[scroll down to find “Hoyt: the Musical”]
Fred Andersen Frequent Author
Fred Andersen has written four books: the classic Hollywood-set Pamela Carr, and Lily Torrence, the contemporary thriller Line in the Sand, and the “comics mystery” The Dead Cartoonist. His stories cross categories. Mystery in form—a crime is committed, there will be suspects and twists, and it will be solved, or at least resolved. From non-fiction come the true facts and stories resulting from thorough research, as, for example, cellphone location tracking capabilities of a 2012 iPhone or the interior look of a Los Angeles bar that was torn down decades ago. And the literary quality of the writing, the excellent dialogue, the telling description deliver the goods in a highly readable style. Fred lives in Phoenix with Cecilia.
Here’s another one: “Hoyt: The Musical.”
SCENE: A new suburban home development in the San Ramon Valley, east of Oakland, California; January, 1977.
TIME: Early afternoon.
We open on a busy construction site. To the rear, green pastures rise into grassy rolling hills. Stage right, the spindly wooden frames of new houses stand waiting for completion; stage left, the finished houses stand proudly, waiting for final inspection and landscaping. And buyers.
ARCH and STEBO, in Stebo’s white Chevy pickup, cruise slowly down the street which runs through the middle of the construction area. They pass a bare wooden floor into which two young men—they look like high school boys—are driving nails quickly and methodically in three or four strokes of a big framing hammer: set, drive, pound the eight penny nail (2.5 in./64 mm) through the plywood into the underlying frame of two-by-ten joists. The next house has a few walls up: yellow-white fir two-by-four (actually 1½ x 3½ inch) studs standing straight and plumb, held in place at top and bottom by more two-by’s, but these are called plates. Four or five guys are bent over, nailing more walls together on the floor, then standing them up and dragging them into place. On the other side of the street a Mexican-looking man in a straw cowboy hat sits on the driver’s seat of a forklift, smoking a cigarette, looking up at the raised arms of the lift which hold a half-dozen roof trusses ten feet off the ground, near a set of framed walls. The trusses are also made of two by fours, fastened together with galvanized steel straps, formed into a long, low triangle with what looks like a “W” inside:
Two carpenters balancing on top of opposite walls each grab one end of the truss off the forklift arms and walk it down to where two other guys are waiting to nail it into place. One mis-step and they could fall a long way, but they do this over and over with seeming ease.
Along the street dozens of other men can be seen busily working. They cover a wide range of ages, ethnicities, races, and styles. There are no women except VICKI, the snack truck driver who has just pulled up sounding her clarion and is now lifting the shiny aluminum doors of the “roach coach” to reveal shelves of sandwiches, burritos, and sweets, and both cold drinks in iced tubs and coffee in a heated tank.
From his seat in the truck Arch looks out on the busy, colorful scene, thinking of it as perhaps the opening number of a musical, with the carpenters pounding their hammers in rhythm, while those laborers in the ditch swing their shovels in creative twirls and flips, and the whine of electric saws rise in melodic phrases . . .
The pounding of the hammers solidifies into a steady rock beat, and sharp, clear chords of an electric guitar and bass are heard as two plumbers open the doors of their truck and climb out, already singing a slightly revised version of “Takin’ Care of Business:”
We been takin’ care of business, every day!
Takin’ care of business, every way.
Takin’ care of business, every time!
Takin’ care of biz, time and half for overtime.
[“Takin’ Care of Business,” (Randy Bachman, recorded by Bachman-Turner Overdrive) https://open.spotify.com/track/0lzNXoZINVBLHWNIxKxWOo]
The beat continues as Vicki dances alongside her truck, and the music segues into a slower, jazz-pop style. With smoothly syncopated motions, she pours a cup from the coffee tank and hands it to one of the workers. He hands her a quarter and she slides it into the four-barrel change maker on her belt with a sassy flair. As more men file past with their snacks and money she begins to sing that Sheena Easton song:
My baby takes the morning train (a worker gives her a funny look),
He works from nine to five and then—.
[“Morning Train (9 to 5)” (Florrie Palmer, recorded by Sheena Easton) https://open.spotify.com/track/6CEKntwndUlmWhSRflWA5X]
The worker waves his hands, and the music stops. He and two other men gather around Vicki miming an animated discussion. Then they step behind her and the first worker signals a downbeat to the playback operator. The music begins again (the three workers are now backup singers):
My baby drives his truck to work,
I give him coffee that I perk,
Then he goes on to quitting time,
Just building houses oh so fine.
Now the carpenters on the roof take over the vocals as the music returns to the first song:
If you can saw and you can nail
And show up daily without fail
Work your ass off every day
And live ’til Friday to get paid
Well, you are takin’ care of business—
Vicki interrupts again:
And then he drives it home again
To find me waiting for him
The music stops and all the singers move to a big Broadway finish a cappella:
. . .. and w-e-e-e, a-r-r-r-r-e
Workin for a livin’
And takin’ what they’re givin’
Cuz we’re . . .
Workin’ . . .for . . . a . . . l-i-i-i-iv-v-v-in!
[ “Working for a Living” (Huey Lewis, Chris Hayes, recorded by Huey Lewis and the News) https://open.spotify.com/track/3gkH5q7qT0Ex08kua0KgrN]
The workmen disperse, heading back to their jobs. One of these is HOYT, a handsome young man with long hair who has been standing near the snack truck admiring Vicki’s song. Now he crosses in front of the snack truck and past an orange El Camino. The man leaning on the fender of the car—or is it a truck?—is LONNIE, who is the foreman on the job. He is talking to two men who look in no wise different from him except that they wear tool belts and he does not. As Hoyt walks by, he says something, and the other men chuckle merrily.
As Stebo approached the snack truck he slowed to a stop. A young man wearing a CAT hat and carpenter’s nail bags was walking the same direction, and Arch flicked his passenger-side arm out the window at him. “Hey—foreman around?”
The guy pointed at the orange El Camino. “Lonnie.”
Arch looked over and saw three men. “Blue shirt?”
The guy nodded and walked on.
Stebo shut off the truck and the two of them got out and headed across the street. Stebo took the lead because he had actual experience as a carpenter. Arch definitely did not. He had only been working with his brother for a few weeks after moving up from Santa Ana. He was just beginning to get comfortable with hammer and level, tape and saw, “joist” and “truss.”
The two other guys had walked off and the foreman was just reaching for the Camino’s door handle when Stebo approached. “Hi there, you Lonnie? You in charge? Need any help?”
“If it’s the right kind.” Lonnie rubbed a sideburn with his cigarette hand, untroubled by the smoke that drifted across his face. “Journeymen?”
“Local 1149. We been doing mostly siding, for E.L. Jones, down in Union City. That’s wrapping up now. You want my card?”
“We’ll do all that later.” Lonnie turned and reached into the open bed of the El Camino, pulling out a fifty-foot coil of heavy extension cord, which he tossed on the ground. He dropped a worm-drive Skilsaw on top of the cord. “Siding. Start there.” He pointed at a house which was framed and roofed. Scanning the street, he pointed at another house farther down. “That one, with the red Jeep in front? Same model. Do it exactly like that. T-111, one-by-three trim, pot shelf near the entry.” He turned back. “All the siding and shit is piled right in front there.”
“When do we start?” Stebo asked.
“Got any plans for the rest of the afternoon?” Lonnie chuckled, getting into his car.