|Where Do You Stop?
Chapter 10: Ontology, Epistemology, Bills of Lading
YOU CAN READ THE FIRST THIRD
YOU CAN BUY THE
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.”
“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?”
“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
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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.