Welcome to Dec. 26. The day after. The party's over. The excitement is done. The dreams have been put away and all that's left is the residue of something that once looked like...
Welcome to Dec. 26. The day after.
The party’s over. The excitement is done. The dreams have been put away and all that’s left is the residue of something that once looked like hope.
You gather the trash, the wrappings and the packaging and what stray tinsel the dog didn’t eat, and you pile it all into the garbage can on top of those Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers you finally peeled off the Prius because other drivers were making fun of you.
It’s not so easy being blue.
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You think of yourself as a model state, a paragon of innovation, diversity, progressiveness and solid values. You’re split by the Cascades into climates and cultures, but together you form a whole, part cosmopolitan and part common sense. Liberal in areas and conservative in others, you imagine yourself a classic moderate, temperate and thoughtful, willing to listen and engage, splitting your ticket.
Then Election Night comes and they put up those damn maps, and you get marginalized.
Your carefully constructed self-esteem, bolstered over the past two decades by press reports and a few nice Mariner seasons, crumbles by cartography and you see where you really are, which is outside looking in. You’re guilty by association, linked now with Hollywood liberals and East Coast elites and some industrial Midwest unions, all of you staring at The Big Red Machine.
You’ve been profiled, Washington. You’ve become Maine.
Oh, you try to fight back. You join with other blue-staters in becoming amateur mapmakers, weighting graphics by population, constructing bulging blue and squishy red, searching for symmetry. You point out that the blue states have lower rates of divorce and crime than their red brethren. You mention that blue states pay the bills and red states cash the checks. You suggest that Montana, for example, as big and red as it looks, actually has only 19 registered voters, two of whom are technically livestock.
You note that 46 percent of the Washington electorate voted for George W. Bush. So did 40 percent of Massachusetts voters, right there smack dab in the middle of liberal land, home to Kerrys and Kennedys. And nearly the same percentage of Texans voted for the Dems. I mean, really. Texans.
“C’mon, guys,” you say with a weak smile. “We’re not blue or red. We’re purple people, just like the rest of the country,” but Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio and Kentucky are having none of it.
“You don’t go to church,” they say. “You’re out of step with the mainstream. You’ve re-elected Patty Murray and Jim McDermott. You probably think homosexuals should get married and abortion should be on demand. You’re so close to Canada that frankly we can’t see a difference. Your sports teams choke, it rains all the time, your monorail catches fire and your mountains blow up.”
The day after can be a bummer when you’re blue.
And it’s not like you were spared a few family battles. George Nethercutt raised a bajillion dollars, and even in a losing race he forced Murray to go on television to affirm that she thought Osama bin Laden was a bad, bad man, along with stating her belief in God, her opposition to hurting small animals, and her opinion that “Touched By An Angel” was a “pretty good” show.
Then there’s the neck-and-neck governor’s race that got reduced to name-calling.
” ‘Gregoire’ sounds sort of French, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, well your candidate apparently was named for a ‘Flintstones’ character … ”
But let’s look on the bright side.
OK, that was stupid.
It was a nasty year, and it was personal, as if being relentlessly told we were a divided country sunk in and stayed. Blue and red began to look like North and South. We heard stories of family members who stopped speaking, friendships that ended, signs defaced and offices burgled. It was ugly out there.
And then we had Abu Ghraib and, for a time, the Hurricane of the Day. We lost Ronald Reagan and Christopher Reeve. Mount St. Helens and the Detroit Pistons both erupted. We learned what a Swift boat was and how often George W. got his teeth cleaned in the National Guard. Mel Gibson and Michael Moore made movies and enemies. Boston won the Series and the Yankees didn’t, which is always a good thing, but steroids sullied the national pastime and gave “male enhancement” a bad name, if that’s possible.
Teresa Heinz Kerry told a reporter to “shove it” and Dick Cheney got a little more explicit on the Senate floor. Bill Clinton got a book and then a bypass, John Kerry got a manicure, Martha Stewart got an orange jumpsuit, Colin Powell got a pink slip, Michael Jackson got a subpoena, Janet Jackson got exposure, Bush got a bulge, and Howard Dean got nothing but a sore throat.
But among the recounts and the remorse, the remonstrations and the blues, there was a silver lining to 2004, one uniquely Northwest.
It wasn’t Ichiro, by the way.
It was Mike. And Microsoft.
Last January, Mike Rowe was a 17-year-old British Columbian, technically a Canadian but, you know, not by much.
Mike apparently has a knack for Web-page design. He wanted to spotlight his talent, as you might imagine, so he created a Web site just for that purpose. And, with that wacky Canadian sense of humor, he called it”MikeRoweSoft.com.”
Mike, in other words, in an effort to be cute, inadvertently grasped a stone from his pouch and slung it at a big guy.
This is awkward. Microsoft may be a monolithic giant, but it’s our giant. There’s a homegrown loyalty here, like being a Philistine who enjoys watching Goliath whomp some heads in battle even though yesterday he squished your brother-in-law. I’m not saying it’s rational.
Mike annoyed the Redmond folks who, having conquered the operating-system world, have now apparently set their sights on homonyms, and there were threats, long legal-type letters, a severed hard drive mysteriously showing up in Mike’s bed, etc. All of this would have been enough to scare off a lesser man (e.g., me), but the Rowes didn’t raise no sissies.
Trademark violation is serious stuff, of course. We only have to recall the Fox News lawsuit last year against Al Franken, who had the temerity to use the phrase “fair and balanced” without asking Bill O’Reilly’s permission. The case was dismissed, as the judge thought that Fox’s argument (“He’s making fun of us!”) was a little shaky, but it had to send shivers down the spines of those who would challenge the big guys on grounds of protected speech. The pen can be mightier than the sword, but it sort of depends upon the sword. Size matters.
Microsoft has a big sword, which makes Mike Rowe’s tenacity even nobler. After all, nothing was keeping Bill Gates from, say, simply buying Canada and building a really big house on it. But Mike held his ground, citing his hours of work and expense, and Microsoft either decided that a fatal error had occurred or developed a sense of humor.
But this isn’t why I love this story, or why Mike Rowe became my personal hero. Any underdog with a healthy dose of self-esteem can play with the big guys for a while (and yes, I’m referring to Dennis Kucinich), but it takes a special kind of person to challenge the richest man in the world and settle for a free sample.
Mike agreed to turn over his Web site to Redmond and accepted some free certification classes, an all-expenses-paid trip 200 miles south, and an X-Box and some games. All of which, given the exchange rate, cost Microsoft (I think) around 30 bucks. Holding all the common sense cards, one imagines he could have extorted the company for thousands or at least ended up with most of Lynnwood, but not our Mike.
Microsoft deserves credit, too, for defusing bad publicity and doing the right thing, even after a shaky start. In fact, there’s enough good-guy news to go around here. And somehow that gives me hope.
In a complex world, a divided country and a color-coded map, somehow the idea that a major corporation and a Canadian kid can resolve their differences amicably makes me think we might be all right after all.
It’s over. Everything’s been opened. It’s time to be friends again. And I say Washington should take the lead and extend a big blue-state hand to middle America. We have a reputation for being polite people, so maybe it’s up to us to set an example and teach the rest of the country how to make nice.
Sure, you may be a sushi-eating liberal Seattle weenie and they may be red-necked hillbilly reactionaries, but we’re all Americans, right? Red and blue and purple mountains’ majesty. Can’t we just toss the maps and get along?
OK, maybe I’m too optimistic. Maybe we’ll just stay mad. But, hey: At least we finally know who our next governor is.
All right. Never mind.
Chuck Sigars is a freelance writer and the author of “The World According to Chuck: Stories from Mukilteo on Family, Friends, Faith, Baseball, and Sponge Puppets” (Xlibris; October 2004). He can be reached at: Chuck@chucksigars.com