It’s Time for a White-Collar Revolt

All we do is work

I would prefer that my boss doesn’t read this, but if you happen to, dear wise man, I want you to know what a terrific guy you are. You are among the smartest and funniest and fairest and nicest (add more adjectives to your heart’s desire) guys I’ve ever resented.

Well, it’s easy to resent bad guys. But to resent a nice guy, there has to be a reason. The reason is, it’s 10:02. I’m still working.

I sort of don’t think I’m alone in this. I sort of think we’ve all been cowed. Remember learning about labor unions, how, about a century ago, factory workers started banning together and saying, We have rights! We want decent working conditions! We want a reasonable workweek!

Wow. Those guys had guts.

I won’t bother you with the details of my overwork. I will, however, point out that the dreams are coming back. It used to be that I’d dream I was waiting on tables, and I lost control, and there was a whole other room I was responsible for that I can’t even bear to peer into (though I do, and it’s a hilly room—a room in a café with hills, and people, many many people, are spilling out of chairs. It is not a happy place, that dream).

Now I feel that way about e-mail. I know it’s trouble. It’s like that room I can’t get to, and then when I do—all those black squiggles of new messages, like killer ants. At the moment I have—let me check—619 e-mails in my inbox. Jeez, somebody should probably read them. Of course, I will. That’s what weekends are for. There’s the real meaning of the electronic age: the corruption of time. We don’t have any left.

Why are we doing this, working like this? (Don’t tell me the economy. That ain’t it.)

Because everyone else does. You feel bad about yourself if you’re not putting in a dozen or so hours a day. You know the drill, because you’re drilling. Although I’m beginning to wonder if it’s an insidious plot, among all the bosses of the world, sort of hanging out at the water cooler (what offices have a water cooler anymore?) giggling about all their worker bees.

So what are we going to do about it? Me, I’m sort of a pussy. Nobody wants to get labeled as not willing to do his share. So I don’t say a word. I take on whatever assignments are dangling out there. But I’ve gotten sneaky. I’ve started taking walks, around 2 p.m. I’ve gotten partial to South Philly. Very nice place. I head toward the Italian Market, from my office at 19th and Market.

But I always return—to more paper on my desk, more e-mails. How did we get here? That’s the mystery.

You. Me. All of us. We let ourselves get into this mess. They’ve seen what we can do, which is more or less work nonstop. We’re very impressive.

They’ll never let us backtrack now, into our lives. 11:19. Still at it.