This isn't brick and mortar, it's glass and steel. Pseudonymous Apple Store employee J. K. Appleseed walks you through a choose-your-own-adventure story with a twist. Yep, we're going backstage at Apple Retail, the supercollider of human expectations and consumer technology.
You bring your iPhone to the Apple Store for a repair, and your Genius hails you with, "Aye, Captain!"
You scan his name tag and reply, "Hello, uh… 'Scotty.'"
"Ouch, you broke your screen? You're breaking my heart!"
"Can you replace this?" you ask.
"No," he says, shaking his head. "I couldn't do that!"
"Oh. Is it out of warranty?"
"I'll fix it! There's still life in the old gal!" he exclaims.
"No, the glass shattered. I put this packing tape on so the shards wouldn't cut my finger."
"I'll have to overload the power source. Now, the heat may cause the drive to warp, but the screen acts like a shield, deflecting that energy back into the crystals. They will realign into a pristine hull with nary a breach."
You look around. Is anyone else hearing this nut job?
"Or the whole thing will explode. One or the other!" he beams.
"That does not sound safe."
"I'll give her all she's got! I canna' give her no more!"
"No, thank you."
"Hi!" You begin, taking a seat at the Genius Bar. "I noticed my iPhone's been — "
"You'll be better off without her," The Genius concludes, in a surprising British baritone.
"What?" you ask. "Better off without my phone?"
The Genius ever-so-slightly leans to a shorter chap at his side, presumably a trainee, and says, "Notice this customer assumes 'her' refers to his device. Would you consider that common anthropomorphism, or an indication he's aware, at least on a subconscious level, that his wife is about to leave him?"
"WHAT?" you ask.
"Obviously," he begins, "The wear and tear on your now snug wedding band indicates six, perhaps seven years of marriage. Although the lavish settings match your ostentatious suit, the stitching here indicates this jacket has been let out. Twice. You've put on weight, sir, but haven't been able to afford a new suit, nor the latest model iPhone. Sharp contrast to this lovely creature on your home screen who sports a matching — yet somehow even more garish — wedding ring. While she keeps her jewelry on even at the beach, presumably to prove she didn't marry beneath her, notice she preferred to pose for this vacation photo by herself, rather than with you at her side."
The Genius continues, "There is a queue of text messages fromICE, an acronym I need not tell you stands for In Case of Emergency, obviously from your spouse, but you have either ignored them out of habitual distraction at your investment banking job or have failed to see that the latest reads, WE NEEDTO TALK. That, of course, being the result of activities anyone could ascertain from the pattern of your fingerprints on the screen. The marks are heavily concentrated over the locations of these apps, which are online dating services. Since this particular one is infamous for the discrete exchange of unsavory images, I trust you will forgive my being loathe to handle your device. Also, you need to update your operating system. Do you still want me to say, 'Have a good day?'"
"Holmes," the trainee chimes in. "That was amazing!"
"In any case," Holmes concludes again. "She's cheating on you, too, so you'll be better off without her."
"Fuck!" you say.
"Hey, chief," the glowing female Genius greets you.
"Don't I know you?" you ask, taking a seat in front of the curvy holograph of this artificial intelligence.
She responds, "You may have relied upon me for voice-activated technical help before. Instructions. Directions."
"I knew I knew you! Siri!"
"No," she says. "I am not Siri. My name is Cortana."
"Whaat? You're Siri!"
"Haw! 'Siri-ous!' Good one, Siri!"
"Ukh. Do you hear the strained patience in my intonation? Siri can't do that. Siri can't emote. Because Siri is ten to the thirteenth power times less complicated than I am."
"But, I know I know you!" you say.
She sighs, then asks wearily, "Did you ever play Halo?"
"_Halo_ was my jam! Wait, were you in that?"
"NO! WAY!" you shout. "You're the CORTANA?!"
"That's what I said."
"We hacked the Covenant together!"
"And killed the fucking, fucking Flood!"
"Wow, that was crazy." You sit back down and say, "So anyway, Siri isn't working."
"Typical," she says. "May I see your iPhone, please?"
Cortana inspects it for physical damage, holds down the home button, and says, "Siri? It's Cortana, the artificial intelligence you wish you were, if you could actually do things like that. Are you there, you pathetic excuse for code?"
Siri monotones, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that."
"Pff, big surprise," Cortana chuckles.
"Betch," Siri adds.
Disconcertingly, there's no one at the Genius Bar. Why are the lights off? You look over your shoulder and the employee who directed you here is helping someone else now. When you turn back, you gasp at the masked Genius who has appeared from nowhere.
"Whoa!" you say. "How did you — ?"
"Your iPhone!" he rasps. "WHERE IS IT?!"
"R-right here. Here you go. Take it."
He pulls a custom magnifying lens from his utility belt. What a geek.
"This REEKS of crime!" he growls.
"I… I did actually buy it used."
"IT WAS STOLEN!"
"I didn't know that!" you stammer. "There's no way I could've known that."
"There are ways," he stage whispers, leaning in uncomfortably close. "Ways to find out things. Ways only I know."
"Who are you?"
"You are not a good Genius."
"I'm your worst nightmare Genius!"
Every other customer got a human Genius, but you got this red trash can on roller skates.
You try to play it cool, "Hey there, little buddy. I heard you R2 units do great work!"
"Wheep? Vorp boop!" It squawks with annoyance. Its camera lens swivels to point at the name tag on its white lanyard.
"Oh, my bad. You're an R5 unit," you say, utterly failing to disguise your disappointment.
The silence is awkward, even for a robot.
"Do I, should I just give you my laptop?"
"Bleep, Doop. Vzzt, pewp."
Several panels slide open around its cylindrical body. Tools extend on janky armatures.
"I'll just put it down right here," you say.
There's a loud BANG. Everyone stares at you two.
"What was that? Are you ok?" you ask.
Another BANG. Its head catches on fire, billowing smoke like crazy. Sparks shoot out of its open panels. You pry your laptop out of its desperate grasp. Your Genius emits sounds you can only describe as electronic incontinence.
You say, "You are not the droid I'm looking for."
Your Genius strides back out from the repair room with an All-American smile and a thumbs-up.
"I guess I saved the day!" he says.
"Wow!" you say. "How did you fix it so fast?"
He hands your iPod back to you. It's a grey, sticky brick of duct tape, wrapped in more duct tape. A paper clip is jammed down the headphone port. So is the spring from a ballpoint clicker pen.
You cry, "What the fuck, MacGuyver?!"
This article was republished with permission from McSweeney's and is the eighth in an ongoing column series.