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"My Fake Job" was an article by former David Letterman head writer Rodney Rothman that appeared in the November 27, 2000 issue of The New Yorker. In the article, Rothman claimed to have shown up, uninvited, at an unnamed New York City dotcom for three weeks. He took a desk, used the phones, signed up for yoga, and did everything his co-workers did except complain about his plummeting stock options. He didn't have any stock options, because he didn't really work there.

The article simultaneously lampooned the excesses of the dotcom boom ($1000 chairs and corporate massages), as well as the ghostly feeling of the crash (his picking from among 40 empty desks). It was very funny, especially the parts where Rothman seems to get a bit confused about his status, avoiding asking out employees because of prior bad experiences with intra-office romances, or his feelings of guilt when other people get fired but not him.

He worked in the office for seventeen days. Nobody ever challenged him. He was even given his own phone extension before he left. Here's one of the shorter days in its entirety:

Day 11, NOON: When I get back from lunch, there is a meeting of at least thirty staff members in the big conference room. Why am I not part of the company's knowledge-management system?

I work the resentment out through my work: an afternoon spent devising ways to deceive the increasingly menacing Red-Haired Lady. First, I open up a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet document on my computer. I've never used a spreadsheet before, but I have no problem filling it in with random numbers. Whenever I see the Red-Haired Lady's reflection in the window, I click from my word-processor file to the spreadsheet file, drumming my fingers distractedly on the mouse. My only concern is that she'll think I'm auditing her expense reports and go on the warpath.

I also draw a meaningless flowchart, labelled "Starwood Project," on a legal pad, and leave it out on my desk to give me management credibility. I invent some acronyms, box them, and connect them with arrows. Then I write "August 2001" in big letters underneath, and underline it three times. This lets her know that I am very much on schedule, whatever it is that I am doing.

Rothbard's stock as a gonzo journalist skyrocketed after the essay appeared, and people soon figured out that the company he had visited was e-business consultancy Luminant. (The giveaway was a reference to the phrase "May the E-Force Be with You", which had appeared on the company's t-shirts).

Luminant management was understandably angry at the exposure, and CEO Jim Corey sent out a company-wide e-mail that said, in part "there are descriptions in the story that strongly suggest he was writing about Luminant." Corey also listed a series of beefed-up security procedures, including "Introduce yourself to unfamiliar people" ("Hey, it is also a great way to make some friends") and "Don't allow unfamiliar people to follow you through doors with secure access."

Sure thing, Jim.

It was quickly pointed out that Rothman's mother worked for Luminant, making his foray much less brave than it had seemed at first. Some of the episodes in the article, including a massage from co-worker Melissa, were demonstrated to have been purely made up. Rothman's stock fell a bit. The New Yorker apologized.

Luminant, for what it's worth, filed for bankruptcy in late 2001 and sold its core assets to Lante Corp. for pennies on the dollar.

Google reveals that Rothman's entire "My Fake Job" article is available online at http://www.abdot.net/dle/nyt-nov2000.html but this is clearly a copyright violation and I don't expect it to last.

The New Yorker, November 27, 2000

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