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Handy to have around

Published: September 3, 2010
Section: Features


PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Sitting in Mod 12 on a Monday afternoon, Karl Nauss acts like he lives there. In a plush turquoise folding chair bought from Bed, Bath And Beyond three years earlier, he knows all of the suite-mates, and even some of their families.

“Hey Kansas City,” he calls to Madeline Mayer ’11, “how’s your Ma?”

“She’s good.”

“Has she had any ribs since she went back?”

“Not yet. But she will.”

“Well, tell her to have some of those with Belgian beer, that’s the greatest.”

The last time Karl visited this Mod was just more than a week ago to fix shelves in Mayer’s second-floor room. Karl, a Trade Person’s Helper (TPH), or facilities worker, had been working on a separate Mod when Mayer spotted him in the parking lot and asked if he could fix her shelves.

He did, and brought two friends–other TPHs who caulked the bathtub and repaired blinds without even being asked.

“Other people might say ‘well, you didn’t fill out a work order, that’s not why I’m down here, so I’m not going to do it,’” Karl says. “But if I don’t do it now, I’m just gonna have to come back, so I might as well do it all in one trip.”

“Plus, when you have a woman like Kansas City’s Ma asking nicely and sticking around while we do it to be friendly, it makes it fun.”

The time between move-in and Rosh Hashannah is the busiest time for facilities workers on campus. First-year move-in day is the worst, because there are no work-orders.

“People see us and grab us,” Karl says. “We’re busy most of the day, but if you’re nice to us, we’ll do anything. You know I had parents over in Massell helping me move beds? They don’t have to do that.”

“Shades, screens and doors” are the most common repairs Karl and his five fellow TPHs are called to fix.

“Sometimes kids just don’t know how to use these blinds, they don’t know you have to snap them to get them to go up,” he says. “The first few weeks we get a lot of calls that shades are broken and we end up just teaching kids how to use them.”

With Karl in Mod 12 is his friend and fellow TPH who didn’t want to be named in the newspaper because both he and Karl were recently “demoted” as part of a 75-person layoff in 2009–the first of its scope at Brandeis–to help alleviate the university’s economic woes.

Karl’s friend, who used to work days, now has to work the midnight shift to ensure there is a TPH on staff 24-hours a day. Karl, who has worked at Brandeis since 1986, used to specialize in air-conditioning, but after the layoffs he became a TPH, a less specialized job. Now he works weekends instead of weeks.

“I’m here all alone on the weekends, so I could be called for anything from toilets, to roof floodings–anything,” he says. “But boy, if I could choose, give me a flooded toilet. That’s a real fast job.”

During the week when he’s not working, Karl is a bird-watcher, gardener and Belgian-beer aficionado. But, he’ll settle for good old American beer too.

“Do you guys want anything to drink, water?” Mayer asks.

“I’ll take a BudLight,” he jokes, before going into a description of the turkey-vultures that can be found at Brandeis by Spingold theater.

Karl, who has bright blond hair and tattoos on his arms to accompany his uniform-blue khaki pants and work-boots, also likes to lift weights. As a Brandeis staff-member he gets free access to the Gosman gym.

“Even though I got switched to week-ends, I get to lift weights here every morning,” he says. “We get four weeks off, 12 sick days and the kids are alright. You can’t complain, it’s too easy a place.”

Karl is confident that jobs will open up soon and he can get back to air-conditioning.

“They just finished building that science center and the Mandel center–someone’s got to work on those,” he said.

Senior Vice President for Administration Mark Collins did not respond to requests to comment on the layoffs, demotions or any other aspect of facilities at Brandeis.

Working in facilities does have its dangers. Karl has been out on workmen’s compensation for shoulder injuries, and onetime in the 1990’s he fell through a roof in the Mods.

This summer another TPH was working to repair a window in East when it broke and fell onto him. According to Chief of Brandeis Public Safety Ed Callahan, the TPH tried to block his face with his arms, which were thrashed by the falling glass.

Unable to call on his radio, the TPH went into shock on his way to Public Safety. He was found semi-conscious by a Brandeis Police officer who took him to the hospital where he received 74 stitches on one arm and 65 on the other.

“Our jobs don’t end when the kids go home for summer,” Karl explains, saying TPHs work through June, July and August doing “preventative maintenance” before students arrive.

The Charles River Appartments used to need the most repairs, but since their renovation this summer, Karl and his fellow TPHs have had the most calls for the Foster-Mods.

“That means we’ll have to keep visiting Kansas City,” Karl says as his radio goes off.

Somewhere in Scheffres a shade needs to be fixed and Karl needs to fix it.

“It just keeps coming and coming,” he says as he heads out the door.