Louis Torchio, a well loved and regarded craftsmen, family man and great storyteller, is our subject for this week’s Faces of Kingston. It was a pleasure to visit The Cake Box with Louis on a Friday afternoon and chat about his background, accomplishments, life challenges, family and dreams.
Morgan Y. Evans: You were born in Kingston Hospital, you said, but what is your earliest memory of here?
Louis Torchio: My earliest Kingston memory is visiting my Aunt Helen. She lived right in town here between where we are and Uptown. What do you call right here, Uptown also?
I call it Cake Box.
Cake Box! We’re parallel to both Uptown and Midtown right here.
By a horrible intersection.
“Five ways to die.” (laughing)
Visiting my aunt as young as 8, her apartment had linoleum floors. I remember the smell of cigarettes and giving me caramel candies. Or driving through the city with my dad he would point out the oldest buildings. You can’t help but wonder about how old they are.
You’ve lived a few places.
I grew up in Pine Bush, Wallkill, Gardiner. Pine Bush school district, Walkill address and Gardiner taxes.
It was such a weird spot and for some reason the district was all messed up.
That’s like when I lived on Binnewater Road I was an inch from Rosendale but had a 12401 Kingston mailing address.
That’s why gerrymandering works so good. It’s all [bleeped] up. I come from a trade family. My dad was a metal fabricator and a water systems safety inspector for Poughkeepsie. He worked for 40 years there. He was the guy who cleaned everything. He became the safety inspector and would then travel the East Coast making sure people were compliant to pollution issues. It was a life of working in a machine shop as a kid learning all these trade things. For me the options were hold the flashlight or pass dad tools or go to ballet with my sister and my mom. At a point dads can mean well and are trying to teach you but it gets pushy so I started skateboarding. I’d go to Newburgh to ballet class with my sister but there was plenty of pavement there. When I turned 12.
So no one wondered why you sucked at ballet but were good at skateboarding?
I was pretty good at ballet. I would help my sister. Ballet was a way to do more skateboarding but the influence of having a machine shop in your backyard was when I wanted smaller wheels for my skateboard my dad was like, “Why don’t we make them? I have some composite materials and you can turn them on a lathe.” So I did. I put a motor on my Mongoose scooter. We had to make it so it wasn’t as fast as it could be [grinning]. It was a Briggs and Stratton tractor motor! I still have it somewhere.
The “Stranger Things” kids need that to like escape …
Yeah, to escape some zombie creature. So my father is the background of my tradework.
What started your woodworking?
A friend who wanted to support me asked me to fix something and I gave it a shot. Then they asked me to fix some crown moldings in a room. Then a few rooms later she was showing picture of the work I did to some of her friends and I never had to advertise again. I had a good 16 years of woodworking and making other people’s dreams come true. That felt good. A lot of old farms. The oldest place I did was in Olive Bridge. It started out as a Native American hunting location and at some point they showed the Europeans it was a good spot to hunt before the slaughtering. European people built a log cabin there likely in the mid-1700s, according to records. Over time it was turned into an eyebrow colonial wrapped all around it. We exposed all that so you could see the original woodworking.
MHow have you dealt with your unique challenges?
Ten years ago being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis was a big unknown moment in my life. I was happy, my partner Ali was working as a DJ. What if I got sick like some other people? Thankfully it took longer for me to become the level of disabled that I now am, so I could acclimate into it. We had a child and hadn’t really planned it but realized out lives were changing and became open to it. I could spend more time with the baby. My dream of being an art gallery woodworker person I was willing to reevaluate. It’s just not a priority. I still have a woodshop at 59 O’Neil Street at Vernacular Designs who is an old friend of mine. I rent the office and share some of my tools. I’d like to be doing benchwork next year.
How do you feel Kingston is as far as disability accessibility?
Kingston, being such an old city rich in history, is sort of poor with consistent amenities and curb outlets. Things weren’t built with that mindset when people were pioneers. Kingston has put an effort into adapting. What that means may be convoluted because sometimes it takes more time and costs more than it maybe needs to. Some things are better and some are the same even though they were worked on. They aren’t gonna win a blue ribbon at the fair yet. Sage from Rosendale started a cool new non-profit called Thrive HV (thrivehv.org). They currently have a program evaluating using modern apps and websites to help evaluate locations so people can access areas convenient for them in any region. They are raising awareness organizing awareness and providing options for grants and other ways to become more accessible.