I And The Boys

I noted that recently several people visited a post I wrote in 2014 and I went back and read it myself. It’s not too bad and I thought it also relevant to today’s world — though focused on a book written by John Steinbeck many years ago.

John Steinbeck apparently believed that there is some good in all of us — no matter how degenerate we appear. He was fond of writing about the scraps and bits of cast-off humanity that others ignored. In Cannery Row, for example, he writes about a small community of people who are likely to be unnoticed and dismissed as beneath contempt, if not avoided at all costs. The main group of five men, led by Mack, are “bums” in the eyes of most of us. They don’t work unless absolutely necessary — and then only as long as they must. They live with their dog they love too much to train or restrict in any way in a deserted warehouse, called the “Palace Flophouse,” owned by a Chinese man who has decided he is better off letting them live there rent-free than to turn them away and possibly suffer unseen consequences. The only “respectable” character, and the central character in the novella is “Doc,” an educated marine biologist who collects specimens along the California coast, prepares them for dissection and study in America’s colleges and universities, and lives a quiet and sober life among his jars, his books, and his beloved records (remember them??)

Midway through the novella a bizarre incident occurs in which Mack and his boys drunkenly trash Doc’s laboratory and home in their well-meaning desire to throw him a party because he has been good to them; Doc is indeed beloved by all in Cannery Row because he is gentle, caring, and only too willing to put himself out for others. Mack and the boys (“I and the boys,” as he says) feel awful about what their excess of enthusiasm has brought to Doc’s doors — it takes Doc, who arrives after the party is over, a day to clean up the mess they have left behind. Accordingly there is a rift between Doc and Mack’s crew, but it is one they are determined to mend — by throwing him another party (at the suggestion of the madam of the local whore house)! In the meantime, as they go about planning the party in secret, Doc is having a beer with one of his friends and reflecting on Mack and his boys “the Virtues, the Beatitudes, the Beauties,” as Steinbeck calls them; Doc comes up with the following speech which strikes me as worldly-wise:

“Doc said, ‘Look at them. There are your true philosophers. I think,’ he went on, ‘that Mack and the boys know everything that has ever happened in the world and possibly everything that will ever happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed. All our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls. But Mack and the boys are healthy and curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy their appetites without calling them something else.’ This speech so dried out Doc’s throat that he drained his beer glass. . . .

“‘It has always seemed strange to me,’ said Doc. ‘The things we admire in men, kindness, and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.’”

And they elect the latter to high public office. Can I hear an “AMEN”!!??


7 thoughts on “I And The Boys

  1. Hugh, the final paragraph speaks volumes does it not? My oldest son made a comic drawing with one of my favorite phrases underneath – don’t mistake kindness for weakness.

    People see someone in office who uses a false bravado, who bullies people into acquiescence, who sues people into submission, but who does not reveal any decency or accountability for actions, and far too many see strong man.

    I see weakness. I see shallowness. I see fear in being discovered. I see dishonesty. To me it is overt, but he is very good at one thing – masking all of this from his audience. Yet, all one needs to do is pay attention. Keith

  2. “All our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls.”

    I wonder what Steinbeck would be writing about if he were living today — and if he were here, would his words reach those so-called successful men.

    With the limited internet, I surely miss the bulk of the news which seems to be changing hourly, yet I remain baffled that ‘he’ can continue his arrogance and denial — yet so obsessed about money — and money for the wrong reasons.

    Most of ‘the others’ behind him on the press conferences look as if they’ve been brainwashed – numb, but I also suspect that they’re all sleep deprived and trying their best to ‘keep their heads while all about them are losing theirs and blaming it on them…’

    Those hamsters are still working but I think they’re about to stop work as well!

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