The “I” in “iPod”

I love my iPod. I’ve had it for a little over a year, and it’s been a year of sweet bliss. Gone are the days of Discmans (Discmen?) that were awkward to hold, always needed new batteries, and were only good for one 80-minute CD. Now I hold 3,856 songs in the palm of my hand. I’ve got my ’80s playlist, my country playlist, my random rock playlist, my love songs playlist, my work playlist from when I was a lifeguard and had to make mix CDs that were both fun and appropriate to play at a family establishment. And I’ve got plenty of random shit like the Swedish Chef’s song, Lorelai’s painting song from Gilmore Girls that she sang when she was trying to convince Luke to paint the diner (“Grab your brush and grab your rollers, all you kids and all you…bowlers, we’re going painting today!”), and a voicemail my sister left me on my college phone when she was talking in a weird voice and telling me she was Regina Filangi (Phoebe’s standard fake name on Friends).

But as convenient and wonderful as my iPod is, and as great as it is for making time at the gym fly by, sometimes I wonder if the “I” doesn’t stand for “isolated.” There’s a Seinfeld episode where Elaine pretends to be deaf so that she doesn’t have to talk to a cab driver, but if that episode had been filmed ten years later, she could have just used an iPod as an excuse to be antisocial. Sometimes I think that people use this little white box so they can stay in their own little worlds and not talk to anyone. At BC, people were constantly walking around campus listening to their iPods, and so do half the people on the T.

Occasionally, I am one of those T-riders, but most of the time I opt to keep the iPod off, seeing as the noise of the train screeching around the tracks is so loud that it forces me to turn the volume up to a level that will leave me with hearing aids by the time I’m forty. The other day, though, I was listening to my music on the T. It was raining, and I was listening to the songs that will go on my yet-to-be-made “Rainy Day” playlist: Dar Williams’ “The Beauty of the Rain,” Billie Myers’ “Kiss the Rain,” James Blunt’s “Tears and Rain,” Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “November Rain,” etc. Standing right by me were two college-aged girls who were talking to each other. Because I was listening to my music, I only heard snippets of conversation. They were talking about grad programs in theology. I figured they were classmates, dorm mates, casual friends. But then, one of them got ready to get off the T, and she extended her hand to the other girl.

“I’m Allison,” she said.

“I’m Lauren,” said the other girl.

“Nice to meet you,” said Allison before she got off the train.

And I stood there, amazed. I hadn’t heard the whole thing, but from what I could tell, the two of them had had a very long, interesting conversation that had fooled me into thinking they knew each other when in fact they had just met. They were talking about the pros and cons of divinity school and how it was different if you weren’t going to get ordained and about the experience Lauren’s boyfriend had had with it. I wished I’d been able to hear all of it.

It reminded me of one time this summer, when I was waiting for the Blue Line at the Revere Beach stop. It was raining that day, too, actually, and while I didn’t have my iPod with me that day, I was reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Out of nowhere, this woman came up and started talking to me about how cold she was. “I’ve got a bottle of Captain’s in my purse,” she said. “If I had a chaser, I’d drink it. It’d warm me right up.”

I looked up. She was a bit overweight, and her front teeth were decaying. Her hair was dyed kind of brownish-reddish with a clip holding it in a ponytail. She told me later she was forty-eight, but I would have guessed she was about ten years older.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, noticing that I was reading. “I don’t want to interrupt your reading.”

“I don’t mind,” I said, closing my book.

And I talked to her until the T came to her stop. She never told me her name, but I learned all kinds of other things about her. The night before, she’d been drinking at her friend’s house and had woken up with a hangover that had made her late for her job at the jewelry store. She liked Anne Rice novels, and was currently reading The Witching Hour. She didn’t like horror films, she said, especially the ones with Freddie Kruger because her ex-husband’s name was Freddie. Since the divorce, she’d had a couple of live-in relationships, but no kids. She’d been with her current boyfriend for 11 years, but he’d recently gotten his own apartment because he said he needed his space. “I don’t care, as long as he’s not fucking around,” she said. But despite her man troubles, she considered herself a romantic at heart. Along with Anne Rice, her bookshelf was full of Harlequin romances, particularly historical ones.

She was such an interesting woman, but if I’d been listening to my iPod, I would have missed out on getting to know her.

I don’t know if Allison and Lauren will ever see each other again, but I bet they’re glad they decided to listen to each other instead of their music that day.

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