Being At Work On The Day Steve Jobs Dies

I read about the news of Steve Jobs passing away five minutes before everyone else did at work.

As a PC technician doing a Windows 7 refresh at a Fortune 500 technology company in Silicon Valley, I was waiting for the data transfer from the old system to the new system to complete before I moved on to my next task. Sitting in the chair of the user whom I ejected out of his cube, I turned to the laptop on my cart and, seeing no work-related emails that required my immediate attention, started browsing the Internet to kill time.

Mac Rumors reported the death of Steve Jobs via the Associated Press announcement that more details were forthcoming. Unlike the false report a month before that appeared on the CBS Twitter feed, this one looked like the real deal. With every refresh of the web page, Mac Rumors kept adding more and more details to their article.

An immense feeling of sadness overcame me as the news sank in.

I immediately recognized that this was a “where were you when this happened” event. Like the Space Shuttle Columbia burning on re-entry (2003), the 9/11 Twin Towers bombing (2001), the Loma Pieta earthquake (1989), the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (1987), the Iran-Contra scandal in Washington, D.C. (1986), the Iranian hostage crisis (1979), President Richard Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate Scandal (1974), and the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969), I can remember all those events with sparking clarity. Except for the moon landing since I wouldn’t be born for another three weeks, but even in utero I was with my family watching history being made on our ancient black-and-white console TV.

“Holy, shit!” an engineer cried out unprofessionally from a nearby cube. This was the payroll department, not the men locker room in the gym next door. ”Steve Jobs is dead!”

“Who died?” an engineer asked from a cube further away, sounding bewildered as if someone had assassinated the Pope in Rome or the Republican Party found an electable Tea Party candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Unthinkable.

“Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and inventor of the iPad!”

All at once the engineers in the surrounding cubes stopped working to browse the Internet. The major news websites started reporting the death of Steve Jobs from pancreatic cancer, throwing up their prepared obituaries about America’s most beloved inventor since Thomas Edison. My favorite obituary was from the satirical website, The Onion, with the headline: “The Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies”. A hushed silence fell over the cubes as mouse clicks followed the links.

An engineer wept quietly.

An email popped in to announce that the data transfer was completed. I pulled the old system and went on to my next task. As I walked through the other buildings, the death of Steve Jobs spread like wildfire and the hushed silence took hold everywhere. This particular technology company already had a quiet intensity to daily work was now so quiet that you could now hear Death chortling over the grief of a creative visionary being dead. As I browsed the Internet during those brief moments of downtime while waiting for my tasks to complete, there was no escaping the obvious fact of that day.

Steve Jobs was dead.

Then a horrible feeling overwhelmed me. This felt like the death of Elvis all over again, where he died of a drug overdose two weeks after my birthday and my mother cried for three days straight in August 1978. I can imagine some poor kid coming home to find his engineer mother weeping uncontrollably over her iPad, wondering why she was more in loved with an international celebrity than her husband, and later find a black velvet painting on the living room wall. Rather than seeing the bloated Elvis in his white suit and red scarf making love to his microphone, the mercurial Steve Jobs would look out through the lenses of his glasses with a fist to his bearded chin underneath a knowing Mona Lisa smile. I shuddered at the thought of another childhood tragedy was in the making.

Note: This post will be the unrevised introduction to my forthcoming essay ebook, “Experiencing The Death of Elvis: Another Childhood Tragedy,” about how the death of Elvis impacted my family in the late 1970s, now available at Amazon and Smashwords.