It’s Good to be Common!

Mack and the boys

Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our Father who art in nature.” – John Steinbeck

This year, mid-July in the heartland was a “scorcher” as they say. Day after day of temperatures breaking the 100° mark with no rain for weeks. Nighttime provided little relief with the lows staying in the 80’s. I was careful not to over-exert Mimsy, our Japanese Chin, on our walks. She is not as brachycephalic (flat-faced)  as our pugs, but I was still cautious. As we walked along on our night-time stroll, I heard the tree frogs calling out and wondered how they were surviving this hot, dry spell. Then I remembered the passage from Cannery Row at the top of this post. I need not have worried about those little frogs … they are common.

God in his wisdom did not give the gift of survival to the peacock, panda bear or Bengal tiger. Beauty does not seem to be a criteria for continued existence. I find great comfort in this.

As Mimsy and I slowly made our way down the sidewalk running alongside Elizabeth Avenue, my mind drifted to God’s apparent love of the common. I believe that God loves all humanity equally, but in reading many of the stories in the New Testament, it appears that Jesus had his favorites. He clearly did not like to spend time with the pharisees and self-righteous, instead choosing to hang with fishermen, assorted sinners and the occasional woman of low-moral character.

Mimsy is pretty low-maintenance and our ambling pace allowed my imagination to take another leap.

What if Jesus had visited Steinbeck’s Cannery Row?

Where would he spend his time? Who would he hang out with? Since this musing is just a product of my over-active imagination, I can draw my own conclusions. I don’t believe he would be with the rich people at their houses on the top of the hill. I don’t believe he would be in the formal churches. But I can see him sitting with Mack and boys on the pilings down by the wharf, feet dangling over the water, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean as he tells stories of the creation from a perspective that only he would know. The boys listen in awe as they pass a pint of “Old Tennessee.”

I can envision him pulling up a chair alongside Doc in his laboratory. The two of them discussing the complexities of even the simplest of lifeforms while Doc’s record-player fills the room with the sounds of Bach’s, Art of Fugue.

I imagine Dora placing a “closed” sign on the front door while they prepare to have tea with Jesus. Feeling pure and clean, the girls are once again ladies as he tells them of the wonders of heaven that await them.

In the opening chapter of Cannery Row, Steinbeck described its citizens thusly.

…Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said : “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Our walk over, Mimsy and I head home. I look down at her plumed tail and prancing gait.

“You better watch out, girl,” I tell her, “You’re purebred, you could be in danger of extinction, you’re not common like me.”

She looks up, gives a little chuff, as if that’s the silliest thing she’s every heard of. We both have someone to watch over us.


If you have not read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday, don’t waste anymore time. Find a copy now! The books are filled with love, hope and the enduring goodness of the common man, flaws and all.

Written as fiction but the characters are all based on people that Steinbeck knew. The photo at the beginning of this post is of Harold Otis “Gabe” Bicknell and his friends, the basis for Mack and the boys.

Of Head, Heart, Steinbeck and Zombie Mistakes

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince.

Sure, there was the Apple stock that I bought at $30 and sold at $36, congratulating myself for being so very smart and clever to make a 20% gain, but in general, I don’t have many regrets. I’m not much for digging up past mistakes, there are so many it would be a full-time job. It’s better to keep them buried. Besides, I’ll make some fresh ones tomorrow, I don’t need zombie mistakes following me around too.

The quote at the beginning of this blog illustrates that there is more than one way to get a task done. One way is through logic, through process, through delegation. In other words,  by using your head. The other way is driven by yearning, by passion. In other words, by using your heart.

A few regrets that I do have are those of the heart and represented in this blog; cooking and writing. I started cooking about nine years ago. I still love it. Do I wish I had started sooner? Yes, of course. But the regret here is pretty minor. I love coming home and turning on some music, pouring myself a glass of wine and start slicing, dicing, sautéing, simmering, roasting, broiling, whatever it takes to create a meal for my family. I enjoy it so much I want to stretch it out. This does not always go over so well with my family when their stomachs begin to rumble.

I started this blog thinking I would be focusing on cooking. But a successful cooking blog relies on exact measurements and precise steps not to mention some good photography. By the time I’m done, no one in the family wants to wait around while I stage a great photo, they want to eat! Then there is that exact measurement and precise step thing. My cooking technique more closely resembles a Jackson Pollack painting than a Rembrandt.  I sling ingredients around like Jackson Pollack did paint. By the time I’m done, I can barely remember what ingredients I used, let alone how much.

And then there is writing.

I grew up without a television, possibly the best thing to ever happen to me as it turned me into a reader. Our family Saturday routine went something like this. Shortly after it opened, I was dropped off at the local branch of the St. Louis County library system. This was the early sixties when it was safe to leave your child unsupervised for hours at a time in the library. I searched for undiscovered titles and repeats from my favorite authors. By the time my parents returned to pick me up, I had 5-7 books checked out and ready to go. When next Saturday rolled around, those books were finished and I was looking for more. I read adventure stories, science fiction stories, Dr. Doolittle, Danny Dunn and anything by Elizabeth Enright. I always read several grade levels above my actual grade, not because I was smart, simply because I just read and read.

Then one day I picked up a copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Continue reading “Of Head, Heart, Steinbeck and Zombie Mistakes”

Hazel vs. Hillary vs. Donald

hillary-trump

I try to stay away from politics in any form of social media. I’ve seen people so ready and willing to give everyone a piece of their mind, that they have little remaining. But gazing across the current political landscape I can’t help but comment and to shake my head and say, “Really, Is this the best we’ve got?”

Feeling a little down and hopeless, I remembered this incident in John Steinbeck’s brilliant, light-hearted novel, Sweet Thursday. It brightened my day, hopefully it will also provide a brief escape for you.

A sequel to Cannery Row, this story takes place after WWII as the characters are returning home from the war.

First, an introduction to some of the characters:

Hazel, one of the bums. Steinbeck describes Hazel’s mental status like this.

“Hazel was in the Army long enough to qualify for the G.I. bill, and he enrolled at the University of California for training in astrophysics by making a check mark on an application. Three months later, when some of the confusion had died down, the college authorities discovered him. The Department of Psychology wanted to keep him, but it was against the law. Hazel often wondered what is was that he had gone to study. He intended to ask, Doc, but by the time Doc got back it slipped his mind.”

Fauna, the madam of the local whorehouse, who gives horoscope readings. Continue reading “Hazel vs. Hillary vs. Donald”