Recently I bought some earphones from the new Apple store. In an effort to be street legal, I employ a headset when I use my cell phone.

"You know that headset isn't worth a damn," Harry said. "That's the one they give away when you buy an iPhone."

It may not have been worth a damn, but it cost $29.99. That's worth-a-damn money. If it isn't, it should be.

Within a couple of weeks, the headset lost sound on one side. I hung with it imagining that I was like a man with one eye, I could compensate without complaint.

When I began to lose volume on the remaining side and the people to whom I was speaking became unable to hear me no matter how loud I yelled, I returned to the Apple store.

I had misplaced the receipt. I remember getting a receipt because being rung up had been a singular experience. One of the sales associates had completed the transaction on his iPhone and then sent a message to a printer which printed me a receipt. That seemed almost magical.

The Apple store in the mall is a marvel of sleek, metallic chic that looks like it's been designed by Willy Wonka.

"If you don't have a receipt, we can exchange the earphones but we are unable to give you your money back," said one of the associates in the front of the store.

I asked him who I might talk to, if not him, in order to complete the exchange. He pointed me to the Genius Bar in the back of the store.

The Genius Bar? I wasn't sure how to take this. Was he paying me a compliment, a compliment I would graciously accept by giving him the Genius nod, or were the people who worked behind the Genius Bar especially gifted because they worked with customers who were not themselves rapid learners? Customers who, for example, might pay $29.99 for earphones that Apple gives away free with the purchase of an iPhone?

How smart do you have to be to work behind the Genius Bar? I respect people who work in retail, for theirs is a difficult job, but it was hard not to feel that I was in the presence of retail royalty while being waited on by somebody who worked in the Genius Bar.

I'm never sure what a genius looks like. They can fool you. Geniuses can be beautiful, handsome or have an uneven haircut, three teeth and still have outscored you by 600 points on the SAT.

I told the associate behind the Genius Bar that I had bought the earphones a couple weeks ago and now they weren't working. He was kind, understanding but I wondered if he was thinking, as I might have been had I been in his place, which I will never be: "What did you expect, genius? They give these away. They're like airline earphones without the movie."

He went through a door behind the back wall -- a door that I did not know existed, a door you almost had to have been a genius to see -- and reappeared with a clear plastic case with new headphones in them.

I asked him whether we should ring them up (I was hoping to see him complete the transaction on his iPhone). He waved me off, although he probably sent a subliminal message on his phone to his colleagues alerting them that another "genius" was leaving the store.

It's been a week and the earphones are still working. Whatever genius I may possess, I suspect will not last.