The nature of parties has been imperfectly studied. It is, however, generally understood 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. This last, of course, excludes those dismal slave parties, whipped and controlled and dominated, given by ogreish professional hostesses. These are not parties at all but acts and demonstrations, about as spontaneous as peristalsis and as interesting as its end product.
Probably everyone in Cannery Row had projected his imagination to how the party would be-the shouts of greeting, the congratulation, the noise and good feeling. And it didn't start that way at all. Promptly at eight o'clock Mack and the boys, combed and cleaned, picked up their jugs and marched down the chicken walk, over the railroad track, through the lot across the street and up the steps of Western Biological. Everyone was embarrassed. Doc held the door open and Mack made a little speech. “Being as how it's your birthday, I and the boys thought we would wish you happy birthday and we got twenty-one cats for you for a present.”
He stopped and they stood forlornly on the stairs.
“Come on in,” said Doc. “Why -I'm-I'm surprised. I didn't even know you knew it was my birthday.”
“All tom cats,” said Hazel. “We didn't bring 'em down.”
They sat down formally in the room at the left. There was a long silence. “Well,” said Doc, “now you're here, how about a little drink?”
Mack said “We brought a little snort,” and he indicated the three jugs Eddie had been accumulating. “They ain't no beer in it,” said Eddie.
Doc covered his early evening reluctance. “No,” he said. “You've got to have a drink with me. It just happens I laid in some whisky.”
They were just seated formally, sipping delicately at the whisky, when Dora and the girls came in. They presented the quilt. Doc laid it over his bed and it was beautiful. And they accepted a little drink. Mr. And Mrs. Malloy followed with their presents.
“Lots of folks don't know what this stuff's going to be worth,” said Sam Malloy as he brought out the Chalmers 1916 piston and connecting rod. “There probably isn't three of these here left in the world.”
And now people began to arrive in droves. Henri came in with a pincushion three by four feet. He wanted to give a lecture on his new art form but by this time the formality was broken. Mr. And Mrs. Gay came in. Lee Chong presented the great string of firecrackers and the China lily bulbs. Someone ate the lily bulbs by eleven o'clock but the firecrackers lasted longer. A group of comparative strangers came in from La Ida. The stiffness was going out of the party quickly. Dora sat in a kind of throne, her orange hair flaming. She held her whisky glass daintily with her little finger extended. And she kept an eye on the girls to see that they conducted themselves properly. Doc put dance music on the phonograph and he went to the kitchen and began to fry the steaks.
The first fight was not a bad one. One of the groups from La Ida made an immoral proposal to one of Dora's girls. She protested and Mack and the boys, outraged at this breach of propriety, threw him out quickly and without breaking anything. They felt good then, for they knew they were contributing.
Out in the kitchen Doc was frying up steaks in three skillets, and he cut up tomatoes and piled up sliced bread. He felt very good. Mack was personally taking care of the phonograph. He had found an album of Benny Goodman's trios. Dancing had started, indeed the party was beginning to take on depth and vigor. Eddie went into the office and did a tap dance. Doc had taken a pint with him to the kitchen and he helped himself from the bottle. He was feeling better and better. Everybody was surprised
when he served the meat. Nobody was really hungry and they cleaned it up instantly. Now the food set the party into a kind of rich digestive sadness.
The whisky was gone and Doc brought out the gallons of wine.
Dora, sitting enthroned, said “Doc, play some of that nice music. I get Christ awful sick of that juke box over home.”
Then Doc played Ardo and the Amor from an album of Monteverdi. And the guests sat quietly and their eyes were inward. Dora breathed beauty. Two newcomers crept up the stairs and entered quietly. Doc was feeling a golden pleasant sadness. The guests were silent when the music stopped. Doc brought out a book and he read in a clear deep voice:
If I see in my soul the citron-breasted fair one
Still gold-tinted, her face like our night stars,
Drawing unto her;her body beaten about with
Wounded by the flaring spear of love,
My first of all by reason of her fresh years,
Then is my heart buried alive in snow.
If my girl with lotus eyes came to me again
Weary with the dear weight of young love,
Again I would give her to these starved twins of
And from her mouth drink down the heavy wine,
As a reeling pirate bee in fluttered ease
Steals up the honey from the nenuphar.
If I saw her lying all wide eyes
And with collyrium the indent of her cheek
Lengthened to the bright ear and her pale side
So suffering the fever of my distance,
Then would my love for her be ropes of flowers,
A black-haired lover on the breasts of day.
My eyes that hurry to see no more are painting,
Faces of my lost girl. O golden rings
That tao against cheeks of small magnolia leaves,
O whitest so soft parchment where
My poor divorced lips have written excellent
Stanzas of kisses, and will write no more.
Death sends me the flickering of powdery lips
Over wild eyes and the pity of her slim body
All broken up with the weariness of joy;
The little red flowers of her breasts to be my comfort
Moving above scarves, and for my sorrow
Wet crimson lips that once I marked as mine.
They chatter her weakness through the two bazaars
Who was so strong to love me. And small men
That buy and sell for silver being slaves
Crinkle the fat about their eyes; and yet
No Prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her,
Leading to his grim bed. Little lonely one,
You clung to me as a garment clings; my girl.
I love long black eyes that caress like silk,
Ever and ever sad and laughing eyes,
Whose lids make such sweet shadow when they
It seems another beautiful look of hers.
I love a fresh mouth, ah, a scented mouth,
And curving hair, subtle as smoke,
And light fingers, and laughter of green gems.
I remember that you made answer very softly,
We being one soul, your hand on my hair,
The burning memory rounding your near lips:
I have seen the priestesses of Rait make love at
And then in a carpeted hall with a bright gold lamp
Lie down carelessly anywhere to sleep
Phyliss Mae was openly weeping when he stopped and Dora herself dabbed at her eyes. Hazel was so taken by the sound of the words that he had not listened to their meaning. But a little world-sadness had slipped over all of them. Everyone was remembering a lost love, everyone a call.Mack said “Jesus, that's pretty. Reminds me of a dame-” and he let it pass. They filled the wine glasses and became quiet. The party was slipping away in sweet sadness. Eddie went out in the office and did a little tap dance and came back and sat down again. The party was about to recline and go to sleep when there was a tramp of feet on the stairs. A great voice shouted, “Where's the girls?”