“Mom,” I explained for the hundredth time, “I’m a field troubleshooter.”
“So. Norman, how much do they pay you? It’s a good living?”
“I do okay.”
“Mrs. Silverman’s son, Bernie. He’s a big lawyer in New York. He charges by the hour. One hour is $200!”
“Yeah mom. I do okay. I charge $2,400 a day.”
“And who would pay so much? Only crazy people! If only you had become a doctor – like your cousin Samuel. He has a big practice in Miami.”
“Mostly I work for Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Mobil. They have lots of problems and lots of money. As long as I can solve their problems, I can charge anything. The people who hire me aren’t spending their own money. They don’t care.”
And then for the hundredth time, the same inevitable question.
“Norman. Don’t these companies have their own engineers? They should hire engineers themselves. Mrs. Howotiz’s son, Nathan. He’s an engineer like you. Maybe you could tell Exxon. They could hire him. He’s been looking for a job since summer. He’s such a nice boy.”
“Look mom. I’ve explained all this to you before. Exxon and Chevron have thousands of engineers already. But they’re office engineers; they’re telephone engineers; they’re computer engineers. They spend their days attending meetings and talking on their cell phones and sending emails. They’re professionals.”
“So, professional is good. Mrs. Goldberg next door always says, ‘If only my daughter Sarah could marry a professional like your son Norman, I would die happy.’”
“Mom. I’ve told you before. I’m not a professional. I’m a worker with a trade. My trade is applying Chemical Engineering principles in the field to solve refinery process problems.
“So Mr. Worker, you want some lunch? Look at you. You’re all skin and bones. I’ll heat a nice bowl of chicken soup for you.”
“You see mom. Those engineers who work for the big oil companies – they’re all pretty smart. They’re good engineers.”
“But not as smart as my son. Even Mrs. Silverman in 4-C says your son Norman is really smart, but too skinny. You like noodles in your soup?”
“It’s not a matter of being smart. Or having an engineering degree, or having lots of experience. Those things don’t help solve problems all that much. It’s something else.”
But mom was no longer listening, “Where’s your father? He must have fallen asleep in the park again.”
“You see mom. It’s a matter of determination. When I have a refinery process problem to solve, it’s a matter of life and death. Just last week, I risked my life climbing a rickety scaffold to get a skin temperature on a jet fuel draw-off line. If I need a sample, and it’s against the plant’s safety practices to get such a sample, I’ll wait until nobody is watching, and get the sample myself. If I’m working on a problem, and I’m tired, hungry, and cold, I still keep going. I’ll never give up. Better death than defeat. The Shell and Conoco engineers don’t look at their jobs my way. They’re bound by safety practices and company rules as to what engineers and operators are allowed to do. But rules never apply to me. I can do anything.”
“But why is that?” mom asked.
“Because I’m determined.”
“Norman. Go and look for your father. He’s probably playing cards with the Mexicans in the park again. Did you know that your father speaks Spanish?”
“Yeah mom. I know. I’ll go and look for him. Save the soup. Don’t give it to the kids.”