My colleague, Dmytro Bondarenko, is a 40year old, blue-eyed, hunched-back Ukrainian with a Masters in fatigue. That’s right, fatigue. Why can’t a guy get himself a Masters in Fatigue?
The fatigue Dymtro has his Masters in is metal fatigue, something that can happen on highly stressed parts such as those that are on aircraft engines. Take a compressor shaft for example. After some time, tiny cracks begin to form all over the surface of the shaft, specially in corners. These cracks gradually widen and lengthen over time until one day, at 40000 ft, the shaft says to itself,’ Oh, well, what the hell’ and blows apart. Not a big problem if your plane has more than one engine. At that point, being a contortionist will come in handy. How else would you be able ta kiss your ass goodbye?
Now about Dmytro. Over here, you’re given a nickname even before you’ve rested your tush in your new office for the first time. At the very beginning, an interim nickname is suggested, based on any distinguishing physical features you might have. If, for example, you have large mammary glands, there’s little chance you’re not going to be called Jugs.
There’s no official nicknaming ceremony. One of the guys just starts addressing you with a nickname and it becomes your interim nickname. Kenny, a pain-in-the-ass, wickedly witty, tush-fixated Jamaican in Airfoils, started calling Dymtro ‘Dim’. Yo, Dim.
Over time, Dmytro’s nickname stabilized on ‘Notre Dim’, courtesy yours truly. It’s apt, since Dmytro is a hunchback and walks with a 30degree tilt forward at the waist, bushy head craned up, slightly tilted sideways, eyes peerin’ over his horn rimmed specs.
Usually a hunch like the one Dim has gets steadily worse with age. Kenny says Dim will be able to perform oral sex on Nurse Ratched (the boss), standing up, in another decade.
I know what you’re thinking. That we’re disgusting. We love being disgusting. We excel in it. In any World Championships in Yuck, our lunch table bunch will win team decathlons. You’ll find more disgusting men and women at our lunch table than there are inside the parliament while it’s in session.
The bottom line is that you’ve got to live with the nickname you get, without bitching about it. In engineering school, they called me Bong because I was the only Bengali in my class. Here, at work, I am ‘Archie’ and that’s just fine with me. We even have a Veronique in our department who’s pushing seventy. The only dating you can do with Veronique is carbon dating. I swear I would have had something going between us, had I been an archaeologist.
Notre Dim came to us four years ago. And, given my natural brilliance, it fell upon me to give him formation (in French, pronounced formasyong, meaning training and orientation). As he was an expert in his own field, fatigue, I would just be bringin’ him up to date on all the in-house software we employ, namely, SAP, Catia, JView, Documentum, Powerpoint (we’re crazy on presentations). All this takes six-seven months of regular practice and I had just two, to get him up and runnin’.
Dmytro was obviously well qualified technically and probably, no, definitely, more knowledgeable than I, on aircraft engines. But he knew f–k-all about the above mentioned software. Add to that the unpleasant fact that he had bad breath and he liked to sit real close, practically breathing down my esophagus, in his over-eagerness to learn.
As if that wasn’t annoying enough, Dim belched and burped his way through the day. And flatulence, boy, trust me, flatulence of any ethnicity is tolerable, not Ukrainian. It has it’s own signature. An Allien on Europa will recognize it. I can’t place my finger on the right words. Rotted garlic, maybe? Nah, toe jam? Yeah, that would be it. Well, his farts are disgusting, and coming from me, they must really be disgusting.
I had my work cut out for me and I cursed Nurse R for hanging this guy round my neck for the next two months. I made a mental note to set aside a sizable percentage of my salary on minty gum for him. I might even be forced to defer the purchase of that boat. Damn!
So we started off, Notty Dim and I, on the arduous journey of getting his ass in pace with the rest of the department. In the beginning, I had been polite, since we’d just met. “Excuse me, Dmytro. Dmytro? Did I say it right? Ok, good. Dmytro, would you mind backin’ up just a wee bit. There, that’s fine. Sorry, hope you’re ok. Now shall we begin?”
Soon that changed to,” Hey, Dim, back up your fat butt a bit, will ya? You get any closer and folk will get the idea we’re engaged or sumpn. Jesus, what the f–k did you eat for breakfast, goat shit? Here, have a gum. And let me know when you feel like a fart. I’ll put some distance between us. Now where were we?” After a couple of weeks with Dimmy, it became apparent that he was a bit slow on the uptake as far as learning new software went. And he was strapped on to me like a f—in’ suicide belt, for the next two months.
Interestingly, what infuriated me was his humility and his profusely apologetic demeanor. His complete lack of any arrogance, his mute acceptance of my impatience, my withering sarcasm and outright scorn annoyed me and made me feel like bashing his bushy head against the monitor.
I’m no expert on human behavior but it seems to me that passive acceptance of anger and rudeness probably begets more anger and cruelty – just like the docile way the Jewish population in Germany reacted under the Nazis. Rudolph Höss, camp commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp confided in the US Army chaplain on the night before his execution in 1945, that the more the Jewish prisoners accepted mutely their fate, the more inflamed it made him, the more he wanted to hurt them.
If we were revising what we’d touched upon the previous day and I tested Dim with a question and he didn’t have the answer, Dim would turn despairingly toward me, his spaniel eyes searching mine, beseeching, and he’d blurt out,”I…I…theeenk, I forgeth…”
On those occasions when he happened to know the answer, his eyes would blaze happily, head bobbing up and down, excited at being able to give me the right answer, thrilled to be able to please me. Even this irritated me to no end. In short, there didn’t seem anything that Notre Dim could possibly do that would win my esteem. Inside my head, I’d already dismissed him as someone not really fit for the kind of work expected of him.
That was four years back. 19 patents later, Notre Dim has undergone a transformation. He has been made a Fellow, which is an exalted life-time position – the ultimate acknowledgement from an employer for a job well done. He has moved on, as section head in Auxiliary Power Units. They say he’s slated to become the next VP-Engineering within the next six months.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a meeting Dim had called, in which one of his assistants was hesitating with his responses, like he was unsure of what he should say.
Dim urged him on with a quiet smile of encouragement,”Ben you made a great point about the 4th stage turbine. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work. You should have seen how dumb I was when I started off here…..” With that, he turned to look directly at me, his head tilted sideways to compensate for his hunch.
I couldn’t meet his clear guileless eyes which had this playful twinkle in them. I didn’t see any rancor there. Perhaps that is what leadership is all about – you put the past behind, you look forward and you move on.
Millions of silent words passed between us in that instant. Contrition, from my end. Understanding, from his.
Somehow, nobody thinks to call Dmytro Bondarenko ‘Notre Dim’ anymore.