In February 1974, after eighteen months of hanging around Reed,
Jobs decided to move back to his parents’ home in Los Altos and look
for a job. It was not a difficult search. At peak times during the 1970s,
the classified section of the San Jose Mercury carried up to sixty pages
of technology help-wanted ads. One of those caught Jobs’s eye.
“Have fun, make money,” it said. That day Jobs walked into the lobby
of the video game manufacturer Atari and told the personnel director,
who was startled by his unkempt hair and attire, that he
wouldn’t leave until they gave him a job.
Atari’s founder was a burly entrepreneur named Nolan Bushnell,
who was a charismatic visionary with a nice touch of showmanship
in him—in other words, another role model waiting to be emulated.
After he became famous, he liked driving around in a Rolls, smoking dope,
and holding staff meetings in a hot tub. As Friedland had done and as Jobs
would learn to do, he was able to turn charm into a cunning force, to cajole
and intimidate and distort reality with the power of his personality.
His chief engineer was Al Alcorn, beefy and jovial and a bit more grounded,
the house grown-up trying to implement the vision and curb the enthusiasms
of Bushnell. Their big hit thus far was a video game called Pong, in which two
players tried to volley a blip on a screen with two movable lines that acted as
paddles. (If you’re under thirty, ask your parents.)
When Jobs arrived in the Atari lobby wearing sandals and demanding a job,
Alcorn was the one who was summoned. “I was told, ‘We’ve got a hippie
kid in the lobby.
He says he’s not going to leave until
we hire him. Should we call
the cops or let him in?’
I said bring him on in!”
Following the lead of other phone phreaks such as Captain Crunch,
they gave themselves handles. Wozniak became “Berkeley Blue,”
Jobs was “Oaf Tobark.” They took the device to college dorms and
gave demonstrations by attaching it to a phone and speaker. While the
potential customers watched, they would call the Ritz in London or a dial-a-joke service in Australia.
“We made a hundred or so Blue Boxes and sold almost all of them,” Jobs recalled.
The fun and profits came to an end at a Sunnyvale pizza parlor. Jobs and Wozniak
were about to drive to Berkeley with a Blue Box they had just finished making. Jobs
needed money and was eager to sell, so he pitched the device to some guys at the next table.
They were interested, so Jobs went to a phone booth and demonstrated it with a call to Chicago.
The prospects said they had to go to their car for money. “So we walk over to the car, Woz and me,
and I’ve got the Blue Box in my hand, and the guy gets in, reaches under the seat, and he pulls out a gun,”
Jobs recounted. He had never been that close to a gun, and he was terrified. “So he’s pointing the gun right at
my stomach, and he says, ‘Hand it over, brother.’ My mind raced. There was the car door here, and I thought
maybe I could slam it on his legs and we could run, but there was this high probability that he would shoot me.
So I slowly handed it to him, very carefully.” It was a weird sort of robbery. The guy who took the Blue
Box actually gave Jobs a phone number and said he would try to pay for it if it worked. When Jobs later called
the number, the guy said he couldn’t figure out how to use it. So Jobs, in his felicitous way, convinced the guy
to meet him and Wozniak at a public place. But they ended up deciding not to have another encounter with
the gunman, even on the off chance they could get their $150.
The partnership paved the way for what would be a bigger adventure together. “If it hadn’t been for the
Blue Boxes, there wouldn’t have been an Apple,” Jobs later reflected. “I’m 100% sure of that. Woz and
I learned how to work together, and we gained the confidence that we could solve technical problems and
partnership that would soon be born. Wozniak would be the gentle wizard coming up with a neat invention
that he would have been happy just to give away, and Jobs would figure out how to
make it user-friendly,
put it together
in a package, market it,
and make a few bucks.
Jobs thus became one of the first fifty employees at Atari,
working as a technician for $5 an hour. “In retrospect,
it was weird to hire a dropout from Reed,” Alcorn recalled.
“But I saw something in him. He was very intelligent, enthusiastic,
excited about tech.” Alcorn assigned him to work with a straitlaced
engineer named Don Lang. The next day Lang complained,
“This guy’s a goddamn hippie with b.o. Why did you do this to me?
And he’s impossible to deal with.” Jobs clung to the belief that his fruit-heavy
vegetarian diet would prevent not just mucus but also body odor,
even if he didn’t use deodorant or shower regularly. It was a flawed theory.
Lang and others wanted to let Jobs go, but Bushnell worked out a solution.
“The smell and behavior wasn’t an issue with me,” he said. “Steve was prickly,
but I kind of liked him. So I asked him to go on the night shift. It was a way
to save him.” Jobs would come in after Lang and others had left and work through most
of the night. Even thus isolated, he became known for his brashness.
On those occasions when he happened to interact with others, he was prone
to informing them that they were “dumb shits.” In retrospect, he stands
by that judgment. “The only reason I shone was that everyone else was so bad,” Jobs recalled.
Despite his arrogance (or perhaps because of it) he was able to charm Atari’s boss.
“He was more philosophical than the other people I worked with,” Bushnell recalled.
“We used to discuss free will versus determinism. I tended to believe that things
were much more determined, that we were programmed. If we had perfect information,
we could predict people’s actions. Steve felt the opposite.” That outlook accorded
with his faith in the power of the will to bend reality.
Jobs helped improve some of the games by pushing the chips to produce fun designs,
and Bushnell’s inspiring willingness to play by his own rules rubbed off on him.
In addition, he intuitively appreciated the simplicity of Atari’s games. They came
with no manual and needed to be uncomplicated enough that a stoned freshman could
figure them out. The only
instructions for Atari’s Star
Trek game were “1. Insert
quarter. 2. Avoid Klingons.”
When he got off the plane in New Delhi, he felt waves
of heat rising from the tarmac, even though it was only
April. He had been given the name of a hotel, but it was full,
so he went to one his taxi driver insisted was good. “I’m sure he
was getting some baksheesh, because he took me to this complete dive.”
Jobs asked the owner whether the water was filtered and foolishly
believed the answer. “I got dysentery pretty fast. I was sick, really
sick, a really high fever. I dropped from 160 pounds to 120 in about a week.”
Once he got healthy enough to move, he decided that he needed to get out
of Delhi. So he headed to the town of Haridwar, in western India near the
source of the Ganges, which was having a festival known as the Kumbh Mela.
More than ten million people poured into a town that usually contained fewer
than 100,000 residents. “There were holy men all around. Tents with this teacher
and that teacher. There were people riding elephants, you name it. I was there
for a few days, but I decided that I needed to get out of there too.”
He went by train and bus to a village near Nainital in the foothills of the Himalayas.
That was where Neem Karoli Baba lived, or had lived. By the time Jobs got there,
he was no longer alive, at least in the same incarnation. Jobs rented a room with a
mattress on the floor from a family who helped him recuperate by feeding him
vegetarian meals. “There was a copy there of Autobiography of a Yogi in English that
a previous traveler had left, and I read it several times because there was not a lot to do,
and I walked around from village to village and recovered from my dysentery.”
Among those who were part of the community there was Larry Brilliant, an
epidemiologist who was working to eradicate smallpox and who
later ran Google’s
philanthropic arm and the Skoll
Foundation. He became
Jobs’s lifelong friend.
When Jobs told the folks at Atari that he was quitting
to go search for a guru in India, the jovial Alcorn was amused.
“He comes in and stares at me and declares, ‘I’m going to find my guru,’
and I say, ‘No shit, that’s super. Write me!’ And he says he wants me to
help pay, and I tell him, ‘Bullshit!’” Then Alcorn had an idea. Atari was
making kits and shipping them to Munich, where they were built into
finished machines and distributed by a wholesaler in Turin. But there was
a problem: Because the games were designed for the American rate of sixty
frames per second, there were frustrating interference problems in Europe,
where the rate was fifty frames per second. Alcorn sketched out a fix with Jobs
and then offered to pay for him to go to Europe to implement it. “It’s got to be
cheaper to get to India from there,” he said. Jobs agreed. So Alcorn sent him on his
way with the exhortation, “Say hi to your guru for me.”
Jobs spent a few days in Munich, where he solved the interference problem,
but in the process he flummoxed the dark-suited German managers. They
complained to Alcorn that he dressed and smelled like a bum and behaved rudely.
“I said, ‘Did he solve the problem?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘If you got any more
problems, you just call me, I got more guys just like him!’ They said,
‘No, no we’ll take care of it next time.’” For his part, Jobs was upset that the
Germans kept trying to feed him meat and potatoes. “They don’t even have a word for
vegetarian,” he complained (incorrectly) in a phone call to Alcorn.
He had a better time when he took the train to see the distributor in Turin,
where the Italian pastas and his host’s camaraderie were more simpatico. “
I had a wonderful couple of weeks in Turin, which is this charged-up industrial town,”
he recalled. “The distributor took me every night to dinner at this place where there
were only eight tables and no menu. You’d just tell them what you wanted, and they made it.
One of the tables was on reserve for the chairman of Fiat. It was really super.” He next
went to Lugano, Switzerland,
where he stayed with
Friedland’s uncle, and from
there took a flight to India.
Not all of his coworkers shunned Jobs. He became
friends with Ron Wayne, a draftsman at Atari, who
had earlier started a company that built slot machines.
It subsequently failed, but Jobs became fascinated with
the idea that it was possible to start your own company.
“Ron was an amazing guy,” said Jobs. “He started companies.
I had never met anybody like that.” He proposed to Wayne
that they go into business together; Jobs said he could borrow
$50,000, and they could design and market a slot machine.
But Wayne had already been burned in business, so he declined.
“I said that was the quickest way to lose $50,000,” Wayne recalled,
“but I admired the fact that he had a burning drive to start his own business.”
One weekend Jobs was visiting Wayne at his apartment, engaging as they
often did in philosophical discussions, when Wayne said that there was
something he needed to tell him. “Yeah, I think I know what it is,”
Jobs replied. “I think you like men.” Wayne said yes. “It was my
first encounter with someone who I knew was gay,” Jobs recalled.
“He planted the right perspective of it for me.” Jobs grilled him:
“When you see a beautiful woman, what do you feel?” Wayne replied,
“It’s like when you look at a beautiful horse. You can appreciate it, but you
don’t want to sleep with it. You appreciate beauty for what it is.”
Wayne said that it is a testament to Jobs that he felt like revealing this to
him. “Nobody at Atari knew, and I could count on my toes and fingers
the number of people I told in my whole life. But I guess it just felt right to
tell him, that he would understand, and it didn’t have any effect on our relationship.”
One reason Jobs was eager to make some money in early 1974 was that
Robert Friedland, who had gone to India the summer before, was urging
him to take his own spiritual journey there. Friedland had studied in India with
Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaj-ji), who had been the guru to much of the sixties
hippie movement. Jobs decided he should do the same, and he recruited
Daniel Kottke to go with him. Jobs was not motivated by mere adventure.
“For me it was a serious search,” he said. “I’d been turned on to the idea of
enlightenment and trying to figure out who I was and how I fit into things.”
Kottke adds that Jobs’s quest seemed
driven partly by not
knowing his birth parents.
“There was a hole in him,
and he was trying to fill it.”
At one point Jobs was told of a young Hindu holy man
who was holding a gathering of his followers at the
Himalayan estate of a wealthy businessman. “It was a chance to
meet a spiritual being and hang out with his followers, but it was also
a chance to have a good meal. I could smell the food as we got near,
and I was very hungry.” As Jobs was eating, the holy man—who was
not much older than Jobs—picked him out of the crowd, pointed at him,
and began laughing maniacally. “He came running over and grabbed me
and made a tooting sound and said, ‘You are just like a baby,’” recalled Jobs.
“I was not relishing this attention.” Taking Jobs by the hand, he led him
out of the worshipful crowd and walked him up to a hill, where there was
a well and a small pond. “We sit down and he pulls out this straight razor.
I’m thinking he’s a nutcase and begin to worry. Then he pulls out a bar
of soap—I had long hair at the time—and he lathered up my hair and shaved
my head. He told me that he was saving my health.”
Daniel Kottke arrived in India at the beginning of the summer, and Jobs
went back to New Delhi to meet him. They wandered, mainly by bus, rather
aimlessly. By this point Jobs was no longer trying to find a guru who could impart
wisdom, but instead was seeking enlightenment through ascetic experience,
deprivation, and simplicity. He was not able to achieve inner calm.
Kottke remembers him getting into a furious shouting match with a
Hindu woman in a village marketplace who, Jobs alleged, had been
watering down the milk she was selling them.
Yet Jobs could also be generous. When they got to the town of Manali,
Kottke’s sleeping bag was stolen with his traveler’s checks in it.
“Steve covered my food expenses and bus ticket back to
Delhi,” Kottke recalled.
He also gave Kottke
the rest of his own money,
$100, to tide him over.
During his seven months in India, he had written to his parents onlysporadically, getting mail at the American Express office in
New Delhi when he passed through, and so they were somewhatsurprised when they got a call from the Oakland airport asking them
to pick him up. They immediately drove up from Los Altos. “
My head had been shaved, I was wearing Indian cotton robes,
and my skin had turned a deep, chocolate brown-red from the sun,”
he recalled. “So I’m sitting there and my parents walked past me about
five times and finally my mother came up and said ‘Steve?’ and I said ‘Hi!’”
They took him back home, where he continued trying to find himself.
It was a pursuit with many paths toward enlightenment. In the mornings
and evenings he would meditate and study Zen, and in between he would
drop in to audit physics or engineering courses at Stanford.
Jobs’s interest in Eastern spirituality, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism,
and the search for enlightenment was not merely the passing phase
of a nineteen-year-old. Throughout his life he would seek to follow
many of the basic precepts of Eastern religions, such as the emphasis
on experiential praj?ā, wisdom or cognitive understanding that is intuitively
experienced through concentration of the mind. Years later, sitting in his
Palo Alto garden, he reflected on the lasting influence of his trip to India:
Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than
going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect
like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more
developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing,
than intellect, in my
opinion. That’s had
a big impact on my work.
Kottke found Kobun amusing. “His English was atrocious,” he recalled.
“He would speak in a kind of haiku, with poetic, suggestive phrases.
We would sit and listen to him, and half the time we had no idea what he
was going on about. I took the whole thing as a kind of lighthearted interlude.”
Holmes was more into the scene. “We would go to Kobun’s meditations,
sit on zafu cushions, and he would sit on a dais,” she said. “We learned how
to tune out distractions. It was a magical thing. One evening we were
meditating with Kobun when it was raining, and he taught us how to use
ambient sounds to bring us back to focus on our meditation.”
As for Jobs, his devotion was intense. “He became really serious and
self-important and just generally unbearable,” according to Kottke.
He began meeting with Kobun almost daily, and every few months they
went on retreats together to meditate. “I ended up spending as much time as
I could with him,” Jobs recalled. “He had a wife who was a nurse at Stanford
and two kids. She worked the night shift, so I would go over and hang out
with him in the evenings. She would get home about midnight and shoo me away.”
They sometimes discussed whether Jobs should devote himself fully to spiritual
pursuits, but Kobun counseled otherwise. He assured Jobs that he could keep
in touch with his spiritual side while working in a business. The relationship turned
out to be lasting and deep; seventeen years later Kobun would perform
Jobs’s wedding ceremony.
Jobs’s compulsive search for self-awareness also led him to undergo
primal scream therapy, which had recently been developed and popularized
by a Los Angeles psychotherapist named Arthur Janov. It was based on the
Freudian theory that psychological problems are caused by the repressed
pains of childhood; Janov argued that they could be resolved by re-suffering
these primal moments while fully expressing the pain—sometimes in screams.
To Jobs, this seemed preferable to talk therapy because it involved intuitive
feeling and emotional action rather than just rational analyzing.
“This was not something to think about,” he later said. “This was something to do: to
close your eyes, hold
your breath, jump in,
and come out the
other end more insightful.”
A group of Janov’s adherents ran a program called the Oregon Feeling
Center in an old hotel in Eugene that was managed by Jobs’s Reed
College guru Robert Friedland, whose All One Farm commune was nearby.
In late 1974, Jobs signed up for a twelve-week course of therapy there costing
$1,000. “Steve and I were both into personal growth, so I wanted to go
with him,” Kottke recounted, “but I couldn’t afford it.”
Jobs confided to close friends that he was driven by the pain he was feeling
about being put up for adoption and not knowing about his birth parents.
“Steve had a very profound desire to know his physical parents so he could
better know himself,” Friedland later said. He had learned from Paul and
Clara Jobs that his birth parents had both been graduate students at a university
and that his father might be Syrian. He had even thought about hiring
a private investigator, but he decided not to do so for the time being.
“I didn’t want to hurt my parents,” he recalled, referring to Paul and Clara.
“He was struggling with the fact that he had been adopted,” according to
Elizabeth Holmes. “He felt that it was an issue that he needed to get hold
of emotionally.” Jobs admitted as much to her. “This is something that is
bothering me, and I need to focus on it,” he said. He was even more open with
Greg Calhoun. “He was doing a lot of soul-searching about being adopted, and
he talked about it with me a lot,” Calhoun recalled. “The primal scream and the
mucusless diets, he was trying to cleanse himself and get deeper into his
frustration about his birth. He told me he was deeply angry about the
fact that he had been given up.”
John Lennon had undergone the same primal scream therapy in 1970,
and in December of that year he released the song “Mother” with the
Plastic Ono Band. It dealt with Lennon’s own feelings about a father who
had abandoned him and a mother who had been killed when he was a teenager.
The refrain includes
the haunting chant “
Mama don’t go, Daddy come
home.” Jobs used to
play the song often.