Steve Jobs: Pygmalion
From the New York Post:
Chrisann Brennan first met Steve Jobs in 1972, while they were both students at Homestead HS in Cupertino, Calif. Over the next five years, they dated off and on throughout their teens and early 20s. The two were living together with their friend Daniel Kottke, a computer engineer and one of the earliest employees of Apple, in 1977, when the company took off.
The two finally ended their romantic relationship for good in late 1977, after Brennan became pregnant with their daughter, Lisa. Brennan worked as a waitress and collected welfare checks to support herself and their baby daughter.
Jobs publicly denied he was Lisa’s father for years, even though he took a paternity test in 1979 proving he was the dad. He was paying $500 a month in child support when he told Time magazine in 1983, “28 percent of the male population in the United States could be the father.”
Today, Brennan is a painter and graphic designer living in Monterey, Calif., and Lisa is a Harvard-educated journalist.
Here, in an exclusive excerpt from Brennan’s first-person tale, “The Bite in the Apple: A Memoir of My Life With Steve Jobs” (on sale Oct. 29), she describes her frustrating, difficult and passionate years with the business visionary…
Steve often said that he had a strong sense of having had a past life as a World War II pilot. He’d tell me how, when driving, he felt a strong impulse to pull the steering wheel back as if for takeoff. It was a curious thing for him to say, but he did have that sense of unadorned glamour from the forties. He loved the big band sound of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie. At the first Apple party he even danced like he was from the forties. So I could see the fit: Steve as a young man with all that American ingenuity from a less encumbered time, with that simple sense of right and wrong. But that’s not how I pictured him in 1977. Apple was taking off and Steve wasn’t in an airplane, he was in a rocket ship blasting out beyond the atmosphere of what anyone imagined possible. And he was changing.
It was around this time that Steve, Daniel, and I moved into a rental in Cupertino. It was a four-bedroom ranch style house on Presidio Drive, close to Apple’s first offices. Steve told me that he didn’t want to get a house with just the two of us because it felt insufficient to him.
Steve wanted his buddy Daniel to live with him because he believed it would break up the intensity of what wasn’t working between us. Our relationship was running hot and cold. We were completely crazy about each other and utterly bored in turns. I had suggested to Steve that we separate, but he told me that he just couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye.
A new memoir by his ex-girlfriend sheds light on the cult of Steve Jobs.Photo: Albert Watson
I was glad to hear this but I was also, by this time, deferring to his ideas way too often. Steve also didn’t want us to share a room at the Presidio house. He said he didn’t want us to play assumed roles and that he wanted to choose when we would be together. I was hurt by this, but reasoned that he had a point, that we both needed a sense of space and choice. And so I went along with it.
Steve selected the bedroom in the front of the house. It was like him to want to position himself as the captain of the ship — in front. He was always vying for that superior position. I chose the master bedroom and settled in, knowing I had the best room. Daniel, who was sort of charmingly odd, slept in the living room on the floor next to his piano. But after a month Steve literally picked me up and moved everything I owned and took over the master bedroom. He’d finally realized that I had the better deal: a larger room with an en suite bath and the privacy of the backyard. Steve had paid the security deposit for the rental so was, in fact, entitled to the room he wanted. But he was so graceless that I felt humiliated and outraged.
Even after swapping rooms in this way, Steve and I still shared nights of lovemaking so profound that, astonishingly, some fifteen years later, he called me out of the blue to thank me for them. He was married at the time of his call and all I could think of was, Whoa . . . men . . . are . . . really . . . different. Imagine if I had called him to say such a thing.
We remembered different things. Mainly I recalled how awful he was becoming and how I was starting to flounder. But he was right: our lovemaking had been sublime. At the time of Steve’s phone call, I found that as I listened I was as awed by the memory as by his strange need to risk an expression of such intimacy. After I hung up I stood still and thought, Maybe Steve thinks that love has its own laws and imperative. But why call now?
Chrisann Brennan with daughter Lisa. She and Jobs broke up after she became pregnant in 1977.
His timing had always been so particular.
Living with Steve in Cupertino was not as I had expected it to be. We shared nice dinners and some beautiful evenings, but we could barely sustain a sense of emotional intimacy, much less build on it. It was like a game of Snakes and Ladders, with Steve as the game master. The ups were hopeful and the downs were extreme. I didn’t know how to hold my own with him because he didn’t play fair. He just played to win — and win at any cost. I knew that a solid relationship couldn’t be built on any one person winning, but I couldn’t understand why things kept slip-sliding away and breaking into pieces.
When we first moved into that house, I was by myself during the days when Steve and Daniel went off to Apple. I was deeply frustrated by my lack of creative focus. I had made the commitment to myself to be an artist but I had no idea how to do it. There was so much pain between me and my work that I didn’t know where to begin or how to direct myself. So when my friend Ellen offered to help me get a waitressing job at a restaurant in Palo Alto, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to be around others, to make money, and to wash Steve and Daniel out of my hair on a regular basis. I needed my own independent life and perspective away from that house. I wanted to be around other people so I could remember who I was and what interested me. I also thought that it would help Steve and me to get on a better footing or, if we couldn’t, for me to find my own feet to walk out of the relationship if that’s what I needed to do.
Unfortunately I had to turn down that job because I didn’t have a car and so couldn’t get to Palo Alto. So I ended up working at Apple in Cupertino, driving in the mornings with Steve and Daniel and walking home in the evenings if we didn’t have plans together after work. Eventually I started to take art classes at De Anza, which was conveniently located between Apple and our home. At Apple I worked in the shipping department where, if I remember correctly, I soldered disconnected chips onto boards and also screwed those same boards into Apple II cases for final assembly. The work wasn’t interesting, but the banter and laughter with my cohorts, Richard Johnson and Bob Martinengo, kept me amused.
At that time Apple had about one thousand square feet to its name, divided into three rooms total: one for shipping, one as a kind of tech lab for R & D, and one larger office for all the executives and secretaries.
Jobs with daughter Lisa, dressed as Raggedy Ann, on Halloween 1986.
One day I remember a bunch of us standing around Steve’s desk when John Draper, aka Captain Crunch, called. (Draper is well known for his contribution to the blue box technology.) Steve put Draper on the speakerphone so that everyone could hear without Draper’s knowing we were all listening. Draper was full of anxiety, pleading with Steve to do something for him. I don’t remember what now, but I do know that people were quietly laughing at him. This is nothing in the annals of Steve Jobs stories, but I remember it because Steve’s lack of fair play seemed shameless to me. I didn’t care who he was making fun of. I just didn’t like it.
On the nights when Steve and I didn’t have something to do together — and there were more and more of these — he would often come home late and wake me up to talk and make love. On the nights he just wanted to talk, I knew he had been with Kobun [Japanese Zen master Kobun Chino Otogawa was a longtime spiritual adviser to Jobs]. I would wake up to find Steve gently ecstatic, speaking to me in symbolic language with the Zen master’s distinct speech pattern. A number of times he spoke to me about how he had been given “five brilliant flowers.” His demeanor would gleam when he said this, and I would listen to find out what the symbol meant to him. My best guess after months of these reveries was that the flowers were five different people whose enlightenment Steve would be involved in. These blooms apparently included me. In the beginning he talked about “one brilliant flower” and he would touch my nose when he said it, as if to say, “That’s you!” but then it rose to three and then five.
I’d wondered who the others were.
Steve was assuming the role of my spiritual master once again and I felt uneasy about it. What if I didn’t want to be one of his brilliant flowers. Beyond this, the general lack of transparency when it came to Steve and Kobun didn’t feel right, especially when it involved me. A few years earlier Steve had tried to get me to primal scream “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy” when we had taken LSD because he thought he was fit to oversee that kind of opening up in me just from having read a book. The fact that he had never gone through primal therapy himself didn’t seem to concern him. It was that Pygmalion thing again.
Tech titan Jobs with the latest in personal computers, circa 1984.Photo: Michael L. Abramson/Getty Images
Now he and Kobun thought Steve should oversee my enlightenment? Also during this time Steve bragged about being lazy. He was working like a maniac but he’d throw his head back with his eyes unfocused and croon, “I am just the laziest man in the world.” After about the tenth refrain I quietly translated this to mean that he was only active in response to inspiration, and so in this way, action was effortless, thus, he was lazy. It smacked of the coded language between him and Kobun. Further, it felt self-aggrandizing. I was left out of the late-night conversations between master and student, but I got these trailers when I was half asleep. Some of it was beautiful and I was glad Steve wanted to share it with me, but some of it felt really skewed. Steve had a way of being spiritually advanced while also being emotionally underdeveloped, and I started to wonder why Kobun didn’t understand this. Why indeed.
I was wary because I didn’t think enlightened people bragged, and I sensed that these two were too infatuated with themselves. The touch on the nose was patronizing. Steve, who was my boyfriend, not my guru, had some confusion about me surrendering to his ego instead of to my own higher purpose and presence. In the end, I think he may have been jealous of me for having my own power and insight. He seemed to want either to own everything or diminish its value.
One evening, Steve and I had a party at the Presidio house. I don’t remember much about the party or who was there — likely, Bill Fernandez, Woz [Steve Wozniak], and Daniel, and their girlfriends. What I do remember is that the next morning there was a confusing moment when Steve, looking around and squinting, asked what we should do with “it.” I didn’t
The late Steve Jobs with his wife, Laurene Powell, at the 2010 Academy Awards.Photo: Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images
understand the question until I realized that he was asking if there was a service we could call in to take care of the dirty dishes. Doing the dishes ourselves was simply no longer an option for Steve. He had entered into an elite world where others took care of the lower-level functions so that he could operate with more efficiency, on his presumably higher plane. I not too happily cleaned them up by myself. This put me into the wrong kind of position with him, because in no world should I ever have been in a service role to Steve in this way. I just didn’t understand how to take care of myself in the face of his enlarged sense of self importance.
A few weeks after the party Steve started telling me that I had too many wrinkles on my forehead. I’m of Irish and French descent and have thin skin from the Irish side. In my early twenties, I had a wrinkle-free face, but when I raised my eyebrows, I had a bazillion tiny lines, like pages of a book. Steve would point this out and then, like a stage mother, literally reach over and smooth my forehead whenever I furrowed my brow. This was a new Steve. I have never liked this sort of thing in mothers, much less in boyfriends.
I am not the kind of woman who places high stakes in her appearance.
That’s not a natural outcome of who I am. But I was puzzled. Steve had always really liked the way I looked before, but now my very face was not okay? I fell to tears, rejected and burdened by it all.
I now understand that Steve was learning how to gain power by insinuating negative self-images onto others. He was starting to define me more by what I wasn’t, than by what I was. This was a whole new category of unkindness and it confused me. It was mean and I felt rejected, but I just didn’t have a comeback.
As Apple grew, so did Steve’s sense of self-entitlement; in parallel they both seemed to take on lives of their own. And his behaviors didn’t improve with success, they changed from adolescent and dopey to just plain vicious. For example, in the pre-Apple days whenever we’d go out for dinner (which wasn’t that often), Steve would often be sarcastic toward the restaurant staff. The host would say, “Two?” and Steve would reply, “No, fifteen!” driving for the implicit “DUH!” But after Apple started we ate out a lot more and Steve’s behavior toward service people changed into a different kind of disempowerment.
The cover of Chrisann Brennan’s new book, “The Bite in the Apple,” out October 29.
Steve would order the same meal night after night, yet he’d complain bitterly each evening about the little side sauces that were served with it, cutting the air with disdain for the waitstaff who would serve up such greasy-salty-tasteless-mock-fine cuisine. He seemed to assume that everyone at the restaurant should know better than to serve up such wallpaper paste — not only to him, but at all. Steve would run down the waitstaff like a demon, detailing the finer points of good service, which included the notion that “they should be seen only when he needed them.” Steve was uncontrollably critical. His reactions had a Tourette’s quality — as if he couldn’t stop himself.
Of course, it must have been sort of wild to have your genius recognized at the age of twenty-two, to be thrust into such a role of authority.
Steve had always been a brilliant misfit, but at this time — to be generous — he wasn’t managing his growing power very well. In fact, he was positively despotic. Excellence had always been a gorgeous thing in Steve, but now he was using it like a weapon. He’d look for excellence and when he didn’t find it, he’d behave badly and take it out on people.
As Steve’s first girlfriend I increasingly experienced what it felt like to have him turn against me. And so it was at this time that I began to perceive that awesome and awful could be but a hair’s breadth apart.
And where Steve’s fullness met mine with staggering beauty (there was a reason he called fifteen years later to acknowledge the importance of the nights we’d shared), he was also becoming so creatively unstable, so out of integrity with himself that everything could slip out of alignment in an instant. That’s when my heart would freeze over. That’s when I’d be left speechless and gasping. Though I would try to adapt to the change, it all soon outweighed his value to me.
From “The Bite in the Apple” by Chrisann Brennan. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.