Built out of frustration

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  • Photo by Becca Tucker

“THE SQUIRRELS HAD this room full of nuts,” said Orlando Rodriguez. He’s standing in his bathroom, near a vessel sink perched on a handsome slab of polished wood. A year ago, this was an abandoned stable.

Rodriguez, a Grammy-nominated percussionist who plays with Jay and the Americans, is days away from moving his stuff into his rustic cottage in Westtown, NY. On the chaise longue, a pillow — a gift from his partner Nancy Fernandez — reads “Blessed,” a common refrain for Rodriguez.

This chapter in Rodriguez’ storied existence began when bandmate Peppy Castro asked Rodriguez to fix a door. Rodriguez is a jack of all trades: he plays a grab bag of instruments, flies planes, and he’s handy. The stable was a mess, Castro told Rodriguez. “Maybe you can help me clean it out.”

“I was walking out here thinking, you know, this is pretty cool,” said Rodriguez. It offered peace and quiet, proximity to his grandkids, and Castro’s recording studio next door for jam sessions. Was it wired for electricity? Yep.

Rodriguez was hitting a wall in his search for a place to live. He’d looked at 50 places in person, more at the library computer. He felt hamstrung by a prejudice that Vietnam veterans are “supposed to be loose cannons. But a veteran is disciplined, especially in taking care of his home.”

He collected doors, two-by-fours and plywood from construction sites, even scored 200-year-old beams. “You could build a third world country with the stuff that America wastes,” he said. Now he wants to show other veterans how to do what he did. “There’s an abundance of abandoned stables,” he said. “Let veterans build their houses. Veterans can do it.”

Price: about $8,000 BECCA TUCKER

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