Sunday, August 15, 2021

"The Bricklayer's Apprentice"

By Jerry Zezima

A man’s home is his hassle. That’s especially true if he’s me, the Least Handy Man in America, a guy who thinks a screwdriver is vodka and orange juice.

But being dumb as a brick didn’t stop me from using bricks to help lay the foundation for a job that shored up the foundation.

It was all part of a home improvement project in which the house got new vinyl siding, not just on the side, but in the front and the back, for what my wife, Sue, and I hope will be the vinyl time.

The work was done by a terrific contractor named Anthony Amini, who owns Performance Contracting and Management, the company that Sue and I previously used for putting on a new roof, installing a new floor and, yes, changing light bulbs, a task so simple that it is beyond my comprehension.

How many columnists does it take to change a light bulb? One — if he hires someone else to do it.

Anyway, Anthony and his hardworking crew replaced the faded old siding with beautiful, Nantucket gray strips, which give our Colonial a look so fresh that a real estate agent, who’s selling the vastly inferior ranch across the street, raved about it.

It’s so good that drivers even slow down at the stop sign in front of our house (instead of blowing through, as they usually do) to admire Anthony’s handiwork, which includes new gutters, window moldings and all kinds of other things I’m not familiar with because I am, after all, dumb as a brick.

But I got somewhat smarter when I helped Andy Campanile, a bricklayer par excellence, fix a broken corner of the foundation.

“It looks like your joint failed,” Andy told me.

“I’m old,” I replied. “All my joints are failing.”

“No, I mean this,” he said, pointing to a separated block the approximate size and consistency of my skull.

“Does that make me a blockhead?” I wondered.

“If you say so,” said Andy, who also does masonry, plumbing and tiling.

“How about electrical work?” I asked.

“My uncle and cousins do that. I do pretty much everything else,” said Andy, who’s 54 and got started at age 12 with his late father, Andrew Sr. “I carried his homemade toolbox when I was a kid. It was so heavy! I learned a lot from the old guys. Now I’m the old guy.”

“You’re a youngster,” I said, adding that I’m 67. “My father was the handiest guy I ever knew. Unfortunately, it skipped a generation.”

That didn’t stop Andy from accepting my generous offer (it was free) to help him repair a corner of the foundation.

“We’re going to use mortar mix,” Andy said.

“The mortar the merrier!” I chirped.

The remark amused Anthony’s 16-year-old son, Mateo, a wonderful young man who is learning handiness from his father the way Andy learned it from his.

My father, who was my hero, tried to teach me handiness but soon realized I was ambidextrous — incompetent with both hands.

Undeterred, Andy showed me how to pour the mortar into a pan, add water and mix it with a mason’s trowel. Mateo, who also asked to help, displayed a natural talent that made me want to throw in the trowel.

“What if you get the mortar on you?” Mateo asked.

“You become part of the foundation,” I said.

Then Andy showed us how to use the trowel to put wet mortar on a brick, one of many that would be used in place of the failed joint.

Andy did most of the rebuilding himself, after which he stuccoed the corner using another trowel, this one with a sponge finish.

“May I try?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Andy, who handed me the trowel and told me that his last name means “bell tower” in Italian. “When I was in Venice,” he recalled as I worked away, “I went into this bar called Bar Al Campanile. I said, ‘I have to be related somehow. Where’s my free drink?’ They wouldn’t give me one.”

I thought Andy would need a drink after seeing my handiwork, but he and Anthony thought I did a good job.

“Perfect!” Anthony declared.

“You must be Italian!” Andy chimed in.

“Actually, I am,” I said. “And for the first time in my life, I don’t feel dumb as a brick.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

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