Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reading. Steinbeck.

It would be an exaggeration to say that I have loved Steinbeck for as long as I have been able to read, but not much of one. I will confess that when I first read his books (at the age of nine or thereabouts) I did not understand the underlying themes beneath the words, but it must have been then that I began to understand that I loved words, needed words, could see that words could make people and places come alive for me. From Steinbeck's words I could see the golden expanse of the Salinas Valley, imagine endless fields against endless sky beneath the sun. I grew up suspended like a bead on a wire between Seattle and Taipei, sliding back between school and home and holidays; Steinbeck's California was a distant land, a foreign country, a place of dreams unfulfilled or magically made true.

Thursday is my favorite day of the week, and it always makes me think of Sweet Thursday, which is the sequel to Cannery Row (which I read long ago and can no longer remember). It is a return to Monterey and the people and places of Cannery Row, where the canneries lie rusting and empty, after the war that brought loss and change in every corner of the world. Doc has been gone for the duration of the war, and comes back to new people and old friends, who try to help him find love, in the form of Suzy, one of the girls at the Bear Flag. (I was really young when I first read it, had no idea what a brothel was, and when Fauna, the owner of the Bear Flag, asks Suzy what happened to her baby, I didn't understand what it meant to lose a baby). Sweet Thursday, Steinbeck tells us, is the day after Lousy Wednesday, which is one of those days that is just plain bad.

Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes it, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels against the day. When they are finally forced out by hunger or a job they find that the day is just as lousy as they knew it would be.
On such a day it is impossible to make a good cup of coffee, shoestrings break, cups leap from the shelf by themselves and shatter on the floor, children ordinarily honest tell lies, and children ordinarily good unscrew the tap handles of the gas range and lose the screws and have to be spanked. This is the day the cat chooses to have kittens and housebroken dogs wet on the parlor rug.
Oh, it's awful on such a day! The postman brings overdue bills. If it's a sunny day it is too damn sunny, and if is dark who can stand it?

When it is one of these kinds of days, one of those lousy Wednesdays, I think of Steinbeck's words and look forward to the next day. Sweet Thursday.

Steinbeck, John. Sweet Thursday. Penguin, 1986. p. 86.

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