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.

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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.

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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.

Ikea Hell Week

First, lets peek behind the walls

First, lets peek behind the walls

Blogging has been absent the past ten days. I’ve been giving my kitchen the Ikea makeover.

I budgeted two days for sorting out the 1948 wiring, and the highly dubious add-ons from the 1980’s.

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That was a tad optimistic.

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Trixie found a cubby hole in the bamboo at the very back of the yard, and spends her days there, as far from the crazed man as possible.

A Thin Line Between Jackass and Hero

What could go wrong?

What could go wrong?

Well, this...

Well, this…

The UpintheValley Theoretical School of Home Renovation operates on the following principle:  a) get a book; b) read that book; c) do what the book says.  Voila! New copper plumbing. Honey, look at all the money we saved.

In practice, there is a learning curve: a) first time wrong, b) second time better, c) third time proficient.  ABC.  Always Be Climbing the curve.

This works, more or less, with tile setting, hanging windows, sweat-fitting pipes underneath the house. Piecework…things of that nature…offer margins for error.

Felling a tree is a different animal.

If the tree is 38 inches in diameter, and your saw is 2o inches in length, your margin of error is two inches.  If the tree is 12 feet from the house, but 18 feet in height, your margin is…let’s just say in a contest between two tons of hardwood,  dropping on a hinge, and stucco… stucco doesn’t win.

The Battle Plan

The Battle Plan

So I spray painted some cut lines in the bark, measured out a fall. I made the notch cut.  I stopped several times to check the face of the notch to see it was smiling directly toward the narrow window of space between my tangerine and grapefruit trees.  As a first time tree faller, I was confident hopeful I could drop it without damage to them. If you look carefully at the upper photo, you will see a scratch work of saw lines.  In homicide investigations, these are known as hesitation wounds.

So having done my “homework”, in this case not a library book, but a cursory web search, with illustrations, how did my rented chainsaw end up stuck in a tree that was 90 percent cut through? Why was it not leaning in the direction I wanted it to go? How was it I managed to overlook the use of shims?  If I stopped right there, and called 311, how much would the City charge me to remove this public safety hazard I created with my Van Nuys Can-Do spirit?  How would I explain to my neighbor why she couldn’t park in her driveway ever again, or at least until I got things sorted?

No longer fully in control of matters, I did what jackasses have always done. I improvised.  I grabbed a crowbar, the only plausible shim I could think of, jammed it in the cut, and told Mrs. U to pull very hard on the polyurethane rope I had attached, in my now alarmingly glib pre-planning, to the upper branches.   In the event of a stiff gust of wind in the wrong direction, about as useful as dental floss. Fortune favors the brave they say, and between her pulling on the rope and me pushing on the bar we were able to rock the trunk just enough to yank the saw out.  At that point, the tree felt a little wobbly in my hands. It was definitely going down now, but about 30 degrees off line.  Away from the house, praise Jesus.

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I pushed, she pulled, and over it went, straight through the trellis over the front of the walkway, which imploded like a house of toothpicks. Not a pretty landing, but never have I been so grateful for a fix-it project.

In my head I could hear the voice of Howard Cosell exulting: Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!

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It’s a thin line between jackass and hero. If it goes your way, your wife looks at you like this. Glad I’m not living with the alternative.