Caller: Sup. What ya doin’?
Co-worker: Nothing. Working.
Both answers were accurate.
That’s because at this job, doing nothing was still considered “work” if you were on the clock. In other words, the main requirement for this job was simply being there.
For some people, such an arrangement would be paradise. For me, it was not. I was bored. I was depressed. I was an unhappy member of the Working Dead.
To me, the Working Dead are the class of people who waste their lives away one day at a time at jobs where they accomplish nothing. I was made aware of their existence in the summer of 1997.
I had just started my first job at the age of 14. The objective was for me to recognize the value of a hard day’s work as early as possible. The problem was that I didn’t witness much work — because this was government work.
The full-time workers received their daily assignments and then paired off with the part-time help. I was picked up by a guy everyone in the garage called “Webby.” Per his instruction, I grabbed some tools off of the wall, tossed them into the back of the truck, and climbed into the passenger seat. He finished his cigarette and then we were off.
I would say “and then we were off to complete our assignment,” but that’s not what happened. Webby drove past the patch of trees we were supposed to trim up, made some comment about how it was “an easy two days of work,” and continued driving until he found a good hiding spot. He parked the truck on a dead end street, adjusted his visor so the morning sun wouldn’t burn his face, then glanced in each of the mirrors. Content with our location, he turned off the engine. He turned to me and announced “Nap time.”
I sat in the truck while Webby slept against his window for an hour. When he woke up, he smiled at me and said “Break time.” We met the other men from the garage at 7-eleven — the designated meeting place for the 9:30 break. Most of them had a smoke and drank coffee. Webby devoured an 89-cent hot dog smothered in free chili and cheese. Once finished, he drove us back to the same dead end street for another nap. I rolled down my window when he began to fart in his sleep.
That was my first work experience — my first glimpse of the Working Dead. Little did I know that it was only a preview of things to come. For the rest of my adolescent life, I worked with (or for) people who pretended they were working instead of actually working.
I entered the computer industry at the age of 16. The organization stuck me where they probably stuck all their summer help: The back corner cubicle. You know, the one used for storage during the other nine months of the year.
The old guy in the cubicle next to me spent most days talking on the phone. He talked about his most recent fishing trip and where the fish were biting. He talked about how well or how poorly his stocks were doing. He talked about his upcoming vacation and how he couldn’t wait to retire.
The young guy in the other cubicle next to me spent my first day voicing complaints about my squeaky chair. He switched it for a different one the first chance he got. I think he spent every day after that looking at porn.
His behavior was not unique. My job involved fixing computer problems wherever they turned up, so I spent a lot of time walking around the facility. It was common for me to pass a series of cubicles and see something like: Solitaire. Solitaire. Solitaire. Porn. Solitaire. Solitaire. Solitaire. Porn.
At a computer consulting company two years later, I was surprised at how honest my co-worker was about ripping customers off. “Today you’re going to learn how to look like you’re working for two hours,” he explained. “We’re under contract that requires us to be here for ‘routine maintenance’ every month, but there’s really not much to do.”
I spent the two hours looking over his shoulder as he ran the Windows 98 Disk Defragmenter Utility (Show Details, Maximized) in the background on one workstation. He also had a MS-DOS window ready in the foreground. He typed “dir /s” and hit enter every time someone approached us.
To a non-savvy computer user, this ‘routine maintenance’ performance must have looked convincing. It certainly wasn’t worth the $100 an hour they were being charged, though.
Admittedly, these examples are a select few from personal experiences that span several years. I’m not suggesting that everyone who works is only acting like they work — and even those who do can’t do it all the time. This doesn’t change the fact that the first Corona I ever had was on the job: When the big boss cat was away on vacation, the worker mice shared a six pack.
My point is that I’ve met a lot of different people at different jobs, and most of them liked getting paid to do nothing. Many of them are honest (and proud) about their situation, saying things like:
“I get paid to watch television all day.” — “I get paid to stay in an air conditioned office all day.” — “I get paid to play solitaire all day.” — “I get paid to browse the Internet all day.” — “I get paid to babysit a phone all day.” — “I get paid to attend meetings all day.” — “I get paid to watch the clock all day.”
In other words, they like thinking “I get paid to do nothing all day.”
They’ve accepted it, they’re comfortable with it, and I’m willing to bet that they wouldn’t like it any other way. Personally, though, this “do the least amount of work possible” approach was something I didn’t enjoy.
I prefer to actually do things. Specifically, I enjoy creating things. I get so absorbed in the creative process that I become impervious to interruption and lose all sense of time. In other words, it’s my paradise.
The thing is, being a member of what I call “the Working Dead” is someone else’s paradise. Understand that “the Working Dead” is only a personal label, and not a concrete label. It’s how I feel about jobs that lack creativity. In my mind, it’s the opposite of paradise. It’s hell. In short, it’s no way to live.
So who do you think are “the Working Dead,” and are you among them?
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