By John Steinbeck
In Cannery Row, John Steinbeck describes the unholy community of 1920s Monterey, California. Cannery Row is a street that depends on canning sardines.It is where all the outcasts of society reside. Steinbeck himself, in the first sentence of the book, describes Cannery Row as “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”
Lee Chong, the owner of the local grocery, Dora, the owner of the Bear Flag Restaurant, (a cover for a whorehouse) and her girls, and an old Chinaman who nobody knows all inhabit Cannery Row.
However, the story focuses on the lives of Doc, a local marine biologist, and Mack and the boys, a group of not-quite-homeless, rather philosophical bums. Mack and the boys freelance, picking up money and short-term jobs where they can. Early in the story, they acquire an empty fishmeal storage building from Lee Chong. Mack and the boys transform it into their home, the Palace Flophouse.
Doc ran Western Biological, a company that supplied animals for educational purposes, like dissection. He would go down to the tidepools and collect all sorts of critters like squid, octopus, and sea cucumbers.
When Doc had to leave for La Jolla on a collecting trip, Mack and the boys decided to give him a surprise party. They bought beer, plenty of Old Tennis Shoes (Old Tennessee, a blended whiskey). The whole town was going to be there, and in the minds of Mack and the boys, it was going to be a grand party. However, the party started before Doc even got there. The guests arrived at Western Biological (which doubled as Doc’s house and laboratory) and soon became drunk. Windows, doors, expensive equipment, books, plates, and Doc’s prized phonograph were all victims to the raucous crowd before Doc arrived. The place was trashed, and everyone left before Doc even got there. By the time Doc pulled up to Western Biological, Mack was the only one left. After a couple of punches, the thing was settled.
Mack and the boys, resilient as they were, planned a birthday party for Doc, only on the wrong day. However, Doc found out about the plan and put all his expensive equipment in a back room that he could lock up. He bought beer, wine, whisky and steaks, for he knew “everybody would be hungry, but nobody would bring food.” This time, the party was a success, only damaging a few things.