to take a break from the Riemann hypothesis. His English professor friend recommended he read fiction to relax and give his brain time to rest. He promised his friend he’d take his medication, and behave himself.
Paul started again on the medication, but it was too much, too fast. He vomited up all the pills. Rather than call Dr. Arocha and get some help, Paul decided to seek help via some internet research. There he found lots of advice, like cognitive therapy beats medication, and there are no natural treatments. But then he finally found what he was looking for: a site that understood his situation and made recommendations he could really use. The site, www.fountainheadclinic.com, said that Arsenicum album would make his symptoms go away.
Paul visited his local GNC store; the clerk directed him to the bottles of Arsenicum album. Paul read the label, which indicated the medication was prepared by highly diluting arsenic trioxide until all the arsenic was gone. Paul took the bottle to the check out clerk.
The clerk laughed, and said, “Oh, everybody asks me that – because of the arsenic thing. But so far I haven’t heard of anybody dying from taking it. It’s supposed to be good for digestion. Are you looking for something for digestion? ‘Cause if you are, I have…”
The clerk, seeing a look in Paul’s eye that was definitely not normal, said, “Ok, man – just asking. Here’s your package. Have a nice day.”
Paul returned to the little house on Navarre Way, and started taking the homeopathic supplement. At first, he found it made him dizzy and thirsty. But eventually, his moods began to stabilize and he found he could function a bit better. But his notes about the Riemann were still a complete mystery.
Paul decided to take his friend’s advice and picked up the latest fiction best seller from Books A Million. After 20 pages, he found the plot boring and mundane. He tried Visions by Michio Kaku, but found it too basic.
He started buying used books from Amazon.com. He began to focus on books about the history and cuisine of foreign countries, and for some unknown reason, found them interesting. But once again, Paul found his mind wandering, unable to concentrate on them for more than a few minutes at a time. Finally, in the University library one afternoon, he asked the librarian for help.
He said, “I want something that will challenge my mind, that is broad-based and literate, but also with some adventure in the story.”
The librarian thought for a few moments, then put some key words into a search engine.
She said, “I have two suggestions for you. The first is Ulysses by James Joyce. I would certainly characterize it as challenging to one’s mind, broad-based and, in short, a classic piece of literature. But it’s a little short on adventure. The second book – and frankly the one I think you should try first – is Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. I think that’s what you’re looking for in a book. It’s got everything you asked for.”
The librarian helped Paul find the book in the Fiction section under ‘M’. He took the book home and began to read. At first, he struggled with the words, having to look up the references from the Bible and Shakespeare. Since mathematics had dominated his life, he’d had little time for the humanities. But as he got further into the story, he found himself becoming obsessed by it. He was still taking the Arsenicum album, but it wasn’t really helping. In fact, it seemed to be making things worse. He now suffered from insomnia, and his appetite had virtually disappeared.
Paul found the only way he could get to sleep was to read the story out loud. After a few chapters, his eyes would get heavy, and he could sleep – at least for a few hours. But within a few days of reading, he began to have hallucinations again. At first, he could see the characters from the book, moving about his little house. Then he began to hear them murmuring, and talking among themselves. He could hear the tapping of Ahab’s ivory leg on the porcelain tile in his living room. He even began to fantasize that the answer to the Riemann hypothesis might be contained within the story of Moby Dick, if only he was clever enough to find it. He began to take it apart, and to analyze it, chapter by chapter. That’s when Ishmael began speaking directly to him.
The conversation between Paul and Ishmael started innocently enough. The character approached Paul with his hand extended, as though to shake hands and greet him.
Paul took the hand, saying “I’m Paul Fitzgerald, mathematician and lunatic.”
Their initial conversation was hesitant and clumsy, as though neither of them believed he was talking with the other individual. But as they talked about life on the ship, the Pequod, their rapport began to grow. Paul asked what it was like to be away at sea for four years at a time. Ishmael answered as though he were reciting lines from Chapter 35, ‘The Masthead’.
As the days went on, the two of them began to form a relationship. Eventually, Paul stopped answering the telephone, or opening the door when his English professor friend tried to check on him. He and Ishmael were now close friends. Ishmael told him that the English professor would harm him, and not to talk with or see him. Paul agreed that made sense.
One evening in the spring, Ishmael told Paul that he needed to tell him something important – something he’d never told anyone else before. Paul listened intently as Ishmael explained.
Paul thought about this rather startling story being told to him by his friend, Ishmael.
“A time traveler? From another planet in the year 2360? Man, I thought I was the crazy one – you’re just pulling my leg, right?”
Ishmael gave Paul a serious look.
“I’m not pulling anyone’s leg. I’m not even touching you. No, What I am telling you is the truth. Let me explain.”
Ishmael pulled up his chair next to Paul’s.
“An advance party of explorers from earth in the year 2041 came to Essex. Essex is located near the Constellation Libra, and had been located by astronomers at an observatory in a place on earth you call Cuba in the early 1960’s. In 2040, when earth’s energy resources were effectively depleted, there was nothing to replace oil & gas with. All work on fusion energy had degenerated into bickering between what you call countries, and in the end denial and arguing was all there was, when oil and gas were gone.”
“What happened to the explorers?” Paul, amused by this story made up by his friend, decided to play along with the gag.
“Their rocket became disabled, and all the explorers died. The native civilization that existed at the time searched the ship, and found a copy of a strange and wonderful book. The book became an equivalent of what you on earth refer to as The Bible. The native civilization began to call themselves Essexians, since the story of the Essex being attacked by a whale gave Melville the inspiration for the story. They divided up portions of the planet, and where I come from is called Pequod. Does all of this sound familiar to you?”
Ishmael nodded. “For six generations after the discovery of the book, everyone on Essex was named for a character on Moby Dick. Since Essexians reproduce by cloning, they’re all male, so we were called Ishmael, Fedallah, Pip, Ahab – all the names in the book. All except Queequeg. That became the sacred name. That would be like you naming your child God, which I gather nobody does on earth – unless they’re insane. Is that not correct?”
Paul agreed that no sane person would name their male child God. He hoped Ishmael was not making fun of him in his current, somewhat unstable state. But the look on Ishmael’s face began to convince Paul that his friend was telling the truth. And of one thing Paul was sure: he wanted to know more about life on Essex – this Planet of Men.