Like an English rain shower or a groin strain, these things happen without warning.
Your gadget is working perfectly normally. And then it isn't.
There I was, you see, perfectly content with my still shiny blue iPhone 12 when I realized it was ailing.
The power button had gone a touch limp. It had begun to recede into the body of the phone. When I pressed it in the usual manner, nothing happened.
When I pressed it a little harder, it might work. Or it might wake Siri from her almost-permanent slumber.
This seemed odd. I hadn't dropped the phone. I hadn't done anything to it at all, as far as I was aware.
So what to do but to make an appointment at an Apple store and meet a Genius who'd tell me I'd done something wrong? (Apologies, but I generally think most bad things are my fault.)
There's No Masking It.
For some, Apple stores are mere brand exhibitionism. For many, however, they represent a lifeline between the user and the brand.
You have somewhere to go when your gadget malfunctions. You have someone to talk to who is likely not a patronizing younger relative.
I arrived and secretly celebrated the fact that California had finally gone maskless. A cheery greeter stood outside and was absolutely prepared to believe I'd been vaccinated. She didn't need to know which vaccine I'd enjoyed or in which supermarket the great event had taken place.
I was slightly early, so she asked me to wait outside for a few minutes. Yet, as I peered inside, all of Apple's staff and most of the customers were wearing masks.
Was this the unvaccinated hour? Or is emerging into the light still difficult for some?
When I was finally ushered in, a couple of people turned toward me with seemingly sneery eyes.
Still, I was led to one of Apple's perfectly honed stools to await my fate. I mean, my Genius who would solve my malfunction.
She duly arrived, crouched down and asked about my problem. When someone in a mask wants to know your problem, it feels like being at the doctor's. "Well, I'm a bit embarrassed about this..."
"Well," I began. This is a first-world problem."
"Stop there," she said, giggling. "I need to pause and take that in." It seems that quite a few customers come in, panic and express themselves in a perhaps forceful way about the sheer importance of their issues.
"OK. Now, then. Let's take a look," she said, in a voice redolent of "this won't hurt a bit."
I explained about my misfiring power button. "Oh yeah," she replied. "It's almost flush to the phone. That's weird."
The next step was one I'd largely expected. She asked if she could take the phone into the infamous secret back room, examine it for a little while and come back in five or ten minutes.
When she left, I sat on my stool and listened to the conversation from the stool next to me. A Genius and his customer were discussing her iPad problem. Both shared stories of their divorces. It was as if real life had resumed and people actually felt good about making contact with each other.
There was no obvious social distancing. The traditional Apple hubbub -- very annoying when it's at its height -- had returned. People were laughing.
It's A Mystery.
Suddenly, my Genius reappeared.
"I opened it up," she began. "And I thought there was just some pocket lint." You'd already assumed this was the case, right?
"But," she continued, "there wasn't much lint at all. Definitely not enough to make your power button do what it's doing. There's no corrosion, there's no liquid damage. So yeah, it's working a little bit better now, but I just don't know."
In a strange way, this was a vast step forward from the time when a Genius told me I was charging my phone wrong.
I appreciated, in fact, that this Genius didn't try to hoodwink me, didn't tell me I had an overly aggressive thumb and was perfectly open about this perhaps just being a defective phone.
She explained my choices. I could wait an hour while she replaced the back of the phone and a few of the innards. Or I could get a full replacement.
That day, I didn't have the time to wait for an hour, but will likely go back shortly to have the surgery performed.
Customer Service Is Still A Fine Thing.
I thanked her for not trying to sell me on anything much -- well, she did say I really should have insurance.
This particular Genius was exemplary in the way she treated me and the feeling about the brand that she engendered. Even around a defective product.
Before I left, I asked how the pandemic had been for her. Wasn't she tired of wearing a mask?
"I'm so used to it now. It's part of my fashion statement. And anyway, I like this color," she said.
Oddly, Apple hadn't forced employees to wear a certain color of mask. Hers was an intense yellow.
"What about the customers?" I asked. "Have they been real pains?"
"They're mostly just fine," she said. "You know, one thing I've noticed is the ones who now come in without a mask -- other than you -- all look miserable."
Perhaps it's not misery. Perhaps it's just the shock of living again.
For all of Apple's issues -- and goodness, there are a few -- the Apple store is still one of its great creations.
It's something other tech companies haven't been able to rival. It's the personal touch so many still miss.
People still need people to help them, even if those specialists can't immediately work out what's wrong.
And, this just in, Apple says it's expanding its retail store presence.