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September 2009, vol 5 no 3

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Tad Wojnicki


Looking for Steinbeck's Ghost

Swept by the skimpy Cannery Row, I schlep over, park my Mustang by the bagel shop, and grab a quick pumpernickel. I love Steinbeck, Doc Ricketts, and the other Cannery Row characters, real or unreal. I crave the spirit. I miss the dead. I lived in the neighborhood before, and here, over a bagel, I met my lovers. Truly a fog-lifter, this joint offers a full fix---a righteous java, hallowed bagels, holy-shit reggae, and lots of latte lovers.

scraping seedy schmeer
over a burned bagel
---fog horn

I throw on my safari vest, grab my scratchbook, and plow the fog. I schlep down Cannery Row to a plazita loved by street musicos fiddling at the Steinbeck’s bust. There is a beach there too, packed with chuckling pebbles. Shops hawk trinkets, gadgets and tchatchkes, and reek of sweets, salts, and deodorants. I look the other way. It's a typical, bone-chilling July morning. The sea tops roofs. Surf hits rocks. Spray sweeps sidewalks. Yellow, polka-dot, and pink kayaks sink into the gray puff, hugging the shore.

blown in the surf
from the palm tree
---a kayak

Early risers have already hit the bricks. Camera-toting dads and cheery moms stagger on goose-pimpled legs, dragging their candy-licking fry. No locals. The locals abhor Cannery Row.

far in fog
soles touch
raw nerves

Suddenly, the sun burns a hole in the fog, lighting up the street. The Steinbeck bronze shines, salt dries, and the ocean flashes baby blue from damp alleys. Furious cooking begins. A bride bursts out sobbing when the clatter of the dishes reaches an unbearable level, but the cotton candy sweetens the salt.

out of the fog

Close to noon, Cannery Row is all hey-heying, bee-beeping, ding-dinging, sole-shuffling, and horn-blasting cocooned in salt and sun. I spot school buses, Rolls Royces, stretch limos, Ajax portable toilets, and goblets of vin rose blushing on pink napkins. I also smell soiled socks, melting ice cream, old slums razed, and new slums raised. The sun makes it all stand out. Sharp edges hurt, but schlock shines, and the forgettable makes itself unforgettable. The schlepper gulch is a hogwash, a sweetheart deal, a sentiment for sale.

up and down
a fake tiffany
---lazy lizard

I keep looking for the Cannery Row spirit, but detect none -- until I spot the boarded-up shell of what used to be the Edgewater Warehouse. The fish-fouled, gutted hovel sits across from the glassy, sassy Monterey Plaza Hotel. I get the feeling the ruin crawls with ghosts---real ghosts, living their lives, but shy to show off. They express themselves in all manner immaterial. They don't gobble junk food, tongue sweets, or belly-laugh, but they daily, I am sure, chuckle at our idiocy. Can’t see them. Can’t hear them. Can only feel them.

do the dead live?
the woodwork
muffles the moans

John Steinbeck used to slouch by this eyesore. So did his buddy, Doc Ricketts, living down the street, and his characters---Mack and the “boys,” Dora Flood and her “girls,” as well as the boiler dweller, Sam Malloy. Neither of them seems less real than Steinbeck himself. I swear I can hear Lee Chong peeping, “Fi dolla“ and smell Hazel's fishy feet as he gets back from the Tide Pool.

layered with leaves
against street sounds, the empty

I reach 800 Cannery Row, the former Doc Ricketts' Laboratory, unchanged since his 1947 death. The railings shine, polished by his hands -- when he struggled up, often highly spirited---and the hands of his girlfriends, associates, and party-goers---as well as by the famous, loaf-sized hands of Steinbeck himself. I stand there, eavesdropping.

weathered board
unable to hold back
sunlit seeds

"I’m a no-goodnik," a husky voice says. That’s Mack, ever the underdog.
"Even now," a tenor rings out, "I know that I've savored the hot taste of life." That's Doc, a gentle guy who, if driven loco, could get lethal. Girls giggle. Doc gives up. Girls crave love, not poetry.

A door squeaks open.

"Ain't this a whorehouse?" thunders a fisherman, barging in. I hear the glass breaking, the door banging, and a body tumbles down the steps to my feet.

I recognize the barfly. He is soaked. I drag him under the Steinbeck bust, and drop him there to sleep it off.

I schlep down to Lee Chong’s “superstore,” another stinky remnant. Again, the ruin renders Cannery Row real, ghostly real. Each weathered, bug-eaten wall, flyblown window, and warped floorboard looks just as Steinbeck pictured it, sounds as he heard it, and smells as he smelled it. Finally, I feel the spirit.

noontime masquerade
the ghost’s
soft steps

I head back to my Mustang. Without buying a trinket, gadget, or sweet, I walk past the trinketries, chocolateries, and gadgetries again. The bagel shop is brightly lit, diners spilling onto the sidewalk. I don’t see any girl I loved. I moved, they moved. The sun is setting on a day that won’t be again. The ruffling and shuffling, clatter and clutter, yells and spells die down, but I don't care. The true voices cannot be heard, only felt.

rock forms
at Weston Beach
stoned wind

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