AppleCare: Nighthawks at the Genius Bar

If the Genius Bar were at the front of the Apple Store, Apple might sell more of its AppleCare service, but probably less of everything else, and probably it would be bad for the entire national economy, existentially, if the Genius Bar were out at the front. They send people trudging down the steps—yes, to be sure, pale-green glass steps glimmering with light, but nevertheless steps leading down—for a reason.

You are free to call it the “repair desk.” The Apple employees intercepting arrivals with their burdens of grief, steering them away from the crystal brilliance of the new-Apple-products showroom—they have seamless translation capabilities:

-I am looking for the repair desk.

-Oh, you have a Genius Bar appointment?

-Yes, I do.

-Down the stairs, and go to the back.

The grief downstairs. The light wood down below and the earnest Virgils, dozens of them, in their blue T-shirts—Geniuses! Geniuses. The non-Geniuses in their normal clothes waiting and waiting. They have Apple products, quite as genuine as the Apple products upstairs. Or are they? Upstairs, Apple denotes the idea of buying a product, the anticipation, the unboxing of something shining and totally clean. That is what Apple is selling upstairs.

Downstairs Apple products are grimy and nicked and smeared. The pale gray plastic under the wrists is covered with twin green-gray filth-spots, diffuse around the edges, the slowly accumulated effluvia of human hands. Explain that to your ancient forebears, chipping away at the blades of their stone axes. These tools, as purchased, are too pristine to bear the touch of people using them. Their shiny cleanliness-power, so persuasive upstairs, is not strong enough to manifest itself in one’s life, over time. They are so very dirty now.

Dirty, shabby, and broken. The crowd in the basement of the Apple Store is there because from the moment that box first opens, the product starts grinding its way toward failure and obsolescence, obsolescence and failure, in whichever order they may arrive. The software that launched as fast as someone could think of launching it now hangs, pinwheels, the entire work day stalling with it. The screen flashes awake and then clunks back to darkness again. The battery swells in its case. Crumbs of plastic fall off the edge. Gradually or suddenly it becomes clear that not only is the original futuristic perfection long gone, but the thing just doesn’t work.

This is what things do. What products do. What Apple products do. You can re-sharpen your stone ax by knocking on it with another piece of rock. It crossed my mind to do something similar with my Apple product, but I did not, because it wouldn’t have helped. At the counter by my assigned Genius was a woman, pleading for help. Someone had plugged her beaten-up old computer into a widescreen Genius Bar computer, which was supposed to be fixing the problem. Her Genius had gone away long ago and now the Genius Bar computer itself was frozen.