A Thin Line Between Apple’s ‘Genius Bar’ and Insanity

It’s apropos that New York’s Apple Store is in the old Soho P.O. Apple is an essential service, they don’t have any competition, and if you don’t like it-well, too bad for you.

Have you experienced their postal behavior? Not “postal” as in emptying an assault weapon into a line of stamp buyers-postal arrogance. Not federal “I can’t be fired” arrogance-tekkie arrogance. Being treated like a supplicant by nerds who don’t give a glitch about your ignorant problems, especially since the Empire doesn’t require them to do much except say, “Sorry … wish I could help.”

Is there a connection between Revenge of the Nerds and Triumph of the Will ? I had that revelation at the Apple Store’s “Genius Bar.” The horror!

In case you just got out of jail or are a P.C. user, the Genius Bar is Apple’s euphemism for “Customer Service” or “Repair.” Here are the “geniuses” who will help you-or maybe not.

The Genius Bar is very busy. But Apple doesn’t want you to know that there are many problems in Appleland, so unlike Tekserve, the booming Mac shop on 23rd Street that services all the dated technology the Apple Store disdains, they don’t give out numbers to the people waiting in line. This means customers must enforce their own queue. Interlopers try to jump it continually. “Oh … is this a line???” “Really? Oh …. Well, I just have a quick question!”

Before proceeding, I avow: I am a Mac person. I have owned 13 of them, from the small-screen black-and-whites that are now a cult in Japan, down to the Powerbook G4 and iMac that are my present tools. I would use no other computer. That said, I hate Apple. Hate their attitude. Not as much as Nike’s, but almost. Don’t pretend you’re Albert Schweitzer when you’re Commodore Vanderbilt, I always say.

The philosophy is: The customer is always wrong. I first encountered this when, at their suggestion, I bought a combo scanner/printer/copier to use with the G4. It wouldn’t work. Apple wouldn’t help. So I spent $500 on a consultant to learn that there was no way this thing would ever work with the G4.

Naturally, I tried to return it. Too late! The clock was ticking while we fiddled fruitlessly, and the 10 days were up.

“But you said it would work.”

“It should.”

“Can you make it work?”

“We don’t do that.” I finally abandoned it in the middle of the store, raving, “You keep it!” They took it back. Quietly. (Eventually, they admitted that the printer and the G4 were as compatible as Bloomberg and a Marlboro red.)

Then, one morning, my old iMac wouldn’t wake up. Can’t blame it: If it was a car, it would have 150,000 miles on it. So I went down to Apple and bought a shiny new eMac. Then came the holidays. I went away. When I returned, the eMac was acting funny. Crazy code flashed across the screen. Then it started sparking like a toaster with a fork in it. But I was busy. It was a backup, anyway. When I had time, I’d deal with it. Then, terribly, my G4 went down as a result of an act of toddler. I had no computer.

I took the G4 to Tekserve, then schlepped the bulky eMac to the Genius Bar. Hours passed. Finally, I was “next.” A young black shirt tried to turn it on. No dice. “Well, we can send it in.” He hadn’t seen the sparks. I explained that sending it in wasn’t an option. It wasn’t broken; it never worked. If it were a car, it would have 60 miles on it. It’s a lemon. “But,” he accurately pointed out “you have had it longer than 60 days.” I tried to explain the vacation thing, the code from outer space, the fork-in-toaster sparks. Finally, I reached the verge of … postality. He correctly sized me up as a maniac and, realizing that “no” was not an option, declared the eMac “D.O.A.” And threw it into a box. Crunch!

I was granted credit toward a new iMac. Calm returned; the office hummed. Then I thought: I should do something about the iPods. We have two: one 10 gigs, the other 20. The 10-gig never worked right; it needs to be reset all the time. A year and a half old, it’s a little short of breath. Stops working after three hours instead of six, but ….

Please pause now to watch a charming little film by the Neistat Brothers, at http://ipodsdirtysecret.com/ (edited on a Mac, by the way, with iMovie). It shows the brothers stenciling Apple iPod posters all over New York City with the message “iPod’s unreplaceable battery lasts only 18 months.” This they were driven to do after the Apple “help line” explained that since their iPod was over a year old, it would cost $255, plus a mailing fee, to have it “refurb’ed.”

They added: “At that price you might as well buy a new one.” I’d guess this film, which so charmingly articulated the iPod problem, is why Apple now “refurbs” at considerably less than replacement cost.

I could live with three hours playing time, but the 20-gig no longer plays its nine days, 18 hours, 44 minutes and 18 seconds of jazz from Abbey Lincoln to Zoot Sims. By the time I took it to the Genii to find out the meaning of the symbol that pops up when it doesn’t play-a file folder with an exclamation point-I had the thing for 16 months. Never used it much. If it were a car, it would have maybe 2,000 miles on it.

At the bar I only had to give the finger to two line-cutters before I got to the “iPod genius.” He plugged it in, shook his head, and lowered his voice to an M.D.-like tone: “Gee, I’m sorry.”

They don’t come back from the exclamation-point file folder: My iPod is dead. What does he recommend? “Buy a new iPod for $299.”

“Sorry,” he repeats, shrugging. I almost believed it.

In a little more than a year and a half, I had spent more than $900 on iPods that don’t work.

“You could talk to the store manager.”

I could, but I couldn’t. I just didn’t have the energy to seethe the way I had when I returned the D.O.A. eMac. I knew I couldn’t summon the postality required for this situation. I had to go home and recharge my batteries, which are internal and cannot be replaced. They don’t last as long as they used to.

“Think different,” I repeated to myself, meditating on the faces of Lennon and Einstein. But no different thoughts came. Suddenly I saw Andy Warhol instead, and he said: “Think the same.”

About a year ago, Apple called me. They were looking for a creative director. I guess they had seen some ads I’d done and liked them. It sounded like a great job, but I wouldn’t move to California, and I said so. Nothing ever came of it, but I hope they call again. I’d like to tell them my latest idea: numbers for the Genius Bar.

I have some other ideas, too. Like that file folder with the exclamation point. Wouldn’t it be cooler if it was a little hand giving you the finger?