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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
RIVERVIEW - On the back of the shopping cart, a bright light flashes with each hip-hop beat.
Nelson Sanchez glides past piles of plywood. He crisscrosses his arms. He waves a potted plant in the air. He points at his bright orange apron.
I'm chillin' at the Depot. I'm chillin' with my people. Givin' you that customer service that can't be beat.
By day, the 27-year-old King High graduate sells windows and doors at Home Depot in Riverview. By night, he's Kash Bezel, aspiring hip-hop artist. On a MySpace page, he promotes his music and posts pictures of himself with rap stars LL Cool J and Diddy.
He works in one world and dreams of the other.
But a music video he made at the southeast Hillsborough County store could change that. Chillin' at the Depot was a hit with company executives, who flew him to Atlanta in May and played the video in more than 1,700 Home Depot stores.
"I've got Home Depot celebrity status," he says.
He knows he wants more.
* * *
On a busy Saturday morning, Sanchez loads a steel door onto a couple's shopping cart. Minutes later, he's advising a customer who wants new windows.
He never planned to make a career doing this. Last year he graduated from the International Academy of Design & Technology with an associate's degree in digital production. But for now, working at Home Depot pays the bills.
A man pushing a cart piled with plywood stops in his tracks.
"Hey, I saw you on TV the other day," he says.
It's been months since Chillin' at the Depot made its national debut on TV sets in Home Depot stores. But the Riverview store still plays it regularly.
On a 25-inch screen at the end of Aisle 7, Sanchez describes his life:
Getting ready in the morning: Put my blue jeans on with my polo shirt. I look so good everybody wants to flirt.
Rushing to work: Trying to get this raise. I know that ain't happening soon. So I carry on and do what I have to do.
Juggling requests from customers: I'm doing this I'm doing that. Man I'm on the go. ... "You don't have what I want so I'm going to Lowe's." Well you can have a good day and let them know I said hello.
And sometimes, just looking cool while he waits for his big break.
* * *
Sanchez isn't always in front of the camera. Sometimes, he stands behind it.
Along with Chillin' at the Depot, he made another video about a Home Depot co-worker, Pat Romeo. He called it A Story for Pat.
Romeo, 61, quietly stocks shelves in the same store where Sanchez works. When he speaks, he uses an electronic larynx. It makes him sound raspy and robotic.
He lost his voice to throat cancer in 2005. Surgeons removed his vocal chords and left a breathing tube in his neck. Nearly a year passed before he could return to work.
Sanchez's documentary shows Romeo struggling to speak and cleaning out his throat tube. His wife, Christine, explains the expensive treatment he needs before surgeons can insert a vocal prosthesis that could make it easier for him to talk.
As the screen fades to black, Sanchez makes a plea: "One of our own is in need of help. Please help and make a donation."
For $13, Sanchez is selling Chillin' at the Depot and A Story for Pat to store employees to raise money for Romeo's surgery.
So far, Sanchez says he's raised $300. If he raises $5,000, he says, a Home Depot fund can match his donation.
"I believe in karma," he said. "I can help myself and do a good deed at the same time."
* * *
In his apron pocket, Sanchez carries business cards plastered with pictures of Kash Bezel wearing sunglasses and posing with Home Depot shopping carts.
Sanchez keeps extra copies of the DVD in his locker. On days off, he visits break rooms at other Home Depot stores and tries to sell it.
He joined Home Depot in 2004, after returning to Florida from a tour in the Navy.
But music has always been on his mind.
Hip-hop performances earned him a feature in the 1998 King High School yearbook. Beneath his picture, the caption read "Just Chillin.' "
In high school he formed a hip-hop duo with a friend - Tango & Kash, named after a 1989 action film. Sanchez was Kash.
When he and Tango split up, he flipped through the dictionary to find a last name. Bezel. The gleaming side of a gem.
* * *
Sanchez shot the Chillin' at the Depot video at the Riverview store and recorded the audio track in a studio he built - using materials from Home Depot - in his parents' garage.
"I never realized how talented he was until he put all this together," said Erica Altu, a special services associate at the store. "He's going to do big things, I hope, someday."
Altu is among about 30 Home Depot employees who perform in the music video, dancing and cheering the store's "You can do it. We can help" slogan.
But the story ends with Sanchez chillin' alone.
He nods at the camera, bops to the beat in a scooter shopping cart and drives back into the store.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 661-2454.