Men Behaving Bookishly By Tad Wojnicki

I drive Main Street past the National Steinbeck Center, watching the zooming and vrooming. Since the Center opened in 1998, I have seen visitors from all over the world, showing all driving styles and street-crossing habits.I ease off the accelerator and remain alert.

a jogger
sucking in the fresh
exhaust fumes

I go three more blocks to the other end of Oldtown, until I reach a seedy parking lot behind the Cherry Bean Café, formerly the Steinbeck Feed Shop.

Oldtown starts at the National Steinbeck Center at 1 South Main and ends at Main and San Luis, just three short blocks down. Three blocks, that's all. "Old-town is so big," a nudnik says, "that the signs, 'Welcome' and 'Bye-bye' are nailed to the same post." Well, close. I love it, though. It's homey. Three blocks, tons of guts.

The Steinbeck Center is full-blown Postmodern, but it sits well at the head of Oldtown, lifting its dome off the globing fruit, mixing its hues with the furrows, and sucking its warmth from the sunbaked Toro breast.

I park my Mustang, grab my scratchbook, and slam the door. My car sinks well into the shabby lot, sponging and fixing the smells of the neighborhood.

antiques shop
greek god drunk
on dusty shelf

Sucking in the air--a blend of rose buds and bath salts--I look down Main Street to Mount Toro. The town parts for the mountain like a mouth for the breast. Farmland is felt. Fresh furrows get plowed nearby. I smell the sweet smell of dirt. The perfume of globing, juicing apples, oranges, and lemons is so thick, it's slightly sickening.

downtown sidewalk
cherry petals
the cracks

I like to sit at the Cherry Bean Cafe, at the bandstand table overlooking Main Street, nibbling on my cup and giving things a thought. I get a kick from the klezmer weeps and reggae chills they pump in. For a long while, when I was rustling up pennies for their Steinbeck Blend, they let me steal refills. One perfumed morning, they gave me hell.

petals drift
to the other side
shop shut

The Steinbeck Feed Shop used to be where the Cherry Bean Café is now. Gas has overpowered the oats, pushing the shop out, but I can still hear the horselaugh. No wonder, bookish men around. Damn good brainstorms come upon me here, like that day--years into trying to nail my novel--when it hit me the tale I was writing wasn't my tale at all, but an old Bible tale about getting tossed for bad behavior. I just happened to have lived it.

zooming and vrooming
fading into espresso