“Can I help you, sir?”
I was unaware that Verizon Wireless stores had hosts, and thought for a moment that I might have been required to make a reservation in advance. On second glance however the man standing before me was clad in what looked like a uniform, a black suit and tie with a nametag that identified him as Anthony, Security.
“Yeah, thanks. I got an email saying I was eligible for a free upgrade and wanted to get a new phone.”
“I doubt it’s a free upgrade.”
“Right, sorry. I mean that my two-year contract is up.”
“Yeah, well you have to sign in on that computer over there first.”
“Can’t I just wait over there at the counter? Look, that woman is leaving. I’ll just go over…”
“Sir, you have to sign in first.”
His hand moved to his belt. Did they carry guns?
I decided not to test the authoritative reach of a Verizon security guard and instead moved over to the touch screen computer in front of me and typed in my first name. When I pushed the Enter key though, nothing happened.
“It’s broken,” I said, and started to move towards the counter. Anthony blocked my way.
“You have to enter in your last name, too,” he said, this time with a little more contempt in his voice. His hand was still on his belt and I thought I saw the butt of a revolver.
“That’s stupid. I’m not entering my last name.”
“You have to.”
“Why? This is ridiculous. Why does it matter what my name is? I’m just going over to the counter.”
I moved past him and approached a woman at the desk.
“Hi, I got an email saying that I was eligible for a…”
“Sir, did you sign into the computer?”
“Jesus Christ. I’m not doing that. I just went over this with Anthony… who by the way, might be armed, and I was explaining that…”
“Sir, we need your full name to look up your account information.”
“Oh. Um. Okay, that actually does make sense.”
I avoided Anthony’s smug look of satisfaction as I typed in my full name and telephone number. He moved back to his post by the door and a few seconds later my name was called.
A new woman emerged from a back room and was wearing a khaki pantsuit so tight that a very noticeable fat bulge had crested just below her waistline. She seemed immediately annoyed at my existence, and smacked her gum to signal that I should begin speaking.
“Hi, I was looking to get a new Blackberry.”
“Hah! A what?”
“Um, a Blackberry. It’s a type of phone.”
“Yes, honey, I know it’s a type of phone. I work in a phone store.”
I turned at the laugh and saw that Anthony was standing a few feet away listening in.
“What I mean is,” the saleswoman continued after rolling her eyes at Anthony as if to apologize for my behavior. “Ain’t nobody want a Blackberry no more. Let me show you the new Droid Razr. They right over here.”
“But I don’t…”
She had already walked over to the opposite display and randomly selected the most expensive model to show me. After going through all of the bits and gigs and megapixels and g’s the phone possessed, she asked what type of case I’d like for it.
“It sounds great,” I said. “And I’m sure it’s definitely worth the $500, but I really don’t want it. I can’t ever seem to use the touch screen key pad correctly. And I don’t use apps or anything. I really just need it for email and talking. Can you show me the Blackberrys? Please?”
“You don’t want a Blackberry.”
“No, see, that’s the thing. I do.”
“Nah, here, just get an iPhone.”
She picked one up and handed it to me as if I were a sick patient at her pharmacy.
“These still have the touch screen. I can’t use them. I’m a scrollie ball guy.”
“A scrollie what? Just try it. Here. See? Look at me.”
“I’m aware of how to touch the screen, and understand that touching the letters makes them appear, but I don’t like it and always make mistakes.”
“My two-year-old niece can use it,” said a customer who was now standing beside us. “It’s the cutest thing. She sends me emails all the time.”
The customer laughed along with the saleswoman and I began to get angry.
“Here,” the saleswoman said. “Just try to do it.”
“Yeah, it’s easy,” chimed in the customer.
I took the phone from them and typed the words, “This is stupid and embarrassing.” I made 7 mistakes and they all laughed again, only this time we were joined by the customer’s wife, who was quickly brought up to speed on the group mocking.
“Okay, okay,” said the saleswoman. “I’ll show you the…Blackberrys.”
She paused before saying Blackberry as if waiting for the booing and hissing to come from the studio audience. While walking over to the display, she again tried to persuade me on the iPhone, saying that I’d eventually have to get used to “modern technology,” as if I still commuted to work each morning on a horse.
She stopped at the Blackberry display case and pretended to sweep dust off of the phones, evoking another laugh from Anthony, who had walked over. I picked up the cheapest model phone and ran my thumb over the keypad, comforted by the familiarity. But when I tried to type in a website for practice, the browser was taking a long time to load. Suddenly, an iPhone was shoved in front of my face.
“See?” Anthony said. “I’m already there. Look how fast it is. That’s 4G, man. Look, yours is still trying to load. That phone is a piece of shit. I think it still uses dial-up to connect.”
The chuckles resumed, and I noticed that out of the ten or twelve people in the store, seven were laughing at me. Another customer came over to offer insight.
“I used to have a Blackberry,” he began, as if at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. “Took forever to load and the video quality sucked. Couldn’t even watch TV on it.”
“I have a television for television,” I said, my pulse thumping in my ears.
“You have kids?” the man continued. “Get an iPhone. They are great for taking videos of your kids. How old are yours? Mine are six and eight. They’re a handful, I’ll tell ya! Jenny, our six-year-old, she’s so smart though. Just the other day…”
“What? What are you talking about? I don’t have kids.”
He patted me on the shoulder and walked away, convinced my lack of iPhone was the reason for my lack of children.
“What’s going on here?” I said, raising my voice and pulling out my current phone. “I just want this. Can someone please just get me this exact phone.”
“Not unless you got a time machine,” Anthony quipped, ignoring my plea. “Shit, I had that model like ten years ago. Just get the iPhone, dog. For real.”
“He’s right,” the saleswoman said. “It’s a much better phone.”
“It’s also about $300 more than this one right here,” I said. “But that’s not why you’re recommending it, right? Do you own Apple stock or something? Can you just see if you have any of these left? I’m begging you. Help me give you $100 for this phone. Seriously. Help me give you money for a product you’re selling. I know it’s a bizarre concept, but let’s try it out.”
The saleswoman sneered at me and went to the back to look for the phones.
“Dude, you gotta calm down,” Anthony said, his hand back on his belt. “Don’t make the same mistake I did. Get the iPhone. You’ll love it.”
“You’re a security guard, okay Anthony?”
I don’t know why I felt the need to point that out at this juncture, and it took Anthony by surprise as well.
“So, what? So, I’m a security guard I can’t have an opinion?”
“Yes, that’s right. You are a security guard so you can’t have an opinion. You’re a security guard and I’m a customer. And I don’t appreciate being openly MOCKED for trying to buy a phone in a store that sells phones. Why do you even have a Blackberry display if it’s so awful? Huh? What kind of sense does that make?”
“Dog, I didn’t design the store. Calm down.”
“Yeah, but if you did, I’m sure it would be filled to the ceiling with shiny new Apple products, right? ‘Oh, look at me! I’m Anthony! I LOVE my iPhone! Weee! I’m so HIP! I’m the hippest fucking security guard who ever lived! I’m a slave to whatever Apple designs! I just buy anything with a freakin ‘i’ in front of it! I’m SOOO fucking COOL!”
“Did you just call me a slave?”
I stopped yelling at noticed the entire store was staring at me, the tall white man who had just finished called the black security guard a slave.
“Um, yeah,” I stuttered. “To Apple products. You’re a slave to Apple products. Not a slaaaaave slave… a slave to their merchandize.”
I glanced around to see if that was understood, but people still glared. Their assumptions were confirmed – if you didn’t own an iPhone, you were a racist.
“Okay,” I said, moving briskly to the door. “I have to go. You just lost a sale, my friend.”
“I’m a security guard.”
I burst through the doors and walked down the street. A few blocks later, still furious at what had happened, I considered that some music might calm me down. And I reached into my pocket to get my iPod.