"CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR SHOE?"
"Shoelaces, actually. The way you tied them."
"Oh. Yeah, sure, I guess. Pretty skate, huh?"
I nodded. That week skate meant "cool," like dope or rod once did. And this girl's laces were cool. Fuzzy and red, they looped through the middle eyelet repeatedly on one side, spreading out in a fan on the other. Kind of like the old rising-sun Japanese flag, but sideways.
She was about seventeen, the same as me. Gray sweatshirt over camo pants, hair dyed so black that it turned blue when the sun hit it through the trees. The shoes were off-brand black runners, the logo markings erased with a black laundry pen.
Definitely an Innovator, I thought. They tend to specialize, looking like Logo Exiles until you get close, until you see that one flourish. All their energies focused on a single element.
I pulled out my phone and pointed it at her foot.
Her eyes widened and she gave the Nod. My phone for that month, made by a certain company in Finland, was getting a lot of the Nod, the slight incline of the head that means, I saw that in a magazine and I already want it. Of course, at another level the Nod also means, Now that I've seen an actual person with that phone, I really, really have to get one.
At least, that's what the certain Finnish company was hoping when they mailed it to me. So there I was, doing two jobs at once.
The phone took its picture, signaling success by playing a sample of a certain dysfunctional father saying, "Sweet, sweet chocolate." The sample did not get the Nod, and 1 made a mental note to change it. Homer was out; Lisa was in.
I looked at the image on the phone's little screen, which looked clear enough to copy the lacework back at home.
"No problem." An edge of suspicion in her voice now. Exactly why was I taking a picture of her laces?
There was a moment of awkward silence, the kind that sometimes follows after taking a picture of a stranger's shoe. You think by now I'd be used to it.
I turned away to look at the river. I'd run into my shoelace Innovator in the East River Park, a strip of grass and promenade between the FDR Drive and the water. It's one of the few places where you can tell that Manhattan is an island.
She was carrying a basketball, probably had been shooting hoops on the weedy courts under Manhattan Bridge.
I was here working, like I said.
A big container ship eased by on the water, as slow as a minute hand. Across the river was Brooklyn, looking industrial, the Domino Sugar factory waiting patiently to be turned into an art gallery or housing for millionaires.
I was about to smile once more and keep on walking, but she spoke up.
"What else does it do?"
"My phone?" The list of features was on my tongue, but this was the part of the job I didn't like (which is why you will read no product placement in these pages, if I can possibly help it). I shrugged, trying not to sound like a salesman. "MP3 player, date book, texting. And the camera can shoot like ten seconds of video."
She bit her lip, gave another Nod.
"Very crappy video," I admitted. It was not my job to lie.
"Can you call people on it?"
"Sure, it—" Then I realized she had to be kidding. "Yes, you can actually call people on it."
Her smile was even better than her shoelaces.