Thursday, April 1, 2010

Remembering Stephen Amontis


By David Gewirtz FIGURE A


We lost a very good friend yesterday. I've known Steve Amontis since the early 1990s. Steve worked for us when we started ZATZ, so I know many of you probably remember him as well.

My wife Denise has known Steve even longer than I have. In fact, I met Steve through Denise, when we needed some extra help here at ZATZ. She's been friends with him since she was in her first year of high school, and he was a long-haired Jersey boy with a guitar, a kid driving a fast car with loud music. He initially intimidated her parents and eventually won them over. His reward has been helping them with their computer problems ever since.

Steve was born with a congenital heart defect, which he's been dealing with and managing his whole life. Over the past year or so, it's been getting progressively worse and he's been near the top of the transplant list, waiting for a new heart.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to hold out long enough. He got sick Monday night and had to be taken to the local hospital. He was then airlifted to a hospital that specializes in heart problems. An infection had taken hold and my buddy Steve passed away around 2pm yesterday.

Memories of a man

When someone who's been in your life for so long passes away, a lot of feelings and memories churn around in your head. You think of all those good times, rough times, incredibly stupid times, and all of those things that made up the person you're already starting to miss so very much.

Steve was a special guy. He got involved in computers through video games, learned what made PCs tick in order to get more performance out of his games. He's the guy who first showed me what a 3D graphics accelerator card could do for PC gaming and delighted in my awe the first time I saw Lara Croft's butt rendered to perfection with an early 3Dfx card.

Steve was a motorhead, and he could install a mean car audio system. Most of his vehicles consisted of exquisite sound systems on hot wheels. Both my wife and I have fond memories of going "down-the-shore" (you have to be from Jersey to understand why it has to be said that way) with Steve, because he loved to drive, and he loved to listen to music played through sweet gear.

Steve loved showing off things he'd discovered. It was never from an "I have this, you don't" sort of perspective. Instead, he truly enjoyed sharing and inspiring, and it delighted him when something he'd discovered and shared was adopted and then enjoyed by one of his friends.

Steve became an exceptionally talented PC tech and IT professional. He was always available to help people with their computers, even those friends who insisted on repeatedly damaging their PCs by visiting the "wrong" sites and running the "wrong" software. He acquired a pile of impressive certifications and was a key IT guy for, among others, a Philadelphia hospital and a prestigious Princeton private school.

When we were working together, Steve and I would often go out to lunch. We had a favorite barbecue place where we'd order these monstrosities we called "caveman burgers". These consisted of an unreasonably high pile of pulled pork, which we'd eat to the point of stupidity. Then we'd come back to the office, collapse on the couch in an over-stuffed stupor, grunt, and moan. It was the best of times. Our co-workers were less thrilled.

One restaurant was right near work, and we went there regularly. Steve became quite enamored with one of the women who worked there, and somehow managed to talk her into going out with him. I remember the many calls and lunches, where he'd tell me how much he liked Donna--more than anyone else he'd met. Donna and Steve were married for 11 years. They loved each other very much, and I know she wishes she got more time with him than she did.

Even more memories

So many thoughts run through your mind when you suddenly lose a close friend. The night he came over at 2am because I'd somehow managed to short out all the electrical circuits in the house and couldn't figure out how to fix it. Or the time he helped me install a full server rack in the tiny closet of a two-bedroom apartment. Or the times we would meet to wander around CompUSA to see if we could find anything cool. Or the times we would go out for sushi with one of our friends and Steve would derive great pleasure from mocking our mutual friend's love of all things Mac.

Steve was an astonishingly good cook as well as a gracious (or at least, tolerant) host. I can't count the number of times I invited myself over to his place when I found out he was cooking something yummy. He taught me some of his favorite recipes. I remember how he was both appalled and amused the night I blew up my stove attempting his special macaroni and cheese recipe.

Among the things we enjoyed doing together was playing online games. Steve was a great gamer. Me? Not so much. We each developed our own style. In Tribes, I'd build defenses and he'd go on the attack. In World of Warcraft, he leveled up so quickly that he often gave my wife and me tours of the various instances, because we'd never survive on our own.

The online games became even more important once Denise and I moved to Florida. Steve and Donna and my wife Denise and I could hang out in game and quest together. It seemed like old times, like we were doing something together, even though we were almost a thousand miles apart.

Steve loved life

Steve seemed to love and embrace life more than anyone I've ever known. No matter what challenge was thrown his way, he somehow managed to deal with it. He was generally a pretty easygoing guy, but he had a bit of a temper. It would only come out once in a great while (and it left us with some pretty amusing stories), but it was tempered by his ability to get things done.

Steve could do things -- from cooking, to carpentry, to electrical work, to restoring his kitchen, to fixing computers, to managing an IT department, to staging one of the most off-the-charts Halloween parties ever, to tweaking out his car -- Steve didn't just talk about doing things, he actually did them. Along the way, if he'd managed to pull off something he thought was cool, his giddy sense of joy and delight was infectious.

I think that's what I'm going to remember most about Steve. Sure, we had our antics and our shared professional lives, but I think I'm going to remember Steve most for how much he let himself enjoy life. I'll also remember him for how he shared that joy with everyone he knew.

Steve, buddy, we're sure going to miss you!