Fast Company

Club E-Tox

A Spy in the House of Work

Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. It's part of life. I'm not talking about a team-building adventure or even a long weekend. I'm talking about the real deal -- the dreaded "V" word, the word that makes you leave your cell-phone, your laptop, your PDA, and your entire identity at home. If you're lucky, you've been able to avoid taking a vacation for years, but, sooner or later, time accrues and catches up with you. Maybe you have a spouse and kids. If not, then you no doubt have parents, siblings, or old buddies from a time before all of your friends were either coworkers or contacts. The fact is, we're all connected to other human beings who will one day rise up and insist that we leave our cubicle, board an airplane, arrive at a place with a beach, put on a swimsuit, and order a drink with a parasol in it. I know, because that's what happened to me.

Remember when you thought that an annual two-week vacation was a necessity? Now you know better. The guy who tells you that you look like you could use a vacation is the same guy who's planning to take your job once the airplane door closes and the pilot asks everyone to turn off their cell-phone.

I don't know what I would have done if Spud (my partner, who along with me is a cofounder of e-conjob.com) had not suffered a similar fate last year, when his wife forced him to go to Club Med in the Bahamas -- you know, one of those so-called idyllic tropical destinations where people think that a "port" is a place for a cruise ship to dock, not a computer jack, and that a "palm" is a tree, not a device.

"Listen," said Spud. "Don't go cold turkey. One COO I know was so disoriented that he tried to call his office from one of his flip-flops. You gotta do Club E-Tox."

Day one: Arrive at resort. Brother-in-law throws off clothes, races to pool, dives in, and does butterfly stroke to swim-up bar, where he chats up Swedish flight attendant, who offers to enroll him with her in the resort's circus-arts school. He does underwater flip.

Am taken directly to a featureless building with a view of the loading dock: Club E-Tox. Am assigned to a windowless cubicle where I am given one last chance to email, download, fiddle with PalmPilot, and phone the office. First meal at Club E-Tox (lukewarm pasta and limp Caesar salad) is delivered in what Felix, my personal e-toxifier, tells me is the last Styrofoam clam-shell container that I'll see for a week.

Day two: Luckily, jet lag makes me feel as lousy as I usually do after my normal two and a half hours of sleep. Real breakfast is served on real plate on real table, not beside keyboard. Felix has confiscated all of my electronic devices and has given me a yo-yo to prevent me from using my fingers to count stock options. Then comes another meal on another real plate. Am shocked by the amount of time that people spend eating.

Day three: Am strapped into a chaise lounge and forced to read a paperback that has absolutely nothing to do with growing a business. For a moment, I don't understand why the same guy keeps showing up page after page after page; then I remember major concept categories: characters, plot, action. Felix tells me to chant, "Boredom is fun, boredom is fun."

Day four: Report to Felix that I've actually slept long enough to have a dream (involving Swedish flight attendant, details of which are unsuitable for publication). He says that I'm almost ready to be reintegrated into my vacationing family. One hitch -- must take Club E-Tox pledge: "I promise that I will never ask anyone what they do for a living." I refuse. For punishment, I am enrolled in circus-arts lessons. First lesson: flying trapeze. Finally! I have no idea what I'm doing! Risk is high! I could be a star, or I could wind up with a broken neck. Ah, just like life back home in the new economy.

This is the latest episode in The Spy's continuing saga, "Working Behind Enemy Lines." You can find the entire Spy chronicles on the Web (www.askthespy.com).

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