The Digital Player
Harlem. 125th Street. The 6 train platform.
I'm standing next to a young man, watching as he furtively checks out an attractive young woman leaning against a nearby pillar, nodding her head to her iPod. The young man is wearing over-sized Ecko jeans that exclaim "World Famous" on the back pocket. His denim jacket is a similarly too big, a Tommy Hilfiger. The young woman is wearing canvas tennis shoes with the Coach logo imprinted on them, and a low-slung Juicy Couture jogging suit.
The train arrives and I follow the two of them onto the car. Despite it being crowded, I find myself a seat next to the door. The young man has managed to position himself facing the young woman, they're both holding onto the same pole, their hands only inches apart.
The young man smiles at the young woman and nods towards the iPod in her free hand.
"What you rockin?"
She pulls one earphone out and says, "Excuse me?"
"What you rockin' there?"
"Alicia Keys," she replies and turns the screen for him so see.
"Naw, I mean what you playing it on?"
She looks confused. "This?" She holds it up again. "It's an iPod?" She ends that statement with an upwards inflection, implying that she considers the question a bit silly.
"Oh, I hearda dat. Who make it?"
"Apple?" Again with the upward inflection, delivered this time with an incredulous look.
"Cool," he nods.
She starts to put the earpiece back in, but he stops her.
"What you pay for it?"
"Oh, this was a gift."
"Your boyfriend buy that for you?"
A knowing look flits across her face. "No. I got it from my parents for Christmas. I think they paid about $300 for it."
"How many songs you got on there?"
"Um, about 300 I guess, but it holds a thousand...I just haven't..."
He looks impressed. "A thousand? That's a lot of jams! How long do the battery last?"
She looks at her iPod and frowns, "I think about eight hours, but I recharge it everyday."
"Oh, so it got rechargeable batteries?"
"Yeah. There's this plug thing, you know, like a cell phone."
"OK, I get it. Maybe I should get me one, you could show me how to work it," he says with a expansive grin.
She smiles back, "I'm sure you could figure it out all by yourself."
"Naw, baby. I'm no good with that computer stuff. I'm old school, ya know what I mean. Maybe I just ain't smart enough," he says, tapping his temple with his index finger.
She laughs, "Well, that's a first, a man telling me he isn't smart."
"That's why I gotta find me a smart female to help me out, ya know what I'm sayin?"
The next stop is announced, Hunter's College, 68th Street. The young woman puts her iPod into her jacket pocket.
"This is my stop."
The young man looks worried. "So, I can get your number, baby? You can show me all how to work that thang you got."
They both laugh.
She says, "Why don't you give me YOUR number, and I'll call you sometime."
"I don't got no cell phone, gimme your number, I'll call you from my crib."
She looks skeptical. "A player like YOU doesn't have a cell phone?"
The train was starting to put on the brakes. His time running out, the young man blurts out, "Baby, I ain't no player. I'm just trying to get by and take care of business for me and my moms."
"You take care of your mother? That's so sweet!"
The train doors open. The young man opens both hands towards the young woman and she starts to put her iPod back on. "So I don't get no number? C'mon baby!"
She stops and says "You're not gonna remember it anyway and I don't have time to write it down."
"I'll remember it! For real!"
She laughs, shaking her head doubtfully. "OK, whatever...it's 917-XXX-XXXX."
The doors shut between them as the young man shouts, "Cool! I got it! I'll call you!"
I turn to watch the young woman through the window. She puts her earphones back in, and doesn't glance up from her iPod as the train moves away.
When she is out of sight, the young man jams his hand into his front pocket, pulls out a cell phone and deftly taps at the keyboard. He returns it to his pants pocket with a satisfied smile. From his jacket pocket, he pulls out an iPod and puts the earphones on. He slumps back against the pole, his index finger moving expertly over the controls as he picks out a tune.
I wonder if it's Alicia Keys.