Luis, the Stone Cutter

Conundrum

Conundrum

There is so much construction and renovation going on in Los Angeles right now a 50 square foot granite job in Van Nuys qualifies as a nuisance, even if you’re waving cash like a drunken bachelor at a strip club. The normal laws of business are in abeyance when it comes to stone work.

The first contractor to visit told us he was in the middle of a 25 slab bathroom renovation in Pasadena, “but he would squeeze us in”.  Our kitchen was less than a single slab.

Of course we never heard from him again.  We went through a series of estimates ranging from $1100 to $3900, which meant fabricators were making up numbers and hoping suckers would bite.  Mostly, though, people didn’t call us back.

IMG_7941

After some gentle and persistent nagging we manage to prevail upon someone to pick up our slab at the yard. Then we waited for work to begin. And waited.

We were doing dishes in the bathtub.  Our leverage over the stoneworkers, even as paying customers, was effectively zero.

After six weeks the call came. The countertops were arriving in the morning.  The Luises, Juan Luis and Jose Luis, were standing on the porch at 8am.  Our finished pieces were in the back of their truck.

Complications ensued, as they say in comedy.  The biggest of the pieces, the crucial L shaped one,  had an overhang 3/4 of an inch too long.   The cabinet drawers couldn’t open.   Phone calls were made to the shop.  It was suggested I make the countertop 3/4 of an inch higher to accommodate their screw up.  I nixed the idea on principle,  while dreading the idea of the countertop leaving the house, to return to a nuisance pile to be dealt with by the fabricator at a future date, unknown.

After much negotiation in Spanish it was decided Luis (Jose Luis) would resolve the matter on site.

IMG_8765

They set up a table in the driveway, and he went to work, recutting and polishing the overhang in 106 degree heat.  It took four hours in the full sun.   I brought him water and chatted him up while he took breaks.    Turns out we were neighbors.

He lives with his wife and daughter in an apartment on Sherman Way.  He came from El Salvador 14 years ago, and started out sweeping floors at the granite yard.  He swept for three years before they let him use the tools.

Now he cuts and installs stone perpetually.  He doesn’t mind the dust.  He pays $2000 a month in rent and has a 14-year old who has to have the “good shoes”.  He told me it hurts him when she speaks English when she comes home from school.  He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t partake of drugs. To save money he drives a 2002 Mitsubishi.  Too many Latinos blow their money on cars, and partying on the weekends. “Good for the economy, but bad for us.”  Yet for all his el norte striving, he demands she speak Spanish in the house.

Sometimes other Latinos call him beaner. “Why can’t you speak English?”

In Central America he was picking cucumbers. In Los Angeles he has a trade which puts folding money in his pocket, and a daughter with a phone, surrounded by danger.  “Ai, peligro! Peligro everywhere”.  Spanish is his only hold on her.

Sons of Stone Cutters

Sons of Stone Cutters

Luis finished the edge detail by mid-afternoon. After a moment of suspense, our fancy new Ikea drawers opened with a perfect 1/8 inch of clearance, and with that, our upper-middle class pretentions for our working class stucco box were marginally closer to fruition, courtesy of El Salvador.

After he left I thought of the movie Breaking Away and wondered what would become of his English speaking, shoe-loving daughter.

Cutting The Loaf

They slice it just like bread

Just like bread

Before I got schooled, I assumed granite arrived from overseas as sheets, and only the fabricating was done here.  But no, it’s quarried and shipped as giant blocks. Loaves, to use the industry term. They slice it up on this giant machine  right here in the Valley.
The things you learn when doing the kitchen.  

After my physical exertions, to anticapte the topping of the cake prized from the earth in such a brute manner gave me pleasure.

Here’s something else you learn.

Sniffing around a granite yard looking for a pattern known as green rose, I was confronted by a lugubrious man with a baroque Mediterranean accent who popped out from between two loaves of granite, like the Lorax.

Man:  May I help you sir!

Me: Aaah!  

Man:  How may I help you?

Me: I’m looking for a green rose pattern.

He marched me into the showroom and pointed to the slab you see here.

Man:  Here is green. 

I looked around like an idiot, thinking he must be pointing elsewhere.

Me:  You’re saying this is green?

Man:  Is green.

Me: This?

Man: IS green.  Look around the room if you don’t believe me.  You tell me which one is green.

I showed him a picture of what I was looking for on my phone.

Man:  You’ll never find that, sir.  No one has that. What I have is as close to what you’re looking for in the entire city, and I know all the inventory. 

And that was the beginning of our quest through the stone yards of the Valley.