Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Engineerus industrialii and Me, Part I

As I've mentioned before, Sparky is an industrial engineer. I tend to announce it as if it were his species, but fellow girlfriends, fiancees and wives of these professionals will probably confirm the validity of the habit.

Engineers, unlike milkmen, retail salesmen and copy-machine repair guys, are engineers twenty-four hours a day. The milkman goes home, puts down his little bottle-rack, takes off his milkman costume (brooding, perhaps, about Kennedy beating Nixon,) and becomes an Ordinary Guy. He does not, we think, read up about the latest in dairy technology, dream of owning one of the new carbon-fiber cows, or draft plans for a better bottle-top, one that lets you use the old bottles to make ranch dressing. No, when Joe the milkman goes home and takes his costume off, he, much like Spiderman, is an Ordinary Guy once more.

At the risk of swiping my metaphor from 'Kill Bill,' engineers are not like Spiderman. They are like Superman, in that they are always engineering, every place they go. Hand an ordinary guy a beer bottle, and his response is probably alone the lines of "Dude! Sam Adams!" Hand an engineer a beer bottle and he will immediately think of four new uses for it, three design features he admires, eight flaws he thinks he can correct, and seventeen environmental issues he could use the beer bottle to fix, thus resulting in fast internet and peanut butter (the two requirements for engineer life,) for all.

The engineer is constantly analyzing and seeking to improve things -whether the rest of the world thinks they need it or not. He often devises a completely new and unique solution to what he sees as a problem with some item, only to have a five-year-old appear and demonstrate what the item in question is actually for and how it is used. In this case, the engineer's shoulders will slump momentarily, he will gaze at the item sheepishly, and in three seconds he will be cheerful once more and preparing to take the item apart. Doctors naturally fear engineers -not only will every device in the examining room be ruthlessly played with and possibly measured, but a diagnosis of heart murmur will probably prompt the suggestion that an alternator be installed -oh, right...yeah. (The sad-puppy look of the engineer is a truly heartrending sight, irresistible to nerdy females, and perhaps the reason for the survival of his unique species.)

The engineer does not read the manual. He takes out his graph paper and his number-two mechanical pencil and makes his own as the item is dissected. Only in the case of a particularly large and complex item with unusual value (such as a Honda or a favorite cousin with a burst appendix in the middle of nowhere,) will he open a manual, and at that time, said manual tends to attach itself to the engineer on a semi-permanent basis. It is carried in his backpack (as engineers lean toward the utilitarian and often the ergonomic, a briefcase is a creature unknown to him,) and the pages become dog-eared and yellowed, like the beloved pornography of a long-haul trucker. The engineer rivals only the English major in his tendency to notate margins, and the amount of graphite found on the edges of graduate-students' copies of Faulkner, we all know, is sufficient to lubricate small-electronic parts.

The consciousness of the engineer, and therefore his perception of himself and his environment, tends to run to the binary. He is either clothed or naked -concepts like 'formalwear,' 'business attire,' and 'weekend clothes' are only introduced in his senior year of college, usually after the first interview in coveralls over a science-fair t-shirt from middle school goes badly. There is either food or no food -hence the extreme premium engineers place on a mate with even minimal adeptness in the kitchen. They have been known to dwell exclusively on one foodstuff, switching only when a more efficient or tastier alternative is presented, or Student Health tells them they've got scurvy. The frozen-food industry is mainly responsible for the proliferation of engineers since the 1950s -before, many are presumed to have died from eating nothing but homestyle biscuits and grape jelly.

The McDonald's dollar-menu double cheeseburger, lately rumored to be in jeopardy for its' continued existence, is a crucial part of the engineer food-chain. Should it disappear from menus, many engineers, particularly single ones, will die.

The simple solution is rarely the one taken by engineers. An engineer, if told it might be fascinating to experiment with drinking, will obtain Everclear and proceed to systematically taste spiked versions of all three of his favorite potable liquids until he is either stopped or passes out. Ask an engineer if there could be buffalo wings for dinner, and one is more likely to encounter a frozen bag of bird parts and a horrifying mixture of every condiment in the fridge than the Domino's guy with a Styrofoam box and some bleu-cheese dressing. ("Still not spicy enough!")

Engineers also have imagination mixed in amongst their science-filled braincells. Give an engineer a kitten and a pad of graph paper, and in two days you will have enough in the way of conceptual sketches, measurements, fabric stress-test analysis and Web research for either a corporate proposal, grant-money plea or webcomic on the Amazing Jet-Powered Rocket Cat.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the type of creature I am marrying this winter.

I'm writing this while he cleans something up in the garage. He told me I don't want to know what it was. I agree with him.

I have also counted the cats and checked the fire extinguishers.

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