Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Engineers Laughing

October 14, 2009

Engineers Laughing

By Ed Lowe

I was to speak at the Crest Hollow Country Club, in Woodbury. That’s all I remembered.

It was maybe the 50th or the 70th time. The Crest Hollow Country Club was the largest room on Long Island. I hadn’t any idea to whom I was addressing my…address…or what I would say, but I knew I was speaking at the Crest Hollow, and that was good enough for me.

A couple of times during those decades, I had shown up at the Smithtown Sheraton when I was supposed to be at The Garden City Hotel, or at the Marc Pierre on Route 110, when I should have been at the Salisbury Restaurant in Eisenhower Park (which had changed its name to the Carlton on the Park, just to drive me crazy).

So, my being sure of the location this time probably staved off the eventual stroke by a day or

two, at least.

Just as an aside, you should see the looks on the faces of the Marc of Dimes committee, who last heard that the speaker was seen asking the befuddled owners of the Captain Bill’s Restaurant in Bay Shore where are all the Golden Apple Award Education winners.

The education award winners are selected by the committee of the March of Dimes, who then hold a dinner, to whom the speaker is supposed to present the golden apples before making his speech.

He at long last enters the room at the Hilton Huntington just in the nick of time.
Actually, it is quite rewarding, like rescuing somebody from certain, imminent death.

I found out on arriving at the Crest Hollow that I was addressing 500 retired engineers from Grumman Aviation Corp., or whatever corporate name it was then called—they knew who they had worked for—and it was one of the very few times I was left speechless.

I’d addressed dentists, medical associations, bar associations, the joint meeting of associations of sheet metal and air conditioning contractors of New York and Boston, and all kinds of what I thought was the hardest group ever—accountants.

But I realized I had nothing for engineers.

Somebody took the microphone and told 500 engineers that they were in for a real treat.
What could I tell engineers?

Introduced, I approached the stage.All engineers knew more than I did, and if they didn’t know it, another engineer could tell them faster than I could.

They wouldn’t laugh at anything, because they didn’t laugh at anything at all. Laughter presupposes a problem. Engineers break down a problem to its component parts, solve it, and pooft, no problem.

First step.

Where did I get that, anyway? I don’t know any engineers.

Second step.

Michael Graziano. Holy smoke.

Third step. Saved.

“Thank you. I want tell you a story that came to me on that step, there, the second step, kid you not.

“It happened somewhere between 1970 and 1973, and the details of it are filling up my brain as if it happened yesterday.

“Bill Burns was running for re-election to the Assembly. He would win. He was a Republican from Amityville. He was Amityville mayor before becoming Assemblyman, and the district at the time voted 2 to 1 Republican.

I don’t remember who the Democrat candidate was or the Conservative, but I had to interview all four of them and write an election story.

On the northwest corner of West John Street and Newark Avenue, in Lindenhurst, lived a gentleman named Michael Graziano. He was running as the Liberal Party candidate. I phoned him, and later showed up at his house.

He was big man with a little mustache, which made me chuckle, because I was a comparatively little man with a big mustache.

To ease his mind, I told him that I had relatives all over Lindenhurst, and I had taught junior high school there, too.

I then blew all that away by telling him I was from Amityville, and that my father was the Lieutenant of the police department in Amityville, and my father drove trucks now and then for Burns Truck Sales.

I suppose the reason I didn’t tell him my grandmother’s maiden name was Burns was that there was no relation, but I might as well have.

I realized the mistake and said quickly there was an Amityville cop named Graziano, which sounded so lame that I didn’t wait, but just asked Graziano what he did for a living.

“I’m an engineer,” he said.

“Really,” I said. “In that case, can I ask you a really dumb question before we start. I mean, really dumb.”


“Well, I have never met an engineer. I mean, I know they’re smart, and I know they don’t wear that railroad engineer’s hat, and I know they make a lot of money, like a doctor, but I don’t know what an engineer does.”

“Well, an engineer is basically a problem solver. A manufacturer has a problem with a product—let’s say, it doesn’t work well when it’s heated, and that’s when it’s most valuable—he gives the problem to the engineering department, and they apply the old scientific method. They create the problem in a lab, attack it with few choice solutions, select one, and give it back to the manufacturer, case closed, hopefully.”

“Wow. Where do you work?”

“Well, I’m an engineer. I’m out of work.”

That was true. I knew that. Damn.

“Oh. Sorry. Where did you work when you did work?”

“My last job was at Grumman. I worked on the LEM. Heard of that?”

“I…the LEM…the Lunar Excursion Module?”


“Wow. I feel like I’m interviewing a movie star. What was your…I don’t know…problem?”

Graziano knew that he had talked himself into a spot, and he knew where this was going. I didn’t.

“Well,” he stammered, “Travel in space presents some problems that you don’t encounter otherwise. Like, well, in an atmosphere without gravity, you have to consider, for instance, the proper and clean disposition of solid human waste…”

There was a pause. It got longer. Finally, I said, “So, you have to first create the problem…”

Some of the 500 Grumman engineers were laughing.

“Right. I had to create the problem…”

“And you therefore had to make…”

“So, I had to make…well, with gluclose…”

More engineers laughing.

“You had to make, uh, sh…”

“A shitmaker. I was a shitmaker.” He laughed.

Again, a pause. Then I started to laugh. I said, “You know you’re going to loose this race…”


“And you’re the only one qualified to do exactly what the job calls for…”

“I didn’t, but yes, in manner of speaking…”

“And you know I can’t write this…”

“Well, I didn’t think of that, but, yes...”

Laughter. I mean, laughter.

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