It’s A Matter Of Time

Time and tide wait for no man.  The world and the universe, all life for that matter, is about movement.  Existence is always going somewhere until it doesn’t.  It’s all a matter of time.  That was Noah’s personal philosophy, a bit facile but true enough for his purposes.  We would argue over a glass of wine about the essence of life.  Atoms, electrons, particles all moved, vibrated, or otherwise were doing something until they decayed.  Decay sounded like such a longed word, a concept about death and how every thing eventually met death, non existence, ran out of time.

Noah was a time watcher.  No, not a clock watcher, definitely not that.  For Noah time was not a set of hands that revolved around the face of a clock.  It was existance, life, that essence of being that eventually decayed into nothingness.  He used to say, “Energy and Mass were boon companions.”  Noah had pretenses towards physics and philosophy.  I was more engineering oriented.  Give me a problem and I’ll design a solution, that’s the practical lesson in life.  We were roommates at university for a couple of years.  Then one year he never came back.  Perhaps he had flunked out of the physics program.  Math was never his forte, that lingua franca in the world of science.  I thought he might have “decayed” when he failed to show up for classes.  The end of my senior year saw me graduate in the top ten percent and plied with half a dozen offers from the usual large engineering firms.  I was a structural engineer and ready to pursue the exams that would grant me the title of structural and civil engineer with the appropriate state seals.  Time would grant me a very good living with all the material things I might want.  All I had to do to achieve my dreams or the good life would come through the years of education and studious employment of meeting goals and objectives.  Well, not much of a philosophy when one is young, expectations being what they are for the young and inexperienced university graduate.

On the other hand Noah’s words came back to me the next day after graduation.  “Bill, you got to think more about time.  You only got so much time before your decay sets in, you know.  It’s not about the seconds and minutes and hours that count.  Their just markers, things to tick off.  You got to think about existence.”  So I looked at the offers before me and started to think about this thing called existence.  Noah had a point even if I wasn’t sure what it was was exactly.  Perhaps I feared that I just might start to decay if I settled for one of those junior engineer jobs at the large firms.  You know the kind, take the job, do the boring work and sort of retire in place as you draw the ever increasing paycheck every month.  May I would get lucky and be assigned to a really important project, make a name for myself.  Yeah, that might happen.  But what if it didn’t?  Maybe all I would get out of life was being ordinary and respectable.

So I took the job offer from the small but promising engineering firm, the one on the edge struggling to exist.  To my surprise my supervisor was not all that happy to see me.  “You’re too young for this company, you won’t stick it out and leave before a year is up.”  Simon Katz was balding, a bit pudgy but tall enough to handle the extra pounds.  With a large nose and intense brown eyes he had a formidable mien.  “I told John not to hire you, just so you know where I stand.  I don’t suffer fools.  Your temporary desk is in the corner.  There’s a stack of drawings and revisions that need to be filed.  Get to it and don’t take all week.”  I thought to myself, “Well, thank you for that warm and encouraging welcome.”

The morning of the third day I asked Mr Katz what he wanted me to do next.  “Two days, huh?  How many coffee breaks did you take?  Never mind.  David Kruger has the stress figures and the design parameters for a project he’s working on.  One of his people called in sick so report to him in room seven.  He needs some drawings done before noon.  Put a little hustle in it this time.”  “Yes sir, I’ll do that.”  Wow, this guy is a real hard nose.  So were my thoughts at the time.  The rest of the week was like that.  Always the kick in the pants from my boss.  Friday was payday and Mr Katz was handing out the checks.  He walked up to me and asked straight out, “Think you earned your pay this week?”  Being young and foolish I quipped, “If I didn’t, you’d be handing me a pink slip with that check.”  He looked at me for a moment, “Come back to work Monday, I may have more for you to do.”  I came back Monday, each new Monday for six months.

I was working on a set of drawings that needed revising when Mr Katz came over to my desk.  “John wants to see you in his office, now.  Follow me.”  Off we went, he leading and me following.  John was one of the VPs for the firm, a man about fifty, grey hair, soft blue eyes, middle height, and an infectious smile.  During my interview I had found him to be a very intelligent and friendly man.  So I was wondering what was in store for me as we walked into his office.  Mr Katz nodded to John and closed the door after I had entered.  “Bill, Simon tells me you are ready for your first assignment.  Don’t look so surprised.  Simon is the gatekeeper for new hires.  I think you’ll find him a little more friendly now that you have proven yourself so far.  As you might have noticed, the work we take on is work the big guys pass by or don’t want.  The city of Jonestown has a structural problem with one of their projects.  I want you to go and take a look at it.  You will gather all the information relevant for solution, develop a quote, and then come back here and assist Tom Bowers with the solution and the drawings.  Tom is one of our professional engineers in residence at the moment.  By the way, how far are you towards getting ready for the exam?”

“I’ve done the first two modules and I expect I may be ready by next June.”

“Uh huh.” Simon looked at me for a few moments, “Don’t rush it, it’s a difficult exam.  Most engineers fail the first time.  I want you to pass it the first time.  If necessary, I’ll spend some time with you.”

I nodded, “Thanks, I appreciate the offer.”

Once you get the drawing completed and Tom puts his seal on them then you must sell the solution to the city engineers at a negotiated price that gives us a minimum profit of ten percent.  Anything over that is your bonus.  But don’t get too big a head, I don’t expect you’ll get more than half a percent.  See Ms Thompson for the expense vouchers and remember to keep track and receipts of all your expenses.  Our accountant runs a very tight set of books.”  “Wow”, I thought, “this is my introduction to real pressure from all quarters and a short time to accomplish the company’s goal.”  Noah’s words drifted back into my mind and I began to think about time.  I started to think about the existence of the problems, how solutions might fit in at the right time, and how the customer could be pleased.  How I used my time and that of the customers and my associates would determine the right plan.  So before I set off for the city of Jonestown I spent that evening in the public library researching the town, its problems, and its desires.  It seems that Jonestown lack the necessary funds for a grand scheme of civic improvements, and lack of funds meant they were running out of time to implement them.  So where to start?

All civic improvements involve two things, the group of individuals or businesses who will directly benefit from the money spent, and the politicians running for re-election.  Somehow the voters and the taxpayers don’t count.  I was there until the library closed that evening looking for those answers and making extensive notes on what I had found.  The next day I was driving to Jonestown and checking into a hotel downtown.  I picked a quiet place two blocks from the main street, the rates were reasonable and I’d get no argument from the accountants on that score.  Then I walked the town a bit.  Time always has at lease two sides in these situations, two political parties.  What better than to stop by the local party offices and ask a few questions, nothing pointed or personal, just a few feelers for information.  And don’t forget the Better Business Bureau, those people love to talk as my father once told me.  “Son, those people don’t know when to shut up.”  Monday morning I would go down to city hall and nose around before seeing the city engineer.  The city engineer would tell me what the city would want, what it would expect, and when it would expect it.  The city engineer would always ask for two to thee times what they could afford and whine when you said no.  Suffice it to say I wasn’t disappointed with the demands and the requirements they presented.  The standard answer is always, “We’ll evaluate the requirements and present a solution.”  If this was a big city I wouldn’t even be here.  Big cities need payoffs to local unions, local mafia dons, donations to political campaigns, and the list goes on.

So I gathered my facts and my figures, took a lot of photographs, and summed up my impressions and what solid knowledge I had of the city and its projects, for there were several projects.  I also collected names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of individuals who were close to the projects in one way or another.  Hell, I was writing a book, a non fiction one but still a book.  I was back in the office Thursday, one day over my allotted time.  Mr Katz wasn’t please at first but when he saw how detailed the work had been he took me to John Anderson’s office.  John was impressed.  “I like how you separated the wheat from the chaff, shows good insight. Lets get with Tom for lunch, you might as well join us for we have a lot to talk about.”  As Noah said, “Time is about your existence in the universe.”