February 28, 2020

A Fabulous Big Sunday…love and gratitude and a job well done at the YMCA

Early one spring morning, a widow and her small son sit playing together on a quiet beach.  The serenity of the moment is accompanied only by the soft snapping of little waves and the intermittent caws of soaring seagulls as they cast racing shadows across the water.  Suddenly from out of nowhere – BANG! – a huge breaker crashes on the beach, lifting the little boy high in the air, and sweeping him out to sea.  After momentary shock, the woman cries out to God.  “Adonai, please I beg you… return my son to me.  I promise I’ll send him to synagogue three times a day.  I’ll raise him to be a Tzadik. I’ll even stop the Lashon Hara.  I promise, Lord Almighty.  Just PLEASE….PLEASE save my son and bring him back to me!”  A moment later the woman hears, “Mommy, Mommy!”  She rushes to the little boy who has miraculously been returned to her, looks at him, then looks up to the heavens and says, “He was wearing a sweater.”

Some people are never satisfied … not truly thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon them.  Not so with my experience last Sunday as Project Captain for a “Big Sunday” clean-up, fix-up and paint at the Mid Valley Family YMCA in Van Nuys.  There was so much giving, love, gratitude and just plain fun abounding. Our project was a perfect example of all kinds of people working together to do a mitzvah (Hebrew word often translated as “good deed” although really means “commandment,” as in doing God’s commandment in this case to help one another… for the YMCA).  We reflect upon “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Leviticus 19:18).

This YMCA is much deserving.  They don’t turn anyone away and their funding has been reduced.  Besides, it was a great opportunity for me to give back to an institution that meant so much to me when I was a kid growing up back in the 60s. I was one of the few boychicks – affectionate Yiddish term for young, Jewish boy – who belonged to the Y in my hometown of Phoenixville – you remember, the iron and steel town where the women would iron and the men steal?? – and one of my greatest childhood mentors was an African American man named Don Coppedge.  Don was dark…. and yet we didn’t see color when we looked at him.  (Remember, this is the 1960s.) Instead, we only saw a great human being who loved kids and got up in the morning with the purpose of helping us grow.  Don was all athletics.  He taught me so much about how to play sports, and more importantly about sportsmanship.  I remember one moment when he came to our house. I forget what it was for.  Don had never met my mom before.  All he could say the next day was….. “Gee, your mom has good biceps.”  We laughed at the house plenty about that one.

So….  I jumped into this project less than three weeks out, and it called for some quick assessing and organizing.  Before I get to the great work and wonderful volunteers who made it all happen, I first want to thank a few donors without whose generosity we could not have had such beautiful results.  We were refurbishing the Block Room, which is a small building apart from the main YMCA.  This room will be used as a teen center.  The carpeted area on the north side of the room was badly in need of replacing.  Regional Group Wellbeing Director Patricia Cuffie-Jones and her associate Sopha Pok wondered if we could just shampoo it.  I told them “No way. We have to get a new one.”  It reminded me of a saying the Wild West sheriffs had for the most extreme outlaws:  “He needs killing.”  This carpet needed killing.  But where was I going to get a new one? It couldn’t possibly be covered in the budget granted me by my pals at Big Sunday. The Handy Hazzan got on the phone and fortunately found a generous donor right in the neighborhood.  DW INTERIORS at 6205 Van Nuys Blvd (818-786-0681) is owned by a great guy named Dan Warshauer.  Dan agreed to supply the low pile carpet plus installation, and invited Patricia and Sopha to choose the color.  It looks wonderful and we are still deciding on what base molding we want to complete that part of the room. 
One thing I hadn’t counted on was how tough it would be to pull up the old carpet, which was probably installed back when Robin Roberts was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies and Ritchie Ashburn was hitting inside the park homers.  (Remember those two you baseball buffs?)  On Big Sunday I was fortunate to have one mighty strong volunteer worker named Ventura Hernandez…. and he was a speedy, professional painter, too.  Between his pulling and my grunting – okay, I pulled a little too; plus the additional assistance of Juan in maintenance and my amazing cousin Ben Gaffin, piano tuner and handyman extraordinaire – we were able to get some of the carpet up.  We even tried heating up the carpet with a torch to loosen the glue.  However, I chose to stop that because the fumes can be very toxic and using fire was dangerous. I soon realized we simply didn’t have the right tools, and we had so much to accomplish in six hours that I decided to have the carpet installer remove the old carpet.  If you have old carpet that is glued down onto cement or hardwood, here are some methods I discovered for removing it:

1. Use a chipper. A chipper is an electric device fitted with a removable/replaceable blade (razor sharp) that can prove quite helpful clearing concrete from glued down carpet, hardwood, vinyl, etc. You might make a round of calls to your local rental yards to see if they have such a device on rental.  It might well damage hardwood or vinyl that is under carpet, and could be ideal for “chipping up” carpet from concrete as in this situation.
a. One source I read suggested first spreading DRY ICE on top of the carpet. You have to be very careful handling dry ice—it’s extremely cold. Wear gloves or other protective covering. DO NOT LET IT TOUCH YOUR BARE SKIN. IT WILL FREEZE BURN BARE SKIN TO THE TOUCH. The nice thing about dry ice is that when it melts it’s gone. It leaves no residue. Unlike normal ice that leaves water in its path, dry ice evaporates into thin air (well, foggy air anyway). Meanwhile dry ice will freeze the old glue, vinyl, etc. almost instantly allowing you to chip up pieces much more easily than not.
b. Use a medium-sized chunk (1/4 to 1/2 pound at a time) keeping the remainder in the freezer or in a special insulated box (styrofoam 2 – 4 inches thick). Be forewarned: It will continue to melt in the freezer and it will freezer burn items it lays against unless insulated by a packaging material (e.g. styrofoam—it’s cheap, easy to find and works very well).
c. Place the 1/4 to 1/2 pound piece in an old metal tray. One with handles at both ends. Set the tray and ice on top of the area you want to chip away next. After a few minutes time, the area directly underneath and around the tray becomes VERY BRITTLE and much easier to remove. Meanwhile, move the tray and ice to ready another area while chipping away at the first spot. Depending on the size of the floor you need to clean, figure you’ll go through 5 to10 pounds of dry ice per day. You don’t need it everywhere. Anything helps to make a hard just a little easier.
2. Try a product called “Panda Stripper.  Fumes are nominal and I have used it in commercial applications in enclosed office buildings. They do have a website to get all the info or safety issues you require.
3. I also read about another product called 747 by Sentinel.  It’s low odor and eco-friendly.  Although it’s a bit work intensive, I understand it works very well.  Be prepared to apply the solution twice to remove the old mastic, the second time wiping clean with paper towels. Use a product like this when you are removing carpet laid over hardwood floors, otherwise the chipper might be your best bet to remove carpet from concrete.  (Why would anyone glue carpet to beautiful hardwood floors?)
That’s a lot of info on removing carpet from concrete.  Let’s get back to THE PROJECT AT THE YMCA.  A built-in storage unit was on the wish list, and I was fortunate to find a generous, professional licensed contractor named Smithie Chi Lu.  I sketched the storage unit and Chi and I shopped for the materials at Home Depot.  (Home Depot donated over $10,000 worth of materials to Big Sunday.) Chi built the unit all by himself, donating his time and talents to the project.  The name of his company is SLC Construction.  They’re located in Van Nuys and the telephone number is 818-926-9042.  Next time you need a bid, call Chi. Say you read about him in the Handy Hazzan.
Furniture including desks, bookshelves, file cabinet and more filled out the rest of the wish list.  Who else would I call but Jerry Goldman, owner of Advanced Furniture Liquidators in North Hollywood at 10631 Magnolia Boulevard, telephone (818) 763-3470?  I met Jerry when I first moved to Los Angeles in 1989.  I was living up in his neighborhood and got all my first office furniture from him.  Jerry has one of the largest selections in the city, and rents a lot to the studios. He made a sizable furniture donation to the teen room.  Thank you, Jerry, for your kindness and generosity.

Earlier in the week while waiting for Erik’s Guitar Repair to set up my new guitar, I wandered into Galpin Restaurant, which is part of the huge Galpin Ford dealership at 15505 Roscoe Blvd in North Hills.  Manager Geovanni Euceda happily donated two trays of cookies and breakfast muffins and cakes to get everyone on our way first thing in the morning.  One of my B’nai Mitzvah student’s moms, Suzanne, donated some coffee.  We also brought juice and fruit, and everyone was happy. After a brief prayer to thank God for giving us the health and strength to gather together that day, twenty-one volunteers dived into an amazing morning of cleaning, patching, priming and then painting the first coat for the teen room walls.

Lunchtime! One phone call to Dominoes Pizza at 6262 Van Nuys Blvd. had introduced me to an enthusiastic young man who was anxious to help.  Manager George Parra donated five pizzas to some twenty volunteers who worked up some hefty appetites after a busy morning.

With all this organizing, yes, I did get a chance to do some work besides yanking at a dirty, old carpet…. especially in the painting department.  Two other huge donors to Big Sunday are Glidden Paints and Purdy brushes.  Our thanks to Manager Edward Eskelin and Brian Wilson at the Glidden Professional Paint Center at 7554 Van Nuys Blvd. (818-997-7072) for mixing our colors.  We were able to paint the walls to represent the logo colors of the YMCA, and I found a can of bright yellow paint in my personal storage that we used for the bathrooms. 

This week I wanted to express my gratitude to all of our volunteers and donors: Thank you Sopha, Patricia, Robert, Rae, Irene, Alejandra, Caroline, Alyssa, Ben, Christine, Andrea, Allan, Peri, Nora, Suzanne, Carmell, Alicia, Crystabel, Ventura, Sylvia, Nick and Claire….and especially to David Levinson and his incredible staff at Big Sunday for providing me this opportunity to assist the YMCA. 
I’ll reserve some time in the next few weeks to give a lesson on just how to prep before painting, and then how to “cut in” with your brush (e.g. at the top of the wall to meet the ceiling), before rolling the walls.  If you would like to volunteer at Big Sunday headquarters – Big Sunday is now ongoing year round – just go to their website at www.bigsunday.org – and find out how you can make Los Angeles a better place.  Let’s just say….”Tikkun Olam starts at home…. and continues at Big Sunday! You can do it! – HH