This essay originally appeared in The Inner Swine, Volume 13, Issue 3, September 2007
Working From Home = No Pants Ever
by Jeff Somers
Friends, the Singularity has come. No, not one of those singularities geeks like to talk about, where we either reach a point of technological advancement that frees us from the traditional bonds of mortality, or anything like that. Like almost everything else in this crappy, zine, the singularity I refer to is completely all about me. And it has nothing to do with nanobots being injected into me, or jacking into the Matrix or any other type of horseshit. We all have a particular Singularity, right, a moment in our lives where everything changes and life as we know it will never be the same, yes? For you it might be the day you realize you can brew your own beer, or the moment you see your first born for the first time, or something like that. For me, the Singularity is when I am able to do my job in my underwear.
And it has happened.
As anyone who has followed The Inner Swine lo these many years knows, I work on the low end of publishing. No swanky lunches with John Grisham for me, just endless drudgery working on textbooks and the like, taking shit from editors who think their book is the first book evah published and doing things like sizing five jabillion pictures of eye diseases for publication. This is not a glamorous job, but it pays a tiny proportion of the bills and allows me to claim to people that I am gainfully employed—I don’t think The Duchess would have married me 4 years ago if I hadn’t had at least a minimum-level kind of job, after all.
The company I’ve worked for since 2004 decided to close its New York office this year, which normally would have been a sad day in Jeff Land, since unemployment is shortly followed by Interviews and Resumes and Jeff staring at the bottom of a bottle of Rye and wondering if he could possibly make enough money selling bodily fluids to satisfy his wife’s need for new shoes (answer: no). But my company didn’t “let me go”, as the euphemism goes. They offered to let me work from home. And man, I jumped on that with two feet, just barely stifling a whoop of joy. Because now I can become Bathrobe Man.
BE HAPPY IN YOUR WORK
The human psyche is an interesting thing. Some people would worry about practical things when faced with an offer to work from home: The isolation from your fellow man, the tendency to let yourself go physically, the potential inability to maintain discipline and let your work pile up to levels that no man, no matter how suddenly desperate, can catch up with. That may be the common reaction, but my reaction was to contemplate never having to wear pants again.
You see, for me, going to an office every day seems like a waste of time. Unless you work in a job that requires close collaboration, or direct interaction with customers, there’s just no reason in today’s day and age for all of us to be trooped into one space and forced to socialize while accomplishing tasks—and let’s face it, the main reason you’re gathered into one office, at least at my peon level, is because your corporate masters don’t trust you, and think you need to be managed very closely. As in, with your manager mere feet behind you closely. Because you might, I don’t know, steal office supplies, or drink on the job, or surf pornography on your computer, or maybe even utilize the company’s photocopier in order to create copies of your turgid zine that no one wants to read. You know, stuff like that.
And sure, some people do need supervision. Kids, for one thing. When I was twenty-two my heart was filled with laziness and larceny. Today my heart is filled with arterial plaque and a vague desire for a nap, and I perform my work duties more or less as a function of my daily life—like breathing, or drinking a liter of cherry liquor every day. But when I was younger, I can admit now that I benefited—in a not-being-fired kind of way—from the discipline and paranoia of trooping to an office every day and being forced to sit there for eight hours,often with little or nothing to actually do.
You see, the secret of most jobs is that there is a lot of down time. At least if you’re moderately intelligent and can smell bullshit from a mile away there is. If you drank the Kool Aid on the first day and really believe that your dedication is required on a nonstop basis or the world will stop spinning and everyone sucked out into space, if you believe that the whole place would fall apart if you so much as take a sick day—well, in that case you’re probably one of those people who spend their day in a frenzy, running about and pulling your own hair out.
Me, I’m more of an “Ease Into Your Day” type. This involves waking up about five minutes before you need to be at work, drinking coffee and reading the news for the first hour or so once you arrive, and then doing your job in a non-frenzied way. This doesn’t mean I don’t do a good job—I take that shit seriously, believe it or not, and my shining 12+ years of continuous employment is a testament to that. But it does mean that I follow Somers’ Law of Jobs: Never, under any circumstances, ask for more work.
You’d be amazed how this simple rule simplifies your life. From birth, we are all trained to dread idle time. What else is primary education if not a lengthy brainwashing period that prepares us to be the cogs in the machine we were born to be, right? And one of the main things school teaches us is that it is horrible, horrible to have nothing to do—nothing assigned for us to do. Even as you emerge into your disappointing adulthood, you’re reminded that one of the best ways to succeed at your job (which, it is assumed, we all wish to do) is to tell your boss that you can take on more, to let them know when you’re idle. Thus we have a vast army of people who, the moment they complete an assignment, rush to their boss and ask for more work.
Somers’ Law refutes this. It’s always been my experience that work assignments are always overestimated in the time and effort department. If I get a new project and my boss tells me it’ll be a doozy, requiring weeks of effort and long, sweaty nights, it usually means I could accomplish it in about four days of mild effort, a week if I take frequent bathroom breaks. Sometimes I am wrong, but over the years I’ve honed this Work Time Dilation Detector of mine to a fine point, and I can quickly convert a stated “six months” into a reality-based “three weeks” or something like that.
But there is no margin in telling your boss this, or in completing the task quickly and asking for more. Oh, I suppose if you actually wish to be promoted, it’s a good idea, but I think it’s clear from the tone of this article that I do not wish to be promoted. I’ve seen people be promoted, kids, and aside from the more money I’ve never observed any of them increasing their happiness. But that’s a whole other article, one I’ve written a few dozen times already. The point is, Somers’ Law states if you’re told a project will take six months, take six months to do it and never say another word. And if your boss forgets to assign you more work, say nothing and spend your days writing zines at work.
All this is just my sloppy, rambling way of establishing that I have always had some downtime at my job. This varies, of course; Somers’ Law does not protect you from being assigned jobs, and sometimes a sharp-eyed boss would notice me snoring loudly at my desk and grimly give me five or six new projects. The second part of Somers’ Law states that while you do not ask for more work, you also never ever complain about new work, so when I get flooded with work I just sit down and do it, dreaming of the time when I am once again work-free. But typically I am usually able to do my job competently within a few hours every day, leaving me several hours where I am not actually performing my work duties, and since I was stuck at an office during these off hours it was, basically, wasted time. Time I could have been spending on other, more interesting things. Like seeing if drinking beer at noon is actually as bad for you as they say, or if I can teach a cat to speak English.
Research is ongoing on both.
PANTSLESSNESS: NO LONGER A JOKE
Now, I’ve made a lot of jokes in this zine about being pantsless, losing my pants, my pants dropping at humorous moments—the truth is, I am a lazy, lazy man and grooming usually falls to the bottom of my lists of Things To Do, right below joining the army to fight terrorism and rejoining the Boy Scouts of America. I’m not sure why—presenting a pleasant image of yourself is usually pretty high on people’s lists, but I’ve sort of lost interest in this, except in highly public moments when people will actually know my name and be able to link me to the shuffling, dirty man they see. When I’m just moving about the world anonymously, I don’t really give a crap what I look like—though, naturally enough, a man as good-looking at me can only do so much to tarnish his presentation.
But, in all honesty, going to work was the last thing inspiring me to bare-minimum levels of public grooming. Don’t get me wrong—bare-minimum is pretty much all the office got, but it was still a certain level. Now that I am home with cats all day, forget it. I will soon enough be shuffling about in a tattered bathrobe, wearing tissue boxes on my feet, months of beard dragging on the floor. Occasionally I will discover a forgotten Cheetoh or Pringle in my beard and experience a moment of true joy. Throughout all of this, I will continue to perform my work duties, and no one will know that when I’m on a conference call in the middle of August, I am sitting naked in a leather chair, combing my tangled beard and scratching my privates.
Truly, it is a dream come true.