IF I WERE A CARPENTER
One gig our adventurer doesn't nail
by Corey Levitan
Sometimes a great idea just pulls into your driveway.
Construction was one of the jobs I've been seeking for this column -- framing, sheathing, whistling at honeys while dangling off a steel girder during lunch hour.
There was some interest from Habitat For Humanity. But I didn't see much entertainment potential in shoddily building a house for the disadvantaged. So when a coworker announced she saw a truck in the Daily Breeze parking lot marked "CoreyCo Construction," it seemed like destiny.
Illegal parking is what it really was. CoreyCo owner Corey Cohn wasn't employed by this paper. The lot for the restaurant next door was full and he was hungry.
"I put a copy of your paper on my windshield so I wouldn't get towed," says the 49-year-old Redondo Beach resident who, nevertheless, should have been towed. Because it was his very lucky day, he got an article spotlighting his business instead.
The three-month remodel in Torrance with which I am to assist CoreyCo is more like carpentry than construction. Cohn and his four-man crew have replaced the rotting exterior of a house on Anza Ave., and are now gutting the bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchen. No steel girders or honeys are involved.
Nevertheless, I insist that Cohn supply me with my own little yellow hard-hat and goggles. When the hat pops on, overcoming initial resistance to my inhumanly large head, I feel compelled to find a disco floor to lead in a chorus of "YMCA" -- just as soon as the cop and the Indian show up.
The house is a wreck, sawdust and paint covering countertops as old as the last time Mick Jagger couldn't get into a party. Cohn, who began his business 12 years ago, won't say how much he's charging the elderly Scottish couple who hired him to modernize. But he admits the amount approximates "a Jaguar with a nav system."
After I get through with the house, its entire value could approximate a Ford Taurus with a boombox.
You may find this hard to believe from my macho-man appearance, but I'm not really a construction kind of guy. After some initial training in LEGOS, I quit the profession cold. Whenever my father hit the tool shed or shimmied up the side of the house, I knew it was time to develop either a sore throat or a reason to spend the afternoon at my best friend's.
An even bigger admission: I never even heard of the terms framing and sheathing before using them earlier in this article. I got them from a construction glossary on the Internet.
Originally, I was supposed to help Cohn build a redwood gate for the backyard. But since I picked the only full day of rain in Southern California this year to work outside with power tools, Cohn puts me to work in the bedroom.
While the crew replaces steel pipe with copper in the shower, Cohn asks if I would like to sledgehammer the bedroom wall on the other side. It looks like a good wall to me. I inquire what's wrong with it.
"It WAS a good wall," he says, "until we got started removing bathroom tiles. Tiles that are used to being on a wall for 50 years don't want to give up without a fight."
Cohn points out a crack his workers caused near the bottom of the wall. Taking down an entire wall because of one crack sounds like a rip-off to me. But my duty today is not to question, it is to follow orders.
I get all Zen-like with the hammer, channeling into my swing all my fury toward Ilan Zwecker, the loser who once gave me a wedgie in junior high school. Thwack, I hit. Pull, I recoil. Five times I repeat this, in quick and deadly succession.
OK, fine, so I got the wedgie in high school. My point is, five gaping holes have resulted. This wall is coming down.
"What are you doing?" asks Cohn. His face is locked in a weird battle between anger, shock and amusement.
I was not supposed to destroy the entire wall, he explains, just the section where the crack was. None of my five swings even came close.
"But at least you made kind of an arrow with the holes, pointing down to where the crack is," Cohn says, smirking. Amusement has won out. But only briefly.
Chief laborer Noulan Traquena approaches and informs Cohn that his problems are no laughing matter. While working in the shower, Ojenio Aria was not expecting a sideways shower of plaster chunks to spew out of the wall. After the first unexpected hole got punched, Aria poked his eye through it to see what was up on the other side.
I thought I heard some yelling in Spanish after my second swing, but I guess I was too Zen-like to let it stop me. Forty seconds into my first day as a construction worker, a job-related injury has already occurred.
Aria is now locked in another bathroom, furiously rinsing his eyes. I inquire whether we should contact OSHA. Cohn, trying to gauge the size of the lawsuit against him, does not laugh.
Aria eventually opens the door and flashes a thumbs-up, but indicates a strong desire not to work anywhere near me. (At least that's the best translation I was able to make of what he said.)
I suggest that Cohn and I cool down with a spin around the neighborhood. That way, he can point out what's structurally wrong with some of the other houses. (Call it construction criticism.) Cohn throws me to the keys to the Coreymobile (an '86 Ford F-250, license plate: Corey) and we pull up to what looks like a crackhouse on Halison.
"Where do I start with this place?" Cohn says. "It's completely trashed."
I yell out the window, to offer a free construction consultation, but no one is home. The next-door neighbor informs us the owner of said crackhouse is a contractor, believe it or not. That's like a doctor who smokes.
"Or an accountant who doesn't pay his taxes," she says, adding that she actually let the guy built her house and, somehow, it's still standing.
Corey grows nervous about identifying the woman, considering our negative commentary about her neighbor's abode.
"In fact, please spell Halison wrong," he says.
We drive around some more, looking for construction crews to harass, but none are outside. The rain has ruined a lot of what we tried this afternoon.
It ends up good for something else that spontaneously comes to mind, however. This morning, our office was under attack from gooey streams of brown, smelly water, exploding everywhere from the ceiling. No wastebaskets moved without a sloshing sound.
The Breeze has its own maintenance department. But, as in any newspaper, feature writers are considered less important than news writers. Ergo, they're downstairs in a newly remodeled newsroom with flashy flat-screen computers; we're upstairs with old equipment getting dripped on.
I suggest that Cohn conduct a free consultation for my employers. This way, the maintenance guys might hasten their repairs and Cohn can finally see what it's like to park in our lot legally.
"You don't have proper drainage here," he says once we reach the roof, which resembles a fishless coi pond. "They call these flat roofs, but they're actually slanted, about a quarter inch for each foot."
They're SUPPOSED to be slanted, anyway. Our roof slumps in the middle, so the water must build to six inches deep before reaching a drain. The weight of each new rainstorm further exacerbates the slump.
"I'd say you have about a ton of water here," Cohn says, adding that he can see where patchwork was attempted over the years to fix holes, but never to address the main problem -- the roof's shape.
"This is a major job," he says. (Ballpark: 6 grand.)
I deliver the good news to my co-workers, then split before the imminent scene from the end of "Titanic" transpires.
Back at Anza, the spackle covering up my first construction job has nearly cured as Cohn explains my second. A stack of six-foot, dog-eared boards waits to be transformed into the gate we were supposed to build outside. (We're doing it in the garage instead.)
Cohn offers to show me how to operate the power saw. I tell him I'm familiar with it. (I didn't tell him how: from watching the blades spin at the end of the conveyor belts Batman always got himself strapped to, then escaped because the villain was stupid enough to leave.)
"Put these on first," Cohn says, handing me a pair of gloves. "That way, when you cut your finger off, the glove will hold it on."
I press the trigger on the power saw. It screams louder than Kurt Cobain as an infant. When I lower it to the board, a blizzard of sawdust gushes up and startles me.
"No!" Cohn screams. I've made the mistake of stopping the saw in the middle of a cut.
"You're lucky the blade didn't get stuck and the wood didn't kick back in your face!" he says, shaking his head.
Aria opens the garage door to see what the ruckus is all about, then quickly closes it when he spots me with his now-blurred vision.
Cohn checks his watch and mentions something about getting back on schedule.
"Thanks for all your help," Cohn says. "I really appreciate it.
"You must have enough for your article now, right?"
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