I think back on the turning points in my life. Among the traditional ones — first car, first job, marriage, baby — I remember my induction into the cult of Mac, and I pay my respects to Steve Jobs.
At the time, I had no idea who Steve Jobs was. I was in my mid-20s, scraping by working full-time, going to school at night, and hanging out at this Greek diner in Ann Arbor.
It was a friendly place, an alcohol-free Cheers that served great mousaka and pastitsio. I quickly became a regular; the owners knew me by name, cashed my checks and ran me a tab when money was tight.
I struggled a lot back then, with little or no money, a crappy car and crappier apartment, and going to school. I wrestled mightily, too, with my future. I knew I wanted to write for a living, but I had no idea how to make that happen.
My job was tracking memberships for a professional association. I also edited and produced its monthly newsletter and other print materials.
Those were the halcyon days of rub-off headline type on huge layout sheets festooned with copy produced on a RadioShack TRS-80, a huge beast of a machine that did not work when I started my job — I had to beat it into submission. It was clunky, temperamental, unreliable and convoluted; it required herculean efforts on my part to stay on task.
But I learned it. I taught myself basic computer coding. I figured out how to get around its idiosyncrasies to make it do my bidding. I enjoyed a long-fought, hard-earned victory over that damn machine.
Those days, though, I knew there was something else out in the world waiting for me, something more than work and fighting with that computer, night classes and hanging out at my beloved Greek diner.
Little did I know that part of my future was a fellow diner regular, a chain-smoking, technological genius, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Like me, he used the diner as a pit stop, a home away from home, and we got to know each other over cigarettes and coffee.
Neither of us had any idea when we first met that he would be responsible for one of the most fateful events of my life.
It happened one night when he invited me to his house. He said he had something he wanted to share with me, something he knew I’d love. He said he trusted me enough to let me play with it.
Now, before you get all dirty-minded, “it” was the Macintosh computer he had just bought, and he was right: It was love at first sight. It was like a thunderbolt screaming through my soul, kind of like what I imagine the first draw from a crack pipe feels like to a junkie.
I took one look at the little beige box and felt the earth move beneath my feet as I crossed the line into an exciting new territory from which I could never retreat. That night, I played with fonts, and MacDraw and MacPaint. The little box was slow, but it was also intuitive and elegant, and in its tiny screen I saw the future.
That Macintosh was constantly on my mind. I finally took out a loan for $7,000 and bought my own Mac and laser printer with a plan to pay for it with the money I’d earn as a desktop publisher.
Friends will tell you that I was the first and, for a long time, the only person they knew who owned a computer. I talked about that little machine with evangelical zeal, and I spent every spare moment learning it. I became part of the cult of Mac.
When I started making money doing freelance work, I adopted computerizing the association office as my personal mission.
Back then, Macs were thought to be fun machines or tools only for creatives, certainly not serious enough for real work. They were pricey and nice to look at, more call girl than marriage material, and when I’d bring up buying Macs for the office with my boss, he’d counter that “IBM has ‘business’ as part of its name.”
How can you argue with logic like that? But I did. I argued that using computers didn’t need to be painful, that machines like the “Trash 80,” as it was derisively called, did great harm to the future of technology.
“Computers should be fun,” I’d say. “They should make our lives easier, not harder.”
Relentless and creative in my constant campaign, I chipped away little by little at the anti-Mac sentiment; when I left that job, each desk in the office had a little beige box on it. It was one of my proudest accomplishments.
Since then, I’ve owned nothing but Macs and Apple products: desktops, laptops, and now, my technological holy trinity of MacBook Pro, iPad and iPhone. I run my entire universe on Apple stuff: LivingstonTalk, my freelance writing and website design business, and my life.
I think back on the first time I laid eyes on a Mac, on how powerful that cute little machine was in changing the way I worked and made money and lived my life. I know a much higher power guided me along this wonderfully rich and creative path.
RIP Steve Jobs.