The new test stand is set up and waiting for the appropriate downstream valves before becoming operational…”
by michael estabrook
Edward’s a sharp young engineer from a good school. He’s been working here at The Company for about six months. It’s his first real job out of college. He’s eager, of course, to forge a successful career in business, to make something of himself.
He stands and walks to the front of the room, opens his folder and clears his throat. As he begins talking to us I can’t help but notice his stiff starched white shirt and stylish businessman’s tie. His demeanor is calm, but firm, assured. His tone is serious, his words carefully chosen. I notice, too, the trim cut of his hair, his clean neat nails, his shiny polished shoes. I imagine all the papers in his office are arranged into symmetrical little piles. There isn’t any dirt or mud on the floor mats of his car.
He’s explaining to a room full of field marketing technicians, sales managers, and QC and contamination control engineers, all about the recent engineering problem in manufacturing the MultiStack Fractionators.
“The plan is, after the initial oven bake step, to purge the first batch of product for 24 hours and then to test each fractionator on the new test stand. We’ve hired and trained two new operators, too, so there won’t be any manpower issues. If everything goes all right, and we have no failures, process optimization will follow next.”
He’s not smiling. He’s nervous. I can see the muscles along his jaw-line twitching like he’s grinding his back teeth together.
Tim, the QC statistician technician, finishes scratching something on a big pad of yellow paper and asks, “Do you have any tolerance QC specs? I mean, what if you get two or three outliers off the standard deviation curve, two or three failures out of the batch? Will you be scrapping the entire batch?”
I begin drifting off already. Boy oh boy, this is sooner than normal. These engineering/QC meetings are always so God-awful boring, they make me want to jump off the building.
Edward nods. “Well no, that wouldn’t make any sense, nor would it solve our problem. Our plan is to . . . .”
Although I’m trying to hang on, trying not to lose focus, I’m losing it and fast. I wonder what’s on TV tonight. I wonder if we should get Chinese or Italian for dinner. I wonder if I should go to the dump tomorrow morning or wait until Saturday. There are so many more people there on Saturday, it’s too crowded and a pain in the ass.
“That sounds good, Ed,” says Greg, chief QC process engineer. “The question comes, though, of course, about whether the intent of the manufacturing group is to put any of these units into inventory. As you know . . . blah blah blah, blah blah blah.”
Jesus, what am I doing here? How did I ever get myself into such a pickle? Why the hell didn’t I finish that degree program in oceanography I began at Adelphi University way back when? Then today, instead of being shut up in this gray, dismal, stale room with a herd of idiotically boring and mundane engineers with bushy eyebrows and hair growing out of their ears, I’d be out on some boat. I’d be sampling ocean water at various depths, analyzing growth and mutation rates in indigenous phytoplankton and zooplankton populations. I’d be identifying environmental pollutants and tracking down the evil corporate perpetrators. I’d be shutting these corporations down, too, yes I would, preventing them from ruining the environment any more than they already have. I’d be doing something useful, dammit, and having some fun to boot!
But instead – Edward’s shaking his head back and forth, “This is solely a test run. None of the units will go into inventory.” He turns and makes a note with a black magic marker on a broad white sheet of easel paper.
Suddenly, I see my Father in the dirt driveway of our old house on Northfield Avenue. He has one foot up on the dented bumper of the green ‘53 Buick he’s fixing-up. The hood is up, his hands and shirt and coveralls are covered with grease and oil. He’s holding a can of beer in one hand, a Pall Mall’s dangling from the corner of his mouth, and he’s smiling at me. Then he takes the cigarette out of his mouth, blows some smoke into the air.
“Guess it’s time for you to get the hell out of there and make a new start in life.” He chuckles like he always chuckled, winks at me, and stuffs the cigarette back into his mouth.
“I hear you, Dad, yes, I hear you.”
(illustration friedrich ratzel courtesy of British Library)
“Seems I’ve been writing poetry for so long that Methuselah should be taking notice, but in reality, time is simply doing its thing streaking ahead blithely pulling all of us along for the wild ride whether we like it or not; reminds me, I’ve published 15 chapbooks over the years, the last one being “when Patti would fall asleep” by Liquid Paper Press in 2003, guess it’s time to work on another one.” — Michael Estabrook.
More from Michael Estabrook can be found in the Vault of Smoke.