Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Chapters 41 & 42

      Red Raiders rallied from a 20 to 0 deficit in the first quarter to beat Kansas on Saturday. We watched it at the Nest. Tech 45, Kansas 34. Go RAIDERS!

This morning, I almost ran over Bennett Boyle as he stood in the outer office, checking his watch and apparently fuming. None of the Communications staff was around and it was 9 a.m. on a Monday morning.       
   I stopped short at the sight of him. Uh-oh, I thought quickly. Whatever could’ve happened that I hadn’t heard about? I have sources all over campus now, and normally immediately heard about even the smallest of problems. Must be something big for him to climb the stairs instead of sending Jonathan or a secretary. Maybe he’s come back for the plant? Unlocking my inner office and inviting him in, I glanced back to make certain Phil was still there. He was. 
   I stood behind my desk as he followed me in. “Where’s your secretary?” he said curtly.
   “She’s out today. I gave her a comp day for working on Saturday. Why? Do you need her?” I asked.
   “You’re late. It’s after nine and I’ve been here for ten @$#&* minutes.”
   I narrowed my eyes at his use of profanity. “Did we have an appointment, Mr. Boyle?” I asked, searching my brain for what I had missed.
   “Work hours begin at eight, not nine.”
“I’ve been at the Engineering Building since 7:15 this morning, Mr. Boyle, working. I’m not late ... and I know what the work hours are. How can I help you or did you climb those stairs just to chide me for being late?” 
   “Engineering? Why?”
   “The Rube Goldberg Competition. They’re announcing the winners right after lunch. My staff and I were ...  How can I help you, Mr. Boyle?”

   He reached into his pocket and pulled out a mirror. It was one of the promotional items Elaine had handed out over the weekend at the Lubbock Convention Center’s Women’s Expo. A 2-by-3-inch makeup mirror in a convenient thick plastic casing, Texas Tech University stamped on the outside. It had been a big hit, as promotional items went, and I was pleased so many had been picked up.
   “What the hell is this?” he said causticly, holding out the mirror.
   Puzzled, I thought it was fairly obvious what it was but obliged him by saying, questioningly, “A pocket mirror in plastic casing?”
   “I know what the #%@&* it is, God damn it. But where the hell did it come from?”
I took a deep breath. “Our department supplied them for the Women’s Expo on Saturday. Please don’t use that language with me, Mr. ... ”
   “They’re pink!”
   “Yes, sir, they are,” I answered defensively, looking at the hot pink plastic cover, still not understanding the cause of his displeasure.
  “We don’t do pink.”
   “Oh, well. National Breast Health Awareness Month ... October. They’re pink in honor of the national cause.”
“The university’s colors are red and black, not pink.”
   “Yes, sir, but lots of things all across the country are pink this month ... and the thought behind the mirrors is hopefully every time a woman reaches for it in her purse, she’ll see the Double T printed on pink instead of the usual red or black school colors, and automatically think of October and the need to give herself a breast exam. It’s a marketing tool with a health message. It promotes ...”     
        He cut me off. 
       “I don’t care what it promotes, it’s PINK!”
“Yes, and within the university trademark guidelines. I checked with ...  
      “How many do you have?”
I looked at him hard, and just a little more than testily, said, “Well, I think we ordered a couple thousand, but we gave away about five hundred on Saturday. We have several opportunities this month to hand them out.”
  “Get rid of them,” he said, glaring at me. 
  “Get rid of them? But they’re a great marketing tool.”
“You keep forgetting I’m your direct supervisor and you answer to me. I said get rid of them. Throw them out. Don’t give any more away. WE DON’T DO PINK!” 
Pitching the mirror on my desk, he stomped out in a huff, narrowly missing Steven who had just stepped into Elaine’s office to see what all the shouting was about. Steven looked at Boyle’s back moving briskly down the hall, then at me. I still stood rigid at my desk. “What the hell was that all about?” Steven asked.
   I sat heavily, picking up the mirror and studying it.  Quietly I said, “We don’t do pink.”

Chapter 42
  “And you didn’t throw them out, did you?” Sharon said as we walked toward the auditorium in the Civil Engineering Building for the awards ceremony. 
   “Of course not. I just put them away for later. That’s a couple hundred dollars out of my paltry budget. I’m not about to waste them. Honestly, the man knows nothing about marketing. Even professional football teams are ‘doing pink’ this month. He’s an absolute fool.”
   “Certifiable ... Did his hair move while he screamed at you?” Sharon asked mischievously.
      I laughed, the tension relieved. “No, but when he threw the mirror at me, his tie fluttered a little.”
“Good heavens,” Sharon said mockingly.

  The auditorium was crowded with students, faculty and a couple of reporters and photographers, including Charlie, all anxious to see the results of the Engineering Department's Rube Goldberg Competition.
     “Hey, boss,” he said as I passed him to take a seat closer to the front with Sharon.
“Hey, Charlie. What type of shots you planning?” I asked.
   “Mostly close-ups of the winners faces as they hear their awards. Department’s given me a list and where they’re seated up on stage. It should be fairly easy to shoot. I’ll mix ’em in with the ones we took this morning of the kids with their entries. Ricky’s planning an extensive photo spread on the website, and Susan’s done the main story. Steven’s here to get a quote or two from the winners after it’s over. And you know about the video we shot earlier this morning ... we’ll stream three of the winning entries on the web, too. Steven thinks folks will get a real kick out of watching them work. We should have it all up by late afternoon.”
   “Good work. Am I okay to sit here?” I followed the strict policy of most communication professionals—our staffs were not to be in any photos unless we were receiving a prestigious award — and even then I preferred to show an example of the work instead. 
   “That’s fine. I’ll work around you.”
   “What about linking to this week’s Insight?”
   Moving closer to the front, he said, “Yep, and Ricky is already saving a space for it. Got some really good entries this year.”
   I knew Rube Goldberg had been a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and author who drew complicated and often absurdly nonsensical devices designed to complete simple tasks — such as this self-operating napkin, (pictured) or a pencil sharpener involving motivation for a woodpecker that started with flying a kite. Completely ridiculous, but always creative. I remember my dad’s fondness for the inventive artist.
  Today’s competition for engineering student teams was similar. They had to accomplish a simple task in a complicated manner. This year, their Rube Goldberg machines needed to move a two-inch cube horizontally onto a two-and-a-half-inch square. Students must devise at least eight steps and could use at least two moving parts. Electrical components must be battery operated, and no flames or liquids could be used. 
  Proving Sharon’s oft repeated contention that engineering is a creative science, this year’s student machine components included boots, springs, pulleys, weights, feathers, steel ball bearings, plastic tubes, cups, ping pong balls and lots of string, just to name a few of the imaginative items. Many were mounted on backboards, but several were free standing. 
   Sharon said, “Don’t they remind you of the Mousetrap Game from when we were kids? Remember, you built an elaborate device to let the mouse get the cheese, but trapped him?”
   “I do remember. My dad dragged it out on rainy days until I was a teenager,” I said. “He loved it, probably because it reminded him of Rube Goldberg. Doesn’t one of the entries include a few pieces from an old game? I thought I saw it this morning.”
   “It does, but the team used the pieces in a different way, so they’ll probably get extra points for creativity and nostalgia. It’s just fun to watch them all, even when they don’t work exactly like the kids plan.”
   “True. There were some pretty hilarious moments this morning when we filmed them. But that’s part of the process, isn’t it? Trial and error? I mean, the assignment’s not just for fun, is it?”
    Sharon replied in mock seriousness, “Engineers never do anything just for fun, my friend. But let me think. It teaches synthesis, analysis, teamwork, the iterative, or repetitive process and evaluation procedures — all extremely important in engineering. After graduation, these kids will be building bridges, highways, hospitals, dams and the like. In all our classes we try to emphasize application of engineering knowledge to the solution of practical construction problems. Our students will one day not only have to design, but also write about the process so non-engineers can understand what they’re doing.”
“Like the science projects Michael and Ben did throughout school?”
   “Very similar. So some of the kids here, probably the ones who used to win the blue ribbons at those science fairs, usually do pretty well at this. And most of the faculty love it, too.” Looking around at the now-crowded auditorium, she said, “Looks like most of them are here. Once the awards are given, we’ll go back down to the lab where you were this morning and the teams will demonstrate their machines during an open house. You should come.”
      “I saw most of them this morning. I’ll see how long the award ceremony takes.” 
       Team leaders were seated on stage, Jamie among them. He was the main reason I was here. Colin had a class and couldn’t attend, and asked if I would be there for Jamie? I was happy to oblige.
        Phil Nash, civil engineering instructor and researcher, began the proceedings, but stopped when President Parker came in and sat down off to the side. Nash nodded to him and introduced him briefly to polite applause before continuing his remarks about the competition and awarding the prizes. For both Sharon and me, it was our first “presidential sighting.” Hmmm.

   Top prize went to an all-girl team, much to Sharon’s delight. Not only was their entry the most attractive with brightly painted mechanical pieces in coordinated colors, but their design was the most complicated and inventive using a half-dozen moving parts and sixteen steps stretched out on a four-by-four-foot bright red felt board. At one point, a ball bearing made its way through a raised three-dimensional Double T maze, definitely garnering extra points for loyalty to the university. 
      Jamie’s team came in third, but out of the thirty-six teams entered, third place was a remarkably good showing and could be proudly included on his résumé. 
   I congratulated him briefly, then reminded him to call Murphy with the good news, but headed back to the office instead of going downstairs for the demonstrations. 
      I had my own Rube Goldberg to deal with, but his name was Bennett Boyle. Funny, he really does make the simplest things extremely complicated. 

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