Apples, Kids, & Attitude
It was more years ago than I’d like to admit. Three of us sat on the right side of Mr. Moore’s sixth grade class. The room was arranged so that students sat in more of a circle than conventional rows. To my left sat Philip and to my right, Charles.
Philip was a natural artist. If he were a baseball pitcher, he’d be called a “southpaw.” He liked Led Zeppelin music and could draw any object that popped into his mind with extraordinary accuracy and detail. We thought that was cool. Charles was the prolific reader of the class. Tall and lanky, he’d add vitamin and calorie supplements to his milk at lunch that made it taste like eggnog. We thought that was cool, too. Of course, it was the early 1970's. The elementary school kid definition of what ranks as “cool” has changed a bit in the ensuing years.
Richard Nixon was in his first-term as president and Tang, a flavored “space-age” powder that was mixed with water, was the breakfast beverage of choice for school kids across America. There was no such thing as a personal computer. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had yet to help create Silicon Valley. Don McClean’s “American Pie” filled the airwaves and the original Star Trek was finding its way into heavy syndication.
Life at J.H. Coles School in Cherry Hill, NJ seemed rather good. Lower grades filled the one-story annex, while the “upper class men” reigned in the older, multi-story building at the center of the campus. Evidence of more parochial times still existed. The entrance at one side of the school was marked “Boys,” and on the opposite side was an entrance marked “Girls.” It was a time of transition in America and a time of change in public schools. We were among the last students of a generation taught by older, seasoned teachers who had the gumption and community support to remain in their profession well into their late 50's and early 60's. Sometimes we learned more from the teachers’ stories than we did from textbooks. We were at the end of one era in public education and the beginning of another.
Our last year of elementary school included a rather unique event—a week-long camping trip. We didn’t pitch tents and cook over an open flame, but five days of cabin living with your elementary school classmates is an adventure! Add some high school students whose job was to assist in leading us and supervise our cabins and you have a recipe for any variety of surprises.
The campsite was formally called “Mt. Misery.” Our first night was filled with group songs and stories around the camp fire. The air was filled with the scent of nature and the sky was filled with glistening, shimmering stars. We shared homespun stories and our mutual excitement for the upcoming schedule of crafts, hikes, science experiments and campground fun.
After the camp fire, we retired to our cabins (girls in one row of cabins, boys in another). In addition to Philip and Charles, my cabin mates included Gary, my best friend since Kindergarten, and a few other boys from Mr. Moore’s class. We slowly unpacked and got ready for what we hoped would be a good night’s sleep in the middle of what seemed like the wilderness. Just before the official “light’s out,” our high school guides advised us, in hush tones, to keep a vigilant ear open for late-night rustlings of “Blind Paul.”
This nefarious character, according to our guides, had been in the area. Our guides, of course, had never actually seen Blind Paul. His existence was a matter of legend. They told us they had heard about half-eaten remains of livestock and forest creatures being found close to our camp.
According to legend, Blind Paul angrily roamed the Jersey pines lashing out at others because of his mutated appearance (he was physically huge, overly developed and had a single large eye located in the center of his head). To make matters worse, he had apparently been driven to madness by cruel treatment he received as a child. He wandered the Jersey pines in an unending rage, feeding on any piece of flesh that crossed his path. According to our guides, the last thing Blind Paul wanted to see were non-mutated young boys having fun and enjoying themselves in the middle of his territory. It would only drive him to further rage!
By the time they finished imparting this overly embellished story, it was after midnight. There we sat, rather “bug-eyed,” listening for any sounds which might suggest Blind Paul was roaming through our camp site. We shut all the curtains and, unlike the kids in Jurassic Park, made sparing use of our flashlights so as not to attract this legendary beast/man.
Our high-school guides knew the situation was a near-perfect set-up for such a story. Most of us were eleven or twelve years old. It’s an awkward time in the life of a boy. We stand on the last steps of childhood and impatiently reach to open the doorway of adolescence. It’s a time when we might make a transition from fantasizing about being Superman to dreaming of spending personal time with Wonder Woman.
It’s a time when our imaginations work massive amounts of overtime and our sheltered lives provide us with few skills to distinguish fact from fiction, especially when we are miles into the woods and far away from familiar surroundings. Charles, my classmate and now my roommate, had a fast metabolism. After that spine chilling story, he was not about to sleep. He was elected to take the first watch. If we were to be Blind Paul’s next victims, we wanted to know about it!
Early the next morning we awoke, relieved that the night had passed without incident. Charles, who remained at his appointed overnight post with only a few short lapses into sleep, looked every bit the tired night watchman at daybreak. Breakfast lifted our spirits. We didn’t divulge to anyone outside our cabin our concern for the whereabouts of Blind Paul. We didn’t want to be alarmists. We did look for evidence of Blind Paul’s presence and whispered about who would stand guard that night. We decided to work in shifts.
By midweek, our concerns that Blind Paul might be in the immediate vicinity had been upstaged by the business of crafts, rock and mineral collecting and group science experiments. We became closer as friends and classmates. The school’s principal joined us for an overnight and spent part of the evening teaching me and my classmates a few things about playing cards. It was a time of male camaraderie and bonding. It was also a few days spent with my best friend, Gary. We first met when I joined his Kindergarten class after our move from Massachusetts. We would soon be separated by our junior high school room assignments. The days of elementary school innocence and fun were quickly fading behind us. About a year later my family moved to Connecticut. Our trip to Mt. Misery is among the last memories I have of my best childhood friend.
Almost fourteen years after the trip to Mt. Misery, I acquired my first Mac. Steve Jobs had already moved on from Apple to start NeXT. His brilliance was a matter of Silicon Valley legend and his reported “quirks” were already part of computer industry lore. Then, as now, most Mac enthusiasts have strong opinions about Steve Jobs, good and bad.
A lot of things have changed in my life and the lives of millions of Mac users in the years since I first turned on my Mac Plus. Other than my personal affection for the Mac, my life is very different than the day I placed the all-in-one Macintosh on a black laminate particle board desk in the living area of a rented basement room in an Arlington, VA townhouse.
Things have changed at Apple Computer, too. The return of Steve Jobs and his involvement in day-to-day business decisions of Apple Computer have caused quite a stir in the Mac community, Silicon Valley and the international press. In many ways, the debate over Steve Jobs’ most appropriate role at Apple hasn’t changed much in the twelve years since he first left the company.
From my vantage point, some of the views expressed about Steve Jobs paint a picture of a man not too different than Mt. Misery’s Blind Paul. While Steve Jobs hasn’t been accused of leaving the remains of half-eaten live stock and wilderness creatures in his wake, we’ve heard concerns he’s disappointing millions of Mac users as he single-handedly rips apart Apple Computer and destroys the Macintosh. Perhaps it isn’t just adolescents who have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction.
People sometimes forget that a lot has changed for Steve Jobs since he co-founded Apple Computer and helped create Silicon Valley. What may not have changed is our opinion of him. The successful release of Mac OS 8 and the introduction of Apple’s latest hardware have been sometimes overshadowed by speculation about Steve Jobs and his role at Apple. Controversy sells copy. The departure of Dr. Amelio and the reemergence of Steve Jobs as Apple Computer’s chief visionary helped create worldwide interest—for good reason.
His keynote address at MacWorld Expo rocked the stock market , the press and the computer industry. Not just for what he said, but for the manner in which he said it. He communicated a new vision for Apple Computer. He spoke about new strategic partnerships and the future of personal computing. In short, he took center stage and by his presence turned the world’s spotlight on one of the most innovative organizations in American history—Apple Computer, the company he co-founded. He stood above the fray. He commanded people’s attention. From Boston, he had the world as a stage.
Before he finished speaking, millions of people knew that Apple Computer had a new board of directors and a new relationship with its former arch-rival, Microsoft. In less than an hour, Steve Jobs changed the minds of Wall Street analysts about Apple Computer and the purchasing decisions of thousands of computer buyers. Thanks to Steve Jobs, it was now safe to buy Apple on Wall Street and Main Street.
This was not the Steve Jobs that’s been described in the press. This was not the legend-and-lore Steve Jobs. This was a seasoned innovator and industry leader responding to the marketplace and the needs of millions of Mac users. This was a man who “buried the hatchet” with Apple’s biggest rival so that he might raise his leader’s sword and move the company forward toward victory, rather than sideways toward defeat. This was Steve Jobs, visionary and leader. A lot’s happened to Steve Jobs in twelve years. Until MacWorld Expo, very few people noticed.
When I look back on the handful of days we spent at Mt. Misery, I often wonder what happened to my classmates, Philip and Charles. I often wonder, too, about my childhood friend, Gary. If I saw them today, I wonder if I’d recognize them. I don’t know how much we’d have to say, or what we’d have in common, but I do know our outlook and ideas will have changed since the days we stood together at the threshold of adolescence, just before leaving the comforting sights and familiar sounds of J.H. Coles Elementary School in Cherry Hill, NJ. Our time at Mt. Misery brought us closer together. It was a shared adventure.
When we returned to Mr. Moore’s sixth grade class we had a good time sharing stories about Mt. Misery. We even spent time laughing about Blind Paul and our gullibility. Philip “spoke” with his hands. He drew pictures of the legendary “Jersey pines madman,” with an added twist. His version of Blind Paul wore Levi’s. We’ll see how the world press and millions of Mac users view the legendary Steve Jobs and his plans for Apple Computer.
I feel fortunate to have been a Mac user for all these years. I think of fellow Mac users as people with whom I’ve shared lots of common experiences. But, just like when my classmates and I moved from elementary school to junior high, Mac users will be leaving behind many familiar sights, sounds and ways of doing things. Thanks to the announcements made at MacWorld Expo, Apple Computer will no no longer be perceived as a “niche” manufacturer. For the first time in many years, it will again have an important role in developing an evolving computing industry paradigm.
I believe Steve Jobs is very smart. I don’t expect him to be perfect. For sure, he has some ideas with which I’m not completely comfortable. I’ll admit it. It’s OK. The results of his MacWorld Expo keynote address are a new global interest in Apple’s products and a dramatic increase in the stock price.
For Mac users, the next several months will mean even more change as Apple Computer continues to realign its products and development plans. There are many people who don’t like Steve Jobs and his plans for Apple. The problem is, Apple Computer doesn’t live in a world of its own. At least not anymore.
Despite the company’s recent problems, the Apple name and logo are among the most recognized brand names in the world. Many companies wouldn’t mind buying that name and logo at an attractive price. Apple’s stock price had fallen so low, it was vulnerable to takeover for the marketing value of the name and logo alone. Further development of the Macintosh and its OS might have been curtailed, eliminated. Hardware and software assets may have been sold to unrelated third parties. Remote? Far-fetched? Take a look at the purchase prices for other well-known brand names.
I’d rather have Steve Jobs and his recently announced changes than have Apple become a former computer company that puts its brand name on everything, including cheap radios and bowling shoes. To me that would be a real “Mt. Misery.” Steve Jobs has given us reason not to close the curtains and turn off the lights. Once again, Apple Computer has a very bright future.
Also in This Series
- Good Morning America, How Are You? · October 2003
- Martians in the Manholes · February 2001
- The Golden Touch · May 2000
- Three Kids and an iMac · February 2000
- How? · November 1999
- Apples, Kids, & Attitude · August 1999
- Play Ball! · May 1999
- A Time For Change · February 1999
- New Year, New Times · January 1999
- Complete Archive