Ken Harrison 6:45 p.m., Aug. 23
- Community Blog
- Beyond The Big Metal Fence
The days seemed simple a couple of weeks ago but they ground like shifting gears, with the morning gray casting an uncertain threat onto this Tijuana lifestyle and neighbors complaining like restless children at Sunday Mass. They are like restless children except they are very grown women, and they were busily chatting on freshly swept sidewalks, but otherwise just as restless and curious. Unsure of whether to hang the laundry because of the intermittent misty moments, instead they consulted each other as though anyone had any idea what would happen a moment later. They talked about the possibility of rain.
Next door becomes busy right before eight in the morning, too, a construction crew noisily pulls in and seven or eight men pile out of their trucks and clang their way onto my neighbor’s roof. Most of these houses are butted up against each other, walls not common but instead kissing in permanent embrace. The owner of this place put a second story on top years ago, but the lady next door is only now getting around to that improvement. Rather than use the entire space for rooms and such, she will also have a deck – from what I can tell – for reasons I can’t wrap my head around. There is no good view from the second story, except for the roofs of neighbors that will likely never add on to their own dwellings.
Mexican construction workers are noisy. When they aren’t banging and hammering, they are yelling and calling. It drowns out the barking dogs and the street vendors, and the new wall that is up against ours now blocks the upstairs bathroom window. This owner will install a skylight with a vent and those same workers will wall-in the window. Since we no longer use the shower upstairs because the drainage now leaks into my office, the only nuisance is when the landlord hired someone to fix all of these problems here, but he seldom shows up on consecutive days. Otherwise, noise next door is the only current distraction.
Anna is delighted because apparently we will eventually get a bathtub installed up there.
So far as the threat of rain, it doesn’t detour the construction. Rain doesn’t have an effect on our laundry, either, because many years ago we moved into a house where there was no room for a clothesline, so we purchased a used clothes dryer for ninety dollars. This turned out to be a good investment, as were the rice cooker and the deep fryer and a few other appliances that continue to outlive and outperform other investments. My advice if you live in Baja and find yourself with a hundred extra dollars? Even if you have room for a good old-fashioned clothesline, the one dozen times a years you use this contraption called a clothes dryer will be well worth the money.
I would tell the very grown women chatting away on the sidewalks in the morning about the wonderful investment of an automatic clothes dryer but they avoid me. This is what happens.
Engineering isn’t so much rocket science – although I suppose it can be – as it is learning to find the right tools. You can go to school and get a very impractical education in engineering, and once put to work in the real world, you’ll quickly find that nothing works like it does in the textbooks. Tools and information are the keys. Arm yourself with a calculator, a pencil, a Machinist’s Handbook, and the latest McMaster-Carr catalog, and you can slay dragons. I swear this is true.
The first thing you’ll run across, and you’ll run across this over and over again throughout your career, is management explaining to you that they need you to accomplish a task. The task, in whatever form it manifests itself, will be to fit a square peg into a round hole. You will argue the point, saying that a square peg shouldn’t go into a round hole, but they will have a half-million dollars worth of bottom line that depends on a square peg fitting into a round hole. They will look straight into your eyes and make you out for a phony if you can’t get the square peg fitted nicely into the round hole.
If you work for a very large company, the type of large company where your boring existence permits you to say that it can’t be done, then you will never escape that place, even when you do. You will be employee number 132,879 and buy health insurance and they will match your 401K until you get caught up in a layoff twelve years later. When you apply for another job somewhere else, the only places that will hire you will also lay you off twelve years later, because that’s the cycle in those big giant companies. At some point you will be fifty-five years old and no one will want to hire you anymore. You will occasionally find contract work as a consultant. You will be proud of that at first until you realize that you can no longer afford health insurance and companies that hire consultants expect the consultants to figure out a way to fit square pegs into round holes.
So you were smart right off of the bat and went to work for a smaller company, knowing that what you won’t immediately see in benefits will be repaid later by your ability to be in demand, you’re an engineer who isn’t inclined to say that something can’t be done. Square peg, round hole, you find yourself thinking about it. You can stick that square peg in a lathe and round it, or you can broach that round hole square. You do, and you’ll fail. You’ll never get it right, and it’ll cost more than the company wants to spend.
You get out your Machinist’s Handbook and look up force tables, tackling the computations with your calculator. Searching your McMaster-Carr catalog, you finally find the pages that sell hammers, but none seem to be big enough. Then you think. You realize that you’re staring at a used clothes dryer on the other side of the shop. You throw the square peg into the dryer and turn it on, and after a few hours the edges are knocked off of the peg. You freeze the peg overnight to shrink it and when your hammer is delivered in the morning, you drive the peg into the hole.
Welcome to the world of engineering. Bring your own clothes dryer.
And so, it rained last week and it rained something good, those ladies couldn’t even sweep their sidewalks much less hang their laundry to dry. Meanwhile, the guy working on the upstairs bathroom here comes and goes. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother to show up. He’s stuck at the moment, apparently, and all I am told is that there were complications. I informed Rocio about it and she took the position that likely the bathtub didn’t fit properly. I told her that when people build bathrooms they account for the shower space generally by ensuring that they frame it to a standard in case they want to change something later.
"This is Mexico," she said.
And of course, she’s right about that, it’s likely that no thought was given to the size of the shower enclosure. It didn’t rain over the weekend but it’s raining again. This is probably fitting in a way, maybe it will help the “complications” in the upstairs bathroom and grease the wheels of progress. I haven’t even taken a look; it isn’t my project. I’m done working on houses I don’t own. I don’t even want to be a consultant. I’ve beaten enough square pegs into round holes for one lifetime.
Maybe the nicest thing I can do is to let the worker know that I do have a clothes dryer. But I do have some laundry to do, so maybe I’ll wait and tell him another day. He isn’t going to fit the bathtub in it in any case. Hell, this is Mexico, so he might not even show up at all.