First off today, I made a guest appearance on this blog.
Now, back to our normal programming.
Long ago, Nick Nolte starred in the movie Cannery Row. I never saw the movie. I just assumed that, with Nolte starring, it would be about a sad young drunk in a sad part of town.
When I opened the by John Steinbeck, I braced myself for all this sadness. Instead I got a gentle little story about people getting on each other’s nerves, raising each other’s suspicions, and forgiving each other anyway.
The cast of characters includes:
Doc, the town sage. He’s a scientist, collecting snakes, rats and sea anemones for distant labs. He lives quietly, loves a steak, a beer and some good music on the phonograph.
Lee Chong, the merchant, whose store stocks not only beer and flour and soup, but Valentines in November and shamrocks in August.
Dora, the madam, who does a brisk business every time the sardine boats put in to shore.
And then there’s Mack, Hazel, Jones, Eddie and Hughie. They are the squatters who set up housekeeping in an warehouse that still smells of fish meal. Unencumbered by jobs and stress, they have time to think. What they think is that Doc is a fine fellow. They want to show him how highly they think of him. What better way than to throw him a party?
“It is . . . generally understood,” says Steinbeck, “that a party has a pathology, that it is a kind of an individual and that it is likely to be a very perverse individual. And it is also generally understood that a party hardly ever goes the way it is planned or intended.”
I grew up hearing forgiveness stories wherein Person A maims or murders Person B, and Person B or his survivors do the heroic thing and forgive Person A. That’s nice, I said, filing the information away. If any murder or mayhem comes into my life, I’ll try to remember it.
As life unfolds, though, forgiveness turns out to be a tool I use as often as I use a fork. Throw people together in a home, a ward, or an office, and friction happens. I annoy you. You assume things about me. I misuse your possessions. You intrude on my sacred time and space. Forgiveness is how we keep going. I didn’t like that, but let’s start over. Thanks for forgiving me. Let’s try again.
I saw a lot of that in Cannery Row.
Now if I had thrown Doc a party, I’m sure it would not have been anything to write a novel about. He probably wouldn’t even have come, since he loves steak and beer and I would have served Grilled Sub Sandwiches and Sunny Broccoli Salad.
It’s a vegetable-heavy menu and I see no evidence in Steinbeck’s book that Doc loved vegetables.
I understand the sentiment, I really do. If I have to choose between a baby carrot and a baby chocolate bar, the chocolate wins every time.
But vegetables can be great as long as you do something with them. This sandwich calls for onions and peppers. You cook them foil-dinner style on the grill while you build the rest. The veggies come out soft and sweet, boosting the sandwich to the top of the flavor meter.
Or maybe it’s the dill pickles.
Or maybe it’s the Italian dressing you swab over the bread.
Or all of the above. Let’s just say that I will show up early for dinner whenever this sandwich is on the menu.
As for the broccoli, well, any veggie improves when you soak it in a sweet dressing and stir in bacon.