Engineers

Several years ago, I worked for a machine manufacturing company owned by an Italian holding company (owned by a woman). Mr. C–, a man from a famous Milanese family with ties to the House of Grimaldi, headed the holding company. At a Christmas dinner one year, my husband and I were seated at Mr. C–’s table. Small talk fluttered around television shows, and Mr. C– said, “Why so many police and doctor shows?” He turned to his wife. “Engineers are just as sexy, aren’t we, darling?” Mrs. C– patted her husband’s forearm and said, “Engineers are boring, dear.” We all laughed. Mr. C–, in true boss fashion, laughed the boldest.

At a company dinner party.

Surely a program about engineers could captivate an audience. Imagine a diverse team of sexy engineers, an Asian woman, a West African man, and a South American gent of indigenous and European ancestry. A pharmaceutical company’s late-stage-customization packaging line is down. Vaccine end-users depend on production and logistics adhering to tight schedules. Actually, life on earth depends on the team getting a malfunctioning printing unit operating 24/7 again. Hear the clock ticking? Now, add in complications: the team must work in clean conditions, but the Asian woman is an amateur equestrian, and she’s been exposed to an unknown pathogen at the luxury stable where she boards a gorgeous black Trakehner stallion; the South American’s running shoe has a bit of dog poo on it—in his rush to make his flight, he laced on the compromised shoes. And our West African engineer has the jitters. En route to the crippled manufacturing plant—in a hot and steamy location—his dear mother’s messaging about his cousin’s engagement to a surgeon. “When,” she asks, “are you planning to settle down with a lovely young lady, preferably a doctor or lawyer?” Not anytime soon, groan. He’s in love with the long-distance runner (that long black glossy hair! Those broad shoulders!) Tricky repairs and tight conditions in situ give our love angel the sweats, especially when the runner shares a secret. He’s in love with the equestrian (who, we learn, loves animals more than people).

Our team is turning to excessive energy drink consumption.

Sounds like a hit, right?

My dad studied chemical engineering. Fresh out of college, he worked for a petroleum company, a job he hated. “I never got to do the work I loved,” he explained. “I managed people.” He decided flying planes better suited him and joined the air force. A man in uniform, he wooed my mom.

When I was a toddler, Dad returned to school, doing his graduate work in industrial engineering. The air force then put him to work in procurement.

On the campus of Dad’s alma mater, Texas Tech, 1963.

At forty-five, Dad retired from military service, joined a civilian company, and moved into contracts and negotiations. (The math geek also knew his grammar. His dad, a journalist and editor, came from a family that had owned small-town newspapers and a printing company.) I recall a time Dad thrilled at having saved his company “millions” by using precise contract language. “Their lawyers tried cracking our terms and failed!” Dad would have chuckled over an employee dispute that made the news recently. Due to a missing comma, a company had to pay out on its employment contracts.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Dad memories. Working on a DIY assignment from Mom, he measured a 2 x 4 to cut into lengths. “Ah, hah,” he said, tucking his pencil behind his ear. He stared at the board, nodded to himself, and reached for the pencil again. At the top of the board, he scribbled out a mathematical equation. He scratched his head with the eraser and scribbled more. “Right, right,” he kept saying to himself. Soon, equations covered the 2–meter length of the board. He straightened, stepped back, and smiled. “Well, well,” he said to me, “the old engineer’s still got it!”

He then cut the board into the wrong lengths.