The Famous Three-Fingered Carpenter

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of friends in the trades and in the construction industry as well.

One of my favorite friends is a very successful, Vietnamese general contractor who caught my interest when he was just learning how to use a nail gun. Having moved here from Texas when he was 5, his family built an empire of little businesses all over Boston, but that wasn’t for him.

My buddy Cam (which is the name he goes by, but isn’t actually his name) was determined to be the best general contractor in the City.

He hasn’t done too bad either.

But it’s his hustle and quirky nature that always grabbed my attention. When his guys accidentally reversed the hot and cold on my washer, he tried to pawn it off as a move to keep us sharp in our old age.

“It’s going to keep you thinking every time,” he tried to argue.

No way.

Once, while sitting in the front garden installing outdoor electrical outlets, he asked me since I write for a newspaper if I got any good, insider trading tips.

“Nobody gets rich by the rules,” he said stone-faced.

But the best was when he showed up to re-build my kitchen with a carpenter who only had three fingers. I was hesitant at first, because it was on his hammer hand, but the man was phenomenal.


All the corners were flush.

He covered nail holes with putty that matched the finish.

And everything was level.

I watched this guy for a month, and he didn’t walk when he worked.

He ran…full speed. When he had to go outside to use the table saw, you’d see a streak go out the door, sometimes even jumping off the deck instead of using the stairs.

But the question lingered as to why he had three fingers.

One day I eased the conversation that direction with Cam, and asked him what was up with that.

“He gamble too much,” Cam said.

“What’s that have to do with it?” I asked.

“He gamble too much and he don’t pay,” said Cam, signaling a subtle cutting motion with his index finger.

Wow, the story only grew better.

I looked over at the fella. He was sitting still for a moment, running his three fingers through the sweat of his brow.

Then took off running…full speed.

  • • •

There are too few sub joints and short-order spots left in the neighborhood. No doubt the food scene in the neighborhoods is far and away better than it was in the old days, but much of it is sit-down, white napkins and celebrity chefs.

Sometimes you just want to chow.

I’ve always liked the fare at the Hidden Kitchen over on Albany. Best people in the world. I like to go for the Boston-original, the pepper and egg…a little hot sauce.

My colleague here at the Sun loves to hit up Harry O’s for ‘The Hercules.’

Makes me wonder what the readers think.

Don’t forget to e-mail old Mr. Boston. Let me know what hole in the wall delicacies are choice fare in our fair city. We won’t spoil your secret with everyone; just the Mr. Boston nation.

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