Cannery Row

Surprisingly (to me), I've read a number of fiction books over the past six months. Most of these were inspired by the Art of Manliness Book Clubs, including A Christmas Carol, Frankenstein, and Cannery Row. That's the same number of fiction books as I would normally read over three years.

While I still prefer non-fiction, these books (plus others like The In-Between, by Jeff Goins) have helped me appreciate stories, just for the sake of enjoyment. 

Here is an excerpt from "Cannery Row" (by John Steinbeck). Since I was a teenager, I have enjoyed Steinbeck's writings, but have never read this book.

In this scene, we find an interaction of two boys, who appear nowhere else in the book. As people all over Cannery Row (in Monterrey, California) are preparing a party for Doc, Joey and Willard have a conversation outside of his home and lab.

Enjoy! (That is, IF you are able to enjoy the dark, sad stories of Steinbeck).

Cannery Row: Chapter 26

Joey said, "You know, this guy in here got babies in bottles."

"What kind of babies?" Willard asked.

"Regular babies, only before they're borned."

"I don't believe it," said, Willard.

"Well, it's true. The Sprague kid seen them and he says they ain't no bigger than this and they got little hands an feet and eyes."

"And hair?" Willard demanded.

"Well, the Sprague kid didn't say about hair."

"You should of asked him. I think he's a liar."

"You better not let him hear you say that," said Joey.

"Well, you can tell him I said it. I ain't afraid of him and I ain't afraid of you. I ain't afraid of anybody. You want to make something of it?" Joey didn't answer. "Well, do you?"

"No," said Joey. "I was thinkin', why don't we just go up and ask the guy if he's got babies in bottles? Maybe he'd show them to us, that is if he's got any."

"He ain't here," said Willard. "When he's here, his car's here. He's away some place. I think it's a lie. I think the Sprague kid is a liar. I think you're a liar. You want to make something of that?"

It was a lazy day. Willard was going to have to work hard and get up any excitement. "I think you're a coward, too. You want to make something of that?" Joey didn't answer. Willard changed his tactics. "Where's your old man now?" he asked in a conversational tone.

"He's dead," said Joey.

"Oh yeah? I didn't hear. What'd he die of?"

For a moment Joey was silent. He knew Willard knew but he couldn't let on he knew, not without fighting Willard, and Joey was afraid of Willard.

"He committed -- he killed himself."

"Yeah?" Willard put on a long face. "How'd he do it?"

"He took rat poison."

Willard's voice shrieked with laughter. "What'd he think -- he was a rat?"

Joey chuckled a little at the joke, just enough, that is.

"He must of thought he was a rat," Willard cried. "Did he go crawling around like this -- look, Joey -- like this? Did he wrinkle up his nose like this? Did he have a big old long tail?" Willard was helpless with laughter. "Why'n't he just get a rat trap and put his head in it?" They laughed themselves out on that one, Willard really wore it out. Then he probed for another joke. "What'd he look like when he took it -- like this?" He crossed his eyes and opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue.

"He was sick all day," said Joey. "He didn't die 'til the middle of the night. It hurt him."

Willard said, "What'd he do it for?"

"He couldn't get a job," said Joey. "Nearly a year he couldn't get a job. And you know a funny thing? The next morning a guy come around to give him a job."

Willard tried to recapture his joke. "I guess he just figured he was a rat," he said, but it fell through even for Willard.

Joey stood up and put his hands in his pockets. He saw a coppery shine in the gutter and walked toward it but just as he reached it Willard shoved him aside and picked up the penny.

"I saw it first," Joey cried. "It's mine."

"You want to try and make something of it?" said Willard. "Why'n't you go take some rat poison?"

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