The Only Thing Scarier Than An Engineer….

…. is a German Engineer. 

Let me preface this little gem by saying that my dad is an engineer. So I’ve spent my whole life bearing witness to the amusing things that happen when an engineer is around. I have also inherited a few of their tendencies, and have learned that the appropriate phrase to put on your résumé is “detail-oriented,” rather than the slightly less work-appropriate description of “anal-retentive.”  

So I do things like alphabetize everything (books, CD’s, DVD’s), eat my Skittles/M&M’s in rainbow order, and try to live my life symmetrically. But lest you think that’s normal enough (ok, maybe the Skittle thing isn’t normal but whatever), here are a few more extreme examples. 

Tale 1
Many years ago, when I was around 14 years old, my great-grandmother died. We were sitting in the church at her funeral, and I could not focus on anything that was being said because I was completely fixated on the candelabra that was up in front by the alter. 
(Side note: if you’re like the guy on The Amazing Race a few years ago that didn’t know what a candelabra was, it’s one of these. Also, that was hilarious.)

But why was I fixated on it? Well, the problem was that two candles were crooked. And not like, slightly crooked, like way the hell off. It’s all I could think about. The pastor could have started tap-dancing up there and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

After the sermon ended, everyone went downstairs to the church basement to eat ham sandwiches and potato salad (typical Wisco funeral fare), and do the chat bit. At some point, I guess I got bored and wandered back upstairs. The candles were still crooked as all hell, and I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. So I peeked around a bit to make sure I was alone, and then went up on the alter and tried to fix them. Sadly, there was no hope as the candles didn’t fit in the stand properly so there was no way I could make them stand up straight. But, c’est la vie.  

My family was slightly disturbed when they later found out where I had disappeared to. To paraphrase the conversation…

Mom: “You did what on the altar?”
Me: “I tried to fix those crooked candles.”
Dad (the engineer): “I saw those! It was driving me crazy. Did you fix them?”
Mom: “What candles? I don’t know what you guys are talking about.”
Me: “No, they wouldn’t stand up.”
Mom: “Heather, you are not allowed to go up there.”
Me: “Why? We’re not Catholic.”
Mom: *exasperated sigh*

I have no idea why I associated Catholicism with forbidden altars. What can I say, we weren’t very church-y folk.  

Tale 2

My next example came a few years later. My dad works for a small manufacturing company that makes rubber and plastic parts, and I spent a couple of summers/holiday breaks working there when I was in college.

One day, I was sitting in my dad’s office eating lunch with him, when he started staring at his coffee mug like a crazy person. Again, to paraphrase…
Me: “What are you looking at?”
Dad: “The logo. It’s crooked.”
Me: “Uh, no it’s not.” 
Dad: “Yes, it is.” (starts rummaging through desk drawers for micro-measurement rulers and Godknowswhatelse)
Me: “You’re insane. That logo is perfectly straight.”
Dad: “grumblegrumblegrumble” (while measuring distance from bottom of coffee mug to bottom corners of the square logo). “HA! It’s 1/100th of an inch (Side note: I have no idea how to write that, but I’m hoping you get the gist) off! I told you it was crooked!”
Me: “You are insane.” 

My dad’s nickname in the house is “The Adjustor.” I think that speaks for itself. 

Tale 3
One year for Christmas my parents gave me a toolkit. It was great, one of those big ones that comes with about 50 tools, most of which I’ll never use, but hey, you never know. I figure if you have a hammer and a screwdriver, you should be pretty much set. But this toolkit had one GLARING flaw. It didn’t have a level. 

Seriously? What kind of second-rate crackpot toolmaker doesn’t put a LEVEL in their toolkits?? How else do you make sure your pictures are perfectly straight? Gah! 

But have no fear, a few days later my dad came home with a small level that fit perfectly in the cushion of the toolkit. The peasants rejoiced and all the pictures in my room were verified to be perfectly straight.  

Tale 4
When I got home in December, my parents had the Christmas tree already up in the living room. My mom thoroughly enjoyed telling everyone about how my dad had “adjusted” the tree in order to fit in the house. Apparently they had bought a 13-foot tree, and we have a 9-foot ceiling in the house. So my dad had to chop off a large chunk from the bottom, and then got a little out of hand pruning the thing. In the end, we had about another tree’s worth of branches out on the deck, and the tree had a slightly odd shape to it, as you can see by this amazing Paint-edited photo.

Since there are probably 10 Christmas tree farms within a 30-mile radius of our house, I tried to ask why they didn’t buy a tree that actually FIT in our house without “adjustment.” I’m still waiting for an answer on that one.

So what does this all have to do with a German Engineer? Well, today one of my students told me a story that brought this to a whole new level.  

Tale 5: Germans are Ridiculous
We were chatting at the beginning of the lesson about everyone’s holiday, and Walt mentioned that he did some work around the house. Paraphrasing!

Me: “Oh, what did you have to do?”

Walt: “I put some things on the tree.”
Me: “You mean you decorated it?”
Walt: “No, I drilled holes and put more …. (sticks arm out) on it.”
Me: (draws tree on board and points at the branches) “These?”
Walt: “Yes! What is it?”
Me: (labels drawing with branches, trunk, needles) “Branches. Wait…. what? You drilled holes in your tree and put on more branches???”
Walt: “Yes. There was a big hole. With our friends, we go to their houses and see their trees. A hole looks bad.”
(Note: The other students are all looking at him like he’s crazy.)
Me: “So if there’s a hole, you put that side on the wall! Where did you get the branches from?”
Dieter interjects: “He took them from the neighbor’s tree!”
Walt: “It was very tall, I cut the bottom. There were many branches. So the hole is no more.”

The moral of the story is: Engineer + German= a dangerous combination. And certainly no match for a slightly imperfect Christmas tree.  

*** Edited to add:
I just sent this story to my dad because I knew he’d appreciate it. Here is his response:

I have just one question; with the branch sizes being somewhat irregular, how did Walt determine what size drill bit to use?”

3 thoughts on “The Only Thing Scarier Than An Engineer….

  1. I also have an engineer for a father and one for a boyfriend (lucky old me, eh?). My dad is fanatical about the use of levels and correct tools for the job and it winds him up no end (I hope that is not just a Scottish phrase) when I don't for example use a level for hanging pictures.

    I however, have an awesome eye (and seriously, it's probably the one thing I can blow my own trumpet about) and when he goes round checking afterwards, I am always dead on. I'm not sure if that drives him nuts more than if I hung things slightly off!

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