Silicon Follies

Chapter 56: Barry's requiem -- Bill Gates, golf and marijuana


Thomas Scoville
September 25, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Kiki would have had no idea how to go about finding marijuana these days. Fortunately, she could remain ignorant; one of her more pranksterish salon guests had left a small quantity hanging like mistletoe over the kitchen spice rack -- an offering of love buds, still untouched and tied in gift ribbon.

The most challenging part had been the remedial hydrodynamics -- 20 years had passed since Barry put fire to his big red bong, and Kiki had more than a little difficulty remembering the relative positions of water and herb.

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After a few false starts, Kiki managed to kindle a small glow in the bowl of the ancient water pipe. She put her lips to it, clumsily pulled a little smoke through its bubbling innards and inhaled.

She coughed explosively. She hadn't smoked pot in a decade, and her searing lungs painfully instructed her that she wouldn't be starting again. No matter; Kiki wasn't seeking the canonical cannabis euphoria. She was in mourning, jonesing for a buzz at once more elusive and sentimental.

And she had found it. For a smoky, luminous moment, she felt close to Barry.

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Microsoft founder regrets loss of TeraMemory executive

San Francisco, CA -- In the high-stakes, ultra-competitive struggle for Internet domination, you wouldn't expect to find any love lost between rivals.

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Don't tell that to Bill Gates. After the disappearance and presumed death of TeraMemory CEO Barry Dominic in a competitive sailing mishap, Gates expressed regret.

"Used to be that every time I turned around, there he was," the founder and chairman of Microsoft remarked at the third Symposium on Internet and Government Thursday. "The guy was very intense, a great competitor, and that's how I'll remember him."

Asked if the absence of a major rival changed his thinking on the race to dominate Internet networking standards, Gates replied, "Maybe not the way you think. Barry was always one step behind, but it helped me to focus and drive my company forward. In this business, you've got to be constantly watching your back. And tomorrow when I look over my shoulder, I'm going to miss his angry face glaring back at me."

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Ed Pilphur wrapped his scarred knuckles around the grip of his wildly oversized driver. "Well, I have to say the bastard really surprised me. This is the absolute last thing I expected him to do," he commented dryly, and hacked at his tee shot.

It faded right, disappearing into Stillwater Cove. "Goddamned Pebble Beach wind. Mulligan." He bent over to tee up another ball. "Crazy, crazy bastard," he continued. "Went out and got himself killed. All that goddamned macho outdoorsman crap."

His second shot had similar inclinations, but stayed in the rough. "Well, at least it leaves us free to do what's best for our shareholders now," he said, satisfied with his lie.

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Andrew Lucre was still a little worried. "Yeah, I know none of us was particularly fond of the guy, but he did have vision." He paused and looked at Ed, a little sideways. "I mean, he did -- didn't he?"

Ed handed the club to his jumpsuited caddy, and strode off in the general direction of his ball. "I don't even want to think in those terms, Andy. All I know is that Barry broke one of my cardinal rules."

"And what rule is that?" Andrew asked, following.

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"Pilphur's law," Ed declared, turning to face his partner while continuing to amble backward down the fairway. "Never believe your own hype. Leave it to your competitors -- and your investors -- to do that."

They ended up on opposite sides of the fairway, Ed's slice to Andrew's hook. "I don't know if he was a visionary, Andy," Ed called across the grass, and duffed his approach. "But I do know that he was ..."

Ed paused while Andrew stroked his 5-iron. They watched the ball thump up on the green, looked across at each other and continued the conversation.

"... a total asshole," they both said at exactly the same time. The men doubled over, laughing. Even the caddies allowed themselves a smirk.

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The truth is always an excellent tonic for concentration; they both one-putted.

Ed stamped his spikes on the cart path en route to the next tee. "That son of a bitch," he grumbled. "I'm going to miss fighting with him, anyway." He contemplated the smiling runes on his ball. "Not a lot. Just a little."

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Comparisons are odious. And, as Barry had once discovered, defining your existence in relation to someone else's can be particularly slippery business, too. Now it was Steve's turn to learn the same lesson.

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Ever since the news of Barry's demise, Steve had been oddly troubled. Why fret? he had thought to himself; The Man had gotten what The Man deserved. So why did he feel so listless and bereft? He sat glumly at his idle computer, the screensaver generating herd upon herd of little yellow-footed penguins. He pulled Blue Power Ranger down from its pedestal, and absent-mindedly turned over the plastic figurine as he ruminated.

Strange circumstances had robbed Steve of his polar opposite. And it wasn't until now that he began to grasp the particular nature of the loss.

Barry had been a potent raison d'etre, the principal source of the outrage that had energized Steve's life. The drama of his existence had been played, of late, against a backdrop of Dominic. Now what was he going to do?

And this death thing, Steve pondered warily, was on a higher plane altogether: bigger than hacking, bigger than free bits, bigger than The Man. Suddenly it was the one and only thing Steve and Barry would ever -- eventually -- have in common.

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And in that realization, Steve began to feel a kernel of sympathy for his fallen foe.

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Paul and Liz were walking along California Avenue when they saw the headline. They pushed some coins into the Mercury box, took a copy and grabbed a table in front of Printer's Inc.

They sat and read the news, Paul lightly resting his chin on Liz's shoulder.

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"Can you believe it?" Paul exclaimed. "One day, he's the biggest frog in the pond, and the next day he's toast. Or frog legs. Or frog legs on toast."

Liz slugged him gently. "Hey," she cautioned. "I'm the one he sexually harassed, and even I've got more respect for the dead."

Paul lowered his eyes in deference, but continued his irreverence. "Hey, I know he was a creep, but for some reason I thought he might be an immortal creep. Shuffling off this mortal coil was the absolute last thing I was expecting him to do. I feel so let down."

Liz finished the article, and put down the paper. "Barry was just a man who got distracted," she said.

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"I don't know," Paul countered, a little doubtfully. "Distracted? By what? I mean, the guy seemed pretty focused."

"By everything," Liz insisted. "I mean, he had absolutely everything that could distract him -- wealth, fame, status, executive toys up the ying-yang. But I can't say that I ever saw him actually happy. Excited, motivated, dynamic, enthusiastic -- but never genuinely happy.

"At one point, I thought I knew him pretty well. I remember he used to talk about how great it was going to be to rule cyberspace, but I think he just wanted to hide there."

Paul had learned to trust Liz's instincts for character evaluation. "Hide from what?" he questioned.

"From the same thing all nerds hide from. From real life."

A chilly breeze -- rudely un-Californian -- whipped through Liz's hair as she looked up at Paul with dewy eyes. "Promise me something?" she pleaded quietly.

"What?"

"Let's not hide from real life, OK?"

Paul let the question hang for a moment. He looked down at the paper, then at Liz, and smiled.

"Oh ..." he replied playfully. "Okaaay."


Thomas Scoville

Thomas Scoville is either an Information Age savant or an ex-Silicon Valley programmer with a bad attitude. He is the author of the Silicon Valley Tarot.

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