Now Lee Chong owned the Abbeville building --
a good roof, a good floor, two windows and a door. True it was
piled high with fish meal and the smell of it was delicate and
He was tapping the rubber mat with his gold ring and considering
the problem when the door opened and Mack came in. Mack was the
elder, leader, mentor, and to a small extent the exploiter of
a little group of men who had in common no families, no money,
and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment. But whereas
most men in their search for contentment destroy themselves and
fall wearily short of their targets, Mack and his friends approached
contentment casually, quietly, and absorbed it gently. Mack and
Hazel, a young man of great strength, Eddie who filled in as
a bar-tender at La Ida, Hughie and Jones who occasionally collected
frogs and cats for Western Biological, were currently living
in those large rusty pipes in the lot next to Lee Chong's. That
is, they lived in the pipes when it was damp, but in fine weather
they lived in the shadow of the black cypress-tree at the top
of the lot. The limbs folded down and made a canopy under which
a man could lie and look out at the flow and vitality of Cannery
Lee Chong stiffened ever so slightly when Mack came
in and his eyes glanced quickly about the store to make sure
that Eddie or Hazel or Hughie or Jones had not come in too and
drifted away among the groceries.
Mack laid out his cards with a winning honesty. "Lee,"
he said, "I and Eddie and the rest heard you own the Abbeville
Lee Chong nodded and waited.
"I and my friends thought we'd ast you if we
could move in there. We'll keep up the property," he added
quickly. "Wouldn't let anybody break in or hurt anything.
Kids might knock out the windows, You know--" Mack suggested.
"Place might burn down if somebody don't keep an eye on
Lee tilted his head back and looked into Mack's eyes
through the half-glasses and Lee's tapping finger slowed its
tempo as he thought deeply. In Mack's eyes there was good will
and good fellowship and a desire to make everyone happy. Why
then did Lee Chong feel slightly surrounded? Why did his mind
pick its way as delicately as a cat through cactus? It had been
sweetly done, almost in a spirit of philanthropy. Lee's mind
leaped ahead at the possibilities no, they were probabilities,
and his finger tapping slowed still further. He saw himself refusing
Mack's request and he saw the broken glass from the windows.
Then Mack would offer a second time to watch over and preserve
Lee's property and at the second refusal, Lee could smell
the smoke, could see the little flames creeping up the walls.
Mack and his friends would try to help to put it out. Lee's finger
came to a gentle rest on the change-mat. He was beaten. He knew
that. There was left to him only the possibility of saving face,
and Mack was likely to be very generous about that. Lee said:
"You like pay lent my place? You like live there same hotel?"
Mack smiled broadly and he was generous. ''Say---"
he cried. "That's an idear. Sure. How much?"
Lee considered. He knew it didn't matter what he
charged. He wasn't going to get it, anyway. He might just as
well make it a really sturdy face-saving sum. "Fi' dolla'
week," said Lee.
Mack played it through to the end. "I'll have
to talk to the boys about it," he said dubiously. "Couldn't
you make that four dollars a week?"
"Fi' dolla'," said Lee firmly.
"Well, I'll see what the boys say," said
And that was the way it was. Everyone was happy about
it. And if it be thought that Lee Chong suffered a total loss,
at least his mind did not work that way. The windows were not
broken. Fire did not break out, and while no rent was ever paid,
if the tenants ever had any money, and quite often they did have,
it never occurred to them to spend it anywhere except at Lee
The boys moved in and the fish-meal moved out. No
one knows who named the house that has been known ever after
as the Palace Flophouse Grill. In the pipes and under the cypres-tree
there had been no room for furniture and the little niceties
which are not only the diagnoses but the boundaries of our civilization.
Once in the Palace Flophouse, the boys set about furnishing it.
Edited from Chapter I of "Cannery