Fabio helps Habitat build house

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Date: Saturday, October 28, 2006
e-mail print Herald News


PATERSON -- The first time a man uses a table saw should go down as a minor milestone in his life. For the man named Fabio, that milestone came Friday inside an unfinished house in Paterson.

Fabio, a man who made his name and wealth selling romance novels and a margarine spread that he cannot believe is not butter, came to town to contribute a couple of man-hours to Habitat for Humanity. His employer, Unilever United States, was finishing up a two-week stint volunteering here to build a house, and the firm decided that, on this day, the company could use a bit of muscle. Promotional or otherwise.

The table saw shrieked as it came to life in Fabio's hands and groaned as it sliced through the floorboard he was cutting. Microscopic flecks of dust speckled Fabio's manicured hands. But the chiseled face of a thousand romance novel covers showed no fear. He tossed his shoulder-length hair with a gentle twist of his neck.

Another floorboard cut, another bit of good done for charity.

The recipient of Fabio's labor is Toniette Eatman, a 34-year-old single mother of three who, after battling back massive debt, has earned the right to move into this 1,200-square-foot condo when it is finished, come Christmastime.

But Fabio was also doing good for his employer, the company that manufactures I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, for which Fabio has been a spokesman for more than a decade.

The hunky hawker of fake butter showed up on the job site just after 10 a.m.

He was dressed in designer jeans, New Balance sneakers and a tight blue hooded sweatshirt, slightly unzipped to reveal his massive chest and a few short black hairs.

The male model from Milan is now 47, though he barely looks it. Faint lines trace the length of his forehead, while his chin shows a few raisinlike wrinkles.

His hair, however, is still like a lion's mane and his eyes still shimmer like sapphires. When he speaks, a cool whiff of mint seeps from his mouth. Chewing gum.

He spent a lot of time talking at first, especially about his skills fixing up a house.

"Painting, that's easy," Fabio said.

At his own Los Angeles villa, he changed his pool filter, installed lights in his garden, replaced terracotta tiles on the patio, and fixed the gate.

"Every time you call those people for the gate, they never show. They so busy," Fabio said.

Then he took pictures with several Unilever employees and Habitat workers.

Fabio was the first to notice that time was slipping away.

"If we keep going at this pace, it will take 30 years to get this place built," he said.

As the day passed, Fabio used progressively more dangerous tools. He started with an electric screwdriver and graduated to a nail gun. Then he used a power saw. Then the table saw.

Then it was time for lunch.

Eatman was only vaguely familiar with Fabio because she doesn't have time for television. In addition to raising her children, she works full time as a nurse's aide and attends class another 10 hours a week.

She prefers movies, if only to help her fall asleep.

To qualify for this house, Eatman had to volunteer 500 hours, a task she completed since qualifying for this home in March.

"My body is exhausted," she said. "A half-hour's sleep seems like a lifetime."

But she couldn't wait to spend a few minutes with Fabio. They met at the Habitat office in Paterson, where the Unilever crew took their lunch.

For a few minutes, their eyes locked as they had a private conversation. Eatman's turned wide; Fabio's stayed keen, like slivers of glass.

"Good to meet you," Eatman said at the end.

"It's my pleasure," Fabio replied.

They shook hands. Eatman turned around and whispered, "Wow."

And with that, Fabio's day was done.

Reach Ed Beeson at 973-569-7042 or beeson@northjersey.com

Thank you Ed!



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