An Ode to the Commode

Donor spent 'five figures' on urinal sponsorship

· February 1, 2005, 5:00 am

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[Dave Walker/The Daily Pennsylvanian] Urinals in a restroom near Mark's Cafe -- located on the ground floor of the Van Pelt Library -- were sponsored by an eccentric businessman with little connection to Penn.


"The relief you are now experiencing is made possible by a gift from Michael Zinman," read circular silver plaques above the urinals in the men's restroom of the Van Pelt Library.

Three urinals, one sponsor.

"I have a warped sense of what the world is like, and I am poking barbed gentle fun at society," said Zinman, a businessman and antiquarian book-collector, explaining what inspired him to make the "five-figure" donation to the porcelain gods.

Library officials would not, however, disclose exactly how much it costs to sponsor a urinal.

Zinman has no connection to the University, but has known the director of the library for many years.

Adam Corson-Finnerty, head of library development, said that Zinman came up with the idea for the plaque many years ago.

"He has made this offer to a number of institutions and apparently nobody would take him up on it. We thought about it at the library and thought 'what the heck?'" Corson-Finnerty said.

"Most people have whimsical influences that they think of, but they have a stop gene that wasn't programmed into me," Zinman said.

Although Zinman said that he has pulled numerous pranks throughout his lifetime, he declined to reveal any details that might be incriminating.

But Zinman didn't stop with the plaques.

He thought the idea was worth publicizing, so he sent a letter to poet laureates in every state with the text of the plaque, $100 and an invitation to submit a poem in honor of urinals.

Nineteen poet laureates -- from New Hampshire to Alaska -- ended up replying.

Poems that ranged from silly rhymes to academic discussions were then compiled in a 24-page booklet and given out at a ceremony celebrating donations to the library.

Zinman gleefully said that even though other people had donated much more than he did, his gift and booklet were what really interested the audience.

Students have not failed to take note, either.

College sophomore Adam Wexner said that he found the plaques funny.

"The guy is obviously eccentric but definitely amusing," Wexner said.

While the urinals may be more noticeable, they are not Zinman's first gift to the library.

Zinman donated his collection of over a thousand sample books in 1998. These books are the examples that traveling salesman brought door to door in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Zinman's collection is the largest and most comprehensive in the world.

The urinal plaques are not, however, the only humorous dedications in the library.

Another plaque commemorates the spot where President Gerald Ford got stuck in an elevator.

Selections from a 'urinal anthology':

On the Zinman Urinals Marble pissoir on the wall, beautiful and functional, you give mankind relief and edify the man who sees with his eternal eye the truth of all art and philosophy:We're born; we die. And in between, we pee. -- Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut

Urinary Tract Sometimes, I think I'm pumping floodwater up through the soles of my bare feet -- K.W. Brewer, Utah

Untitled The ladies sit ladylike when they go. We stand like men and let it flow. -- Jim Irons, Idaho

My Sincere Appreciation Michael Z. has this belief: "When a guy must seek relief, all the fixtures should be new sparkling clean and sterile too.

"Doubters really will be stunned since Michael Z. intends to fund a project used AGAIN -- AGAIN a project destined "Just for men." -- Verna Lee Hinegardner, Arkansas

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