ch 5. kevin back bacon

日本語 pt 3

My first meeting with Steve Jobs was an impromptu negotiation over the license fees for Japanese fonts he paid to Adobe Systems. This is how it went down. 

So I stood there, looking at Julie and a gaggle (or murder, if they are crows) of NeXT employees ready to join us for our discussion and my summary execution at Steve’s hand.

I entered a large conference room, led by Julie, somewhere on the NeXT campus, followed by staff. Were his puke minions there to save me, or just there to hose down the sidewalk after my summary evisceration by Steve?

I don’t remember what Steve looked like that day, but I imagine that he wore nothing logoed and looked pretty much like Steve Jobs in his prime, which he was about to reach with his return to Apple. He was surely wearing jeans and a dark, non-logoed t-shirt, upgraded to a simple thin dark, non-logoed thin pullover sweater.

If you’ve ever played sports and/or performed in front of an audience, you can relate to the focus which engulfs you. As it overcomes you, you have to decide to fight or flee.

I was up versus Steve — I saw nothing and heard nothing but Steve. One big tunnel view of Steve with a marker with numbers on the whiteboard.

Steve didn’t want to pay the royalties he was paying Adobe on every NeXTSTEP OS shipped into Japan. It complicated his life and emptied his pocketbook. Nevermind the value.

“Steve, if I could, I’d take the royalty away, but we must honor our contract with the type vendor.”

“I don’t want to pay.”

“We don’t have a choice, you know this.”

“I’ll clone.”

“You can clone, Steve, but what will that do to your sales in Japan? What about the quality? Will the market accept it? What about the rest of your Adobe PostScript business? You need us for the publishing market. You know this.”

The Japanese market at the time was known to be elastic to the perception of quality – Steve had a persona to maintain in Japan – the first true fanboys were Japanese in inspiration, if not in fact.

And so it went for the better part of the hour. Steve and I at the board, each have our own marker. (I pray silently that it is not a permanent marker.)

We focus. There’s give – there’s take.

Steve and I are doing all the talking. All the talking. Back and forth. I didn’t think twice. I fought. I proposed. I conceived a solution on the fly involving open source and a Japanese font consortium.

Numbers appear on the board. “What if’s” are whiteboarded. Much hem. Much haw.

It was on the fly. It was simple. It was sales. 

I focused. Too focused on the problem at hand. And then it happened, I lost it. I became unstuck.

That’s when the kevin back bacon kicked in.


Not Kevin Bacon, but back bacon, thick cut.

I was back in Winnipeg, on the street, fourteen years old on a winter night, selling chicken, back bacon, and pork sausage door to door? We never worried about spoilage at forty below. Everything that was already frozen, stayed frozen.

Or was I at a third grade blackboard, an eight year-old ESL immigrant getting yelled at by the class and Sister Roberta, locked in a team math speed drill death match from hell to see which half of the class gets an extra five minutes of recess?

What book, inspired by technology, can go without mention of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.? I was unstuck in time – it was my way of bringing focus to the situation.

There is no room for fear when you are focused.

I never felt that there was an audience. Steve’s puke minions were just that, some in fear of Steve, some in awe, but always focused on what Steve wanted at that time.

Me, I was trying to cut his COGS – his Cost of Goods Sold. I was a person he could get something from. I was not a minion. I didn’t have to fear Steve, I just had to solve Steve’s problem.

It was personal, it was deep, it was intense, it was two people talking, two immigrants, a Syrian and a Québécois – discussing intellectual property.

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