By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
August 27, 2011

“There is a bounce to his step that betrays a certain youthful cockiness”

Joe Nocera’s lovely op-ed essay in Saturday’s
New York Times
 does us all a favor by including a link to a piece Nocera wrote about Steve Jobs for Esquire in 1986.

Jobs had been kicked out of Apple (AAPL), and to help drum up publicity for his new project, NeXT, he invited Nocera — who would later become Fortune‘s editorial director — to shadow him for a week as Jobs ran staff meetings, attended parties and barreled around Silicon Valley in a Mercedes coupe.

Nocera doesn’t say what happened to sour their relationship between then and the summer of 2008, when Jobs began a phone conversation like this:

“This is Steve Jobs. You think I’m an arrogant [expletive] who thinks he’s above the law, and I think you’re a slime bucket who gets most of his facts wrong.” (link)

Jobs was wrong about Nocera’s skills as a reporter, as the Esquire story makes clear. Much of it covers ground about the early days of computing that Apple watchers will find familiar. But there are some sharply reported descriptive passages that capture Jobs at age 31 as well any piece I’ve ever read.

Below the fold: My favorite paragraphs.

By nature and inclination, Jobs is one of those who have to dominate any room they’re in, and so it is here. It’s not quite right to say he is sitting through this staff meeting, because Jobs doesn’t much sit through anything; one of the ways he dominates is through sheer movement. One moment he’s kneeling in his chair, the next minute he’s slouching in it; the next he has leaped out of his chair entirely and is scribbling on the blackboard directly behind him. He is full of mannerisms. He bites his nails. He stares with unnerving earnestness at whoever is speaking. His hands, which are slightly and inexplicably yellow, are in constant motion: pushing back his hair, propping up his chin, buried snugly under his armpits. When he hears something that intrigues him, he curls his head toward his shoulder, leans forward, and allows a slight smile to cross his lips. When he hears something he dislikes, he squints to register his disapproval. He would not be a good poker player. His speech is also mannered, full of slangy phrases. “If we could pull this off,” he is saying enthusiastically, “it would be really, really neat!” “The original idea was good,” he is saying about some failed project at Apple. “I don’t know what happened. I guess somebody there bozoed out.” Around the room there are knowing smirks. To bozo is a favorite Jobs verb, but where he once used it mainly to describe some bit of stupidity perpetrated by, say, IBM, he now uses it just as often when he’s talking about Apple …

Jobs himself is only thirty-one. If anything, he looks younger. He is lithe and wiry. He is wearing faded jeans (no belt), a white cotton shirt (perfectly pressed), and a pair of brown suede wing-tipped shoes. There is a bounce to his step that betrays a certain youthful cockiness; the quarterback of your high school football team used to walk that way. His thin, handsome face does not even appear to need a daily shave. And that impression of eternal youth is reinforced by some guileless, almost childlike traits: By the way, for instance, he can’t resist showing off his brutal, withering intelligence whenever he’s around someone he doesn’t think measures up. Or by his almost willful lack of tact. Or by his inability to hide his boredom when he is forced to endure something that doesn’t interest him, like a sixth grader who can’t wait for class to end.

Which, as it happens, is how he’s acting now …

The Times has made the full piece — reprinted as Chapter 2 in Nocera’s 2008 Good Guys and Bad Guys — available here.

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