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.
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.”
Jobs shuffled in barefoot, wearing a saffron robe and carrying a copy of
Be Here Now, which he handed to Alcorn and insisted he read.
“Can I have my job back?” he asked.
“He looked like a Hare Krishna guy, but it was great to see him,
” Alcorn recalled. “So I said, sure!”
Once again, for the sake of harmony, Jobs worked mostly at night.
Wozniak, who was living in an apartment nearby and working at
HP, would come by after dinner to hang out and play the video games.
He had become addicted to Pong at a Sunnyvale bowling alley,
and he was able to build a version that he hooked up to his home TV set.
One day in the late summer of 1975, Nolan Bushnell, defying the
prevailing wisdom that paddle games were over, decided to develop
a single-player version of Pong; instead of competing against an
opponent, the player would volley the ball into a wall that lost a brick
whenever it was hit. He called Jobs into his office, sketched it out
on his little blackboard, and asked him to design it. There would be
a bonus, Bushnell told him, for every chip fewer than fifty that he used.
Bushnell knew that Jobs was not a great engineer, but he assumed, correctly,
that he would recruit Wozniak, who was always hanging around.
“I looked at it as a two-for-one thing,” Bushnell recalled. “Woz was a better engineer.”
Wozniak was thrilled when Jobs asked him to help and proposed splitting the fee.
“This was the most wonderful offer in my life, to actually design a game
that people would use,” he recalled. Jobs said it had to be done in four days
and with the fewest chips possible. What he hid from Wozniak was that the
deadline was one that Jobs had imposed, because he needed to get to the
All One Farm to help prepare for the apple harvest. He also didn’t
mention that there
was a bonus tied to
the number of chips.
“A game like this might take most engineers a few months,” Wozniak recalled.
“I thought that there was no way I could do it, but Steve made me sure that I
could.” So he stayed up four nights in a row and did it. During the day at
HP, Wozniak would sketch out his design on paper. Then, after a fast-food meal,
he would go right to Atari and stay all night. As Wozniak churned out the design,
Jobs sat on a bench to his left implementing it by wire-wrapping the chips onto
a breadboard. “While Steve was breadboarding, I spent time playing my
favorite game ever, which was the auto racing game Gran Trak 10,” Wozniak said.
Astonishingly, they were able to get the job done in four days, and
Wozniak used only forty-five chips. Recollections differ, but by most
accounts Jobs simply gave Wozniak half of the base fee and not the bonus
Bushnell paid for saving five chips. It would be another ten years before
Wozniak discovered (by being shown the tale in a book on the history of
Atari titled Zap) that Jobs had been paid this bonus. “I think that Steve needed
the money, and he just didn’t tell me the truth,” Wozniak later said.
When he talks about it now, there are long pauses, and he admits that it
causes him pain. “I wish he had just been honest. If he had told me he
needed the money, he should have known I would have just given it to
him. He was a friend. You help your friends.” To Wozniak, it showed
a fundamental difference in their characters. “Ethics always mattered to me,
and I still don’t understand why he would’ve gotten paid one thing and told
me he’d gotten paid another,” he said. “But, you know, people are different.”
When Jobs learned this story was published, he called Wozniak to deny it.
“He told me that he didn’t remember doing it, and that if he did something
like that he would remember it, so he probably didn’t do it,” Wozniak recalled.
When I asked Jobs directly, he became unusually quiet and hesitant.
“I don’t know where that allegation comes from,” he said. “I gave him
half the money I ever got. That’s how I’ve always been with Woz. I mean,
Woz stopped working in 1978. He never did one ounce
of work after 1978.
And yet he got exactly
the same shares of
Apple stock that I did.”
Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic;
it is learned and is the great achievement of Western civilization.
In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else,
which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not.
That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.
Coming back after seven months in Indian villages, I saw the craziness
of the Western world as well as its capacity for rational thought.
If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is.
If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm,
and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things—that’s when
your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly
and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see
a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than
you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.
Zen has been a deep influence in my life ever since. At one point
I was thinking about going to Japan and trying to get into the
Eihei-ji monastery, but my spiritual advisor urged me to stay here.
He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was correct.
I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around
the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.
Jobs did in fact find a teacher right in his own neighborhood. Shunryu Suzuki,
who wrote Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and ran the San Francisco Zen Center,
used to come to Los Altos every Wednesday evening to lecture and meditate
with a small group of followers. After a while he asked his assistant,
Kobun Chino Otogawa, to open a full-time center there. Jobs became
a faithful follower, along with his occasional girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan,
and Daniel Kottke and Elizabeth Holmes. He also began to go by himself on
retreats to the
Tassajara Zen Center,
a monastery near
Kobun also taught.
Getting shocked was a badge of honor for Woz.
He prided himself on being a hardware engineer, which meant that random shocks were routine. He once devised a roulette game where four people put their thumbs in a slot; when the ball landed, one would get shocked. “Hardware guys will play this game, but software guys are too chicken,” he noted.
During his senior year he got a part-time job at Sylvania and had the
chance to work on a computer for the first time. He learned FORTRAN from a book and read the manuals for most of the systems of the day, starting with the Digital Equipment PDP-8. Then he studied the specs for the latest microchips and tried
to redesign the computers using these newer parts. The challenge he set himself was to replicate the design using the fewest components possible. Each night he would try to improve
his drawing from the night before. By the end of his senior year, he had become a master. “I was now designing computers with half the number of chips the actual company had in their own design, but only on paper.” He never told his friends. After all, most seventeen-year-olds were getting their kicks in other ways.
On Thanksgiving weekend of his senior year, Wozniak visited the University of Colorado. It was closed for the holiday, but he found an engineering student who took him on a tour of the labs.
He begged his father to let him go there, even though the out-of-state tuition was more than the family could easily afford. They struck a deal:
He would be allowed to go for one year, but then he would transfer to De Anza Community College back home. After arriving at Colorado in the fall of 1969, he spent so much time playing pranks (such as producing reams of printouts saying “Fuck Nixon”) that he failed a couple of his courses and was put on probation.