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My Name Is Ismael

John W. Pinkerton


It was a dark and stormy night…and then it wasn't.  The sun came out this morning bright and clear.  Just another day in Meadville.

My name is Ismael.  Actually it's Bob, Bob Smith.  Pretty generic.  Sometimes when I'm alone with my own thoughts, I call myself Ismael.  I'm the only Ismael I know.

When I was a kid, I read a lot.  Well, I guess that's pretty obvious.  I still read a lot.

It’s the worst of times and the best of times in Meadville.  The old clothing factory, mostly coats and jackets and such, is scheduled to close in a month, but a paper plant of some sort is scheduled to open soon.  I’m wondering about the smell.  Anyway, I guess we'll be going from…rags to rags. 

One of my favorite lines from a novel is, “In the beginning the universe was created.  This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”

Most Meadville folks should have given up by now, but we seem to be a resilient bunch.  Each morning without fail, I awake, poop, and get on with the day's affairs…much as other folks do.

It's not easy being me.  Yeah, I know other folks have harder lives than me.  That's their lives, and I don't want to meddle. 

I've worked at our local paper, The Meadville Gazette, for ten years now.  Went to work for Mr. Grange straight out of high school---me, not Mr. Grange.  He seemed to take a liking to me.  He only beats me once a week.  If it weren't for the beatings, I don't think it would be worth it.

We're probably the only paper in the country that still sets type.  That's mainly what I do.  Some days it hardly seems worth doing.  I mean…who reads this stuff?  “Mary Jones had a visit from her nephew, Bobby Joe.”   “Cathy Smith scored 3 points against the Camden Hogwallers.”  You get the idea.

Well, it's a living…I guess.  People keep telling me that I should have gone to college.  People mainly means  my mom…bless her heart.  She's getting old and must have me confused with someone with ambition.  No one else seems much interested in me one way or the other.

It doesn't matter to me.  I live at home for free, and being that Meadville ain't too big, I can walk any place worth walking to.

We've got a public library.  You guessed it, the Meadville Public Library.  It's not very well organized, but it has a lot of books.  Everything from fly fishing to the Bible.  They seem to have an excess of Bibles…which in itself is a pretty good read particularly if your conscience is clear.

It seems there is always someone giving away old books.  I guess they've read them or looked at them and didn't like what they saw.  I like to catch a peek at the books while they're still in boxes.  You can learn a lot about the philanthropists who donate them by just looking at the titles.  I think the most interesting collection came from old Doc Halliday's estate.  Who would have ever guessed Old Doc was interested in bonsai and phrenology.  The phrenology book threw me for a loop---him being a doc and all.


You might have guessed by now that I like books.  I started as a little fellow reading comic books and then little books and then great big monster books.  Moby Dick was my first monster book.  “They call me Ismael.”  If I had a choice, Ismael would be my name.  I'm stuck with Bob, Bobby, Rob, and on formal occasions, Robert.  Robert is a good enough name, but it just doesn't have the weight, the gravity, of Ismael.

Of late I've started reading detective stories.  The widow Simons donated a bunch to the library----most Mickey Spillanes.  Mickey is okay.  He's right up there with The Mickey, you know, the mouse, in my eyes.

If you're an adult reading this, I know what you're thinking.  “How's your love life?”  I don't know why people always wonder about what other folks are doing with their private parts.  It's a little irritating.  To answer your question, it's filed between “Moby Dick” and Mickey Spillane.  But I did have sex once and I liked it…a lot, and I hope to have it again some day, but I don't think they'll let me go on another FFA trip to Dallas again.  So…now you know.


I never was very much popular with the girls.  They all seemed to want to get married right out of high school---but not to me---or like Becky Smith, before they got out of high school, and I guess Mr. Grange's typesetter doesn't seem like much a catch.  I used to think I'd get married like other folks, but the chances of this seem to get a little slimmer with each passing day.

I like history and, believe it or not, Meadville has a pretty colorful history of its own.  Nobody has bothered to write it down, but Mr. Grange, when he’s not beating me, shares some of his stories about stuff that happened here.    He likes telling me about when we used to have a movie house and how all the country folks would come to town on Saturdays and buy stuff from the general store.  We even had a clothing store and a pretty good one…and, oh yeah, a drug store, marble counter and all.  There's not much left now except empty buildings.  Kinda sad.    Since the roads have gotten considerably better, folks don't mind driving 20 miles to Pikeville to pick up what they need…or want.

I don't want much.  Mom cooks most days.  I'm still wearing shirts and pants from when I was in high school.  They're a little tight, but I don't mind.  I did buy a nice suit a while back for funerals and weddings and such. Went all the way to Pikesville for it.  I had a car once.  A friend talked me into it.  An old Ford.  What a disaster.  I'll walk, thank you.

Speaking of friends, Abe and John are the only ones I can think of.  Abe was a pretty big deal in high school…quarterback.  John has always been his buddy.  I guess they're running out of friends because they started asking me to go fishing with them and go to ball games with them.  They're okay.

Abe went off to college for a while, but he's back now.  Works at the factory.  He's got a nice truck and a bunch of girls.

I guess I look like a simpleton to you, but I ain't.  I'm smart.  I was tested in high school.  I read a lot, and I guess I've got a pretty good education from all the reading.  I'm not up much on current events.  No TV, but we do have a radio.  I sometimes listen to smart folks talk on the radio.

Some people say I don't have much ambition.  I guess they're right.  I don't miss it.