Workable solutions

Jul 7, 1999 at 12:00 am

From beneath the rustling pile of press releases, newspaper clippings, pages torn from books, and magazine articles swirling around my office the Lizard of Fun emerges.

"So this is where you’ve been hiding," it says to me, surveying the mess. "Funny, it’s like your house, only tidier."

"Naaah," I say. "If it was my house, these would be piles of laundry instead of piles of paper. Dishes, too. And bills."

The Lizard looks at the sliding stacks on my desk. "What is all this junk, anyway?" it asks, picking up a newspaper clipping and reading it. "Huh. All it says is the mayor of Detroit thinks the city will score more than a million people in the 2000 census." It shrugs, tossing the clipping aside. "You think all those freaks trying to have the millennium baby are gonna make that much of a difference?"

"I dunno," I say, trying to ignore the Lizard’s impatience and concentrate on my work.

"Come on, freak girl, it’s summer. Fireworks to watch. Thunderfest about to start. Beaches to be decontaminated. Hey, isn’t that my good floor lamp? You planning to move in here?"

Forget the trend toward working at home, no matter what experts say about its supposed growth. Let’s talk about the trend toward living at the workplace.

"Oh, give me a break," says the Lizard. "Living at work? That sounds about as much fun as cleaning the kitty litter with a cocktail toothpick."

As long as two years ago, the New York Times Magazine identified the trend: The more time we spend at the workplace, the more it becomes a sort of surrogate home, for working parents and busy singles alike.

Forget about the people you’re biologically related to. Your co-workers become your family. Forget about the old tradition of dinner together at home. The employee cafeteria provides more nutritious meals than the boxes of prefab Salisbury steaks you microwave when you arrive at the place you pay rent or mortgage money for.

At work, you can escape from the dishes, the laundry, the bills and the whining kids.

"Don’t forget the annoying telephone solicitors asking if you want to buy a swimming pool or a built-in vacuum-cleaning system for the home you hardly spend any time in anyway," notes the Lizard.

You get to drink lots of coffee you don’t have to prepare yourself, talk to your co-workers about interesting and challenging things ("Like how to decorate your cubicle?" asks the Lizard.) and gossip about who did what with whom when they were (gasp) supposed to be going home.

If you work somewhere that subscribes to the new trends in personnel perks, you might even have catered meals, perpetual snacks, on-site day care, nap rooms, a concierge to run your errands, and the go-ahead to bring your dog to work. ("How about your lizard?")

You get personal validation, e-mail and even a paycheck. And every time the phone rings, you know it’s for you, not your roommate or your kid.

The Lizard shoves me off my chair and sits in front of my work computer. "You’ve also got a faster Internet connection here than I’ve got at home. Mind if I surf?"

It’s no wonder that, faced with the terror of two weeks’ vacation, many professionals take their work home for the holidays, checking in via modem or cell phone from airplane seats and hotel rooms. ("Naaah, they’re just showing off," says the Lizard. "See, I can afford $5 a minute for the SkyPhone.") Work has become a better escape than a sandy shore on an uncharted desert isle.

"Hey, speaking of litterboxes, check this out," says the Lizard. "This dude’s got a litterbox cam set up. Also a desk cam and a conference room cam."

The Lizard points at the computer, where The Nerdman Show gives 14 different Webcam views of the environment of a self-proclaimed nerd.

It’s a 24-7 live documentation of the way the divisions between work and home have become blurred. In essence, no matter where he is, it’s the nerd’s job to just be himself, for however many viewers he garners each day.

"Yeah," says the Lizard. "It’s kind of like being a virtual friend for everyone who spends more quality time with their computers than with their families."

I shrug. "You’re the one who found the site."

"Whatever, whatever," says the Lizard, looking again at my newspaper clippings. "So, the mayor seems keen on bringing new businesses into Detroit, and is also worried about making sure the population stays higher than 1 million?"

I nod. "That’s about the shape of it."

"Well, there’s one obvious solution. Get all the new businesses to let the workers actually live at their offices. It’ll work great, as long as they move in before the census folks come around."

The Lizard puts its feet up on my desk. "Free coffee, eh? What kind of sublet arrangement do you think we could work out?"