Everyone in Cannery Row senses a “change.” “It’s all right not to believe in luck and omens,” Steinbeck writes. “Nobody believes in them. But it doesn’t do any good to take chances with them and no one takes chances.” This is why even Doc—a “pure scientist” devoted to rational thinking—is wary of bad “omens.” “Most people in Cannery Row simply do not believe in such things and then live by them.” Now that the “evil” spell has lifted, though, no one can deny their own good fortune. As such, Mack and “the boys” are optimistic about the new party they’re planning for Doc. “Last time we forced her,” Mack says, referring to the party itself. “You can’t never give a good party that way. You got to let her creep up on you.”
Steinbeck’s assertion that everyone in Cannery Row claims to not believe in “omens” but then “live[s] by them” provides an interesting commentary on the relationship between reality and superstition. In the same way that Doc doesn’t want to go with Henri to his boat because he’s afraid he might see a ghost and thus have to refigure the way he views reality, the people living in Cannery Row commit themselves to their beliefs but remain unknowingly open to things they claim to reject out of hand.
News of the party spreads through town, but Mack and “the boys” are still planning the specifics. They decide it ought to be a surprise birthday party, but they don’t know Doc’s birthday, so Mack visits the laboratory and—pretending to be curious about his horoscope—asks when he was born. “October 27,” Doc says. “It must be remembered that Doc had known Mack a very long time,” Steinbeck writes. “If he had not he would have said December 18 which was his birthday instead of October 27 which was not.” Having secured this (false) information, Mack leaves, and Doc tries to guess what he and “the boys” are cooking up. “For he had recognized it as a lead,” Steinbeck notes. “He knew Mack’s technique, his method. He recognized his style.” Later, when he finds out about the party, he feels “slightly relieved” that it’s only a birthday celebration.
Once again, Doc proves that he is a kind and patient man. Although he gives Mack the wrong birthday and is deeply suspicious of him, he doesn’t stop him from planning the party. Even when he hears about it, he doesn’t instruct Mack to halt the preparations, most likely understanding that he and his friends really want to do something to show him (Doc) how much they appreciate him. As such, he puts himself at risk, knowing that his house might once again be trashed. Needless to say, he does this to please Mack, thereby demonstrating his humility and kindness.