Pillbox

The story of a couple of regular Joes

CMU and Starbucks: America?s top two caffeine hubs. But both enterprises have similarities that go beyond overpriced products and rampant caffeine consumption. Just as Starbucks or any local coffee shop attracts its regular customers, CMU has established a community extending beyond tenured professors and hyperactive students. Walk down Forbes Avenue and you?ll find a writer penning a book that might be sold years later by CMU regular Bob the Book Guy.

Keep looking and you?ll see the businesswoman on her hurried morning commute ? just the lifestyle that CMU regular Peter the Playwright has chosen to reject. Both men have lived lives more enthralling than the books being sold by one and the Hunt Library archives surrounding the other. Nestled in CMU?s busiest buildings, Bob the Book Guy and Peter the Playwright have enough stories to share to drive any studying student to distraction.

?We have one patron who has been known to be here for 15 hours a day,? said an interlibrary loan employee at Hunt. ?He?s been known to be here when we open at 7am and leave when we close at 3 am.? Such a lifestyle raises the question: What could possibly be bringing these
people to a campus some cannot wait to leave?

Peter the Playwright

The headline ?DORIS DAY TO APPEAR AT COLGATE!? is the first thing that comes to mind looking into Peter the Playwright?s eyes. Reflected onto the oversized glasses of this undersized man, the words disappear as Peter turns the microfilm reader?s dial. He is working on the third floor of Hunt Library ? an office for him that is just as established as Jared Cohon?s spot across the Cut.

Peter has become a staple for any late-night CMU student riding a caffeine high before that big midterm. He
resembles a gentler Arthur Miller, but his white-collared shirt and black Cadillac baseball cap are deceiving: Peter?s lifestyle is more The Crucible than Death of a Salesman. His unheated apartment is ?far colder? than the frigid chill outside. Come December, Peter will leave CMU with the birds. Retreating into his apartment, Peter will have an electric blanket to warm his feet and mountains of copied pages from Theatre World to warm his memories.

Though he is currently at work on a two-part play that explores ?the human need for and inability to give love,? Peter?s first love is music. ?I was fascinated by the background music of movies I saw when I was a kid,? Peter explained. This lead him to CMU, where he auditioned for the School of Music. Sitting in the audition room,
Peter followed a string of traditional upper-crust pieces by Mozart and Chopin with an upbeat pop song of the time. The tryout ended unsuccessfully, but fostered a relationship for the musician that would last until his senior evenings.

Sometimes Peter will leave Hunt and travel over to the CFA practice rooms ? the only place, he believes, in which he can play as he once did. ?It?s almost like divine inspiration, the way the music comes out of my fingers when I?m in that building,? he said.

The massive watch on Peter?s left wrist is the ultimate irony. Ticking away its digital seconds, the dial is 15 minutes behind; not that it matters to Peter. He chooses to live without a phone and refuses to live by appointments. This aligns with his life philosophy of ?just marking time like a marching band in step.?

In his mind, Peter?s life is a slow time-step, but none of his experiences have happened by chance. His mantra, though, is richer than the usual ?everything happens for a reason? argument used to console first-runner-up beauty queens. ?Why, just a few weeks ago I was coming out of [Hunt Library] and driving through downtown. I stopped by a concert hall where I knew [Broadway star] Debbie Shapiro was performing.? Peter had just bartered for one of her CDs at a local flea market, and read from the program that Shapiro is always accepting work from non-professional songwriters.

?And wouldn?t you know it, just as I was walking toward the building she walked out. I handed her my song and she said ?Oh, wow, another song,??? Peter explained, telling the story as if it were about him and his next-door neighbor.
?I was expecting her to call the next day and say, ?Gee, what a magnificent song,? but she hasn?t called back yet.?

As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, Peter used to go to the public library often. But don?t expect some cute story about developing a passion for books or government-funded buildings. ?I used to see older people ? the same ones ? every day at the library,? he remembers. ?And I remember thinking, gee, when I?m old like that I?m not going to spend my days in a library.?

Now, after working alongside CMU students for countless late nights, Peter offers this advice: ?Get married. Have lots of children. Forget about books.? And don?t live a life led by a schedule, because Peter never knows, when he walks out Hunt Library?s automatic door, if he?ll be back tomorrow, newspaper in hand ? except on Sunday, when asking $1.50 for the news is just a little ?ridiculous.?

Bob the Book Guy

Set up behind the UC?s black chairs are tables of books more entertaining than the textbooks most kids carry around all day. Standing behind this contemporary library is a man clad in practical clothes and a hairstyle whose greased, slick front channels Steve Buscemi, and whose curls in the back seem like an antiquated Shakespearean actor.

Bob ?the Book Guy? Waskowitz has a stack of books for sale on Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the whole Beat Generation, but he could tell you that story better himself. The question his customers ask the most is, ?What is your favorite book?? ?On the Road,? he replies, after hesitation and deliberated thought.

But Bob the Book Guy does not list the road-trip classic as a favorite because of the freedom it advocates. He lists it because it is a vestige of a life he once lived.

Bob is a true product of the 1960s ? a liberal ex-hippie who still hasn?t lost his drive for change and question. He has been married to the same woman for over 30 years, and has two children with her. Their first was named Cassady, after real-life Jack Kerouac friend Neal Cassady, a legendary hero of the Beat movement. To better raise their children, Bob and his wife moved from Oakland to the outlying suburbia.

?The most exciting thing these people do is cut their grass,? he laments. ?Sometimes I?ll be up at 10 pm reading or journaling or whatever and I look outside and every light is off.? It?s given him some good material, though. Bob sees some striking similarities in the sexually frustrated nuns who taught him in Catholic high school and the sexually frustrated mothers strolling down his street.

The housing development world he leaves to come to CMU, he says, is a ?fucking wasteland.?

Bob can sell you books on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and Persian rugs, but he could also tell you a story about those exotic locales, too. Asking him where he?s traveled reads like the cities at the bottom of high-end fashion
designer ads: ?Montreal, Paris, New York, Amsterdam...? He says that last one with a grin.

?Have you read all of these books?? a sophomore asks as she peruses the spines. That, Bob explains, is the second most asked question. No, he hasn?t. But he?s read a lot of them.

?The prices are written in pencil on the first page,? he reminds his crowd. And when an art student buys a novel by William S. Burroughs, Bob asks if he likes ?ol? Billy,? treating the author like a close confidant.

He spends the week living among lawn groomers and leaf counters, but Bob spends his days on the campus of Carnegie Mellon. Ask his old neighbor Colleen Carr if he has any interesting stories to share. ?Oh, he has a million,? she says immediately. But Bob doesn?t think of himself as that engaging of a guy. He knows that if his neighbors knew half the things he?s done, they?d cringe. And he wouldn?t have it any other way.
A place within the campus community

When Jared Cohon stands at the podium during Convocation and welcomes the incoming class to the ?campus community,? he is acknowledging more than brilliant scholars and potential Nobel Laureates.

Here are just two examples of people who have lived the stories studied at CMU ? stories far more arresting than the typical Grandma-around-the-campfire fare. Though their offices are separated by overwhelming academic buildings, the Fence, and around-the-clock tennis
players, Peter the Playwright and Bob the Book Guy are colleagues who join the hundreds of ?teachers? found
at CMU.