Ulrike at Apple by Robert Marshall

At the Apple Store, they had Ulrike sign with her thumb. Was this progress, she wondered? Hadn’t her species’ great breakthrough been the development of the opposable thumb? Did she oppose their sign-with-thumb policy? She wasn’t sure (this was generally a given). She did sense, however, that afternoon, a subtly omnipresent devolution. Due to the policy of friendliness Steve Jobs had instituted, she hadn’t, when she tried to use her finger to sign, rather than her thumb—as a younger person would have known to do—felt any real sense of humiliation.

She was giving in, buying a new phone. Even skeptical Luddites had to keep up.

Clouds floated past the large glass windows. The sky wasn’t the same blue as the shirts the clerks wore. Some of them were geniuses. Some of them maybe really were. This would mean nothing to anyone in time. The young were vulnerable on this point. They didn’t fully get time. Neither did Ulrike.

Though she had signed, her phone had yet to be synced. Jobs had been a retail genius, she blogged (in her mind). But he hadn’t been able to eliminate lines. In hers, the syncing line, she pursued her line of thought. At Apple, the young had power. The floor manager appeared barely seventeen. He supervised his elders, the nineteen- and twenty-year-olds. In another era, he would have stood alone by a record machine, feeding it dimes, asking for them. She knew, as the line inched forward, that quite possibly, or probably, the floor manager wouldn’t have followed the train of her thought. However, she “reasoned,” although over the floor he had dominion, there were others, unseen, whom he served. And, if the pattern continued, this would mean he reported to unseen Apple managers who were, in all likelihood, in middle school. And who had, above them, at the top of the pyramid, well, in all likelihood, a baby who threw food and used her thumb. But, nevertheless, understood programming. It was the baby who had thought of signing with your thumb, a baby joke, ungotten. One had to amuse oneself, Ulrike thought, forgiving her own silliness. She too, after all, was a baby—of a certain age.


Robert Marshall’s novel, A Separate Reality, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction. His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Salon, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Stickman Review, Blithe House Quarterly, The Coe Review, and numerous other publications, including the anthologies Queer 13 and Afterwords. In 2007, his investigative feature, “The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castaneda,” was chosen for Best of Salon. You can find more information at his website.

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