I’m reading two biographies of famous contemporary achievers who died in their fifties at the height of their creative powers. Both had turbulent lives with more than the normal crazy-difficult family episodes to digest. They both thought it was okay to be physically dirty. What do I mean? Steve Jobs thought it was okay not to bathe, to arrive for business meetings with filthy bare feet and in case no one noticed, to put his feet on the CEO’s desk. Wendy Wasserstein (the playwright) thought it was all right to show up for rehearsals and collaborative meetings in her nightgown, hair uncombed.
Pairing these unequal contributors to humanity (Jobs’ contribution was big and widespread, Wendy’s was less big and localized) is whimsical. I am crazy interested in both of them for different reasons. This blog will be devoted to Jobs and I’ll write about Wendy soon.
I became interested in Steve Jobs about ten years ago when I first read Mona Simpson’s book “Anywhere But Here.” I read it twice. I liked the voice of the protagonist. It is the best depiction of the tangled relationships between mothers and daughters I had ever read. By chance I learned that she was the full sibling of Steve Jobs and that they had “found” each other and become friends. Like a crazy groupie, I Googled and Googled the pair until I had unearthed every last tidbit of their lives. If I had been more tech savvy, I would have started a Steve and Mona fan page. When her brother died, Mona rewarded me with a novelistic eulogy that could satisfy any stalker. I've memorized parts of it.
“I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother. By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild. This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta.”
Walter Isaacson, Jobs' biographer fed my sick interest by relating the following: “Jobs enlisted the help of his biological sister Mona Simpson - whom he had tracked down - to help find his biological father. It’s important to note here that Jandali abandoned Mona when she was 4 so that he could go run a refinery in Syria.
So Simpson was able to finally track down Jandali who at the time was running a restaurant in Sacramento. But Jobs didn’t want to accompany her to the restaurant to meet his biological father.
In a taped interview with Walter Isaacson, Jobs explains:
When I was looking for my biological mother, obviously, you know, I was looking for my biological father at the same time, and I learned a little bit about him and I didn’t like what I learned. I asked her to not tell him that we ever met…not tell him anything about me.
So Simpson trekked up to Sacramento alone to meet her biological father.
During the course of that encounter, Jandali boasted that he used to run one of the more popular restaurants in Silicon Valley, noting that even Steve Jobs used to eat there. But Jobs’ sister bit her tongue and didn’t say “Steve Jobs is your son.” She just looked shocked as Jandali explained, “Yeah, he was a great tipper.”
Mona’s first book “Anywhere But Here” is about her mother. Her second book (I found it unreadable) was about her father. Her third novel, A Regular Guy and next on my reading list is about her brother. I hope her fourth book is about Mona. I want to know everything there is to know about Mona.
You’ve read reams and reams about Steve Jobs, the genius, the visionary, the man who knew what we needed without asking. The side story of his mommy-daddy-sister issues, a plot so preposterous it could be a full season on “One Life to Live,” continues to keep me riveted.