Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Circle of (electronics) life on display at collection event

Community E-Waste Collection Day
The scene at La Cañada High School Saturday when the Green, Engineering and Robotics clubs sponsored a Community E-Waste Collection Day. Columnist Joe Puglia writes that he contributed his aging laptop to the effort.
(Joe Puglia)

It’s hard to throw away history. It’s as though you are throwing away a part of yourself. Yet I realized my Apple MacBook must go. Four of the keys were broken. Over the years, I had spilled too much tea on the keyboard, and although I have field-striped the trusty old laptop and blasted it with a hairdryer, it had definitely seen its best days.

I would officially retire my MacBook at the La Cañada High School e-waste collection day. It wasn’t an easy decision; I tend to be overly nostalgic. I still use my Esterbrook fountain pen, which I’ve had since the eighth grade, circa 1960. The Greek word for return is nostos. Algos means suffering, so nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return. Sort of like me and old things.

The Green Club and the LCHS Engineering and Robotics clubs on Saturday sponsored the Community E-Waste Collection Day. This was definitely a good cause. My computer would help future engineers, inventors and explorers take us to the stars and beyond. Yet I had written three novels and countless “Thoughts from Dr. Joe” on it.

Resolved to follow through on this mission, I downloaded innumerable pages of thoughts, ideas, plots and also the souls of my characters on a flash drive no bigger than my thumb and left for the high school.


It appears as though we have acquiesced to a world now defined as disposable, cast-off and throwaway. The throwaway society is influenced by consumerism. There is overconsumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable items. We have lost any real sense of permanence. Ours is a world of expiration dates, limited shelf life and planned obsolescence. I survived high school and college with my father’s 1920 Remington typewriter. I still have it.

At the front of LCHS, my wife Kaitzer and I were overwhelmed by Green Club students. Kasia Zdalzyl directed me to line my truck behind the others. Once there, Sarah Olson and Jason Kim eagerly carted my computer and other electronic discards away. That was it.

Sarah Lee then handed me a pre-printed note. “Thank you! For your contribution to our Green Club and the environment — Fondly, LCHS Green Club.”

Since the students made the experience painless, pleasant and quick, I wonder if they sensed my apprehension. Regardless, their enthusiasm was impressive. They reminded me of how important it is to be enthusiastic. I’ve learned that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. I sensed their commitments and appreciated their full-speed-ahead antics. In life, lukewarm does not cut the mustard.


I was duly impressed. I parked my truck and spoke with Steve Zimmerman, an LCHS science teacher and adviser to the Engineering Club.

“Last year we collected more than 36,400 pounds of e-waste,“ he told me.

Before us lay a graveyard of televisions, toasters, game boys, desktop computers and sacks of laptops, etc. Tanya Wilson, the school’s director of security, was in the center stacking and sorting the piles of electronics.

At first glance, the area appeared to be piled high with scrap metal, but a closer inspection revealed it to be the place where new life would be given to old things and parts.

I looked for my laptop, thinking it would be easy to recognize because of the U.S. Marine decal. It was nowhere in sight.

Reda Hanna, the student information systems specialist, explained the value of recycled electronics components. “We’ll make a few thousand dollars. The money we make will support the initiatives of the students.”

Next week I’m going on a road trip across the blue highways of America. I’ll buy a new laptop in Portland, Ore., affix a Marine decal, and continue my attempts to write the Great American Novel.

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