Virtue & Mischief: Paying the Piper, Final Chapter


At the end of last week’s column, I had just concluded my third conversation with Apple iTnes support personnel.

A supervisor named Jim listened to my tale of woe with unctuous patience. He informed me that he was sympathetic to my plight, but that because this was the third installment of our “Let’s Download Like We’re Drunken Tecchies Show,” he could make no guarantees. He would try, he said, but our “case” would now be decided by an “Escalation Committee.” Orwell would’ve grinned.

After hanging up with Jim, I sped to the Apple store at the Greene shopping complex, like Steve McQueen in desperation to beat the crowds desiring an iPhone 6. I entered the spotless, white-walled, chrome-filled, straight-lined showroom—a retail outlet devoutly bowing to the God of modern Scandinavian interior design sensibilities—and exhaled deeply. The offending device was in my right hand, and when the triage specialist greeted me I waved it in the air as I briefly described the events that led to our meeting.

“I see,” she replied as she tapped various details into an iPad with impressive speed and determination. “Why don’t you take a seat over there at that long table and someone from our ‘Genius Squad’ will be with you in a few minutes.” I nodded forlornly and waited.

Ten minutes later a bespectacled, slightly doughy young man ventured my way. He was also brandishing an iPad and wore an official Apple sport shirt and khakis. He sat in the stool next to mine and put out his right hand. Still dazed, I shook it and robotically said “Hello.”

“Hi, Mr. Swensen. I hear you’re having some serious problems with unwanted in-app purchases!”

“Yes. Do you want me to tell you the story? Again?”

“Well, actually, yes. I want to be sure I don’t miss anything. I’ve read your file, but I still want to hear it from you to be sure I’ve got everything.”

After relaying the sordid details one more time, I looked up and added “So, I need to accomplish two things: I have to take care of the $1,600 bill or my sons and I are dead meat, figuratively speaking…I think…and I need to have you do whatever’s necessary to make sure this WILL NEVER happen again. If you can’t guarantee that, please just say so. I’ll throw this little Pandora’s box in the Miami River. OK?”

The young man chuckled nervously and took the device. “Well, sir, I can’t help with the bill.” He stopped, thought about the total, shook his head and whistled. “That’s above my pay grade. But we’ll take care of the device, no problem. I guarantee it.”

I sighed and handed him the iPod. Early in the process of his digital neurosurgery I realized two ironies: first, it struck me that one of the reasons the male amigos had downloaded the applications so thoughtlessly was because I had informed them (incorrectly, as it turned out) that it was “now impossible for you to download anything that costs money!!!” Armed with this false bit of information, they repeatedly clicked on the “wanna download this costly and stupid application!?” button every time it appeared on that fateful weekend; second, I couldn’t remember my four-digit passcode any more—the Apple “genius” and I made three tries and whiffed on each. As a consequence, in order to disable certain functions and wipe out whatever credit card information lurked inside it, he had to take the device to a chamber where his fellow “geniuses” were consulting with each other and doing who-knows-what-else. He disappeared beyond a white door that was perfectly camouflaged with the surrounding wall, and I waited anxiously. After a few minutes I needed to go to the bathroom, so I found another Apple representative and asked if they had a public restroom.

“Yessir! Just follow me,” he replied and escorted me behind the same hidden door, into a hallway dotted with a couple of rooms on either side. We passed one room blocked by a windowless, closed door. I heard murmurs and faint laughter emanating from within. Ahh, I thought. The consulting geniuses! So that’s where they work their magic!!

“Here you go,” he pointed, and I entered the humble, unisex bathroom to do my business.

When I was finished, I exited and wandered back down the hallway. As I passed the consulting genius room I overheard something that caused cold sweat to form in my armpits: “Oh, man. That’s harsh. Poor dude’s on the hook for $1,600! That might be a record. I hear it’s going before an EC, man! NO WAY he’s getting outta this one. Ouch.”

The ignominy. We were now a part of Apple consulting genius lore! I lumbered back to my perch where the smiling young Apple man was waiting. “Mr. Swensen, we got it all squared away,” he announced, and then proceeded to explain to me everything he had done and his recommendations going forward. We even tried to download a few things just to be certain his surgery had eradicated the electronic cancer completely. It had.

I returned to my car and wondered how the boys and I could come up with the money, and how we could somehow slip this episode of stupidity past the Piper’s notice: Do chores for grandma for the next two years in return for a cashier’s check made out to Mr. William Henry Gates? Send Krista to the Arizona desert for a weekend getaway and hold a clandestine garage sale in her absence? My mind was reeling. I was shooting mental blanks.

I eventually gave up concocting preposterous plots and resorted to something more sensible. I prayed that Apple would take mercy one final time, that if it didn’t we’d find a reasonable means of teaching a lesson and paying the bill, and that my better half would—whatever the outcome—possess the self-control and grace necessary to forgive…or, failing that, to refrain from opening a can of verbal (or other) whoopin’ on me and the boys. I also kept our state of limbo to myself. Why put Krista unnecessarily through the torture? There’s nothing she can do about it, I reasoned, and I’ll inform her once the jury has reached its verdict.

Some 36 hours after I first spoke with Jimthesupervisor he called back, but I was in a meeting and couldn’t answer. His message was cryptic: “Hi, Mr. Swensen. Jim from Apple iTunes support here. I’m leaving the office now, but have some information about your account that I’d like to talk with you about. I’ll try you tomorrow, or you can call me after 8:00. Have a good night.”

Oy. One more sleepless, anxiety-ridden, intestine-roiling night. I tossed and turned and wondered if I had the gumption and street-smarts to adopt a hidden identity for the rest of my days. At 8:01 I called Jim’s number and heard his cheery reply.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Swensen! How are you today?”

“Nervous, Jim. Out of my mind with worry. Wondering if after this conversation I’m going to be divorced or dead. How’s by you?”

“Haha. Yeah, I understand. I’m fine, thanks for asking. So, let me tell you what went down at the meeting with the escalation committee.” I tried to breath and mentally slow down the sledgehammer pounding in my chest cavity. “First, they were pleased you went immediately to the Apple store there in Dayton. We checked with the representative you consulted with there, and we can see that the device has been addressed properly. More importantly, we went over the transcript of your second conversation with our support personnel—the one where he walked you through certain steps to disable your capacity to download in app purchases—and we saw where our guy missed one or two crucial operations. So…our bad, Mr. Swensen. Sorry. We’re crediting your account the full amount.”

I leaped in the air and made a semi-hushed whooping-for-joy sound. “Thank you,” I said with fake dignity.

“No problem, Mr. Swensen. Looks like you’re going to live and stay married, eh? Hahahaha.”

“Umm, yeah. Looks like it. Thanks so much. And Jim?”

“Yes, Mr. Swensen?”

“I look forward to never speaking with you again.”

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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