I have frequented numerous Apple stores around the country but, because I do not have employee status, have never seen a back office, stock room or break area. Should this occur, I'm convinced I would also observe a grainy, black-and-white photo of my mother adorning the bulletin board, complete with the following text:
"WARNING: 77-year-old female may enter store. Considered armed (with iPad) and extremely frustrated. Avoid eye contact but, if engaged, approach with caution. Suspect will repeatedly insist iPad is 'broken.' Carefully disarm suspect from iPad and show her how to reboot the device, as this works 99.9 percent of the time. Good luck!"
I did all that I could to transition my folks into the glorious world of Apple, setting up a home network and installing a router, all without defining the purpose of either (when introducing technology to octogenarians, keep the tech talk to a minimum). I decorated their home screen with a photo of their grandchildren, and downloaded apps suitable to their tastes -- Words with Friends, Sudoku, The Wall Street Journal, Guess the Phrase -- while extolling the virtues of portability and convenience.
"You can even watch TV on it! Now you don't have to go downstairs if your knees are acting up!"
Then I revealed the existence of a service that permanently put me on Apple's "Most Hated" list: The Genius Bar.
"If you ever have a question, just take the iPad to any Genius Bar," I told mom. "They will be happy to help."
This was like saying workers at the state lottery office would be perfectly willing to alter losing tickets to match the weekly Powerball numbers.
Mom has made so many visits to the Genius Bar that I'm sure Apple has considered giving her "Norm from 'Cheers'" status, complete with her own stool. When Genius Bar employees see her enter the store, they immediately glance at their watches and decide it's time for a cigarette break, even if they don't smoke. Those who aren't fast enough face a blizzard of questions ranging from "I pressed 'Shuffle' on my Words with Friends game, and the letters didn't move. Why is that?" to "The screen on my stock market app isn't updating. How come?"
The Genius Bar employees are always kind and helpful, never once replying with truthful answers like, "Stock screens don't usually update on days when the markets are closed, ma'am."
Finally, I decided to perform an intervention per se, anything to keep her from bellying up to the bar on a regular basis.
"Mom," I said gently, "The Genius Bar is for more, um, serious inquiries. Like, 'How come my iPad doesn't recognize any networks?' or 'How come it keeps shutting down even though the battery says 100 percent?' That sort of thing."
"You're saying my questions aren't worthy of their time?"
"I'm just saying that, 'This recipe I downloaded from the Weber Grills app doesn't taste right. How come?' may not qualify as an appropriate Genius Bar question.
"Easy for you to say. You didn't ruin two perfectly good strip steaks."
"Why don't you and Dad bounce questions off me first? If I can't answer them, then by all means, go to the Genius Bar," I said.
"Fine. How come when I press the 'mail' button, nothing happens?"
"Because you have to set up an email account. I can do that for you."
"And your father and I want to get on Facebook. "
"I wouldn't do that, Mom. Facebook can be a bit overwhelming. And confusing."
"Well, if I have a question, I'll just call the Facebook offices. I'm sure they can help."
Mark Zuckerberg, if you're reading this, consider yourself warned.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad," available at http://amzn.to/schwem. Visit Greg on the web at http://www.gregschwem.com.)