The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Little Follies
Do Clams Bite?
Preface: On the Memories of Childhood
by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy

Little Follies cover



  “DO CLAMS BITE?” began as a single brief anecdote, the account of my first attempt to dig clams.  Briefly, here’s how it goes.  As soon as I was old enough to keep my chin above water in the clam flats of Bolotomy Bay, my big grandfather, my father’s father, took me clamming with him.  He was a casual clammer who usually wanted only a few clams for dinner.  He “treaded” for clams, walking around in the flats and feeling for the clams with his toes.  He walked with a jerky, shuffling step, pushing against the bottom with the balls of his feet.  When he felt a clam, he would duck beneath the surface and scoop it out of the sand.  He’d bring it up and drop it into the front of his snug wool bathing suit.  I watched him go through this routine, filling the front of his bathing suit, then waddling to the boat, his suit distended and lumpy, dumping his catch on the deck and going right back to the hunt.  I saw at once that imitating this procedure successfully had something to do with being or becoming a man, but I thought there was a pretty high risk of being unmanned too.  I wanted to ask Grandfather, “Do clams bite?” but I knew that if I asked, he would look at me with his smart gray eyes and know at once why I was asking, and that I’d be embarrassed, so I didn’t ask, and instead each time I found a clam I pretended that it squirmed out of my grasp before I could get it into my suit. 
    I had been using this little story effectively at dinner tables for quite a few years.  Sentimentalists could release a wistful sigh or two for the innocent little Peter in it, and intellectuals could ride the castration theme for a couple of hours.  One evening, early in the telling, just after I had introduced Big Grandfather and Big Grandmother, my father’s large and sturdy parents, the realization struck me that over the years, as I had told the story I had distorted the events and characters beyond recognition.  It was time, I thought, to strip away the baloney and get down to the truth.  The result of my effort to tell it without embellishment, just as it happened, begins in a few pages, but before we get to it I would like to give you an idea of how I went about reconstructing the incident and to point out one or two facts that I may have made up.

CONSCIOUSLY TRYING to revisit the past is a little like trying to see back through a long tunnel or, more accurately, one of those corrugated metal culverts through which streams are allowed to run under roadways.  Bear with me through this.  The culvert itself is the set of your current prejudices, desires, antipathies, enthusiasms, regrets, and whatnot that restrict your view of the past.  You peer through this narrow tube and see only a tiny circle of light, though you are certain that there is more back there at the other end, beyond what you can see.  Apparently, just looking won’t be enough.  You are going to have to crawl through the culvert and see what is back there.  If you make it all the way through, you will be surprised by what you find.  You will have the odd sensation of being in unfamiliar territory and yet recognizing everything. 
    By crawling through that culvert, I discovered, to my surprise, that I had first begun using the do-clams-bite anecdote as a boy, just shortly after I had begun going on the clamming trips with Big Grandfather, and before I was even sure whether clams could bite or not.  I was surprised and pleased to find that even in that very first telling I had altered the facts considerably.
    That first telling occurred one magical night when I sat on the bulkhead along the estuarial stretch of the Bolotomy River, at the end of the street where Big Grandfather lived, between two moonlit sprites, Margot and Martha Glynn.  That occasion provides the ending for “Do Clams Bite?” and I have presented it exactly as it happened, except for one or two small adjustments that I had to make, primarily for structural reasons.  For example, I have represented Margot and Martha as twins, although in fact Margot is a year older than Martha.  The reason is that in that moonlight-on-the-Bolotomy scene I spend some time swimming in the river with one of the girls.  When I had them read the manuscript, each claimed to have been the girl described.  We spent a long time arguing before I came up with a change that all of us found acceptable: I made the girls twins, we flipped a coin to see which name I would use for the girl I described, and I added a passage that introduces some confusion over which of the girls is which.
    For another example, I included in that scene a boy named Raskolnikov, whom I have for years considered my best friend, though I knew him for only two days, at about the time of the events in “Do Clams Bite?”  One day, when I was visiting my big grandparents, I walked to the food market in the center of town to get a few things for Grandmother, so that she could make some of the coconut candies that I loved so much.  On the way, I met a haunted-, hunted-looking boy carrying a sack.  We struck up a conversation, and I learned that he was running away from home because his father and mother simply couldn’t get along.  His father was an impractical dreamer, who had once wanted to build a lighthouse beside their tract home, and his mother was a beleaguered drudge, who did all the work around the house, struggled to make ends meet, and often screamed at his father, “Grow up!”
    As I walked along beside the boy, the possibility occurred to me that he and I might become friends.  For a wild moment, I thought of running away with him.  Then I thought better of it and tried instead to persuade him to stay in Babbington.  I thought that if I took him home my parents would give him some clean clothes and a warm meal and adopt him.  He would have none of that.  He’d already become a wanderer; he had to keep moving on.  He asked me to steal him some fruit and a knife while I was in the market.  I had some money of my own, so I bought him some peaches and a paring knife, and I got him a bag of hard candies too, individually wrapped in cellophane, so that they wouldn’t stick together in the heat.  I told him that I’d stolen these provisions, and I think he was impressed.  For the short time that he was in Babbington, we were nearly inseparable, although of course I could not let my parents or grandparents know about him.  I did introduce him to my great-grandmother, who lived in a room over Big Grandfather’s garage, and it was she who nicknamed him Raskolnikov.  He was so taken with her that he gave her the knife I had “stolen” for him, as a gift, after she had given him ten dollars to help him along the road.
    Then he simply left.  I’ve had many other friends, but each seems to offer only part of what this archetypal friend offered, just as each of the girls and women I knew before I met Albertine could offer only part of everything I found in her.

ANOTHER CHANGE from actual fact was prompted by good taste, rather than by structure or logic or any of the other considerations that ordinarily influence a writer.  I have made two of my ancestors, Black Jacques Leroy and his son Fat Hank Leroy, rather tame: two more or less harmless businessmen, whose interests were limited to beer and poetry.  I left a lot unsaid, because I knew that if I had dragged in the tales of Black Jacques’s establishing Corinne’s Dockside Bordello, his liaison with his son’s wife, or his role in the Tong Wars between clamming factions, my family would have suffered considerable embarrassment.  It was also a question of taste that made me have Fat Hank sell Leroy Lager, although in fact the brewery is still the cornerstone of the tiny Leroy fortune.  The stuff has simply become so anemic that it embarrasses me to admit that I’m connected with it.

AT HEART, THOUGH, “Do Clams Bite?” is not about events or people.  It is about fear.  It is about several boyhood fears: the fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of sex, fear of oblivion, fear of becoming like one’s parents, fear of other boys (especially those who carry knives), and—most of all—the fear of having a hunk of oneself bitten off by a clam.  As a boy, I suffered this fear in silence.  Only later did I learn that I had not been the only sufferer.  Although this fear was not widespread, many boys in Babbington did suffer from it: that group of boys whose fathers or grandfathers were casual clam-diggers, who went right into the water after the clams, feeling for them with their feet, who wore brief woolen bathing suits and stored the clams they caught in the fronts of their suits.
    By buttonholing schoolchildren on their way home, I’ve learned that many still suffer from this fear.  (The clam in question, by the way, is Mercenaria mercenaria, the hard-shelled quahog, the pinnacle of molluscan evolution, God’s own clam.  In other areas, I suppose, oysters, mussels, or scallops occasion a similar dread.)  Girls fear for their toes, but in boys this pelecypodophobia centers, as so many boyhood fears do, on the penis.  At clambakes, I have seen small boys furtively poking at the insides of clams before eating them, to make sure that no part of an unfortunate lad is hidden there, just as I used to poke at clams when I was as young as they and as firmly in the grip of this terror.  Once, not long ago, I found myself next to one of these boys at a table full of cherrystones.  When I saw him poking at his clams, I leaned over and whispered to him, “Don’t worry.  They don’t bite.”  I knew at once that he had understood the point of my remark, for he smiled and nodded his head and then laughed a mad, nervous laugh and began wolfing the clams down with horseradish and gusto.

Peter Leroy
Small’s Island
July 11, 1982

  Little Follies Dust Jacket  
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Little Follies 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 book 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.

“My Mother Takes a Tumble,” “Do Clams Bite?,” “Life on the Bolotomy,” “The Static of the Spheres,” “The Fox and the Clam,” “The Girl with the White Fur Muff,” “Take the Long Way Home,” and “Call Me Larry” were originally published in paperback by Apple-Wood Books.

Little Follies was first published in hardcover by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.


For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail the author’s imaginary agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.

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.





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