I was not awarded the Bill Gates Scholarship, though I had come to Seattle to interview for it. At the end of the weekend, they announced the half of us whom the Foundation had chosen, and the rest of us skulked off to the bar in the basement of the Foundation’s vast glass campus.
One of the other competitors, another loser, was at the bar, already drunk.
“It’s because they’re a bunch of liberal fucking hippies. It’s because it’s Seattle.” His project proposal for the Scholarship had involved subsidizing firearms for illegal immigrants. As he saw me approach, he became more aggressive.
“I know why I lost,” he said. “Because they do not fucking care about their constitutional rights.” He paused. “I always carry,” he said, pulling open his jacket to reveal a handgun. I twitched with unease, and sensing that I was afraid, he pulled the gun out.
“What, are you scared? Scared like they are? Goddamn you people, it’s just a GUN.”
I said “Oh, no, no, it’s not that, it’s just…” He began waving it around. “You’re all such pussies here!” He pointed the gun directly at me, and I became very agitated. That made him angrier. “Oh come ON!” He pulled the trigger, the flame came out; a lighter. I breathed. “God, you make me sick, you thought it was a real gun…But seriously,” he said, “I do always carry.” And he took out a real handgun.
I excused myself, went to the bathroom. As I finished, Bill Gates was entering. I hadn’t expected to see him, the Foundation’s headquarters were sprawling and it was said he didn’t get involved with the business of Scholarship selection (though he would later shake hands with the winners at the Congratulations Gala). He went over to a urinal, and I thought I should at least say something to him.
“Hello, I was a finalist for the Scholarship this weekend. I didn’t get it, but, well, you know, I just wanted to say that I respec…” He turned and interrupted.
“Could you zip me up please?” He presented me his undone fly.
“Oh,” I replied. I hesitated, and then bent over and carefully zipped him up. Gates went over to the sink, began washing his hands, said nothing more. I was about to speak again, when he said:
“Would you mind pulling up my drawstring?” He motioned towards his collar, around which there was a kind of twine. I edged over, got it between my thumb and forefinger, and began pulling upward. His skin sort of…tightened.
“Like this?” He said nothing, but made an “mmm” face. As I drew the string into the air above his head into a triangle, he tightened further.
“Uh, do you mind if I ask what this is?” I asked him. “The string, I mean.”
He pulled away from me and looked offended.
I have multiple sclerosis,” he replied. Wiping his hands and throwing his paper towel away, he turned and left the restroom.