|Eric Kraft||Peter Leroy
Where Do You Stop?
(brief passages from throughout the book)
Sometimes my memory seems seems to be mush, with shining moments scattered through it like chips of marble in wet cement or peas stirred into mashed potatoes. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I closed my eyes and resumed my backward ramble until I found myself standing in a locker in the Purlieu Street School, in the heat of an August night. Because I was ten, I fit in a locker, though without much space to spare. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
Things left undone—how they haunt us. At any rate, they haunt me. I’ve noticed that they don’t haunt everyone else. A great many people seem to be able to walk through their days without hear- ing at their heels the dogged shuffle of neglected duties, but I am not a member of that lighthearted crew. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
Where are the edges of things? Where in space-time, for instance, does one phase of your life end and another begin? Where do you mark the onset of an idea, a discovery? Where do you mark the end of a belief? — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
The giveaway program, a feature of the early days of television, was a type of show in which members of the audience were rewarded simply for being there. They didn’t have to answer questions or perform stunts to collect prizes; they just had to show up. . . . It seemed to validate the ultimate in groundless hopes: that fate might reward a person simply for being alive. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
The fantastic contraptions on Flo and Freddie’s show were mechanical or electromechanical. In every case, a contraption’s announced purpose was accomplished—if it was accomplished—with a great deal of clattering and clanking and whizzing and whir- ring. Wheels turned, gears spun, armatures moved, bells rang, lights flashed. Many—it would probably be more accurate to say most—of the machines seemed to be failures. That is, they failed to accomplish what their inventors claimed they would. Many others seemed to have no purpose at all, and their inventors never even claimed any for them. When asked what the thing they held so proudly was supposed to do, they would just say something like, “Well, now, Freddie and Flo, I’m not going to tell you what this here gadget of mine does. I’m going to let you figure that out for yourself. What say we just flip this little switch here on the side and see how she goes?” I could tell, from the moment an inventor began talking along those lines, that the machine was going to be one of those that accomplished nothing, one of the ones that hummed and spun and rattled and clanked itself into a heap of scrap while the audience roared and Flo and Freddie exchanged looks. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
When I found myself bored, when I didn’t know what to do with myself, when I was a little on edge and needed to find or devise a way to relax, or even when I was just looking for a way to pass the time, I sought inspiration in junk. Most of the time, I found it there. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
The ready availability of intriguing materials is, I think, a spur to creation more often than the arrogance of artists allows us to admit. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
A building that’s a-building is a greater pleasure than a building that’s a building: its mysteries are exposed, and yet they are still intriguing, still complicated, no less mysterious for their being exposed than a woman is less mysterious naked than dressed. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
The entry hall had been laid with terrazzo, the flooring material most like life. To make a terrazzo floor, chips of marble are scattered in a soup of cement, like notable moments scattered through a life, and then, when the conglomerate hardens, the surface is polished so that the bright chips show to good advantage, glinting against the monotonous ground as notable moments do in the memory. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
Raskol’s sister, Ariane . . . was on my mind more and more often. When I say that she was on my mind, I mean not only that I pictured her or heard her voice or cast her as the female lead in certain fantasies, though I did all of that, but there was something else, too, an accompaniment to these thoughts of her, something like the background music in a film, but an accompaniment for all the senses, a set of sensations that I cannot fully recall or describe, but which, it seems to me, resembled smoke, Scotch, silk, and saxophones. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
“Hey, I know how your mind works. One little thing gets you going, and you’re off on a train of thought that makes lots of stops. Any little station that comes along — you’re liable to get off and take the next train that comes through. No telling where you’ll wind up.” — Raskol, to Peter, in Peter Leroy’s Where Do You Stop?
Splines. What a nice word. This was my first encounter with it. It appealed to me at once. It seemed inherently poetic, sensual. In fact, it sounded so good that I could imagine lots of uses for it, none of which was related to combination locks. Splines could be soft, round, benign creatures, handy to writers as emblems of hope and calm: “When the storm abated at last, Cynthia and I emerged from the cave where we’d sought shelter. A preternatural calm had settled over the sea, and the splines had come out to sun themselves on the rocks.” — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
How do we measure the size of our ignorance? We don’t know how much we don’t know until what we don’t know becomes what we didn’t know; that is, after we know it; and then we know only how much we didn’t know compared to what we know now—we still don’t know how much we don’t know. This was the first lesson of the seventh grade. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I’ve always been conscientious. . . . Give me an assignment and I get right down to it. I was one of those children who ate the lima beans first and saved the mashed potatoes for last, as a reward. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I owed most of my early success in school to a knack for inverting questions, turning them into the beginnings of declarative sentences, and finding in the murky paragraphs of my textbooks the matching conclusions for these beginnings. It wasn’t much more than a game, and not even a very challenging one. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
In those days I was convinced that I was surrounded by opportunities for doing the wrong thing, and I knew from experience that I usually didn’t even notice I’d seized one of these opportunities until it was too late. The difference between the right thing and any of a million wrong things often seemed so tiny as to be nearly invisi- ble. Anything might trip you up, and it was more likely to be a pebble than a boulder. I haven’t had much reason to alter this conviction in all the years since then. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I was alone in the library. . . . Need I tell you how distracting it is to be alone in a library? Unwatched, you must struggle continually against satisfying your curiosity about newts, heraldry, the merengue, combination locks — everything but the topic that brought you there. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
The appeal of books in a jumble, encountered at random, not shelved by topic and author, is enormous, far stronger than the appeal of books in ranks and categories. When picture books and gazetteers lie in a hodgepodge with poems, novels, handbooks of upholstery instruction, and photographic collections of examples of taxidermy, they make a rich, intriguing mix, something like gumbo or bouillabaisse, a stimulating concoction, a much richer and more intriguing mix than the array in the categorized sections of the library, where distinctions are made that wouldn’t allow so many diverse and tasty things in the same pot. Those distinctions inhibit the browser, I think, and eliminate some of the potential pleasure of browsing. The gain from categorizing is order, but the loss is surprise. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
We learned a word that all of us went around using whenever we got half a chance since it was such a pleasure to say. It began with a funny buzzing, hissing, and shushing, generated a lot of saliva along the way, and its ultimate syllable made my mouth a cavernous space in which a howl re- sounded. This wonderful word was Zwischenraum, the word Quanto [the Minimu] used for the empty space that is most of everything, the nothing that permeates and separates it all. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
It takes a special mind to stick to a determination to do something just for the hell of it, the kind of mind my great-great-grandfather Black Jacques Leroy had and few others do. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
“I think you’ve fundamentally misinterpreted the question,” said Matthew. “The problem is that you’re interpreting it too narrowly.”
I remember well that first night of television at the Lodkochnikovs’. Mr. Lodkochnikov sat proprietarily in the more upright of the maple chairs, smoking a cigar and drinking beer while he watched, commenting continually on what he saw, sometimes just murmuring an objection, sometimes anticipating the punch lines of the jokes, sometimes grumbling, sometimes just snorting. At some point in the evening I became aware that his attitude toward his television set had changed from pride to disappointment. I wish I’d been aware of the change earlier, when it began, so that I might have noticed and reported the process. It must have been gradual. If my senses, sensors, or sensibilities had been more refined, I could probably have detected it early on. There must have been signs—a certain twist of the mouth, the slightest lethargy in the way he knocked the ash from his cigar, measurably longer pulls at his beer bottle—but I didn’t notice them. I saw the difference only when it became gross enough to be an obvious contrast to his earlier state. Finally, he got up with a grunt and left the room. To tell the truth, the rest of us were glad to see him go. He’d become pretty vocal as his disappointment had grown, and by the time he left, his grumbling and snorting were even drowning out the commercials. We were happy to be alone and silent, sitting in the silver glow. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I had some good ideas. . . . At least they seemed good to me. I liked them. I was very fond of them, in fact. Our affection for our ideas can be as strong as our feelings for people, and it’s surprising how quickly our attachment grows. . . . We are rational beings who often behave in irrational ways. Criticisms of our ideas, our words, our work feel like criticisms of our selves, in toto, not just that part of us that is under attack. Where, after all, do we draw the line between our ideas and our selves? — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
“I’ll bet you’re wondering if you could train a chicken yourself,” [Marvin’s father] said. “Well, of course you could! It’s not easy, don’t let anybody tell you that. But it’s not impossible. Don’t let anybody tell you that, either. You remember what the great Dr. Johnson said about the dangers of overestimating or underestimating a task and how a little work, steadily applied, will eventually achieve its goal.”
“I was young, it’s true, and I was ignorant, too, but I wasn’t stupid, and [my father’s] explanation was so obviously ridiculous that it opened the widest crack yet in the myth of [his] good sense. He had been chipping away at this myth for some time now, but only with tiny hammers that didn’t do much more than surface damage, crazing and nicking it. Now he seemed to have taken up something heavier, a real sledgehammer, determined to finish off the job.” — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I read through the encyclopedia, book by book, but not from beginning to end, not deliberately and not thoroughly.I wandered it like a child crawling through tall weeds, rambling, like a walker without a compass or a map, who chooses his route from the sound of the street names, going nowhere, anywhere, everywhere, for the pleasure of the going, of meandering, a pleasure different from any I’d gotten from books before. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I was annoyed by articles without cross-references. I doubted that one little article could be all there was to say on a subject. Could this really be the last word? Was there nothing else related to this topic? At first, I tried getting out of these dead ends by backing up. I’d retreat an article or two along the irregular path I’d been following until I came to a cross-reference I hadn’t chosen. Then I’d take that route instead of the one I’d followed originally and hope that it would put me on a longer trail, but I didn’t care for that technique. Progress is satisfying; regress is not. Backing up felt like acknowledging a mistake. It made my having come to a dead end feel like something to be ashamed of, as if I should have known that a particular reference would lead nowhere, was a route not to be taken, as if I ought to have been able to anticipate my moves dozens ahead, like a chess master, and choose only the routes that went somewhere. I told myself that it was foolish to think that way, because if some paths weren’t really meant to be taken, that would mean that some of the entries weren’t really meant to be read; they were just taking up space in the books, a joke of the compilers. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
I knew I was breaking Ariane’s rule by speaking to her during a movie, but I was out to impress her, and I was impatient.I had brought a volume of my encyclopedia with me that afternoon, Volume C (Cat paradox; Causality; Cavendish laboratory; Combination lock; Como conference; Complementarity; Compound nucleus, theory of; Copenhagen school of physics; Correspondence principle), hoping that she would appreciate the intellectual patina I was acquiring, but I’d arrived a little late, the movie had already begun, and she didn’t want to be diverted. — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
“Come here,” she said. Magically, she patted her hip. Oh, that hip, that hip, that satiny, slip-covered hip. That smooth expanse, where the satin stretched over the rounded prominence of it! That hip! The silvery sheen of the television light (released when electrons struck the fluorescent coating inside the television tube—Volume T) formed a vaguely ellipsoid brightness around it, like the contour line around a drumlin (Volume D) on a geological survey map (Volume M). Oh, that hip! — Peter Leroy, Where Do You Stop?
Copyright © 2008 by Eric Kraft. All rights reserved. Photograph by NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA), and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team.