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Lee Chong's grocery has everything. Or at least everything you need "to live and be happy" (1.1), which is good enough for us.
He's a nice guy, but not a pushover. "Everyone in Cannery Row owed him money," but after a while, he'd stop extending credit (1.2).
One day, Lee Chong is standing at his usual spot at the counter thinking about something that happened that afternoon.
This guy Horace Abbeville comes in. He has a huge family and owes Lee Chong for groceries big time.
To pay him back, Horace offers Lee Chong his only thing of value, a beat-up old building filled with fish meal (mmmm!) on the other side of a vacant lot.
This looks like a really bad trade—what is Lee Chong going to do with a stinky old building that anyone could break into?—but he agrees to take it.
Horace leaves, goes into what used to be his building, and shoots himself.
Lee Chong feels awful and does everything he can to help Horace's wives (!) and children.
Now let's meet Mack. Mack lives in a rusty pipe in a vacant lot with some friends. And he wants some new digs.
In the nicest possible way, Mack basically threatens to destroy Lee Chong's new building unless he and his friends can move in there: "'Place might burn down if somebody don't keep an eye on it'" (1.21).
Mack and the boys call their new place the Palace Flophouse and Grill.The boys, uh, acquire paint and furniture to fix the place up.
Now that they've got this fine place to live. Mack decides it would be a good idea to do something nice for Doc.