The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Where Do You Stop?
Chapter 10: Ontology, Epistemology, Bills of Lading
by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy



  I SPENT MANY HOURS in the library before I admitted to myself that I wasn’t likely to find the answer to Miss Rheingold’s question in the books that were considered useful for students in the seventh grade.  I had browsed pretty thoroughly, and I’d learned some interesting things along the way, but I didn’t feel any closer to the answer than I had been when I’d first slipped in through the boiler room window.  When I realized that a day had passed without my making any progress, I began to worry.  When I began worrying, I found it harder and harder to think about anything but the stretch of time between me, there, at that moment, in the library, evading my work with a book about drumlins and eskers, and the day when I would have to deliver my report to Miss Rheingold.  That stretch of time seemed elastic.  I envisioned it as a rubber road, twisting and flexing sickeningly, extending into vague, dark space.
    I wasn’t getting anywhere and I knew it.  I needed a break, and I needed some advice.  Whenever I needed the refreshing boost that comes from another point of view, an unexpected idea, I turned to Porky White, as I still do.  Yes, I mean the Porky White, the man behind the Kap’n Klam Family Restaurants that dot—some say blot—America from sea to sea, bringing the esculent mollusk within reach of one and all.  I had known Porky for years.  We met when I was in the third grade.  He drove a school bus.  I rode on it.
    Porky had just opened his first modest restaurant—no more than a snack bar, really.  He called that first place Captain White’s.  He hadn’t become Kap’n Klam yet.  I was an investor in the enterprise—on a small scale, naturally, a scale determined by my earnings as weed-puller, window-washer, and lawn-mower—but even so my status as an investor put me in an unusual relationship with Porky.  He was an adult, and I was a kid, but I was one of his backers.  It made me more confident in his company than in the company of any other adult, or even of other children I looked up to, such as Raskol.  I think this showed in the way I talked with him.  I was very forthcoming.
    Not only was I a backer, but I was even responsible, I say with pride and what I think you’ll have to admit is a disarming lack of false modesty, for creating—well, let’s say supplying—the Kap’n Klam image.  Porky knew that the business had to have character if it was going to succeed on the large scale of his dreams.  In fact, he often said just that.
    “Peter,” he would say, “the thing is this—the place has got to have character.”
    “Right,” I would say, since I’d heard this before and knew that he was convinced.
    “You know what I mean?”
    “Character is more important than class.”
    “In fact, class doesn’t really matter in an operation like this.”
    “Not really.”
    “It’s not what our customers are looking for.”
    “Nope.  Definitely not.”
    “I mean, let’s face it, if they’re looking for a classy evening out on the town, they’re not going to be coming to a clam shack in the first place.”
    “No arguing that.”
    “I’m right, right?”
    “You’re right.”
    “But they want a place that’s got character.”
    “Sure they do.”
    “If a place has got character, Peter, then they know they are someplace.  At least they know they’re not eating at home—you know what I mean?”
    “Sure I do.  Character.  That’s it.  That’s how they know they’re not eating at home.”
    Porky had begun working on the character question well before he even had a restaurant, and I was an eager assistant in the effort.  He got it into his head that the way to give the place character was to come up with a character who supposedly owned it.  I suggested my great-great-grandfather, Black Jacques Leroy, whom I knew only from the stories I had learned from my great-grandmother, but who sure seemed like a character to me.  I told great-grandmother’s stories to Porky, and he and I decided that we might as well appropriate Black Jacques more or less as my great-grandmother described him, rather than going to the trouble of building an image from scratch.  At first Porky called this character—a seafaring version of Black Jacques—Captain White.  I think he got the idea, somewhere along the line, that this guy was his great-great-grandfather, but I didn’t really mind.  On the sign over the door of Captain White’s and on the menus, napkins, and matchbook covers was a drawing of Black Jacques casually leaning against a piling, holding a beer stein.  Porky and I developed a history of the fictitious Captain White, and he was the precursor, forebear, or first draft of Kap’n Klam, an old salt now familiar to virtually everyone, since he’s pictured on all the paraphernalia of the Kap’n Klam chain.  The enormous plastic statues of him that stand on the front lawn of every restaurant at home and abroad make my great-great-grandfather as familiar an emblem of American culture as Liberty. 
    That first Captain White’s Clam Bar was a squat building on the edge of a clamshell parking lot behind a marine gas station, in the slovenly part of the waterside area of Babbington, near the mouth of the Bolotomy.  The area had an authentic, atmospheric odor of rotting fish parts, a little touch of Babbington that is artificially duplicated in all 914 Kap’n Klam franchise restaurants to this day.

PORKY WAS SITTING in one of the wooden booths, flipping through some papers that I took to be bills of lading.  I took them to be bills of lading not because I had any firsthand experience with bills of lading, but because I had encountered the term in my ramble through the unshelved books in the library, liked the sound of it, and welcomed an opportunity to use it, almost as much as I did splines, the need for which almost never came up, though the word had begun to make me giggle inwardly whenever I thought of it, since it inevitably brought with it, bound to it as if by a force as mysterious and strong as the forces that bind the diminutive components of all the stuff we are or know, the anticipation of the day when Raskol and I would change the combinations of the locks and baffle our chums.
    “Bills of lading, huh?” I said, taking a seat opposite Porky.
    “What?” he said.  “What do you mean?”
    “I—um—I thought those might be bills of lading.”
    “These?  These are just the sheets that come with all the stuff I get shipped to me here—ketchup, tartar sauce, potatoes, that kind of thing.  They always give you these sheets that list everything they deliver to you.  I figure if they go to that trouble I ought to read through them, you know?”
    “Sure,” I said, happy that Porky seemed not to have noticed my ignorance.  “That makes sense.”
    “What—did you find that in a dictionary or something—bills of lading?”
    “A book,” I said.  “Not a dictionary, just a book.”
    “Peter,” said Porky, “you want to be careful about using a term that you don’t really know well enough.  You can make a fool of yourself.”
    “Yeah, I guess so,” I said.
    “Some terms are much more dangerous than others,” he said.  “You fling them around when you really don’t know what you’re doing and people can spot you as a faker right away.”
    “I know what you mean,” I said.  “Like epistemology.
    “Well, yes,” said Porky.  “I guess so.”
    “And ontology.
    “Sure,” said Porky.
    “A lot of people get those confused,” I said.
    I had no idea whether this was true or not, but I loved throwing those two words around.
    “And fuck,” Porky said.  “That’s another one you have to watch out for.  But anything, even something as apparently straightforward as bills of lading, can demonstrate that you’re a guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about—if you are a guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
    “How’s business?” I asked, eager to get off the subject of my ignorance.  “Are we making the big money yet?”
    I took my notepad out of my back pocket.  “Let me get the figures down,” I said.  “How many dozen fried clams last week?”
    “I’m not sure,” said Porky.  “I—”
    “I haven’t got those figures—”
    “Gallons of chowder?”
    “Say, Peter,” he said with sudden interest, “how’s school?  New school year!  Unfamiliar surroundings!  Strange faces!  Surprising things!  Tell me all about it.”
    “Well,” I said, “let’s see.”  Mentally I scanned my new experiences, looking for one that would appeal to Porky.  It didn’t take long for me to spot exactly the one.  “There’s a new science teacher,” I said.  “In fact, most of my teachers are new.  Everything’s new, come to think of it.  The water fountains are new, and really nice too.  They don’t work yet, but I bet they’ll work great once they work at all.  And there are two gyms.  Two complete gyms.  Isn’t that something?”
    “Sure is,” said Porky.  “What do they serve you for lunch?”
    “Oh, the usual stuff,” I said.  “But the science teacher, let me tell you about the science teacher.”
    I knew that I had, in Miss Rheingold, a topic that Porky was sure to be interested in.  However, as soon as I began to frame my first remark about her, I realized that she was a topic beyond my descriptive powers.  No, that’s not exactly right.  I didn’t know whether she was beyond my descriptive powers or not.  She was completely outside my descriptive experience.  I had never had occasion to describe any woman before, and Miss Rheingold was a woman who deserved a fine and precise description from someone with practice.  I had never even used the vocabulary that would be required.  Those were more reticent times, when it was not unusual for a boy of eleven never to have said the word breasts, for example.
    “She has blond hair,” I said.
    This wasn’t the powerful beginning I had hoped for, but it was a start.  It had the virtue of staying on familiar ground, and it caught Porky’s attention; he was at least interested in hearing what came next.  It didn’t do her hair justice, though, so I made another attempt.
    “It’s really light blond,” I said, “kind of the color of—” I looked around the room for something that might help me out.  “Lemonade,” I said.  “She has lemonade hair.”
    “Lemonade hair,” said Porky.
    “That isn’t quite right,” I said.  “It’s more like—beer.”
    “Kind of in-between.  If I mixed some beer and some lemonade, I think I could get it just right.”
    “Shandy,” said Porky.
    “That’s what it’s called.  Beer and lemonade.  Shandy.”
    Another good one: shandy.  Shandy, ontology, epistemology, bills of lading, splines.
    “I can picture it,” Porky said.  “Shandy hair.  Very nice.  What color eyes?”
    “Um, I don’t know.  I didn’t notice.”
    I brought her face to mind and stared at it, trying to see what color her eyes were.  I couldn’t be sure.
    “She has a very smooth forehead,” I said.
    That had impressed me.  It made her seem relaxed, even when she was dishing out science at her most frantic pace.
    “It’s very smooth,” I said.  “Round.  Like a honeydew melon.”
    I was surprised to find how apt that was.  Her forehead had seemed very like the skin of a honeydew—smooth, cool, pale.
    “She has honeydew skin,” I said.
    I was beginning to feel a growing confidence in my descriptive talents.
    “Honeydew skin,” said Porky.  “I like that.  But that shandy hair—that was great.  Delicious.”
    “And then her teeth,” I said, getting up a good head of steam.  “Her teeth are like—um—sugar cubes.”
    I seemed to be getting pretty good at this.
    “The Captain’s Shandy!” said Porky.  He slapped his hand on the table.  “The Captain’s Shandy!”
    “And her legs,” I said, daring, thrilled, embarrassed, “are—”
    “It’s going on the menu tomorrow!” said Porky.  “Peter, I’ll never regret the day I let you talk me into letting you invest in the business.  You’re a fountain of ideas.”
    I couldn’t think of a single suitable comparison for Miss Rheingold’s legs, and I have never succeeded since, though my mind returns to the attempt every time I take a swallow of beer or lemonade on a summer’s day or notice shandy on the menu board at a Kap’n Klam Family Restaurant.


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Where Do You Stop? 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. 

Copyright © 1992 by Eric Kraft.  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.

Where Do You Stop? 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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