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A visit to BC's parallel Universe

Few know it exists, and those who have heard of it often don't know where it can be found. The BC warehouse--37,000 square feet full of what BC used to need or may soon need--stands on a Newtonville block alongside the MassPike, at the bottom of a steep hill hugged by Victorian houses that have seen better days. There is no sign to alert you; just look for an adjacent business called Rentokil (rents plants by the month) and turn there.

Stepping through an unmarked door that leads to a loading area, I am directed through plastic double doors that rise three stories into a cavernous space that resembles a Home Depot. Above my head, from a balcony piled with student desks, a painted statue of the Virgin Mary looks out over the rail, cherubs gazing up at her from the statue's base. This is Home Depot with a soul.

Tony Raymond, a boyish man in his 40s, is the warehouse attendant and my tour guide. He leads me down aisle after aisle: we pass bags of ice-melt and stacks of tires, some as tall as I am; equally towering rolls of carpeting; a roll of AstroTurf; electrical supplies; pipes; boxes of used fluorescent lightbulbs destined for recycling; refrigerators, washers, dryers; toilets in boxes, hot water heaters; ceiling tiles, windows, grout, towels, rags, bleach, floor and wall cleaners, toilet paper; erasers for chalkboards; three sorts of trash barrels, three sorts of barrel liners. When we move into the surplus furniture aisle, my heart beats faster. But the desks and conference tables don't look any better than my standard-issue ones back in Gasson. What captures my eye is a curvy mahogany dresser, which Tony tells me came from a private home on College Road bought by the University. If BC can't find a use for the piece, it will be donated to a charitable organization.

In an adjoining room, boxes of dishwashers are piled on my right. IT (Information Technology) is represented--minimally, essentially--by spools of cable and rolls of skinny wire. Doors are piled to the left of me, bricks to the right; I stop to admire a granite cornerstone with a cross incised on it, salvaged from Stuart House on Newton campus when the connecting wing was added between the administrative building and the new Law Library. As we turn into the next aisle I am drawn to something resting against the wall: a framed architect's rendering, probably from the 1950s, of the now defunct Roberts Center, its tan basketball court a construction paper oblong in the center.

Props from Robsham Theater are in the next aisle: richly worn wicker and wooden chests, a wheelchair, an overturned wood and wrought-iron park bench. We pass an old-fashioned dentist's chair and a hair dryer from the '60s, with its stiff bonnet hood. Here are Dining Services plastic crates and old weight machines from Conte, draped in plastic sheets. And here are stacks of boxes from all over the University. Tony reads from their labels: Hopkins House, professors whose names I recognize, Payroll. "T. More," says Tony. "Timor?" I echo, and Tony says, "You know, Human Resources, Thomas More." In the corner are sheets of wooden flooring used once a year by step dancers at the Gaelic Roots Festival. "We work with everybody," Tony says triumphantly.

The next section of the warehouse is darker and more cluttered. Indeed, the further we venture from the front door the less utilitarian, the more colorful and ad hoc seem the items: a pile of teak benches like those recently installed on the quad near Gasson (amid a mild flap over whether their rustic design clashes with collegiate Gothic); a stack of the red wooden ramps up which graduates walk at Commencement. Most thrilling to me are the empty crates that recently held paintings for the Munch exhibit. This section also contains items taken from the basement of Higgins Hall during its renovation, including some Rube Goldberg-type contraptions of dark gray metal that look like they belong in a high school machine shop of the 1950s.

Tony unlocks a door that leads to another section of the warehouse, this one dedicated to mattresses, desks, and lamps used in the residence halls. I am introduced to a man in a baseball cap named Ramon, who is trying to make order of a bunch of dressers tumbled in the middle of an aisle. "Don't worry, it'll look like Jordan Marsh when I'm done!" Ramon jokes, but with obvious pride.

We end up in the space where I first entered the warehouse; a big industrial washing machine I hadn't noticed earlier is spinning hotly, alongside three or four dryers. All the University's mops, wet and dry, are laundered here. On one of the dryers is a small magnetic sign, "Conte"; on the end panel of the row of dryers is a group of such signs, coded by color: Upper Dorms, Lower Dorms, Newton Campus, Summer Cl. (summer cleaning, academe's version of spring cleaning), First Shift, Second Shift, Third Shift. Each mop with its place in the Great Chain of Being.

Clare M. Dunsford

Clare M. Dunsford is an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. She has written frequently for BCM, most recently on the poet W. B. Yeats in the Winter 2001 issue.

Photo: The carpet department at Boston College's warehouse.
Gary Wayne Gilbert

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