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Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Hard Times For Bill

Monday night means laundry night chez moi. Time to load up the week’s worth of acid-washed jeans and Motley Cruë t-shirts in the basket. I throw a copy of Jean Paul Sartre’s Les Jeux Sont Fait on top and head out to the Sit and Spin café laundromat. I bring the book just to impress the waitress. If I need anything to read I can always find a dog-eared copy of Oprah. I don't know why I'm trying to score points with her ilk. The last time I dated the hipster type intimacy consisted of me disinfecting her body piercings.

I had just sorted out three loads of clothes when Mister Gates staggered into the laundromat, balancing a huge plastic hamper on his head. Never mind that a platoon of government lawyers is working around the clock to carve up his empire like so many Balkan republics, he has to have clean shirts just like the next guy.

Maybe his stock has tumbled a bit, and technically he is no longer the world’s richest man, but things aren’t that tough for Microsoft’s founder and chief shareholder. He still uses a name brand detergent, not like the bulk stuff I use, which I keep in an old cookie tin. I guess Fitzgerald was right: the rich really are different.

He watches as I carefully measure out ¾ cup of soap for each load.

“You measure that stuff out like you’re some sort of chemist,” he jokes as he free-pours his box of Tide into four top loaders. What a grand-stander, a real hot dog.

We both take a seat, waiting to add fabric softener. He beats me to this month’s copy of People lying on the table.

“ ‘Sexiest Man Alive'! What’s he got that I ain’t got? Ask any woman what they think is sexy and they’ll tell you a man with power. I could have this movie star pretty-boy picking up cigarette butts in the company parking lot.” He looks at me for support. By way of changing the subject I turn on the TV.

“Mister Gates, you’re breaking out into a cold sweat. Are you OK? This? It’s a very popular show; it’s called So You Want To Be A Millionaire. Your worst nightmare is being reduced to a millionaire? No kidding? The people you know make their kids watch this when they want to scare the bejeezus out of them?” I turn it off. I ask if he wants to join me for a beer at one of the tables.

The beers show up and we pay (Dutch treat, of course). We both comment on how nice it is to be able to drink a beer while doing laundry. Not wanting Bill to think that I may have a drinking problem, I fail to mention to him that I once scoured the yellow pages looking for a post office with a happy hour (I was able to find a barber shop that serves beer, The Burp and Clip).

We both return to the machines to throw our stuff in the dryers when I finally get up the nerve to ask him.

“I’ve always wanted to ask you something, Mister Gates. So much has been made of your personal wealth but take away that wealth…put down the gun, Mister Gates. I’m speaking figuratively. No one is going to take away your money. But underneath all of that financial and material wealth, I’m sure you’re just a regular guy like everyone else in this laundromat. What’s that? Really? OK, besides the fact that you’ve had extensive gene therapy, and you’ll never get any older or get sick, and you’ll never die, I’m sure you’re just like me. You’ve got the same blood pumping through your veins. Synthetic blood you say? So you’re kind of a Michael Jackson-type regular kind of guy.”

We make it through the usual gossip while we fold (he must have worked at The Gap in high school, this guy is good) when the topic finally turns to what is to become of his company.

“The government boys want me to break it up into two companies: a software company and a cover band that performs at wedding receptions. Weddings are a good business. You know the phrase 'you may now kiss the bride'? I picked up the copyright on that."

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