Cheap Shot | A Genius of Sparrows: Getting the goods at the U’s Surplus & Salvage 

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There is a city in Germany called Ulm. Even though Salt Lake City collects “sister cities” like a polygamist family collects sister wives, I think we need one more sister. Italy, Japan, Ireland, Bolivia and a few others have a sister city to our capital city, so why not Germany? Ulm should join the Salt Lake City sisterhood, because we have one important thing in common: We were both saved by birds.

This is what I told my friends. Just like the seagulls that saved Salt Lake City by eating crickets chewing up pioneers’ crops, a little sparrow saved the lives of the citizens of Ulm.

In my version of the Ulm story, there was a very bad king. Unbeknownst to most of the town people, the king was going to decree death to anyone who spelled their name with an umlaut. This was of special concern to Fräus Köhler, the local charcoal maker, who was stoking the king’s fire.

The night before bad King Kaiser made his declaration, Fräus Köhler set her pet sparrow free. The bird flew into the king’s mouth—choking King Kaiser, killing the bird—but saving the people of Ulm. And Ulm lived happily ever after, erecting sparrow statues on bus stops, fountains and buildings honoring their bird just like we pay homage to the sweet squawking, trash-eating state bird of Utah: The seagull.

Knowing my version of the sparrow story was only somewhat accurate, I waited until the appetizers arrived at Takashi’s before asking Sibylle and Andrea to fill in some missing details. I met Sibylle and Andrea while traveling through Europe. They are from a very smart city in Germany, the birthplace of Albert Einstein and, hopefully, the future sister city of Salt Lake. They are, of course, from Ulm.

Sibylle said, “I’m embarrassed to tell this story. You’ll think we’re stupid.”

It must have been Oktoberfest when I was in Ulm, because the only detail I remembered correctly was the sparrow. Once upon a time, Sibylle said, the only way into the gated city of Ulm was through a small entrance. This posed a problem when Ulm decided to build the tallest cathedral in Europe, because they couldn’t fit the logs through the small opening. Moments before destroying their gate, someone saw a sparrow carry a twig lengthwise into a small hole and said, “Leuchtend.” In other words, “Turn the log around.”

Sibylle also said the story of the bird is so sweet that if you really like someone, you call them, mein spatz. Or, “my sparrow.”

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The next day, as Mary and I were driving to the University of Utah Surplus & Salvage (210 Conner St.), we couldn’t help but point out, to put it bluntly, the sparrow does make Ulm seem somewhat bird-brained. I mean, don’t the mein spatz have sex? You shouldn’t need a sparrow to figure out how to get a log into the city.

I had never been to the Surplus & Salvage store, but I’d heard it sells everything from centrifuges and computer parts to cars and office equipment. Mary was visiting from Seattle with a small pickup truck, and I needed a desk for my home office.

While Surplus & Salvage—housed in an old three-story Fort Douglas building just down the road from the Red Butte Garden concert venue—is difficult to find, good bargains are easy to spot. I bought a four-drawer metal filing cabinet and an oak desk for $38.

As I was paying the bill, a very helpful employee wheeled my desk out to Mary’s truck. By the time I got outside, Mary looked frustrated. “The desk is too big,” she said, “it won’t fit in my truck.

Mein Spatz. Mein Spatz,” I said.

“I love you, too,” Mary said, “but it won’t fit.”

Mein Spatz,” I said again. Feeling like a couple of Einsteins from Ulm, we flipped the desk on its side and drove to mein haus.

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Phil Jacobsen

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