North Country Girl: Chapter 70 — The Computer Guy and Me

Gay leaves Ibiza, returns to New York, and wonders why anyone would ever need a computer in their home.

Gay Haubner

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Formore about Gay Haubner’s life in the North Country,read the other chaptersin her serialized memoir.

I was enjoying a beer at an ocean front café in Ibiza, (courtesy of the generous and deranged Tourism Board of Spain) when I was offered a new job: cooking for the crew of a private yacht, whose mysterious owner sent it criss-crossing the Mediterranean while rarely bothering to show up himself.

The captain of the yacht threw in a signing bonus in the form of a mystery pill.

I turned down both pill and job. The angel on my right shoulder TKO’d the imp on the other side who had been prodding me with her pitchfork and urging, “Take it! Go!”; I had a boyfriend and a job and I loved them both. I couldn’t just disappear on a boat. And the nice PR lady from the Tourism Board of Spain would be stuck having to explain how she had lost one of her junketeers in Ibiza, when we were supposed to be in Madrid.

Ad for Izmira vodka
Izmiria Vodka.

I returned to my job at Penthouse magazine and my artist boyfriend Michael, waiting for me in our postage-stamp-size, slanty apartment on the second floor of a Chelsea mews, a place so small it was a test of true love.

But the Best Job in the World had jaundiced me. The free trips, the lavish press parties, the gifts from advertisers that arrived daily — a spoiled brat, I started to consider this my due, my just deserts.

The lunches I didn’t spend getting drunk with my boss, Jim Goode, or with one of my writer pals, I spent in the company of PR hucksters desperate to get their clients a mention in Penthouse magazine.

 

My hosts rattled on about watts per channel or large-displacement V-twin engines, and I chewed my steak and ordered another glass of white. If the lunch was really nice and I liked the PR guy, I snuck their product into the magazine. A fun, drunken meal of shish kebabs and stuffed grape leaves and there was a tiny photo with a one-line caption in my Penthouse Holiday Gift Guide, suggesting that a bottle of Izmira, vodka imported from Turkey (which the PR person wisely did not let me taste), would be the perfect Christmas present for grandma.

I had some time to kill before lunch, so I picked up my phone on the sixth ring. On the other end was, of course, a public relations person, a woman pitching me on some nonsense, a company I had never heard of, someone calling from an agency in Ohio, for crying out loud.

The author, Gay Haubner
Gay in New York. (Author’s photo)

“I’m sorry,” I yawned, “Can you just send me a press release?” that I will throw immediately into the garbage.

“I’ll be in New York next week. Could I take you to lunch?” I perked up.

“Yes sure, how’s Tuesday?”

“I’ve never been to New York before. Is there a place you like to go?”

You bet, sister. The Palm. Home to plain-as-seltzer décor, nonexistent menus, black and blue steaks, lobsters frighteningly gigantic enough to stand in for the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the world’s gruffest waiters, who make it easy by insisting that you want the shrimp cocktail and the Caesar salad and the cottage fries and the creamed spinach and maybe the cheesecake. I had eaten there once.

Front facade of The Palm restaurant
The Palm

I found Cindy from Ohio at The Palm, the only woman sitting in a booth by herself, and introductions were made. My white wine was set in front of me (Cindy sipped her Tab and tried not to look shocked at my lunchtime imbibing) and we were bum rushed by a white-aproned waiter, a dead ringer for Wallace Beery. He spoke out of the side of his mouth, like an old bootlegger. “Filet, lobster, T-bone, rib eye. We don’t got the lamb chops…” Cindy looked about for a menu or a rulebook, finding none asked, “Do you have chicken?” and settled for salmon. I appeased our surly waiter by ordering lobster and his choice of sides.

Actor Wallace Beery
Wallace Beery. (Wikimedia Commons)

Since Cindy was footing the bill for my lobster etc. and x-number of glasses of wine, it was only manners to listen to her pitch.

“Personal computers. It’s the future. This one company is going to control the market, the CEO is a genius, he wants to make computing simple enough so anyone can do it.”

Computing? What the hell? I thought Cindy represented a tire manufacturer.

The food made its happy arrival, accompanied by an unrequested but welcome refill of my wine glass. I concentrated on deconstructing my lobster and let Cindy witter on.

“The new model was the hit of the West Coast Computer Fair…”

Crack, chomp, swallow swallow.

“Everyone has heard of Tandy and Commodore and Radio Shack’s home computers, we know they’re the most popular, and our price point is a bit higher, but in terms of user interface…”

This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, I thought. Who in their right mind would buy a computer for their home? What would you even do with it? Even the world’s most successful men’s magazine didn’t have a single computer; the clattering telex in our front office and the new-fangled adding machine in accounting were the height of technology.

Lunch was over, I was drunk, and it was time to go back to the office and amuse my boss. Cindy picked up the check and looked as if she had seen her own grave gaping wide. The blood drained from her face as she tried not to gasp.

I felt a stab of guilt that I had let this poor rube blow her entire New York City expense account on a single lunch with someone who could give a rat’s ass about computers, in the home or elsewhere. I suspected our tab was for quite a bit north of $100.

I threw her a lifeline, suddenly remembering part of the one-sided conversation. “You know, I can certainly meet with the CEO at the show in Las Vegas next month and see the, ah, computer. What was his name again?”

“Steve Jobs.”

I hope Cindy got to keep her job. I did keep my appointment with her client, at the Consumer Electronics Show, now relocated from the Chicago Convention Center. I would bet the house that I am the only person in the world to have attended CES as both a trade show model and an editor of a national magazine. I made it a point to avoid the car radio section.

American innovator and Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs. (Shutterstock)

Las Vegas in the summer was not an improvement over Chicago. It was a hundred and three degrees and to hell with anyone who says the words “dry heat.” My hotel, the paddle steamer-shaped Holiday Inn, was five long, scorching blocks from the convention center; the doorman just shook his head when I asked about a taxi. I took one step outside and fled back to my room to change out of my suit and pussycat bow blouse and into a long floaty gauze skirt and embroidered peasant blouse (souvenirs of Ibiza), clothes that let a bit of air circulate about my body, and headed off to the convention.

Where the Penthouse ad saleswoman stared at me and hissed, “What are you wearing? You look so unprofessional.” I took the list of advertisers she wanted me to meet with and threw it back at her. I did not mention that the dark stains in the pits of her Oscar de la Renta didn’t look all that professional either.

I finally located the “Home Computers” section, stuck away in a basement side room, and found the Apple exhibit, where I locked eyes with my old boyfriend from high school, Michael Vlasdic, who seemed to have made the unfortunate decision to grow some facial hair. It was not Michael, but a Xerox copy.

Steve Jobs and Michael had the same adorable round face, with tiny dimples that played hide-and-seek, and wore the identical John Lennon wire-frame glasses and serious, slightly frowning looks. They both had shaggy dark hair in a side part. Chills, not from the convention center’s super frigid AC, ran down my arms.

“Can I help you?” Steve asked.

“Ah…Cindy…I’m Gay Haubner. From Penthouse…Cindy…” Having established my bona fides, I let Steve demonstrate the Apple II Plus. He punched the keyboard with two fingers and neon-green characters scrolled up the dark screen of a tiny TV, as he glanced over his shoulder at me. I guess I was supposed to be impressed but I was baffled at what I was looking at and couldn’t imagine who would buy such a thing. I wrote on a typewriter, listened to music on the radio or vinyl LPs or cassettes. We didn’t even have answering machines; my phone messages came scrawled on small pink slips of paper. As the electronics editor of Penthouse magazine, I struggled for something nice to say.

An Apple II computer on a counter, surrounded by other, old computers.
An early Apple computer. (Wikimedia Commons)

“I like your rainbow apple. It’s like the Beatles logo, only prettier.” Steve sighed, and gave me his version of the Apple Corp vs. Apple Computer Inc. lawsuit. (Thirty-two years later Apple purchased all the rights to that Beatles logo.)

I made suitable sympathetic noises and confessed “I was never a big Beatles fan.”

“What music do you like?” asked Steve, and we were off to the races. We left the Apple Computer Inc. booth, Steve taking my gauzed and goose-fleshed right arm. We wandered, chatting and stealing glances at each other, down to the lounge area of the convention center, a few ratty couches and vending machines.

Over cans of sodas and stale sandwiches, we talked about his beginnings in that California garage and my tortuous path to Penthouse. We discovered that we were both college dropouts, and as we were children of the ’60s, the conversation turned to drugs.

“You’re not anything like I expected,” said Steve, confirming that he had not heard about my drunken, lobster-devouring, overpriced lunch.

“I had no idea what you’d be like,” I said and realized I was flirting.

“You’re so different from anyone at the show,” Steve said indicating my outré attire. “Do you want to have dinner tonight?”

This was one free meal I turned down. Steve was adorable, but obviously unhinged to believe that ordinary people would buy his goofy machine. I had a boyfriend back in New York City. And I had another guy stashed in my room at the Holiday Inn.

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Comments

  1. You made the right decisions in turning down the yacht captain’s offers and realizing what your priorities were. Cindy’s phone call was worth taking, and the trip to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—-despite the heat. Sounds like the Penthouse ad lady had you pretty ticked off. I wish you’d taken the list of advertisers she wanted you to meet with though. It would have given you a good excuse to utilize some flirtatious (yet restrained) charm you used on Steve Jobs to help snag and secure those desirable ads Gay! Speaking of that situation, you probably made the right decision. This was what, 1980? All of your questionable thoughts and feelings about home computers were perfectly understandable for that time. He was a nice enough guy, but you felt was a little too ‘out there’ to go to dinner with him. I’m sure many people have questioned and criticized you for that decision from DECADES ago, all from a current standpoint, of course. (Don’t you hate that??) They weren’t there and don’t understand the circumstances of an ENTIRELY different time and place.

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