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Triggering incident

August 30, 2000
2:30 p.m. Washington State Capitol
Olympia, Washington

Washington Governor Gary Locke, the nation’s first Chinese-American governor, introduces me as "the next President of the United States." I graciously thank him but note that the electorate will have the opportunity to make that decision in November.


February 13, 1971
8:10 a.m.

Stewie is on the Royal, which is a rickety beast. The shift key can jam up on you like that. He’s handling it okay—he’s a tough swing state kind of kid who’s capable of anything he sets his mind to—but the bell is busted. If he doesn’t pay close attention his lines will run clear off the page. In other words, powerful forces—in this case, the typewriter conglomerates and others who colluded to develop the alphabet—are putting up obstacles in his path and limiting his opportunity. I’ve seen too many words already become casualties of this war: "truth," "honor," "chow," "assembly," and, most frequently, conjunctions.

Stewie’s polishing a piece on a mandatory meeting to be held the next day, and he has a deadline—ironic, that word, because people are dead here in Vietnam, and the line they are dying over was drawn on maps as the border between North and South Vietnam. He’s a passionate young man with a real knack for emphasis, so he types—and the sound is kind of like fire from a tiny machine gun that could hurt a really little person. "All G.I.s are to report PROMPTLY at 8 a.m. SHARP for a ROLL CALL." The emphasis helps the others understand.

He’s hitting carriage return—ironic, again, because so many of us want to return, and there are only so many carriages to take us back—when his face freezes up, and it happens.

He screams, "A gook done locked my shift! A gook done locked my shift!" There’s fear in his eyes, and all of us in there—Big Jim from California, Taylor Phipps from Florida, Ron Kovic from the movie, an African-American senior citizen from another place—know that it’s not the typewriter that’s locking. The war is locking Stewie—his eyes, his fingers, his grammar, his soul, his boundless talent for emphasis. The war is locking the shift key in Stewie’s mind.

"Calm down, Stewie," I say. I sigh, which is how I react in times of stress and strain—a reflex designed to calm my nerves and summon my resolve. "Take note of my leadership qualities and calm down! Gook is an offensive term! I don’t see any ‘gooks’ here. There are a number of non-American Vietnamese delivery boys in the office today, and your shift key is locked. Let’s not confuse correlation with causation."

But Stewie won’t calm down. "A gook took my ribbon! A gook took my ribbon!" He is getting angrier—violent, perhaps, and the music’s growing tense. I approach him when suddenly he pulls a staple gun out of thin fucking air. It’s like all those girls in the villages who turn out to have grenades tucked in their clothes. I’ve read about that.

"Whoa, whoa, Stewie. Hey. Take it easy. I’m not gonna lose you. Remember ma and pa in your key swing state back home. Remember how they’re trying hard to make ends meet with the help of targeted tax credits. Remember how much they value Social Security and Medicare, and how happy you were when your girlfriend back in your key swing state went out and got that abortion she was entitled to. And that other one—third trimester, right?" I can sense his panic starting to break. "Take it easy, Stewie. The ice caps are thin, man. I know. They’re 40% thinner than they used to be… I know. But it’s okay. We’re going to fix it. One day we’ll have universal health care and universal pre-K. Let’s see if she’s still stuck, okay?" I touch the shift key and it comes loose beneath my finger.

"Yeah," Stewie says. "Thanks, Albert." He returns to the announcement. But he just types exclamation points, row after row like white crosses in a field.

"The horror," I say. "The horror. Pass me the correcting tape."

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