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I'm the Guy and I Don't Know Why

(March marches on, and so does science. Namely, Secondhand SCIENCE. This week's wackiness is all about tectonic plates. It's an earth-moving experience. Probably. Check it out.)

There's a troubling development at my office recently. It would seem I've become "the guy" for a thing.

Now, to a point, I'm okay with that. I've been "the guy" for things before. I scrap together little bits of software for people, and cram numbers into databases sometimes. So when one of those stops working or catches someone on fire, then sure -- I'm "the guy" who has to fix it and clean up the mess and rub aloe vera on some poor users' ruined fingers. That's part of the job.

But this is different. This is not my thing, nor a thing I know much of anything about. It's a big scary set of interlocking systems, all talking to each other -- in Swahili, for all I know -- and a couple of other guys built it and babysat it and kept scripts and monitors and pipelines full of aloe running for when things went haywire. For years, they did this, and nobody really knew -- or wanted to know, frankly -- exactly how those particular sausages were being prepared.

Which was fine.

Except now those guys are gone.

(Cost-cutting thing, from what I understand. You could keep the system or keep the people taking care of it. And since the people couldn't remember as much data as the databases or spit pretty numbers into a spreadsheet, the people got the boot. And the system sputters on.


With the people who had any practical knowledge of this thing gone, the company turned to the next best thing: someone with no earthly idea how the thing works or which bits of string are glued to which other bits, but who sat down with one of the guys who built it for five minutes before he left to learn one very specific instruction for one tiny corner of the system, in case that bit looks like it's going to crack and fall off some day.

In other words, me. "The guy".

In fairness, I'm not the only "guy". Other people learned little snippets of this monster from the builders, and they're "the guys" and "the girls" for those pieces, and probably all sorts of surrounding bits they have no idea about. But not being alone in this really doesn't help that much.

Basically, this is like that old parable where a bunch of blind people -- or blindfolded, maybe, if this particular parable author was uncharacteristically generous about infirmities in the story -- wander around feeling up an elephant.

"The tusk-toucher is magically the resident expert on tusks, horns, fangs, spikes, ivory, ebony, piano tuning and Beethoven's Fifth."

(I'm noting here that if you're unfamiliar with this parable, the above description probably gives you a way kinkier impression of it than is really warranted.

Noting it, but not changing it. Because some Bollywood skin flick director will be all over that, and I want credit for the idea. But if you need the actual elephant story details, Wikipedia's your huckleberry.)

Only our situation is a little different. Whoever touched the tail is now assumed to have encyclopedic knowledge of all things elephant ass. The tusk-toucher is magically the resident expert on tusks, horns, fangs, spikes, ivory, ebony, piano tuning and Beethoven's Fifth.

I don't have it the worst. I only brushed a wrinkly leg, figuratively speaking, but now I'm fielding questions about pants pressing, Oil of Olay and grandma gams.

Again, figuratively.

Still, these are questions I can't answer. I'm looking at one corner of a giant black box covered in buttons and switches, and I know the one I can push to make a gumball come out. If you want a jelly bean, I can't help you. If you're looking for surf and turf, you'll be sorely disappointed with what I know. And if you need your hair extinguished and a nice aloe vera shampoo, then I'm probably no help at all.

So it's unfortunate. The only thing worse than being "the guy" for a thing is being "the guy" for a thing you really aren't especially "the guy" for. And the people coming to me for help aren't getting anywhere, either. Because I can only give them the same answer:

"Go ask elephant-ass guy. Maybe he knows something."

But probably not. Dude's blind, so Dumbo's probably sat on him by now. I'm just saying, it's a mess.

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