rom time to time, my parents would take me to stay for a weekend with my father's large and sturdy parents, whom I called Big Grandfather and Big Grandmother, or simply Grandfather and Grandmother. . . . 
Each of these visits began with a climb up the stairs to the rooms where Great-grandmother Leroy lived, at the very top of the house. . . . 
The door at the top of the stairs was fitted with glass panes from top to bottom, and Great-grandmother had hung a gauzy curtain over it. Through the curtain I could see Great-grandmother sitting in a chair by the front windows, where she was always sitting when I came to visit, carving a coconut with a kitchen knife. . . . 
She had many little friends around the neighborhood, children I didn't know, since at that time I lived all the way across town, away from the water, and so didn't see any of these children at school. I visited only occasionally and didn't have much time away from the adults when I was visiting. Festoons of paper chains hung over every door and window, and her shelves and tables were crammed with tissue paper carnations in juice glasses and jelly jars, paper baskets, necklaces of painted macaroni, and rows of knickknacks made from clamshells. But pride of place went to the coconuts carved to represent Leroys. . . . 
The carving of these coconuts was a project that she had begun before I could remember, but it was unlikely that it would ever be completed, since she not only kept extending its scope to include more and more distant relatives but regularly revised the carvings she had already done, working to bring the features closer to what she remembered -- or supposed -- them to be. She had completed heads of all the major Leroys that she had any memory of, and was now filling out the ranks of minor cousins and people related only by marriage; she had not yet carved a head of herself. Whenever I visited, she would quiz me about the exploits of these Leroys, and I had gotten them all down pretty well, but there were gaps in my understanding of what I repeated for her, enough gaps so that the Leroy history as Great-grandmother presented it seemed to me a perilously leaky affair that was likely to sink if the weather got at all rough. Often, when I was reciting for her, I employed a narrative analogue to a widely used technique for keeping afloat a clamboat with a soft bottom, a boat that leaks more or less all the time. One takes the boat out to the clam flats and there crawls under the hull and pokes sawdust into any visible gaps and, for good measure, gives the whole bottom a good coating. Then one drinks a few beers or digs a few clams while the sawdust floats into the cracks and swells with water, stopping, or at least slowing, the leaks. This is not a permanent solution, of course, merely a stop-gap measure, but some boats have been kept afloat this way for years. The hull provides the form, the sawdust the substance, and the result is an artful deception: the illusion of a solid hull, an illusion so substantial that the boat floats. Sometimes, when I was reciting for Great-grandmother, I threw quite a lot of sawdust into the gaps, but she rarely seemed to notice, or if she did, she didn't seem to mind. . . . 
"Do you know which one of these heads is your father?" she asked. 
"Yes. It's that one." I pointed to the one that she had identified as my father. All the heads looked more or less alike to me; I distinguished them primarily by location, although I could tell the women from the men because the women wore hats, dusty hats with broken feathers or stained bands of silk. 
"Very good. Now which one is Black Jacques?" 
"The one in the middle of that shelf." 
"You're a good boy, Peter. What was Black Jacques famous for?" 
"He invented beer." This was an old routine for us. Some time, much earlier, I had made this mistake, and it had made her laugh, so I had perpetuated it as part of the ritual of naming the ancestors. 
"No, no," she laughed. "Not all beer, just the best beer." 
"Leroy Lager," I said. "It was a sturdy and honest beer, a drink for sturdy and honest folks, not like the insipid pisswater they try to pass off on people nowadays." 
"And on the back of each bottle was a poem, a poem that Black Jacques had commissioned especially for the entertainment, enlightenment, or puzzlement of Leroy Lager drinkers. He paid handsomely for those poems, and they raised the tone of taverns across the land. The period when Black Jacques produced that amber nectar has come to be known as the Golden Age of Brewing." 
"And how well did Leroy Lager do in the days of Black Jacques?" 
"It depends on how you look at it. It was a great beer, and it had the finest label in the history of beer-bottle-label publishing, but sales were disappointing. Rotten, in fact. You can't sell pearls to swine." I knew that wasn't quite right, but it was close. 
"Oh, that's wonderful," she said. "Black Jacques would have liked that. So, who was his son?" 
"Great-grandfather. Fat Hank." 
"Tell me about him." 
"He wasn't always fat. When you first met him, he was quite the fellow. Everybody's friend. You were just a slip of a girl, and he set your heart aflutter when he tipped his hat to you." 
"I was young and foolish." 
"Yes. And by the time you saw him for what he really was, it was too late. That's the tragedy of your life. If only you'd been born earlier, you might have had the father, Black Jacques himself. Now that was a man! Fat Hank wasn't half the man his father was, and he ruined the business as soon as it came into his hands." 
"He turned Black Jacques's hearty brew into something so wishy-washy that you couldn't tell it from water, except that you could get drunk on it, and he began accepting flaccid and self-indulgent poems for the labels. In place of a few trenchant and pithy lines on one of the Great Themes, the Leroy label now offered the anguished sniveling of shiftless egoists whose works were so rambling that some of their poems had to be continued onto several labels, leading to the introduction of packages of six bottles and, ultimately, cases of twenty-four. Well, the result of all this was that after a few bottles anybody with a regret, a pang, a fear -- any weepy drunk -- could write a poem suitable for the once-proud Leroy Lager label. Many more poems were accepted, and the rate of pay for these dropped as the number of poets increased. Sales of Leroy Lager boomed, since poets drink a lot, and every drinker began to consider himself a poet. So, you see, things tend to get worse as time goes by." 
She sighed and smiled at me with a mixture of sorrow (because what I'd said was so true) and pleasure (because I'd remembered it so well). . . . 

ater, as a young man, I went to work as an editor on the staff of The Young People's Cyclopedia. This compendium of useful facts, historical anecdotes, brief lives, practical instruction, oversimplifications, and misinformation was compiled first in a small office above Jack's Twenty-Four Hour Jokes, on the corner of Bolotomy and Main, in the heart of Babbington, and later, when it had become an institution, in a concrete castle, one of those structures that businesses build to show their nostalgia for feudalism, outside town in a spot that had once been a potato farm and now held many industrial and office buildings and was called, preposterously, a park. The entries were written by a network of experts, amateurs, teachers, and housewives who were assigned topics to develop within strict limits of space. To add a little to the salary I received there, I wrote some entries myself, borrowing as a pseudonym the name of a good friend, Eliza Foote. As Eliza Foote, I wrote many entries in The Young People's Cyclopedia, including entries for most of the Leroys, points of interest in and around Babbington, bivalves, and friends and acquaintances who deserved, it seemed to me, a little space on a library shelf. For the entry on Black Jacques, I used some of what Great-grandmother had told me, and lots of sawdust. 

LEROY, JOHN PETER "Black Jacques," 1836[?]-1906, American brewer, born Algiers. Among beer drinkers, it is sometimes said of Black Jacques that "He invented beer." Although this is not correct, it is arguably true that he developed the best of beers; this was the legendary Leroy Lager, a sturdy and honest drink, relative only by name to the insipid brew later marketed by his son, John Henry ("Fat Hank"). Often credited (erroneously) with having first marketed beer in pint bottles, Black Jacques did introduce the now widespread practice of printing a poem on a label on the back of each bottle, thus raising the tone of taverns across the land. The period when Black Jacques himself ran the Leroy brewery has come to be known as the Golden Age of Brewing. Sales of the original Leroy Lager were never large, and Black Jacques grew increasingly bitter about its lack of success. Like many another original, he labored under the delusion that something of essentially limited appeal could, as the result of a mutation of public taste, acquire a large and devoted following. In 1894, broken in spirit, he gave the Leroy brewery to his son as a wedding present. Fat Hank, more in tune with popular taste than his father, began brewing a beer that went down more easily than the original, and he launched a promotional campaign that set an industry standard. He continued to publish poems on the Leroy labels, but required that each poem submitted be accompanied by six caps from Leroy bottles, the only requirement for acceptance. At least partly as a result of this practice, the number of poets began a steady increase that has not yet peaked. Another more or less direct consequence was the introduction of the six-pack (q.v.), which put six caps into the hands of the bibulous scribbler at once, in an easy-to-handle package. Fat Hank grew increasingly concerned that his success could not last. He calculated that if sales continued to grow at their then-current rate, by the end of the twentieth century every person in the world capable of holding a pen in one hand and a beer bottle in the other would be spending every evening drinking Leroy Lager and writing poems; foolishly, Fat Hank assumed that this was an impossibility. He sold the brewery, in a move that seemed like mad impetuosity from the outside but that Fat Hank, in his autobiography Nobody's Fool, described as the shrewdest decision he had ever made, admitting, however, that his next move fell considerably short of it on the shrewdness scale. He put all the proceeds into a series of service-stations-cum-clam-bars. He claimed to have had a vision one restless night of an endless line of motorcars inching along a paved road, each car filled with a happy family, eating clams on the half shell. "Only a fool," he is said to have said, "could fail to see that cars and clams are the coming things." The story of the failure of this venture is a familiar one. Millions are acquainted with the romanticized version that is the basis of the musical film The Flop, and every business school student knows it like the back of his hand, thanks to the lengthy chapter devoted to it in Cartel's basic text, The Big Book of Business Blunders. Essentially, blame can be ascribed to three causes: (1) the difficulty of assembling a staff adept at both automobile mechanics and cooking, (2) the incompatible odors produced by automobile maintenance and clam cookery, and (3) Fat Hank himself, who, those in the know aver, began to lose faith in his vision as soon as he had embraced it. -- EF 

[excerpted from "Do Clams Bite?" in Little Follies. Copyright © 1982 by Eric Kraft. All rights reserved.]

LEROY LAGER coasters. You can't buy "The Acme of Fictional Beers" anywhere in the real world (yet), but you can use these coasters under real beers until the fictional thing comes along. They're the pulpy-paper style that you'll find in real bars. Imprinted with the Leroy Lager logo and a picture of the Founder, Black Jacques Leroy. There is, of course, a poem on the back of each coaster. 














Click me for the next stop on the two-minute tour.
Happy Asa Clam, Spokesmollusk for Babbington, Clam Capital of the World
Happy Asa Clam
Spokesmollusk for Babbington
"Clam Capital of the World"

Copyright © 2001 by Eric Kraft

The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author

The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.