Hey! A Life
|They call him Hey! No, not Hay, but Hey!
He signs his name "Arnold Willowby", but he never liked "Arnold", and "Arny"
even less. I don't blame him. He was just twelve years old when his father
got him a summer job on a construction site. Pete Candover, the foreman,
who had asked for a man, kept calling him "Hey!" The boy's fellow workers
followed this example, but, when they saw how quickly he learned, they
altered the tone of their irony. Finally impressed himself, Pete asked
him what his name was. "Hey! Sir," he replied and everybody laughed, even
Pete who didn't laugh much. Hey! told me he not only got a name that summer,
but also an itch to build houses that he has been scratching ever since.
When Jeff Willowby came home from the office that fall, he would discover that Arnold had replaced a broken board on the kitchen porch steps, a cracked brick in the wall on the side of the house, a leaky faucet on the wash basin in the downstairs bathroom, etc. Jeff was so pleased that he bragged to his friends on the golf course, where he had never shot a better game. The next spring, Arnold replaced a window in his parents' bedroom, the water heater in the basement and the tiles in the upstairs bathroom. Jeff began to hook or slice his drive or miss an easy put and he took a lot of kidding at the Nineteenth Hole. His son was getting straight As in math and shop, but only Bs in his other subjects, except for spelling in which he was getting Cs. One evening, when Sarah pushed back through the swinging door from the kitchen, she found her menfolk sitting stiff and stonefaced at the dining room table. "Math and shop again!" she exclaimed. Arnold's spelling grades particularly irritated his father:
"If you can get As in math, you can get As in spelling. All you have to do is study instead of making repairs we don't need.""What difference does it make if I spell a word wrong as long as people see which word it is?"
"They will think you are ignorant.""Why do you care, if they are wrong? When something is broken or worn out, it needs repair."
"I can pay a workman to do that. You do your home work, all of your home work.""Making repairs is like doing home work for shop. Besides"
Arnold doubled the time he spent on home work to three hours so that he was getting As in all of his subjects, except spelling in which he was only getting B-."Arnold!" Sarah interrupted.
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"Maybe I could drop spelling," he said, "it's pulling
my average down." The remark got a good laugh on the golf course. Jeff
sank a long put for par on the eleventh hole, a dog leg 5. Still, Arnold
insisted on hanging new wall paper in the living room and his friends at
school wondered why he was in such a rush to go home.
Jeff waited until Sarah was in the kitchen:
"Who is this Sam you were talking about?""Sam Skyrock."
"Skyrock?""Yes, his father is a Navaho."
"Oh!... What does he do?""He's in construction."
"What does he do in construction?""Roofing."
"Roofing?""Yes, what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing.""Think what would happen to a house without a roof."
"Does he employ workmen to put roofs on houses?""No, he does it himself."
"... Why don't you run around with kids whose parents we know?"
But she lost her patience too the next fall when Arnold began to mention girls' names as well as boys':"Jeff!" scolded Sarah as she pushed through the swinging door with dessert.
"Who is this Miranda you keep talking about?""Miranda Flores."
"How did you meet her?""She's in my class. She gets straight As, even in spelling."
"... Her father operates heavy equipment."Jeff's face froze.
"Yes, bulldozers, backhoes, ditch diggers...""Heavy equipment?"
"No, he operates them himself. It's a high skill job and he gets $13.50 an hour.""He hires other people to operate them?"
"... Does Miranda operate heavy equipment too?"
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Sarah laughed. "Why don't you make friends with girls whose parents we know? They seem pretty nice.""Mom, I'm not interested in girls yet. Miranda runs around with the boys I know, like Sam. She's a tomboy."
Sarah and Jeff glanced at each other hopefully.But hope waned when Arnold asked permission to attend a party on the night before Christmas Eve over in Stringly instead of singing carols with the Young Presbyterians in Sheffield. Sam and Miranda liked the Stringly Youth Center because it welcomed everybody, whether he venerated the Virgin Mary like her or worshiped the Great Spirit like him. There were lots of Presbyterians too, they assured Hey! who reassured his parents. He reminded Jeff of the joke about the change in his son's voice that he had told his friends last Saturday. The Young Presbyterians would hardly appreciate a laryngitic frog croaking along with them. The comparison didn't seem as funny to Jeff as it had on the golf course. To sooth his parents' disappointment, Arnold remarked that, on weekends, the Youth Center was open on Saturday while the Young Presbyterians met on Sunday. He would only miss the YP meeting on the night before Christmas Eve.
"Only one!" his father insisted.
Indeed Arnold soon tired of attending both the YC and the YPs on the same weekend, so he tried alternating between them, but the YPs bored him and he regretted the YC on YP weekends. After a few alternations, he told his parents, as tactfully as possible, that he just didn't feel at ease with the YPs and he really liked the folks in Stringly. "Folks? What folks?" snapped Jeff who didn't like the word. Plain, decent, honest, friendly people who had to work for a living. They prided themselves on being just like everybody else. "Nonsense!" Jeff growled, "they don't all work for a living over there, but everybody over here does and thank God we are not just like them!" But Sarah conceded that, if all Arnold's friends lived in Stringly, there was no point in trying to keep him in Sheffield. When Jeff's friends kidded him next Saturday about "folks just like him", he hit an easy approach shot into the sand trap on the left side of the green, so they stopped kidding him."Only one?" his mother doubted.
One evening that spring at supper, Arnold remarked that
Mom and Pop had never met any of his friends. Mom and Pop exchanged a nervous
look. Maybe they wouldn't mind if he invited some of them over. After a
tense pause, Mom said she thought that would be nice, "don't you Jeff?"
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"Sure. Which ones do you have in mind?""How about Sam?" said Arnold.
"... OK.""Then there's a girl."
"No, her name is Jane Benchford. Miranda is all right, but I know you will like Jane.""Miranda?" said Mom.
Pop didn't look very convinced. "Who else?""Sam has a girl friend."
"I haven't discussed that with her yet.""Is Jane your girl friend?"
His friends consoled him with the opinion that it would be safer for his son to have a good time at home than somewhere else. He shot a better game after that and, since his opponents had to pay for the Papst, he didn't mind when the three of them kidded him about little boys and girls growing up. A score in the eighties made him feel so good that he repeated the joke to Sarah, who replied that one beer would have been enough. When Arnold returned with his guests, whom he had picked up in the family Plymouth, Jane riveted his parents' attention. Jeff thought she was too good and Sarah, too bad to be true, and both for the same reason. He decided that he would really like a daughter-in-law like that while she resigned herself to this one in particular. She regretted Miranda but he had forgotten her. The only mistake Jane made was to call Arnold "Hey!", but it couldn't have been more innocent and she couldn't have corrected herself more graciously. The way she said "Yes, Sir!" and "No, M'am" almost brought tears to their eyes. All they noticed about the other two was that Sally something ending in -ovitch never stopped smiling and chewing her gum while Sam wore a wooden face. Only afterwards did they remember a peroxide blond and Mr. America without his smile. Soon the young couples were in the basement dancing to a rythmic noise they called music, while the couple in their mid-thirties upstairs felt older than that. When Sarah took refreshments down, she found them jerking to their rhythm in front of each other. Jeff worried about the tobacco fumes until she reassured him that only Sally and Sam were smoking. Arnold kept his promise to leave with his friends by eleven so Mom and Pop could get some sleep, but Jeff didn't get any until after twelve when he heard the Plymouth enter the garage and Sarah didn't get any at all."Jeff, I don't believe you ever discussed that with me."
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"Fifteen years old!" said Jeff, as they lay listening for the sound of the motor.
"Are you sorry?""About what?"
"Having a child.""No, of course not."
"What if he hadn't grown up?""... Then I would have been sorry."
"She seems like a nice girl.""She's almost as pretty as you were."
"Who do you think you are fooling?"Jeff laughed.
"A lot of them are pretty at that age.""She has good manners too."
"I'm glad he's not interested in Sally.""Jane has a cute smile."
"It seems genuine.""They make a handsome couple, don't you think?
Sarah shrugged: "Like millions of others."Both were right, judging by the pictures I saw.
To Arnold, the hypocrisy seemed so obvious, yet so innocent that it made him laugh. Mom and Pop were trying to make their curiosity sound like sympathy, but it had the ring of suspicion. Pop was determined to find out exactly what Mr. Benchford did for a living and it wasn't good enough to say that he worked for the Post Office. When Arnold finally admitted that he delivered mail, Mom made a little shriek: "He might even be our mailman!" No, Arnold knew their mailman and he was not Jane's father. The Benchfords lived in a nice little house on a nice little street in a nice little neighborhood.
"In Stringly?""Yes, in Stringly. Mrs. Benchford teaches Sunday school."
"What church?""Baptist. She bakes great apple pies... almost as great as Mom's blueberry muffins."
Seeing less and less of him, as they complained, Mom and
Pop pried a confession out of him at supper one evening. He had been helping
Mr. Benchford repair a leak in his basement wall. Actually, Mr. Benchford
had helped him. Well, he had succeeded where Mr. Benchford had always failed.
Now he was building some shelves in the living room with an opening for
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TV, a project he revealed only after asking Mom and Pop
whether they needed any repairs themselves. The offer was a little hypocritical,
as they pointed out, since he knew they wanted him to improve his spelling
grade, still only a B. Then one morning, Jeff ran into Jane at the corner
of Centennial and Park, where everybody in Mapleton used to run into everybody
else. Suddenly inspired, he invited her to have a coke with him. When each
went his own way twenty minutes later, Jane had promised to improve Arnold's
spelling. Sarah was appalled.
All long stories reach a point where you have to make a short cut. Hey! graduated from high school second only to Miranda and Jane was not pregnant, but he had been insisting that he was going to ask Pete for a permanent job and marry her. During the reception after the speeches, the Willowbys and the Benchfords were congratulating each other when Jeff drew Jane away on the pretext of getting cokes for everybody.
"Jane, it's none of my business, but""Everything is your business, Mr. Willowby."
"Did he ask you?""Yes, Sir."
"What did you say?""I said: only after he graduates from college."
"From college?""Yes, Sir."
"You are going to college too, aren't you?""I'm going to try, but I want liberal arts and he wants engineering."
"Try?""Well, I got a scholarship to ZU."
"Keep me posted. Promise?""Yes, Sir."
"I guess you and Hey! are pretty serious?""Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"What do you mean, Ha! Ha! Ha!?""We had a few fights. Doesn't that make it pretty serious?"
They soon had another fight. Hey! was going to accept
an offer from Pete and marry Jane, but she was not going to get married
yet. She was going to ZU and he ought to go to ZTech where his father wanted
to send him anyway. He could work for Pete in the summer. Hey! didn't like
the boulder on the path he had
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plotted so carefully on his map. The muscles knotted around
his jaws, his eyes focused on some distant object, his arms hung stiffly
from his shoulders and his fists balled up. He looked like a bomb about
to explode, but Jane didn't think he was funny until Mrs. Willowby laughed.
You have probably guessed by now that Hey! worked for Pete that summer
and went to ZTech in the fall. Jane had one job with the Post Office during
the vacation and another in a restaurant while attending ZU. That was where
I met her. She and Miranda took my French 328, Novel and Theatre. Miranda
got the only As I gave and Jane got B+s. Work, study and classes left Jane
little time for anything else, like sleep and Hey, but she stubbornly resisted
subtle and persistent offers by Mr. Willowby to help. Hey! caught a ride
down to Concordia every weekend he didn't absolutely have to study for
tests or exams.
Rus for "Walrus" Crawford, who owned and ran the High Noon Steak House, had played center on the ZU football team. His short red hair stood stiff like the bristles on a laundry brush and his mustache screened the emotions around his mouth so that you had to watch his eyes. Sweeping the restaurant as they used to sweep the defence, they didn't welcome Hey, until he had demonstrated that he could repair anything and would do it for a meal with Jane. Even if nothing broke down, he was an insurance policy. Rust had eaten away the metal sheathing the wires behind the stove and, when the condensation caused a short circuit one Saturday evening, it ignited the grease. Rus cut the current, grabbed an extinguisher and put the fire out, but what was he going to do tommorrow? The heat had melted the thermostat. ZU had beat ZTech 31-28 that afternoon by a field goal in the air as time ran out. Armageddon had attracted 87,329 fanatics to Concordia and several hundred of them would besiege the High Noon tommorrow. It took Hey! a half hour to assess the damage and dictate a list of tools and parts to Rus. Shed Blanch, a fellow Mason, met Rus and Hey! at his electrical supply store and, once they had found everything on the list, they returned to the High Noon with Shed. Hey! did the dirty work, Shed gave advice, Rus hulked over them and Jane kept the coffee flowing until two-thirty in the morning when a trial demonstrated that the stove was working properly. Rus drove Jane to her dormitory and took Hey! home with him so he could use the shower.
It wasn't easy to charm customers when you only had four hours of sleep last night, but Jane could see Hey! in the corner of her eye when she made the silly speech Rus insisted on:
"Hello! How are you all today?... Isn't it nice that ZU won yesterday?... My name is Jane, I'm from Mapleton and I'm a freshman at ZU... Oh I love it! How could anybody hate ZU?... Well that's my fiancé over there and he goes to ZTech... Of course, I feel sorry for him!... We have some specials that are not on the menu... "
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Despite their noisy protests, the ZTech alumni enjoyed
it as much as the ZU alumni, whose enthusiasm resembled their sarcasm.
Whetted by Bud, Papst and Miller's, the appetites devoured the specials
which Rus loaded with salt, butter, cream and everything else that's bad
for you. His eyes blazed with satisfaction instead of the anxiety of last
night. Jane's customers were even hungrier when Hey! was there, especially
when she glanced at him. She didn't like telling them about him, but she
found that it kept predators in check. The continuous smell of food had
made both of them feel a little nauseous when Rus let them go that evening.
They only had a half hour to walk across the campus before Hey's ride back
to Mountain Ridge. From one end of the Lawn to the other, they clinched
behind every tree and in every doorway. How many times had it been? Twenty-three,
according to Hey!, fifteen, according Jane. As the car approached, they
pecked at each other one last time. From the rear window, Hey! waved to
her, then wiped his eyes furtively. The other guys had kidded him last
What he liked least about ZTech was the trouble and time it took him to get to Concordia. He also fretted over the lack of opportunities to put the theories they were learning into practice. He could have joined a fraternity, but the brothers were more interested in partying than engineering and he didn't like their company when they had been drinking. His friends, most of whom had part-time jobs, drank less because they couldn't afford more and they did enjoy talking about their studies. They always gathered around the same table in the corner of the cafeteria. One evening at supper, a discussion of the wood species and dimensions needed for framing a house led to an argument when Steve Flaxberry affirmed that two-by-fours measuring only 1˝" x 3˝" were adequate if you spaced them closely enough together. Hey, who hated economic shortcuts, disputed the assertion on the grounds of resistance to wind stress. Steve opposed statistics compiled by insurance companies to Hey's experience with framing, which included a wall frame collapsing in a wind storm. I won't bore you with the figures and calculations flying back and forth like tennis balls, you wouldn't have understood them any more than I did. The more vehement their arguments, the more they all enjoyed it, and their jeers and cheers attracted attention to their corner of the cafeteria. The excitement ignited many a cigarette around the table, but then, as the dispute dragged on, the audience pushed their buts into the ashtray one by one and left. The antagonists fell silent only after the pile in the ashtray attested the departure of their listeners. Rather than admit that Steve had convinced him almost from the beginning, Hey! asked him to be his best man.
He would go a mile out of his way to call Jane from a
payphone where nobody
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could hear him. Even so, she would stop talking when another
girl passed the telephone in her dormitory hall. Letting other people hear
them say how they felt about each other would have been bad enough, but
the softest allusion to an obvious symptom would have reverberated through
a women's dormitory. They hoped they had solved the problem when he asked
how she felt and she answered, after an 180° sweep of her eyes, "fine,
just fine!" in a wavering voice. Fortunately, she managed to keep on feeling
"fine, just fine!", although both knew very well, from weekend to weekend,
that she might not be able to say that the next time. Hey! realized that
he was oversharpening his razor when he began to shop for a second-hand
car at the end of the summer before his junior year, but he just couldn't
bear the idea of catching rides to Concordia for two more years. Since
Pete had been paying him what he was worth, he had saved enough money to
buy a car he could work on. His father didn't want him to waste time on
that, so he boosted his purchasing power despite misgivings by Sarah. Jane
was pleased to be driven around in a light blue Ford six whose exhaust
pipe emitted a suave rumble, but she had seen a look in Mrs. Willowby's
eye and she realized that twenty-three trees and entrances were safer than
If this were an epic poem, I would exploit the heroics
of the struggle. On weekends, Jane couldn't afford to leave the restaurant
even as early as Rus was willing to let her go because she needed the tips.
If she staid up too late after she left, she was a tired student-waitress
the next day and, if she got up too late in the morning, she didn't have
enough time for study. After jerking her head a few times in my class one
Monday, she nodded off and Miranda pushed her shoe to wake her up. I have
never seen a more beautiful blush. She would meet Hey! in the library and,
after holding hands under the table for a while, they would push up against
each other like parakeets on a perch. They no longer paid much attention
to the smiles of librarians and professors -- students were more discreet
--, and sometimes they nearly forgot that they were not alone. In fact,
they welcomed the observation of other people, actual or potential, in
a well-lit room. More than once, they parked the car and took refuge, from
each other, in the library, which staid open until 1 AM. They exhorted
each other, even quarelled with each other before and after, but they couldn't
blame the Ford for being convenient. Neither would it have heard if they
had shouted at it nor felt anything if they had kicked it. Embarrassed,
Hey! was in a hurry to replace the fender after he went off the road early
one Monday morning on the way back to Mountain Ridge. He had fallen asleep
for a split second, time enough to be very lucky as his parents reminded
him. Jane had to sit down on the floor when he
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told her about it on the phone. It was during that academic year that Hey!, who hadn't been getting as many As as he had in high school, realized that students like Steve who had were simply opening their minds to innovation while he was closing his. The endless arguments between the two of them involved innovations defended by Steve and attacked by Hey! The substitution of plastic for iron pipes attracted more than the usual crowd around the table in the cafeteria. The comments and laughter reverberated around the room long after the departure of the other students. Noting that plastic was cheaper and lighter, Steve estimated the savings in production, handling, transportation and installation costs for both water and sewer pipes. Hey! conceded that plastic was lighter and cheaper, but he challenged Steve's economic estimates, substituting realistic minimums for theoretical maximums as he saw them. Thus the savings shrank to a relatively trivial economic advantage, which he offset by the strength and solidity of cast iron which, unlike plastic, would resist underground pressures. Once Steve had disputed Hey's revision of his estimates, he supplemented his dynamics by comparing the elasticity of plastic with the brittleness of iron and added an analysis of shear to his analysis of pressure. As usual, the introduction of every new argument in the dispute resulted in disagreement over the figures, which one minimized and the other maximized.
Meanwhile, Wiry was sponging the table, from which they withdrew their elbows, and sweeping under their feet, which they raised without missing a word. Hey! insisted that iron would give homeowners their money's worth and Steve retorted that plastic would give them more than that. Disagreement over the moral consequences of innovation, to which Hey! always eventually resorted, then resulted in a momentary silence for lack of any figures to dispute. Wiry took this opportunity to put some sense in their heads: "Hows about the milk you drinks?" The silence was puzzled, but respectful. This time, it was Hey! who guessed the enigma: "Milk bottled in plastic doesn't taste as good." Now Steve was on the defensive, claiming that nothing in plastic bottles was soluble in milk, but the majority always sided with Wiry and the most reasonable arguments met with hoots of laughter. When the dispute had finally petered out, Hey! found himself alone with Wiry and the ashtray:
"You know something?""What?"
"Steve's right.""You ain't serious."
"He's always for something new and all I can do is make him show that it's better.""New ain't always better."
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"He's only for new things that are better and the more he shows me, the more I try to show him he's wrong.""Yo friends don't think youz wrong."
Hey! laughed: "That's because they are my friends."
"Are you all right?""Of course I'm all right!"
"I just wanted to know.""We are together, aren't we?"
"... I guess that's what I meant.""Ha! Ha! Ha!"
"What do you mean, Ha! Ha! Ha!?""I meant, Ha! Ha! Ha!"
That was as far as he got, but they had a wonderful weekend,
as Rus noticed, and it took Hey! a half hour to get in his car and drive
Sarah persuaded Jeff to have the Benchfords over for dinner.
They were sipping their Sanka when she said, as if the thought had just
occurred to her:
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"Maybe we ought to put them out of their misery."
"You sound as if they were dying of cancer," Jeff objected.Janet laughed: "They are dying of something worse."
"Nobody ever died of that," Harvey protested.
"They would be happier dead than alive," said Jeff.
"What do you think?" asked Sarah: "This June instead of next?"It took the others a minute to understand what she meant, but then they all started talking at the same time. To the extent that four people ever agree on anything, they agreed that, while their morals purported to put sex off until after marriage, it always began as soon as a young couple began to explore each other's body. The longer they abstained, the further it would go when they gave in and resistance would only result in worse defeat.
Sarah and Jeff gritted their teeth through the wedding in Stringly, while Janet and Harvey politely sipped Veuve Cliquot (my recommendation) at the High Noon. The best man performed so well that everybody wondered how often he had done it before (never). Sam brought an older version of the same kind of girl and, holding her hand, never cracked a smile although she lost control of her laugh. Hey's ZTech friends came and drank only a few too many. Jeff's golfing partners embarrassed him with their bad jokes and loud laughter, yet he had joked and laughed with them at other weddings. Without a drop of alcohol, Shed told jokes over the loud speaker that would have made them all laugh even if they had been as sober as he was. Pete, who looked uncomfortable in his Sunday suit, followed his wife Annabelle around without knowing what to say. Sarah and Janet had hugged each other as soon as the organ had marched the couple triumphantly by. They hugged each other again before leaving the High Noon, but this time Janet kept an arm free to dab her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief. Jeff, who had had a few, found himself with his arm around Harvey, who hadn't even had all of one. Harvey looked as bewildered as he might have if his daughter had just gone up to heaven in a cloud. Rus, who had two little girls, assured him that he knew exactly how he felt. Jane, whose cheeks were on fire with champagne, was the most kissable bride I have ever kissed and I realized that I was squeezing too hard when she started squirming and giggling. As Murma and I drove them to the Holiday Inn, Jane said that she was kissed out, but Hey! warned her that her odeal wasn't over.
Hey! had invited Wiry and her husband Mack, but they didn't
have the nerve, so he and Jane stopped by Mountain Ridge the next day on
the way to the mountains. You could see them from there and maybe that
was why they had called it Mountain Ridge. Mack and Hey! moved the table,
still the same one,
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outside under a big oak, while Wiry and Jane were bringing glasses, plates, forks and a knife from the kitchen. Hey! put the ice box on the table, where Jane unpacked a portion of cake and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. Wiry and Mack found the taste of champagne a little strange at first, but they liked it better and better as they drank.
"How many chilern is you going to have?"
"Wiry!" protested Mack."Two," said Jane and Hey! at the same time.
"How many do you have?" asked Jane.
"Seven," replied Mack, "three boys and four girls."
"That's why they calls me Wiry."
The only argument with Jane he didn't enjoy exploded on
the first night in spring when they could walk to their apartment without
a jacket or coat. The sky was full of stars and they took a long cut down
the Lawn. Suddenly inspired, Hey! broke the silence:
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"We could have one next fall.""One what?"
"A little girl who would look just like you.""She better look just like me!"
"Jane!""How can we afford her that soon?"
"Well, at least we agree on her sex.""How can we afford her?"
"You don't have kids because you can afford them.""Are you going to let your parents pay for it?"
"No, I'm going to get a job and pay for it myself.""How about me?"
"What do you mean, how about you?""How can I get a job if I'm pregnant?"
"Can't you get one after you are pregnant?""Who will take care of this little girl who looks just like me?"
"Both of us.""Have you ever changed any diapers?"
"No, but I could learn. It couldn't be as bad as fixing Rus' stove.""It smells worse than Rus' stove."
"You can get used to anything.""Nobody gets used to changing diapers."
They didn't realize that they were yelling at each other
until they noticed a few shadows coming down the Lawn towards them and
then they started whispering at each other, but whispers can carry pretty
far too. When they reached the end of the Lawn where Hey! had used to catch
his ride, she was accusing him of playing around with the girls in Mountain
Ridge and he was protesting that there weren't any and besides they were
all ugly. "The next lie you are going to tell me is that they aren't as
nice as me!" He laughed although it didn't seem very funny. Then he heard
her sob, the usual prelude to forgiveness. He threw his arms around her,
but she started pounding on his chest with her fists, so he took her by
the shoulders and shook her. Neither of them said another word. Although
it was late, she spent an awful lot of time getting ready in the bathroom
with the door closed. When she finally came to bed, she lay down on the
edge with her back turned to him. He remembered the time when he and Sam
had ventured across a mudbank in the middle of a marsh. Halfway to the
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other side, they saw snakes in front of them and, as they turned back, they saw snakes behind them. This time, he was alone, the snakes were slithering towards him with their tongues darting from their mouths and he tried to shout but the air seemed to catch in his lungs. It took five shouts to wake him up. Jane had always shook him awake after the first shout. The coffee was lukewarm the next morning, he had to reach for her cheek and, since she hadn't recorded anything the night before, the drive to Mountain Ridge seemed to last forever. He didn't get by the snakes until she came up to his table in the High Noon and recited the latest version of her speech: "That's my husband over there and he's knotting his jaws like that because some snakes bit him." Everybody wondered what they thought was so funny. On the way home, they had a counter argument with each insisting that the other was right. Hey! wasn't going to have any kids until they had saved $25,000 in the credit union and Jane was going to have one in nine months. Dragging him into bed so they could get started right away, she jerked him off balance despite the muscles he had built working on construction. The neighbors, who were students too, enjoyed the laughter. The baby? January.
After graduation, they rented an apartment on the fourth
floor of 237 Ingraham Street on the Stringly side of Centennial. They had
chosen good construction in bad condition so they could renovate it to
suit their taste. At first they hesitated between the advantage of a rent
they could afford and the disadvantage of buildings on the next street
that overshadowed the windows, but then Hey! saw an opportunity in this
disadvantage. Why not design their renovation to maximize light and minimize
darkness? Delighted with the free improvement of his property, Hans Dietzler,
the landlord, did them every favor he could and gave them congenial advice,
but only when asked. Pete, for whom Hey! was now working full time, gave
them advice even when they didn't ask. Having helped them with plans and
a budget, he persuaded his boss, Shay Sneed, to let Hey! order materials
wholesale. The suppliers delivered them to the building site, where Pete
and Hey! loaded them onto Pete's pickup, and they brought them in to 237
Ingraham. With Sam's help, Hey! replaced the two windows in the living
room by bigger ones with double panes. Jane had bought a red and blue rope
made for mountain climbing and insisted on tethering Hey! to the stove,
which was unlikely to budge. When she tried to tether Sam too, he startled
her by a few shouts that sounded almost like anger. It was the first time
she had ever heard him laugh. She dug a nasty splinter out of Hey's finger
when he replaced some of the boards in the floor, which he sanded and treated
with a clear finish. She helped him strip several layers of wallpaper down
to the plaster and hang new ivory-colored paper with a string design. They
called the kitchen Oubliette, the word I had used to describe it. Suggested
by Steve, a passthrough to the dining room made a joke of the name, which
they had made permanent by hanging a sign over the door. Spotlights on
the ceiling, a white vinyl floor
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with a geometrical pattern and an off-white formica counter
with flecks of bright color twisted the irony even further. It was the
light that impressed you when you entered the apartment now.
Hey! replaced the chipped and cracked porcelain sink by a stainless steel one and the iron plumbing by plastic, which Stew loudly deplored. He stripped the finish off the cabinets, put new hinges on the doors and sanded the runners on the drawers so that they slipped in and out with your little finger, as Jane demonstrated. They painted the cabinets the same off-white as the counter. To their surprize, the antique Frigidaire with the coil on the top worked, but, judging by the noise it made, they wondered how long it would last. Hey! had been on the phone an hour before he discovered a dealer named Djzuch who took pride in finding parts that nobody else could. Once they had understood each other, Djzuch took the numbers down and said he would try to find him a motor. A few days later, he called back to say that he had found a similar Frigidaire and, although it had been damaged, the motor worked fine. They agreed to meet at Shoggador Salvage Co. in Wheatfields, a part of Mapleton that had always fascinated Hey! When they arrived, he and Pete discovered a smiling oriental whose egg-shapped body consisted mostly of muscle. He was standing beside the Frigidaire, which had been crushed from the top down, but the bottom had survived and he had plugged the cord into an outlet in the junkyard office. Once they had exchanged greetings, he turned the motor on and it hummed "like new" as he had promised.
"OK?" he asked."How much?" replied Hey!
"The demos they got 15. Shoggy he get 20 if I get 25. OK?"A slender man came out of the office smiling. A silky, well-trimmed beard covered the bottom of his dark face, except for his teeth which were very white. They stood side by side with an arm around each other, except that Dzjuch's arm reached all the way around and Shoggy's, only part of the way.
"OK," said Hey!, "if you tell me where you come from."
"Sure. Shoggy he come from the hot side of the Himalayas and me I come from the cold side."
"But I'm not a Hindu," said Shoggy, "and he's not a Chinese.""What countries?" asked Pete.
They pronounced the names, but each in his own language
so that Pete and Hey! couldn't even repeat, let alone recognize them. Seeing
their faces, Dzjuch and Shoggy burst out laughing.
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The refridgerator always stands like the statue of the
god in the temple. Hey! had made sure that theirs was working perfectly
and Jane had scrubbed and rubbed it inside and out until it sparkled immaculately.
The stove is the altar, but Hey! had been putting the other antique in
the kitchen off in hopes of persuading Jane to buy a new one. He didn't
like this black monster clawing the balls it stood on; she did, however,
and especially since she had tethered him to one of its legs. Hadn't he
accustomed her to the superiority of old things made new? She nagged his
procrastination until he grudgingly conceded the next weekend and she wrote
"STOVE" across the Saturday and Sunday squares in the calendar on the kitchen
wall. They invited Dzjuch over on Tuesday evening and, after admiring the
Frigidaire, he inspected the monster and took the numbers down. To their
astonishment, he also wondered why they thought their kitchen was an oubliette
and laughed at the joke. On Thursday afternoon, he invited them back to
Dzjuch Supply, Inc., which resembled a museum more than a store, and he
served them green tea, which they had never drunk before. After explaining
how to convert the monster from manufactured to natural gas, he showed
them different kinds of controls and burners between which they chose.
Sensitive to the contrast between the white statue and the black alter
in their temple, he recommended scrubbing the monster with steel wool and
solvent, but, glancing at Jane's hands, he told her to wear thick rubber
gloves. Early Saturday morning, he arrived with the tools and materials
they had ordered, along with a tin of green tea, some of which Jane served
as he got Hey! started. He returned Sunday afternoon and found them scrubbing
the monster, but they had waited for him to inspect Hey!'s work before
turning it on.
Once you start an analogy, it's hard to stop. People don't
take much interest in royalty any more because they have a throne of their
own to sit on. Hey! and Jane's had rocked slightly when they moved in,
but more and more as they sat on it. Finally Hey! got around to reseating
it, replacing the plastic seat with a wooden one and substituting a new
flush mechanism for the old. After tearing up the linoleum floor (bottle
bottoms in a pea green) and stripping the wallpaper (big sunflowers on
a mud brown background), he laid tiles that really looked like bottle bottoms
with light shining through them, but it was a gray light. Though pleased
at first, Jane began to complain that the light they reflected cast a gray
hue over her complexion. Reluctant to do the job all over again, Hey! swore
that nothing could possibly detract from her complexion, but she persisted
until he consulted Dzjuch: "No problem!" said Dzjuch. He knew where he
could order light bulbs with a rose-colored tint and Shoggy had a makeup
mirror with sockets across the top and down the sides. Hey! removed the
old mirror, Shoggy helped him install the new one and Dzjuch screwed the
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then Hey! asked Jane to come and take a look. She naturally
took the look at herself, which brought her hand up to pat her hair, but
the mirror reminded her of the onlooking gentlemen and she blushed. They
pretended not to notice. To cover her embarrassment, she complained that
the light was so bright that it blinded her and they laughed. "It blinds
US," corrected Shoggy. Afterwards, they had green tea together while the
visitors entertained them with tales of mirrors and women on the hot and
cold sides of the Himalayas.
The hall, the bedroom and "the other bedroom" were no problem by then. Despite contradictory advice from Janet and Sarah, Jane found curtains that satisfied them both because they merely veiled the interior with minimum loss of light. After a few visits to big furniture stores, she and Hey! agreed that they didn't want to live with the phony antiques they had grown up with. Two of the secondhand dealers in Wheatfields sold the same kind worn and torn, and so did a third, except that he devoted part of his floor space to rustic furniture. Fascinated, they wandered around among the chairs, the tables, the beds, the wardrobes, the chests of drawers, the shelves... "These are the real antiques," said someone behind them fervently. They turned and discovered a middle aged gentleman whose forehead swept back at an angle until it became the front of his bald scalp at a point impossible to determine. From there his scalp continued to the top of his head where his hair began and it leaned in the same direction, growing longer as the back of his head sloped downward.
"Everything is solid wood," he told them with a sweep of a short arm hanging from a steeply sloped shoulder. "No veneer, no inlay, no upholstery. The men who made this furniture didn't do it for a living: they were busy growing crops, raising animals, milking their cows." His hands squeezed downwards alternatively on two imaginary teats. "They had to do it when the weather kept them inside, especially in winter. They wanted it to serve its purpose and last, but they were not indifferent to what it looked like. They didn't care whether it was in fashion or any fashionable style. Look at that table." He stood beside it caressing it with his finger tips. "Pop up there, Mom down here, three kids on each side, the youngest ones next to Mom, the oldest ones in the middle and the others next to Pop." He smiled at Jane and Hey! across from him on the other side: "If it was like my family, the elbows were busy between them and the feet, under the table."
"I was an only child," said Jane, "and so was my husband."
"I guess we missed something," said Hey!Savy Savedra laughed: "If you don't mind my saying so, you will have a plenty
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of time to catch up... I bought this table from a farmer out in Shickastoppee County. He showed me the oak tree his grandfather had planted to replace the one he had cut down to make this table and some other furniture... Four separate boards, but tightly joined." Savy ran his finger down the seam, so they did too. Then he leaned over and looked at the surface on an angle: "Smooth and yet wavy." They imitated him and nodded. "They used a two-man saw to cut these boards and sandpaper to smooth them down: pretty good arms!" Savy flexed a ridiculous bicep. "Instead of trying to slice off the waves, they lined the boards up so that they rose and fell together. How do I know Pop sat at that end? Look at those two little holes: when he was through carving, he put his fork down there, always in the same place, without realizing that he was pricking the table. My cabinet maker always wants to fill holes like that and make the finish look like new. I only let him do that on the furniture over there... How do I know a young man sat here? Come around and look at this," said Savy lifting his side of the table up so that Hey! and Jane could see a heart with an arrow through it carved into the underside, the initials KJ on the left and TR on the right. "He had to carve it upside down without seeing what he was doing and without letting Mom and Pop notice. In those days, young men did silly clever things like that." Savy raised his side of the table further until it lay on the other side: "I would never do that to the tables over there," he said waving at the phony antiques. "They can't take the stress." He showed Hey! and Jane the big dowels joining the four boards to braces that crossed beneath them at thirds of their length and at either end with cutouts for Mom and Pop's knees. The narrower tops of the rounded legs fit into holes through the ends of these pieces so that you could see them on the upper side. Each leg consisted of two pieces, a larger one at the top and a narrower one at the bottom. "There are two problems with tables," said Savy. "Getting them level and getting them through doors. Grandpa killed both birds with one stone." Savy put his hands around the bottom piece of a leg, twisted it hard and unscrewed it loose. Hey! whistled: male threads had been carved into the end of it. Hey! and Jane took turns sticking their hands into the hole it had come out of and feeling the female threads inside. "Think how hard it was to carve the seat of the screw up inside the wood!" said Savy.
Hey! was enthusiastic: "You can screw them up and down to level the table and all the way off to get it through a door.""Exactly!" Savy screwed the pieces back together again and Hey! helped him put the table back on its feet.
"Why don't you have this table in your dining room?"
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Savy laughed. "My wife doesn't like old things. She wanted new furniture and she would have bought phony antiques if I had let her, because that was what she and everybody else was used to. But I had a bright idea, if you don't mind my saying so: how about Danish furniture? That's what we have. She likes it because it's new and I like it because it's made out of wood and well-made."
"And expensive," said Jane."And expensive," agreed Savy, "but it makes sense to buy what you like if you can afford it."
"Why haven't you already sold this table?""Most of the people who shop for second-hand furniture have two criteria: it has to look like everybody else's and it has to seem like a good bargain. Few of my customers ever come over here and, when they do, the prices scare them."
"How much is this table?""$1000."
"How big is your dining area?""I'm not even sure it will fit into our dining area," said Hey!
"$750. Otherwise my wife will divorce me.""That depends on how much space we take."
"OK on one condition," said Jane."What's that?"
"That you and your wife come over and dine on it when we are ready.""OK. Otherwise I will divorce her."
Chairs? Savy didn't have any that he could recommend for their table, but he would let them know if he found any. Meanwhile, they should see Flak Bunson, the only human within a few hundred miles who still caned chairs. Most people wanted all the same kind around their table, except that some wanted the two at the ends to have armrests. Sets of eight were on the market often enough, but Savy wondered whether a shrewd assortment of different kinds might have an interesting effect. Should chairs around the table look like soldiers lined up for inspection? When they met Flak, they asked him what he thought:
"People are different," Flak replied. "Why shouldn't chairs be too?" Behind his thick glasses, his eyes had the look of an operation for cataracts. "You show me a chair and I will tell you who sat on it. See how that one sags? I never seen him, but he weighed two hundred pounds and kept jumping up and down. A salesman in his thirties. Look at that one: two worn places side by side on the seat. I never saw her
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either, but she hardly weighed a hundred. She sat there for years moving nothing but her fingers and elbows while she knitted.""Do you think you could find us an assortment of eight chairs for our table?"
"I will find a dozen, recane and refinish them, then I will help you pick eight that go together.""How much is that rocking chair?"
"I like that rocking chair!""Do you rock in it?"
"No, my customers do."Jane sat in it and rocked experimentally as Flak watched.
"She needs it to rock the baby."
"Are you going to rock her on your lap before the baby comes?"Hey! and Jane laughed.
"You will have to bring it back and let me fix it.""Then you might be willing to part with it?"
"If I let you have it for that, I wouldn't be able to take my grandchildren to the movies for a month.""125."
"You forgot bus fare and popcorn.""150."
"I don't know...""When she has the baby, I will come and get you so you can watch her rock it."
"Don't let her sit on your lap when she has the baby on hers."Savy had convinced them that scratches, cuts, knicks and graffiti enhanced the value of furniture. He sold them a child's desk covered with 37 years of such signatures, one of several he had found out in Nevers where the school had just moved into a new building. He and Jane liked it so much that they went back and bought another one, but they couldn't find everything they needed at Savy's, as he had warned them himself. An add in the Mapleton Vigilant led to a big chest of drawers which Jane bargained down to $65 and Hey! delighted in reconditioning the drawers. A compartment in the middle gave him the opportunity to replace the canvas backing to a screen that covered the front and slid around inside to uncover it. He glued the wood strips back on a new piece
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of canvas so that, when closed, it looked like a solid sheet of oak. When Pete saw it, he kept sliding the screen back and forth delighting in the ease with which it moved. He insisted on helping Hey! carry their new furniture up and downstairs, and load it on his pickup, in which he drove them forth and back. Another add announced a "matrimonial bed", which Jane bidded down to $130. Hey! took it apart while she borrowed the phone to call Pete. Once they had reassembled it in their bedroom, Pete lifted his hat and scratched his bald head: "longer than a standard double and narrower than a queen."
Since the springs had lost their resilience, they had left them in the pickup, but instead of taking them to Shoggy's, they drove over to Cam Frasier's. Everybody in Mapleton must have noticed Cam's yellow "StudChevHud" with "Frazier's Welding" and "Shoggador Salvage" in black on the sides. Cam had won a bet with Shoggy that he couldn't weld the front of a Studebaker onto the back of a Hudson, install a Chevrolet motor in it and drive it around. Thus Cam got all three components from Shoggy free, but what an advertisement it was for both of them! Cam agreed to help Hey! replace the coils in their "matrimonial" springs if they could find new ones, so they asked Dzjuch. It took him three weeks to find and order bigger coils, which they moved around upside down on Cam's floor, inside the steel frame from which Hey! had cut the old ones. When they found a pattern that satisfied all five of them, Hey! did the welding under Cam's supervision. A Wheatfields mattress factory had already made a mattress to fit their bed and, as they lay down on it that night, they supposed that they would be sleeping on it for the rest of their lives.
They had completed the renovation of their apartment by
October, when they invited Flak, Savy, Cam, Shoggy, Dzjuch, Pete and Steve
to a mid-Saturday dinner. Although no seats remained for ladies, Janet
brought blueberry muffins and Sarah, apple pies. They helped Jane cook
sirloin steaks, mashed potatoes and spinach, and brew green tea, then,
having forbidden Jane to wash any dishes before they returned, they left
for lunch together at the Rose Hip. Once Jane had served coffee, Flak insisted
that she rock in "his" chair as each told a better one than the other around
the table, which Savy kept caressing with his finger tips. Pete got the
loudest laugh by a totally unexpected imitation of Shay losing his temper,
which ended with a high-pitched threat: "and if you can't order the right
amount of concrete for a three-by-four foot doghouse slab, I'm going to
hire somebody else who can!" They were having so much fun they lost track
of time, until Janet and Sarah, who let themselves back in with a borrowed
key, startled them on to their feet. The ladies sat them down again and
Jane even more firmly than the gentlemen. "You rock the baby, said
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The laughter eventually subsided to an eager silence, which prompted Hey! to air an idea that had been turning over in his head: "What if, one of these days, we organized a company to build complete homes, using as many refurbished secondhand materials as possible?"...
"If... by 'complete homes' you mean what I think you do," said Steve, "it sounds like a good idea."
"Yes. Each one, inside and out, would be an original creation inspired by the used materials available.""Finished and furnished?" asked Savy, intrigued.
"That would be where we come in," said Shoggy enthusiastically.
"I have always thought," Pete mused, "that standardized housing projects like Silver Hill are wasteful precisely because they require all-new materials."
Dzjuch nudged Flak: "You could chair whole houses."
Flak chuckled: "I would have to live a little longer than I expected." Noting the others' unease, he added: "Don't worry, that can be arranged."
"How?" asked Pete. "I could use your secret."
"Savy could furnish the interiors, Shoggy could supply used materials and Dzjuch could find parts to mate the old with the new. I should think it would be a wonderful architectural opportunity for Steve.""My wife prays for me Sunday morning and I take the grandkids to the movies Sunday afternoon... It would be fun to chair an entire house."
"Yes, it would," Steve agreed.
"How about me?" complained Cam. "There would be no end of metal work adapting used materials to new construction. Steve could use some steel sculpture."
"I sure could.""I was thinking of a small number of partners and employees, more partners than employees whom we would encourage to work themselves into a share of the business along with the others. Such a policy would help us to establish a stable, skilled and dedicated workforce. We would do as much of the work as possible in a big, spacious building and truck modules to the site for assembly. The weather would interfere less with production and we could organize work and control quality far more efficiently than on a sprawling construction site."
"You would not waste time and money running around in cars, vans
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and pickups," Pete approved. "The men could easily walk from one job to another and store the tools they need nearby.""What do you mean: 'you this and you that?' We could never get anywhere without your help."
"Well, Annabelle and I already pray Sunday mornings. I guess we will have to take the grandkids to the movies Sunday afternoons."
"How about the old streetcar barn?" Steve proposed. "The Historical Commission has classified it as a monument, but the City can't find anybody to rent it."
"You couldn't find a higher ceiling, more space, bigger doors," Pete commented."Well, all we have to do is borrow a few million dollars!"
Nobody seemed to expect that to happen next Monday. As
the laughter echoed up the stairwell, Hey closed the door and hugged Jane
so hard that she gasped: "You are going to crush her.
She looked as if she had a baloon under her belt when they invited me over to see their appartment. I complimented them on the bright light, the subdued colors, the grain of wood everywhere and the rustic simplicity of the place. Although most of it was old, it looked new and, although it smelled like a store, it had the feel of comfort. Once I had paid them my compliments, I raised the one issue that bothered me:
"You don't like style, design...""Yes, we do, we like them all right," Jane objected.
"In a museum," explained Hey! "This is our home."
"I see your point, but isn't there a place in your home for a more personal esthetics than you find in museums?""I would have liked to take more courses in art at ZU. The courses I had to take for a teaching license were mostly a waste of time."
"I didn't take any courses in art at ZTech because I heard that the professors who taught those courses couldn't have got a job in a liberal arts school."
"I hope you will both have an opportunity to learn more about art. Life just isn't worth living without it.""I will need an MA for teaching. Maybe then."
Hey! laughed: "As soon as Jane learns anything, she teaches me."
"You must enjoy coming home."
"I have better things to do!""I come home tired, but three flights of stairs are nothing when she's waiting for me."
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"Or washing the mud out of your clothes!""Like dusting the finish off the furniture!"
"Would you mind telling me how much it cost you to fix the place up?"
"My husband is so full of exact figures that he can't say anything without quoting one!""Between four and five thousand dollars. I can't tell you exactly because Jane doesn't believe in exact figures."
"Except when he can't think of one to quote?"
"It's good for you!""You are ganging up on me!"
I had to be careful not to stay too long or come too often."Pete was telling me just the other day: 'I ring your bell at work and Annabelle rings mine at home.'"
Jane had been substituting for absent English, French and social studies teachers. Hey! kept asking her what social studies were and, when he pretended to puzzle over her answer, she would give him a shove and ask him how smart guys could be so dumb. Since she never knew where they would send her, he left her the Ford and got a ride with Pete. Shay had agreed to hire him as his junior foreman, a wonderful opportunity to learn the job. They were building split-levels with three bedrooms along winding roads at Silver Hill, which was twenty minutes west of Centennial and Park by the new Singletree Freeway. Hey! already knew most of the men on the site since he had been working with them every summer since Pete had baptized him, a joke that inspired endless variations. Buzzard, who had left an arm in Vietnam, threw the other one around the new Assistant Site Supervisor and guffawed: "This is my new Daddy!"
"Then your name must be Hey Buzzard!""You just ask my old Daddy!"
"It sure ain't White Buzzard!""Your name is Black Buzzard!" said Pete.
The horseplay suggested that, if there was going to be
a junior foreman, the men would rather work for him than somebody else.
The arrival in June of a supervisor who had only been a fellow worker when
he left last August raised little resentment. In fact, the prestige of
his engineering degree smoothed the transition. Hadn't he worked as hard
as they had every summer while going to school or college during the rest
of the year? They knew what he could do and how well, they welcomed him
when he joined them to help with a job, especially one nobody liked, or
did one they didn't have time to do or even didn't know how to do. When
he spoke to them, they could tell that he thought
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like them and, if they wanted to talk to him, they knew he would listen and understand. Besides, Pete had promoted him and Pete knew what he was doing.
Pete never raised his voice, even when he said, "You are fired." Hey! heard him say that a few weeks later. Hey! had sent Lob Perkins to install the bannister on the staircase in lot 27 and, a few hours later, he went over to see how he was doing. They called him Lob instead of Malcom because he looked like a steamed lobster when he left his shirt in his car, as he always did in warm weather. He had beady eyes, a pink torso and arms that hung away from his sides like claws. Nobody told funnier jokes or better stories, nobody had more common sense, although he was barely literate. Hey, who had known him for years, found him so honest and kind that he had to be careful not to take advantage of him as others did. Yet Lob had manned a 50 cal. in a helicopter and "relieved the population pressure" in Vietnam until "the Gooks" shot him down and the surgeons put him back together "like Humpdy Dumpty." Only hard work under a hot sun dulled the pain, but nothing hurt his good humor, not even rainy chilly weather. He would tell you how badly it ached with a grin on his face and you would have done anything for him. The only thing that bothered Hey! were the breaks he took with a thermos bottle in his Datsun. You could smell alcohol on his breath afterwards. As Hey! entered #27 by the garage, Kev Baker was coming out to get some floorboards in his van. "Look out for the mastic!" he said. After stepping around it, Hey! crossed the carpet and, glancing around, saw that Lob was not there. Looking upstairs, he discovered that the rail on the bannister zigzagged up and down and back and forth because Lob had nailed it to the posts and pickets without lining them up on a taught string and adjusting them for height. Hadn't Lob himself taught Hey! how to do that years ago?
He heard steps behind him and turned around: "Lob! You stepped in the mastic. Look at the carpet!"
Lob turned and looked behind him: "I guess I did.""You must have seen Kev laying the floor."
"I guess I forgot."A whiff of gin had teased Hey!'s nose: "You have had too much."
"I guess I have."Hey! heard himself saying faintly: "We will have to talk to Pete."
Lob glared at him as if he were a Gook and Hey! wondered
whether he would grab him and snap him like a stick over his knee, but
he just stood there rocking slightly back and forth. Then his face softened
into a sick smile: "I guess we
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will." As they walked to the trailer, his feet kept sticking on the pavement and he scuffed his soles on the road trying to scrape the mastic off. Pete met them at the door with a look neither of them would ever forget:
"What did you step in?"
"How come you didn't see it?"
Pete's nose twitched: "You have had too much, haven't you?"
"I guess I have."
"The carpet.""Did he step on anything else?" Pete asked Hey!
Hey! had hoped that Pete would forget: "We can stay after four, take it apart, put it back together...""$250... How about the bannister?"
"He does a good job... ""What can you say for him?"
"When he's sober. Lob, you are fired."
"That must be the hardest part of the job," said Hey! as Pete merged on to the Freeway.He had assumed that Pete wasn't going to reply when he finally did: "Firing a man you like when you know he deserves it is hard. Trying to decide whether to fire a man when you aren't sure whether he deserves it is worse."
"If Lob had been sober and had stepped on the mastic because he didn't see it on a cloudy day, would you have given him another chance?""Yes, but only one. When Shay hears of this, he will throw a tantrum as usual, but he will calm down as soon as he hears that I fired Lob. When we sustain losses like this and I don't fire anybody, he threatens to fire me."
"How much do you weigh the cost and how much, the degree of negligence?"It took Pete a full minute to answer: "You usually can't separate them. If an experienced employee makes a mistake that costs you a few hundred dollars, he might cost you a few thousand another time. If an inexperienced employee makes one that costs you a few thousand, it might scare him so badly that he will never make another one. On the other hand, an alcoholic will cost you something sooner or later, whether you sympathize with him or not."
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"How long have you known about Lob?""Ever since I interviewed him for the job six years ago."
"How did you find out?""Combat, his wound, those blood vessels in his cheeks."
"And you hired him anyway?""You said: 'He does a good job.' I knew he would."
"How did you find that out?""Construction workers are rarely good at interviews. After you have done a few, you know what to believe and what not to believe. It took me just one minute to see that I could believe everything Lob said. One of the questions I asked him was how to build a bannister. He told me he didn't know, but he was going to learn. Others have told me they did know, but they didn't know you have to cut a little wood off the pickets and posts to line the tops up with the rail. Never hire anybody who lies like that."
"So Lob learned how to build bannisters and staid sober enough to build good ones until today.""At the end of the interview, I told him he was hired, but never to forget that hired rhymes with fired. He is the only one I ever said that to." Five minutes further down the Freeway, Pete added: "I'm going to miss him." There was an overtone of emotion in his voice that Hey! had never heard before.
Hey! had never heard Pete's phased eloquence before either,
but it happened again from time to time as they drove home on the Freeway.
The end of a particularly trying day, such as one on which Shay made an
unannounced inspection of the site, would usually loosen his tongue. The
builder would appear like a tornado whirling over the site and touching
down with a tantrum wherever his suspicions took him. Then he would disappear
leaving chaos like a cloud of dust behind him. Pete and Hey! would have
to drop everything and spend hours calming tempers and re-encouraging the
cowed, revoking disruptive orders and re-establishing priorities, pleading
with subcontractors to send their rebellious workers back. They often had
to talk a resentful workman out of quitting on the spot or, worse, obeying
Shay's orders so literally that the result would subvert his intentions.
Pete had trained Hey! to keep an eye on the entrance road for Shay's four-hole
Buick with a gray top and a green bottom, colors that resembled on dollar
bills. A round little man with a high-pitched voice, he seemed rather to
bounce than walk across the ground when he left his car or returned to
it. His face would flush, the pitch of his voice would rise even higher
and he would point in different directions with his fat little arms, at
real or suspected faults in construction, at offending workers and offsite
with a threat to fire them, up or down to alert God or the devil apparently.
The sound of his own voice and the heat of his own blood would aggravate
his anger to a
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climax where it abruptly stopped and he would bounce back
to his Buick and drive away.
When Pete and Hey! knew he was coming, whether he, his
secretary or his wife had told them or someone had seen him on the way
and warned them, they usually managed to divert his energy in useful directions.
They would meet him as he drove up and make proposals they knew he would
like and, in fact, that they had often already executed. As he approved
them, he would add the sums he expected to save and cite each successive
total in an increasingly cheerful voice. Pete would accompany him as he
drove around the site and attract his attention to jobs that had been accomplished
ahead of schedule or with unusual skill. Meanwhile, the workers would be
busy putting finishing touches on those they had already finished hours
or days ago and they greeted him enthusiastically, so that he admired what
they were doing instead of looking for what they might have done wrong.
Few tantrums spoiled such inspections, which ended when Shay drove Pete
back to the trailer and came inside for a friendly chat. They enjoyed his
company when he did that.
The very success of such a visit inspired one conversation between Pete and Hey! as they drove home. "You have to keep four balls in the air," said Pete: "the builder, the subcontractors, the workers and the customers." A minute later: "If you hold one of them too long, you better catch the other three quick and start over. If you drop one, catch the others even quicker so that you can pick it up." Another minute: "As long as you are getting things done and getting them done right, nobody will complain. But things always go wrong, no matter how careful you are. So you have to put them right and get on with it." Two minutes? "When we got to #23 today, it looked nice and the Chases, who have already moved in, came out and told us how much they liked it."
"That must have made you feel good.""That's what I told Shay and you know what he said?"
"He told you how much more he should have made than he did.""$329.73."
Hey! laughed: "Shay doesn't like to round figures off."Another minute and a half by the clock on the dashboard: "I knew he wouldn't like it when I had the dead spots in the sod replaced without waiting to see whether Chase would complain. Chase probably wouldn't have: he wants people to think he's a nice guy, as Shay was telling me, and he has enough
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money to pay for it. If I had had all of his sod replaced, as he deserved, Shay would have fired me. Chase will be pulling crab grass up in the fall."
"Why can't we make Pendleton replace the sod?""Pendleton sends us bad sod because he can't grow enough good sod to meet the demand. When we complain about the dead spots, he accuses us of not watering it enough. He tells us that the weeds come from seeds blown over from the lot next door or across the street."
"Aren't there any more reliable sod growers?"The others are further away, they would charge us more for delivery and the quality would be the same. The new golf course gets good sod because they buy more of it and the investment would justify a suit if Pendleton failed to meet the standard specified by his contract. Pendleton and Shay have been dealing with each other for years and each gives the other a break if he thinks he can make more or lose less on it." As they turned off the feeway: "Builders, subcontractors, suppliers: all crooks!"
"All of them?""I don't expect to find any in heaven."
Hey! imagined him checking the roster.Pete never felt like talking at 6:30 in the morning when he picked Hey! up. At 4:30 in the evening, however, he was ready to answer questions and once, as they turned down the ramp to the Freeway, he even exclaimed: "Nothing terrible happened today!"
"... Pete?"Pete glanced at Hey!
"Everybody was over at #32 today. The pickups, the vans, the cars were either going over there, parked over there or coming back. The place was crawling with people getting in each other's way. Thank God Kev wasn't laying any flooring!"Pete nodded.
"#43 was at the same stage and nobody was over there."Pete nodded again: "We would make better progress and build better houses if we had every worker do his job on every house when that house needs it."
"That's what they told us at ZTech.""Buzzard would say: 'talking ain't doing.'"
"There must be a reason."Pete gestured both hands off of the wheel: "How many do you want to hear?"
Hey! shrugged."We can start with Mad." Mad for Madeleine Zeller was the realtor Shay had hired to sell Silver Hill Homes. "If Mad thinks she will lose a customer who
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is in a hurry, she makes a promise she knows we can't keep."
"Did Shay tell her to do that?""He probably didn't have to. If she doesn't keep sales moving along, he can't pay his lender off promptly enough so he can borrow more at prime rate and build more houses. He hired her because she can talk a wallet out of a man's pocket. She once told me: 'The ladies buy and the gentlemen pay.'"
"That sounds old-fashioned.""By the time people can borrow enough money to buy a new house, they are old-fashioned."
"When they get impatient, you have to put everybody on their house?""We have to guess how impatient they are. Enough to forfeit $1000 in earnest money? Enough to kick a nice dream? Mad says the dream usually outweighs the money. What difference does a thousand matter when you have signed a contract for a eighty thousand?"
"When she thinks she might lose a customer, you put everybody on his house. What about customers who find nobody working on theirs?""I can tell by the way they walk when they head for the trailer."
"You listen sympathetically and keep on listening until they have made their complaint and don't know what else to say.""When they begin to repeat what they have already said, I know they will listen to what I have to say. If we haven't had bad weather, I can tell them about delays in the delivery of materials, especially if we haven't received those we need for the next job on their house. I can also blame the subcontractors. You have seen how hard it is to control them. If they don't do their job or finish it on time, it's usually because they have other contracts and they are working somewhere else. There's a lot of construction going on around here and they have more business than they can handle. They know we can't terminate a contract unless we have another one ready to sign with somebody else."
"What if Mr. 43 reminds you that the work being done on #32 is exactly what his house needs?""Mr. 43 has a job in Chicago. He and his wife can't get down here very often, but they showed up last week and we had to send everybody over there. Mr. 32 has retired and is renting an apartment about a mile from the site. He and his wife come every day, sometimes twice a day, and they are angry because of the progress we made on #43 at their expense."
"Yet we schedule construction a week to ten days in advance.""Yes, we do, hoping that we can follow the schedule half the time. I hate to think what would happen if we had no schedule at all." He turned off of the
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Freeway. "If Mr. 43 accuses me of favoring Mr. 32, I can't tell him that Mr. 32 made the same accusation. That would get me in trouble with both of them. What I can tell Mr. 43 are all the other reasons for the delay in the construction of his house. Never tell a bald-faced lie. They will catch you every time."
"ZTech only taught me half of what I have to know.""The other half can't be taught. You have to learn it on your own."
"You just taught me.""No I didn't. You won't learn it until you have to do it every day. It took me a few years." Pete gave Hey! a look that made him think that he could say things with his eyes that other people could only do with their hands. When he stopped at 237 Ingraham, he said: "I don't like that half of the job any more than when I was in your shoes."
A few weeks later, a thunderstorm whipped Mapleton with rain in the middle of the night. When Hey! climbed into the pickup in the morning, Pete usually said "Hey!" This time he said "Mud!" Hey! knew he wouldn't say another word before they reached the trailer. When they opened the door, the phone was ringing, but Pete took his time sitting down and picked the receiver up only when he was good and ready. Hey! could hear a man shouting at the other end of the line. After a few minutes, however, the voice had quieted so that he couldn't hear it any more, as if Pete's serenity had cooled his anger. Finally Pete smiled fleetingly at Hey!: "This must be Mr. Chase." The next interval lasted long enough to accommodate an embarrassed self-identification. "You and Mrs. Chase must have lost half a night of sleep... It was a good thing she heard it dripping... I know, I know, I have been through that myself... Well, you did exactly what you should have... Don't worry, I'm sending Hey! over there right away." Pete threw him the keys and he drove the pickup like a fire truck, screeching to a halt in the Chase's driveway. The consternation in both faces made them look like brother and sister. They showed him wet streaks across a slanting ceiling and down a wall. A motley row of buckets, basins and tubs had caught some of the water dripping down, but more had fallen on a big sheet of plastic with which they had covered the floor once they had mopped it dry. They had pushed the furniture out of danger. Now they stood with their heads thrown back gaping at the ceiling.
"The dripping seems to have stopped," said Hey!"Yes, but it could start raining again any time," said Mr. Chase.
"I can't stop it from raining, but I'm going to stop it from dripping.""How long will it take you?" asked Mrs. Chase.
"A half hour if I can find the leak. If I can't, I will spread a plastic sheet over the roof and get the roofers over here."
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Hey! took the ladder to the attic ahead of Chase, cut
the light on and went over to the area above the crease in the ceiling
where the streaks began. Seeing a vent pipe near the angle where the rafters
reached the joists, he ran his fingers around the edge of the hole cut
through the plywood roof panel to let it through. It was dry. Lying down
on his side, he reached behind the pipe and ran his fingers along the lower
edge of the same panel and there it did feel wet. He showed Chase where
to point his flashlight: "That's where the water trickles in after seeping
down between the plywood and the shingles. I have to go up on the roof
and find the leak in the shingles."
Borrowing a stepladder from the painters across the street, he set it up on the driveway in front of the house and climbed up on the roof as the Chases watched from the driveway next door. He was prying the shingles up when he heard Buzzard's Cadillac approaching. It always sounded as if it were either going to explode or die quietly. Hey could see it without looking: it was mostly purple with a bronze fender and a green trunk. The purple on the roof had worn away exposing a previous coat of pink. The other fender had the color of the rust eating holes in it. Wires held the doors on the right side shut, while the exhaust pipe dangled down scraping the road when a bump passed beneath it or acceleration rocked the chassis back on the springs. In back on the left, Buzzard had taped a smashed window shut with a plastic sheet turning yellow. A Mercedes star stood on the front of the hood. It was apparently impossible to shift gears without grinding them, which made the car shudder violently. Buzzard was always offering to lend it or give people a ride and, when they declined, as they usually did, he would drive along noisily behind them so that they kept turning around. Hey! guessed that Pete had sent Buzzard with shingles, glue and tools. Once the Cadillac had clunked to a stop beside the pickup in the driveway, Buzzard climbed up on the roof. Hey! showed him a nearly complete circle cut through the part of a shingle overlapped by the next higher one on the roof and one shingle over from the vent pipe which had the same diameter. Buzzard made a whistle that hurt his eardrums. Then Hey! heard another car approaching, but he was too busy to look. Tearing the cut shingle up, he and Buzzard found a circle of the same size pencilled onto the plywood underneath, which was moist. Buzzard burst out laughing:
"Hey! Daddy! You got some buts to kick!""I'm going to start with yours."
"You have to catch it first."
"Jane!" The Chases next door and the painters across the street must have seen her. Others as well!"Hey!" It was Jane standing behind Buzzard and looking very pregnant.
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"Jane, this is Buzzard.""I locked the keys in the house, I forgot my social studies book and I have a class to teach at nine. May I have yours?"
"Donald Brooks, M'am," he said, completely transformed, and they shook hands. Nobody had ever mentioned his real name before.Hey! gave Jane his keys. "Maybe you could help her down," he asked Buzzard, hesitating over which name to use. He didn't know what to say to Jane: "See you this evening."
Buzzard was following her with his arm extended on the lower side in case she fell. He hesitated at the top of the ladder, but decided to go down just ahead of her with his back turned. Once he was on the ground, he helped her down holding her by the elbow. Then he opened the door to the Ford and, when she was seated, he shut it gently. Hey! remembered the shingle only when she had turned around and driven away. Embarrassment afflicted him the rest of the day and especially when people were politer than usual. A high-pitched chuckle, that escaped Pete at lunch time, actually alleviated it. Hey! had never heard it before."Yes, this evening."
Another day, Shay called a meeting with Mad and Pete. Although he had agreed that Hey! should attend meetings too, he put him off until the next one. Buzzard immediately offered Hey! a ride home and Hey!, who had declined many times before, dared not this time:
"If I didn't know you had lost your arm in Vietnam, I wouldn't trust you.""How you know I didn't lose it driving in Vietnam?"
"They cut it off so you couldn't drive any more.""I drive better without it."
"Well, maybe we will get there alive. You have been driving back and forth in that thing for as long as I can remember.""Hey! Daddy! That's my car you talking about. It's a nice car."
Buzzard commuted with some friends who were waiting for him near the trailer at 4 PM. "In the back," he told them. "My Daddy gets the seat of honor.
The laughter suggested that they were glad to let him have it. "Buzzard?""Yeah?"
"You ain't got no seat of honor.""What do you mean, I ain't got no seat of honor?"
"All you got is a death seat."
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"Craig, you going scare my Daddy."
"He going to be just like us."
Melvin added: "My old lady pray for me every morning before I get in your car and every evening before I get out."
I hope you won't mind my leaving the shits, fucks and other epithets out of these conversations. Hey! admired the ease with which Buzzard shifted gears using his fingers on the lever as he held the steering wheel with his thumb. As the entrance ramp neared the Freeway, he slowed down and leaned out of the window to watch the cars approaching on the inner lane. Seeing a green Lincoln, he stomped on the accelerator and bolted in front of it so that the driver had to jam on the breaks. The car fishtailed as its tires screeched with outrage. A white pickup perched on oversized tires with blue lightning streaks along the sides, a big rollbar and too many extra headlights on the front bumper whizzed by in the left lane. Buzzard floored the accelerator, the motor roared and the car shuddered as he moved right up behind the pickup and stuck to the tailgate, even when the driver tried to shake him off by lurching right and left. Hey! didn't know how fast they were going because the speedometer had stuck at an unlikely 53 mph. Suddenly the pickup darted onto an exit ramp. When the third lane began, a lot of cars entered the Freeway and surrounded them, but a beige BMW tried to reach open road by passing left and right. Buzzard slipped into the middle lane in front of it, slowed down enough for the other cars to pass and kept it right behind him. After some desperate attempts to free himself, the driver stomped the accelerator into a passing gear and tore down the Freeway. Buzzard had a fit of laughter. Then a small orange-red Toyota swished into the middle lane ahead of them. "There she is again!" exclaimed Buzzard. He accelerated ahead of her in the left lane, decelerated back behind her in the right lane and repeated the maneuvre twice. Each time he passed her and each time she passed him, he waved holding the wheel with his knee, grinning and honking one of his horns -- the other one didn't work. The young lady smiled and waved back, but, after the third circle, she slipped into an exit too late for Buzzard to follow her: "She take a different one every time," he complained and the men on the back seat hooted. Hey! could feel the car shake.Jez commented: "You can't take your old lady with you, but you can have a little fun every morning before you leave and every evening after you get back."
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"You need two arms to catch that one.""I don't need no arms at all with something else I got."
Craig: "You going to show her that and keep the car on the road?"
Jez: "If she saw it, you wouldn't see her no more.""Why is that?"
"Because she find a bigger one somewhere else."
Melvin: "She got a better man than you waiting for her at every exit.""You just can't see with a woman's eyes."
As if surprized, Buzzard swerved the car onto the ramp with a screech of the tires: "Hey! Daddy! You trying to kill us.""This is my exit right here," said Hey!
"Nobody would notice the difference." When the laughter and jeers petered out, he told them: "There's a six-pack in the icebox but you might get in trouble." Suddenly everybody was polite and it took some persuasion. When Jane saw Buzzard, she rose to the occasion. His friends rose to the same occasion and Hey! marveled over the transformation. They reminded him of the visitors his parents received after church. No cigarettes, no raucous laughter, no epithets. They even sat correctly. They gave Jane all of the right attention, saying nothing about the baby until she brought her up herself and only then did they ask all the right questions. Then they took a genuine interest in the work Hey! had done on the apartment as he showed them around. Jane asked "Donald" if it was all right to call him "Buzzard" and he encouraged her to do it, admitting that he had never liked "Donald" anyway. His mother was the only one who called him that. They left not one minute too soon and not one minute too late. No laughter echoed up from the stairwell.
After closing the door, Hey! gave Jane a hug, but he was squeezing less and less as she got bigger and bigger. He kept having a nightmare that inflated her like a baloon on the bed beside him until she flew up to the ceiling and burst. He would shout, she would shake him and he would wake up in a cold sweat. Then she would snuggle up to him like a big hotwater bottle and put him back to sleep... Of course I didn't see it happen, I'm just extrapolating, what the hell! Jane had been putting an appointment with Quincy off because she didn't want to miss a chance to teach. When she finally saw him, he examined her and concluded that she was going to have a boy and not a girl. The revelation came as a surprise although they had never had any reason to believe what they had assumed even before the baby was conceived. "He will look like you," said Jane. Yet they overcame their disappointment only when all four parents rejoiced over the news and told them how lucky they were to have a boy first. Didn't other couples have too many girls trying to have a boy? Hey! conspired