I sat down today to tackle the long put-off project of our taxes this afternoon. Susan’s stoically volunteered to let me have a go with TurboTax, which I’ve been using since like 1995, but I’ve been hesitant to dive in because her situation as a homeowner is a lot more complex than mine.

But it certainly wasn’t going to get done with me just finding ways to ignore it, so I bit the bullet and dropped the program’s installation disc into the computer’s drive where I find I’m unable to complete the install because I don’t have the minimum amount of safe storage space available on the hard drive of my 3.5-year-old eMac. This was not a surprise to me. For months I’ve been aware I’m down to my last few hundred megabytes of the computer’s 40-gig disc and that I was in need of an external drive.

So while I mulled over the potential solutions to that problem (USB or Firewire; Fry’s or Best Buy; 160 gigs or 300?), I decided to open up iTunes and download the last episode of Lost (which I’d missed Wednesday because of a conflicting 90-minute-long American Idol that can’t find a way to cram 10 singers into an hour broadcast).

First thing I’m shown is that I need Quicktime version 7.5.3.2.1.5.6 or some such nonsense in order to view the show. So I click on over to the Apple website and attempt an upgrade from my Quicktime version of 6.5.Whatever.

But Apple tells me to Stop Right There because I can’t possibly upgrade to the latest version of Quicktime with — pffffft! — such an old operating system, which is OSX 10.2.8 (aka “Jaguar”). I need at least 10.4 (aka “Tiger”), having apparently ignored 10.3 (aka “Panther”).

P.S. What’s up with all the cats? And who’s next… Ocelot?

Well that’s it, I decide it’s time for a 300-gigabyte firewire Seagate drive, from Fry’s and to spiff up my eMac’s OS. I few minutes later I’m on the long road to Fry’s in Burbank. Thirty minutes after that I’m inside and I head straight to the software section where I find a brand new box of OSX 10.4.3 ready to be purchased for the lowlow price of $129. I’m about to head over to the hard drive aisle when I wisely decide to check the software’s requirements.

Get this: I read that to successfully install it, I need a DVD drive. Well dammit, my eMac only has a CD-R/W drive (and to be honest the W has been buggy and unreliable for about as long as I’ve known I’ve needed an external hard drive). It doesn’t have a DVD drive. See, I made the mistake of buying it in the summer of 2002 about two weeks before they came out with an eMac model that could play DVDs. Not only that but unless something’s hit the market recently that I don’t know about, there’s not a third-party DVD drive out there that the eMac will run!

So I am flat-out ass out when it comes to upgrading my OS — and that’s when the Apple marketing tactics start working on me like a long-dormant delayed-release drug.

“Dude,” says Steve Jobs inside my head, “your eMac is on life-support. Even if you could upgrade your OS, for the price of that and a 300-gig Seagate drive you’ll be out $500 and still stuck with an obolete machine!”

Then came a drumroll as trumpets sounded a fanfare.

“It’s time to get yourself a new computer!”

And next thing I know I’m transported to the middle of the aisle of shiny new Apple lappers and deskies and they all look good enough to eat.

At first I’m drawn to the Mac Mini when I do the math and figure it and a low-end flat panel monitor will run me about a thou. But from inside my head Steve Jobs directs me to the new iMac with its new dual-core 1.82Ghz Intel chipset and its built-in superdrive and iSight camera and its 10.4.3 OS all for the lowlow of $1,299.

And I’m done. Sold. I came in to spend a few hundies on a hard drive and an OS upgrade and I’m ready to leave with a brand new computer.

“There’s no use fighting it. You’re doing the right thing,” Steve Jobs says and then laughs knowingly. I look around to see if anyone else can hear him, but if they do they’re hiding it very well. Then I look around for someone to whom I can point to the iMac and say “I’ll take one of these,” and therein lies the grand paradox of Fry’s Electronics. For despite dozens of associates running around in the immediate vicinity in their white shirts and ties and name tags, apparently none have a sense of sales smell worth a damn.

So I just stand there. And stand there some more. I toy with the idea of raising my hands over my head and looking heavenward in the rain like Tim Robbins right after he escapes prison in The Shawshank Redemption, but instead I move back across to the Mac Mini just to make a features comparison and further rationalize the $300 raise between it and the iMac that I’m not going to leave without. I’m helpless to do otherwise.

“Gooooood boy,” intones Steve Jobs.

Members of Fry’s sales force pass me left and right. Young and not so young. They linger at the endcaps talking on mobile phones. They talk and joke with each other. They occupy themselves with inventory lists. They help other customers — the lucky ones. They leave me stonecold alone. I check to see if I’m holding a gun and/or displaying a sign that says “At All Costs Ignore Me Or I Will Fucking Kill You!”

Neither.

I try to make contact but the closest I come is with an otherwise congenial looking troll who gives me a crooked smile but before I can shoot him the raised eyebrow/hand signal indicative of me needing his assistance, he’s veered to the right down the aisle lined with PDAs and is gone.

It’s then that another voice — very weak — peeps up with “Fuck Fry’s and fuck Apple. Just go get what you need,” to which Steve Jobs just chuckles. But suddenly and without warning I do, and all I hear is Steve’s voice trailing away with a drawn out “Nooooooo!” as I stick the landing of a backside method and exit the Mac aisle. Passing the PDAs I hit the hard drive aisle where I first blow past another group of sales goons gathered around a counter working hard at hardly working and then ignore the braying $350 calls of the herd of 300-gig Seagate drives to find a lone Acomdata 160-gig firewire drive for $200 bucks less.

I head to the register corral and pay. And when I exit the store I stand momentarily in the parking lot. It’s not raining, but I lift my arms and stare heavenward thankful to have made my escape… even if it is only temporary.

Steve Jobs’ laughter is in my head again as I head to my car. Fry’s may have rightfully lost a sale but Apple certainly hasn’t lost the war. “After all,” Steve tells me, “my stores are all around you. Resistance is futile.”

And perhaps very fleeting.

See it was a good idea to get that external storage. All the better to back up my files off my decaying eMac and plug them and all that extra space into the new iMac that’s waiting for me at the Glendale Galleria.

“Don’t forget the Grove!”

Or the Grove, Steve… or the Grove.

“Gooooood boy.”