Pacific Northwest | April 4, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineApril 4, home
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Just Scraping By
In making sandwiches, even the rich can relate
The other day I was making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and I started thinking about Bill Gates.

The reason I started thinking about Bill Gates was because the peanut-butter jar was almost empty. There was maybe enough peanut butter left inside to cover a tiny corner of the bread. But to get that tiny bit of peanut butter would require some scraping with the bread knife.

So I'm standing in the kitchen with a knife in one hand and a family-size jar of creamy-style nearly empty peanut butter in the other hand. And I'm thinking: What would Bill Gates do?

I don't mean would Bill Gates invent a robot that scrapes out the last bit of peanut butter from the jar. But would Bill Gates take the time to insert the bread knife into the family-size jar of peanut butter and get the last tiny remains before putting the jar in the sink to be washed out for recycling? I'm assuming that Bill recycles, but I don't know about scraping.

Bill Gates happened to meander through my thoughts at that moment because there was a news story about him being the richest man in the world. He had almost $50 billion. The amount was down some from past years, but still, it was a sizable chunk of change.

So I'm thinking the guy has almost $50 billion, making him the richest guy in the world, but he eats at the same places I eat (a drive-in hamburger place in Bellevue and Dick's next to the Seattle Center, for crying out loud!), and I like to think of him as a neighbor (he lives a couple miles from me, as the crow flies). And I'll bet his wife tells him that he shouldn't be eating those hamburgers from the fast-food places just like the Truly Unpleasant Mrs. Johnston tells me.

I don't know if Bill Gates likes peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, but if he does and he comes to the last scrapes of peanut butter, does he take the time to dig it out or does he throw the jar away?

Or when he takes a shower in that fancy-pants mansion on Lake Washington (I cannot imagine Bill Gates wasting the time to take a bath, nor do I want to have that image in my head), I wonder if he turns the shampoo bottle upside down so he can get the last few drops out of the bottle before throwing it away.

When you are the richest person in the world, you can hire people to scrape out your peanut-butter jars and to turn your shampoo bottles upside down, but that might go against the grain of a guy who buys hamburgers at Dick's. It certainly goes against my grain.

Bill Gates and I are about the same age (102 years old, according to our children) and were raised by parents who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, so they knew tough times, and life was not always easy, and material things could disappear in a flash. That includes peanut butter and shampoo.

While it may be true that my neighbor Bill Gates may have a thicker cushion against the problems of the world than most of us, some things from your upbringing stick to your mind like creamy peanut butter. And I'm sure that Bill Gates' mother said to him at some time: "Bill, waste not, want not." I know my mother did, and I like to think mothers still say things like that to their children.

After I scraped out the last bit of peanut butter and started eating my sandwich, I asked Mrs. Johnston if she thought Bill Gates scraped the jar, too.

"I'm sure he does," she said without missing a beat, "and those sandwiches are bad for him, too."

I also like to think that's something Bill and I have in common. Wives who like to remind us we would be dead if they didn't watch us like hawks.

Steve Johnston is a retired Seattle Times reporter. His e-mail address is Paul Schmid is a Seattle Times news artist.

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