We took turns reading a Philadelphia Inquirer story about possible psychological damage suffered by office workers who, for their own safety’s sake, must work at home for as long as the COVID-19 disaster persists.
In suddenly empty offices all across America, idle water coolers stand as memorials to a workplace culture that has virtually disappeared during the coronavirus epidemic.
For millions now forced to labor at home, the casual collegiality symbolized by those gurgling office gathering spots has given way to seclusion and uncertainty, possibly exacerbating what ex-Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called ‘America’s epidemic of loneliness.’
Swamp Rabbit shook his head. “Them poor water coolers. I’ll bet they ain’t gurgled in weeks.”
I pretended to smack him upside his head. “It’s not funny, dude. Forced solitude is taking a toll on our mental health. Where would we be without the casual collegiality of the office workplace?”
He raised his mangy head and looked me over. “You’re putting me on, Odd Man. You don’t like office work.”
I failed to suppress a laugh. “Let me put it this way. I never worked an office job that didn’t make me feel like I was trapped with people who, with very few exceptions, weren’t scheming backstabbers or hopeless drones.”
“They probably felt the same way about you,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You ain’t exactly fun to be around.”
“That’s my point, rabbit. Why should office workers have to put up with each other? We’re talking mostly about bullshit jobs — writing ad copy, public relations and so on. Why not just use the Internet to do the work from home?”
“I don’t know, Odd Man, it can get pretty lonely at home.”
“You mean lonely like the loneliness of the long-distance runner? It’s a lot worse being lonely in a crowd of dead-ass office workers.”
We’re reading a bullshit newspaper story about bullshit grievances, I told him. These people are getting paid to work from home and therefore have little to complain about, especially compared to essential workers who get paid next to nothing to risk infection every day.
Swamp Rabbit told me to calm down, he agreed with me, but why did the Inquirer run a story that tries to make us feel sorry for at-home office workers?
“Because office workers are their audience,” I said. “Who else would have the time or inclination to read such crap?”