Spotlight: Shining a light through the blinds
"If you sit there and don't smile and don't laugh, your day is long," says John Pittman, a 30-year U-M employee who holds the unique job title of Venetian blinds cleaner.
Pittman, a father of six, also serves as Huron High School assistant wrestling coach and helps takes care of his mother who lives in a senior high-rise. "That's a full day for me. By the time I take my shoes off it's 11 p.m.," says Pittman, who most know as "JP."
But it is his upbeat attitude toward the job and other interests that makes an impression on staff and faculty he interacts with all over campus. "I'm a big-time joker. You got to smile, you got to laugh. When you see me smiling, that makes you smile," says Pittman, adding he enjoys meeting people when he visits offices all around the University, to deal with service issues regarding window blinds.
"Sometimes I tell them, 'Your blinds are going to be repossessed; you have to pay your bill.' You should see the looks on their face," he says, laughing.
"It's a great job; the benefits are good, the health insurance helps with the kids. I meet different people." He also gets lots of satisfaction working with high school wrestlers.
To get ready for the upcoming seasonhis wrestlers began serious conditioning work last weekPittman has been spending hours in the Ann Arbor Public Library, researching up-to-date conditioning techniques. He has a unique approach to assembling his wrestling squad: "I refuse to cut anybody from the team. If you cut them they'll just be hanging around the hallway or the street," Pittman says.
Pittman first began volunteering with his son's middle school wrestling team, before getting involved 10 years ago with Huron High School's wrestling program; now he is assistant coach. "There's training, drilling; you practice hard," Pittman says. "I say 'You practice with your partner like you're in a tournament, like you're in a meet, you've got to try hard.' A lot of guys come up to me and say, 'Coach I know what you mean now.'"
To keep his wrestlers in top shape, Pittman says he's added skipping rope for endurance training, to traditional weight training and running.
His greatest satisfaction has come when his wrestlers overcome adversity to win. "One word I don't like is can't," Pittman says. He recalls a wrestler who overcame a losing streak to win his first match. "He got a big smile and jumped up into my arms. He said, 'I did it coach.' When they start winning they feel more like they're part of the team." Pittman says he's grateful for the support he gets from parents.
An Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti native, he recalls trying out for basketball in middle school. When the coach noticed Pittman was a little too hands-on with other players during scrimmage, he led the youth down the hall. "He said, 'This is the wrestling team; because you're beating up my basketball players.' I fell in love with wrestling."
Pittman says he loved it so much he couldn't resist trying his wrestling moves on his five sistersboth younger and older. "I took it home and practiced with my sisters and put them in pain," Pittman says, laughing. He continued to wrestle at West Ypsilanti High School, before graduating in 1975. "We had an outstanding wrestling team; we won a lot of tournaments."
Pittman began working for the University the next year, cleaning pots and pans in the kitchen at University Hospital. He also has worked as a custodian at South Quad and in Grounds, before assuming his current post with Building Services. He arrives for work most days at 5 a.m., and listens to jazz on the radio. "It relaxes me and unwinds me," he explains. He then turns on the computer to check e-mailed work orders, before heading out.
As you enter Pittman's work space behind the School of Nursing, you spot an unusual slanted, oblong tub, for washing blinds. "All of our blinds are aluminum," Pittman says, except for a few vertical blinds in the hospital area. Most problems with blinds reported by staff or faculty involve cords. "Pretty much the strings fray, from being pulled a lot," he says. Or, the tilt mechanism doesn't work properly, and must be popped out of it's housing for repair, then popped back.
His hobbies include playing jazz bass along with his favorite Donald Byrd and Quincy Jones music, and cooking. "I do make a mean Southern fried chicken," he says, adding he lived in New Orleans for two years as a youth. What's in his recipe? "It's a Cajun secret," Pittman says, laughing.
Pittman does perform other maintenance jobs, including clearing snow from windows and building entrances, but blinds remain his main concern. He doesn't worry about job security. "It's a never-ending thing with blinds. As long as the University is around, there's blinds," Pittman says.