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THE TUCK SHOP

SECRET LIFE: THE SURPLUS PROPERTY WAREHOUSE

Can I interest you in an auto planchet changer? No home should be without one. How about a nice physician's examining table -- only used on Sundays by an old widowed physician. No? Well then, a spectrometer? A wheelchair, perhaps? Look, I'm losing my shirt here. Work with me, okay?

Actually, this is an unfair portrayal of Pitt's surplus property warehouse in north Oakland. Yes, it's true that Pitt sells some of its leftover equipment to the public, but mostly it is recycled -- and recycled and recycled. "Nothing much goes to waste," says manager Gus Tytke, who also runs Pitt's mailing services from the 39,000-square-foot facility.

Take desks, for example. When one department is done with them, the desks are repainted so that they can be used by another department. While the march of technology has meant the demise of older computers, Tytke (with help from Computer and Information Services) can cannibalize the parts, matching a working keyboard with a working monitor. And whatever can't be salvaged is recycled, such as the copper and aluminum from electrical devices. While the University makes some money from the scrap, most of the savings actually come from using less space in the landfill.

Anything that can't be recycled is put on the open market. There are dealers in old copiers, for instance, or old typewriters. (An upright Underwood typewriter of indeterminate age may be worth something, so Tytke brings in an appraiser to assess the going rate.) And high schools are often interested in used athletic equipment, such as weight-lifting machines. Whatever can't be recycled or re-sold is usually donated to non-profit groups.

But it's hard not to imagine what an auctioneer could do in a place like this, turned loose among the printers, typing stands, and metal cabinets. "What do I hear for this 1977 credenza with slide-out drawers? C'mon, I'm practically giving this away."
-Mark Collins

SCENE

A few recent visitors to campus:

Michael Dukakis,
Former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate

Robin Alexander,
Director of International Labor Affairs,
United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America


SOMETHING MORE THAN A VISIT
Christine Asenjo, a graduate student in Religious Studies and assistant academic affairs officer for Semester at Sea, the "floating university" based at Pitt, recently won a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Outstanding Citizen Award for her volunteer efforts. Asenjo has collected thousands of goods -- blankets, shoes, and clothing -- for the impoverished in ports of call on Semester at Sea's itinerary. She commented on her work after receiving the award in January:

"Ordinarily, you visit different places, you take pictures, you shake hands, and then you leave.... Instead of going and just observing, we wanted to be of active service -- helping out, if only for an afternoon. It would be nice to send them toys, but what they really need are the essentials of life, like shoes. It's almost embarrassing that you do so little and they're so grateful."

MID-FLIGHT
CORRECTION

In the introduction to Flying Solo: Single Women in Midlife (with Susan Stewart, published by W. W. Norton, 1994), Pitt Medical School professor Carol Anderson (Arts and Sciences '81) discusses her own midlife turning point.

I had been a marital and family therapist for well over a decade when I went back to graduate school at the age of 36. I barely noticed turning 40 because I was busy finishing my doctoral degree....

The seeds of midlife change were planted with my aging mother's decline, which accelerated during her late eighties, leaving my sisters and me to watch her crumble both physically and psychologically. Already suffering from Alzheimer's disease, she was discovered to have cancer. Until that time she had lived alone, fiercely clinging to her independence. Suddenly she seemed to be drying up and withering away, to be operating without a compass. There were middle-of-the-night scares about gas stoves left burning, falls, possible broken hips, and other crises that sent family members scurrying to help. Suddenly I became aware of my own aging, something I had never thought much about; I had always acted as if my time were limitless.

It was a year before she died, but this brush with the reality of aging and the threat of death sent me into an examination of my goals and my commitments, awakening me to a new way of looking at life and its meaning. I became acutely aware that life is too short for all the unimportant things that too easily became a focus of my time and energy. I also became aware of the ease with which we all can be hurt, impaired, our lives even snuffed out altogether. Witnessing my mother's death made me think about how little I really could control. I thought about Lily Tomlin saying, "Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans." My life had gone on making its own plans, producing troubles and joys. While time now seemed short, there was time left, and I had the freedom to choose what I would do with it.


BON MOT

"Looking into the future is a perilous duty, and it is wise to be humble about our abilities lest we give the impression we know more than we do."

-Reuben Slesinger
Professor Emeritus of Economics, in his economic forecast for 1995


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