In the spirit of Steinbeck and Ricketts, let’s hang out with themes from Cannery Row and elements of historyin relationship to the compelling and fun parties that occurred at Ed Ricketts’ lab. Steinbeck’s Cannery Row finds a creative way to envisage his friend Ed Ricketts’ as the character Doc. It becomes apparent the real Doc (Ed Ricketts) is a person who genuinelys accept people from all walks of life to hang out with him. One must venture to guess that Steinbeck’s famous social circle would add some zest and zing to these parties. Now let’s imagine an alternate reality involving a lively Ed Ricketts’ party at the Pacific Biological Laboratories (PBL) on Cannery Row. This is a realm where he did not die, but is still hanging out with his friends from all walks of life.
The era for this setting is the Beat Generation of the late 1940s. The party is during a fanciful and beautiful summer on a Wednesday evening in Monterey, California. Ed Ricketts maintains a reticent demeanor, but is engaged and motivated by the world around him. Perchance in our scenario there could be young traveling Jack Kerouac-like individuals with other similar bohemian nomads in tow. They stumble upon the party at the marine biology lab and decide to have a drink and a laugh.
At the party some of Ricketts’ young guests are exploring the lab, and trying to figure out the scientific jars full of alien-looking sea creatures. Within the lab’s inventory, a young man discovers and picks up one of the smaller hand-size scientific containers. He attempts to read the label aloud, “Para…stichophus…Cali…fonicus.” The creature looks like a thorny, long tubular worm, and has an orange pigment with a sprinkling of various spots of yellows and splashes of light wine burgundy. Ricketts walks in a measuring manner to the young man, and with a soft voice, “this is the California Sea Cucumber, and a very fine specimen you have chosen here. It’s a scavenger that feeds on plankton. It does that by using its tentacles that look like thorns all over its body to help it feed.”
Meanwhile, the PBL is a cacophony of Johan Sebastian Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue” and loud conversations, which sound like a flock of frenzying seabirds. There are heavy whiffs of smoke traveling through an already thickening air from the close proximity of people in one room. Lax soldiers in town on leave with their adorning prostitutes, looking for excitement, cannot resist joining the party. Bouts of laughter and shouting are just as intoxicating as the party’s swigs of cold beer. However, Ricketts’ continues to speak to his party guests in his soft-spoken tone as he imparts his latest insights. To no surprise, he is sharing his recent travels in Alaska and British Columbia. He depicts the vivid descriptions of the great vastness of trees and wide expanse of wilderness.
The merriment and enticing classical music attracts local fishermen who are roaming the waterfront street. They arrive at the party like bouncing moths to an unavoidable shining light bulb in the dark. It somewhat disrupts the festivities, but an older gentleman with round-frame glasses plays a different record on the hi-fi from Ed Ricketts’ son’s collection of jazz. The song selection is Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee”, and it inspires sporadic little gyrations of hip movements from the ladies. The older gentleman upholds his reserved nature, and merely observes the joy of the party with a quiet conduct. He is none other than the famous author Henry Miller. However, during this cheerful evening he is just another bystander in a swelling group of collective minds.
In the kitchen a petite and smiling Adelle Davis is entertaining a few younger iconoclastic-looking men who have disheveled hair and silken eyes. She shares with them the finer points of health in her latest cookbook, and they listen with polite intent. The wooden lab is full of smiles as the night continues with a culmination of vibrant, colorful opinions and inebriated gratification.
During the height of the party’s voluminous excitement there is a sudden pause that creates a freeze frame in everyone’s movement and sound. Within a blink of an eye, it disappears from view and awakens to our present reality. Sadly this particular event only existed in the wonderful alternate setting of our imagination. Nevertheless, there is a rejoicing aspect to the idea of Ed Ricketts’ hosting a soirée. Maybe this brief “what if” explains why it’s so fun to explore the sphere of Ed Ricketts, and his impact on history. What do you think Ed Ricketts’ parties would have been like back then or could be in a speculative future scenario? What might the outcomes be? Or the influential results?
Written By Matthew Runfola