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From Gates's mind to chaos at the Times

Not since Gregor Samsa woke up as a KafkaRoach has a person had as strange a few days as your Rumormeister had this week.

Not since Gregor Samsa woke up as a KafkaRoach has a person had as strange a few days as your Rumormeister had this week. Vermel and I were watching our videotape of Bill Gates's testimony before Congress--but, having watched the proceedings live, we turned the sound off and Vermel, à la Mystery Science Theater 3000, played the Gates part with a precocious, nerdy swagger. I did my best with the pungent regional brogues of Jim Barksdale and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. By the end of the tape, we felt the need for the "real" scoop on just what went down in D.C. that day, so we turned to Bill Gates's online diary entries provided by Microsoft house organ Slate.

The title, "Bill Gates covers Capitol Hill," was the journalistic equivalent of "Houston, we have a problem." To think that Mr. Bill would let us in on what he was really thinking was très naive. But we persisted.

After perusing the first entry, we remarked that the barrage of vapid, Mr. Rogers-like adjectives--exciting, fun, great, amazing, crazy--meant Scribe Gates either possessed the English proficiency of Vermel's preteen schoolmates, or he was trading in the blandest of Wall Street prose. In other words, he would say nothing to scare the stock price down. Or, for that matter, nothing to raise eyebrows in the halls of Justice, whose antitrust agents have combed through every Microsoft utterance of the past five years.

Particularly galling were Gates's views on his company's benevolent "creativity" in the making of software. You don't have to be Stewart Alsop to realize that companies such as Apple, Netscape, Sun, WebTV, and Hotmail have done the innovating, while Bill & Co. either coopted or bought these innovations outright.

Bill's golly-gee-whiz ruminations then moved on to the Big Apple, where Time magazine was celebrating its 75th anniversary with a star-studded gala. Bill breathlessly details meeting Tom Hanks, Raquel Welch, and Apple spokespugilist Muhammad Ali, among others, and even mentions chatting with business partner Steve Jobs. Bill was there, in part, to toast the Wright Brothers, his choice for 20th-century inspirational figures. Given Microsoft's penchant for, uh, adopting the brainstorms of others, I suggest that Milli Vanilli would make a more appropriate choice.

Utterly confused by this account of the proceedings in Washington and New York, I turned in desperation to the one unimpeachable source of information on the planet: the New York Times. Surely the Old Gray Lady--even in her sexy new online garb--would lend the proper perspective to Gates's Beltway bashing. But instead of insight and intellectual clarity, I suddenly entered a surrealist acid trip. For the entire afternoon, the Times online site had its headlines mismatched, resulting in the following dadaist click-throughs:

The headline "Bill Gates defends Microsoft practices to Senate committee" led to an article on Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan testifying before a grand jury; the headline for the Jordan story in turn linked to the nationalist Hindus claiming victory in Indian elections; the Hindu headline brought me to the Gates story.

It was all starting to make sense, especially when the headline "U.S. warns Iraq it faces new attack if U.N. decree violated" was in fact about the renegade state of Vermont demanding its own Great Lake. "Chemical weapons fired upon the good people of Burlington?!" I thought for one panicked moment.

So what was it? A new kind of online Mad Libs? Some Times exec on the great isle of Manhattan must have surfed his way into an aneurysm because, alas, the situation was "corrected." But once opened, the doors of perception remain ajar forever, and the news will never be the same.

On a final surreal note, Skintertainment sources have revealed that Hollywood's First Couple--Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman--are currently building a dream house in the idyllic San Francisco suburb of Woodside. Historians will no doubt refer to them as the first refugees from L.A.'s Digital Coast. But they won't be able to escape the technospeak, as their love nest is being erected next door to the humble Japanese-flavored abode of Oracle chief and No. 1 shogun Larry Ellison. If he helps Tom and Nicole install an NC in every room, could a movie deal for the Larry be far behind? I have a script that might be worth pitching: The Ego that Ate Emeryville. If you have any other suggestions--or rumors, for that matter--send them along post haste.