"The definition of work changes, and young people's prospects for work change as well. The very materiality of work -- from putting cars together to pushing paper to creating and transferring electronic files on a computer -- also changes. Even though parents are living in the same world as their kids, they're just not seeing it the same way, obviously. And, the kids are looking at another set of trajectories. Kids are trying to figure out what's going to happen, but their fears and their possibilities are not exactly those their parents had at the same age."
"Flippancy about work, on the part of the nonworking, seems to be especially aggravating."
"There are always multiple audiences for any cultural product. Some have always found the wit of the lounger or the slacker or the loafer infuriating. Some, of course, have found it hilarious. To find it funny doesn't necessarily mean you agree with the attitude, though.
"In my book, I focus on people who have a specific anti-work agenda, either in their self-presentation or in their writing. It's very rare to find a wealthy person who pooh-poohs work, because it's obviously in bad taste. If you have no money and you're making fun of work, at least you clearly have some kind of courage of conviction."
I tell Mr. Lutz what I heard on the radio, before we met, about Charles Dickens. "He seems to view work from both perspectives, doesn't he?"
"Dickens loves the artful dodger and he despises piety. It's very hard to be a champion for the work ethic without sounding pious."
"On the other hand, the reward for doing 'good' is to retire to a life of ease and plenty."
"In my other life, aside from being a social historian, I write academic pieces on literature. Over the past ten years or so, it's become clear to me that the thing that makes literature 'Literature' is a text that is complicated and that never comes down on one side or another on these complicated cultural issues. Dickens is great, because he simultaneously describes and undercuts opposing attitudes toward work.
"In a way, that's what I try to do in my own books. I give all sides of the picture, but I'm not all that interested in the moral of the story, or of scolding or championing one side or the other."
"Are some readers frustrated by the lack of a stance?"
"Some reviewers are frustrated. They can't figure out where I stand. Others love the compendious nature of that kind of examination."
Looking out the hotel lobby window we see, on the sidewalk across the street, a disheveled man begging for change.
"I was talking to a panhandler outside the bookstore where I read last night in Portland. I asked him how it was going, and he kept his hand out, hitting people up as we were talking. I asked if he was doing all right being on the streets there. He told me he made enough money to rent a couch and kitchen privileges in a house, so he was doing okay. Then he said, "Well, actually it's a love seat, not a couch. But I'm doing fine." His assessment of his career at that time was that it wasn't that bad."
I commented to Mr. Lutz that the homeless seem increasingly more visible in Seattle.
"There's a certain progressive political consensus that means that the homeless are treated better here than in many places. In Portland and Seattle the homeless are more visible because they aren't chased out of every square inch of the city. That's true in Santa Monica, for instance, as opposed to the rest of L.A. Most cities don't have a homeless problem because the police pick them up and drive them someplace else and drop them off.
"We know that the majority of people who are on the street have serious mental illness. We know that the small government movement has made these people's lives hell. Other countries in the world have solved this problem without our per capita income. We could at least be giving them the option of someplace to live. It's a travesty of a sham of a mockery of a horrible thing. It's just terrible."
"What is it about media images of slackers and workers that interests you?"
"When you think about a figure like Chaplin's Little Tramp, he's portraying a person who is homeless. But, the Little Tramp is not a real tramp. I'm interested in these 'slacker' figures that get produced by our writers and comedians and filmmakers and cartoonists. Dagwood asleep at his desk, for example. I'm interested in the function these characters serve. They're very different than anyone's actual life situation, yet eventually those figures do offer people models for identity.
"In my own life, I became Jack Kerouac before I ever read him. It just kind of trickled down as an image, probably from crappy TV shows like Route 66 or something. I got this watered-down silly version of it from the sources I was imbibing, and I became it. I had a self-image that was constructed out of these available, cultural materials. I'm interested in how lives are shaped by these phantasmic images."
Mr. Lutz explains that our notion of what it means to be a hard worker is also a construct of available cultural images. "We get an idea of what it means to be hard working, and then we shame each other into doing our part of the work."
"Deciding what to read from a piece of nonfiction, at a public event, must be very challenging. How do you go about it?"
"It's difficult, because I feel like the book works cumulatively. So, when I read, I don't read straight from the book. I rearrange sentences and explain things as I go along. Essentially, I rework it as an oral document.
"It was clear to me as soon as I started doing interviews about the book that some people thought I was making fun of slackers. I wanted to disprove that, so I read from the section about my own hippie years. Other times I've read the beginning about my surprising anger at my own son's months on the couch when he moved in with me. Tonight, I was thinking of doing a bit from the ending. I haven't decided yet.
"I have this reputation, among my peers, for being incredibly productive, but it's not true. I waste so much time. It's astounding. It's criminal. I am like these people I talk about."