January 1998
s m u g
by Joe Procopio


Fear and Loathing in Redmond

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
In the days of Auld Lang Syne

Next thing I know I'm waking up on my couch with a half empty bottle of Stoli in my hand. And I feel that if I stand up, my skull will spontaneously split down the middle. Happy-freakin'-New-Year, indeed. I'm fully clothed, I have my wallet, and for the most part, everything seems to be intact. I can't find my tie, but then that always happens.

What has jarred me back into consciousness is the incessant ringing coming from my phone. It's a desperation call, I can tell, because whoever it is keeps getting my machine, hanging up, and then calling again. This is most likely my editor or my mom. Since the January issue of Smug comes out today, I'm guessing it's Leslie.

It's neither.



"Thank God. You've gotta help me. I'm a dead man."

If I had a nickel for every time I got a call that started like this...

"Easy. Slow down. What the hell time is it?"

"It's 5:30 in the morning my time. 8:30 yours."

"Jeez. It could maybe have waited?"

"No way! I've been lying awake all night. I need a plan and I need it now."

"All right. All right."

I put the vodka on my coffee table and try to straighten out a little. My back cracks. I'm in no mood for this. But then I remember something Ghandi once told me. You gotta give and give until it hurts and you've got nothing left. Then you gotta give a little more. No. Wait. That was Nipsy Russell.

"Now calm down and tell me what the problem is. Blind date? Gallery opening? Important dinner party?"

"Federal injunction."


"Oh for the love of... who is this?"

"It's Bill."

If I had a nickel for every time I got a call from Bill that started like this...

I mean, come on, raise your hand if you haven't received a frantic late-night phone call or rambling, incoherent 3-page e-mail from Bill Gates. You would think a guy worth 40-something-billion would be just a tad more secure about himself. I swear, if it isn't the plunging ratings for that folly that is MSNBC, it's his indifferent cat. You know? Eventually, you just have to cut someone loose, right?

But I can hear him whimpering and gurgling on the other end of the line. He'd probably been up all night, eating Mr. Goodbars and watching old Gilligan's Island reruns (and I tell you, if he brings up that if-the-professor-was-so-smart-why-didn't-he-build-a-boat thing again, I'll kill him). I felt bad for him, even though I knew that's exactly what he wanted.

Now, I'll admit, I haven't done a federal injunction in forever. This is a bit more complex than, get a haircut, buy a new suit, and don't ever, ever talk about Star Trek. This would require some thinking and some research. After all, Janet Reno can rip a man in half.

"So, how much are they sticking you for?"

"I don't know, a million a day or something like that."

I thought about this and gasped (but, you know, only on the inside. I mean, if Bill hears any trepidation in your voice he starts crying and he hangs up and then it takes all day to reach him again and when you do you find out he fired a couple thousand people... not pretty). Then I thought about it again and put it into context. I thought about how much Microsoft is worth and how much I am worth. To me, it would translate to about 23 cents a day. No big deal.

"And what's their beef?"

"I gotta stop wrapping Internet Explorer with Windows. Something about artificially flooding the market and monopolization."

So it wasn't as bad as all that. Not like they're really going after him. This is just a pissing match. And strategy dictates that you stay strong and rally the folks who buy your product. The Justice Department is a bit like Johnny State Trooper. Take your ticket and don't bitch. You can't avoid them, but you mouth off once and suddenly you're maced and wearing orange.

"Okay, Bill. Have you responded to the injunction?"

"Sort of."

"Good. Now, the key here is compliance and a quick shift in your marketing strategy. There's no sense in acting like a spoiled bully. We both know that you're way more evil that this whole Internet Explorer thing and you don't need them poking around the farm any further. So don't go spouting off about how Microsoft essentially runs the country and these Justice Department folks are nothing but knuckle-scraping Neanderthals."

"You mean, like, don't suggest I'll comply to the injunction by offering a widowed or sub-standard version of Windows 95?"




"Son of a... That's it. I'm never listening to Andreesen again."

Go figure.

"Bill. Help me out here. I just don't understand. Remember the last time you flew down here? We were in that strip club, and right before you got thrown out you were telling me how Windows '98 was going to be internet ready and would essentially make the browser obsolete?"

"Yeah. I remember that."

"So why are you pushing so hard for this? You already own the desktop and Apple. It's mere months before you own the internet too."

"Well... I'm kinda..."

"Bill? Out with it."

"I'm... sorta... saving up to buy NASA."

"Oh, Bill."

"Just this once, Joe. This is the last federal agency I'm going to buy and then that's it."

"Is that such a good idea, Bill?"

"It's... it's... I guess not. Wait! What if I sell back the FCC?"

"Bill, I don't think a guy needs more than four government departments. Do you?"

"Yeah. I guess you're right."

"Now, what did we say about the Justice Department that last time?"

"They're just putting up a front."

"And why do we let them?"

"Because if they really let the free market rule, we'd get crushed."

I felt so bad. Bill was so dejected. But then, I had an idea up my sleeve.

"Bill, I got it. Here's what you do. Comply with the injunction in full. Strip out the automatic install and registration of Internet Explorer and leave the guts intact."


"You heard me. Play the victim and do it with a smile on your face. Give the people something for nothing. Then, sell off the FCC, the DEA, and your stock in the Executive Branch."

"This doesn't sound like help."

"Hear me out. Do all that, and when Windows 98 comes out, you've got yourself the extra capital to buy the Justice Department."

"Hey. That's so crazy it just might work."

"The last shreds of free market rule are stripped away and you, my friend, are king."

"Incredible. I knew I could count on you."

"No problem."

"Oh. Joe. One more thing. What's the new black again?"


"Got it. Hey, check your e-mail. There's a little something for you."

And so we hung up. Once again, I helped Bill by making him a tuna fish sandwich instead of teaching him how to fish. But at least he's more appreciative than Courtney Love was. So I went upstairs and dialed into the net. When I checked my mail, I did indeed find a little gift from Mr. Bill. It was a list of 300 porn-site URLs and access codes that not even Todd Levin could find. I wrote him back and said thanks. I just didn't have the heart to tell him that long ago, when I bought my computer with Windows 95 installed and Internet Explorer bundled in, I stripped out Internet Explorer and immediately downloaded Netscape Navigator. Not because it's faster (it is), not because it's slicker (it is). Just because I can't stand it when someone tries to nudge me into something I don't necessarily want.




in the junk drawer:

December 1997
November 1997
October 1997
September 1997
August 1997
July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997

and such
and such

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