In the evening just at dusk, a curious thing happened
on Cannery Row. It happened in the time between sunset and the
lighting of the street light. There is a small quiet grey period
then. Down the hill, past the Palace FIophouse, down the chicken-walk
and through the vacant lot came an old Chinaman. He wore an ancient
flat straw hat, blue jeans, both coat and trousers, and heavy
shoes of which one sole was loose so that it slapped the ground
when be walked. In his hand he carried a covered wicker-basket.
His face was lean and brown and corded as jerky and his old eyes
were brown, even the whites were brown and deep-set so that they
looked out of holes. He came by just at dusk and crossed the
street and went through the opening between Western Biological
and the Hediondo Cannery. Then he crossed the little beach and
disappeared among the piles and steel posts which support the
piers. No one saw him again until dawn.
But in the dawn, during that time when the street
light has been turned off and the daylight has not come, the
old Chinaman crept out from among the piles, crossed the beach
and the street. His wicker-basket was heavy and wet and dropping
now. His loose sole flap-flapped on the street. He went up the
hill to the second street, went through a gate in a high board
fence and was not seen again until evening. People, sleeping,
heard his flapping shoe go by and they awakened for a moment.
It bad been happening for years, but no one ever got used to
him. Some people thought he was God and very old people thought
he was Death and children thought he was a very funny old Chinaman,
as children always think anything old and strange is funny. But
the children did not taunt him or shout at him as they should,
for he carried a little cloud of fear about with him.
Only one brave and beautiful boy of ten named Andy
from Salinas ever crossed the old Chinaman. Andy was visiting
in Monterey and he saw the old man and knew he must shout at
him if only to keep his self-respect, but even Andy, brave as
he was, felt the little cloud of fear. Andy watched him go by
evening after evening, while his duty and his terror wrestled.
And then one evening Andy braced himself and marched behind the
old man singing in a shrill falsetto: "Ching-Chong Chinaman
sitting on a rail'Long came a white man an' chopped off
The old man stopped and turned. Andy stopped. The
deep-brown eyes looked at Andy and the thin corded lips moved.
what happened then Andy was never able either to explain or to
forget. For the eyes spread out until there was no Chinaman And
then it was one eye one huge brown eye as big as a church
door. Andy looked through the shiny transparent brown door and
through it he saw a lonely countryside, flat for miles but ending
against a row of fantastic mountains shaped like cows' and dogs'
heads and tents and mushrooms. There was low coarse grass on
the plain and here and there a little mound. And a small animal
like a woodchuck sat on each mound. And the loneliness - the
desolate cold aloneness of the landscape made Andy whimper because
there wasn't anybody at all in the world and he was left. Andy
shut his eyes so he wouldn't have to see it any more and when
be opened them, he was in Cannery Row and the old Chinaman was
just flip-flapping between Western Biological and the Hediondo
Cannery. Andy was the only boy who ever did that and he never
did it again.
Chapter IV of "Cannery