Of the Taco: An Open Letter to Taco Bell’s new sauces

taco-bell-spicy-tostada-01 Dear Taco Bell,

There are few places a part-time vegetarian of Hispanic origin can get Mexican-type food quickly. McDonald’s rolled out a chicken wrap in a tortilla, but that, of course, contained meat. Burger King, Wendy’s, and Arby’s? Not a single item that appeals to the brown in me. Now, Carl’s Jr I have to say is pretty clever with their sub-restaurant, the Green Burrito. I appreciate their effort to make a brand around ethnic food in a burger joint, but the words green and burrito just don’t go together. Jack in the Box has tried with their deep fried taco, which will do in a pinch, or if the Padres have a promotion where they’ll give taco coupons if and when they score a run.

What we’re left with is you, Taco Bell, and here in Southern California, Del Taco, which I will get to in a moment. And there’s, well, Chipotle, but everyone knows that’s not Mexican or fast food. You have to walk in, plus, no Mexican food restaurant on this planet serves burritos that huge in to-go bags covered in short stories written by George Saunders and Judd Apatow. They just don’t!

Granted what I’m talking about here is Mexican-style food. Food inspired by Mexico. Beans, rice, tortillas, cheese. If you want real Mexican food, you have to go to Mexico. You can get a fine taco at any number of authentic Mexican food stands in Southern California, but do you have the time? I certainly don’t. I’m on the road, calling on customers, and sadly, sometimes I only have time for a drive-thru. I don’t want to do it, but I have to when I’ve got twenty minutes in between clients.

And so where do I go? Where does a person of Hispanic—and note I said Hispanic—origin go? See, I’m not Mexican, or Columbian, and Costa Rican. I was born right here in the United States to parents whose parents were the real thing. It’s been washed out of me. Not all of it. But most of it. I still need my taco, but I need it fast, and with customer service. Hey, I’m American. Sue me. Oh, and I also try to eat vegetarian as often as possible because the conscious American in me tells me to go easy on the earth and vote with my checkbook. Wouldn’t that be funny, Taco Bell, if you took checks? You take American Express, which I find so deliciously ironic because my tab is usually less than five dollars, likely less than it costs you to process an AmEx charge.

So, anyway, I go to you Taco Bell, to get my ancestral food needs met, and I order a tostada. In my mind, it’s a perfect food. Beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, a swirl of hot sauce, all on a flat crispy bed. Two of them will usually fill me up for a few hours. But what to my sorpresa when I ordered one the other day in between appointments only to find a new creamy red sauce on it! I wasn’t pleased by this, mind you. I was taken aback. Why go and ruin a tradition, Taco Bell? Creamy Sriracha-like hot sauce? That’s Jack in the Box, ese. Come on.

Which leads me to Del Taco. I didn’t want to do it either. I’d avoided it for years being so loyal to “The Bell.” But I had to try it. It was the only thing I could find one day in San Bernardino. I rolled up, found the equivalent (craftily dubbed “The Crunchtada”), and ordered. I parked, opened the tray, and, ay dios mío, what a beauty. A thick shell, coarsely cut lettuce, generous bands of cheese, a substantial layer of refried beans, and a touch, just a touch, of red sauce. It was pretty good, I can’t lie. So good that I’ve been back more than a few times.

That’s right, Taco Bell, I think I’ve converted from the Bell to the Del. And not just because they have a better product, that’s just one of the reasons. The other reason is the name. It’s like Green Burrito. I realized Taco and Bell don’t go together. Del and Taco, however, do. It translates into “of the taco” and that is, in essence, what I’m about. I’m of the taco. I’m not the taco, as I mentioned earlier. I’m simply inspired by the taco. I’m taco-style, and, incidentally, I know where I need to go if I need the real thing.

Very Respectfully,

Taylor García

San Diego CA

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Adventures / Failures in Pop Fiction ~or~ It’s all been done before

sns-halloween-top-witches-15

 

-witch / wizard school

-vampire romance

-vampire school

– witch / wizard romance

– zombie apocalypse

-nuclear apocalypse

-asteroid apocalypse

-star-crossed lovers

-feuding family

-alien invasion

-elf kingdom

-mythical animals

-time travel

-lonely cowboy

-traveling girl

-cowboys vs. aliens

-unlikely romance

-talking animals

-talking fruit and vegetables

-freak weather

-weather involving food

-toys come to life

-insect adventures

-dead or dying planet Earth

 

 

Before the Hookers

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It’s long been argued that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Long before there were online reputation agencies, mobile wireless stores, and froyo shops, there were hookers. And hookers have been making a lot of money back then and now. It’s a lucrative job, prostitution, depending on what you get in return. But while prostitution may pad the pocketbook and fight for its position as the world’s oldest position, I believe there’s a far older job than peddling your skin. That job is writing. It must be the oldest profession, and probably even the world’s oldest hobby. How would we know today that prostitution is the second oldest profession had there not been a writer close by documenting that fact? He or she might have been within earshot, or some other kind of shot, observing—constantly observing as writers do—making the connection that this bedded-down person is offering their body—selling it—for something in return, maybe a rupee, or a loaf of bread.

That writer may have thought, “This is so good, you can’t even write this stuff.” Perhaps he had been hard at work morphing the words from the mouth of the wise temple elder into interpretable symbols meant to capture the ideology of the people, and took a break. The writer heard these scandalous noises, and with his stylus he went to a different clay tablet, maybe a personal one part of the small collection of private writings he called Soul Food, to imprint the happenings of that very moment so that a record—a timestamp—would remain lest our memories, as they so often do, fail us.

And so that writer wrote on to record all the other professions that had come along. That writer had always been there, you see, long before the hookers. The writer had been, like all people, trying to get stuff out of their head and put it on something. The first writers were actually painters and they used cave walls as their canvas. The stories, histories, philosophies, ideas and dreams—had to go somewhere. They couldn’t stay locked up in the head forever. The writer had to figure out a way to get them from the head to the tablet. That’s a hard job. Much harder than screwing.

With writing being the oldest profession, and now established as being also the most difficult, two paths emerged. Writing for profit and writing to write. That’s where we see writing as being both the oldest profession and the oldest hobby. That scribe recording that civilization’s religion? He got paid. Just like the prostitute. But did payment fulfill the writer? Did that writer go home at the end of the day and say, “I just want to write something else, and I would love to get paid for writing that other stuff.” And just how much did that writer get paid, anyway? If the pay scale was commensurate with today’s standards, it probably wasn’t very much. This is why writers constantly debate whether to put their skills to work for payment, yet become quickly vexed by two realizations: 1) I won’t get paid squat, and 2) If I use my God-given talent for something like ad copy, isn’t that just prostitution?

As the world’s oldest hobby, writing is pretty cheap, so if you’re going to keep at it and not get paid, you don’t have to invest that much. All you have to do is sit there and put symbols down (doesn’t matter if they make sense at first—you can come back and edit) and you just need a stylus and clay tab. That’s it! But as hobbies go, they usually end at your Mom patting you on the back for your hard work, or your wife telling you she’s going to get around to reading that novel of yours one of these days.

And herein lies the fundamental problem with hobbies in general. In the words of his impish character Zooey Glass, J.D. Salinger explained it this way: “Nobody who’s really using his ego, his real ego, has any time for any goddam hobbies.” Writers know that their writing isn’t a hobby. It’s a passion. Writers who are using their ego to write have difficulty walking away from writing. It’s an addiction of sorts that’s tough to break.

When writers tell other writers they’d be better off quitting the art, or that they should find something else to do that will make them money, it’s true. Why waste the time on it? Why pour in all that energy and heart and soul and ego for no return? It all goes back to the notion that what’s inside the head needs release. It’s part therapy, too. Any writer will tell you this. Writing lets writers put away what they cannot rid themselves of by any other means. That’s what one writer, Steve Almond, wrote once, and I can’t think any other more sublime way to put it. I haven’t thought of my own way to write it.

The other day I was at a reading by another writer, Jess Walter. Jess read from his new novel, Beautiful Ruins, and afterward took questions. From the packed sales floor at Warkick’s in La Jolla, the inevitable, “What made you become a writer?” question popped up. Jess answered this as any writer would: in a drawn out winding fashion referencing his blue collar family that didn’t pay much attention to the arts, his overactive imagination from a young age, and his undying vision that he would once have a book on a shelf somewhere, ideally next to Kurt Vonnegut’s. Jess has told that story a million times, and to him only it makes sense. Only writers know why they become writers and they also know the difficulty in explaining why to other people. That explanation writers give is similar to their own process of writing: there’s a story there and only I know how to tell it. I decided to do this, to keep at this because I can’t stop. I’m destined to put my thoughts down on something. I’m driven to this.

So, whether that writer choses to share that work, or attempts to put it out there for the world—for profit or not—is another story. It’s a story that again, only a writer can tell. It’s also a decision a writer has to make early on, a quandary we face every day when we set out to compose: will this continue to fulfill me without any type of return, and if I were to get a return, will I be able to maintain my true purpose and not become a whore? After everything, will any of these clay tablets matter to anyone? Anyone at all?

Treasure

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How I avoided not reading Treasure Island as a kid goes back to a loner childhood void of popular classic literature yet abundant in a few other sources of… entertainment: Little Golden Books, illustrated abecedarian student encyclopedias from which I wrote most every fourth-grade book report, abridged story book versions of various fairy tales and classics, and steady bolus doses of cartoons.

I wouldn’t say consuming all those forms of art caused my early aversion to reading but they certainly helped, as did the Santa Fe Public School system. Growing up in that system, the paltry required reading lists provided little stimulation. Yes, I did read Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Anaya, Salinger, and García Márquez. I even skimmed some Lee and Cervantes. Looked at Poe. Considered Tolkien. But I was never a reader. I never hunted books down. I never got to Twain or Dickinson or Golding or Lewis or Stevenson when I was young and should have. My head, unfortunately, was already filled up with halfway versions of those timeless stories, etched either by Disney feature films, Hanna-Barbera serials, or eight-minute Looney Tune vignettes. I admit: I was a pop-culture crack baby.

I blame myself though, really, for my dearth of classic reading—boys’ classic reading—that is. Can’t blame the family or the schools. The books were always there if I had only found them. I guess it would have helped too, however, if I had stepped away from the screen from time to time and put my imagination to better use.

On the subject of screens, the one I look at most often now, aside from the computer, is the mobile phone, and the mobile phone that currently owns me—a Samsung Galaxy­—came pre-loaded with three classics: Wuthering Heights, The Three Musketeers, and, none other than, Treasure Island.

Finding this free little e-library in my phone was indeed like unearthing a treasure. Among the treasure was this particular volume that had been on my endless list of catch up books that would allow me to, as Vonnegut once said in an interview in response to his own lack of well-readedness, enter classic literature through the back door. In other words, get to the party late and still be able to get intoxicated but with a much better grasp of one’s self and the alcohol, in this case, the literature.

Finding Stevenson right there on my phone meant I wouldn’t need to go buy a copy of Treasure Island nor check it out from the library which is how I get my reading fix now.  And I do read. I’ve arrived at the party, through the back door, and I’m one of the guests that won’t leave. With Treasure Island on my phone, I would go ahead and read my first e-book. And since Musketeers and Wuthering Heights were on there, too, I might as well just go ahead and read those.

I discovered Treasure around May and finished reading it in September. Yes, it’s pathetic. You may now please chide me the way you chided me for not reading more of the classics in the first place, but I have a defense, and this is it: I just couldn’t get into the book. Not the story. The story was great. It was the book, held in my hand, the page stark white with about 60 words per tiny page that felt wrong.

I rushed through chapters. Scrolled ahead to see how many of the small pages I had left. At the end of a chapter, I toggled over to the contents page to see where exactly in the file I was. I toggled. That word right there shouldn’t be something you do with a book. Toggling.

A slow reader I am. I nibble books. And I admit: I skim through things I’m not interested in. Like the way you might be skimming over this right now. But if I like a book, I take my time. If I love a book, I stop and savor. I count words and letters and study the punctuation. I read and reread.  So maybe I didn’t love Treasure Island as much as a twelve year old might have, but I wonder if I would have liked it more had I read the printed book.

I’m also a promiscuous reader. I’ve got a non-fiction book going here, a story collection there, a novel over there, and magazines everywhere else. In the four month stretch it took me to read Treasure Island, I read a literary magazine, a couple issues of Harper’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (for the third or fourth time), got through most of Andy Borowitz’s 50 Funniest American Writers* collection, Pam Houston’s knockout Contents May Have Shifted and Jess Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets. I got to Treasure Island when I wasn’t doing something else. When I was waiting for something, or in a line, or killing time and looking at my phone, waiting for something to happen, like most people do.

The point is, I didn’t make reading Treasure Island a priority because I didn’t like that I had to go into the phone—a device I’m really not too crazy about to begin with—to enjoy it. It became an, “Oh yeah, that’s there and I need to take care of that,” type-thing. It became like checking e-mail or looking at Twitter. Perfunctory. Mindless.

I’m a bad reader in general. This again goes back to the childhood void of proper books at my disposal (and my lack of desire to find said books). I simply wasn’t passionate about reading. Even the lure of a personal pan pizza didn’t get me going, despite my going through a round of Book It! in fifth grade, circa 1987. For the program, I read some entirely lame thin books well below my reading level. It was totally not worth it to be sitting there at the Pizza Hut on St. Francis Drive which is now long gone, redeeming my coupon for a small pizza, just enough for me. I couldn’t even feed my mother. It wasn’t like when Karen Russell grew up as cited in her article in the Science Fiction issue of The New Yorker. Her generation was eligible for an entire pizza in the early 1990’s. We had it hard back in the late 1980’s. And much harder in Santa Fe where there were no books at all.

Had I grown up in Portland, would I now have a full-fledged love of reading? Perhaps a militant obsession? Maybe. I do believe the environment does have a say. And though growing up in Santa Fe where there were no books and reading was against the law, I was nurtured. Just a little. Mrs. Capshaw, my ninth grade Freshman English teacher, secretly put literature in front of me. Shakespeare, Orwell, Fitzgerald. She said I should read Wilder’s prehistoric allegorical play, The Skin of Our Teeth which I did, and loved. She said I should write more after I turned in a short story about drug dealing cats.

In college I read as required, but the “for fun” reading didn’t start until long after college when a writer some of you might know, last name rhymes with Bing, wrote about the only way one gets better at writing is through reading. Well, shit. I guess I have to do more of that.

And so I have. I read now for fun, and yes, because I really enjoy it. I love most the immersion into literature, how it’s kind of painful at first, then once you put yourself all the way in, it starts to hurt so good. Now I have a modest library filled with Vonnegut and Twain and Saunders and Fitzgerald and Diaz and García Márquez and Salinger and Almond and Shepard and Houston and Walters and many others, all of whose pages are dog eared and tabbed and written in. I’m a book worm now, inching my way through, savoring the pages—printed pages—I love.

But I worry about readers like me. Readers that skim over anything digital. Readers that claim to know the news when really all they’ve done is read a couple of headlines on Yahoo. Readers that find headlines or tweets—140 characters or less—to be all you need; and yet sometimes that’s too much. I would think bad readers turn into worse readers, and I would think that readers that prefer to read only printed material for enjoyment may eventually turn away from reading for enjoyment all together. As books migrate to digital formats—and they eventually all will—I can’t help but imagine the act of reading itself, soon to be exclusively eye-to-screen, becoming mind-numbing and bothersome, like most television, e-mail, and all the other crap we have to do in front of a computer screen that involves words.

I won’t end this on doom or gloom or leave you with the notion that this op-ed is only about my fears of the printed book going away, though that is what this is about. Mostly. What the rest of this statement is also about is the writing and how ultimately, it will matter most in the future.  Writers will have to compete with the mouse. Literary magazines tell submitters to send in work for readers that have one finger hovering, ready to right-click. If the writing is good, readers will not shut it down. The same is/was true for printed books. If it was that good, you kept the book open. You kept on reading.

I suppose that’s why I kept on with Treasure Island. Those last few chapters, when Jim Hawkins turned the corner, seized control of the Hispaniola, wagered with Long John Silver, and at last became a man, the story started to feel right, and no, it didn’t really matter that I was reading it on my phone. The story still excited me and I pushed through. I arrived  at the end, one less book on my list to read, one less book on my shelf.

Is this really necessary?

About a quarter into the opera, when the soldiers shuffle around stage, after the prima donna has belted out her first shrilly aria, when the villain, the hero, and the chorus are on stage, and when the orchestra is just hitting their stride, you ask yourself, “Is all this really necessary? Do these singers caked in makeup and in bright velvety clothes need to move about on this tiny stage acting out scenes that would never happen in real life? And do we, the audience, need to be here with them, watching them, supporting all this Italian nonsense?

Then you realize it’s a metaphor. All art is. The reason Almaviva disguised himself twice is because all he wants is love, and people will stop at nothing to get love. And the reason Figaro helps and concocts such wild schemes is because love itself is wild and knows no boundaries and he too is a metaphor for Cupid, the God of Love. And Don Basilio and Bartolo are not so evil as they are loyal, loyal to love, and loyal to their fellow man to help him find love.

And then as you stare deeper down into stage at the small charming perfomers shrilling and pacing about the stage, the metaphor suddenly feels stronger. For the audience, it is an act of observation of life in melodramatic pantomime that reveals small and large truths along the way, most about the arrest of conflict and tension and the emergence of happiness and redemption. For the actors and orchestra however, it is real life. They sing and play their little hearts out as though their lives depended on it, and in doing so, become the character of the art itself—the surrogate of all emotion—for the audience that came to suspend belief and be entertained. Yet that same audience knows behind the acting is a real person whose job it is to sing and act as trut to the art as possible, and that audience knows those players get to be on that stage only if they give all they’ve got their whole lives and work and sweat and cry and battle themselves and their peers to get to that place where they can render at once happiness and sadness, and, with their instrument, manipulate tension and love. Their art is to mimic, sometimes mock like, and though the audience watches it as performance, it’s just as real as real life. It indeed becomes a necessary.

Sand Trap

If you’ve ever played golf, you’ll understand how frustrating the sport can be, especially if you’re a beginner. You’ll think to yourself: “This is such a waste of time,” or, “What kind of sport allows you to drive right up to your ball?” or, “Wouldn’t this be much better if we just stopped at the twelfth, maybe the eleventh hole, and went back to the clubhouse for a hot dog and a beer?” But then you’ll get that one shot that sails high and straight, the one you’ll have to squint to see as it flies onto the fairway, and as your foursome pals give you some attaboys, you think, maybe I should stick with this game. Because it’s a game, really. Not a sport. Sports you have to practice at every single day to get better.

Creative writing incidentally ranks in the same frustration category as golf, this rated by the NVA, the National Vexation Association, CWI, Creative Writers International, and the PGA, Professional Golfers’ Association. For every good sentence that comes from the mind to the paper by a creative writer, the same amount of decent drives make it onto the fairway, which isn’t many if you’re a novice. Each put sunk is equal to one okay paragraph, as a novice player. A nice chip shot is a sublime rhyme, if you’re a poet. Par is a relevant essay. A birdie, an essay someone will read. An eagle: a story someone other than your loved ones will read, and a story a journal or a magazine will read and say, “Not this time, but do submit again.” And a hole-in-one—an ace—now that’s a story or an essay or a poem a magazine will actually publish.

 As with getting a story or essay or poem published, holes-in-one don’t happen every game. Fact is they may happen only once in a lifetime. According to www.holeinone.com, the average number of years of golf played before getting a hole in one is seventeen. The average age of a hole in on golfer is 45. The site also says most holes in one occur on a Friday, the least on a Sunday, and 7-iron is the club most used in making a hole in one.

So in theory, if you started playing golf around 30 years of age, and kept at it for the rest of your life, you might get a hole in one when you’re 47. Same is true for writing: start writing when you’re about in high school or college, let’s say 20 for average’s sake, add 17 years, and you might get something published, at 37. Sure you’ll have little successes in writing: a little column picked up here, an editor might want to talk to you there, a good friend will read a manuscript and give you some positive comments. Just like golf. You’ll hit the ball straight consistently for a while. You’ll sink some puts. You’ll make birdie, eagle. You won’t be a disgrace to your golf buddies. You get a little better.

 At a fundraiser golf tournament a few years back, when I didn’t like the sport at all and went along on such outings with much anxiety, pro golfer Perry Parker provided golf swing analysis on the driving range prior to the start of the event. Perry has a confident and professional  demeanor and balances it with a natural jocularity that belies the stereotype of a serious athlete. With his tall fit frame and ball cap you’d think he hadn’t reached his fourth decade yet, but his laugh lines, lightly etched beside his intensely wise eyes after more than a few rounds under the hot California sun, indicate he’s matured both into his life and into his sport. He watched my swing, taped it with his camera, and played it back for me on his laptop. He suggested I relax the knees at bit—sit into it—and try not to bring the club so high up at the top of the swing. All the power, he said, resides in those few feet at the end of the swing, just before the club face hits the ball. That’s where you want to give it all you’ve got.

Two volunteer photographers stopped my mini-lesson to capture a couple of photos of Perry in action. He took his stance and gripped the club just like he had showed me, then proceeded to give that ball one hell of a ride. One of the lady photogs said something like “Wow!” or “How do you do that?” to which Perry said with zero sarcasm, “When you spend eight hours a day practicing, you get good.” They snapped their shots and drove off. I thanked Perry and went on to play another horrible round of golf.

Perry didn’t reveal a big mystery to me or anyone that day. The fundamentals he taught me— the ones he teaches everyday to scores of beginners—are nothing new, but he makes them look new because he does them so well. He makes the average shot that would take someone like myself years to make right, look easy and painless. He’s risen to  professional status, and professionals have to practice every day all day just to get good. Perry will be the first to tell you golf is only a game, and that’s something I learned from Perry about everything I do, including writing: you have to have fun with it and keep having fun with it or you’ll walk away.

I’ve since improved my golf game. A little bit. I still can’t drive the ball worth anything, but my short game, my iron work, is getting…decent. I’m almost good at chipping and I can sink a put on occasion. I haven’t taken any lessons but instead picked up various tips from people I’ve played with and integrated them into my own little game of golf, the one that no one knows about. It’s the game where I get out there and try to just hit the ball and have a little fun and nothing else. It’s really tough to do when every second shot sucks, and especially when you’re out with co-workers who’ve been golfing for years, but it works and it makes the game much more enjoyable. That little personal game of golf matches quite closely the little game I have with writing. That game involves hours of sitting and pulling thoughts together to make sentences and paragraphs that turn into journal entries or stories or novels or the rare essay, like this one. When the words come together, I enter a private space where no one else watches me game. I try to have fun with it, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Just like in golf. Sometimes crappy words are all that come, just like bad shots. They will always come and you have to take them. One day you’ll land up in the sand trap, in a mother of a bunker, and think you’ll never get out. You’ll pound that sand a few times and add strokes and think why the hell am I doing this? When guys like Perry land up in the bunker, they do what they’ve been doing for years: get in their stance, grip their club, and swing. They take their swing and get out of that unholy beach with dignity.  When a golfer is in a bunker, like when a writer sits staring at files of drafts that have gone nowhere and when he’s asking what’s the point, the professional is the one who knows right up over that ridge is the green and ultimately the cup, and the only way they got there, even to that damn gulch of sand in the first place, was through countless hours of practice. The pin is there. You might not get an ace, but the hole is there. Just right over that lip of smooth grass. It’s really always that close.

AWOL from the IPhone Army

I have my IPhone 4 (not the 4S—let’s be clear) in a bag. I just converted to IPhone after using a horrible Droid for almost two years. I wanted to move to IPhone because the price of the 4 plummeted when the new one came out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was. The problem though was the brand new IPhone, when held to my face, dialed, muted, tried to activate other features, etc. Websites said it’s a common problem—this “face-dialing”—with IPhone 4’s. Something about the proximity sensor. The only way to combat it are to reset the whole phone and hope it stops doing it, or hold the phone away from your face when you talk.

The tall Amazonian manager with a thick layer of makeup at the Verizon store where I bought it validates this workaround. “Oh, all you have to do is hold it away from your face.” She demonstrates a slight outward tilt, so the bottom is further away from her mouth. “That, or hit the top button and it will go to home screen.”

“You’re kidding,” I say. She’s not kidding.

I leave.

The Apple Store at the Fashion Valley Mall is packed. It’s like the Department of Motor Vehicles except the employees are incredibly hip wearing slashed and shaggy hair styles and low slung jeans or cords and blue Apple T-shirts and smiles. Smiles everywhere on the employees. The only non-smiling people in the Apple store are the security guard and the customers. Like the DMV, the customers look like they’re on Death Row. Or in Purgatory. They mill about, sit on the cube furniture, listen to the smiling employees, gaze up at the walls filled with product, stare wide-eyed at the multitude of waist-high tables with sample Apple devices, all with glum expectant faces. They’re tired. Impatient. But they have to be there. Like the DMV. You have to do it. If you don’t have a license, you don’t have a license. It’s like the IPhone ads: If you don’t have an IPhone, you don’t have an IPhone.

There’s not a greeter (like Wal-Mart) or a front desk. You just go in and you’re supposed to know what to do. The stoked workers whisk by or they’re engaged in deep consultation with other customers. No time for walk-ins. There’s a Genius Bar in the back, but the happy employees back there do not look inviting. They’re busier and more focused— it seems—than the ones running round on the sales floor. It must be because they’re geniuses.

I snag a short blue-shirted staff. “How do I get some help?”

“Do you have an appointment?” she says.

“No. How do I make one?”

“Most people do it online.” She’s in the middle of something, onto someone else, perhaps her appointment, but she brings me to a table with computers. She taps at the keyboard and says the next opening is in an hour from now. She says, “What’s the problem?” And she says it in a way that feels like the old man or lady at Wal-Mart saying hello when you walk in. Like a soft little hug, or a pat on the shoulder. A little, “Not to worry, kiddo, we’ll help you out” kind of feeling.

“Well,” I say, “When I’m on a call, my ear or cheek hits the buttons and it mutes or tries to call other people.”

The small staff in her black wide glasses and jagged haircut nods in agreement, gives a conciliatory, hmmm, as if to say, I know what you mean.

I leave.

At home, I set up an Apple ID and an ICloud account and visit said cloud to make sure everything’s there, then I wipe the phone. Everything comes back, including the really hip cheek dialing feature.

At the Verizon store, I check in and the short female staff asks what the problem is. “Well, you see…”
She says all you have to do is hold out the phone, like this.

I return the phone for full credit, less the $35 restocking fee. I reactivate the piece-of-crap Droid phone I hate.

I leave.